by Hans ten Cate
Sunday, 17 January 1999

Michael Palin had, for some time, been part of the new Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romantic comedy, "You've Got Mail." Director Nora Ephron had cast him as a tweedy novelist and subplot to the story of two bookstore owners who fall in love over the Internet. But when the film premiered December 18, fans were dismayed to find the film completely devoid of Palin. In short, Nora Ephron's desire to expand the romantic dialogue between Hanks and Ryan meant leaving other footage on the cutting room floor, including that of Palin.

The film tells of Kathleen Kelly (played by Meg Ryan), who owns a children's bookstore in New York. It is a small but profitable shop. That is, until a mega-chain of super-sized bookstores, begins building across the street. Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) is the executive responsible for the new superstore. Kathleen can't stand Joe's insincere commercialized approach to book sales. The future of her store is very much in doubt.

When Kathleen and Joe are not working, they are logged onto their respective computers, where they've each become romantically involved with an online "friend." Little do Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox know that they're writing to each other.

The film was written (produced and directed as well) by Nora Ephron and is based on the 1940 film "The Shop Around the Corner," starring Jimmy Stewart. Other inspirations were the musical "In the Good Old Summertime," based on the original Stewart film, and an earlier play called "Parfumerie." Principal photography of Mail began February 25 in New York City and finished June 5. Most of the film was shot on location, on the streets of New York, with a lot of interior scenes filmed on soundstages. Palin showed up to make a cameo appearance as a kindly book author, presumably of children's books, who gives readings in Kathleen's bookshop.

One of Ephron's unique directorial approaches is using longer dialogue sequences between the romantic leads (typically a "no-no" for fast-paced romantic comedies). "I got tired of people telling me scenes couldn't be as long as I wanted," said Ephron. Sadly, this meant having to trim a number of scenes throughout the film to conserve overall length. Michael Palin's character had to be dropped from the film entirely. You won't see him at all, not even a kind acknowledgement in the end credits. Not so much as a "by your leave..."

Other actors who lost quite a bit of on-screen time due to length were Greg Kinnear (who plays Kathleen's fiance), Parker Posey (Joe's live-in girlfriend), and Steve Zahn (one of Kathleen's quirky store employees). Said Steve Zahn of the demotion: "It doesn't really bother me but the experience kinda makes you read scripts differently and figure out how important you are to the story."

We tried in vain to find information about the lost Michael Palin scenes. In the film, Kathleen not only loses customers to Joe's superstore, but also a number of the authors who, for many years, entertained Kathleen's patrons with readings from their books. In the film, one author quietly defects to Fox books, much to the disappointment of Kathleen and her staff. So what of Palin? D'ya think he defected? D'ya think he stood by Kathleen in her quest to save the last wholesome family-oriented enterprise in New York? D'ya think Nora Ephron will release the Director's Cut on DVD so we can find out?


  • Benjamin Svetkey, "Mail Bonding," in Entertainment Weekly, December 18, 1998, pp. 24-30.
  • Akin Ojumu, "Are You Being Surfed? Steve Zahn" in Neon, December 1998, p.15.


Casting Palin as what appears to be a children's book author in "You've Got Mail" may not have been entirely mismatched. Michael Palin is, afterall, himself a children's book author! "There's nothing better than the attention of a child," Palin explained to Kim Howard Johnson, "and they're really gripped by a story. So I think I wanted to have a go at that and see if I could do that, and make it something that a parent would enjoy reading."

Michael's books are listed in the Monty Python Bibliography here at the Daily Llama. Among the titles you'll find there:

  • Small Harry and the Toothache Pills
  • Limericks
  • Cyril and the House of Commons
  • Cyril and the Dinner Party
  • The Mirrorstone