6. IT HAS SOME ROCKY CONNECTIONS.
First connection: It was supposed to be directed by John G. Avildsen, whose previous film was Rocky. Ultimately, that didn’t work out and Avildsen was replaced with John Badham a few weeks before shooting began. Second connection: Tony has a Rocky poster on his bedroom wall. Third connection: Saturday Night Fever’s 1983 sequel, Staying Alive, was directed by … Sylvester Stallone.
8. THE WHITE CASTLE EMPLOYEES WEREN’T ACTING WHEN THEY LOOKED SHOCKED. In the brief scene where Tony, his boys, and Stephanie are loudly eating at White Castle, those were the real burger-flippers, not actors. Badham told them to just go about their business. He also told his actors to cut loose and surprise the White Castlers in whatever way they saw fit. The shot that’s in the movie appears to be a reaction to Joey standing on the table and barking, but Badham said it was actually in response to something else: “Double J (actor Paul Pape) pulling his pants down and mooning the entire staff of the White Castle.”
11. THE COMPOSER HAD TO SCRAMBLE TO REPLACE A NIXED SONG.
For Tony and Stephanie’s rehearsal scene about 30 minutes into the movie, Badham had used the song “Lowdown” by Boz Scaggs, going so far as to shoot the scene, including the dialogue, with the song actually playing in the background. (That’s usually a no-no, for exactly the reasons you’re about to read about.) According to Badham, no sooner had they wrapped the scene than Scaggs’ people reached out to say they couldn’t use the song after all, as Scaggs was thinking of pursuing a disco project of his own. Badham now had to have the actors re-dub the dialogue (since the version he’d recorded was tainted by “Lowdown”); what’s more, he had to find a new song that would fit the choreography and tempo of the dancing. Composer David Shire rose to the occasion, writing a piece of instrumental music that met the specifications, and that’s what we hear in the movie.
1. IT WAS BASED ON ELMORE CITY, OKLAHOMA.
Elmore City had forbidden public dancing by law since its founding. In January of 1979, the local high schoolers asked that the rules be changed so that they could have a prom, to the anger of the reverend from the United Pentecostal Church. The kids won and got to dance on prom night. Dean Pitchford (lyricist for Fame songs “Red Light”, “Fame”, and “I Sing The Body Electric”) read about all of it and visited the town. Pitchford had his screenplay after 22 drafts.
2. TOM CRUISE ALMOST PLAYED REN.
The producers wanted Tom Cruise, but he had a scheduling conflict with All the Right Moves(1983). Rob Lowe auditioned and blew out his ACL. “I have post-traumatic stress with anything having to do with Footloose,” Lowe said later, while recalling a party where Kenny Loggins asked him to do a karaoke duet of the theme song. “I was like, ‘I won’t do anything with that damn movie, but I’ll do Danger Zone from Top Gun.’”
4. MADONNA AUDITIONED FOR ARIEL.
Had she gotten the part, it would have been her first feature film role. That didn’t come until 1985, in A Certain Sacrifice. Lori Singer got to play Ariel Moore instead.
1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.
Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a ‘three saps on the run’ kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, ‘You know, they’re trying to get home—let’s just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more asThe Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: ‘There’s No Place Like Home.’”
3. THE TITLE IS FROM A PRESTON STURGES CLASSIC.
Sullivan’s Travels (1941) was a Hollywood satire about a comedy director who wanted to make a serious, epic drama, travels the country to research it, and discovers the world is better off laughing. The movie the character wanted to make was titled O Brother, Where Art Thou?.
8. THE MUSIC BECAME AN UNEXPECTEDLY HUGE HIT.
For the movie’s music—and even before they’d finished the script—the Coens turned to musician/producer T Bone Burnett, whom they had worked with on The Big Lebowski in 1998. Along with singer-songwriter Gillian Welch, Burnett found the songs for the movie. Its soundtrack—which combined original and traditional bluegrass, country, gospel, blues, and folk music—was the first movie soundtrack to win the Grammy for Album of the Year since 1994. More than eight million copies of the album were sold.
27. SINATRA DIDN’T LIKE MARLON BRANDO, AND BRANDO DIDN’T LIKE SINATRA.
Sinatra was always known as one of Hollywood’s most likeable stars, but Marlon Brando apparently didn’t agree. The two didn’t hit it off when they starred in 1955’s Guys and Dolls. Sinatra, who allegedly wanted Brando’s role in the film, referred to his co-star as “Mr. Mumbles,” while Brando nicknamed Sinatra “Mr. Baldy.”
32. THE BEATLES’ “SOMETHING” WAS ONE OF SINATRA’S FAVORITE SONGS.
Frank may not have loved (okay, he hated) rock and roll, but he was a big fan of the George Harrison-penned “Something.” The song became a sample in Sinatra’s live set toward the end of his career.
34. HE WAS A TOOTSIE ROLL FAN.
According to dead-celebrity expert Alan Petrucelli, Ol’ Blue Eyes was buried with some Tootsie Rolls, along with a few other choice effects, including cigarettes, a lighter, and a bottle of Jack Daniels.
3. THE ALBUM’S TITLE WAS ALMOST MIDNIGHT MAN.
Quincy Jones asked arranger/songwriter Rod Temperton to come up with an album title. He wrote down 200 to 300 possible titles in his hotel room before deciding on Midnight Man. The next morning he woke up and the word “Thriller” popped into his head. “Something in my head just said, this is the title,” recalled Temperton. “You could visualize it on the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as ‘Thriller.'”
5. VINCENT PRICE MADE LESS THAN $1000 FOR HIS WORK ON THE TITLE TRACK.
Jones’ then-wife Peggy Lipton knew Price. The horror movie legend managed to record his part in two takes. Once the album got big, Price expressed frustration over his meager paycheck and said that Jackson had stopped taking his calls.
19. THE “THRILLER” MUSIC VIDEO COST $500,000.
The Showtime cable network footed $300,000 of the budget for the rights to first air the music video and the “making of” feature, with MTV paying the rest to broadcast it after Showtime. Jackson asked John Landis to direct the video after seeing his work on the movie An American Werewolf in London. “I want to turn into a monster,” Jackson told Landis. “Can I do that?” Landis wrote the disclaimer that appears in the beginning of the video because Jehovah’s Witnesses (a group which Jackson belonged to at the time) told the artist that “Thriller” endorsed Satanism.
1. Elvis was initially offered a role in the film. It is believed he would play the Guardian Angel role, but he did not accept.
3. In “Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee” they changed the reference and it has a freaky coincidence. In the stage play, the song had a reference to Sal Mineo, who was murdered in 1976. For the movie, they changed the lyric to “Elvis, Elvis, let me be! Keep that pelvis far from me!” In reference to Elvis Presley, who died the same day the scene was filmed. The day was August 16, 1977.
10. Lucille Ball is the reason her daughter was not cast as Rizzo and the part went to Stockard Channing. Lucie Arnaz was dropped from consideration after Lucille Ball called and said “I used to own that studio; my daughter’s not doing a screen test!” But actually, she owned the studio Desilu which was bought by Paramount.
5. JACKIE GLEASON PASSED ON MAKING A CAMEO.
Gleason famously played Minnesota Fats in The Hustler, and his character played a big part in the book version of The Color of Money. “We desperately wanted the character to return,”Newman told The New York Times, ”but every time we put him in, it seemed like we were trying to glue an arm on a man and make it stick.” Added Scorsese: ”We finally presented a script to Gleason with Fats in. But he felt it was an afterthought.” As such, Gleason passed.
14. SCORSESE GOT THE IDEA FOR GOODFELLAS WHILE SHOOTING THE COLOR OF MONEY.
In a rare moment of downtime, “I read a review of [Nicholas Pileggi’s] Wiseguy when I was directing The Color of Money, and it said something about this character Henry Hill having access to many different levels of organized crime because he was somewhat of an outsider,”Scorsese told Rolling Stone. “He looked a little nicer. He was able to be a better frontman and speak a little better. I thought that was interesting, because you could get a cross section of the layers of organized crime—from his point of view, of course. So I got the book, started reading it and was fascinated by the narrative ability of it.”
15. DAVID GEFFEN WAS UPSET OVER THE SOUNDTRACK. Robbie Robertson put the soundtrack together, which is best known for featuring Eric Clapton and Robertson’s “It’s in the Way That You Use It” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.” Geffen would not allow Robertson permission to use his own voice at any point on the album, because he felt that the singer’s first solo record was being delayed on account of his work on the soundtrack. The Band performer still managed to get music from the likes of Clapton, Don Henley, B.B. King, Robert Palmer, and Willie Dixon.
1. FREDDIE MERCURY STARTED WRITING IT IN 1968.
“Bohemian Rhapsody”, or “Bo Rhap” as it is known by Queen fans, had its beginnings in 1968 when Freddie Mercury was a student at London’s Ealing Art College. He’d come up with an opening line—“Mama, just killed a man”—but no melody. Because of the Old West feel (in his mind) to the lyric, he referred to his work in progress as “The Cowboy Song.”
6. PROMOTING THE SONG PROVED PROBLEMATIC.
After it was decided to release “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a single, the band was faced with a bit of a dilemma: At the time in England, it was traditional for bands to appear on shows like Top of the Pops to promote their latest hits. But Queen was scheduled to begin a tour soon, plus (as Brian May admitted) they’d feel self-conscious miming to the operatic section. They solved the problem by filming a promotional film, or “pop promo” as it was called in the industry lingo of the time, that could be shown not only on UK music shows, but also around the world in other markets, such as American Bandstand.
10. A BLUE VINYL PRESSING OF THE SONG IS WORTH MORE THAN $5000.
The Holy Grail in terms of Queen collectibles is a 7-inch limited edition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that was pressed in blue vinyl. In the summer of 1978, EMI Records won the Queen’s Award To Industry For Export Achievement (that’s “Queen” as in Her Majesty Elizabeth II). The label’s primary reason for sales in far-reaching territories that lacked manufacturing facilities was Queen, as in the band. To celebrate their prestigious award, EMI pressed 200 copies of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in blue vinyl, each of which was hand-numbered. Numbers one through four went to the band members, of course, while other low-numbered copies were given to friends and family members. Bona fide copies from this original pressing currently sell for upwards of $5000.