1. IT PARTIALLY OWES ITS EXISTENCE TO ROCKY.
Comparisons to that other Oscar-winning boxing movie from four years earlier were inevitable, but the two were actually connected. Rocky was produced by Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, and released by United Artists. When those same producers approached that same studio about doing another boxing movie, the studio said, “A sequel to Rocky? Sure!” That wasn’t what they had in mind (though they did soon enough), but in the meantime, Rocky’s huge success was enough to sell UA on another boxing movie.
5. PAUL SCHRADER FIXED THE SCREENPLAY BY ADDING JAKE LAMOTTA’S BROTHER, JOEY.
It’s strange to imagine Raging Bull without the Joe Pesci character, but that’s how Mardik Martin’s first drafts had it. He was adapting LaMotta’s 1970 memoir, Raging Bull: My Story, co-authored by LaMotta’s lifelong friend Peter Savage (born Peter Petrella). The book didn’t feature Joey as a prominent character, and it had Savage doing most of the things that Joey would eventually do in the movie. When Schrader was hired to build on the work Martin had done and take another stab at the screenplay, he decided the story would be more compelling if it involved brothers rather than friends (blood ties and all that), so he introduced the Joey character and excised poor old Pete. This creative license proved problematic later, when Joey LaMotta sued for defamation because the movie had attributed to him a number of unwholesome deeds (like beating the crap out of a neighborhood mobster) that had actually been perpetrated by Savage.
9. JOE PESCI WAS RUNNING AN ITALIAN RESTAURANT WHEN DE NIRO AND SCORSESE APPROACHED HIM ABOUT BEING IN THE MOVIE.
Pesci had been a professional actor and musician (he sang and played guitar) off and on since childhood, but he called it quits in the 1970s. His 1975 Broadway show with comedy partner Frank Vincent (whom he would later recruit to play Salvy in Raging Bull) had closed after a week, and his first movie, 1976’s The Death Collector (also featuring Vincent), was a flop. But Robert De Niro happened to see that film in 1978, and was so impressed by Pesci’s performance that he pitched him to Scorsese. The two tracked Pesci down and called him at his restaurant to coax him out of showbiz retirement.