Be My Baby
Produced on a shoestring, the romantic drama set in the summer of 1963 emerged as a breakout hit in 1987, and two decades later it was ranked No. 1 on a survey of Women's Most-Watched Films. Here, for Patrick Swayze's birthday, are 21 fun facts about the making of "Dirty Dancing."
The South Dressed Up as the Catskills
Kellerman's—the summer resort where the intellectual, upper-class Baby meets tough-but-tender Johnny—was inspired by Grossinger's, the legendary Borscht Belt hotel in upstate New York. But the movie was actually filmed at a mountain lodge in Virginia and a boys camp in North Carolina.
Baby and Johnny Already Knew Each Other
Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze did not hit it off when they co-starred three years earlier in the teens-against-Soviets action flick "Red Dawn." Swayze had to sweet-talk Grey into working with him again.
The Housemans Were Real-Life Hoofers
Baby's parents—who were none too pleased with their daughter's extracurricular hobby of dancing with the Kellermans staff—are played by two actors who spent much of their careers dancing on Broadway. Jerry Orbach was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in the original 1975 production of "Chicago" and starred in 1980's "42nd Street." Kelly Bishop won the Tony for her role as Sheila in 1975's blockbuster musical "A Chorus Line."
No One Knew What the Title Meant
There was some concern that the title could be mistaken for a porn film. The backup title that was almost used instead: "I Was a Teenage Mambo Queen."
Patrick Swayze Was Johnny From the Get-go
There's no truth to the rumor that Patrick Swayze wasn't the first choice for the role of Johnny, the sexy greaser who put the dirty in dancing. "No other actors were ever considered for Johnny, except Patrick," screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein told Cosmopolitan magazine. "It was always him and only him. We looked through pictures and I said, 'Oh, there are the eyes we want.'"
There Were No Dance Doubles
One of the reasons director Emile Ardolino was so keen to cast Swayze was that the dude could really dance! Ardolino felt that "Flashdance" and "Footloose"—two insanely popular dance movies of the early '80s—lost credibility by cutting to long shots of stunt doubles during big dance scenes. That trick wouldn't be necessary with Swayze, who was formally trained at the Harkness Ballet and Joffrey Ballet schools in New York in the '70s.
There Was a Real-Life Baby
Jennifer Grey's character was based on screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein. The daughter of a doctor, Bergstein spent her summers in the Catskills with her family, winning numerous dance contests. The prize was often a bottle of champagne, which the preteen would hand over to her parents.
There’s a Familiar Face in the Background
Among the then-unknown actors playing staff members at Kellerman's is Wayne Knight as Stan, the joke-cracking activities director. You know him much better as Newman on "Seinfeld."
Patrick Swayze Had His Doubts
Though he had already starred in "The Outsiders" and "Red Dawn," "Dirty Dancing" was the movie that catapulted the hunky actor into the Hollywood stratosphere. But he had no idea during the low-budget film shoot that it would be such a career boost. "It seemed fluffy—nothing more than a summer camp movie," Swayze wrote in his memoir, "The Time of My Life," published shortly after his death in 2009.
He Was Frequently Annoyed by his Co-star
Though she was 27 when she played the teenaged Baby, Grey was appearing in her first romantic leading role, which put her under a lot of pressure. Swayze, a consummate professional, was not amused by her mood swings. "She seemed particularly emotional, sometimes bursting into tears if someone criticized her," he wrote. "Other times, she slipped into silly moods, forcing us to do scenes over and over again when she'd start laughing."
Jennifer Grey’s Unintentional Laugh Made the Movie
Remember the indelible scene where Johnny gently runs his hand down Baby's arm during rehearsal and she bursts into laughter? It was completely unscripted. The take captured Grey's real-life ticklish reaction to Swayze's touch and his very real grimace in frustration. The director loved the end result so much that he kept it in.
They Had to Spray-Paint the Autumn Leaves
Though the film takes place during the summer, it was actually shot in mid-October. Set decorators had to perform a little movie magic by painting all the brown leaves green for the outdoor scenes.
Grey’s Boyfriend Caused Quite a Stir
Locals were surprised to see "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" star Matthew Broderick visiting the set—and absolutely shocked when he was spotted kissing his girlfriend, Grey, who had played Bueller's sister. Ewww!
Grey and SJP Have a Lot in Common
Future "Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker reportedly auditioned to play Baby. The two actresses also have something else in common: Matthew Broderick. In 1997, Parker married Grey's ex-boyfriend.
That Lake Was Freeeezing
There's a reason the scene in the lake, where Johnny and Baby practice their famous dance lift, doesn't include any close-ups of their faces. Their lips turned blue as they shivered in 40-degree temps. "It was horrifyingly, hypothermically cold in that lake, and we filmed that scene over and over," wrote Swayze.
The Plot Was Almost Very Different
The producers were excited when Clearasil expressed interest in sponsoring the film, which would have included slapping a picture of the acne cream on every poster. But there was one catch: The company wanted to cut the abortion subplot. When the writer convinced the producers that the entire story would fall apart without those scenes, Clearasil dropped out.
The Big Lift Was Crazy Difficult to Pull Off
It's one of the most iconic dance moves of all time—Baby takes a running leap and is held skyward in the muscled arms of Johnny Castle. You would think the two stars had rehearsed the tricky move endlessly before the cameras rolled, but that couldn't be further from the truth. "God, no! I only did it on the day I shot it," Grey told the Guardian. "Never rehearsed it, never done it since. I don't know how all these people who reenact it have the guts to throw themselves into the arms of anyone other than Patrick Swayze. It's insane!"
Tragedy Struck Just Before the Premiere
Six days prior to the movie's opening, Grey and boyfriend Matthew Broderick were vacationing in Ireland, where he swerved his rental car into the wrong lane, causing a crash that killed a mother and daughter. Though Grey suffered only minor injuries, she later said the mental anguish from the crash changed the trajectory of her life and career—she never had a hit as big as "Dirty Dancing" again.
No One Predicted Its Success
The first screenings of the film were so poorly received that there was talk of a straight-to-video release. But producers pushed ahead, and the little indie film that cost a paltry $5 million to make went on to become one of the highest grossing movies of 1987, raking in more than $170 million worldwide.
The Best Line Was Once Considered the Worst
Swayze originally thought "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" was ridiculous, and he had to psych himself up to say it. But once he saw the finished film, he realized how well it worked in context. And we've all been saying it ever since.
The Movie’s Hit Theme Song was a Last-Minute Discovery
A Lionel Richie song was supposed to provide the movie's big finish—until choreographer Kenny Ortega got to the final tape in a box of demos. "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" was co-written by Franke Previte, the former lead singer of Franke and the Knockouts, who had a Top 10 single with "Sweetheart" in 1981. Ultimately, it was Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes who had the time of their lives, recording the song that went on to top the Billboard Hot 100 and win an Oscar for Best Original Song and the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
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