CATEGORIES Movie NewsAdmit it: You've seen "Dirty Dancing" more times than you'd care to admit. You're drawn in by its blend of music, dance, nostalgia, and romance between macho-yet-tender Johnny (Patrick Swayze) and awkward-yet-brave Baby (Jennifer Grey) every time it's on TV. Which is often: it seems to have been running on endless loop since its release 25 years ago, on August 21, 1987.
Still, as much as you love "Dirty Dancing," you may not realize how often the production skirted disaster, from almost not being made at all, to almost not casting Swayze, to almost cutting a key subplot to please a squeamish potential corporate sponsor, to its catastrophic test screenings that almost led the film's backers to let the film go unreleased and write it off as a bad investment. How did all that trauma lead to moviegoers having the time of their lives? Read on.
1. Writer/producer Eleanor Bergstein based the story on her own childhood. She, too, grew up in Brooklyn, the daughter of a Jewish doctor and sister of a girl named Frances (Baby's real name in the movie), who summered at resorts in the Catskills in the early 1960s.
2. Bergstein also worked her way through college as a dance teacher at an Arthur Murray dance school. She knew not just the conventional steps, but the "dirty" ones, too."So, while everybody thinks I'm Baby, there's actually a lot of Johnny in me, too," she said in a 2005 interview.
3. Bergstein wrote a dirty-dancing scene into her 1980 romance "It's My Turn," only to have it cut from the film. That incident inspired her to make a whole movie about the grinding R&B dance steps.
4. The inspiration for Johnny was supposedly a dancer named Michael Terrace that Bergstein knew in Brooklyn. "I remember when I was making the film, I was going through the dance steps with the director and the choreographer and they said 'Eleanor, maybe you should get some of your old partners to dance with you' and I said, 'My old partners are either in jail or out on parole," she recalled. "It was a very rough neighborhood."
5. Emile Ardolino was the Oscar-winning director of the documentary "He Makes Me Feel Like Dancing," but he'd never directed a fiction feature before. Still, he wanted the "Dirty Dancing" job so much that he lobbied for it even while sequestered on jury duty
6. Jennifer Grey had dance in her genes; her father is Oscar-winning "Cabaret" hoofer Joel Grey. She'd also had some dance training. At the time the film was released, her most prominent role was as Matthew Broderick's resentful sister in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." (In real life, she and Broderick had been dating.) She was 26, about a decade older than Baby was supposed to be.
7. Patrick Swayze wasn't the first choice to play Johnny. At 34, he was also about 10 years older than Johnny was supposed to be. He didn't have the right ethnic look (dark and Mediterranean) for the character as he appeared on the page. Plus, he and Grey hadn't gotten along well on the set of 1984's "Red Dawn." Instead, the filmmakers chose Billy Zane. Still, as much fun as it would have been to have seen "ZANE/GREY" on the movie's poster, he didn't have the volatile chemistry in the dance scenes with Grey that Swayze did. So Swayze got the part, and the character was rewritten from Italian to Irish.
8. Before landing the role of Dr. Houseman in "Dirty Dancing," Jerry Orbach was best known as a Broadway song-and-dance man. Of course, the movie gave him a huge career boost, culminating in his 12-year starring role as Det. Lennie Briscoe on TV's "Law & Order."
9. Kelly Bishop landed the role of Mrs. Houseman by accident. Lynne Lipton had already landed the role and had begun shooting, but an illness forced her out of the film. Bishop, who had been cast as randy resort cougar Vivian Pressman, shifted over to the role of Baby's mother, while assistant choreographer Miranda Garrison took on the role of Vivian. The movie's success ultimately led to Bishop's long-running role as Lauren Graham's imperious mother on TV 's "Gilmore Girls."
10. Bergstein wanted to cast her friend, Dr Ruth, as purse-swiping Mrs Schumacher, and Joel Grey as her husband, but the sex therapist backed out when she learned she was being asked to play a thief. The roles went to other actors.
11. Honi Coles, who played the bandleader at Kellerman's resort, was himself a legendary tap dancer.
12. Kenny Ortega, a choreographer who had trained with none other than Gene Kelly, landed the job of creating the steps for the film's dance sequences.
13. Despite its upstate New York setting, the movie was shot in the South. Outdoor scenes were shot at a camp in Lake Lure, N.C., and indoor scenes were shot at a resort in Mountain Lake, Va. Today, the Mountain Lake Hotel touts its status as the film's set and continues to book guests for "Dirty Dancing"-themed weekends.
14. Test screenings for the completed film were disastrous. Distributor Vestron considered sending the film straight to video. Producer Aaron Russo was so convinced the film was going to flop, he reportedly said, "Burn the negative, collect the insurance."
15. Clearasil wanted to come aboard as a promotional partner, seeing the film as a good way to reach acne-afflicted teenagers. But the company wanted the abortion subplot cut from the movie. Bergstein balked, and Vestron lost out on what could have been a lucrative sponsorship.
16. The movie cost just $5 million to make. It earned $64 million at the North American box office and a total of $170 million worldwide.
17. The movie won an Oscar for Best Original Song, for the hit "I've Had the Time of My Life."
18. A sountrack album, containing most of the film's big numbers, sold a whopping 39 million copies, prompting the release of a second collection of tunes.
19. Jane Brucker, who played Baby's sister Lisa, was one of the few people associated with the film who didn't see a career boost. She made only a couple more movies, including "Stealing Home" and "Bloodhounds of Broadway." She blamed "Dirty Dancing" for typecasting her as a shrill and ridiculous comic character.
20. Emile Ardolino went on to make other music- and dance-themed films, including "Sister Act," "The Nutcracker," and a TV movie version of "Gypsy." He died of complications from AIDS in 1993. Choreographer Ortega went on to become a director known for music- and dance-themed projects as well, including all three installments of "High School Musical" and Michael Jackson's concert rehearsal film "This Is It."
21. Lonny Price, who played Neal, the snooty Kellerman nephew, went on to become a celebrated Broadway director.
22. The film was adapted into a stage musical, written by Bergstein and with many of the movie's familiar songs. It was a smash from London to Sydney, but it has yet to make it to Broadway.
23. In 2007, a 20th anniversary line of "Dirty Dancing" merchandise included infant clothing, such as onesies emblazoned with the slogan, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner."
24. A film prequel, 2004's "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," had only a passing connection to the original (including a cameo by Swayze). A full reboot was in the works last fall, with Ortega slated to direct, but the project remains in development limbo.
25. The "Red Dawn" tensions between Swayze and Grey persisted on the "Dirty Dancing" set, but today, Grey has nothing but kind words for Swayze, who died in 2009. " I always thought of Patrick as being so vulnerable," she told CNN recently. "Everything he did he did so fully, but I could always see in him, this beautiful, beautiful vulnerability and I think that's one of the many things that make him someone that we all miss."
UPDATE: Jane Brucker e-mailed Moviefone to correct the impression left by other sources regarding her feelings about the role "Dirty Dancing" played in her career. She wrote, "Jeez, I don't blame 'Dirty Dancing' for my flat career at all. I think 'Dirty Dancing' gives the impression I'm a horrible singer. That's where the 'shrill' thing comes in only. I'm extremely grateful to have been in 'Dirty Dancing.'"