When Dirty Dancing was released in 1987 it sped its way into our hearts with its mix of nostalgia, romance, and of course dancing. But behind the scenes things were not always so dreamy, and unlike that famous lift, the production almost didn’t get off the ground at all. Here are some things fans didn’t know about the film.
1. Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze had some tension
In Patrick Swayze’s autobiography he admitted that there were some tense moments dealing with Jennifer on set. “We did have a few moments of friction when we were tired or after a long day of shooting. She seemed particularly emotional, sometimes bursting into tears if someone criticized her. Other times, she slipped into silly moods, forcing us to do scenes over and over again when she’d start laughing.”
2. Their tensions actually began on a different film
Jennifer and Patrick both starred in the 1984 film Red Dawn, and apparently they didn’t get along great on that set either. Their palpable friction was so obvious that it almost impacted Patrick’s ability to land the role in Dirty Dancing.
3. Jennifer and Patrick were both older than they were supposed to be
The character of Baby was supposed to be 16, but Jennifer was actually 26 when she got the part. Johnny was supposed to be around 24, and Patrick was 34 when he landed the role. Somehow the audience bought it.
4. Johnny was supposed to be Italian
The character Johnny Castle was originally written as Italian. The crew initially tried to pass on Swayze and hire Billy Zane (later of Titanic fame), but Billy failed to impress with his dance moves. Patrick Swayze was so good for the part, that they rewrote the character as Irish.
5. Dr. Ruth was offered a role but backed out
The sex therapist Dr. Ruth was offered the role of Mrs Schumacher, but she turned it down once she found out that the character was a thief.
6. The film was actually shot in the south
While the film takes place in upstate New York, it was actually all shot in the south. The external scenes of the film were shot in at a camp in Lake Lure, North Carolina, and the indoor scenes were filmed at a resort in Mountain Lake, Virginia which you can still visit today.
7. They expected the film to flop
After the film was completed they did some test screenings, and they went so poorly that they considered skipping the theater completely and going straight to video. This would have been a bad move however, since the movie ended up making $64 million in the North American box office and $170 million worldwide…after costing just $5 million to make.
8. Patrick thought the film made it thanks to its “heart”
“It’s got so much heart, to me. It’s not about the sensuality; it’s really about people trying to find themselves—this young dance instructor feeling like he’s nothing but a product, and this young girl trying to find out who she is in a society of restrictions when she has such an amazing take on things. On a certain level, it’s really about the fabulous, funky little Jewish girl getting the guy because what she’s got in her heart.”
9. Bill Medley thought “Time of My Life” was for a “bad porno”
When Bill Medley was approached about singing on the film’s title track “Time of My Life,” he thought it sounded like it was a bad porno and turned the job down. Eventually he came around and worked on the song as a duet with Jennifer Warnes. The song ended up winning an Oscar, Golden Globe, Grammy and becoming a global hit.
10. The title of the film came before the plot
Producer Lisa Gottlieb and writer Eleanor Bergstein met for lunch to throw around ideas after Bergstein’s initial concept wasn’t working. “I said, ‘Well what’s the story?’ And she said, ‘I don’t really have a story, but it should involve Latin dancing…’ So I switched the subject and said, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ She said, ‘I grew up in Brooklyn, my father was a doctor, I was one of those kids who used to go across the tracks to go dirty dancing.’ I said, ‘That’s a million-dollar title! Now we’ll figure out the story.’ We invented Johnny Castle at lunch.”
11. There were some real life inspirations for characters
Bergstein had a past with dance, and while she drew some inspiration from real life people, she couldn’t get much help from them. As she said about her dirty dance life: “My old partners are either in jail or out on parole … it was a very rough neighborhood.”
12. The lake was extremely cold
When Baby and Johnny were practicing their lift in the lake, the lake was only 40 degrees. They couldn’t even do any close up shots because the actors’ lips were blue. Patrick elaborated on shooting the scene and it sounded pretty terrible. “It was horrifyingly, hypothermically cold in that lake, and we filmed that scene over and over. And despite the fact that Jennifer was very light, when you’re lifting someone in water, take after take after take, even the skinniest little girl can feel like 500 pounds. By the time we finished shooting that sequence, my arms were like rubber, my body temperature had plunged.”
13. Patrick hated the film’s iconic line
“Nobody puts Baby in the corner” is a line that everyone knows from the film, but Patrick was not into it. He wanted to get rid of it completely, but later admitted that after watching the film in its entirety, it worked.
14. They only did the lift the one time
Jennifer and Patrick had to perform the dance lift in their audition, but then she got scared and never wanted to rehearse it again. So they didn’t. The only time that the actors attempted (and nailed) the lift was when they did it on camera, which ended up being the shot used in the movie.
15. Some unscripted moments were left in the film
A few of the great scenes in the movie were totally real. The scene where Baby bursts out laughing and Johnny looks annoyed was not written in, Jennifer is really ticklish and Patrick became seriously annoyed with her at times. Same goes for the scene where they were crawling around on the floor, that was their version of a warmup. Seems like it all worked out in the end.
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