1987 romantic dance film Dirty Dancing led millions to sway in their seats and their hearts skip a beat. It starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey as unlikely lovers, and we had a hunch we might find some behind-the-scenes juice about it. Guess what? We did!
Dirty Dancing’s Eleanor Bergstein took the inspiration for the movie from her own upbringing in the 1960s. She really was raised in Brooklyn to a father who was a doctor and the family really did go up to the Catskills resort every summer.
But wait, there’s more! Bergstein’s nickname really was ‘Baby’ until her mid-twenties, and she did dance with a very experienced dance instructor one summer. It’s a real case of art imitating life!
When producers were looking to cast the role of Francis ‘Baby’ Houseman, they didn’t think that they were going to go with 26-year-old Jennifer Grey, who was a full ten years older than her meant to be character.
However, in her audition, Grey stunned everyone with her ability to shrink back her years and become an innocent 16 year old. She had five minutes to wow the producers, and she sure did! Could you imagine someone else as Baby?
Speaking of someone else playing Baby, there was a time producers wanted actress Sarah Jessica Parker for the role. Sarah Jessica was a dance native in a way.
You see, before Dirty Dancing was on the table, Sarah was in films like Footloose and Girls Just Want to Have Fun, where she showed off her dancing skills. Again, we can’t express how happy we are that SJP (as much as we love her!) didn’t end up playing Baby, Jennifer Grey was the best person for the role.
Some scenes in the film were entirely improvised by the actors. The late Patrick Swayze said, “When I’m teaching Jennifer and I’m getting frustrated, trying to get her to be serious, and she’s laughing or giggling the moment I run my hand down her arm — that really is me getting frustrated, like, ‘Would you just stop?!'”
You just can’t fake that kind of chemistry and annoyance, folks, regardless of how talented the actors are! Eventually though they got the scene right, but not without some hard work on Grey’s part for a straight face.
Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner
The famous line ‘Nobody puts baby in the corner’ is without a doubt the most remembered line in the film, and might just be one of the most famous lines in any movie, ever. It’s also the one that made women everywhere swoon at Johnny’s protective streak.
However, the line was almost taken out of the film after Swayze didn’t like it. He thought the line was forced and cheesy. Yes, it was, but we love it anyway! It wouldn’t be Dirty Dancing without it.
Grey Almost Missed the Premiere
The 1987 premiere of the film was almost missed by Jennifer Grey and her boyfriend at the time, Matthew Broderick. The reason for their near-miss was that just twelve days before the premiere the two were involved in a car accident when they were in Ireland.
While they were thankfully alright, The crash did lead to two people losing their lives, and the two of them getting bruised up. When Grey got to the premiere she told reporters, “I’m feeling so happy to be here and to be alive and to be healthy.”
Jennifer Grey may pretend not to know how to dance in the beginning of the film as Baby, but the actress portraying her on-screen certainly had the dancing genes in her the whole time.
Jennifer Grey is actually the daughter of Academy Award winning actor and dancer, Joel Grey. Her father is a legend in the world of stage, film and television. Jennifer grew up seeing her father dance and began taking interest in it herself at a young age.
The character of Johnny Castle, the pivotal male lead role that pretty much holds the entire movie together, could have almost gone to two other men – Val Kilmer and Billy Zane. While we respect these actors tremendously and think they are amazing, they couldn’t have been our Johnny!
While Kilmer turned down the role, Zane and Grey had no on-set chemistry whatsoever so producers continued searching until they finally found Patrick Swayze – and the rest, as they say, was history.
Jennifer and Patrick
When Swayze was auditioning for the role of Johnny, Jennifer wasn’t all too happy. The two had actually worked together in the past, in the 1984 film Red Dawn, and Grey thought Swayze was a bit of a jerk, believe it or not.
Patrick was also ten years older than his character (as was Grey, incidentally) but managed to pull off a guy who’s just 24 years old, instead of his real age of 34. Once Patrick and Jennifer started working together again, though, their chemistry was undeniable.
Location, Location, Location
The film may have seemed to be set in Upstate New York, and it was indeed filmed in part at the famed Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club in that state, but most of the film was actually shot in Virginia and North Carolina.
The location it was supposed to look like was the resort area in the Catskill Mountains called the Borscht Belt. The name came from the many Jewish families who would come every summer to the resorts in the area, and their supposed food of choice.
The lift that almost didn’t happen
Despite the fact that the movie was supposed to be set in the summer, because of the area’s popularity production ended up beginning in the fall so as to make sure they had the run of the place.
What the fall meant for the actors was that they were often cold – summer clothes in the East Coast’s fall do not get along well together. The lake scene between Grey and Swayze with that iconic lift was particularly difficult to shoot because of the cold water and temperatures.
As we said, most of the film was shot in Virginia and North Carolina. Pembroke, Virginia was the location of Mountain Lake Lodge. Fans of the film found out where the lodge was and decided to go there for their very own Dirty Dancing experience.
The lodge decided to capitalize on the success of the film and provide three Dirty Dancing weekends a year, where everything on the premises was related to the film – watermelon and dancing included!
When the film opened in theaters in the summer of 1987, people seemed to instantly fall in love with it. A lot of positive reviews and box office takes were recorded in pretty short order. The movie’s real fans, however, were themselves teenagers at the time.
It was said that groups of teens would return to see the film in theaters multiple times and bought the film on VHS when it came out. There’s just something about dancing and forbidden love that gets the blood rushing!
Box Office Hit
Today, Dirty Dancing has made a whopping $214 million worldwide, and growing. The fact that the film was made for only $5 million only makes the profits more astounding.
The total revenue stated here is only from theaters (there are still theaters showing the film during special nights and events). To this day, Dirty Dancing is the most sold videocassette in history, and considering there are no more videocassette sales it seems the film will always keep the record.
The film’s soundtrack was specially made for the film and was an even greater success than ever expected. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack sold more than 32 million copies worldwide.
The success of the first album inspired the second album, which came out in 1988 and is titled More Dirty Dancing. The albums were musical hits and each single got its very own time to shine. (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, meanwhile, will always be synonymous with Dirty Dancing and the jumping scene.
Bill Medley was the voice behind the male part of the song I’ve Had The Time of My Life. When he was approached to do the song he agreed, but thought the film was an XXX-rated film than a serious Hollywood production.
When his song hit it big with the film, he was as surprised as anyone! Three years after Dirt Dancing, Bill and Patrick worked together again when Bill sang the song Unchained Melody in the film Ghost, where Swayze starred alongside Demi Moore.
The song I’ve Had The Time of My Life was the number-1 hit song of 1987. The following award season, Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, who sang the male and female vocals on it respectively, won a Grammy.
A little later, the writers of the song won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. The single sold more than 500,000 copies in its first year of release, a very large number of units sold considering it was part of a film soundtrack.
Spinoffs and Redo’s
The success of Dirty Dancing was trying to be recreated many a time. CBS had created a Dirty Dancing television show that lasted 11 episodes, while in the UK, there was a reality television show that was, naturally, a dance competition.
The reality show aired from 2007 to 2008 and took place at the Mountain Lake Lodge. There were so many fans that wanted the film to somehow continue, that these spinoffs and associated shows were a form of necessity for the public.
In Hollywood, the ultimate sign of success and longevity is often seeing a musical open based on a film. Indeed, screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein edited her screenplay to work for a live musical production. And thus, Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage was born in 2004.
The play has been showing in Chicago, Toronto, and throughout Europe, while it also toured the United States in 2014. The play’s success is not questionable at all, but it has sadly yet to achieve Broadway-level success.
Actor Jerry Orbach, who played Baby’s father Dr. Jake Houseman in the film, was on Conan O’Brien’s late night talk show way back in 1997 and asked the audience if, for the 10th anniversary of the film’s release, they would like a re-release of the film in theaters.
The response from the live studio audience was so great, on top of that of the people watching at home, that the very idea came to fruition when millions of the film’s fans decided it was worth a try.
Patrick Swayze explained to the press why he thought the movie did so well throughout the years, he said, “It’s not about the sensuality; it’s really about people trying to find themselves.”
The movie, as far as he was concerned, was about 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.” He concluded, “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.”
Another Dance Movie
The screenwriter of Dirty Dancing, Eleanor Bergstein, wrote another dance film after the mind-blowing success of Dirty Dancing. Because how could you not, really? In 1995, Bergstein wrote and directed the film Let It Be Me with actors Campbell Scott and Jennifer Beals.
The film was nowhere near the hit Dirty Dancing was, unfortunately, but she did give it a try! Bergstein really did manage to succeed after Dirty Dancing when she adapted the script of Dirty Dancing to the stage.
Eastern European Twist
In a strange twist of events, many Eastern European people love watching Dirty Dancing. Eleanor stated in a 2006 interview with The Guardian, “in Russia, it’s policy in the battered women’s shelters, when a woman comes in for help.
First, they wash and dress her wounds, then they give her soup. Then they sit her down and show her Dirty Dancing. When the Berlin Wall came down, there were all these pictures of kids wearing Dirty Dancing T-shirts; they were saying, ‘We want to have what they have in the West! We want Dirty Dancing!’”
In 2004, the prequel film to Dirty Dancing came out, titled Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. The film takes place in Cuba (obviously) and its plot roughly runs along the same lines. The sequel once again introduces us to a girl who is too shy to move the way she wants to.
She then meets a ‘lesser’ boy who is an incredibly sensual dancer and who teaches her the way of the sway. The film starred Diego Luna and Romola Garai and was not the success everyone hoped it would be.
Jennifer Grey’s features were perfect for the role of Baby. She was thin and petite, her skin glowed and her hair was wild and shiny. The only thing about Jennifer that (mostly Jennifer) and others had a problem with was her nose.
We personally thought that it gave her character and fit very well with her features, she seemed to truly hate it and underwent a nose job a few years later. There are those who say that the nose job ruined her career since she was almost unrecognizable; we think they are exaggerating.
Kelly Bishop played the role of Mrs. Houseman, but the role found her rather than the other way around. Bishop was supposed to play a resort resident who had a reputation for being a cougar.
When the original Mrs. Houseman, Lynn Lipton, got ill at the beginning of filming, producers replaced her with Bishop. It was her role as Baby’s mother that landed her the role of the snobby yet beloved grandmother on this hit television show, Gilmore Girls.
Director Emile Ardolino was an Academy Award winning director when he heard about Dirty Dancing’s production. He was the director of the documentary, He Makes Me Feel Like Dancing.
When he heard about Dirty Dancing, he wanted the director’s job so much that he went to producers and screenwriters to ask for the job. Ardolino begged for the job even when he was on jury duty at the time; he couldn’t imagine not getting the directing job for a film he connected to so much.
You already know that the entirety of the movie was filmed in both Virginia and North Carolina. What you don’t know is that filming actually took place in the winter. The movie is set in the summer, and so that’s why Jennifer and Patrick are parading around in their summer clothes.
In reality, it was actually freezing cold. These actors are really talented, not to have let the temperature affect them. Just think about that scene in the lake – it must have been frigid.
Knee injury restraints
The lift that happened in the freezing lake had another reason it almost didn’t happen. As a teenager, Patrick got a bad knee injury playing football. Because Patrick would put pressure on his knee as a dancer, the injury never recovered.
As a result, he had to get multiple knee surgeries over the course of his life. He was having bad problems with the same knee, making it almost impossible to do the lift. If you watch the movie, you’ll notice him constantly shifting his weight to the other leg.
A rose by any other name
William Shakespeare once told us that a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet. As it turns out, Dirty Dancing was almost given another title. Apparently, the producers thought ‘Dirty Dancing’ was a bit too scandalous, and wanted to call the film ‘I Was a Teenage Mambo Queen,’ instead.
We’re very happy they didn’t, because chances are the movie would not have done as well if they didn’t go with the title we know and love today. Good call, Shakespeare.
A close call
Typically, we think that masterpieces take a very long time to create. Indeed, works of art – film, paintings, songs – take artists months, even years to create. However, the same cannot be said about ‘Dirty Dancing.’
In fact, the entire film was made in less than 50 days. This time frame even includes the two weeks the actors took to rehearse. While the actors may have felt completely rushed during the filming process, they didn’t let this show at all in the final product. A quick masterpiece is possible, too!
The Johnny we know and love
After the films amazing success, Barbara Walters sat down with Patrick for an interview. He danced with her and gave her the ultimate ‘Patrick’ experience. During this interview, Patrick revealed that he initially did not want to play the role of Johnny.
Patrick did not want to be as some hunky dancer that wins the girl – he was sick of being type cast. However, upon rereading the script, he realized Johnny’s role was much more deep than that – one of redemption and proving ones own worth against all odds.