Originally a low-budget flick produced by an up-and-coming studio, “Dirty Dancing” quickly became the film of a century after it was released in 1987. More than that, the cult classic featuring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey inspired generations, and not only in the United States. But behind the scenes, it turns out, things didn’t necessarily play out exactly how some might imagine. Sometimes the mood was raunchy, and sometimes the mood got tense – in fact, not all of the actors really got along so well on set. Read on to learn what Jennifer and Patrick really thought about one another and a whole lot more.
1. Baby Was Inspired By A Real Person
One of the biggest movies of the 1980s, Dirty Dancing, was produced by Eleanor Bergstein. What not everyone knows about the film is that one of the main characters, Baby, was inspired by Bergstein. In fact, Baby’s life was based on hers.
Throughout the movie, Baby’s character was so thoroughly developed that even the minutest of details about her were introduced. She was a Jewish girl from Brooklyn whose father was a doctor. Indeed, Bergstein is also passionate about dancing. It wasn’t the only way the director’s personal life influenced the film, as you’ll soon learn.
2. ‘Dirty Dancing’ Wasn’t Going To Be Called ‘Dirty Dancing’
When Dirty Dancing director Eleanor Bergstein grew up in the ’50s, she was a dancer herself. Although not as wild as the kind of dancing that can be found in clubs and bars today, Bergstein danced in competitions that were considered provocative at the time.
Specifically, Bergstein was fond of Mambo. That fact must have inspired producers who originally toyed with calling the film I Was a Teenage Mambo Queen. (Dirty Dancing was, they thought, perhaps too provocative.) Doesn’t quite roll off the tip of the tongue, does it?
3. The Catskills… In Virginia?
Dirty Dancing is set in 1963, when the Houseman family takes a summer vacation at the Catskill Mountains, located in southern New York State. That’s where Baby meets Johnny, and you know the rest from there.
But the Catskills, known for beautiful scenery and wildlife, isn’t where the movie was actually filmed. Instead, the cast shot scenes at a lodge in Virginia, which had a similar vibe. The only issue was that they were shooting summer vacation at the end of summer. The crew actually had to spray paint the fall leaves on the trees green to make it work!
4. A Cursed Cast?
It’s not totally out of the ordinary for a popular film to be rumored to be cursed. Usually, though, those films tended to be horror flicks like Psycho and The Conjuring, which have each had creepy instances occur off-set.
During the beginning stages of filming for Dirty Dancing, cast members were beginning to believe they too were cursed, after a series of unfortunate events. They included the set being broken into, crew member injuries and cast member food poisoning – all happening 24 hours apart from each other.
5. The Iconic Crawling Scene Wasn’t Planned
One Dirty Dancing‘s more memorable scenes wasn’t at all choreographed or scripted. It’s the scene in the dance studio, in which Johnny and Baby are practicing and they end up crawling on the floor, lip syncing the song “Love is Strange.”
Interestingly, nothing about this scene was planned at all. It might be hard to believe after having watched the film, but the film’s creators only intended for the routine to be a warm up for the two actors. Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey’s spontaneous skit looked so natural that director Emile Ardolino decided to add it. You won’t believe what other secrets about Dirty Dancing are next.
6. An Instant Hit… Song
In addition to producing generations of cult fans, Dirty Dancing also propelled a song to the top of the charts immediately upon its release. Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’s “I’ve Had the Time of my Life” became an instant hit.
The song was fittingly played during the end of the film – the classic moment when Baby and Johnny perform for the entire audience, including Baby’s parents. The tune even won an Oscar! More recently, it resurfaced after someone played it over video footage of one of the 2016 presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
7. Corny Lines
Much to the dismay of many artists who value authenticity above all else, sometimes the audience likes a cheesy line here and there. This was especially true of Patrick Swayze’s “nobody puts Baby in a corner” line in Dirty Dancing. Pop culture ate it up.
Swayze himself, it turns out, wasn’t a huge fan. He later wrote about it in his 2009 biography, revealing it was difficult for him to deliver the cheesy line. “I could hardly bring myself to say: ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner.’ It sounded so corny,” he wrote.
8. A Conservative Time
Dirty Dancing was shot during a conservative time in American history – after all, it was the ’80s and Ronald Reagan occupied the White House. The fact that one of the characters, Penny, undergoes an abortion in the film was therefore problematic to one of the sponsors.
That sponsor, an acne cream company, pulled out due to its leadership’s pro-life convictions. Dirty Dancing was filmed on a budget, and every investor and sponsor meant the world. What’s more, some would argue the abortion wasn’t even painted in a pretty picture.
9. An Instant Hit? Not Exactly
Looking back, it’s easy to think Dirty Dancing was an immediate hit. But there was a time when it wasn’t – at least, to the producers it wasn’t. After director Emile Ardolino and the film editors showed them the first cut of the film, they hated it.
The producers considered Ardolino’s work so bad that they wanted to nix the film entirely. One of them even told Ardolino to “burn the negative and collect the insurance.” Harsh words, but he was clearly given another chance and nailed it.
10. Tickles & Giggles
Some people are more ticklish than others, but everyone has had an uncontrollable giggle fit before. Jennifer Grey seems to have encountered both issues on set while playing Baby – and it happened during one of the movie’s most iconic scenes.
It was the scene during which Johnny runs his hand down her armpit and onto her side, and she can’t stop laughing. It was totally organic. Johnny’s annoyed reaction was just as organic, coming Patrick Swayze. Keep reading, there are bigger secrets to reveal.
11. The Dirty Dancing Lodge Exists
Dirty Dancing was filmed in Virginia, at the Mountain Lake Lodge. The lodge actually exists, and fans can actually stay there, right were Johnny and Baby fell in love. You can best believe Mountain Lake made sure the connection was known.
The lodge features fun activities similar to the ones it hosted in the film, including watermelon tossing,. Guests are also able to spend a night in the same cabin as Baby did in the movie. Sounds like a solid summer escape!
12. For Baby, Dancing Runs In The Family
Dirty Dancing is perhaps the biggest dance movie in history, and for one of the main characters, Baby Houseman, dancing was only natural. Jennifer Grey played Baby, and her father is Joel Grey, the Cabaret dance legend.
The family roots in entertainment run even deeper. Joel’s father, Mickey Katz, was an actor, musician and comedian from California. It isn’t clear whether he was at all involved in coaching Jennifer in any way, but either way, dancing must run in the family.
13. Was There Another Johnny?
There have been rumors over the years alleging that Patrick Swayze wasn’t always meant to play Johnny Castle. Some have reported that Val Kilmer turned down the role, and the casting directors’ second choice, Billy Zane, just didn’t click with Jennifer Grey on screen.
According to writer and producer Eleanor Bergstein, those rumors simply aren’t true. In an interview with Yahoo Movies in 2017, she set the record straight once and for all. “Patrick was the only actor who was ever offered this [role], and he’s the only one we ever wanted,” she said.
14. Too Dirty?
Everyone knows where Dirty Dancing‘s title came from. The kind of dancing that took place in the movie was considered provocative at the time – perhaps akin to “twerking” today. The point of the film, though, was to empower women.
The film’s editor, apparently taking a more conservative approach, didn’t see it that way. While working on scenes featuring Baby, he asked writer and producer Eleanor Bergstein, “How can you have respect for a girl who dances that way?” Bergstein didn’t respond.
15. Dirty Dancing Off Set – Not Allowed!
Dirty Dancing was fittingly titled: Some routines were quite suggestive, and those in charge of making the film had to ensure the raunchy vibe would remain on set. Any complications in such matters could have caused problems for the film.
To make this happen, the film’s write and producer, Eleanor Bergstein, decreed that the film’s dancers weren’t allowed to prance around with one another off of the dance floor. Apparently, the rule went as far as to forbid any kind of physical contact between the dancers off set. There are more dirty secrets to Dirty Dancing. Keep reading.
16. Swayze And Grey Were Definitely Not In Love
The chemistry between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing is so powerful that it might lead some to question whether Johnny and Baby’s love affair carried over into their personal lives. Well, sorry to break it to you, but it didn’t!
In fact, Swayze and Grey didn’t really get along, and that tension apparently carried onto the set. Swayze wrote about his co-lead in his autobiography, saying she “couldn’t stand” him when they first auditioned. Nevertheless, the two later reunited in a film titled Red Dawn.
For Jennifer Grey, disaster struck not long before Dirty Dancing premiered. Grey was traveling through Europe with her boyfriend, Matthew Broderick. You might recall she played his little sister in the famous Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
The two got into a deadly car accident in Ireland while Broderick was driving – he crossed the line and slammed into another vehicle, killing the mother and daughter in the car. He was later convicted of dangerous driving and only ended up paying a fine, much to the dismay of the victims’ family. Dirty Dancing skyrocketed Grey’s fame, but at the worst timing imaginable.
18. Twenty-Seven Going On Seventeen?
If you had to pretend to be a 17-year-old as a twenty-something, could you do it? That’s what 27-year-old Jennifer Grey had to do when she auditioned for the role of Baby Houseman. What made it even tougher was that she only had five minutes to do it.
Grey had to make the producers believe she could play a character who was ten years younger than herself. Obviously, she succeeded and ended up more than doing the role justice. Grey wasn’t the only character in the film to play a character aged different herself.
19. The Country That Loves Dirty Dancing
There is a country outside of the United States that loves Dirty Dancing as much as Americans do – or perhaps even more. It’s not necessarily the country one might expect. Writer and producer Eleanor Bernstein told The Guardian all about it in 2006.
The country, apparently, is Russia. “[In] Russia, it’s policy in the battered women’s shelters, when a woman comes in for help,” Bernstein said. “First, they wash and dress her wounds, then they give her soup. Then they sit her down and show her Dirty Dancing.”
20. Penny Was Too Pretty
Usually, people use makeup to make themselves more beautiful, not less attractive. That wasn’t the case for Cynthia Rhodes, who played Johnny’s dance partner, Penny, in Dirty Dancing. Rhodes was dubbed too pretty for the camera!
Rhodes was supposed to look like she was in anguish, so the makeup crew worked hard to make her down. Not everyone is a big fan of makeup, but it must have been an enormous compliment to the actress. How many people in the world are considered too gorgeous for television?
21. Johnny Was Based On A Real Person Too
Baby isn’t the only character in Dirty Dancing that was inspired by a real person. In fact, Johnny was inspired by a man Eleanor Bergstein knew in real life – a dancer named Michael Terrace from Brooklyn.
Bergstein’s personal life had such a big influence on the film that the director and choreographer of Dirty Dancing suggested she recruit some of her old dance partners for the film. “‘My old partners are either in jail or out on parole,’” she recalled telling him. “It was a very rough neighborhood.”
22. Baby’s Mom Could Have Been Played By Someone Else
Baby’s mother, Mrs. Houseman, was brilliantly played by Kelly Bishop. But Bishop had initially auditioned for a different role in the film. Originally, she had landed the role she wanted, and that role was of cougar Vivian Pressman.
The role of Mrs. Houseman was meant for actress Lynne Lipton (rolls right off the tip of the tongue). Unfortunately, though, Lipton became incredibly sick and had to leave the role. Bishop took her place. Her performance helped her become Emily Gilmore on Gilmore Girls.
23. Sequels Suck?
Dirty Dancing was so popular that even younger generations know the name. Indeed, the film’s creators intended to capitalize on its tremendous success by making a sequel. The one obstacle? Patrick Swayze. Was he to play in the sequel?
Producers allegedly approached Swayze with an offer of six million dollars to film a sequel, but the big-time actor wasn’t interested. Why? Swayze apparently doesn’t like the idea of sequels. He did, however, appear in the 2004 prequel Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, though he didn’t play a main character.
24. “She’s Like The Wind”
One of the most famous power ballads from Dirty Dancing, titled “She’s Like the Wind,” was actually not written for the film. It was, however, written by Patrick Swayze himself, alongside Stacy Widelitz. The two originally wrote the song for a different Swayze flick.
The film Grandview U.S.A. didn’t pick up the song, and Swayze wasn’t going to let it rot. He showed it to the Dirty Dancing producers while filming, and they fell in love with it. The song ended up being about Swayze’s co-star instead.
25. Goosebumps & Blue Lips
The skit in which Johnny lifts Baby in the lake is one of the more memorable scenes of Dirty Dancing. The reality of filming it was far less perfect. Even though the movie is set in the summer, filming took place in October.
The water in the lake, therefore, was cold – so cold that Swayze and Jennifer’s lips were blue. That’s why none of the shots are close ups. That’s right, it was intentional. Keep reading for more behind-the-scene secrets about Johnny and Baby’s summer together.
26. A Jewish Film?
When thinking about Dirty Dancing, “Jewish movie” doesn’t necessarily come to mind. But according to producer Eleanor Bergstein – she knows a thing or two about the film – it is a Jewish film if you look at it from a certain perspective.
Perhaps there’s some truth to that. Not only is the Houseman family Jewish, but the lodge at which they stayed at in the film is based on the real-life Grossinger’s Hotel, which is located on the “Borscht Belt” of the Catskills. The Belt was known to welcome Jewish vacationing families at a time when many places didn’t.
27. From Dirty Dancing Actress To Hollywood Star
Dirty Dancing‘s astronomical success propelled Jennifer Grey to stardom throughout the late ’80s and into the early ’90s. When actors become stars, they begin to behave like stars. Grey is no exception, and she transformed quite a bit since starring in the film.
Grey went through two rhinoplasty surgeries because the first one didn’t work very well. Afterward, she was so displeased by the whole debacle that she considered – albeit briefly – changing her name and restarting her career. She didn’t, of course. It was but a small obstacle for the star to overcome.
28. Jennifer Grey’s New Crush
The moment in which Baby nails the lift with Johnny has become so ingrained in our pop culture that it has consistently been recreated, probably on many a first dates throughout the world. It was also recreated by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Jennifer Grey happened to see the 2012 film at a movie theater with her husband. She was shocked to see the scene. “I’m such a fan of Ryan Gosling and all of a sudden he’s saying my name [in the movie]. I’m just in the theater with my husband and I look at him like, ‘Oh my God, Ryan Gosling just said my name. What’s going on?’”
29. Magic Touch
Dirty Dancing has been sewn into the fabric of American pop culture for many reasons, and superb dancing is certainly one of them. One of the most memorable scenes – the one in which Baby jumps into Johnny’s arms, pulling off the perfect lift – is particularly impressive.
It turns out Grey didn’t even rehearse for the move – at all. And she was intensely proud that she was able to pull it off. Recalling the iconic scene in 2015, she boasted that “I only did it on the day I shot it. Never rehearsed it, never done it since.”
30. Why Did It Do So Well?
Dirty Dancing was a tremendous success by all accounts and remains iconic in pop culture even today. What about the film was so compelling to audiences? What propelled it to such heights? Patrick Swayze has shared his thoughts on that in an interview with AFI.
To him, it wasn’t only about the sensuality in the love story between Johnny and Baby – there’s more to it. “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.”
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