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20 Things You Might Not Know About Ghostbusters

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As Paul Feig's reboot of Ivan Reitman's classic sci-fi-horror-comedy readies to hit theaters, we're looking back at the film that started it all.

1. DAN AYKROYD FOUND INSPIRATION FOR THE MOVIE IN HIS FAMILY'S HISTORY.

Dan Aykroyd grew up surrounded by spiritualists. His great-grandfather, Samuel A. Aykroyd, was a noted nineteenth century psychic investigator who conducted séances at the Aykroyd family farmhouse in eastern Ontario with a medium named Walter Ashurst. This predilection for the paranormal was passed down to Aykroyd’s grandfather, Maurice, who was an engineer for the Bell Telephone Company. Maurice allegedly tried to use his know-how to create a high-vibration crystal radio that could contact the spirit world. Dan's father, Peter, kept a sizeable library of books about spooky subjects (including his great grandfather’s séances), which kept ghosts and ghouls in the back of young Aykroyd’s mind. After he left Saturday Night Live in 1979, he read an article about parapsychology in an American Society of Psychical Research publication, which inspired Ghostbusters.

2. GHOSTBUSTERS COULD HAVE BEEN MUCH DIFFERENT—AND MUCH BIGGER.

Aykroyd found comedic inspiration in films like Bob Hope's The Ghost Breakers, the horror-comedies of Abbott and Costello, and Bowery Boys fare like Spook Busters and Ghost Chasers. He went wild writing his original script, which took place in the future and had a much darker tone. The actors he had in mind for the three main protagonists were himself, John Belushi, and Eddie Murphy. His concept involved dozens of Ghostbuster groups fighting specters across time and different dimensions. The now-iconic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man—which is in the climax of the finished film—appeared much earlier (on page 20) and was one of 50 large-scale monsters that the Ghostbusters would do battle with. Eventual director Ivan Reitman estimated that the first script would have cost up to $300 million to produce—and that was in 1984.

3. JOHN BELUSHI STILL APPEARS IN THE FINAL FILM, IN SPIRIT.

Part of the reason Aykroyd had to recontextualize and rethink his idea—other than its implausible potential budget—was the tragic death of his fellow former SNL castmate John Belushi, whom he envisioned as the sarcastic Peter Venkman. The role was later immortalized by Bill Murray, another SNL alum, but the writers still wanted to honor Belushi by somehow involving him in the movie. When it came time to think up the design for the first ghost the group is commissioned to bust, Aykroyd conceived of a gross-looking, gluttonous, party-guy persona for the apparition as an ironic homage to his friend Belushi. The ghost made it to the screen and was later christened “Slimer.”

4. THE MOVIE HAD TO BE MADE IN A VERY SHORT PERIOD OF TIME.

Once Aykroyd nailed down the general concept and the narrative of the film (but before he'd penned the final draft), he brought on Ivan Reitman, not only to direct, but also to sell the movie to a major motion picture studio. Reitman had previously directed the popular Bill Murray comedies Meatballs and Stripes—both of which had been co-written by another eventual Ghostbuster, Harold Ramis. Since Reitman had a relationship with Columbia Pictures (which produced Stripes), he approached pragmatic studio head Frank Price with Aykroyd’s outrageous one-sentence pitch—“Ghost janitors in New York”in May 1983. While admittedly skeptical, Price was attracted to the project because the tripartite of comedy geniuses who had agreed to play the leads: Aykroyd, Murray, and Ramis.

Price asked Reitman just how much the outrageous-sounding movie would cost, and the director allegedly threw out a random guesstimate of $30 million. Price agreed on the budget and the movie with one stipulation—that it must have a firm release in June 1984, in time for the summer season. This was no small detail, considering this gave them only 12 months to finish the script, shoot the film, and create and finish the special effects. The rushed production schedule immediately forced Aykroyd, Ramis, and Reitman to retreat to rented houses on Martha’s Vineyard for a marathon three-week writing session to complete the final shooting script. Afterward, they immediately began prepping the shoot and scouting locations.

5. SIGOURNEY WEAVER GAVE A UNIQUE AUDITION.

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Despite the fact that the film began production with its three leads already cast, Reitman needed the right actress for another vital part of the film. For the role of Venkman’s headstrong love interest, Dana Barrett, Reitman chose Sigourney Weaver. She was eager to do a comedy after her amazing performance as Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien, so she tried something altogether different for her audition. She offered up a wordless scene where she turned into one of the grotesque dogs that do Gozer’s bidding, an act that allegedly involved writhing across the casting couch and loudly snarling at Reitman. The director was impressed—if not a little scared—and she got the part.

6. THE PART OF LOUIS TULLY WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR ANOTHER SECOND CITY ALUM.

For the loveable loser-turned whacked-out demon “Keymaster of Gozer” Louis Tully, Aykroyd thought of actor John Candy. The Canadian comedian had previously worked with him in 1941 and The Blues Brothers; with Reitman, Ramis, and Murray in Stripes; and for Ramis again in National Lampoon’s Vacation. But Candy envisioned Louis as a stern German man with a thick accent who kept dozens of dogs in his apartment. He also wanted the character rewritten and made into a starring role. Filmmakers preferred the original character that Aykroyd and Reitman had developed, so they gave the role to another member of the Second City troupe, Rick Moranis. The soft-spoken, bespectacled comic brought his own brand of misfit comedy and improv styles to the now-classic character—and he also provided his own wardrobe.

7. "EGON SPENGLER" WAS INSPIRED BY A FRIEND, AN INTELLECTUAL, AND AN UNKNOWN.

When trying to come up with the perfect name for his character—who was the brains of the Ghostbusters—co-writer Harold Ramis combined both personal and academic inspirations. “Egon” was the first name of Egon Donsbeck, a Hungarian exchange student at Stephen K. Hayt Elementary School who was Ramis' classmate when he grew up in Chicago. “Spengler” came from German historian and philosopher Oswald Spengler. For the "look" of his character, Ramis copied the style of an unknown guy he'd seen on the cover of an abstract architectural journal. He thought the man’s old three-piece tweed suit, wire-rim glasses, and puffed-up hair were perfect for his geeky parapsychologist.

8. GHOSTBUSTERS IS THOUGHT OF AS A NEW YORK MOVIE, BUT SOME SIMPLE MOVIE MAGIC WENT INTO MAKING ITS VARIOUS LOCATIONS.

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Come to New York and you can visit some key Ghostbusters locations. The exterior of the fully functioning FDNY Hook & Ladder #8 building at 14 North Moore Street in TriBeCa served as the Ghostbusters’ base of operations—definitely not a “demilitarized zone,” as Egon said. The building at 55 Central Park West housed the apartments of Dana Barrett and Louis Tully. The main branch of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street is recognizable for the lions guarding its entrance, and Columbia University’s Havemeyer Hall served as the Weaver Hall Department of Psychology building that the guys are kicked out of at the beginning of the movie. Then there’s the legendary restaurant Tavern on the Green, where Louis was attacked by one of Gozer’s dogs.

But none of these places appear exactly as they do onscreen. The interior of the Ghostbusters' firehouse was actually an abandoned fire station in Los Angeles, and the rooftop temple scenes at Dana’s apartment were filmed at a huge set built on Stage 16 at Columbia Pictures (large-scale matte paintings were used for long shots). The early library scene where Egon is introduced was in fact filmed at the New York Public Library, but the scene where the three Ghostbusters come across the old librarian ghost in the stacks was actually shot across the country at the Los Angeles Public Library. Similarly, the Sedgewick Hotel—where the guys bust Slimer—wasn’t in New York at all; the exterior and interior shots were taken at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

9. THE ECTOMOBILE WAS ONE A KIND—AND THEN IT BROKE DOWN.

Out of the handful of iconic details from Ghostbusters is the Ectomobile, a 1959 Cadillac ambulance outfitted with gadgets and gizmos to help the guys bag pesky poltergeists. In a typical movie production, several similarly-adorned vehicles are used for stylistic and insurance purposes. (The production of Back to the Future, for instance, used three different DeLoreans.) Because the filming of Ghostbusters was so rushed, only one Ectomobile was put together. Naturally, everyone on set was very cautious around the then-25-year-old jalopy. While they handled the ambulance with care, the car broke down at the end of a shot of the Ecto driving across the Manhattan Bridge. Luckily, this didn't happen until after main production wrapped in New York City, but still, the car was DOA and wasn’t available for use again.

10. ONE VISUAL EFFECT SHOT OF SLIMER INVOLVED SOME SPRAY PAINT AND A PEANUT.

Visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund and his team—who also worked on such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark, the original Star Wars trilogy, and Poltergeist—were given only 10 months to design, storyboard, build, and shoot every special effect in the film. The quick turnaround forced workers like animation supervisor Terry Windell to have to think on their feet, especially when the deadline got very tight. When a wide shot that featured Slimer quickly floating around a chandelier in the Sedgewick Hotel scene wasn’t coming out right, and time was running out, Windell spraypainted a small peanut green in order to mimic the green ghoul. The seconds-long shot depicted Slimer blurred and spinning, so detail wasn’t a factor, and the shot was used in the final print of the film. Windell revealed that the extreme tactics taken for certain shots proved that the effects team was “totally serious about making it stupid.”

11. DIRECTOR IVAN REITMAN MADE A COUPLE OF UNORTHODOX APPEARANCES IN THE MOVIE.

You won't see Reitman in Ghostbusters, but still, he does have a presence: For the noises of Slimer pigging out on a pile of food before he famously slimes Peter Venkman, Reitman stepped in to provide the gross-out grub-gorging sounds. Reitman’s naturally deep voice also proved perfect for the moment when Dana becomes possessed and says “There is no Dana, only Zuul,” which was later enhanced with special effects for a truly spooky result.

12. BILL MURRAY'S CADDYSHACK CHARACTER, CARL SPACKLER, APPEARED IN ONE SCENE THAT WAS CUT.

It isn’t specified, but the voice and mannerisms of the character that Murray plays opposite Dan Aykroyd in this deleted scene is eerily similar to Carl Spackler, the lowly groundskeeper he portrayed in the 1980 comedy masterpiece Caddyshack (which was directed and co-written by Harold Ramis). The scene was cut for time, mostly to get to the scene where Louis Tully is attacked by the demon dog chasing him, but one doesn’t have to wonder what it would have been like if the worlds of Caddyshack and Ghostbusters had collided in such a fashion.  

13. ONE OF THE FILM'S PRODUCERS CREATED THAT ICONIC LOGO.

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The most indelible icon from Ghostbusters is the famous “no-ghost” logo that appeared on the guys' car, their uniforms, and widely among advertisements and promotions for the movie. Associate producer Michael C. Gross, a bit of a renaissance man, designed the image. Prior to getting into the movie business as a producer, Gross served as an art consultant for The Muppets, John Lennon, and The Rolling Stones. He also served as art director for National Lampoon and Esquire in the 1970s.  

14. PRODUCTION SHUT DOWN CENTRAL PARK WEST, AND ISAAC ASIMOV WASN'T PLEASED.

While shooting exteriors in front of Dana’s apartment building, the production had permission to temporarily shut down traffic in the area surrounding West 65th Street and Central Park West. What they didn’t know was that it would disrupt traffic throughout Manhattan. During rush hour, cars backed up to Columbus Circle, eventually going all the way downtown. In fact, Aykroyd was concerned that they had inadvertently pushed the traffic jam all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge. After receiving complaints, cast and crew members jokingly told others that the delay was caused by Francis Ford Coppola’s production of The Cotton Club, which was shooting in New York at the same time. One particularly ornery Upper West Side resident who complained was author Isaac Asimov, who stumbled on to the set and told Aykroyd that they were “inconveniencing” him. Aykroyd, a lifelong fan of the writer, smoothed things over by using the opportunity to lavish praise on the irritated Asimov.

15. “CROSSING THE STREAMS” WAS MADE UP ON THE SPOT.

The deus ex machina of the Ghostbusters crossing the streams of the proton packs helped them to—spoiler alert—defeat the Marshmallow Man and the evil demon Gozer at the end of the film. According to Ramis, this activity didn't appear in script. He and Aykroyd were unsure how to get the Ghostbusters out of the final scene alive, and because the nuclear technology behind the proton packs was “explained” with humorous techno-babble and mostly left up to the audience’s imagination, they came up with the idea of crossing the streams—an act which would somehow cause a cataclysmic shift in our dimension. After this decision was made, they added in some foreshadowing of the event to an earlier scene, only to revisit the concept in the climactic standoff at the end.

16. ON SET, THE MARSHMALLOW WAS REALLY SHAVING CREAM.

Once the Ghostbusters cross the streams, the rift between the two dimensions causes the Marshmallow Man to explode, raining down marshmallow on the unsuspecting New Yorkers below. But getting that amount of actual marshmallows to dump on the film’s extras was implausible. Instead, Edlund’s team collected 500-gallon batches of shaving cream to substitute for the remnants of Mr. Stay-Puft. William Atherton, who played EPA villain Walter Peck, was skeptical about having such a large amount of heavy cream dropped on him, so they tested the idea on a stuntman using only 75 pounds, and it knocked him to the ground. The stuntman was okay, and another smaller batch was collected to dump on Atherton for the final take in the film.

17. THE MOVIE ALMOST HAD TO CHANGE ITS NAME.

Once production wrapped, Reitman faced a situation that would possibly have derailed the whole movie. In the 1970s, Universal Studios had produced a live-action TV series titled The Ghost Busters, and their lawyers threatened legal action if the name of the movie wasn’t changed. Reitman, who had shot footage of the leads referring to themselves as the Ghostbusters and of massive crowds shouting “Ghostbusters! Ghostbusters!” was in deep trouble.

Luckily, Frank Pricethe head of Columbia Pictures and the man who originally green-lit the moviewas moving to Universal Studios to become the new studio head there, and allowed Reitman to keep the name for the film. But the legal snafu reared its head again when a TV cartoon was made out of the movie. To satisfy Universal, the Saturday- morning fare was labeled The Real Ghostbusters, so as to not legally confuse the two properties.

18. HUEY LEWIS WAS NOT A FAN OF THE THEME SONG.

Because his song "Holiday Road" was featured prominently in National Lampoon's Vacation (directed by Harold Ramis), Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham was allegedly approached about a theme song for the film, but he passed on the project. Reitman hoped that Huey Lewis & The News would take the job, and even used their hit “I Want a New Drug” as a temporary filler song while cutting the film. Lewis declined as well, because he had already agreed to contribute the song “Back in Time” to Back to the Future and didn’t want to do any more soundtrack work. The filmmakers then approached Ray Parker Jr., who had sung hits with Raydio ("Jack and Jill") and was finding success as a solo artist as well. Unfortunately, the titular tune—with the often quoted “Who you gonna call?” and “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!”—bore a striking resemblance to Lewis' "I Want a New Drug," so much so that the song's publishers sued for plagiarism. The suit was settled out of court, but you can decide for yourself with the mashup of the two songs above.

19. ELMER BERNSTEIN EXPERIMENTED WITH NEW INSTRUMENTS ON THE SOUNDTRACK.

Composer Elmer Bernstein wanted to go beyond a conventional orchestra for Ghostbusters, so he used both new and old technology. He included the then-cutting-edge Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer to create weird sounds that orchestral instruments couldn’t conjure up, and even employed an Ondes Martenot—a relatively obscure early electronic instrument created in 1928 by inventor Maurice Martenot—for additional otherworldly tones. You can hear it in the beginning and middle of the song above.

20. IVAN REITMAN WAS PETRIFIED DURING THE FILM'S FIRST TEST SCREENING.

On paper and out of context, Ghostbusters was an admittedly outrageous prospect for a feature film. During the movie’s first test screening, held for 200 random people at Columbia Pictures Studio only three weeks after principal photography wrapped, Reitman was utterly terrified. He was not only uncertain about the fundamental plot of the film, he was also concerned that perhaps-too-absurd major details (like the Marshmallow Man) might take audiences "out" of the movie. In addition, only one fully-completed effect shot was available for the test screening—one of the film's opening scenes, where an old librarian ghost transforms into a frightening ghoul. Reitman waited in the wings during the scene, and when audiences burst out laughing one second and hid their eyes the next, he knew that his fears were unfounded. And Reitman knew he had a major hit on his hands while walking around New York City during the second week of the film’s release, where he saw street vendors selling bootleg Ghostbusters T-shirts.

Additional Sources:
Ghostbusters Blu-ray special features
Esquire's Oral History
Peter Aykroyd's A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Séances, Mediums, Ghosts, and Ghostbusters

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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MGM Home Entertainment
11 Fun Facts About A Fish Called Wanda
MGM Home Entertainment
MGM Home Entertainment

In 1988, the British heist comedy A Fish Called Wanda had audiences in the UK and across the pond rolling in the aisles. Thirty years later, the Oscar-winning ensemble movie about a clueless (but don’t call him stupid) weapons expert, a bumbling barrister, a quick-witted femme fatale, and a stuttering con artist remains a cult favorite. Starring John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and of course, the eponymous fish, the film is packed with smart writing, silly slapstick, and some of the strongest comic performances of its starring actors’ careers. Here are 11 facts about A Fish Called Wanda for your unreserved enjoyment (just don’t ask us to repeat the part in the middle).

1. IT WAS DIRECTOR CHARLES CRICHTON’S FIRST FILM IN TWO DECADES.

Back in the 1950s, Charles Crichton was a famous director of Ealing Comedies—a series of comedy films produced by London’s Ealing Studios—who was known for his work on films like The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953), Hue and Cry (1947), and The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). By 1988, however, he hadn’t directed a feature film in two decades (though he had worked on TV shows and documentary shorts). He came out of semi-retirement to work on what would become his final film at the behest of John Cleese.

2. CRICHTON AND JOHN CLEESE SPENT FIVE YEARS WRITING THE FILM.

A Fish Called Wanda was years, even decades, in the making. Cleese and Crichton first met and began discussing ideas for a comedy heist film, inspired by The Lavender Hill Mob, all the way back in 1969. Though they parted ways professionally, Cleese continued to look for opportunities to collaborate on a film with Crichton. More than a decade later, he finally got his chance when he found himself working with Crichton on a series of business management training videos.

Though Crichton was already in his late seventies, Cleese managed to convince the semi-retired director to brainstorm ideas for a feature film with him. For the next few years, the two met periodically to throw around ideas and work on the script. All in all, the entire scriptwriting and pre-production process took more than five years and cost $150,000 of Cleese’s own money.

3. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE EALING COMEDIES.

Unsurprisingly, A Fish Called Wanda was heavily indebted to the Ealing Comedies, especially Crichton’s own The Lavender Hill Mob, a heist comedy which starred Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway as a pair of bumbling bank robbers. Cleese, however, claimed the parallels between the Ealing Comedies and A Fish Called Wanda were unintentional, but embraced the comparison.

“I knew that my memory of all these great Ealing films was very present, although I wasn’t consciously trying to write an Ealing comedy,” Cleese explained. “But I do remember when we interviewed Johnny Jympson when we were looking for an editor, and Johnny’d read it, and he came in and sat down, and Charlie said, ‘What’d you think?’ and Johnny was almost nervous and he hemmed and hawed a little bit and then he said very uncertainly, ‘Well, it’s an Ealing comedy, isn’t it?’ and we both said, ‘Yes!’”

4. THE ACTORS HELPED SHAPE THEIR CHARACTERS.

Cleese encouraged Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, and Jamie Lee Curtis to contribute ideas and help develop their characters. Curtis, in particular, was responsible for major changes to Wanda’s personality. "She was a sexually brazen, cold-hearted manipulator, who simply wanted money,” Curtis told The New York Times. “I didn't find that real. I decided she didn't altogether know what she wanted, but finds a wonderful power in manipulating people and feels personal satisfaction in trying to fool them. She plays a slightly different role for each man, yet she enjoys being herself, and she's not cold-hearted, not vicious.''

Curtis told The New York Times she reveled in the rare opportunity to shape her own character: ''Most films, one person is in charge, and you're afraid even to raise your hand with a suggestion,'' she explained. ''That's frustrating if you're a bright person and trust your instincts. But this was totally a collaborative effort, and I'm afraid it's spoiled me.'' She was, apparently, so enthusiastic a contributor over the course of a two-week rehearsal period that Palin gave her a shirt that read, “Wait, I have an idea.”

5. KEVIN KLINE’S CHARACTER WAS INSPIRED BY A LOS ANGELES SELF-HELP GURU.

In A Fish Called Wanda, Kline’s Otto is a pseudo-intellectual who constantly misinterprets everything from the teachings of Buddhist philosophy to the writings of Nietzsche. According to Cleese, his character was inspired by the real-life self-help guru Zen Master Rama, sometimes called the “yuppie guru.”

“I got the real key to the character out of Los Angeles Magazine,” Cleese explained in an interview. “I found a double-page spread for a guru, and I’m pretty sure his name was Zen Master Rama, and he looked about 32 and very unsure of himself, and he had a funny sort of hairstyle like a dandelion at the end of September. But the key thing was the line across the top of this two page advertisement for the seminars he ran at weekends, which was ‘Buddhism gives you the competitive edge.’ And I thought this was unbelievably funny.”

6. CLEESE’S CHARACTER WAS NAMED AFTER CARY GRANT.

Cleese named his character Archie Leach after movie star Cary Grant, who was born Archibald Leach. Though Cleese’s bumbling lawyer has little in common with the famously debonair Grant, Cleese explained that he chose the name because he and Grant shared a hometown, and because it was the closest he would ever get to “being Cary Grant.”

7. THE ORIGINAL ENDING WAS MUCH DARKER.

A Fish Called Wanda started off as a much darker comedy, but test audiences in America were apparently uncomfortable with the film’s cruelty, and lack of romantic payoff, so Crichton and his cast went in for a few re-shoots. In addition to softening Palin’s character a bit, they ended up re-shooting the film’s ending three times.

“We played the whole movie with this very sort of dark intent—it was a very black comedy—and of course, when they tested the movie in America, it tested very funny, except that people didn’t like that there was no real love story,” Curtis said, further explaining:

“The original ending of the movie was much darker. The costume designer and I had a really great time costuming this character, and in a department store in London on sale, we found a pair of shark shoes, and we bought them because we just thought, ‘Well, she’s just a shark.’ And we wore them in that last scene, and literally the last shot of the movie was going down my leg and freeze framing on the shark shoe. And right then, you knew she was going to take him for everything. The minute they got off the plane, she was going to bop him on the head, take the stuff, and leave.”

8. CLEESE CUT A BIG CHUNK OF THE CATHCART TOWERS SCENE.

In addition to changing the ending, Cleese cut several minutes from the film’s penultimate scene, in which Archie tries to get the stuttering Ken (Palin) to telling him where Wanda, Otto, and the diamonds are. Ken, whose stutter gets worse under pressure, can’t seem to utter the two words “Cathcart Towers.”

Initially, the scene was a Monty Python-esque series of increasingly absurd stunts—Ken attempting to sing the words (which remains in the final film), Archie trying to feed a tissue through a typewriter, Ken writing in toothpaste on a window—but Cleese worried the scene, which arrives at the climax of the film, was overly long and dragging the plot down, and so deleted most of it.

9. ONE AUDIENCE MEMBER LAUGHED HIMSELF TO DEATH.

Ole Bentzen, a Belgian audience member, was so tickled by the scene in which Ken has French fries stuck up his nose, that he actually laughed himself to death. The scene reminded him of a similar experience at a family dinner, in which his family had shoved cauliflower up their noses to great comic effect. He began laughing so hard, his heart rate escalated dangerously, causing a fatal heart attack.

10. IT WAS NOMINATED FOR THREE OSCARS.

Comedy movies rarely fare well at the Oscars, but A Fish Called Wanda was an exception. The film was nominated for three awards: for Best Original Screenplay (for Cleese and Crichton), Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Kevin Kline, who took home the statuette.

11. IT WAS THE TOP VIDEO RENTAL OF 1989.

A Fish Called Wanda beat a number of higher-budget blockbuster movies, including Die Hard (1988) and Coming to America (1988), as well as the Oscar-winning Rain Man (1988), to become the top video rental of 1989. Its success was due, in part, to an advertising partnership with Cadbury Schweppes, which plastered grocery stores for weeks with ads for the film.

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