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20 Epic Facts About The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

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Between on-set injuries, extensive script changes, and one whopper of a casting process, at various points in the life of The Lord of the Rings trilogy it seemed as if director Peter Jackson might have bitten off more than he could chew. The trilogy that changed the face of fantasy films tackled a number of challenges along the way, but it all worked out in the end.

1. IT WENT THROUGH A TON OF SCRIPT REVISIONS.

When The Lord of the Rings started out, it was originally going to be two movies. Later, concerned about the ballooning budget, executive producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein tried to persuade Jackson to condense the movie into a single film. At various points in the scripting process, Arwen, not Éowyn, was the one to dress up as a man, ride into the Battle of Pelennor Fields, and kill the Witch-king; and Rohan and Gondor were combined into one kingdom. Miramax also suggested that the one-movie version be presented as a flashback, with an older Frodo “covering [the entire Mines of Moria sequence in Fellowship] by saying something like, ‘So then we went on a dangerous journey through the Mines of Moria and lost Gandalf!,’” recalled Jackson.

2. SEAN CONNERY DIDN'T UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPT.

Sean Connery read for the role of Gandalf but admitted that, “I never understood it. I read the book. I read the script. I saw the movie. I still don’t understand it … I would be interested in doing something that I didn’t fully understand, but not for 18 months.” Connery’s deal, if he had taken the role, would have been for a small fee plus 15 percent of the films’ income. Incidentally, the entire trilogy went on to earn just shy of $3 billion worldwide.

3. ARAGORN WAS AN EXTREMELY DIFFICULT ROLE TO CAST.

Nicolas Cage was offered the role of Aragorn, which he turned down due to “family obligations.” Famously, the role then went to up-and-coming Irish actor Stuart Townsend, who you probably don’t remember seeing in the final trilogy: “I was there rehearsing and training for two months, then was fired the day before filming began,” the actor later recalled. In need of an older actor, Jackson went to Viggo Mortensen, who took the role at the urging of his son Henry, who was a fan of the books.

4. RUSSELL CROWE WAS A POTENTIAL BACKUP FOR ARAGORN.

Had Mortensen turned down the role of Aragorn, there were two other actors Jackson had in mind as replacements: Jason Patric and Russell Crowe. “We sent [Crowe] a script and he did read it and was fascinated,” said Jackson. “I remember getting the phone call from his agent and being told that he had just finished another film which involved him having to have a sword and armor—Gladiator! Russell was flattered by the approach, but he had other films he was committed to and it obviously wasn’t going to work out.”

5. VIGGO MORTENSEN TOOK SEVERAL BEATINGS.

A variety of injuries beset the cast during production, but Mortensen had it particularly hard: in The Two Towers, that scream he let out upon kicking a helmet after discovering the burnt corpses of the Orcs who abducted Merry and Pippin might have something to do with the fact that he had just broken two of his toes. “Normally, an actor would yell ‘Ow!’ if they hurt themselves,” noted Jackson. “Viggo turned a broken toe into a performance.” Elijah Wood remembers Mortensen “getting half of his tooth knocked out during a fight sequence, and his insistence on applying superglue to put it back in to keep working.”

6. JAKE GYLLENHAAL AUDITIONED TO PLAY FRODO.

Jake Gyllenhaal had a less-than-successful audition for the role of Frodo. “I remember auditioning for The Lord of the Rings and going in and not being told that I needed a British accent. I really do remember Peter Jackson saying to me, ‘You know that you have to do this in a British accent?’” Gyllenhaal later recalled. “We heard back it was literally one of the worst auditions.”

7. VIN DIESEL, LIAM NEESON, AND UMA THURMAN WERE UP FOR ROLES.

Among other could-have-beens in the casting department: Vin Diesel auditioned for Aragorn; Jackson called his performance “very compelling” but said that it didn’t “feel like Aragorn.” Jackson approached Richard O’Brien, best known as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which he also wrote), for the role of Gríma Wormtongue, but his agents turned it down, believing the films would be unsuccessful. Liam Neeson passed on the role of Boromir.

There were also “discussions,” recalls Jackson, about then-married couple Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman playing Faramir and Éowyn; “Ethan was a huge fan of the books and was very keen to be involved. Uma was less sure and rightly so, because we were revising how we saw Éowyn’s character literally as we went. In the end, Ethan let it go—with some reluctance.”

8. IAN HOLM HAD PLAYED FRODO BAGGINS YEARS EARLIER.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy marked a return to the Shire for Bilbo actor Ian Holm, who played Frodo in a 1981 radio dramatization of The Lord of the Rings, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4. His performance in that factored into Jackson’s decision to offer him the Bilbo role.

9. CHRISTOPHER LEE WANTED TO PLAY GANDALF.

The late Christopher Lee was a Lord of the Rings superfan who actually met J.R.R. Tolkien (“I was very much in awe of him, as you can imagine,” he told Cinefantastique) and wanted to robe up as Gandalf, a role that eventually went to Sir Ian McKellen. (Lee himself admitted that, by the time the movies came around, he was “too old” for the action-heavy role.) Lee even played a wizard in the TV series The New Adventures of Robin Hood specifically “to show anyone who was watching that I could play a wizard and that I would be ideal casting for The Lord of the Rings.” He sent Jackson a picture of himself in wizard duds, though “it was more in the nature of a joke, really. It wasn’t me putting myself forward at all, because I think Peter had already made up his mind” to cast him as the wizard Saruman.

10. BOB WEINSTEIN REALLY WANTED TO KILL A HOBBIT.

Early on in the development process, before it found its eventual home at New Line Cinema, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was being made at Miramax with Harvey and Bob Weinstein. As Peter Jackson would later recall, Bob Weinstein really, really thought one of the four main Hobbits should die: “‘Well, we can’t have [all of them surviving],’ he said, ‘we’ve got to kill a Hobbit! I don’t care which one; you can pick—I’m not telling you who it should be: you pick out who you want to kill, but we’ve really got to kill one of those Hobbits!’ In situations like that, you just nod and smile and say, ‘Well, that’s something we can consider.’”

11. SEAN BEAN TREKKED UP A MOUNTAIN IN COSTUME.

Sean Bean typically opted against taking a helicopter up to some of The Fellowship of the Ring’s mountain filming locations, instead climbing to sets himself in full Boromir gear. “I used to be a bit terrified of flying,” he remembers, so “I had to walk the whole way, really. I was two hours behind everybody else on top of this mountain because I just didn’t want to get into any helicopters.”

12. FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS’ BRET MCKENZIE MADE A CAMEO.

Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie makes a brief appearance in The Fellowship of the Ring, playing an unnamed Elf during the Council of Elrond scene. Fan Iris Hadad latched onto the extra, naming him Figwit (short for “Frodo is great… who is that?”) and creating the fansite Figwit Lives in his honor. Peter Jackson, responding to the grassroots support for the character, added him to The Return of the King as “Elf Escort” and even gave him a line, “just [as] fun for the fans.” (In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, McKenzie plays an elf named Lindir. He’s not the same character as Figwit, the actor notes, because the two have “slightly different ears.”)

13. AN ENTIRE ACTION SCENE WAS DESTROYED BY A FLOOD.

The end of The Fellowship of the Ring originally featured a scene where the heroes are ambushed by a band of Orcs as they row through rapids on the Anduin river. “We had all kinds of action planned with boats flipping over … and Legolas’ boat afloat as it bucks and tosses, while the Elf—standing with a foot on each of the gunwales—would be firing arrows at the attackers,” Jackson shared. But Mother Nature had other ideas, and a massive flood—in addition to causing a state of emergency in Queenstown, New Zealand—washed the entire ambush set down the river.

14. BILL THE PONY WAS TWO PEOPLE IN A HORSE COSTUME.

Sam’s pony Bill was, in Fellowship’s Midgewater Marshes scene, actually a “panto pony,” due to the difficulty of working with a live animal in a swamp. Not sure what a “panto pony” is? Well, that’s a fancy way of saying Bill was a pony suit with one person in the front half and one person in the back. It wasn’t exactly easy to work with, either. “We had a terrible struggle to get the pony to walk through the marshes because the performers were completely blind, buried in this costume and up to their waists in a real swamp,” shared Jackson. “Bill would try to walk and then would start to wobble and everyone would have to rush in and catch him before he fell over! There was one hilarious moment where the front legs moved without the back legs and Bill got stretched into a sort of long sausage dog!”

15. SEAN BEAN WAS READING HIS SCRIPT DURING THE COUNCIL OF ELROND SCENE.

Jackson and his co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens were constantly in the process of revising the script, even during production; the actors would frequently get new dialogue to memorize the night before a particular scene was scheduled to shoot. That was the case with Boromir’s famous speech in The Fellowship of the Ring’s Council of Elrond scene. Look closely and you’ll see the actor occasionally lowering his eyes to look at the new script page, which was taped to his knee.

16. WOMEN IN BEARDS WERE USED AS EXTRAS.

A good chunk of the Riders of Rohan in The Two Towers and The Return of the King were actually women outfitted with fake beards. “There are some very good women riders in New Zealand, and it’d be silly not to take advantage of them,” recalled Viggo Mortensen in The Two Towers Extended Edition extras.

17. THE URUK-HAI AT HELM’S DEEP ARE NEW ZEALAND CRICKET FANS.

In the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers, the chanting of the vicious Uruk-hai army was provided by a stadium full of New Zealand cricket fans. “There’s this Black Speech battle cry the Uruk do,” says executive producer Mark Ordesky. “We wrote it out phonetically on the Diamond Vision screen and Peter [Jackson] directed 25,000 people going ‘Rrwaaa harra farr rrara!”’

18. A SCENE WHERE ARAGORN FIGHTS SAURON IS IN THE RETURN OF THE KING… SORT OF.

Jackson filmed a scene for the end of The Return of the King where Aragorn goes toe-to-toe with the physical version of Sauron, in a sort of updated version of the Sauron-Isildur battle from the prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring. “By the time we had got to post-production,” Jackson remembers, the scene “no longer felt right,” so they cut it. But they did still use the footage: In the final battle, Aragorn can be seen battling a giant cave troll that was digitally superimposed over what was originally meant to be Sauron.

19. ONE OF THE MOST EMOTIONAL SCENES WAS SHOT OVER THE SPAN OF ONE YEAR.

It’s well known that all three Lord of the Rings movies were shot in one long stretch. As with most movies, the shoot wasn’t consecutive, meaning on any given day the schedule included scenes from all over the trilogy. Possibly the most extreme example of this has to do with the scene in The Return of the King where Frodo, urged by Gollum to think Sam has betrayed him, orders his loyal sidekick to go home. First Sam’s part was filmed, then Frodo’s … a year later. “Every time we cut to and fro between Frodo and Sam we are actually jumping back and forth across a year-long gap,” explained Jackson.

20. FRODO ORIGINALLY "STRAIGHT-OUT" MURDERED GOLLUM.

The final confrontation between Frodo and Gollum in The Return of the King was originally going to end with Frodo pushing Gollum off the ledge into Mount Doom; “straight-out murder,” Jackson admitted, “but at the time we were OK with it because we felt everyone wanted Frodo to kill Gollum. But, of course, it was very un-Tolkien, because it flew in the face of everything that he wanted his heroes to be.” Years later, the scene was re-shot as it ended up in the film.

Additional Sources:
Peter Jackson: A Film-Maker’s Journey, by Brian Sibley
Peter Jackson: From Prince of Splatter to Lord of the Rings, by Ian Pryor

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
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Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


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By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


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Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


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Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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13 Enchanting Facts About Moonstruck
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Cher’s career made her more famous for singing than acting, but 30 years ago—on December 16, 1987—Moonstruck arrived in theaters and transformed her into a full-fledged movie star. (She even won the Best Actress Oscar for her spellbinding performance a few months later.) Cher plays Loretta Castorini, a widow living with her Sicilian family in Brooklyn. Despite being superstitious about love, she agrees to marry Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), that is until she meets his jaded brother (Nic Cage), goes to see La bohème with him, and realizes “I love him awful.”

Director Norman Jewison referred to the movie as “an operatic multi-generational romantic comedy,” which is one reason the movie grossed an impressive $91,640,528 and won three Oscars, including ones for Olympia Dukakis and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley. Here are 13 moony facts about the movie.

1. THE ORIGINAL TITLE WAS THE BRIDE AND THE WOLF.

An earlier draft of Shanley’s script had it named The Bride and the Wolf, but the title perplexed Jewison. “I said, ‘The Bride and the Wolf? It sounds like a horror film,’” he revealed to the DGA. “So we had a big battle about that and it ended up being called Moonstruck because I convinced [Shanley] it’s about the moon. Everybody’s talking about the moon. The father’s talking about the moon, the full moon. We keep shooting the moon. It should be called something. What is it? She’s moonstruck. That’s a good title. So we called it Moonstruck.”

It should be noted the definition of moonstruck means “mentally deranged, supposedly by the influence of the moon; crazed dreamily romantic or bemused.”

2. JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY BASED THE STYLIZED DIALOGUE ON REAL PEOPLE.

Shanley admitted to Bomb Magazine that Moonstruck’s language has a certain affectation and poetry to it. “I remember somebody saying, ‘People don’t talk that way, but if he talks that way in the movie you buy it,’” the playwright said. “There’s truth and not truth in that. I said, ‘Well, it’s not the way all people talk, but I was on the train and I heard two women talking and they were talking in the exact style of Moonstruck.’ I said, ‘Well, you know, I chose that.’ And that’s what style is all about. It’s just making a choice about which of the many things, many aspects, you’re going to choose to go with for a whole picture or play.”

3. NICOLAS CAGE WANTED TO MAKE PUNK FILMS, NOT MOVIES LIKE MOONSTRUCK.

Nicolas Cage in 'Moonstruck' (1987)
MGM

When Cage was in his early 20s, he “wanted to make the kind of movies that are essentially punk gestures,” he told The Baltimore Sun. “I read the screenplay to Moonstruck and thought, ‘I would never pay money to see this film!’ But my agent insisted I do it, practically forced me to do it. When I saw the finished film I didn’t know what in the world to make of it. That was my era of wanting to make new-wave, alternative films.”

His follow-up film, Vampire’s Kiss, was completely different from Moonstruck (for instance, Cage eats a live cockroach). “I was in such a state of shock that I had made a sweet, romantic movie I had to go and do Vampire's Kiss right after,” he told The New York Times.

4. CHER WAS AFRAID TO TAKE ON LORETTA.

In 1987, Cher wasn’t new to the acting world—she had been nominated for an Oscar in 1984, for Silkwood—but she was worried fans still wouldn’t take her seriously as an actress. A few months before Moonstruck was released, The Witches of Eastwick and Suspect came out, so she was in demand. “It wasn’t like Mask, which I felt I just had to do,” she told the Los Angeles Times. "I was a little frightened because there seemed to be all kinds of possibilities and all kinds of risks here. I wondered if, at this point in my career when there might be some people out there interested in seeing my movies, they would accept me in this role.”

5. DUKAKIS AND CHER DIDN’T THINK THE MOVIE WOULD BE SUCCESSFUL.

In an interview with The A.V. Club, Dukakis confessed she didn’t think the movie would be a hit. “As a matter of fact, one day we were sitting around talking, and somebody asked Cher what she thought was going to happen, and she gave it the thumbs-down,” the actress said. “Nobody really expected too much out of it. And then look what happened. And that’s because we were all stupid and didn’t understand what Norman Jewison was really doing. The guy’s incredible, you know?”

6. NORMAN JEWISON KNEW THE MOVIE WOULD WIN OSCARS.

In the same interview with The A.V. Club, Dukakis said she knew the movie was a big deal when she went with Jewison to a benefit in Canada where he screened the film. “And he said, ‘You know, you’re gonna get an Academy Award for this.’ I looked at him like he was stark-raving mad. I thought, ‘This little movie and that little Italian lady are gonna get an award?’ I said, ‘You really think so?’ He said, ‘Yeah!’ I thought, ‘He’s just being nice because I came up here to do the benefit for him. He thinks he has to say something nice to me.’ And then all that happened. It was just amazing. The writer got it, I got it, and then Jewison didn’t get it. Can you imagine?”

7. MOONSTRUCK CHANGED OLYMPIA DUKAKIS’S LIFE FOR THE BETTER.

By the time Moonstruck came around for her, the then 55-year-old had mostly made a name for herself in theater. But when she landed the role as Cher’s mother, Rose Castorini, and ended up winning Best Supporting Actress (and saying the line, “your life is going down the toilet,” something her mother said to her once), she became famous.

“It’s like somebody said ‘Look, she waited all these years, let’s give her something good,’” she said on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. “And it was incredible. And that changed my whole life. My daughter was going to college on credit cards when I did that movie. After that, we were able to send our children to college with no problems.”

8. CHER ENJOYED PLAYING THE "BEFORE" LORETTA MORE THAN THE "AFTER" LORETTA.

The “before” Loretta entails the gray-haired widow and the “after” is when she falls for Ronny. “But I much prefer playing her ‘before’ than ‘after,’” Cher told the Los Angeles Times. “The freedom is not interesting to me because that’s something I know, usually. Yet I don’t think of her as being constrained, exactly. My idea was to play her more as bossy and controlled.”

9. THE GRANDFATHER RELEASED TENSION FROM A SCENE.

During shooting of the climax, cast members lost their cool because they couldn’t get the timing right. According to The New York Times, Jewison said Cage threw a chair at another actor, and Cher was threatening to report Jewison to the Screen Actors Guild for keeping them through lunch. Feodor Chaliapin Jr., who played Cher’s grandfather, walked into the room and told them to “calma, calma, calma” and, “This is a Feydeau farce, and in a Feydeau farce we pull everything together in the last scene.” After he said that the rest of the cast behaved themselves and finished the scene.

10. CHER USED SONNY BONO’S FAMILY AS A REFERENCE POINT.

A still from Moonstruck (1987)
MGM

Cher, who is part Armenian and part Cherokee, didn’t know how Italian families worked. “I didn’t come from that kind of family. I really didn’t relate exactly to it, but I had a sense of it, like a distant sense of it,” she told Good Morning America. “Not like something that you can relate to first hand. I’ve known some families like that and I got feelings of it. After a while I thought I might be able to do this.”

But her Moonstruck family reminded her of her ex-husband’s family. “It kind of reminded me of Sonny’s family,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “Everybody eating and talking and shouting—but you have such good times.”

11. CAGE WASN’T ALLOWED TO SPEAK LIKE A WOLF.

Going along with the wolf theme, Cage said he desired to speak like Jean Marais in Beauty and the Beast. “He had that accent and his voice was very gravelly—and I thought of my character in Moonstruck like a wolf who spoke with a growl,” Cage said. “And so I was talking like that in the movie and I got a call from the director, Norman Jewison, and he said, ‘Nicolas, the dailies aren’t working.’ And then I started hearing names of other actors and I thought I was going to get fired. I had to quickly drop the Jean Marais.”

12. DANNY AIELLO HATED THE MOVIE.

On the Diane Rehm radio show, Aiello, who played Loretta’s fiancé and Ronny’s brother, told the host he “couldn’t stand the character I played.” He continued, “Norman Jewison, the director, when I told him, he said, ‘Are you crazy? You’re wonderful.’ But in my neighborhood you can’t play a wimp on the screen. You know, people didn’t even know me as an actor, but to see me as they didn’t know me, was troubling in the area where I live. So it did adversely affect me at first. All I know is that I was stupid looking on the screen.”

Aiello also felt Cher should’ve picked him over Cage. “I said, ‘Do you think Nicky Cage is going to get a woman what I have?’ I said, ‘That's not going to happen.’ I said, ‘Cher would be with me from the beginning.’” Despite not liking the role, it earned him more money and “it elevated a lot of other parts for me in comedic situations and so forth,” he said.

13. THE MOVIE MADE CAMMARERI BROS. BAKERY WORLD FAMOUS.

Ronny works at the Brooklyn bakery, and even though the bakery is only featured in a couple of scenes, it caused tourists to flock to the place after the movie was released. One of the owners, Gilberto Godoy, used to sign his autograph on bread bags, as he played a baker in the film. Jewison told The New York Times, “Whenever I can, I like to cast people who do the same job in real life,” and he picked that particular bakery because “It has one of the few coal-fired ovens left in the city,” he said. “Heat and humidity are always there. And bread is always rising, and there is an incredible smell. It helps the actors to be in a real environment.”

Godoy refused to close the bakery for the filming—he had a quota of 5,000 loaves a day to meet—so for three days he worked around the cast and crew. “It was hysterical,” Jewison said. “We had trucks, lights, cameras, Cher—and the poor guy was still baking.” The cast and crew did benefit from complimentary breads, though.

The tourists kept the bakery afloat until 1998, when the bakery briefly closed. It eventually moved into a different location and reopened. But in 2013 the 92-year-old bakery filed for bankruptcy.

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