15 Surprising Facts About Death Wish

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

When Brian Garfield wrote the 1972 novel Death Wish, about a New York City accountant-turned-vigilante named Paul Benjamin, he had no idea that it would spawn one of Hollywood's longest-running film series, with five movies released over 20 years. The first film, 1974's Death Wish, was so controversial that Garfield openly wished it would not air on television after it allegedly inspired some real-life copycat killings.

While Charles Bronson will forever be linked to the lead role (who changed from Paul Benjamin to Paul Kersey for the film, and became an architect), Bruce Willis is getting ready to give the iconic character a go with Eli Roth's update of the film, which hits theaters this weekend. In the meantime, here are 15 things you might not know about Death Wish.

1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY A COUPLE OF REAL-LIFE CRIMES (THAT WERE MUCH LESS VIOLENT).

Author Brian Garfield was inspired to write Death Wish after he grew very angry when, in separate incidents, his wife's purse was stolen and his car was vandalized. “I knew the vandal had done us no real harm ... Yet my first response to the discovery of this mindless violence was swift and stark," Garfield later wrote. "My boundaries had been violated, my property trespassed upon. He had no right. 'I'll kill the son of a bitch.'" While Garfield's flash of anger eventually dissipated, the idea of writing a novel about a man who never got over crimes committed against his immediate family didn't fade away so easily.

2. ORIGINALLY SIDNEY LUMET WAS SET TO DIRECT, WITH JACK LEMMON STARRING.

The adapted screenplay by Wendell Mayes (Anatomy of a Murder, The Poseidon Adventure) was written with the idea that Sidney Lumet would be behind the camera and Jack Lemmon would be starring as Paul. Lumet supposedly wanted to shoot it in black and white. When Dino De Laurentiis came on as producer, Lumet dropped out. With Lumet out, Lemmon lost interest.

3. HENRY FONDA AND GEORGE C. SCOTT BOTH TURNED DOWN THE LEAD ROLE.

Henry Fonda declined the part because he said the script was "repulsive." George C. Scott said no because of all its violence.

4. CHARLES BRONSON AND HIS AGENT DISAGREED ON THE FILM'S MESSAGE.

While Charles Bronson was immediately interested in the role, his agent wasn't so sure. "It's the only time Paul Kohner, my agent, ever disagreed with me about a film," Bronson said in 1974. "Paul felt very strongly that it was a dangerous picture—that it might make people think it's right to take the law into their own hands. This is what the hero of the picture does when he wants a one-man vigilante squad to kill muggers, after three of them have murdered his wife and raped his daughter. I told Paul I thought the message was the same there that runs through a lot of my pictures: That violence is senseless because it only begets more violence."

5. BRIAN GARFIELD THOUGHT BRONSON WAS ALL WRONG FOR THE PART.

Garfield didn't like the fact that as soon as Bronson appeared on screen, "you knew he was going to start blowing people away." Director Michael Winner dismissed the author's criticisms, calling him "an idiot."

6. BRONSON THOUGHT DUSTIN HOFFMAN SHOULD HAVE PLAYED HIS PART.

Even though he liked the message, Bronson wasn't originally convinced that he would be the best actor for the job. "The way the part was written, it was about a meek little New York-born accountant," Bronson said. "I thought it was a much better picture for Dustin Hoffman." Eventually, it was Winner who convinced Bronson to take the role anyway. "He said we could change the part to a more active and virile architect, and we'd all make a potful of money."

7. JEFF GOLDBLUM MADE HIS FILM DEBUT IN THE MOVIE.

When discussing his feature debut, Jeff Goldblum admitted, "I stick out like a sore thumb." Goldblum played one of the "Freaks" who killed Paul's wife and raped his daughter. Back in 1983, Goldblum told New York Magazine that a job was a job. "Did it bother me it was such a brutal part? No. It was the first movie I'd gone up for, and I got it." Winner remembered Goldblum as being "loose and brilliant" in his audition.

8. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS HAD A SMALL ROLE, BUT DOESN'T LOOK BACK ON THE FILM FONDLY.

Olympia Dukakis was uncredited, but paid, for playing one of the cops at the precinct. It wasn't a particularly positive experience for the future Oscar winner. "Yeah, they sent me over, and the director [Michael Winner] was, uh, not necessarily liked by the actors," Dukakis told The A.V. Club in 2015. "I mean, he made me turn around, and he wanted to see me, and … he treated me like a piece of meat during the audition. But it was, like, one day, so I could take the money and go home and say, 'F**k you and the horse you rode in on.'"

9. THERE WAS CONCERN ABOUT USING THE WORD "DEATH" IN THE TITLE.

Posters with the title Sidewalk Vigilante were printed because De Laurentiis worried about having the word "death" in the title. "The fact that it had the word death made me a little uneasy, a little perplexed," the producer admitted. "Then I realized it might bring in an additional audience—horror flick fans—so I left it the way it was." For his part, Winner thought Sidewalk Vigilante was a "ghastly" title.

10. HERBIE HANCOCK WROTE THE SCORE, AT THE SUGGESTION OF MICHAEL WINNER'S GIRLFRIEND.

"It was the first film score by Herbie Hancock, the brilliant jazz musician," Winner wrote in his memoir, Michael Winner: Winner Takes All: A Life of Sorts. "I chose him because Dino wanted a cheap band and at the time I was having an affair with one of the actresses in the movie who was very into jazz music. She said, 'Herbie Hancock is a new genius.' I listened to his record Head Hunters, thought it absolutely brilliant, and persuaded Dino to take him."

11. GARFIELD THOUGHT THE MOVIE AND HIS BOOK SENT DIFFERENT MESSAGES.

Charles Bronson stars in the original 'Death Wish' (1974)
Paramount Pictures

"The point of the novel Death Wish is that vigilantism is an attractive fantasy but it only makes things worse in reality," the author said in 2008. "By the end of the novel, the character (Paul) is gunning down unarmed teenagers because he doesn’t like their looks. The story is about an ordinary guy who descends into madness. Oddly enough Mayes’s script honored that thought, and the only significant change in it during shooting was the wordless ending, but that ending changed the story entirely." The ending had Bronson smirking at some Chicago hoodlums while cocking a finger gun.

12. THE MOVIE GOT SOME HARSH REVIEWS.

Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that “it's a despicable movie, one that raises complex questions in order to offer bigoted, frivolous, oversimplified answers" and found it to be "a bird-brained movie to cheer the hearts of the far-right wing." Variety's review opened by claiming Death Wish is "awkwardly hung" on the "vulgar exploitation hook" of "poisonous incitement to do-it-yourself law enforcement."

13. AUDIENCES LOVED IT SO MUCH THAT PARAMOUNT PICTURES CHARGED THEM MORE MONEY TO SEE IT.

Prices were raised from $3.50 to $4 per ticket. At that point, only The Godfather (1972) and The Great Gatsby (1974) had been as expensive. Death Wish ultimately made $22 million at the box office.

14. CHICAGO AND SAN FRANCISCO REFUSED TO AIR IT ON TV.

When it came time to air the movie on network television, Washington D.C. delayed the start time from 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Chicago and San Francisco opted not to air it. But every other major CBS affiliate around the country aired an edited version of the film during prime time on November 10, 1976, despite Garfield's protests. "I think it is a dangerous film," he said. "And the proof is that several people have already committed vigilante crimes inspired by the film, and said so." Garfield said this despite potentially losing $50,000 if Death Wish didn't run.

15. SYLVESTER STALLONE WANTED TO REMAKE IT.

Sylvester Stallone was set to direct and star in a Death Wish remake for MGM back in 2008. When that project, uh, died, it opened the door for Eli Roth and Bruce Willis to step in.

10 Dramatic Downton Abbey Fan Theories

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey (2019).
Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey (2019).
Focus Features

Despite its exhaustively polished veneer, Downton Abbey was always a soap opera. Julian Fellowes's historical drama about a family of aristocrats and their many servants could never resist a good shocker, and it deployed plenty of them over the course of six seasons. The valet was suspected of murder (twice). One of the Crawley sisters got knocked up by her older married boyfriend, who promptly went missing. And another sister’s first sexual encounter ended in death. Considering all this, it should come as no surprise that fans have developed similarly wacky theories about the show. These fan theories include secret parentage, undercover spies, and, of course, poison.

Brush up on the best of them before the Downton Abbey movie hits theaters—just in case the whole miscarriage curse comes up.

1. Mr. Carson is Lady Mary’s father.

This theory all comes down to eyes. As you may recall from science class, certain genes are dominant and others are recessive. This is perhaps most easily understood through eye color, where brown eye color, a dominant gene, is expressed as BB and blue eye color, a recessive gene, is expressed as bb. A parent with brown eyes might carry the recessive blue eye gene (i.e. Bb), but if you plot out genetic probabilities on a basic Punnett square, two blue-eyed parents with double bbs have seemingly no shot at producing a Bb baby. Now, what does any of this have to do with Downton Abbey? Both Lord and Lady Grantham have blue eyes, but their eldest daughter, Mary, has brown eyes. This has led some fans to speculate that Lady Mary is actually the daughter of Carson, the family’s beloved butler who has always acted as as sort of second father to Mary. As debunkers have noted, two blue-eyed people can have a brown-eyed child, because recessive genes aren’t that simple. But isn’t it wild to think of Carson and Cora having an affair?

2. Thomas Barrow poisoned Kemal Pamuk.

One of the soapiest subplots of Downton Abbey's first season involved “poor Mr. Pamuk,” the dashing Turkish diplomat who makes a fateful visit to the Abbey. After enjoying a day of fox hunting and an evening of sparkling conversation, Kemal Pamuk drops dead ... right in Lady Mary’s bed. The cause, it is later revealed, was a heart attack, but many viewers suspected something more sinister. Earlier in the episode, the Crawleys’ closeted footman, Thomas Barrow, made a pass at Pamuk, which the diplomat rejected quite forcefully—so much so that he threatened to get Thomas fired. That placed the footman in a tricky situation, but it was nothing a little poison couldn't fix, and that’s exactly why some fans believe Thomas slipped something into Mr. Pamuk’s dinner.

3. Lady Grantham’s miscarriage started a curse.

In the Season 1 finale, tragedy strikes. The newly pregnant Lady Grantham slips on a bar of soap, falling onto the bathroom tiles and inducing a miscarriage. It’s a sad moment, but it’s also, Reddit claims, the source of the house’s future misfortune. According to this theory, the miscarriage kicks off a curse of deadly pregnancies: Lady Sybil dies in childbirth; Matthew Crawley dies in a car accident soon after the birth of his son; and when the maid Ethel Parks becomes pregnant with Major Bryant’s child, he dies, too.

4. Mr. Bates is actually a bad guy.

Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt in Downton Abbey (2019).
Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt in Downton Abbey (2019).
Focus Features

Downton Abbey invests a lot of time and effort in convincing us that John Bates, Lord Grantham's trusty, is a great guy—despite his checkered past and multiple murder allegations. But what if everyone’s assumptions about Bates are exactly right? Some Redditors believe Bates is just a remorseless serial killer, pointing to his intense hatred of his first wife and “creepy vibes” as evidence. Anna had better watch out.

5. Michael Gregson is a spy.

Lady Edith’s boss and lover Michael Gregson is the publisher of a London magazine, The Sketch. Thanks to his job, he knows tons of important people, travels all over the world, and speaks multiple languages. He eventually disappears inside Germany in season 4, and later dispatches to the Crawley family imply that he was a victim of Adolf Hitler’s “thugs.” (The show timeline places Gregson in Munich right around the time of the Beer Hall Putsch.) Or at least, that’s the official story. Another one suggests that Gregson was a British spy gathering intel on the insurgent Nazis—and he might not have died at all. His superiors simply needed to feed Edith a lie that would discourage her from poking around, so they made up a cover story that someone who follows the news would believe.

6. Lady Rosamund Painswick is Lady Edith’s mother.

When Lady Edith becomes pregnant with Michael Gregson’s child, she finds a strong support system in her aunt, Lady Rosamund Painswick. Upon learning Edith’s secret, Rosamund travels to Downton Abbey to help her niece through her pregnancy, and suggests adoption options as the due date draws near. Some fans have interpreted this empathy as a clue that Rosamund, not Lady Grantham, is Edith’s true mother. It could also explain why Edith looks (and behaves) so different from her sisters. Or it could just be a sign that Rosamund cares about her niece.

7. Lady Mary’s “operation” was IVF.

In season 3, Lady Mary claims to have undergone a “small operation” that will help her start a family with Matthew. It’s maddeningly unclear what this operation entails, but one wild guess is that she had an early version of IVF. The complete crackpot theory is that this was a cover for Matthew’s infertility, which the doctors wouldn’t disclose to him, presumably to preserve his 1920s masculinity.

8. Lady Mary’s son George becomes a Royal Air Force pilot in World War II.

Lady Mary’s son George is only five years old in the series finale of Downton Abbey. But that means he would theoretically be 18 in the fall of 1939, which is exactly when World War II broke out in Europe. He would almost certainly enlist, as show creator Julian Fellowes himself has suggested. But Decider has more specifically theorized that George would join the Royal Air Force (RAF), “with a desire to rebel against his emotionally distant mother and find purpose in a greater cause.” Sounds like George would be taking part in some dangerous missions, putting the entire family’s future at risk.

9. Public tours keep the estate alive.

The Crawleys spend much of Downton Abbey fretting about the future management of their estate—partially because Lord Grantham is kind of bad at it. But Lady Mary has taken over when the series ends, and Fellowes believes she’d find savvy ways to keep her family’s home in their hands. “She would probably have opened the house to the public in the 1960s, as so many of them did,” Fellowes told Deadline. “And she’d have retreated to a wing, and maybe only occupied the whole house during the winters. My own belief is that the Crawleys would still be there.”

10. The Dowager Countess keeps Denker and Spratt around for the drama.

Gladys Denker is a maid to the Dowager Countess. Septimus Spratt is her butler. These two do not like each other, and they’re quite public about it. Denker and Spratt’s unprofessional squabbles would’ve gotten plenty of other servants fired, but fans believe the Dowager Countess keeps them employed for her own amusement.

You Can Rent This Wizard of Oz-Themed Cottage in North Carolina

Airbnb
Airbnb

This year marks the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, the classic 1939 adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book. In addition to watching the film, you can opt for a more immersive way to celebrate the occasion. As Travel + Leisure reports, a cottage in West Jefferson, North Carolina offered on Airbnb is perfect for any traveling Oz fan—and it’s only $35 a night.

The studio cottage is considered a glamping destination and is slim on amenities—it has a breakfast nook, porch, sofa bed, and a Porta John—but the Oz-themed details more than make up for the lack of luxurious perks.

A pair of stockinged feet are visible under the home, hinting at a witch’s untimely demise; a character mural of Dorothy and her three escorts, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, appears on the side of the cabin; inside, various other decorations pay homage to Baum's books, including a pair of ruby slippers and a few stuffed Totos.

A cottage with a 'Wizard of Oz' theme in West Jefferson, North Carolina is pictured
Airbnb

If you go, you’ll have to act quickly. The cottage is open only in the spring, summer, and fall, as it has no heat.

The Airbnb listing has a perfect score across 16 reviews. You can book it here.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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