10 Fun Facts About Coming to America

Paramount Home Entertainment
Paramount Home Entertainment

Is there an Eddie Murphy role that isn’t memorable? Hell, even Norbit was nominated for an Oscar. From Buckwheat on Saturday Night Live to Dr. Doolittle, the veteran comedian has embodied some of the most beloved characters to ever hit the screen—not the least of which is Coming to America’s Prince Akeem. As an African prince who relocates to Queens, New York to find the perfect woman to hold down the throne, Murphy’s hilarious performance(s) turned a silly little film into a certified comedy classic. On the 30th anniversary of the film's release, here are 10 things you might not know about Coming to America.

1. PAULA ABDUL CHOREOGRAPHED THE OPENING DANCE SCENE AT THE PALACE IN ZAMUNDA.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, the Laker Girl-turned-pop star listed her Coming to America scene as one of the top moments of her choreography career. “This was one of my moments of having to really prove myself, because I was still pretty new in my career as a choreographer,” Abdul said. “John Landis, the director, wanted the person that choreographed Janet Jackson. I was still a Laker Girl. I went in and he looked at me and said, 'What are you, a teenager?' And I said, 'Yes, I am!' He basically was telling me, 'What do you know about African dancing?' And this is my whole thing when becoming a choreographer: 'I'll just tell everyone yes, I know exactly what I'm doing, and then I'll figure it out later.'”

2. THE NAME “ZAMUNDA” IS AN ALTERED VERSION OF A FAMOUS WRITER’S NAME.

As noted in the DVD commentary of the film, screenwriters Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield named the kingdom of “Zamunda” after Bob Zmuda, Andy Kaufman’s writing partner and close friend.

3. DIRECTOR JOHN LANDIS AND EDDIE MURPHY CLASHED ON SET.

Despite working together previously on Trading Places, director John Landis and Murphy had a less than amiable professional relationship. “On Coming to America, we clashed quite a bit because he was such a pig; he was so rude to people,” Landis told Collider. “We had a good working relationship, but our personal relationship changed because he just felt that he was a superstar and that everyone had to kiss his ass. He was a jerk. But great—in fact, one of the greatest performances he’s ever given.”

4. IN 1989, CBS FILMED A PILOT FOR A TV VERSION OF THE MOVIE, STARRING TOMMY DAVIDSON.

However, according to a report by Fusion, it never aired because it was “terrible.” Other cast members included Paul Bates and John Hancock.

5. MCDOWELL’S WAS ACTUALLY A WENDY’S IN QUEENS.

The real-life location of the McDowell’s is along Queens Boulevard, where a Wendy’s used to be located (it’s since been demolished). In fact, McDowell’s even has its own Yelp page.

6. TOBE HOOPER MAKES A CAMEO AT THE MCDOWELLS’ PARTY.

Only true horror fans might’ve spotted this: Tobe Hooper, the late horror director behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—and a dear friend of Landis’s—appeared in the McDowells’ party scene.

7. IT WAS CUBA GOODING JR.’S FIRST FILM.

According to IMDb, his character is known as “Boy Getting Haircut” in the famous barbershop scene.

8. JAMES EARL JONES AND MADGE SINCLAIR, THE KING AND QUEEN OF ZAMUNDA, ALSO VOICED THE KING AND QUEEN IN THE LION KING.

The duo must’ve truly impressed Disney, because the on-screen couple landed the coveted gig of voicing Mufasa and Sarabi, respectively, in the 1994 animated masterpiece.

9. DON AMECHE AND RALPH BELLAMY CAMEO AS THE HOMELESS MEN AKEEM GIVES MONEY TO.

As a tribute to Landis’s Trading Places (1983), the movie that put Murphy on Hollywood's map, Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy reprised their Trading Places characters for Coming to America.

10. THE FILM PAYS TRIBUTE TO ROOTS WITH A “KUNTE KINTE” REFERENCE.

In the barbershop scene, the Jewish man calls Akeem “Kunta Kinte,” a reference to Roots. In fact, John Amos, the actor who starred in Coming to America as Lisa’s father Cleo, played the adult version of Kunta Kinte in the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries.

15 Facts About Rushmore On Its 20th Anniversary

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

On December 11, 1998, Wes Anderson introduced the world to his unique brand of whimsical comedy with Rushmore. Though it wasn't his feature directorial debut—he had released Bottle Rocket, which he adapted from a short, in 1996—it was his first major Hollywood movie. And kicked off his still-ongoing collaborations with a stable of talented actors that includes Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It was also the second film Anderson co-wrote with Owen Wilson.

To celebrate the quirky comedy's 20th anniversary, here are some things you might not know about Rushmore.

1. Rushmore Academy was the director's Alma Mater.

Wes Anderson sent location scouts across the United States and Canada to find the perfect high school to shoot the movie. He was having a tough time trying to find the school, until his mother sent him a picture of his old high school in Houston, Texas: St. John's School. Anderson thought it was the perfect location to make the movie.

2. Bill Murray wanted to make Rushmore for free.

Bill Murray in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Once Bill Murray read the screenplay, he wanted to be in the movie so badly that he considered appearing in it for free. Murray ended up working on Rushmore at scale with the Screen Actors Guild day rate minimum for smaller indie film projects. Anderson estimated that Murray made about $9000 for his work on the film.

3. Film critic Pauline Kael had a private screening.

Pauline Kael’s film criticism was a major influence on Anderson’s view of cinema. “Your thoughts and writing about the movies [have] been a very important source of inspiration for me and my movies, and I hope you don't regret that," he once wrote to her.

Kael retired from The New Yorker in 1991, so Anderson arranged for her to have a private screening of Rushmore before the film came out in 1998. He wrote about the screening in the introduction to the published version of the screenplay, and shared what Kael told him about the film: "I genuinely don't know what to make of this movie."

4. It was Jason Schwartzman’s first film role.

Casting directors searched throughout the United States, Canada, and England to find a young actor to play the lead role of Max Fischer. Australian actor Noah Taylor was the frontrunner for the part when, on the last day of casting in Los Angeles, Jason Schwartzman auditioned. He was wearing a prep school blazer with a Rushmore Academy patch that he made himself.

5. Owen Wilson's private school experiences inspired some of the movie's plot points.

As a sophomore at St. Mark High School in Dallas, Texas, Rushmore co-writer Owen Wilson was expelled for stealing his geometry teacher's textbook (the one that contained all the answers); he went to Thomas Jefferson High School to complete 10th grade. This was the inspiration for when Max is expelled from Rushmore Academy and is forced to attend Grover Cleveland High School.

Although Wilson doesn’t have a credited role in Rushmore, he does appear as Ms. Cross’s deceased husband, Edward Appleby, in a photo in Appleby’s childhood bedroom.

6. Wilson's Dad Inspired a Moment in the Movie.

Wilson’s father, Robert Wilson, was the inspiration for Herman Blume’s speech about privilege at the beginning of Rushmore.

7. Alexis Bledel was an extra in the film.


Getty Images

Before she starred as Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, actress Alexis Bledel was an uncredited extra—she played a Grover Cleveland High School student—in Rushmore. You can see her in the background in various scenes, including dancing with the character Magnus Buchan (Stephen McCole) at the end of the film.

8. Both Anderson and Wilson's brothers had parts in the movie.

Owen and Luke Wilson’s older brother Andrew plays Rushmore Academy’s baseball coach, Coach Beck. He also appeared in Anderson’s directorial debut, Bottle Rocket, playing the bully John Mapplethorpe.

Eric Chase Anderson, Wes's brother, plays the architect who designs Max’s aquarium.

9. The Movie's Editor Made a Cameo.

Rushmore editor David Moritz plays the Dynamite Salesman; he sells Max the dynamite and explosives for his stage play Heaven and Hell at the end of the film.

10. Producers Made a Deal to get a Bentley.

Producers needed a Bentley for Murray's character, Herman Blume, but Rushmore’s production budget was only $20 million and they couldn’t afford to rent one. A Houston resident was willing to lend them his Bentley if they gave his daughter a role in the film. Producers agreed; the man's daughter plays an usher who seats Miss Cross at Max’s play at the end of the movie.

11. Mason Gamble's role in Dennis the Menace almost cost him the part of Dirk Calloway in Rushmore.

Mason Gamble in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Wilson referred to the character of Dirk Calloway, played by Mason Gamble, as the conscience of the film. Originally, Anderson didn’t want to cast Gamble in the part because of the actor’s previous—and very recognizable—role as Dennis Mitchell in the 1993 live-action movie Dennis the Menace.

12. Rushmore Upset Francis Ford Coppola.

Director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery, and when he first saw Rushmore, he was upset with Anderson because he used Coppola’s chief Napa Valley wine rival during Max's post-play celebration. (It probably didn't help matters that Coppola is Schwartzman's uncle.)

13. Anderson's Brother Did the Movie's Criterion Collection Artwork.

The Criterion Collection edition of 'Rushmore' (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Eric Chase Anderson did the artwork for the Criterion Collection DVD cover, an interoperation of a shot from the montage of Max’s extracurricular activities at the beginning of the movie. The Yankee Racer shot is itself a recreation of a photo from French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, taken in 1909 when he was only 15.

14. Schwartzman waxed his chest to play Max.

Although Max only shows his chest once in the film (during the high school wrestling match), Anderson made Schwartzman wax his chest for the duration of Rushmore's filming.

15. The Max Fischer Players Appeared on MTV.

During the 1999 MTV Movie Awards, the Max Fischer Players recreated the year's hit movies—The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight—as stage plays.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2014.

Harry Potter Star Daniel Radcliffe Says Broadway Made Him a Better Actor

Dominik Bindl, Getty Images
Dominik Bindl, Getty Images

For 10 years, moviegoers watched as Daniel Radcliffe matured on film throughout eight Harry Potter films. But the 29-year-old recently revealed that he believes the bulk of his professional growth has occurred as a result of his Broadway stage work.

“It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe told Variety. “I feel like doing theater ... it was really very important for me psychologically.”

Radcliffe starred in a number of films after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final film in the franchise, including The Woman in Black, Now You See Me 2, and Lost in London. His Broadway credits include Equus, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.

“There’s something about doing it without an editor to save you, or a myriad of things in post-production that can help you out, something that made me go: ‘OK, I can act,’" Radcliffe continued. "I’ve grown a little bit as an actor every time I’ve gone back to the theater."

Radcliffe crediting his professional growth to working in theater may leave some Potterheads wondering if he thinks playing Harry Potter for so long held him back.

“Not professionally, at all,” he said. “There were moments when probably I coped with the personal effects of Harry Potter not as well as I could have. But professionally, no.”

According to Radcliffe, "There are directors that were, I think, excited to—I am quoting one of them here and I won’t say who—'reinvent' me.”

Radcliffe fans can gauge that reinvention for themselves with The Lifespan of a Fact, the new Broadway play starring Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale, and Cherry Jones. It is running at New York City's Studio 54 through January 13, 2019.

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