13 Enchanting Facts About Moonstruck

MGM
MGM

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.

New Jersey's Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Has Opened

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Earlier this year, Food & Wine reported that Bourdain's home state would honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants. And that trail is now open.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail draws from the New Jersey episode from season 5 of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, and the trail was officially inaugurated last week. Among the stops included on the trail:

  1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
  1. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
  1. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
  1. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
  1. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
  1. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
  1. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
  1. Donkey's Place // Camden
  2. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

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