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15 Facts About 'Scent of a Woman'

A loose adaption of the Giovanni Arpino novel Il buio e il miele and the 1974 movie Profumo di Donna, Scent of a Woman (1992) stars Al Pacino as the bitter, angry, depressed, and blind Lt. Col. Frank Slade in a role that would earn him his first Oscar win. Chris O'Donnell plays prep school student Charlie Simms, who is tasked with babysitting Slade in New York City over a Thanksgiving weekend. Here are some facts about the movie—the first to ever air on the Starz Network—to read before you get tangled up and tango on.

1. JACK NICHOLSON SAID NO.

Nicholson was initially approached to play the blind lieutenant colonel, but after he read the script, he passed. He made up for it with a big 1992, appearing in Man Trouble, Hoffa, and A Few Good Men.

2. MATT DAMON, BEN AFFLECK, BRENDAN FRASER, AND O'DONNELL'S CASTMATES IN SCHOOL TIES ALL AUDITIONED FOR CHARLIE.

"The whole cast went down to audition for it,” Matt Damon remembered in a 1997 Vanity Fair profile. “So the way I found out about the part is, I’m checking in with my agent, to see if anything good has come in, and my agent says, ‘Here’s one with a young role, and . . . Oh my God, it’s got Al Pacino in it!’ So I go up to Chris and say, ‘Have you heard about this movie?’ and he says [curtly] ‘Yeah.’ So I say, ‘Do you have the script?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Can I see it?’ ‘No—I kinda need it.’ Chris wouldn’t give it to anybody." Stephen Dorff also auditioned.

3. O'DONNELL WAS VERY CONFIDENT HE GOT THE ROLE, BUT WAS VERY NERVOUS AT HIS AUDITION.

While Damon, Affleck, Fraser, Randall Batinkoff, and Anthony Rapp all felt their auditions didn't go well, O'Donnell felt good about his. "Chris used to play things close to the vest," Damon said. "We asked him how his audition went, and he just said [highpitched, Hibernian singsong], ‘Ohhh, it was all right.’ And we were like ‘Dude! Just tell us how it went!’ And he would say [singsong again], ‘Ohhh, I don’t know.’”

As O'Donnell later admitted, it wasn't easy. “I really wanted it, I really prepared hard for it," he recalled. "Al Pacino was a no-brainer. But when I got in there, Al is such an intimidating presence and the character is supposed to be intimidated by him. I was able to play on that natural nervousness that I had around him in the audition process that helped me to win the role.”

4. CHRIS ROCK AUDITIONED FOR CHARLIE, TOO.

"There was a little bit of talk about me playing the Chris O'Donnell part in Scent of a Woman, which actually would've been a better movie," the comedian told Rolling Stone in 2014. "Not 'cause of me—it just would've been a better movie with a black kid playing that part."

5. DIRECTOR MARTIN BREST WANTED PACINO AND O'DONNELL SEPARATED.

Brest wanted to split the two up so he could create tension, but Pacino and O'Donnell actually wound up bonding off-screen, putting a halt to any separation plans.

"It was just the most nerve wracking experience of my life, and being that nervous around Al Pacino for the majority of the film as well," O'Donnell later said. "I knew at the time I was doing it that this is going to be the greatest single acting experience of my life that I'll ever have." Pacino gave the then 21-year-old actor some life advice while on set. "He always told me don't ever marry an actress. He said you'll always be second in their life." O'Donnell didn't.

6. LT. COL FRANK SLADE WAS THREE DIFFERENT PEOPLE.

Screenwriter Bo Goldman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Rose) discovered that his brother was broke and living in a big expensive New York apartment that he was a year behind on rent for. One week later, Brest called him and showed him Profuma di Donna. "I looked at this movie, and this character struck me as being exactly like my brother, who became the character in Scent of a Woman," Goldman said. "The character was crossed with my first sergeant in the Army, a member of the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, who was the second man I’ve ever really been afraid of, and the first man I was afraid of—my father. The sergeant was a real soldier…So this character became a hybrid of all these people.”

7. 'HOO-AH' CAME FROM PACINO'S GUN EXPERT.

"I was working with a lieutenant colonel who was teaching me the ways [of the Army]," Pacino recalled. "We worked every day, and he'd teach me how to load and unload a .45 and all this stuff. Every time I did something right, he'd go, 'Hoo-ah!' Finally, I asked, 'Where did you get that from?' And he said, 'When we were on the line, and you turned and snapped the rifle in the right way, [you'd say,] 'Hoo-ah!' So I just started doing it. It's funny where things come from."

8. PACINO WAS FITTED FOR SPECIAL LENSES THAT HE ENDED UP NOT USING.

After spending months getting fitted for special lenses that would make Pacino's blindness more convincing, the actor and Brest opted not to use them. There was concern that Pacino's eyes would get hurt if he used them for too long.

9. PACINO HURT HIS CORNEA FALLING INTO A BUSH.

"You don't focus your eyes. And what happens is, you just go into a state," Pacino told Larry King after King asked how he pretended to be blind. "As a matter of fact, I had an eye injury during the shooting of the film, because I fell into a bush. And the worst kind of eye injury is when plant life gets into your cornea. It stuck into my cornea. As I was falling, my eyes weren't focusing and the thing went into my eye. So it's also dangerous to do that."

10. THAT TANGO SCENE WAS PAINFUL FOR GABRIELLE ANWAR.

Gabrielle Anwar (later Fiona Glenanne on Burn Notice) put herself on tape and flew to New York to meet Pacino for an audition. She was then told she didn't get the role of Donna because she "wasn't quite right," before the powers-that-be changed their mind and asked her to fly back to New York. She spent a week with a tango instructor, but didn't really need to, since she used to dance at a nightclub for teenagers in her England hometown of Laleham.

Anwar claimed in 2013 that Pacino did not attend the tango rehearsals. "It was a bit dodgy. I have a few sort of half-broken toes still," she said. "It was interesting... (but) it's Al Pacino, for God's sake; I couldn't exactly complain. I was afraid... He was incredibly nice to me."

11. THEY WENT TO PLACES THE GODFATHER AND BOTH ARTHUR FILMS HAD GONE BEFORE.

The all-male Baird School was filmed at the all-female Emma Willard School in Troy, New York. (Emma Willard was the first women's higher education institution in the United States.) But the final Baird scene was shot at Hempstead House, one of the four mansions on Sands Point Preserve in Long Island, New York. One of the other mansions was where the movie producer woke up to his horse's head in that other Pacino film.

They also shot in the Oak Room at The Plaza Hotel, where the original Arthur drank with Gloria. The tango was performed in the ballroom of The Pierre Hotel. The luxury penthouse there was used again by Brest when he made it Anthony Hopkins's character's home in Meet Joe Black (1998). The penthouse was also used by the Arthur Bach played by Russell Brand in the 2011 remake.

12. O'DONNELL'S BEST TAKE WAS A CAMERA OPERATOR'S WORST.

“The one scene where Chris O’Donnell cries, the focus puller missed and it was soft," editor Michael Tronick revealed. “Normally, Marty [Brest] wouldn’t consider looking at something that’s imperfect that’s flatly out of focus. But it was the best take and we knew it. It had to be in the movie.”

13. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN CREDITED IT AS HIS BIG BREAK.

Hoffman had to audition five times to get the part of George. When he won the role he was living in Brooklyn with just a futon while making ends meet working at a deli. Hoffman admitted to The New York Times in 2008 he sometimes caught Scent of a Woman on TV. “I’ll watch it, and I say, ‘Do less, Phil, less, less!’" he said. "Now, I’m a little mortified by parts of my performance. But back then, it was huge! It was pure joy to get to do the work." Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson claimed that after he saw Hoffman in the movie, “It was one of those ridiculous moments where you call someone and say, ‘You’re my favorite actor.'" Anderson then wrote the part of Scotty J. in Boogie Nights (1997) for him.

14. BREST THOUGHT THE LENGTH WAS JUST FINE.

Some critics notably said the movie, at two hours and 37 minutes, was too long. The first cut by Brest went 160 minutes long. Brest, Goldman, and Pacino wanted it to be even longer, and Universal wanted it shorter. Brest, Goldman, and Pacino eventually won when test audiences gave a higher score to the longer 157-minute cut. Universal, however, cut the movie down for TV and on airplanes. For those versions, Brest removed his name.

15. CHRIS O'DONNELL HAD MORE WORK TO DO.

O'Donnell was working on his marketing degree at Boston College when he starred in the movie. The day after the movie premiere, he needed to finish a term paper and had three finals to study for.

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

Michael Ochs Archives/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually break away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write the “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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The Night the Brat Pack Was Born
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If Emilio Estevez had opted to pay for his movie ticket, the Brat Pack might never have been born. It was spring 1985, and Estevez—then the 23-year-old co-star of St. Elmo’s Fire—was being profiled in New York Magazine. The angle was that Estevez had just signed a deal to write, direct, and star in his own feature, That Was Then... This is Now, an opportunity that was rarely afforded to young Hollywood talent. Estevez was two years younger than Orson Welles was when he performed similar duties for 1941’s Citizen Kane.

That youthful exuberance was on display as New York writer David Blum followed Estevez in and around Los Angeles for several days gathering material for the story. With Blum in tow, Estevez decided that he wanted to catch a screening of Ladyhawke, a fantasy film starring Matthew Broderick. For reasons not made entirely clear, he preferred not to have to pay for a ticket. According to Blum, Estevez called the theater and politely asked for free admission before entering an 8 p.m. screening.

It's likely Estevez was just having a little fun with his celebrity. But to Blum, it was indicative of a mischievous, slightly grating sense of entitlement. Blum’s assessment was that Estevez was acting “bratty,” an impression he felt was reinforced when he witnessed a gathering of other young actors at LA’s Hard Rock Cafe for the same story.

What was supposed to be a modest profile of Estevez turned into a cover story declaration: Hollywood’s “Brat Pack” was here, and they had decided to forego the earnest acting study preferred by their predecessors to spend their nights partying instead.

The day the story hit newsstands, Blum received a call from Estevez. “You’ve ruined my life,” he said.

The June 1985 cover of New York magazine
New York, Google Books

Blum’s label had its roots in the Rat Pack of the 1960s, so named for the carousing boys' club led by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Whether it was accurate or not, the performers developed reputations for squeezing every last drink, perk, and joke they could out of their celebrity well into middle age.

That dynamic was on Blum’s mind when New York dispatched him to cover Estevez. After he arrived in California, Blum took note of the fact that a tight cluster of actors seemed to have formed a group, both on- and off-screen. Estevez was close friends with Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, and all of them appeared in 1983’s The Outsiders; Lowe and Estevez were co-starring in St. Elmo’s Fire, a coming-of-age drama that also featured Andrew McCarthy and Judd Nelson; Estevez and Nelson gained a lot of attention for 1984’s The Breakfast Club.

To Blum, Estevez was more than just a multi-hyphenate; he appeared to be the nucleus of a group that spent a lot of time working and playing together. And in fairness to Blum, Estevez didn’t dissuade the writer from that take: Fearing he was coming off as too serious in the profile, Estevez asked Lowe and Nelson to hang out with him at Los Angeles’s Hard Rock Cafe so Blum could see the actor's lighter side.

Nelson would later recall that he felt uneasy around Blum. “Why is this guy having dinner with us?” he asked Estevez. Lowe, meanwhile, was busy flirting with women approaching their table. The group later went to a "punk rock" club, with a Playboy Playmate tagging along.

As celebrity hedonism goes, it was a tame evening. But Blum walked away with the idea that Estevez was the unofficial president of an exclusive club—attractive actors who were soaking up success while idling late into the night.

Blum returned to New York with a different angle for his editors. He wanted to capture this “Brat Pack,” a “roving band” of performers “on the prowl” for good times. Although the magazine had just run a cover story about a teenage gang dubbed “the wolf pack” and feared repetition, they agreed.

As far as Estevez and the others were concerned, Blum was busy executing a piece on Estevez’s ambitions as a writer and director. When Estevez, Nelson, and Lowe appeared on the cover—taken from a publicity still for St. Elmo’s Fire—with his newly-coined phrase, they were horrified.

Blum began getting calls from angry publicists from each of the actors mentioned in the article—and there had been a lot of them. In addition to Estevez, the de facto leader, and lieutenants Lowe and Nelson, Blum had dubbed go-to John Hughes geek Anthony Michael Hall the “mascot”; Timothy Hutton was said to be on the verge of excommunication for his film “bombs”; Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, and Matt Dillon were also mentioned.

To the actors, the effect was devastating. Independent of how they spent their free time, all of them were pursuing serious careers as performers, with producers, directors, and casting agents mindful of their portrayal in the media. Being a Brat Packer was synonymous with being listless, or not taking their craft seriously.

Nelson recalled the blowback was immediate: Managers told him to stop socializing with his friends for fear he’d be stigmatized as unreliable. “These were people I worked with, who I really liked as people, funny, smart, committed to the work,” he said in 2013. “I mean, no one was professionally irresponsible. And after that article, not only [were] we strongly encouraged not to work with each other again, and for the most part we haven’t, but it was insinuated we might not want to be hanging out with these people.”

Universal Pictures

Some of the actors went on The Phil Donahue Show to criticize the profile, asserting that their remarks to Blum had been off-the-record. (Blum denied this.) Lowe told the media that Blum had “burned bridges” and that he was “no Hunter S. Thompson.” Andrew McCarthy called Blum a “lazy … journalist” and found the idea of an actor “tribe” absurd—he had never even met Anthony Michael Hall.

Unfortunately, the name stuck. “Brat Pack” was infectious—a catch-all for the kind of young performer emerging in the ‘80s who could be seen in multiple ensemble movies. While Blum would later express regret over the label, it’s never quite left the public consciousness. In 2005, Universal released a DVD boxed set—The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Sixteen Candles—as The Brat Pack Collection.

Nelson, Estevez, and Lowe never again appeared in a movie together. “Personally, the biggest disappointment about it is that ‘Brat Pack’ will somehow figure in my obituary at [the] hands of every lazy and unoriginal journalist,” Estevez told a reporter in 2011. “Warning: My ghost will come back and haunt them.”

Nelson was slightly less forgiving. In a 2013 podcast, he chastised Blum for his mischaracterization of the group of young actors. “I would have been better served following my gut feeling and knocking him unconscious.”

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