From The Sound of Music to Dead Man Walking, nuns have always had a place on the silver screen—but none of those movies have given personality to the women behind the habits quite like Sister Act. If Sister Mary Clarence and the sisters of St. Katherine's made your toes tap, here are 14 facts you'll give praise for.
1. DELORIS/SISTER MARY CLARENCE WAS PARTIALLY INSPIRED BY A REAL NUN.
As part of his research, screenwriter Paul Rudnick visited the Regina Laudis Abbey in Bethlehem, Connecticut, to meet Mother Dolores Hart. Hart had been a Hollywood actress, singer, and dancer, starring in movies such as Where the Boys Are and King Creole. Though she left the industry to become a nun when she was just 24, she’s a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to this day.
2. BETTE MIDLER WAS ORIGINALLY ATTACHED TO STAR.
Though the Divine Miss M was originally onboard, she later backed out for reasons she came to regret: “I said: ‘My fans don’t want to see me in a wimple.’ I don’t know where I got that from. Why would I say such a thing? So Whoopi did it instead and, of course, she made a fortune.”
3. THE NAME OF THE MAIN CHARACTER WAS CHANGED WHEN MIDLER LEFT.
The original name of the singer-turned-sister was Terri Van Cartier. It was changed when Whoopi Goldberg was cast, because, according to Rudnick, “She’d always wanted to play someone named Deloris.”
4. CARRIE FISHER HELPED REWRITE THE SCRIPT.
When Midler backed out, script adjustments went far beyond a name change—but Disney only allowed writers two weeks to overhaul the script after the lead actress change. Additional writers were brought in to help doctor the script; in addition to Carrie Fisher, other contributors included Nancy Meyers and Robert Harling. Fisher, by the way, has a long history of fixing scripts—she also worked on last-minute rewrites to Hook, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Wedding Singer.
5. THE WRITER “JOSEPH HOWARD” IS NOT A REAL PERSON.
By the time the movie was released, it had been rewritten so much that Rudnick didn’t consider it his work anymore. He suggested the work be credited under the name R. Chasuble after the priest in The Importance of Being Earnest. That was rejected, so Rudnick tried for “Screenplay by Goofy.” Another no-go. Finally, “Joseph Howard” was accepted. “It sounds like the name of someone who helped found the Mormon Church,” Rudnick later wrote.
6. KATHY NAJIMY BASED HER CHARACTER ON MARY HART.
Kathy Najimy wasn’t totally sure how she was going to portray such a bubbly, cheerful nun—until she happened to catch anchor Mary Hart on Entertainment Tonight. “I turn on the TV. It's something with me and Sally Field running around, and they come back to Mary Hart, and she went, 'That Sally Field, ya gotta love her!’ And I said, 'Oh my God, that's my nun!'"
Najimy later sent Hart a bouquet of roses. “[But] I didn’t say why.”
7. SOME OF THE ACTRESSES GOT UP TO SOME MISCHIEF BETWEEN SCENES.
The production spent some time filming in a Reno casino, which the actresses loved. "That was great, because I love gambling,” Najimy said. “Wendy [Makkena, who plays Sister Mary Robert] smokes, and we'd sit at the 21 table in our nun outfits with drinks in front of us. That was hilarious."
8. NO, THAT’S NOT THE REAL ACTRESS SINGING SISTER MARY ROBERT’S PARTS.
One of the subplots of the movie is Deloris’ efforts to bring the timid Sister Mary Robert out of her shell. We eventually realize that the soft-spoken sister can really belt one out—but it’s not really actress Wendy Makkena singing. She was dubbed by singer Andrea Robinson. Whoopi, however, did her own singing.
9. ONE OF THE SCENES WAS CHANGED AT NAJIMY’S BEHEST.
There was originally a scene that called for Najimy’s character, Sister Mary Patrick, to protest against a pornographic bookstore. Najimy felt it encroached on her First Amendment rights and asked the director to come up with something different. Instead, Sister Mary Patrick ended up selling raffle tickets.
10. THE PRODUCTION WAS SUED FOR PLAGIARISM.
In 1993, Donna Douglas (better known as Elly May Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies) filed a $200 million suit against Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, their production companies, Creative Artists Agency, Walt Disney Pictures, and more. Douglas had optioned a book called A Nun in the Closet, which they turned into a screenplay and submitted to the studio. They were turned down—and then Sister Act came out. The plaintiffs declined $1 million from Disney to settle, which was a mistake; eventually, the judge found in favor of Disney.
11. THEY WERE SUED AGAIN IN 2011.
This time, a nun by the name of Delois Blakely claimed that Disney and Sony Pictures sourced from her autobiography without permission. The filing stated that Blakely was a "young, Black, singing nun serving the street people and youths of Harlem," which was the focus of her 1987 book The Harlem Street Nun.
12. DESPITE APPEARANCES, THE CHURCH SCENES WERE SHOT IN AN UPPER-MIDDLE-CLASS NEIGHBORHOOD.
The church scenes were shot at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in San Francisco, which is in an affluent area of town. To make it look rundown, which was important to the plot, the street was dressed with trash and cars that appeared to be abandoned.
13. THE MOVIE WAS MADE INTO A MUSICAL.
Sister Act opened on Broadway in 2011 and received several Tony Award nominations that year. Unfortunately, it was often up against The Book of Mormon, which took the Tonys by storm. When the show went to London's West End, Whoopi Goldberg made a limited appeareance—but this time, she played Mother Superior.
14. A REMAKE IS IN THE WORKS.
Could there be more sister shenanigans on the way? Maybe. Varietyreported that writers and producers had signed on for the remake. Whoopi might be up for it:
“I generally say no to that, because so many of the nuns have passed and it just wouldn’t feel right for me," she said on Watch What Happens Live. “I’m kind of old for it now. That’s not to say I wouldn’t do it, but it feels like there’s a new generation for Sister Act and so maybe I can be a nun now.”
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is a Chicago graduate student with a deep fascination with urban legends, which she and her friend Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) are using as the basis for a thesis project. After they stumble across the local legend of Candyman, a well-to-do black artist who fell in love with a white woman in the late 1800s and was murdered for it, Helen wants to learn more. When she’s told that Candyman still haunts Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing project, and that his spirit can be summoned by repeating his name into a mirror five times, Helen does just that … and all hell breaks loose.
What began as a low-budget indie film has morphed into a contemporary classic of the horror genre, and essential Halloween viewing. In 1992, English filmmaker Bernard Rose—who got his start working as a gopher on The Muppet Show—turned Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” into Candyman, which was released in theaters 25 years ago today. In honor of the film’s anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about Candyman.
1. EDDIE MURPHY WAS CONSIDERED FOR THE LEAD.
Though the role of Candyman turned Tony Todd into a horror icon, he wasn’t the only actor in consideration for the film’s title role: Eddie Murphy was also reportedly a contender for the part. Though it’s unclear exactly why he wasn’t cast, sources have reported that it had to do with everything from his height (at 5 feet 9 inches, he wouldn’t seem nearly as intimidating as the 6-foot-5 Todd) to his salary demands.
2. AN UNEXPECTED PREGNANCY LANDED VIRGINIA MADSEN THE LEAD.
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When asked by HorrorNewsNetwork about how she got the role of Helen in Candyman, Virginia Madsen shared that it was almost by accident: She was supposed to play Bernie, Helen’s friend and classmate, the role that eventually went to Kasi Lemmons.
“I was actually very good friends with Bernard [Rose] and his wife Alexandra,” Madsen said. “She is a wonderful actress, who actually brought Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’ to her husband. She thought this would be a great film, and he could direct her. She was supposed to be Helen. I was going to play [Kasi Lemmons'] part, until they made the character African American. Then I was out.
“Right before shooting, Alexandra found out she was pregnant. It was great for me, but it was so sad for her because this was her role; she found this story and really wanted it. So when I was asked to step in I felt like ‘I can’t take my friend’s role.’ She actually came over one day and said ‘It would just kill me to see someone else play this role, you have to be the one who plays it.’ So with her blessing I took on the role. I really tried to work my butt off just to honor her.”
3. IT COULD HAVE STARRED SANDRA BULLOCK.
On the film’s DVD commentary, producer Alan Poul said that had Madsen been unable to step into the role of Helen, the part would have likely been offered to Sandra Bullock, who was still a relative unknown actress at that point. Though she had played the role of Tess McGill in the television adaptation of Working Girl, she was still a couple of years away from Speed (1994), the role that launched her into stardom.
4. ITS OPENING SHOT WAS GROUNDBREAKING.
The film’s opening credits feature a great aerial view of Chicago, which was pretty revolutionary for its time. “We did that with an incredible new machine called the Skycam, which can shoot up to a 500mm lens with no vibration,” Rose told The Independent. “You've never seen that shot before, at least not done that smoothly.”
5. NOT ALL OF THE FILM’S CREEPY DETAILS SPRUNG FROM CLIVE BARKER’S IMAGINATION.
While investigating one of Candyman’s crime scenes, Helen and Bernie discover that the design of the apartment’s medicine cabinet made it a possible point of entry for an intruder. This was not a made-up piece of horror movie fiction. While researching the film, Rose learned that a series of murders had been committed in Chicago in this very way.
6. BERNARD ROSE SEES CANDYMAN AS A ROMANTIC FIGURE.
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Viewers may think of Candyman as one of the horror genre’s most terrifying villains, but Rose said that “the idea always was that he was kind of a romantic figure. And again, romantic in sort of the Edgar Allan Poe sense—it's the romance of death. He's a ghost, and he's also the resurrection of something that is kind of unspoken or unspeakable in American history, which is slavery, as well. So he's kind of come back and he's haunting what is the new version of the racial segregation in Chicago.
“And I think there's also something very seductive and very sweet and very romantic about him, and that's what makes him interesting. In the same way there is about Dracula. In the end, the Bogeyman is someone you want to surrender to. You're not just afraid of. There's a certain kind of joy in his seduction. And Tony was always so romantic. Tony ties him in so elegantly and is such a gentleman. He was wonderful.”
7. THE BEES IN THE FILM WERE BRED SPECIFICALLY TO APPEAR ONSCREEN.
No, that is not CGI! The bees that play a key role in Candyman are indeed real. So that they looked appropriately terrifying, but were less dangerous to the cast and crew, the filmmakers used newborn bees—they were just 12 hours old—so that they looked fully grown, but had less powerful stingers.
8. TONY TODD WAS STUNG 23 TIMES, AND GOT A BONUS EACH TIME IT HAPPENED.
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In addition to allowing the filmmakers to cover his face with bees, Todd actually agreed to film a scene in which he had a mouthful of bees—and that, too, was all real. He told TMZ that he wore a dental dam to prevent any bees from sliding into his throat—which doesn’t mean that he didn’t suffer a sting or two … or 23, to be exact, over the course of three Candyman movies. Though it might have been worth it. “I had a great lawyer,” he told TMZ. “A thousand dollars a pop.”
9. THE BEES WEREN’T GREAT NEWS FOR MADSEN, EITHER.
Madsen, too, had to get up close and personal with those bees—a fact that almost forced her to pass on the role. “When Bernie was first asking me to do the role I said, ‘Well, I can’t. I’m allergic to bees,’” she told HorrorNewsNetwork. “He said ‘No you’re not allergic to bees, you’re just afraid.’ So I had to go to UCLA and get tested because he didn’t believe [me]. I was tested for every kind of venom. I was far more allergic to wasps. So he said, ‘We’ll just [have] paramedics there, it will be fine!’ You know actors, we’ll do anything for a paycheck! So fine, I’ll be covered with bees.
“So we a had a bee wrangler and he pretty much told us you can’t freak out around the bees, or be nervous, or swat at them, it would just aggravate them. They used baby bees on me. They can still sting you, but are less likely. When they put the bees on me it was crazy because they have fur. They felt like little Q-tips roaming around on me. Then you have pheromones on you, so they’re all in love with you and think you’re a giant queen. I really just had to go into this Zen sort of place and the takes were very short. What took the longest was getting the bees off of us. They had this tiny ‘bee vacuum,’ which wouldn’t harm the bees. After the scene where the bees were all over my face and my head, it took both Tony and I 45 minutes just to get the bees off. That’s when it became difficult to sit still. It was cool though, I felt like a total badass doing it.”
10. PHILIP GLASS COMPOSED THE SCORE, BUT WAS DISAPPOINTED IN THE MOVIE.
When Philip Glass signed on to compose the score for Candyman, he apparently envisioned the final film being something totally different. According to Rolling Stone, “What he'd presumed would be an artful version of Clive Barker's short story ‘The Forbidden’ had ended up, in his view, a low-budget slasher.” Glass was reportedly disappointed in the film, and felt that he had been manipulated. Still, the haunting music is considered a classic score—and Glass’s own view of it seems to have softened over time. “It has become a classic, so I still make money from that score, get checks every year,” he told Variety in 2014.
11. MANY OF THE FILM'S SCENES WERE SHOT AT CABRINI-GREEN.
In 2011, the last remaining high-rise in the Cabrini-Green housing project was demolished. Over the years, the property—which opened in 1942—gained a notorious reputation around the world for being a haven for violence, drugs, gangs, and other criminal activities. While the project’s real-life history weaves its way into the narrative of Candyman, it only makes sense that Rose would want to shoot there. Which he did. But in order to gain permission to shoot there, he had to agree to cast some of the residents as extras.
“I went to Chicago on a research trip to see where it could be done and I was shown around by some people from the Illinois Film Commission and they took me to Cabrini-Green,” Rose said. “And I spent some time there and I realized that this was an incredible arena for a horror movie because it was a place of such palpable fear. And rule number one when you're making a horror movie is set it somewhere frightening. And the fear of the urban housing project, it seemed to me, was actually totally irrational because you couldn't really be in that much danger. Yes, there was crime there, but people were actually afraid of driving past it. And there was such an aura of fear around the place and I thought that was really something interesting to look into because it's sort of a kind of fear that's at the heart of modern cities. And obviously, it's racially motivated, but more than that—it's poverty motivated.”
12. THE FILM’S PRODUCERS WERE WORRIED THAT THE FILM WOULD BE CONSIDERED RACIST.
During pre-production, Candyman’s producers began to worry that the film might draw criticism for being racist, given that its villain was black and it was largely set in an infamous housing project. “I had to go and have a whole set of meetings with the NAACP, because the producers were so worried,” Rose told The Independent. “And what they said to me when they'd read the script was 'Why are we even having this meeting? You know, this is just good fun.' Their argument was 'Why shouldn't a black actor be a ghost? Why shouldn't a black actor play Freddy Krueger or Hannibal Lecter? If you're saying that they can't be, it's really perverse. This is a horror movie.'”
13. STILL, SOME FILMMAKERS COMPLAINED THAT IT WAS RACIST.
In a 1992 story in the Chicago Tribune, some high-profile black filmmakers expressed their disappointment that the film seemed to perpetuate several racist stereotypes. “There’s no question that this film plays on white middle-class fears of black people,” director Carl Franklin (Out of Time, Devil in a Blue Dress) said. “It unabashedly uses racial stereotypes and destructive myths to create shock. I found it hokey and unsettling. It didn't work for me because I don’t share those fears, buy into those myths.”
Reginald Hudlin, who directed House Party, Boomerang, and Marshall, described the film as “worrisome,” though he didn’t want to speak on the record about his specific issues with the film. “I've gotten calls about [the movie], but I think I'm going to reserve comment,” he said. “Some of my friends are in it and I may someday want to work for TriStar.”
For Rose, those assessments may have been hard to hear, as his goal in adapting Barker’s story and directing it was to upend the myths about inner cities. “[T]he tradition of oral storytelling is very much alive, especially when it's a scary story,” he told The Independent. “And the biggest urban legend of all for me was the idea that there are places in cities where you do not go, because if you go in them something dreadful will happen—not to say that there isn't danger in ghettos and inner city areas, but the exaggerated fear of them is an urban myth.”
14. IT’S STILL THE ROLE THAT MADSEN IS MOST RECOGNIZED FOR (ESPECIALLY AT AIRPORTS).
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Though she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination in 2005 for Alexander Payne’s Sideways, in 2012 Madsen said that Candyman is still the role she is most recognized for—especially at airports.
“More people recognize me from that movie than anything I’ve done,” she told HorrorNewsNetwork. “It means a lot to me. It was after years of struggling. As an actor, you always want a film that’s annual, like It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story. I just love that I have a Halloween movie. Now it’s kind of legend this story. People have watched it since they were kids, and every Halloween it’s on, and they watch it now with their kids. That means a lot to me. The place I get recognized the most is the airport security for some reason. Every person in airport security has seen Candyman. Maybe it makes them a little afraid of me.”
15. THERE WAS AN ACTUAL CANDYMAN KILLER.
Though the Chicago-based legend of Candyman is a work of fiction, there was an actual serial killer known as “Candyman” or “The Candy Man.” Between 1970 and 1973, Dean Corll kidnapped, tortured, and murdered at least 28 young boys in the Houston area. Corll earned his sweet nickname from the fact that his family owned a candy factory.
Even if you’ve never set foot in New York City, chances are you’re intimately familiar with Grand Central Terminal. A sprawling, architecturally awesome railway station located on East 42nd Street in Manhattan, it’s been a favorite of Hollywood location scouts since its first onscreen appearance in the 1930 musical Puttin’ on the Ritz.
According to Times Square Chronicles, the terminal is now set to host an event worthy of its rich cinematic history: a film festival. On Thursday, October 19, screenings in the terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall will include clips from some of its most notable movie appearances. The show will culminate in a feature-length presentation of Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 classic North by Northwest, notable for a scene in which star Cary Grant eludes his pursuers by making his way through Grand Central.
The Museum of the Moving Image and Rooftop Films are collaborating on the special event, titled Grand Central Cinema. North by Northwest begins at 7:30 p.m., but that ticketed admission is already sold out and the waiting list is at capacity. Fortunately, the montage of clips will play all day from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Historians will also be giving presentations of the site's history on screen throughout the program. Admission is free.