25 Rich Facts About Beverly Hills, 90210
If you were alive during the 1990s, you probably watched at least one episode of Beverly Hills, 90210. A precursor to Gossip Girl, The O.C., and, well, 90210, the series—which ran for 10 seasons—depicted the not-always-so-fabulous lives of mostly fabulous teens living in the world’s most fabulous zip code. Throw on your babydoll dress, rev up your Bimmer, and take a ride behind-the-scenes of the definitive 1990s teen drama.
1. THE WALSHES DIDN'T LIVE IN BEVERLY HILLS.
Contrary to the show’s title, and its storyline, the Walsh family doesn’t move from Minneapolis to Beverly Hills—at least not judging by the exterior shots of their home. That house is located at 1675 East Altadena Drive in Altadena, California, about 30 miles away from Beverly Hills. But Altadena, 91001 just doesn’t have the same panache.
2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY JOHN HUGHES, AND THIRTYSOMETHING.
Beverly Hills, 90210 creator Darren Star was just 27 years old when Fox came to him and told him they wanted to create a series about teenagers in Beverly Hills, and already had Aaron Spelling signed on as producer. Star was interested, particularly if the series could focus on real issues facing teenagers. “The one show I really liked was Thirtysomething,” Star told The New York Times. “The issues were so small and particular to that group, and I wanted teenagers to examine their own navels, in a sense. It would be their point of view, like the John Hughes movies that were very popular at the time, like The Breakfast Club."
3. IAN ZIERING THOUGHT IT WAS ALL PRETTY SUPERFICIAL.
Ian Ziering had moved back to his home state of New Jersey when he got the call about 90210—and had a very specific reaction to the script. “When I read the script for 90210, I thought, ‘Boy, this is very superficial,’ and it was,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “I mean, the pilot was all about the glitz and the glamour of Beverly Hills, the obnoxious kids, and the fish-out-of-water story of Brenda and Brandon Walsh. I couldn’t discern from that first script that the show would become very issue-oriented.”
4. SHANNEN DOHERTY’S AUDITION WAS “HORRIBLE.” (IT DIDN’T SEEM TO MATTER.)
It didn’t take Shannen Doherty long to determine that, after reading for the part of Brenda Walsh, there was no way she’d be landing the role. “My audition was horrible,” she told The New York Times. “I actually remember walking out and saying: ‘I lost that job. I blew it.’ And the casting director came out and sort of winked at me and said, ‘I wouldn’t count yourself out yet, kiddo.’ And I was like, ‘O.K., whatever.’”
5. BRANDON WALSH WAS THE LAST ROLE CAST, AND JASON PRIESTLEY HAD A WEEKEND TO PREPARE.
If Jason Priestley seemed like a natural fit for the role of Brandon Walsh, it’s not because he had a lot of time to discover his character. “Everybody had been cast except for Brandon,” Priestley told The New York Times. “I read for Aaron on Thursday. I got the job Friday afternoon, and on Monday we started production.”
6. DYLAN MCKAY WASN’T INTENDED TO BE A RECURRING CHARACTER.
Dylan McKay was originally written as a bit player with a story arc that would last just a few episodes. But Aaron Spelling was so pleased with Luke Perry’s performance that he decided to expand the part. “I was a guest star, and Aaron wanted to make me a regular,” Perry told The Hollywood Reporter. “The studio didn't want to pick up the deal, and he used that instance to illustrate an important principle: He gets to pick who's on the show. He didn't want me to have to go in the room with the network, but he calmly looked at me and said, ‘Go get 'em, kid.’” (It’s also worth noting that Perry initially auditioned for the role of Steve Sanders, which went to Ziering.)
7. ALLEGEDLY, NO ONE KNEW THAT TORI SPELLING WAS AARON’S DAUGHTER.
It’s long been rumored that the casting directors had no idea that Tori Spelling, who auditioned under another name, was Aaron’s daughter. But even Tori has admitted that there may have been some nepotism at play. “I heard about the show from my agent,” the actress told Entertainment Weekly. “She said, ‘Your dad is doing it.’ I was like, ‘I haven’t heard anything about it.’ I popped into his briefcase when he got home, and I was like, cool. I really wanted to play Andrea. I went in under a different name, then I got the part of Donna—which I’m sure had something to do with my dad.”
8. AARON SPELLING KEPT A CLOSE EYE ON DONNA’S STORYLINES.
It’s probably no coincidence that Aaron Spelling’s daughter was the most naïve character in the crew, and that her commitment to abstinence was a major plot point throughout the series. “The thing that was always at play in the Donna story was that Donna was played by the daughter of Aaron Spelling,” writer/executive producer Larry Mollin told Vulture. “The minute we’d go in to pitch stories about an episode, he’d ask, ‘What’s Donna doing this week?’ Even though Donna wasn’t one of the main characters in the inner-circle—she was a supporting character, really, in the beginning—you always had to start what the episode was about with, ‘What was Donna doing?’ That’s what the old man wanted to hear. It was sweet. It was actually very endearing, his admiration for her. Tori was really out there. She was just enjoying herself. So even though the old man couldn’t control her, he could control Donna Martin.”
“Maybe at first [he was being protective],” Spelling said of Donna's virginity storyline. “I’m not sure. When I was first cast, Donna was a just a smaller side character. She was a friend of Kelly and Brenda’s. So there was never a discussion about her character staying a virgin. I think she stayed a virgin because once we established that she was a fan favorite, people really started relating to her. Teens constantly would approach me and tell me that they were virgins and they had times where they were scared that being a virgin would make them seem uncool, but then Donna made it okay.”
9. GABRIELLE CARTERIS LIED ABOUT HER AGE TO PLAY ANDREA.
Not many of the “teens” at the center of 90210 were actual teenagers. Gabrielle Carteris was the oldest cast member; she was 29 years old when she was cast as 16-year-old Andrea Zuckerman. Worried that she would be considered too old, she lied about her age. “They didn’t know, I lied,” Carteris later admitted. “I actually talked to a lawyer about how could I sign these contracts and lie about my age and still be able to do the show. ‘Is it OK?’ And, ‘Yes it is, as long as you just say you’re over 21.’” It was the press that eventually outed her. “Then a magazine—that I won’t say—did an interview on the show with somebody else and they went and asked my agent [my age], I said, ‘I don’t talk about my age,’ or whatever, they found it in the DMV, illegally. So, then they were printing it and I thought, ‘This is it! I’m gonna lose the job, there’s no way.’ By that time, the show had been on long enough, so it was OK.”
Ziering was just one year younger than Carteris; “I was 28 years old playing a 16-year-old,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “I just kept my mouth shut. I never talked about it. And I wasn’t the oldest in the cast either. I just thought, if they’re going to buy, I’m going to sell it."
10. IT WASN’T AN IMMEDIATE HIT, BUT SUMMER EPISODES CHANGED THAT.
Beverly Hills, 90210 made its debut on October 4, 1990, but it was far from an overnight success. All that changed thanks to two key moves: a season one finale that saw Brenda lose her virginity to Dylan, and the decision to begin airing the show’s second season in the summer. “By the end of season two,” according to Entertainment Weekly, “90210 nearly double[d] its audience (from 9.5 to 17.4 million viewers), and [was] pulling in an astonishing 52 share of teen TV-watchers. Then came the hysterical fans, the mall riots, the action figures …”
11. THE SEASON ONE FINALE DIDN’T SIT WELL WITH FOX’S AFFILIATES.
About “Spring Dance,” that season one finale that saw Brenda and Dylan consummate their relationship? Well, it didn’t make everyone happy. “The affiliates were scandalized,” Star recalled to The New York Times. “Not because they had sex, but because Brenda was happy about it, and it didn’t have any dire consequences. I was strongly advised to write a show that would address the consequences of that sexual experience. So the first episode of the second season Brenda broke up with Dylan because their relationship had gotten too mature.”
12. JENNIE GARTH KNEW THE SHOW HAD HIT THE BIG TIME WHEN THEY RECEIVED A BOMB THREAT.
When discussing the show’s huge bump in popularity, Jennie Garth recalled how, “We got a bomb threat once. While we were filming a graduation scene, someone hid a bomb underneath the bleachers. It was like, ‘Ooh! We hit it big!’”
13. BEVERLY HILLS HIGH SCHOOL WANTED NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SHOW.
West Beverly High School is a fictional place; the series takes place there because Beverly Hills High School would not allow the production to use its name. Filming for the school-set scenes took place at Torrance High School, about 20 miles away. If the school looks familiar to you beyond the 90210 gang, that’s because it has made lots of film and television appearances over the years; She’s All That, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the 90210 reboot all shot there as well.
14. DONNA MARTIN WAS ORIGINALLY DONNA MORGAN.
“Donna Morgan Graduates?” Though Donna’s role grew as the show continued, it seems as if she wasn’t always Donna Martin. In a season one episode where she auditions to be the school’s resident DJ, her name is given as Donna Morgan. It must run in the family: also in the first season, her mother’s name was Nancy and she was played by Jordana Capra; in season two, her name was Felice and Katherine Cannon took over the role.
In his 2014 memoir, Jason Priestley: A Memoir, Priestley let his readers in on a little secret: During that famous protest in which Donna’s West Bev classmates face off against the administration to make sure that she receives her diploma right alongside them, they’re not actually yelling, “Donna Martin Graduates.” At the urging of Priestley, they were yelling, “Donna Martin Masturbates.” “I knew they were going to go back and reloop this dialogue anyway," Priestley explained, "so it was pretty irresistible.”
16. THERE WAS A LOT OF TENSION BEHIND THE SCENES.
It was hardly a secret that not everyone was BFFs behind the scenes. “There were times when it was worse than high school,” Garth told The New York Times. “The environment there was like: Are you kidding me? There was a lot of tension and unnecessary drama on the set, a certain amount of competition, and a certain—probably—anger about different salaries as the years progressed. People would find out how much someone was making, and then they’d be angry and want that, or if you got days off in your contract, they’d want that. Nobody was brave enough to step in and set us straight, and have a serious talk with us about it.”
17. THERE WAS PLENTY OF ROMANCE BEHIND THE SCENES, TOO.
According to Priestley, not all of the backstage antics were anger-driven. “Various combinations of people slept with each other over the years," he wrote in his memoir, noting that his own “first full-fledged adult relationship”—with Christine Elise, who played bad girl Emily Valentine—began on the show.
18. TIFFANI THIESSEN AND BRIAN AUSTIN GREEN WERE A REAL-LIFE COUPLE WHEN SHE WAS CAST AS VALERIE MALONE.
In the fifth season, Tiffani Thiessen joined the cast as Valerie Malone, ostensibly replacing Shannen Doherty. At the time, Thiessen and Brian Austin Green were a real-life couple, which led to some awkward moments. In her first episode, she shared a kiss with Luke Perry. “That was probably the more awkward thing," Thiessen said. "Literally having your boyfriend on the show and then literally kissing another man, 'I get paid for this, honey. I don't know what to tell you.'"
19. THIESSEN HAD TO HAVE A HAND DOUBLE IN HER FIRST EPISODE.
Valerie Malone was immediately painted as the show’s “bad girl,” which was illustrated by her smoking a joint at Casa de Walsh. The role didn’t come all that naturally to Thiessen. “They wanted me to roll a joint with one hand so I looked like some kind of pro,” the actress told Entertainment Weekly. “I couldn’t do it. The person you see is actually somebody else’s hand rolling a joint.”
20. THERE WAS A NO SUNGLASSES RULE. AND HAIR COULD BE A PROBLEM FOR AARON SPELLING, TOO.
Apparently, few things ticked off Aaron Spelling more than a cast member coming back from a break with a new hairstyle. “If someone came back after hiatus with a completely different haircut, Aaron would go crazy,” Spelling’s publicist, Kevin Sasaki, told The Hollywood Reporter.
“Hair was very important to my dad,” Tori confirmed, adding, “And if you watch, there are never sunglasses on 90210. He'd always say, ‘Let them see it in your eyes before they hear it in your words.’ Luke Perry's famous squint was probably because my dad wouldn't let him wear sunglasses.”
21. HILARY SWANK WAS FIRED FROM THE SHOW.
Today, Hilary Swank is known as a two-time Oscar winner. But from 1997 to 1998, she was known as Carly Reynolds, a single mom and Steve Sanders’s love interest during 90210’s eighth season. Though she was originally contracted for two years, she was fired after just 16 episodes—and, in a 2014 interview with Conan O’Brien, she admitted that she was “devastated” when she was let go. Of course, things turned out pretty well for Swank; shortly after losing the gig, she was cast as Brandon Teena in 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry, the role that netted her her first Oscar statuette.
22. IAN ZIERING ONCE TRASHED HIS DRESSING ROOM.
During the show’s fourth season, Ziering had a bit of a rock star-style breakdown. In an episode that saw him wrongly accused of rape, Ziering was given some serious material to work with while attempting to clear his good name. “But, they edited out so much powerful stuff,” Ziering said. “That was like the first time I really got some great words to say and I workshopped them and I studied. I brought game, and it never even made it through the edit.”
Feeling betrayed, “I tore the dressing rooms apart," Ziering admitted. "We all work so hard for our characters and to not even get a heads up ... I’m not a volatile person, I have a very long fuse, but after working so hard on this particular episode, I just didn’t feel like they were with me on this one.”
23. WHEN PRIESTLEY LEFT THE SHOW, IT WAS WITH ZERO FANFARE.
In addition to his starring role, Priestley also served as a producer and director on the series. But when he made the decision to leave toward the end of the show’s run, no one really acknowledged his departure. In an interview with The Guardian, Priestley was asked about his most memorable experience from working on the show. “When I left the show, it was so anticlimactic, it just left a bad taste in my mouth,” he said. "It was the fourth episode of the ninth season. I did the first scene of the morning—literally with this actor who was brought in to replace me—and that was it. I hugged the crew, picked up my box of stuff, went to my car and drove away. There was no party, no nothing. I felt like I'd wasted nine years of my life."
24. LUKE PERRY WAS TEAM BRANDON.
Though they were best friends, Brandon and Dylan spent much of the series battling for Kelly Taylor’s affections. And while the end of the series saw Kelly attempting to reignite her relationship with Dylan, Luke Perry thinks that Brandon was the smarter choice. "My guy was a lot of things, [but] stable wasn't one of them," Perry told Bill Simmons."If you're looking out for her in the long term, which is what you wanna do, then you gotta do that thing and fall on the sword and let your best friend have her and that's what my guy would do."
25. THROUGHOUT THE COURSE OF ITS 10-YEAR RUN, THE SHOW RECEIVED JUST ONE EMMY NOMINATION.
Firing a future Oscar winner may be one of Beverly Hills, 90210’s closest brushes with award recognition. Though it received four Golden Globe nominations during its run (two for Jason Priestley, two for Best Television Series – Drama), it only ever received one Emmy nomination: Milton Berle got a nod for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for the season five episode, “Sentenced To Life.”