‘Dirty Dancing’: Behind-the-Scenes Secrets You Never Knew About the Iconic Dance Drama
Plenty of people count the cult classic 1987 movie Dirty Dancing as their favorite of all time. The movie had a modest budget at just $6 million yet earned a whopping $214 million at the box office.
The romantic drama dance film tells the story of Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) falling in love with her dance instructor Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) while on summer vacation with her family.
But even the biggest fans don’t know some of the most surprising secrets about the treasured film.
‘Dirty Dancing’ almost had a vastly different name
It’s all but impossible to imagine another title for the movie, but at the time in the 1980s, calling it Dirty Dancing took some convincing.
Originally, the project was called, “I Was a Teenage Mambo Queen,” Collider reported. Producer Linda Gottlieb invited Bergstein to lunch and the two came up with the current title organically.
“I said, ‘Well what’s the story?’ And she said, ‘I don’t really have a story, but it should involve Latin dancing…’ So I switched the subject and said, ‘Tell me about yourself,’” Gottlieb recalled.
“She said, ‘I grew up in Brooklyn, my father was a doctor, I was one of those kids who used to go across the tracks to go dirty dancing. I said, ‘That’s a million-dollar title! Now we’ll figure out the story.’ We invented Johnny Castle at lunch.”
However, the censorship officers thought their new title sounded too risqué. The studio had to fight to keep the name — and we’re all glad they did.
So many scenes were unscripted
Plenty of the most memorable moments from Dirty Dancing came about by chance. For example, when Baby can’t stop giggling as Johnny traces her arm with his hand, it really was because Grey was ticklish. And that frustration you see on Swayze’s face it plenty real, too.
Swayze allegedly didn’t get along with his costar and that scene gave him grief. “[Grey] seemed particularly emotional, sometimes bursting into tears if someone criticized her,” Swayze wrote in his autobiography, Telegraph reported.
“Other times, she slipped into silly moods, forcing us to do scenes over and over again when she’d start laughing.”
The actor wrote that he “didn’t have a whole lot of patience for doing multiple retakes.”
Also, the scene where the two crawl toward each other on the dance studio floor while the song “Love Is Strange” plays was completely unscripted and unplanned.
The summertime themed movie was filmed in the fall
Dirty Dancing evokes carefree summer days and nights, but really the movie was shot in the fall and many actors recall being freezing cold during filming. The setting is the Catskills, however, it was filmed on location in Virginia and North Carolina.
The most difficult scene to undertake in the cold temperatures was the one where Baby and Johnny practice their jump in the water. Producers avoided close-ups of that scene because both actors had blue lips in the frigid water.
Grey and Swayze had to pretend they were younger
In the movie, Johnny is 24 and Baby is 18. But in real life the actors were just pretending to be younger — Grey was 26 and Swayze was 34. They both did an excellent job making the characters believable.
Still, these two almost didn’t get the parts they became famous for. Val Kilmer was allegedly offered the role of Johnny Castle and both Sarah Jessica Parker and Sharon Stone auditioned for the part of Baby.
Patrick Swayze hated the most famous line of the film
Swayze was outspoken against some of the “cheesy” dialogue in the movie and one of the lines he despised the most became the most memorable of the entire movie.
In his autobiography, Swayze wrote, “We did a lot of rewriting for the big final scene, but one line that I hated stayed in. I could hardly bring myself to say: ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner.’ It sounded so corny. But, seeing the finished film, I had to admit it worked. And, of course, it became one of the most quoted lines in the movie.”
Some employees believed the set was cursed
A few snags are common on any movie set, but for the Dirty Dancing crew, so many bad things happened they started to believe the movie had a curse.
The crew had property stolen, the streets flooded, a set decorator fell off a ladder and got hurt, the assistant director broke her wrist, and a wardrobe assistant broke her toe. As if that wasn’t enough, three of the crew members became violently ill with food poisoning.
Even lead actor Grey got stung by a nest of wasps on set.
‘Dirty Dancing’ is a true story (mostly)
Producer Bergstein based the character of Baby on herself — that was even her real-life nickname. Like the main character in Dirty Dancing, she grew up going to resorts in the Catskills with her family and became enamored by the dancers there.
She even had a relationship with much-older dance instructor. Johnny Castle’s character is based on a dance instructor named Michael Terrace.