"Dirty Dancing" premiered on this day, 27 years ago. The movie was not supposed to be successful. Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey apparently hated each other from their previous collaboration in "Red Dawn." An original main sponsor of the film, Clearasil, backed out when writer and producer Eleanor Bergstein refused to cut the film's abortion subplot. Test screenings were a disaster.
But the film prevailed and ended up having a worldwide gross of just under $214 million dollars on top of winning an Oscar and multiple Grammys for the music. The soundtrack even beat both Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen on the charts. Nobody puts "Dirty Dancing" in a corner, and that's why today it's still one of the greatest films of all time.
Apparently initial test audiences hated the film. At one point, it may have even been changed to a direct-to-video release.
Jennifer Grey recalled, "When we did it, it felt like it was so under the radar that no one was ever going to see it and we were just torturing ourselves for nothing."
The hard work certainly didn't end up going to waste. In the film, Johnny says, "I'll never be sorry," and Baby replies, "Neither will I." Thankfully, this film lived up to these words despite initial reviews.
Linda Gottlieb, a producer for MGM Studios in the 1980s, invited writer Eleanor Bergstein on lunch date to discuss film ideas. After hearing Bergstein's original idea that wasn't quite working, Gottlieb flipped the conversation, as she recounted:
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.’ 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.
When asked about inspirations for the film and whether previous dance partners may be able to help, Bergstein said, "My old partners are either in jail or out on parole ... it was a very rough neighborhood."
Mike Porterfield, the executive chef who fed the actors at the Mountain Lake Resort where much of the movie was shot, explained that, "There are rhododendron bushes all the way around there. They have a really dark green leaf and in the fall, they're turning brown and falling off. They came and spray painted them all green."
Porterfield also mentioned that Patrick Swayze attracted "a lot of attention" in the town, but not as much as Matthew Broderick when he came to visit his then-girlfriend Jennifer Grey.
It was horrifyingly, hypothermically cold in that lake, and we filmed that scene over and over. And despite the fact that Jennifer was very light, when you're lifting someone in water, take after take after take, even the skinniest little girl can feel like 500 pounds. By the time we finished shooting that sequence, my arms were like rubber, my body temperature had plunged.
"I hated that line, 'Nobody puts Baby in a corner,'" Patrick Swayze told AFI. Later on, Swayze admitted that the line worked once he saw the film in its entirety.
When he was battling cancer near the end of his life, he claimed to assure friends, "Nobody puts Patrick's pancreas in a corner."
Although Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze did pull off the lift in their initial audition, Grey refused to practice the scene while they were filming. She was too scared. Grey waited until she absolutely had to film the scene, and as she recalls, "The day you see me do it in the movie is the first time I do it."