The Case of Parks and Rec

Well, as we celebrated women’s history this month, we decided it was time to talk about one of the strongest female characters to ever grace our TV sets: Leslie Knope. That’s right, cassettes, this week we’re taking a trip to Pawnee, the greatest city in Indiana, probably the greatest city in America, possibly the greatest city in the world! 

In 2009, Parks and Recreation aired on NBC. It was a mockumentary-style show, similar to the intensely popular sitcom, The Office. It followed the parks department in the city of Pawnee over the course of seven seasons. Audiences fell in love with the remarkable ensemble cast, led by SNL veteran Amy Poehler, and featuring breakout stars like Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, and Aziz Ansari. 

This week, we’re diving into the history of this wonderfully heartwarming and hilarious show that birthed countless internet memes and made its mark as one of the greatest American television shows of all time. So it’s time to raise a glass of Snake Juice and “get on your feet,” because Parks and Rec is on. 

THE MOCKUMENTARY

  • Parks and Rec is a government satire mockumentary-style show. The idea of satire is not new, as it dates back to the Roman Empire. It’s a powerful tool that can paint some of the most mundane or troubling occurrences as something completely ridiculous. Satire can change minds, lift moods, and of course be entertaining as hell. 
  • The idea of presenting fiction as reality for entertainment purposes (ie. the mockumentary) is a far more recent occurrence. Some would consider Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast as one of the first mockumentaries, although it incited panic instead of laughs. Still, the concept of false news articles was on the rise. By the 1960’s, the rock documentary “A Hard Day’s Night” broke ground as it ventured into mockumentary territory with its coverage of Beatles hysteria. 
  • This film led to the king of all mock docs, Rob Reiner and Christopher Guests’ “This is Spinal Tap” in 1984. The genre has evolved since then, however this film is one of the most famous and will likely never be topped. 
  • In 2001, the UK sitcom “The Office” revolutionized the format and showed how it could work for TV. Of course, show creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant signed off on an American version, with Greg Daniels. The American Office took off, gaining an intense fan following and lasting 9 seasons. The characters addressed the camera directly, with interesting asides and funny glances. The format was based on the idea that there was an in-universe film crew creating a documentary about the employees of a Pennsylvania paper company. 
  • After a few incredibly successful seasons, NBC asked Greg Daniels to create another show, and gave him the creative freedom to do whatever he wanted. 

HOW THE SHOW GOT STARTED

  • When NBC asked Greg Daniels to produce another show, he turned to Michael Schur for help. Schur was a co-executive producer on The Office with Daniels, and had worked as a producer on SNL. 
    • Together, the two men created a pitch for a show that followed a dedicated person in local government, working with a group of apathetic people. One of their first ideas was to play on the format of The Office, creating a fictionalized version of a work setting. While The Office took place in the private sector, this show would follow characters in the public sector. 
    • They imagined the show as a comedy version of The West Wing. Instead of the high stakes of a federal government drama, this comedy would follow the low stakes and bureaucratic nonsense of local government. 
      • The show would specifically depict how people are affected by the actions of people in local government. 
    • They created a character named Leslie Knope, a strong, intelligent woman who is passionate about local government, but with no political know-how. At first, the audience didn’t receive the character the way the creators intended. Craig Daniels told The Guardian in 2019, “We didn’t do a great job at first. Instead of coming off as a smart, driven person with no political acumen, Leslie came off as a buffoon[…] We were blowing it because we were writing her as a stuffy politician and not a three-dimensional human being.” 
    • According to Greg Daniels, people had described her as a “bimbo.” He said, “That word was actually used, which was so horrifying because we pitched the show to NBC as like, this is a show about a strong willed, capable, feminist sort of forward thinking woman and her best friend who she makes in the pilot, […] and to hear the word “bimbo” applied to that character, it was–it was awful. It was truly awful.”
      • The creators made adjustments, altering the way other characters reacted to Leslie. Instead of rolling their eyes, everyone would agree that she was the best at what she did. Characters would keep their own agendas to create some conflicts, but they would all ultimately listen to Leslie in the end. 
      • The changes made an incredible difference. Leslie went from an awkward, yet well-meaning buffoon to a capable and strong female leader. 
    • Both creators knew that their main character needed to embody the essence of the show, and they needed a comedian with the chops to carry the role. Mike Schur had worked with Amy Poehler on SNL, and she seemed like a great choice for the lead.
      • NBC was on board, and they wanted to premiere the show after the Super Bowl. But, Poehler was 9 months pregnant and due to give birth when they would have had to film the pilot. They were so certain that Poehler was the only person that could nail the role, so they passed on one of the best time slots in TV to wait until after she gave birth.
    • The creators adopted the belief early on that relationships and characters are more important than premise. Michael Schur said “If you design a show around the idea, what happens often I think, is it makes for an amazing pilot. Because the pilot is a movie that has an incredible high premise and you get a great cliffhanger and whatever. And then the premises burns off and you’re left with not a lot of stuff because you haven’t made room for small, intimate character dynamics that are the things that are slow burning logs that keep the flame going for a long time.”
    • They wanted viewers to have an emotional connection to Parks and Rec. Schur and the other writers weren’t afraid to have moments where the show wasn’t “funny,” and show moments where characters acted to real-world emotion.

SYNOPSIS

Meet Leslie Knope. She’s the deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, IN. Ms. Knope may seem like just another civil servant, held back by red tape, but under her bubbly exterior there is a fierce woman, capable of anything. Leslie faces many challenges, some brought on by her Libertarian boss, Ron Swanson and the other apathetic or incompetant members of her department. Ultimately, her passion for government and the people of Pawnee inspires everyone around her. 

PRODUCTION

  • Parks and Rec had a long list of writers, including Greg Daniels, Michael Schur, Harris Wittels, Kate Dippold, and Amy Poehler. 
    • During the 100th episode Feature, Amy Poehler revealed that they had written 3300 pages of script by 31 writers. 
  • The show was shot by a crew of about 22 people each episode. The show had almost 40 different directors throughout its run, with producer Dean Holland directing the most episodes, according to IMDB. 
  • The crew would run through each scene at least twice. In the first run-through, actors would stick to the script. Then, they shot a “fun run” where the actors were encouraged to have fun with the scene and improvise lines. Because of this, hilarious improvisations are speckled all throughout the show, like when Rob Lowe stared intensely into the mirror and said, “Stop. Pooping” during the “Flu Season” episode. 
  • Amy Poehler said of production, “I love the way we shoot. We do seven, eight pages a day. There are a lot of quick setups. We do a lot of takes and get to improvise a lot. Her situations suggest things that we can try on the fly. Certainly, the form lends itself to that.” 
  • Each episode was about 23 minutes long. For some of their episodes, producers created an extended cut. When the show streamed on Netflix, the producer’s cuts were available to viewers. 
    • Michael Schur believed that the time constraints brought a better final result because the episodes were not bloated and had good pacing. One thing that really helped with that was having to work around commercials. This forced the writers to break the show into acts, allowing characters to have their own adventures and come together during a universal event. He believed network tv saved him from his worst instincts, and helped everyone tell a better story.
  • Location
    • Over the course of filming, Parks and Rec used hundreds of sets. The exterior shot of Pawnee’s city hall is actually Pasadena, California’s City Hall. Throughout the series only tight shots of the building were used since Pawnee is meant to be a small town. In the finale episode however the building was shown in all its magnificence. The interior of the building was located on a soundstage, including the “outside” courtyard shots. The crew would make it appear as if it were raining outside the offices along the courtyard, and would bring in pigeons to make it appear as if they were outside. 
      • Many of the other buildings used were also located within California. As of the 100th episode, the show had been filmed in 8 different cities across two continents. 
      • The infamous pit that is featured heavily in the first seasons, had to be created by the production crew. It was located on the Southeast corner of Hazeltine Avenue and Collins Street, in Van Nuys California. It did stay an empty lot for a long time but finally in 2015 construction began and it now is fully developed and no longer recognizable as Parks and Rec. Sadly it is not a park.
        • When they were getting ready to film, the showrunners visited the people that lived along the lot and asked them what they wanted it to be. They were all very accommodating people, especially the people that owned Ann’s house, which was used frequently in the first few seasons. 

STARRING

  • Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope
    • Amy Poehler is a comedy legend and founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, one of the most well-known improv comedy troupes in America. She has acted in films like Moxie, Baby Mama, and Inside Out.
    • Poehler wrote 5 episodes of Parks and Rec, and directed 3 episodes. 
    • Her favorite scene from the show was in the pilot episode, as Leslie stares out the window at the rain, thinking about the park project that starts the series. 
    • When asked in 2009 what she liked most about the character she said “There’s nothing cool about her. It’s fun to play someone who’s well-intentioned but doesn’t know the game. I enjoy competent but misguided characters. She’s an open-faced sandwich, and because of that, she doesn’t have anything savvy about her.”
  • Rashida Jones as Ann Perkins
    • She has been in Angie Tribecca, The Office, Celeste and Jesse Forever, The Social Network, and I Love You Man.
    • Amy Poehler loved the idea of a strong female friendship at the forefront of the show. That friendship was easy to act with Rashida Jones, as the two of them had already been friends for years. 
    • In an interview Amy and Rashida had this exchange:
      • Amy Poeler-Do you hate being asked what it is like being a woman in comedy?
      • Rashida Jones- Yes.
      • Amy-Is there an answer you wish you could say that you’ve never been able to?
      • Rashida- Ask me something else… That’s not stupid.
  • Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson
    • He has been in The Founder, Fargo, and Nick Offerman: American Ham (which is a live taping of one of his standups.)
    • Nick Offerman auditioned for The Office. Even though he was not cast, Mike Schur kept his name and called him for Parks and Rec. Originally he was thought of for a love interest role to Rashida Jones’ Ann Perkins. They felt the role of Leslie’s boss made more sense. 
    • While they were doing research for the show, Daniels and Schur actually came across a woman who was in government and a libertarian. This was an inspiration for Ron. 
    • Michael Schur said that some of his favorite scenes to write were the ones between Ron and Leslie because they work so well together. Leslie always reminds Ron that these people are his friends and Ron helps to keep Leslie grounded.
  • Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate
    • She has been in Safety Not Guaranteed, Dirty Grandpa, and Ingrid Goes West.
    • The character of April Ludgate was written for Aubrey because the casting director thought she was the weirdest person. When she went into an interview with Michael Schur she made him feel incredibly uncomfortable and old, mostly because she didn’t talk. After the meeting he immediately wrote a scene where Leslie is hiring a young intern and the intern makes her feel the exact same way.
    • Plaza is friends with Amy Poehler, and once greeted her at the airport dressed as an alien, to cheer her up during her divorce. 
    • During the 100th episode feature, she insisted on being interviewed in a tree, and refused to answer the questions. As you can see, many of these actors fit their characters super well.
  • Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer
    • He is of course Starlord in the Marvel Universe, Owen in Jurassic World, and Emmet in The Lego Movie. 
    • Andy was not intended to be a regular character of the show. Showrunners planned for his arc to end after season 1, but they liked Pratt so much in the role that they brought him back.
    • His favorite Parks moment was when April and Andy drove to the Grand Canyon. He had not seen the Grand Canyon before, so his reaction was genuine. He felt it was just a very nice moment for April and Andy. 
    • In the season 2 episode, “Kaboom” Chris Pratt showed up to Ann’s house naked. He was supposed to wear nude underwear for the scene, but took them off to get a better reaction from Amy Poehler. He got an official reprimand for the stunt, which he reportedly framed. 
  • Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford
    • He has been in Master of None, Epic, 30 Minutes or Less, and Darryl in Bob’s Burgers.
    • A talented stand-up comedian, Aziz improvised a lot of lines as Tom Haverford. Tom was a breakout character on the show, and was heavily influenced by Aziz.
    • Aziz said that his favorite thing about the show was the news anchor Perd Hapley.
  • Jim O’heir as Jerry Gergich
    • He has been in Smothered by Mothers, Bad Times at the El Royale, and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
    • O’heir actually auditioned for Ron Swanson, but the creators loved him so much, they made sure to find the right character for him to play. 
    • It’s a long running gag in the show that Jerry/Gary/Larry is hated by the department. This is especially funny to the showrunners because Jim O’heir is universally loved. 
  • Retta as Donna Meagle
    • Retta has been in Fracture, Good Boys, To the Bone, and her voice in the new Ducktales as Magic Harp.
    • Retta is a talented comedian and trained opera singer! She sings in the episode, “Leslie and Ben” as they get married in the office. 
    • Her favorite Parks moment was from season 2, when Chris Pratt fights a possum. She said that she saved it on her DVR for two years!
  • Adam Scott as Ben Wyatt
    • He has been in Step Brothers, Friends With Kids, and Torque.
    • He loved the episode “Media Blitz” where the show explores Ben’s past as a boy mayor. 
  • Rob Lowe literally as Chris Traeger
    • He was literally in St. Elmo’s Fire, The Outsiders, Tommy Boy, and Wayne’s World.
    • Rob had just bought into the Miramax Library when meeting with Michael Schur for the first time. When Schur asked him how he came about doing that, Rob began his story with Chris Traeger’s now well known catchphrase of “literally.” 
  • Paul Schnieder as Mark Brandanawicz
    • He has been in Lars and the Real Girl, Chance, and American Murderer
    • Paul Schnieder left the show after the second season, opening the door for the Ben and Chris characters. He later said he left because of creative differences. It was mostly because the show shifted its emotional focus after the first season, which worked for the other characters but didn’t seem to work as well for Mark. 
  • Jay Jackson as Perd Hapley
    • He was in Fast Five, Battleship, and Scandal. 
    • Perd Hapley always over-explains in the best way possible.
  • Ben Schwartz as Jean-Ralphio
    • He has been in Space Force, Sonic The Hedgehog (2020), and the new Ducktales.
    • When Ben Schwartz auditioned, he originally tried for the character Dave, a cop that Leslie has a relationship with. Because he felt too young to play that character, Louis CK won the role instead. Michael Schur liked Shwartz so much, he wrote another character for him to play, Jean-Ralphio. 
    • The character was meant to only have a couple lines, but was received so well, he went on to appear in 21 episodes of the show! 
  • Jenny Slate as Mona-Lisa
    • She has been in Obvious Child, Zootopia, Gifted, and Bob’s Burgers.
  • Billy Eichner as Craig Middlebrooks
    • He was in Billy on the Street, The Angry Birds Movie, and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. 
  • Harris Wittels as Harris
    • Michael Schur’s time on The Office and SNL inspired him to bring writers into the show as actors (a popular practice for both of the aforementioned shows). Many of the Parks writers appeared in the show, sometimes as recurring characters. Writer Harris Wittles appeared frequently as a stoned animal control worker. As co-executive producer, Wittles wrote 12 episodes of the show, making a profound impact on its success. 
    • Wittels was an incredibly gifted comedian that started writing for shows in his early 20’s. In January of 2015, Wittles passed away suddenly at the age of 30. The final frame of the Parks and Rec finale showed the word, “We love you, Harris.” 

RECEPTION/ IMPACT

  • When the show was on the air for the first year in 2009 the Parks and Recreation publication had an article about how those who worked in the field felt about the mockumentary. While there were varying thoughts, many agreed that it was humurous.
    • Jim Dumont from Walla Walla, Washington said ”As a politician once said, ‘ I don’t care what you report as long as you spell my name correctly.’ It sort of holds true here,..it does give our profession exposure. I am not really sure if it helps us or hurts us, but I am not really concerned about it because it is a sitcom and I hope those who watch it understand that (even though some of the stuff we deal with is pretty funny).”
  • In June 2015 it was People Magazine’s number three pick for what to see, hear, read, or download for the week.
  • The show was nominated for several emmys, but never won. It was also nominated three times for the Golden Globes and never won. Amy Poehler did win a Golden Globe for her performance as Leslie Knope. 
  • The 2020 reunion special aired last March and was a welcome relief during the ongoing pandemic. 

RUNNING GAGS/JOKES/ ETC.

  • Treat Yo’ Self
    • This was one of Aziz Ansari’s favorite bits on the show
  • Awkward run-ins with Councilman Howser
  • Jerry’s name change
  • Tom’s crazy ideas for businesses
  • Leslie’s amazing compliments towards her best friend Ann
  • A lot seemed to deal with food…
    • Leslie’s waffle obsession
    • Ben’s love of Calzones
    • Ron’s need for breakfast foods

FAVORITE EPISODES 

  • The Pilot
  • Ron and Tammy
    • Nick Offerman said this was his most memorable episode, as he got to work with his wife, performing ridiculous animalistic sexual behavior
  • Galentine’s Day
  • Telethon
  • The Master Plan
  • Flu Season
    • “You could have network connectivity problems” – Adam Scott referred to this improvised line as one of the best lines in comedy 
  • The Harvest Festival
  • April and Andy’s Fancy Party
  • The Fight
    • A peak Jean-Ralphio episode!
  • The Comeback Kid
  • Halloween Surprise
    • Michael Schur wrote the proposal scene just after finding out that the show wasn’t nominated for an emmy. Amy Poehler said it was one of her favorite show moments and they didn’t make any changes to his initial scene. 

Parks and Recreation is a comedic masterpiece. It holds one of the greatest ensemble casts American television has ever seen. It’s incredible that all of this talent somehow met together at the exact right time to make this show. 

It’s a perfect blend of heartwarming and hilarious, as comedic storylines always pause at the exact right moment to let the characters be *almost* real people. It’s a show about friendship, love, service, and respect. Leslie Knope is powerful. She inspires the other characters, and the people watching. She’s a goddess, a glorious female warrior; and she makes us all feel like we can do anything if we just make enough binders. 

So with that, I’m Robin HAPP-ley, and the thing about this case is…it’s closed! 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, and Linda.


SOURCES:

A Case of Their Own

Well, we made it through the long cold winter and Spring is only days away. So to honor the coming season AND women’s month, we’re covering one of (if not the) greatest baseball movies ever made. Don’t get upset if you disagree, there’s no crying in podcasting. 

In July of 1992 (the month Robin and Marci were both born), A League of Their Own premiered. It was a fun, and somewhat historical film based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (or the AAGPBL if you like inefficient acronyms). It was a highly quotable, heart-warming gem, with an all-star cast giving memorable performances. A League of Their Own didn’t just celebrate baseball, it highlighted an inspiring moment in women’s history, showing little ladies everywhere that there’s nothing wrong with throwing like a girl. 

A LITTLE HISTORY

  • In 1942, healthy men 18 and older were being drafted from all over the country to fight in WWII. This put the future of Major League Baseball into question, and owners were worried that there wouldn’t be a season. Phillip Wrigley, then owner of the Chicago Cubs, decided to create a committee to come up with ideas to keep ballparks open. The best idea seemed to be a women’s softball league. 
  • When the league started playing for crowds in the spring of 1943, it was known as the All-American Girls Softball League. The name was confusing, because there were already professional softball teams and also because they mostly played by MLB rules. So, the name changed several times throughout the years, but is known as the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. 
  • The game was a combination of softball and baseball. This meant that the ball would be larger than a standard baseball, and pitching would be under-hand. However, running rules from baseball were applied, along with longer distances between plates to make the game more exciting. 
  • Next, scouts were sent to find female players from all over the country and Canada. One of them was a scout for the Chicago Cubs, while another was actually a hockey team manager named Johnny Gottselig, who became the manager of the Racine Belles (which we see in the movie). 

A League of Their Own changed a lot of the history, but the core story is there. The film crams events that took place over the course of 12 seasons into one season of play. 

  • In the film, the women are playing with baseballs and pitching overhand.
    • In the later years of the league, this is how the game was played, although it was not this way in the first season.
  • The film depicts an uphill struggle for the girls, as they aren’t filling seats and have to start using gimmicks to get crowds.
    • This actually isn’t true, because the women’s baseball league was popular from the get-go. Even though this particular struggle didn’t happen, the conflict in the movie represents a very real struggle that women still face when it comes to being taken seriously as athletes. 
  • The movie’s main character, Dottie, was based on a real player for the Rockford Peaches named Dorothy Kamenshek. 
    • Dorothy was an all-star player for the Rockford Peaches, but she played first base, and was not a catcher. She also played ball for several seasons, while her film counterpart quit after the first season. 
    • According to one of the former players, Helen “Gig” Smith, the two sisters Dottie and Kit were based on Marge and Helen Callaghan from Canada. 
  • The girls are treated like models, and are forced to attend finishing school.
    • This is actually true. They were sent to the Helena Rubinstein Beauty Salon for make-overs and were taught proper etiquette. 
      • Apparently, the reputation for female softball players wasn’t great in 1942, and so Philip Wrigley implemented strict rules to clean up the image of his players. Women could be fined for having hair too long, or being seen in public wearing slacks or shorts.They also couldn’t smoke or drink. 
  • In the movie, the Racine Belles face the Rockford Peaches in the final series. 
    • At the end of the first season of the AAGPBL, The Rockford Peaches finished last. However, they did win championships four times over the 12 years that the league existed! 
    • In the 1943 season, The Racine Belles did in fact win the title. 
  • At the end of the film, we see the women of the AAGPBL get honored at Cooperstown, the National Baseball Hall of Fame. 
    • It’s true, the women are honored in a permanent exhibit at Cooperstown in 1988, but they have not been officially inducted into the actual Hall of Fame. 

In case you haven’t seen this film, or if it’s been a while, here is a quick synopsis. 

  • Dottie and Kit are living on their family farm, when approached by a talent scout. He has seen them playing ball locally, and wants Dottie to try out for a new women’s league. At first, Dottie won’t go. But when Kit convinces the scout to take them both, they decide to head to Chicago for try-outs. 
  • The girls become members of the first AAGPBL, and are assigned to the Rockford Peaches. The film follows their first season, led by their coach, the washed up ballplayer Jimmy Dugan. As Dottie becomes more and more of a star, it creates a rift between her and her sister Kit. The movie also explores the dynamics of the other players, as they learn and grow as ballplayers. 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • In the 1980’s, Kelly Candaele, the son of an original AAGPBL player, decided to make a documentary about the league. When the documentary aired, director Penny Marshall happened to be watching. 
  • It took Kelly Candaele and Kim Wilson about five years from creating the documentary to writing the treatment and pitching the film to Fox. When the deal with Fox fell through, Penny Marshall asked producer Robert Greenhunt to make the film with her at Sony/Columbia since they agreed to pay for it.
    • Marshall Said in 2005, “I saw a documentary about this league, and I didn’t even know it existed. And if I [didn’t] know, that means other people didn’t know, and I was going to change that. And, yes, I had a deal with Fox at that time. But then I got signed to Sony from Fox, and they said, “We’ll even let you do that girls’ movie.”
    • In 1988, about 150 members of the AAGPBL gathered with their families at Cooperstown to witness the opening of a permanent exhibit to the women’s league. According to one of the players, Penny Marshall came and interviewed players to get ideas for the movie. 
      • One of these stories was about the son of one of the players, an annoying little boy that caused mayhem. 
  • The team hired Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz as the scriptwriters. They worked closely with the documentary filmmakers, and pulled the inspiration for their two main characters from Candaele’s mother and aunt, who played on the same team. 
    • To put it into perspective as to how little known this story was, one of the scriptwriters was a baseball fanatic and didn’t even know about the AAGPBL. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert admitted he also had not heard of this time in baseball. 
  • Casting the film was one of the biggest challenges.
    • We talked about this when we did our episode on The Natural last summer: it can be hard to act like you can play a sport if you can’t actually play a sport. So, filmmakers were adamant that they find women who could actually play baseball to be in the movie. 
    • Every actress went through try-outs as well as screen tests. About 2000 girls auditioned, but no one was cast in the film until they passed the baseball portion, except for Geena Davis. 
      • Originally, Debra Winger was tapped to play the lead in the film, but dropped out. According to Marshall in her book, Winger left because they cast Madonna in the film. She felt that her superstar status would shift the focus of the film on her.
    • The actresses attended training for eight hours a day, six days a week, for seven months to master baseball skills. Some of the scars and bruises shown in the movie were actually real, and three women reportedly sustained concussions while learning how to slide. 
  • Producers wanted a love story between Dottie (Geena Davis) and Jimmy (Tom Hanks), which Penny Marshall objected to. She felt that a romance would distract from the major story and message of the film, and she was right. The relationship between a male and female character that has nothing to do with romance or sex, subverts a film stereotype and further empowers the message of the movie.
    • There was an original scene where Dottie and Jimmy kiss late one night. At the end of the scene, she runs into the clubhouse and starts packing her things. In the final cut of the movie, this scene happens after she has a fight with her sister Kit, not after kissing Jimmy. 
      • The idea that a married woman would kiss another man reportedly upset the original AAGPBL players and it was (thankfully) cut from the movie. 
    • In a Sports Illustrated review, writer Steve Wulf mentioned this by saying, “And for one brief, sterling moment, in a scene between Hanks and Geena Davis on the bus, you have a movie rarity: a man and a woman connecting with no sex involved.”

STARRING

  • Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan
    • Tom Hanks had recently made “Big” with Penny Marshall a few years before, but he was worried he might not be old enough for the role of Jimmy Dugan in A League of Theri Own. Marshall reportedly told him that he didn’t need to be old to be washed up, and that since his character stopped playing ball because of alcohol, it made sense for him to be young. 
    • After Big, Tom Hanks hadn’t had a big success for a few years. This movie helped put him at the top of the A-list.
      • For this role, he had to gain 30 pounds.
    • Hanks’ character Jimmy Dugan was a composite of two real ballplayers, Jimmi Fox and Hack Wilson, that had short-lived careers due to alcoholism. Fox actually managed the Fort Wayne Daisies for a season. 
  • Geena Davis as C Dottie Hinson
    • Geena Davis has appeared in several films like Beetlejuice, Thelma and Louise, and Stuart Little. She also appeared in the Netflix show, GLOW.
    • After reading the script, Davis said the film was an absolute yes immediately. About the role she said, “I have always sought characters that got to do interesting things, from a selfish point of view as an actor. I didn’t want to just be the girlfriend of the person who is having all the interesting things happen. And this is the ultimate example of that. I bring it up when I give speeches because I say, “I would rather play the baseball player than the girlfriend of the baseball player.” And I’m lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to do that.”
    • Penny’s first choice for the role was Demi Moore but by the time the movie was going to be made Demi was pregnant.
  • Lori Petty as P Kit Keller
    • Lori has been in Point Break, Tank Girl, and Free Willy. She is still an active actress just being in Orange is the New Black and some horror movies. We’ll talk about this later but in a tweet she revealed she believes that Dottie did not drop the ball on purpose.
  • Madonna as C F Mae Mordabito
    • Madonna took the role because she wanted a diverse career. The role offered her less money than she was used to, but she was dedicated to doing a good job. Apparently, her character was originally at third base, but had to be moved to the outfield because Madonna couldn’t master fielding ground balls.
  • Rosie O’Donnell as 3B Doris Murphy
    • Rosie said, “I got League of Their Own [because] I was one of the few women who could throw, really throw from third to first. So I got that job and that just led to other jobs.”
    • Rosie has been in many things but a few to mention are Sleepless in Seattle, The Flintstones (1994), and she lent her voice to Terk in Tarzan.
    • Rosie would sometimes entertain the extras in the stands since there was a lot of downtime between scenes. She was also known to sing Madonna’s songs on the set, which would annoy the singer to great comedic effect. 
  • Megan Cavanaugh as 2B Marla Hooch
    • According to Mental Floss, Rosie O’Donnell was almost the part of Marla, but Megan Cavanaugh proved to be perfect for the role. Thankfully, Rosie got a role that fit her perfectly, as the hilarious Doris Murphy. 
  • Tracy Reiner as LF / P Betty Horn
    • Even though she is Penny Marshall’s daughter, Tracy didn’t want to audition for the movie. She only went because her cousin wanted to go. The coaches placed her in the top 20 girls from the 2000 that tried out, much to Marshall’s surprise. 
  • Bitty Schram as RF Evelyn Gardner
    • You may remember her as Adrianne Monk’s original assistant in the show Monk or because her character receives the iconic line, “There’s No Crying in Baseball” from Tom Hanks after she fails to hit her cut-off during a play from the outfield. 
  • Ann Cusack as LF Shirley Baker
    • Ann recently played Warden Porter in Castle Rock and Donna January in The Boys.
  • The rest of the Rockford Peaches were
    • Anne Ramsay as 1B Helen Haley
    • Freddie Simpson as SS/ P Ellen Sue Gotlander
    • Renée Coleman as LF/ C Alice Gaspers
    • Robin Knight as SS ‘Beans’ Babbitt
    • Patti Pelton as 2B Marbleann Wilkenson
    • Kelli Simpkins as OF Beverly Dixon
    • Neezer Tarleton as OF Neezer Dalton
    • Connie Pounds-Taylor as OF Connie Calhoun
    • Kathleen Marshall as OF ‘Mumbles’ Brockman
    • Sharon Szmidt as 2B Vivian Ernst
  • Pauline Brailsford as Miss Cuthbert
    • Pauline was also in American Playhouse, Big Shots and Murder, She Wrote.
  • David Strathairn as Ira Lowenstein
    • David has been in several things including Lincoln, Godzilla, and L.A. Confidential. 
  • Jon Lovitz as Ernie Capadino
    • Jon has been in several things, one was actually Big which of course Hanks was also in.
  • Bill Pullman as Bob Hinson
    • Bill Pullman who plays Dottie’s husband has been in While You Were Sleeping, Spaceballs, and Independence Day.
  • Garry Marshall as Walter Harvey
    • Garry is Penny Marshall’s brother and often worked with her. We see the pair as well playing the Devil and Medusa in the movie Hocus Pocus!

THE BALL DROP DEBATE

  • At the climax of the film, Kit (Lori Petty) comes to bat at the bottom of the 9th with two outs and a woman on base, in the final game of the championship. She’s batting against her former team, the Rockford Peaches, with her older sister playing catcher behind her. After two strikes, Kit hits an apparent triple, tying the game. But, as she touches third base, Kit ignores the stop signal from her coach and barrels through, attempting to turn her triple into an in-field home run. At the plate, stands Dottie, her perfect older sister and superior ballplayer, that Kit resents. She smashes into Dottie, who holds the ball and must tag Kit before she hits the plate. After the dust clears, the crowd can see that Dottie, the “Queen of Diamonds” has dropped the ball, meaning that Kit is safe at home, and the Racine Belles have won the first AAGPBL championship. 
  • If you’re familiar with the movie, you know that there is a bit of a debate as to whether Dottie dropped the ball on purpose to let Kit have this victory, as it was so much more important to her. Bitty Schram, who played Evelyn, said in an interview that she believed it was a subconscious decision for Dottie to drop the ball. But Geena Davis has given a different answer, saying, “I’ll say two things about that. No. 1: I know the answer. Because it was me, of course, I know the answer. And No. 2: No, I’m not going to answer that question. I never have, and I never will.”
  • You will find many arguments for both sides. One, that Dottie was just as competitive as Kit, so why would she decide to come back for one final game just to let her sister win? On the contrary, Dottie had made that play countless times before, one time is even shown in the movie, and yet she never had trouble holding the ball before. 
  • We have our own ideas, as we’re sure everyone listening does too. But for now, we’ll pull a Geena Davis and say it’s a question that will just go unanswered. 

RECEPTION AND LEGACY

  • The film was a commercial and critical success. With a budget of $40,000,000 its cumulative worldwide gross was $132,440,069. 
    • Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars, saying, “Marshall shows her women characters in a tug-of-war between new images and old values, and so her movie is about transition – about how it felt as a woman suddenly to have new roles and freedom. The movie has a real bittersweet charm. The baseball sequences we’ve seen before. What’s fresh are the personalities of the players, the gradual unfolding of their coach and the way this early chapter of women’s liberation fit into the hidebound traditions of professional baseball. By the end, when the women get together again for their reunion, it’s touching, the way they have to admit that, whaddaya know, they really were pioneers.”
  • This movie about ground-breaking women was directed by, you guessed it, another ground-breaking woman. Penny Marshall went from acting in the popular sitcom “Laverne and Shirley” to being one the most celebrated directors of her time. Many argue that “A League of Their Own” is her greatest film, and you can be sure she had a hand in its success.
    • This film was Marshall’s second movie to make more than 100 million dollars at the box office, and she was the first female director to have two films reach that mark. 
    • Although the film is noted for highlighting women’s issues, Marshall wanted audiences to know that these stories weren’t just for women. She told the New York Times, “I thought it was something I should do. But I wasn’t doing it just to do a women’s picture. The problems as they’re presented in the movie apply to both men and women. It’s about, ‘Don’t be ashamed of your talents.’ It’s a universal thing.” 
  • The film has an enduring legacy of its own, but it also highlighted the inspirational legacy of the women that played professional baseball. The film brought attention to these remarkable women, and helped give them recognition that was long overdue. For thirty years, the remaining players of the AAGPBL journey to New York and reunite at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. In 2019, they unveiled a statue honoring Penny. 
  • There’s one scene in the movie that highlights an even more forgotten group of baseball legends: black women. In the scene, a fly ball lands in the stands where African American fans have been forced to stand, due to segregation. Dottie holds out her glove and smiles, as a black woman picks up the ball. The woman throws the ball past Dottie, and directly into the glove of another player, who then pulls out her hand, indicating that the throw was so powerful that it stung through the glove. 
    • The scene came about because the screenwriters wanted to have a more diverse cast, but were unable to because of historical accuracy. The scene not only reminds the audience of the fact that even though these women playing were incredible, there were other women that might’ve been even better, but weren’t invited to play the game.
    • The actress in the scene is uncredited, but this moment stayed with audiences, and for many it’s their favorite moment in the film. In recent years, there have been calls for Hollywood to make a similar film to ALOTO, but about the black women that played professional baseball. Here’s hoping that happens! 
  • In 1993, the movie inspired a short-lived TV show of the same name. An Amazon Prime TV show is actually in the works. 
    • It’s intended to be a re-imagining of the story with a greater focus on sex and race and the issues of the 1940’s. It will be a comedy, starring Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and D’Arcy Carden from The Good Place. 

FUN FACTS: 

  • The movie was originally four hours long, and explained the lives of each girl more thoroughly. Every actress came up with their own backstory if it wasn’t written in the script, and Penny Marshall would often quiz the girls and ask them questions about who they were.
  • The original film didn’t have the heart-wrenching scene where Betty learns her husband has died overseas. Instead, there was a scene that showed Marla, back from her honeymoon and pregnant, playing for the Belles. Dottie slides into her while playing, and her teammates accuse Dottie of going too far to win after Marla gets removed by a stretcher. This is why Dottie is in tears when Bob arrives, not because Betty has lost her husband. 
  • In one scene, Rosie O’Donnell throws two balls to two catchers at once. She learned the impressive trick from one of the original AAGPBL players. 

A League of Their Own isn’t a “battle of the sexes” movie. It doesn’t waste time comparing women to men, it shows you the talents of women as they stand alone. So often, female sports are looked at as less exciting or legitimate than men’s sports. This movie seeks to show the audience that sports are always hard work, and that players are players, no matter their gender. 

But A League of Their Own is more than that. It’s a movie about sisterhood; the idea that women are stronger together. So often, films and other media perpetuate a message that women don’t like each other, and don’t want to see each other succeed. A League of Their Own smashes that stereotype with characters that are constantly lifting each other up, and helping each other out. Of course there are fights and disagreements, just like with any group of humans. Overall, the film depicts a positive culture among women that we find to not only be refreshing, but generally true. And with that message, there’s the realization that there is no right or wrong way to be a woman. There’s a scene where an older woman gives social commentary on the female baseball players, saying that they were chosen based on who was most masculine. When people say things like this, they’re only looking at women as they relate to men. Not a single woman in this movie is “trying” to be masculine. They are trying to play baseball, and are succeeding. 

A League of Their Own may not be the most historically accurate film, but it squashes gender stereotypes and captures the spirit of baseball. It holds truths that absolutely everyone needs to learn. If we were asked to compare this film with other baseball movies, we’d have to say that it’s in a league of its own. 

We’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, and our newest patron, JAMES! 


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The Case of Teen Wolf

So as we wrapped up our month of horror, we thought of the perfect movie to help us transition into the Spring season. Its got everything: a touch of horror, a little bit of romance, some basketball, and a whole lot of fun! We’re talking about the 1985 Michael J. Fox film, Teen Wolf! 

In the early 1980’s, Michael J. Fox was the good-natured Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties, a somewhat-popular sitcom. When the show got a new timeslot, it jumped to number 2 in the ratings. By the mid 1980’s, Michael J. Fox was a bonafide star, appearing in the wildly popular Back to the Future and of course, Teen Wolf. 

Since we’re coming off of Frightening February and into March, we thought it would make sense to do an episode that mixes horror with basketball! We’re not going to lie to you and say that Teen Wolf is Fox’s best film–or even his second best. But, it’s a wonderfully entertaining piece of 1980’s pop culture, and we’re excited to talk about it. 

HISTORY OF WEREWOLVES

  • Teen Wolf features the concepts of one of the most classic monsters: The Werewolf. So, we thought it was appropriate to talk a little bit about the history of the werewolf! We will have more werewolf episodes in the future, so we will have more chances to dive into this mythology! 
  • Werewolves are an ancient part of folklore. How ancient? Well, scholars aren’t entirely sure. Some say the first known mention of a werewolf was in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was written in about 2100 BC. The text mentions a woman that turned her lover into a wolf. Since then, humans taking the form of wolves appeared in Greek Mythology and Nordic Folklore. Each time, though, werewolves were wild beasts hungry for human flesh. The idea of the friendly werewolf doesn’t come from classic literature. 
  • There was a string of serial killers that also claimed to be werewolves in the 15th and 16th centuries! 
  • The lore of the werewolf has cited many ways in which people can change into the animal. Some stories included enchanted pelts or elixirs, and many claimed the cause was a curse or exposure through a bite or wound from another werewolf. 
  • The most well-known mythology today is that mankind changes into a werewolf when a full moon appears, and it can be killed with a silver bullet. Werewolves are mortal beings and can be killed by many of the things that would kill humans. 
  • If you’ve ever seen Teen Wolf, then you know that it doesn’t really follow much of this mythology. It adds some head-scratching details. For example, being a werewolf apparently makes you really good at basketball! 

SYNOPSIS

Scott Howard is your average high school kid. He plays for the basketball team (though they have never won a game) and has a crush on the popular girl. He also has a quirky best friend, and girl-next-door who adores him. One day, Scott starts to notice that he’s going through weird changes, and eventually realizes the unbelievable: he’s a werewolf. Being a wolf changes everything for Scott. He’s now a pro on the basketball court, and has all the attention he could ever want. But this makes Scott question, do people like him? Or the Wolf? 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • The concept of a teen wolf was hardly original, even in 1985. Other films like 1957’s “I was a Teenage Werewolf” and 1981’s “Full Moon High” both explored similar plotlines. This movie, however seemed to strike a balance between campiness and heart, especially due to Michael J. Fox’s performance. This film is self-aware at times, but it’s not a straight parody, allowing the audience to take it just seriously enough while laughing at the strangeness of it all. 
    • In some ways it’s incredibly dated, but it’s a clever portrayal of the average high school experience, with a focus on confidence and a realization that popularity isn’t as important as personal relationships. In a way, we were all teen wolves at some point, right? 
  • Teen films were gaining popularity in the 1980’s. They were easy to make, with relatively low budgets, and drew in big audiences. After the success of “Valley Girl” in 1983 (starring an unknown Nic Cage), Atlantic entertainment was looking for an original teen movie of its own. Enter writers Jeff Loeb and Matthew Weisman, two recent film school grads looking to sell their first movie. 
    • Loeb told Vulture that he was working at TGI Fridays when he and Weisman pitched Teen Wolf. The meeting was only 15 minutes, and the studio already had Michael J. Fox in mind for the part. The catch was, Fox was a busy guy already. The writers had to pen the script in three weeks, in order to get it to Fox for approval. Once he committed, the movie was greenlit for the tiny budget of a few million dollars. 
  • Director
    • Rod Daniel was hand-picked by Loeb and Wiesman to be the director of the film. They conducted several interviews, but Daniel was the person that seemed to really understand the message and content of the film. He immediately understood that the movie was more about being a teenager than a wolf, and that got him the job. Rod’s son Lucas attributes Teen Wolf and other movies for his wonderful childhood, saying that these helped his father work out issues with his own father. 
  • Special Effects Make-up
    • While the actors wore special effects make-up, they couldn’t eat solid foods. 
    • The scene where Michael J. Fox is turning into the full wolf for the first time in the bathroom took an entire day to film. 
      • Jeff Dawn worked on this transformation. His grandfather is Jack Dawn, the man that was the make-up designer for The Wizard of Oz!
      • Jeff Dawn said that Steve Laporte (who did make-up for things like BeetleJuice) met up with him to help. When Michael showed up they began the long and arduous task. They did several different levels of change; from the nails, teeth, hair, and face. 
        • In order to create the facial change that we see, bladders were put under the surface of what appears to be skin. Jeff and Steve could literally pump to have the skin move under the foam prosthetics and lace eyebrows.
        • When Jeff explained the process he said “It takes all day to do a transformation like that because you do it, you clean it off, you add some more, you do it, you clean it off, you add some more.”
  • Stunts
    • Urban Surfing
      • Loeb admits that urban surfing, the act of standing on a moving vehicle, was something he actually did in college! He said that they would do it in the wee hours of the morning, and had to bang on the roof when a traffic light came up, in order to tell the driver to slow down so they could duck under the lights. 
      • The stunt double for the actors weren’t in as much danger. They were attached to the van roof. Jerry Levine, who played Stiles, actually did the stunt himself! The engineers ran a cable through his pants and into the roof of the van, and also had a cable around his waist.
        • With paramedics on standby, they drove up and down the street for several takes as he danced to “Surfin’ USA.”
      • Jeff Loeb wants everyone to know that they should not try this stunt at home.  
    • Basketball dunking
      • Michael J. Fox’s basketball double was a college basketball player named Jeff Glosser. He was hired because even with two weeks of basketball training Michael could not grow taller than 5’4” or become great at the sport.

STARRING

  • Michael J. Fox as Scott Howard
    • He is of course known for the Back to the Future movies as well as Family Ties, Spin City, and so many more.
    • At the beginning of production, Fox was still fairly unknown. While they were filming, Family Ties jumped in the ratings and extras started recognizing him as a TV star. Some takes actually needed to be re-done because girls would scream when he appeared. 
  • James Hampton as Harold Howard
    • James has been in several things but he is known for being in Sling Blade, Teen Wolf, and The Longest Yard (1974.)
  • Susan Ursitti as Boof, the love interest and best friend we all root for
    • Susan is now retired but she did appear in a few shows and the movies Defense Play, The Runnin’ Kind, and The Walking Dead (1995.) 
  • Jerry Levine as Stiles one of the coolest guys on the planet
    • Jerry has been in lots of things but most notably Born on the Fourth of July, Wag the Dog, and K-9.
    • He was so recognizable as Stiles that he was at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and somebody shouted to him saying “Hey Stiles!”
    • Stiles is one of the most iconic parts of the film, gracing the screen with his charisma and knack for party games. But one of his most well-known features are his unique t-shirts. They were the director’s idea, and were created specifically for the movie. The most famous one is, “What are you looking at, Dicknose?” a phrase written by the screenwriters.
  • Matt Adler as Lewis
    • Matt has also been in Flight of the Navigator, The Day After Tomorrow, and North Shore.
  • Lorie Griffin as Pamela
    • Lorie was not in very many things but a few movies were Cheerleader Camp, Drug Runners, and The Burning Zone.
  • James MacKrell as Mr. Thorne
    • James is known for his broadcast career and his appearances in movies. For example he was the voice of the broadcaster Lew Landers in Gremlins! He had this same character name in The Howling. Both of these movies were directed by Joe Dante.
  • Mark Arnold as Mick the popular guy dating the popular girl
    • He has been in Blade Runner 2049, Angel Has Fallen, and Florence Foster Jenkins.
  • Jay Tarses as Coach Finstock
    • Jay is an actor but he also is a writer. He wrote episodes for The Bob Newhart Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and Buffalo Bill. He also helped write the movie The Muppets Take Manhattan.  
  • Mark Holton as Chubby
    • Mark is most known for his roles in A League of Their Own, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and Leprechaun. 
  • Scott Paulin as Kirk Lolley
    • Scott has been in a lot, most notably The Right Stuff, Pump Up the Volume, and Turner and Hooch.

FUN FACTS

  • The girl who plays Rhonda (the girl that gets jello shoved down her shirt during the party) was Playboy’s “Playmate of the Month” in July 1982 and had been in Real Genius which was released shortly before Teen Wolf.
  • One of the writers, Jeff Loeb, has also written for some Spider-man comics. This could explain why Scott’s father tells him, “with great power comes an even greater responsibility.” 

RECEPTION

  • Although Teen Wolf was filmed first, it was released a little more than a month after Back to the Future. Back to Future had become a hit and everyone was ready for some more Michael J. Fox. Writers Jeph Loeb and Matthew Weisman and director Rod, however, were still worried when they went to a showing the first day at 5pm and there were only about 4 people in the theatre. After having a silent and stressful dinner, the three decided to head to a college town theatre and see a 7:30 showing. The show was sold out! The three had to beg the attendants to let them stand at the back of the theatre to watch. Jeph Loeb said that the crowd was quiet until the bathroom scene, where Scott opens the door to find that his father is a full werewolf. He said the rest of the night was full of fun and laughter, where everyone had a great time. 
  • Unfortunately the critics hated it, with The New York Times’ Vincent Canby calling it “aggressively boring” and pointing out that Scott’s rival team would somehow have to be intramural as Mick, his rival and antagonist, attends the same high school. 
  • On a 6 million dollar budget they grossed about 33 million, quite a lot for the time. 

THE LEGACY OF TEEN WOLF

  • As silly as it sounds, Teen Wolf has a pretty strong legacy for a campy 80’s film. For one, it inspired an urban myth about an extra exposing themselves in the background of the final basketball scene. There have been lots of articles and videos showing the scene, and upon further inspection, it appears there is no genitalia at all. One extra does seem to have their pants unzipped, but all the camera sees is white fabric. Whether this is underwear or a tucked in undershirt, the world will never know. You can, however, see the extra reach down and zip the pants as they get ready to jump on the floor and celebrate with the others. 
    • As we briefly mentioned earlier, the movie has some dated material. One of the most upsetting and unfortunate parts would be the homophobic slur that Stiles uses when Scott tries to tell him about his werewolf problem. Televised versions of the scene cut it out (rightly so) and writer Jeff Loeb himself has called the line “unfortunate.” Many films from this time period feature the word, generally as an insult or a joke, but we felt it should be acknowledged.  
  • In Teen Wolf Too, which came out only a couple years later, Jason Bateman plays Todd Howard, Scott’s cousin who faces similar problems while in college. Jason said that at that time the special effects make-up was not safe and they ended up having to shut production down for a few days due to him getting chemical burns on his skin.
    • Jason Bateman’s sister Justine was actually connected to Michael J. Fox, playing his sister on Family Ties! 
  • In 1986, there was an animated TV show based on the movie! Of course, some concepts were changed for the show. For example, Scott has siblings in the show and tries to keep his werewolf-ness a secret from the outside world. In both versions, however, Scott does not have a mother. 
  • In 2011, the film was adapted into a dramatic horror TV series for MTV with the same name! In the live-action show, Scott becomes a wolf via bite, while in the film it’s an inherited trait. There are various other differences, though many character names are similar. The show lasted for 6 seasons! 

Teen Wolf is ridiculous. It’s a silly, fun, and laughable film that represents the wild and wonderful parts of 80’s teen life. It built on the concepts of classic horror and turned it on its head. It’s a film that cleverly seems to bury the lead–Sure, Scott is a werewolf, but that’s not his biggest problem. We don’t get much of an explanation because, well, it’s not really what the story is about. This is a story about a teenager that just happens to be a werewolf, which happens to make him good at basketball. The film accomplished what it was meant to and more; it resonated with teens and went on to be a blockbuster and a cult classic. 

We knew that after a month of horror, it would be the perfect romp to get us in the mood for Spring. Simply put, Teen Wolf is a howlin’ good time.  


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The Case of The Shining

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In the late 1970’s, one of the most celebrated directors of all time, Stanley Kubrick, was in search of a new project. He sat in his office, flipping through books and throwing them against the wall when they didn’t catch his interest. This went on for several days, until the thudding sound of rejection finally ceased. Kubrick’s assistant went to check on the director, only to find him reading a book: Stephen King’s The Shining

The Shining was King’s third novel, published in 1977. It followed The Torrances, a family living in a remote hotel for the winter. It was a deeply personal story, based on the author’s own fears of the consequences of alcoholism, and the destruction of a family. His main character held many similarities to himself, a former teacher and aspiring writer, hoping to reconnect with his wife and child. 

When the book caught Kubrick’s attention, he went full-steam-ahead on the project. He set out to make a film that would become one of the most iconic and celebrated in the horror genre. Even non-horror fans are familiar with The Shining, with its enduring imagery and classic performances. 

The film was a slow-burn that didn’t get immediate praise or huge box office numbers. But over forty years later, The Shining has an intense following of die-hard fans. The film is no doubt a classic, and we thought it was the perfect way to end Frightening February! So, today we’re checking in to the Overlook Hotel for an extended stay, and learning all about The Shining!

Although there are many differences, Stanley Kubrick’s film is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. 

  • After gaining success from Carrie and Salem’s Lot, Stephen King decided to take a vacation with his family in Colorado. It was late September, and they chose to stay for one night at The Stanley Hotel. Because it was the last night before the hotel closed for the winter, they would be the only guests there. 
  • Wandering the halls of the spacious hotel, King decided it would be the perfect setting for his newest book. He said of the experience, “[The hotel] seemed the perfect—maybe the archetypical—setting for a ghost story. That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed.”

We wanted to lay out some of the key differences between the movie and the book. Like most of our episodes, this will have spoilers. But we wanted to warn you, just in case you have not seen the film, because the experience relies on suspense and surprise. 

  • There aren’t a lot of characters in The Shining, simply because the plot forces the main characters to be isolated. One of the main characters is Dick Hallorann, the head cook at the hotel. Hallorann has a strong connection with Danny, because both characters “shine.” If you’re unfamiliar, many Stephen King characters have special abilities, and it’s often referred to as “the shining” or “the touch.” 
    • In the film, Danny reaches out to Hallorann for help when things start to get a little distressing. When Hallorann appears at the hotel to help, Jack kills him with an axe. In the book, this does not happen and Hallorann survives. 
  • One of the many iconic features of the film is the gigantic hedge maze on the property. In the book, the maze did not exist, however there were large Topiary animals. Kubrick eliminated these from the movie because he felt they would be too “hokey.” 
  • The Ending of the film doesn’t match the book in several ways. Since there is no maze in the book, there isn’t a dramatic scene where Danny loses Jack in the hedge maze, leaving Jack to freeze. Instead, the hotel burns down after Jack is able to break from his mania to warn Danny and Wendy, telling them to run. Jack then dies in the fire. In the film, Jack never has this redeeming moment.
    • However, Kubrick had another idea for the ending that differed even more from the book. Stephen King was quoted in an interview with Peter S. Perakos, saying, “When I first talked to Kubrick some months ago, he wanted to change the ending. He asked me for my opinion on Halloran becoming possessed, and then finishing the job that Torrance started, killing Danny, Wendy and lastly himself. Then, the scene would shift to the spring, with a new caretaker and his family arriving. However, the audience would see Jack, Wendy and Danny in an idyllic family scene-as ghosts-sitting together, laughing and talking.”
      • Luckily King was able to dissuade him from this ending.

Since The Shining has such a dedicated following, many fans have assigned their own meaning to the film. There are enough theories about the movie to make up an entire documentary (that we watched). The documentary is called “Room 237.” Here is a link to a vulture article that lays out the four major theories of the of the film.

  • Stanley Kubrick offers no explanation of his films. He believed that they should speak for themselves. He believed that a good critical review did not reveal to him anything about his work but only served as a marketing tool to attract more viewers. In light of this, there have been numerous attempts to explain the meaning behind The Shining, ranging from the minute detail to the most blatant. 
  • One of the most famous theories is that the film is about the Holocaust. Viewers have pieced together clues, like Jack’s German-brand typewriter, the number 42 appearing on a Jersey Danny wears, and the image of an eagle. The eagle was a symbol of the Nazi party. Jack wears an eagle shirt in one scene, and the name brand of his typewriter means, “eagle.” 
  • Another theory is that the film is about the historical genocide of Native Americans. There is Native American artwork and imagery in the hotel, particularly a sand painting that features two nearly identical people wearing the same shade of blue as the twins that Danny sees in the hallway. Here is a link to a 1987 article of The Washington Post about this theory.

SYNOPSIS

  • Recovering alcoholic and aspiring novelist Jack Torrance accepts a job as a caretaker for The Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. Hoping that the isolation will help him finish his book, Jack moves his wife and son Danny to the hotel with him for the winter. As they stay, Jack becomes more and more influenced by the dark nature of the hotel. His son, Danny, is gifted with something called, “The Shining,” and has the ability to see the horrors of the hotel, past and present. 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • After reading The Shining, Stanley Kubrick teamed up with Diane Johnson to begin writing a screenplay. Diane is a novelist and this was her first screenplay to ever work on. To say the screenplay was a work in progress would be an understatement. It changed several times-before and during shooting, actors sometimes learning new lines the day of. 
    • The script would be re-written so many times that each time a new script came out it was put on different colored paper in order to easily see who had the newest versions. This led Jack Nicholson to say that he stopped looking at the first drafts and only took the script from the current day in order to film that scene.
  • Stanley Kubrick was famous for his perfectionism. He mapped out shots with a telescope device, and reportedly didn’t print anything unless it was the 35th take. Because of this, the film took 56 weeks to shoot–putting it way behind schedule. 
    • Part of this was due to the Overlook Hotel set catching fire and having to be rebuilt!
    • The crew and actors filmed 6 days a week, up to 16 hours a day.
      • This reportedly added up to about 1.3 million feet of film by the end of shooting.
      • Kubrick felt that no matter how great the script seemed on paper, once the actors are rehearsing it you become painfully aware of what you will be missing if you stick faithfully to the script. Along this same note he felt that if you planned out shots and angles beforehand you will miss opportunities to have the best result for the scene.
  • Location
    • The exterior shots of the hotel were that of an actual place called the Timberline Lodge. The interior however was a soundstage in England. In order to not scare customers away the Lodge requested that the book’s hotel room number 217 be changed to one that did not exist.
    • Interior
      • In an interview with John Hofsess for The Soho News, Kubrick said that “Every detail in those sets comes from photographs of real places very carefully copied.” These photographs were taken from several different places.
        • This would explain the cultural references in the art and decoration throughout the hotel, something that viewers have combed over and analyzed for decades. 
    • Lighting
      • In order to simulate the intense light that would be coming from the windows of a hotel in the high latitudes in the winter they used 750 1000-watt bulbs (That’s a lot of light!) These intensely hot bulbs would be what caused a fire to the set.
      • The chandeliers were also 1000-watt bulbs but on a lower voltage in order to create a warm glow of light compared to the harsh bright light of the windows.
  • The Steadicam 
    • The newest invention for filmmaking at the time was the steadicam, and Kubrick was a fan. He was even able to get the inventor, Garrett Brown, to come and film the movie. Garrett did not mind the fact that Kubrick wanted to do take after take because he was able to learn more and improve his invention. One instance of improvement is when they inverted the device to be able to track Danny, who was low to the ground.
      • This lower angle conveyed the vastness of the hotel, and the steadicam allowed them to move fluidly with Danny as if being dragged behind him.
    • Stanley Kubrick and Ron Ford created a special wheeled chair to ride while filming, being able to capture lots of smooth tracking shots, and keeping up with actors as they ran through the hotel. 

MUSIC

  • While the visuals of The Shining surely give us an unsettling vibe, the music helps to elevate the suspense even more. In order to bring the movie to life Kubrick used music from the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. His pieces were also known to bring the creep factor to “The Exorcist” as well.
  • The Main title and “Rocky Mountains” were written and performed by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind specifically for The Shining. These two pieces were the only ones that did not already exist.
    • They also both worked on A Clockwork Orange and the recent Ready Player One soundtracks.
    • Wendy Carlos also composed the music for Tron! 

STARRING

  • Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance
    • Nicholson is a well known actor that has a wide range. He has been in things such as A Few Good Men, As Good As It Gets, Chinatown, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
  • Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance
    • Shelley has retired from acting but has been in Popeye, Three Women, and Annie Hall.
      • It was her role in Three Women that got her the part of Wendy in the Shining. When Kubrick offered her the part, they had never met, and there wasn’t a script yet. He just told her to read the book. 
    • She also produced the critically acclaimed show, “Faerie Tale Theatre,” and had a television show that featured animation and stories called, Shelley Duvall’s Bedtime Stories.
  • Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance
    • Danny was not in very many things and is most known for The Shining. He does appear very briefly in the sequel Doctor Sleep as a father in the crowd of baseball parents.
    • Since Danny was very young at the time of filming he was told he was working on a drama and not a horror film. He was shielded by Stanley Kubrick of the more terrifying scenes. During one scene Shelley Duvall is even carrying a lifesize doll as she is screaming at Jack. 
    • He was chosen out of 5000 young applicants. During his audition, Danny improvised the classic finger wiggle as his imaginary friend Tony speaks. Stanley Kubrick liked the improvisation and kept it in the film! 
  • Scatman Crothers as Hallorann
    • Scatman appeared in many television shows like Laverne and Shirley, Magnum PI, and The Transformers. He was also in movies like Bronco Billy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the voice of Scat Cat in The Aristocats!
  • Barry Nelson as Ullman the employer
    • Barry Nelson also popped up in many tv series. Other movies that he was in were Airport, A Guy Named Joe, and Shadow of the Thin Man.
  • Philip Stone as Grady the previous Caretaker 
    • Philip is also known for being in A Clockwork Orange, Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, and Flash Gordon.
  • Joe Turkel as Lloyd
    • Joe has also been in Blade Runner, Paths of Glory, and The Killing.
  • Anne Jackson as the Doctor 
    • A few things Anne was in were Dirty Dingus Magee, “So Young, So Bad”, and How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life.
  • Tony Burton as Durkin who provides Halloran with a vehicle to reach the Overlook
    • Tony was a professional heavyweight boxer and is most known for his appearances in the Rocky movies as the corner man. 
  • David Baxt and Manning Redwood as the Forest Rangers
  • Lisa and Louise Burns as The Twins
    • Thirty Seven years later the two talked about what it was like. The dresses were not comfortable and made of an awful material. On top of this the costume designer only had the two dresses and so therefore they had to shoot the bloody scene last for fear that they could not recover them from any stains.
      • This also meant that Kubrick could only do very few takes, which was against his style of directing
      • According to Lisa, Kubrick was only shooting with one steadicam so he would do just one shot but have them roll several times with the same lines. In the Entertainment Weekly article titled The Shining These Twins Still Want To Play With You Lisa said “To us, we weren’t saying our lines any differently. He just heard something different every time.”
    • The girls auditioned because Kubrick was looking for sisters, but not twins. They speculated years later that Kubrick might’ve gone with two sisters of different ages, as they are in the book, if they hadn’t auditioned. 

Acting is tough work, and with every movie there are challenges on set. For this movie, though, there were some particularly challenging moments for a couple of the actors. 

  • The film took over a year to shoot, which was difficult on the actors for various reasons. For one, the actors were mainly American, and they filmed at Elstree Studios in England. This meant they were away from their families for long periods of time. 
  • Shelley Duvall was sick during most of filming, suffering from dizzy spells and other ailments. 
    • She was incredibly dedicated to the role, and rented a flat near the set, living alone for over a year with a dog and two birds. 
    • Duvall also had difficulty crying as much as she did for the film. Remember, Kubrick sometimes did hundreds of takes for scenes, and Duvall is crying in most of them. She told Roger Ebert, “And in my character I had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week.”
    • One of the most controversial points of the film is how Shelley Duvall was treated on the set of the film. Although Duvall herself has said that she felt Kubrick treated her a certain way to elicit a stronger performance, some of those that witnessed it weren’t as convinced. In a Hollywood Reporter article released earlier this month, Angelica Huston (who was living with Jack Nicholson while he filmed the movie) was quoted saying, “I got the feeling, certainly through what Jack was saying at the time, that Shelley was having a hard time just dealing with the emotional content of the piece,” she says. “And they didn’t seem to be all that sympathetic. It seemed to be a little bit like the boys were ganging up. That might have been completely my misread on the situation, but I just felt it. And when I saw her during those days, she seemed generally a bit tortured, shook up. I don’t think anyone was being particularly careful of her.”

FUN FACTS:

  • Just as in our last episode Poltergeist, this movie has connections to Toy Story! As a tribute, the carpet within Sid’s house is the famous carpet from the Overlook Hotel, but with a slightly different color. Lee Unkrich who has had a hand with all four Toy Story Movies is such a fan of The Shining that he has a website dedicated to the ephemera of the classic film as well as a book that will be released soon which details the behind the scenes of the film.
  • In 2017 Universal Orlando did their 27th annual Halloween Horror Night. Every year they create houses based on specific movies and television shows. During that year they created a house for The Shining in which they were able to replicate the wall of blood scene using 80-psi water cannons inside a glass vestibule where the “blood” once finished would filter down the slanted floor to be refilled back into the cannons. It took them 3 days to create it. 
  • One scene from the film is in the Guiness Book of World Records for “most retakes for one scene with dialogue.” It’s the scene where young Danny and chef, Dick Hallorann, discuss what it means to “shine.” The take was done 148 times.  
    • We have found sources citing another scene in the film as the record holder with 127 takes. But according to the Guinness World Records website, this scene holds the record. 

HOW THE MOVIE WAS RECEIVED

  • In the US The Shining grossed about 45 million dollars. It was not a hit at first. It was especially hit by critics reviews that were a mixture of confusion with the openness of the story, disappointment that it was not more like the book and its characters, and dislike for the acting within it. Instead of being nominated to win Oscars or Golden Globes, it instead was nominated for Razzies in the Worst Director category and worst actress category for Shelley Duvall.
  • However, the film’s VHS release helped make it a classic. More and more people enjoyed it and even Roger Ebert had a great review of it, giving it a full four stars and saying that “The movie is not about ghosts but about madness and the energies it sets loose in an isolated situation primed to magnify them.”

STEPHEN KING ON THE SHINING

  • One notable critic of the film was Stephen King, who famously hated the adaptation. Over the years, he has gone back and forth with his disdain for the film. This could be confusing to those that love the film, since King has been happy with unfaithful adaptations of his stories before.
  • Some believe that Stanley Kubrick teased the author with some of the changes he made to the story. For example, in the book, Jack’s car is red and the Snowcat is yellow. The film reversed the colors for no apparent reason. 
  • The likeliest reason that King still dislikes this interpretation of his book, is because the intention of the film doesn’t match the intention of the novel. The stories don’t necessarily have the same meaning. Stephen King felt that Kubrick’s Jack didn’t have any of the heart that his version did, and didn’t seem to love his family at all, even in the beginning. This is especially apparent by the different endings. King’s version had Jack fighting his impulses in the very end, redeeming himself by letting his family go. Kubrick’s version gave Jack no redemption, focusing more on his descent into madness and man’s capacity for violence. Many would speculate that this upset the author because the story was so personal to him. 
  • King was also outspoken about the portrayal of Wendy in the film. It wasn’t necessarily Duvall’s performance that upset him, but more how the character had been changed. King felt that his version of Wendy was much stronger, and that Kubrick’s version had been reduced to a “screaming dish rag.” King felt the film overall was misogynistic, which is interesting with the context of how Duvall was treated on set. 

The Shining is a staple in the horror genre. At first glance, it’s a loose adaptation of a book, and a regular scarefest. But upon another look, it’s a layered masterpiece that still has audiences questioning its meaning over forty years later. The Shining gives us a story that is inherently terrifying, attacking the things we all hold dear, and tossing some spooks in for good measure. It’s a film bathed in uneasiness, suspense, and sometimes confusion. It makes you question your own mind, as you watch a man slip into madness before your very eyes. 

Stanley Kubrick was such a perfectionist, The Shining is exactly what he intended for it to be. And what that was, we’ll never truly know. But, at least we get to enjoy it forever, and ever and ever and ever…


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