No one expected Back to School to be a hit. But the Rodney Dangerfield comedy—which saw the legendary comedian starring as Thornton Melon, a self-made millionaire who attends Grand Lakes University with his son, Jason, and becomes the most popular man on campus—ended up becoming the second highest-grossing comedy of 1986 (only Crocodile Dundee made more). To celebrate its 30th anniversary, here are some facts about the only film that ever dared to pair Dangerfield with Robert Downey Jr., Sam Kinison, and Kurt Vonnegut.
1. HAROLD RAMIS MADE A KEY REWRITE.
In the original draft of the script, Thornton still tries to motivate Jason by attending his college, but he was a “poor schmo.” It was Harold Ramis who suggested it would be a funnier movie if Thornton were rich. Dangerfield convinced Orion Pictures to delay production and hire Ramis to rewrite the script. Back to School Best Price: $1.51 Buy New $5.00 (as of 08:55 EST - Details)
2. JIM CARREY WAS CONSIDERED FOR SAM KINISON’S ROLE.
3. IT WAS THE FIRST TIME WILLIAM ZABKA REALIZED HE MIGHT BE GETTING TYPECAST AS A VILLAIN.
When William Zabka—who played Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid and Greg Tolan in Just One of the Guys—landed the part of Chas in Back to School, he started to notice a pattern forming. “When Back To School came around, that was the first time I thought, ‘Hey, wait a minute. This is starting to happen too much,'” he said.
4. ROBERT DOWNEY JR. WAS SHOOTING SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE AT THE SAME TIME.
The then 20-year-old actor burned the candle at both ends then. He told Rolling Stone, “I’d fly back to Los Angeles for a couple of days during the week to shoot the movie and then fly back and, ‘Live, From New York, It’s a Tired Young Man!'”
5. SALLY KELLERMAN ONLY KNEW RODNEY DANGERFIELD FROM HIS BEER COMMERCIALS. Caddyshack Best Price: $1.42 Buy New $1.96 (as of 01:00 EST - Details)
Sally Kellerman admitted to Orange Coast Magazine in November 1986 that she “didn’t really know who Rodney Dangerfield was,” only having seen him in his Miller Lite commercials. Therefore she “wasn’t just flipped out of my mind at being the woman who lifts him up. I thought, ‘Oh, whoopee! You’re going to get to play his love interest.’ Ye gods, I knew I’d made it.” But the two got along. “The second day we met, he said, ‘Did you change your hair?’ And I said, ‘No, did you?’ After that I liked him so much. He’s such an odd guy.”
6. GRAND LAKES UNIVERSITY WAS REALLY THREE DIFFERENT COLLEGES.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Southern California, and California State University, Los Angeles teamed up to portray the fictional Grand Lakes University. The one college Dangerfield applied to for his higher education was the University of Wisconsin. He said, “It took 40 years, but I finally got here.”
7. THE MOVIE’S LOCATIONS PROBABLY LOOK FAMILIAR.
The big oral exam was in the Nimitz Room of Bob Hope Patriotic Hall, where Jennifer Beals (well, her body double) danced in the final scene of Flashdance (1983). Dr. Diane Turner’s residence is the same home where Jamie Lee Curtis gets terrorized by Michael Myers in Halloween (1978).
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