Saturday Night Fever: Facts And Trivia About The Disco Film
Saturday Night Fever not only made a megastar out of John Travolta; it also heightened the public's interest in disco music and the disco scene. Disco clubs began popping up everywhere with people learning all the right moves to boogie the night away after being inspired by the film’s main characters Tony Manero (Travolta) and his dance-partner Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney). While most know the story surrounding Tony, the paint store clerk by day and disco dancing champion by night, here are ten fun facts not everybody has heard.
'Saturday Night Fever' Was Based On A 'True' Story That Turned Out To Be False
Tony’s character was loosely based on a man named Vincent, the subject of a 1976 New York magazine article called “Tribal Rites Of The New Saturday Night.” Vincent was also a working class man who transformed into a dancing sensation on the weekends in this story written by Nik Cohn. But about twenty years after the film’s release, Cohn confessed his article was a “total fabrication” and a “fraud.” In 1976, the writer had recently moved to New York and needed an impressive story to launch his journalism career, so he was inspired to invent this semi-fictional piece. This wasn’t the only scandal that would surround Nik Cohn, as he was also arrested for drug trafficking in 1983 for allegedly importing over $4 million of heroin.
There Is A PG Version
When Saturday Night Fever was released, it was an immediate hit. The film grossed almost $26 million within its first few weeks in theaters, despite its R-rating that limited its viewership from kids and teens. To reach a wider and younger audience, the film was re-released in a PG version in March 1979 with much of the profanity, violence, and sexual content edited out. Producer Robert Stigwood wasn’t very impressed with the kid-friendly adaptation and felt the original leaves the true impact.
Fans Gathered To Watch The Filming
Filming a feature film in the crowded New York City borough of Brooklyn posed many challenges. Although Travolta had not reached the level of stardom he was about to experience, he still was considered a heartthrob after playing teenage rebel Vinnie Barbarino in the TV series Welcome Back, Kotter. Word spread about the filming location, and at one point over 10,000 teenagers surrounded the outside of the disco club where the crew was supposed to film. Since they did not want thousands of screaming children in the background, the scene was cancelled for the day and from then on they began filming at 5:30 AM. Crime was another issue, and a firebomb was even once thrown into the discotheque.
John Travolta’s Girlfriend Died During Filming
Tony’s emotions throughout the film were expressed through Travolta’s real-life grief behind the scenes. Travolta’s girlfriend of six months Diana Hyland had been suffering from breast cancer while Saturday Night Fever was being filmed. Fortunately, Travolta was able to fly back to L.A. to spend time with his love before she passed away, but immediately returned to work. He was a wreck on the inside, but used his pain to project the most authentic feelings to his character. During a scene at the Verrazano Bridge, Stephanie gives Tony a sweet kiss which was actually an unplanned act of Gorney upon Travolta. “The poor thing was suffering so, and that kiss was totally spontaneous. That wasn’t Tony and Stephanie. That’s because I really saw he was hurting,” Gorney stated.
The Infamous Bridge Scene Was Just As Nerve-Racking In Real Life
Hollywood’s safety standards were not nearly as strict in 1977 as they are today. One of the most anxiety-driven scenes takes place at the Verrazano Bridge with the gang of friends when Double J climbs around the bridge’s railings and cables hundreds of feet above the ground. Travolta tries to convince him to come down, but his pal ends up slipping and falling to his death. The traumatic scene was dangerously spontaneous as actor Paul Pape (Double J) wanted to keep it as real as possible. Pape said about the filming, “I just jumped on the cable to show them I could do it. There was no safety net. I was hundreds of feet above the water. All that was improvised — it wasn’t planned. I just jumped up there and said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s get it done.’” Even the camera man’s only protection was a crewmate holding onto his waist.
The Actors Weren’t Dancing To The Bee Gees
Saturday Night Fever is probably most famous for the iconic dance numbers performed to hits of disco legends The Bee Gees. But Stigwood didn’t approach the Gibb brothers about recording songs for the soundtrack until after most of the movie had already been filmed. That left the mystery of what Travolta and Gorney were really boogying down to. Travolta later revealed their dances were really performed to songs of Boz Scaggs and Stevie Wonder.
The Music Was Just As Successful As The Film
Speaking about the music, The Bee Gees did an impressive job as the film’s soundtrack went on to becoming the best-selling soundtrack of that time. Saturday Night Fever held that title all the way until 1992 when Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard pushed it to no. 2, where it still is today. In 1979 the album won the Grammy for Album of the Year, making it the first soundtrack to win the award. Only two other soundtracks, The Bodyguard and O Brother, Where Art Thou, have taken the award since.
The White Castle Employees Were Not Acting
Real burger-flippers with no acting experience were used in the scene where Tony and his mates are eating at White Castle. Director John Badham told the employees to just act naturally as they witnessed the scene unfold. The actors were instructed to do anything they could to surprise the workers no matter how wild they needed to get. This is how Joey (Joseph Cali) ended up standing on a table barking like a dog and Double J (Paul Pape) dropped his pants and mooned the workers. Their shocked faces were completely genuine as the restaurant employees watched the actors in astonishment.
Karen Lynn Gorney Hopped In A Lucky Taxi
At age 32, Gorney was desperately trying to break into the entertainment world. One night, she shared a cab with Stigwood's nephew who told her about a movie her uncle was working on. Gorney charmingly joked, “Oh, am I in it?” The nephew was captivated by her appeal and submitted her as a candidate to his uncle. Her impressive talent, not just her luck, then landed her the iconic role as Stephanie.
Travolta And Gorney Made Up One Of The Dances
The famous rehearsal scene where Stephanie and Tony perform the “tango hustle” was another spontaneous element of Saturday Night Fever. Their choreographer failed to show up that day after a misunderstanding, forcing Travolta and Gorney to wing their own dance moves and create this combination of the tango and the hustle.
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