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Monday, February 27, 2017

How Linda Gottlieb began producing "Dirty Dancing"

Following are excerpts from an article titled Dirty Dancing Steps Back into Nostalgia, written by Jack Matthews and published in the Los Angeles Times in September 1987. (The photos are from other sources.)

https://alchetron.com/Linda-Gottlieb-577873-W
Linda Gottlieb, producer of Dirty Dancing
.... "Eleanor [Bergstein. the screenwriter] and I were having lunch when she told me she wanted to do a dance story about two sisters," said [producer Linda] Gottlieb, who was then developing projects as an East Coast producer for MGM. "She talked about a Catskills resort and tango dancing in the early '60s.
http://www.postcrescent.com/story/entertainment/2015/05/27/things-learned-creator-dirty-dancing/28022857/
Eleanor Bergstein, screenwriter of Dirty Dancing
"Then she said, 'I used to do dirty dancing, but that has nothing to do with this story.' I dropped my fork. I said, 'Dirty Dancing' as a title is worth a million dollars." ...

Gottlieb talked MGM into financing and developing the script, but before it could go into production, there was a change in studio management and the new regime didn't want it. Nobody else did, either. Gottlieb said she shopped Dirty Dancing everywhere she knew, including all of the major studios, only to face quick rejection at each stop.

"They all regarded it as soft, small and old-fashioned," she said. "They never saw the movie in it that I saw."

Gottlieb, who had left MGM to co-write a book (When Smart People Fail) about turning defeat into success, said she took the script to Vestron after reading in the New York Times that the Stamford, Connecticut-based company planned to begin producing its own movies. 
She [Gottlieb] said Vestron quickly agreed to finance Dirty Dancing, but only if she could guarantee bringing it in for $5 million, about half of what she said it would have cost to film with union crews in New York. Gottlieb, who had had 16 years' experience developing and producing educational films, finally hired non-union crews and got the movie done -- for $5.2 million -- in right-to-work states Virginia and North Carolina.
I interrupt here with an excerpt from the Wikipedia article about Vestron Video.
Vestron was founded in 1981 by Austin Owen Furst, Jr. (born 1943), an executive at HBO, who was hired to dismantle the assets of Time-Life Films. Furst bought the video rights of the film library for himself and decided to form a home entertainment company with these assets. ....

The company held on to its Time-Life Video library, and was also responsible for releases on VHS videocassette as well as CED Videodisc of mostly B movies and films from Cannon Films' library. They also distributed films under The Movie Store banner. 
The most notable titles Vestron released were Dirty Dancing, Monster Squad, and An American Werewolf in London. .... 
Vestron was the first company to release National Geographic and PBS' Nova videos in the late 1980s, mostly distributed by Image Entertainment, and was the first to market with a pro wrestling video, "Pro Wrestling Illustrated Presents Lords of the Ring". They also released a 3-volume series called "How to Beat Home Video Games", which contains strategies for video games of the time. ....

Vestron went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1985 with what was at the time a large market cap IPO of $440 million, which was oversubscribed. The company enjoyed success for several years, at one point exceeding 10% of the US video movie market. At its high point sales approximated $350 million annually, and the company sold video movies in over 30 countries either directly or through sub licensing agreements. This was basically a rights business, built by some insightful people who appreciated the video (VCR) rights to films before the major studios did. ...

The company started to make its own films (Dirty Dancing, Earth Girls Are Easy, Blue Steel), but when the market's preferences matured and shifted from watching almost any film to just watching "A" titles, for which the majors had a stronghold, the company was committed already with a pipeline of about 20 "B" to low "A" projects. ...
Now I return to Matthews' article, where it describes Gottlieb's selection of Emile Ardolino to direct the movie.
Emile Ardolino read the script for Dirty Dancing while on jury duty in New York. It made his day.

"I loved the period, I loved the music of the period," Ardolino said. "I knew I could relate to the movement, the body language of the dancing. But more than anything, I liked the characters. . . . It was a musical love story that was rooted in reality."

Ardolino and Gottlieb had to overcome Ardolino's image as a dance director. Although he had directed several dramatic programs for television, the bulk of his credits were associated with dance -- 28 programs for PBS' Dance in America, specials featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev, and the remarkable He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin', which won a 1984 Academy Award as best feature documentary. ...
http://www.listal.com/viewimage/8845432
Emile Ardolino, director of Dirty Dancing, 
and his award for He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin'
"It was so clear from He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin' that Emile had the fundamental sensibility for this movie," Gottlieb said. "It was very warm and very funny. He never made fun of anybody. He understood movement and the joy of learning. All of that was essential to Dirty Dancing."

Gottlieb said she also watched all of Ardolino's dramatic television programs ... and her decision was made.

"When you hire a director, what you get writ large is the director's own sense of taste," she said. "What we got with Emile went way beyond his love of dance. He has a kindness, a gentleness, and all of that comes through in the picture."

Perhaps most important to Gottlieb was Ardolino's understanding of dance as an expression of sexuality. Dirty Dancing didn't come by its name accidentally. "Dirty dancing is partner dancing," Gottlieb said. "All the elements are like the foreplay of sex. Learning to dance is the central metaphor of the film." ....

Ardolino said he had never heard the term dirty dancing before he read the script ("I was pretty square, I danced the way kids did on American Bandstand"), but he understood its sexual translation .

"I really wanted the audience to feel what it was like for that girl to be in that room (where dirty dancing was going on)," Ardolino said. "It's exciting, it's sexually charged, and I certainly wanted that on the screen."

Ardolino had a camera among the actors during the dirty dance segments. During the performance numbers, the camera sits back and watches. The object was to make the dirty dance scenes participatory, to put the audience on the dance floor with the kids and let them feel the heat.

Dirty Dancing obviously steamed some eyeglasses in the small audience that makes up the panel of the Motion Picture Assn. of America's ratings board. The six-person panel rated the first two versions of the film R, Gottlieb said, even though all the nudity had been removed.

"The really erotic sequences are the dance sequences," she said. "We felt it was important to have a PG rating, so we kept going."

On the third try, Dirty Dancing was rated PG-13. ...

Ardolino said he is flattered when people say Dirty Dancing is a throwback to another era in film musicals, when dance was often an act of seduction.

"What distinguishes this movie from more recent dance movies is that it's about partner dancing," he said. "In Flashdance, only women danced on that stage and it was for themselves. Even in Footloose, the kids didn't dance with each other. In Saturday Night Fever, the basic thrust was a guy being satisfied when he danced alone.'

"In Dirty Dancing, I wanted to see the development of the relationship. The girl wasn't living totally in the physical world. I wanted to see her loosen up, I wanted to see them showing a sexual awakening to each other."

Gottlieb said that Ardolino insisted from the beginning that the actors do all their own dancing. In Flashdance and Footloose, the stars were doubled by professional dancers.

"Using doubles imposes a particular shooting style where you film body parts," Ardolino said. "I wanted to be able to go from full shots to faces. The dancing wasn't the important thing, but how the dancing revealed the relationship."

"One of the things I hoped to put into Dirty Dancing is that it's not only sexy, but it's fun," he said. "This is a joyous celebration between two people."

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