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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Eleanor Bergstein's Letter About Her Script

The Facebook site titled Official Dirty Dancing includes images of a two-page letter titled Dirty Dancing Script: Eleanor Bergstein's Letter to Fans! The images' caption says:
Eleanor Bergstein, the writer of Dirty Dancing, wrote this letter for all of the fans. You can find her whole shooting script that follows this letter on the Blu-ray version of the Limited Keepsake Edition -- which released in the US May 4, 2010.
I have not seen the mentioned Limited Keepsake Edition, but apparently it includes images of this two-page letter and of script pages. The script pages are not on the Facebook site, as far as I could see. The Facebook images of the two pages were small. If you click on the images below, you will see then in the Facebook size.

I was able to read and retype Bergstein's letter for this blog article. The letter says:
No single "original script" of Dirty Dancing exists today. Anyone who shows you one will next be selling you the Brooklyn Bridge.

Not all the scenes I wrote are here, or could be found. What I retrieved from my trunks is a collection of fragmented pages, different typefaces, coffee stains, holes from staples removed with my fingernails.

They were originally on different colored paper, green pink, blue, yellow, representing different drafts, but we ran out of colors and finally used whatever paper was around.

The represented changes were because we didn't have enough money, lost our location, lost the light, replaced an actor. A low budget film.

Someone once described making a film as running ahead of an avalanche.

What amazes me most looking over these annotated pages was how much everything remained the same.

So many things changed, but almost never the words. The dialogue in almost all cases is identical with what is on the screen. [Director] Emile [Ardolino] and I were very specific about no words being changed. Occasionally after hearing a speech in an actor's mouth, I cut a few words -- less is more.

But most important things remained exactly the same, from "Ma, will you look at that," through "and most of all I'm scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I'm with you," to "Sit down, Jake."

Reading my descriptions, I saw how wonderfully my colleagues worked to put Baby's first view of the dirty dancing room on screen -- to say nothing of the log, the field, the lake. The wonderful soul and spirit they shared with me to turn those pages into a film is what is making you glance at this -- some 25 years later.

Some hand written notes by me in the margins may need some explanation.

I'd always wanted to have a side wall with photos of Max Kellerman with the greats of history (as was the wall at Grossinger's [resort hotel]), so I'd planned Jack Weston with Igor Stravinski, Franklin Roosevelt, Miss Rheingold. My note was to remind us to get permission from the people in the photographs. We couldn't.

There was a long discussion on set about "a little head in the woods" instead of "go down on" which the crew was very opinionated about in terms of which was the correct period expression.

"It's hopeless" changed from "I wish you hadn't found me," which referred to a hunt for Penny in the night woods, where Baby finds her behind a tree. We couldn't afford it so decided to hide her in the hotel kitchen, which our brilliant David Chapman designed and built in a day.

There's a different typescript for the scene where Penny tells Baby she doesn't sleep around. This scene was a request from Cynthia, which I typed on my bed with my portable Olivetti the night before, while the splendid David surprised us with a locker room at dawn.

(I have not been able to include a full text of the extended dance finale. These pages are so black with annotations of music phrases, specific choreography, lines against lyric, that they are unreadable.)

Actors were always calling for subtext, (for example, after Penny's cabin the next morning.) So I put in stage directions, which explained what they were really thinking behind the lines.

Love is Strange. The script says "Baby is teaching Johnny to dance." Kenny [Ortega] and I worked out the routine in my motel room the night before. The executives came running onto the set after it was shot -- the song was not listed on the carefully calibrated chart of songs we could afford. There was no budget for it -- and worst of all -- we'd had the actors "lip synch," meaning we couldn't replace it with a cheaper song and might have to scrap the whole scene. Luckily everyone agreed after they saw it the scene was to good to scrap. You do what you have to do.

Looking back, if I'd known the basics would remain, the words would remain, the heart would remain, I would have been calmer, dropped less coffee on the pages, perhaps even remembered to comb my hair so I would look groomed and serene in the photos.

But I know now. The chances are if you are reading this you are one of the open hearted people who have kept caring about our work and brought happiness to my lovely and much loved colleagues who worked so hard with me. And I thank you as I write this on behalf of all of us.

Eleanor Bergstein, January 2010
I'm calling "bullshit" on Bergstein's claim that no single script exists. In order to produce and film any movies, many copies of the script are distributed to the cast and crew. Just because she herself could no longer find a copy of the script in her trunks does not mean that nobody else in the world has the script.


Earlier in this blog I published an article titled The Song "Love Is Strange" by Mickey and Sylvia.

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