You'll Have the Time of Your Life With These 20 Secrets About Dirty Dancing

The beloved 1987 movie Dirty Dancing turned Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey into superstars, but did you know producers didn't even want to release the film?

By Tierney Bricker Aug 21, 2022 12:00 PMTags
Watch: Abigail Breslin on Recreating "Dirty Dancing's" Iconic Lift

Thirty-five years later, we're still having the time of our lives.

Made for just $6 million, no one expected Dirty Dancing to be a hit—let alone become an enduring pop culture phenomenon—when it was released on Aug. 21, 1987. In fact, producer Linda Gottlieb revealed in 2012 that the script was turned down 43 times before a small studio, Vestron, finally agreed to make the movie.

But Dirty Dancing defied expectations, making $214 million at the box office and later going on to win an Oscar. The key to the film's success was likely the chemistry between its two leads, Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, as naïve resort guest Baby and charismatic dance teacher Johnny turned their portrayers. . Too bad the co-stars couldn't stand each other when filming began, though you wouldn't know it by watching the finished product. 

See How the Dirty Dancing Remake Stars Compare to Original Movie's Cast

So, to celebrate its 35th anniversary, put down that watermelon you're carrying and make like the wind to check out these behind-the-scenes facts about Dirty Dancing, including the major stars who auditioned for the lead roles, the movie "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" was originally written for and which actor was replaced after the first week of filming...

1. The film's title was almost changed to I Was a Teenage Mambo Queen after Dirty Dancing caused authorities at the Canadian border to hold up the dailies "because they thought it was a porn film," screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, who based the movie on her own life experience, revealed to Cosmo in 2017.

2. Billy Zane, Benicio Del Toro and Val Kilmer were all considered for brooding dance instructor Johnny Castle before Patrick Swayze, who had extensively trained the Harkness and Joffrey Ballet Schools, was cast in the role that would make him a superstar.

3. But Swayze almost turned down Dirty Dancing due to a serious knee injury he sustained during his Broadway days, with his resume even reading "no dancing." 

4. Before Jennifer Grey was cast as Baby, Sarah Jessica Parker and Winona Ryder auditioned. Grey later revealed to The New York Times that she was paid $50,000 for the film. 

4. Non-dancer Grey admitted she was terrified to partner with Swayze, despite already having worked with him in Red Dawn

Swayze was "a great dancer and he was fearless," Grey told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016. "His fearlessness with my fearfulness—like his lack of Jewishness and my super Jewishness—together was like a marriage where you have two opposites. He'd do anything and I'd be scared to do anything."

5. But there was initially tension between the two leads, who often clashed over their different approaches to acting. 

"She seemed particularly emotional, sometimes bursting into tears if someone criticized her," Swayze wrote in his 2009 autobiography, The Time of My Life. "Other times, she slipped into silly moods, forcing us to do scenes over and over again when she'd start laughing." 

6. Choreographer Kenny Ortega used their real-life dynamic to fuel Johnny and Baby's chemistry on-screen. 

"Both of them brought so much every day," Ortega told People in 2017. "Sometimes, it was conflict; sometimes it was love. There was something there between the two of them that was unexplainable. They were human fireworks."

7. A turning point for the actors came during the film's iconic lift scene in the lake, Swayze and Grey bonding over the difficult experience.

"It was horrifyingly, hypothermically cold in that lake, and we filmed that scene over and over," Swayze wrote in his autobiography. "And despite the fact that Jennifer was very light, when you're lifting someone in water, even the skinniest little girl can feel like 500 pounds."

8. But all their hard work proved to be worth it, with Grey reflecting on finally nailing the lift with Swayze in her 2022 memoir, Out of the Corner, that she held off doing the infamous move until they filmed the climactic final dance scene. 

"What you see between us in that scene was also real," she wrote. "Real gratitude. Real respect. Real care. If that's not love, what is?"

9. The scene in which Baby keeps laughing as Johnny trails his fingers down her arm was unscripted as Grey really was ticklish and Swayze's annoyance was very real. 

"We didn't even remember we had that footage because we then shot it where she didn't laugh, and it was only when we were in the editing room that our dance editor found this," Bergstein told Cosmo. "When we saw it, we burst out laughing, and when Jennifer and Patrick saw it for the first time, they burst out laughing because we'd completely forgotten that this had even happened. We just thought it was so funny that we used it and loved it."

10. Baby's mother was originally played by Lynne Lipton, but she was replaced by Kelly Bishop after Lipton became ill during the first week of shooting. Bishop had initially been cast as Vivian Pressman, the resort guest interested in Johnny. The film's assistant choreographer Miranda Garrison then took over the role of Vivian.

11. Sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer was initially set to play Mrs. Schumacher, but she backed out when she learned the character was revealed to be the resort's thief. 

12. In order to secure a corporate sponsorship, producers asked Bergstein to take Penny's abortion out of the script, which she refused to do.

"I always had known this would happen one day," the writer explained. "I said, 'Hey, I would love to, but I can't because if I take it out everything will fall apart.' There's no story without that. Everything just crumbles, nothing will make any sense. They said, 'Too bad, we should have thought of that sooner,' and so we didn't do it."

13. After watching the initial cut of the movie, some of the producers had little faith in it, according to Bergstein.

"[Producer Aaron Ross] told us to burn the negative and take the insurance," she revealed to Today in 2017. "Everyone told us constantly what a negligible piece of junk it was."

14. The film's soundtrack held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard album chart for over four months and has sold more than 14 million copies. "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song.

15. Jane Brucker, who played Baby's flighty older sister Lisa, wrote the song "Hula Hana," which she performed in the talent show rehearsal scene.

16. "She's Like the Wind," which Swayze co-wrote and performed, was originally intended for the soundtrack for the actor's 1984 comedy Grandview, U.S.A. And Rob Lowe revealed on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast in 2020 that Swayze also attempted to get the song into their 1986 film Youngbloods

17. Matthew Broderick, who was dating Grey at the time of filming, makes an uncredited cameo in the film's final scene as one of the talent show attendees.

18. Dirty Dancing became the first film to sell more than a million copies for home video.

19. A prequel, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, was released in 2004 and a made-for-TV remake starring Abigail Breslin as Baby aired in 2015. 

20. In 2020, E! News confirmed Grey was set to executive produce and star in a new Dirty Dancing film. Though details of the plot were not revealed, Grey confirmed that she will be playing Baby in new version in a recent interview with The Los Angeles Times.

"I'm excited by the challenge of looking at it from the point of view of what happens when it's 30 years later and it's the '90s," she said. "What happens with the person that had that experience—what happened to her and what is now relevant about the original story at a different moment; looking at it through a different lens."

Grey also confirmed the movie will be released Valentine's Day 2024.