15 Fun Facts About City Slickers
Many filmgoers would rather forget the sequel to Ron Underwood's 1991 hit City Slickers, and instead consider Jack Palance’s memorable Oscar acceptance speech as the real denouement of the film. Palance finally won an Academy Award at 73 years old, and used his time on the stage to prove that age is just a number by performing some one-armed push-ups, much to the delight of the ceremony’s host (and Palance's City Slickers co-star) Billy Crystal—and millions of at-home viewers. It was a moment 39 years in the making. Now, a near quarter-century after the film's original release on June 7, 1991, we've rounded up 15 things you might not know about City Slickers.
1. JACK PALANCE WAS BILLY CRYSTAL’S ORIGINAL CHOICE TO PLAY CURLY.
When Crystal first came up with the seed of the idea for City Slickers, he immediately thought of Jack Palance as the crusty bad guy with the heart of gold. He thought of him because the first movie he had ever seen was the 1953 movie Shane, where Palance played the bad guy. The actor left a lasting impression on Crystal, who was seven years old at the time of his first movie-going experience. Because his father produced jazz concerts, Billy saw Shane seated on Billie Holiday’s lap.
2. CRYSTAL GOT THE IDEA FOR THE MOVIE WATCHING A SHOW ABOUT FANTASY VACATIONS.
Crystal was at home watching TV when he stumbled upon a show about a group of middle-aged friends raving about their trip to a scuba diving resort, and how it changed them. Shortly thereafter he plotted out the movie and handed off screenwriting duties to Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel.
3. GANZ AND MANDEL DID ALL OF THEIR RESEARCH VIA TELEPHONE.
While producers wanted the Oscar-nominated screenwriters—who have written or co-written nearly 20 produced feature screenplays together, including Splash, Parenthood, and A League of Their Own—to go out to Montana to look into cattle drives, they wrote the first draft of the script first, then called the person who ran the cattle drive there to ask if what they had written could conceivably happen. The person said yes, and that was enough for the writers.
4. RICK MORANIS WAS SET TO PLAY PHIL.
Daniel Stern was a last-minute replacement for Moranis, who had to drop out after his wife was diagnosed with liver cancer. (She passed away the following year.)
5. CHARLES BRONSON WAS ANGRY OVER BEING ASKED TO PLAY CURLY.
Jack Palance initially turned down the role of Curly, as he was committed to another project. So Crystal offered the part to Charles Bronson, who was not pleased. He cursed Crystal out because "I'm dead on page 64!" Palance, of course, ended up taking the role (and the rest is history).
6. PALANCE GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT WITH THE DIRECTOR ON THE FIRST DAY OF SHOOTING.
The veteran actor yelled at Ron Underwood over his first direction, but everything went smoothly after that. When Crystal asked what had happened, Palance explained that he always gets nervous on his first day of shooting. Sure enough, Tim Burton told a similar story about Palance snapping at him on his first day of shooting on Batman over how he was told to walk out of a bathroom, with Burton admitting that the incident scared him "to death—I literally saw white and left my body.”
7. PALANCE READ POETRY DURING THE ACTORS' DOWNTIME.
It was his own work. Daniel Stern remembers listening to him for half an hour. Palance also inspired Stern to begin sculpting again.
8. DANIEL STERN BOUGHT HIS OWN CATTLE RANCH.
Stern enjoyed the City Slickers experience so much that he bought a 500-acre cattle ranch. "I loved the life so much that I kind of bought into it," Stern told The A.V. Club. "I have 70 herd of cattle myself now, and horses and tractors and ATVs. I’ve got my own small cattle operation. That’s how much I was inspired by that movie. I bought into the whole thing." Stern wasn't the only one inspired by the film; the movie led to a boom in the dude ranch business in 1991.
9. THE FILM MARKED JAKE GYLLENHAAL’S FILM DEBUT.
Jake Gyllenhaal was just 10 years old when he was cast as Crystal’s son, Danny Robbins. Crystal remembered Gyllenhaal singing showtunes from South Pacific on the set.
10. BRUNO KIRBY WAS ALLERGIC TO HORSES.
Whenever Kirby was facing a day of shooting with a horse, he took an injection of allergy medication.
11. CRYSTAL TOOK HIS HORSE HOME WITH HIM.
Crystal and his horse, Beechnut, hit it off on the New Mexico set. So much so that Crystal's agent bought Beechnut for Crystal as a gift once production wrapped. The horse lived to be 27 years old.
12. THE DIRECTOR WAS NEVER HAPPY WITH HOW THE RANCH LOOKED.
Underwood had a very specific vision of what he wanted the ranch in the film to look like, but never managed to achieve it. So he and his crew made matte paintings of mountains and scenery and combined it with footage from a Colorado ranch.
13. MITCH ROBBINS WAS A METS FAN BECAUSE THE YANKEES WOULDN'T PLAY BALL.
Though Crystal is well-known to be a diehard Yankees fan, his character was a Mets fan in the movie because the latter team had been more accommodating over the years. First, the Yankees declined Crystal’s request to hold a promotional day at Yankee Stadium for Comic Relief; the Mets, on the other hand, were happy to host it. On the first day of shooting in Spain (for the Running of the Bulls segment), the Mets agreed to waive the $40,000 licensing fee; the Yankees did not.
14. MITCH’S YANKEES STORY ABOUT MICKEY MANTLE WAS FROM CRYSTAL’S LIFE.
Even though he's a Mets fan, Mitch’s story about his “best day” was of going to Yankee Stadium and getting Mickey Mantle to sign his program—which is a tale from Crystal’s own life. Another true story Crystal mined for the film is his mother calling him every year on his birthday at the time he was born to tell the story of his birth.
15. NORMAN THE CALF WAS ALREADY A COUPLE OF DAYS OLD WHEN HE WAS "BORN."
Norman was bathed in ”realistic bloody jelly” and taken out of a birth canal constructed by special effects in order to shoot the scene in which Crystal "makes a cow." Norman (which is indeed his real name) played a steer, a female cow, and a bull throughout his show business career, making up to $750 a day.