12 Old Time Facts About Risky Business

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

On August 5, 1983, Tom Cruise—wearing Ray-Bans and his skivvies—starred in the teen dramedy Risky Business and slid his way into pop culture history. In his first starring role, Cruise dealt with a killer pimp named Guido, romanced a call girl named Lana, and charmed his way into Princeton. The film’s $63.5 million gross launched Cruise as a bona fide movie star, a title he still holds three decades later. Here are 12 things you might not know about the '80s classic, on its 35th anniversary.

1. AT ONE POINT THE MOVIE WAS TITLED WHITE BOYS OFF THE LAKE.

Because the movie took place, and was partly filmed, in Chicago’s affluent Highland Park suburb, located along Lake Michigan, writer-director Paul Brickman (who grew up in Highland Park) told Salon that, "The working title was White Boys Off the Lake. I think the studio rejected that because it sounded like an off-Broadway play. So we started doing word association to come up with a new title.”

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE CONFORMIST.

Brickman also told Salon that Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist was a huge influence on the film: “I thought, ‘Why can’t you present that as a film for youth and aspire to that kind of style and still have humor in it?’ That was the test: to meld a darker form of filmmaking with humor. Tone is what I wanted to play with.” Though Risky Business comes off as a satire about capitalism couched as a teen comedy, The Conformist is a political drama situated during Italy’s 1940’s Fascist regime.

3. THE DIRECTOR WAS NOT INITIALLY SOLD ON TOM CRUISE.


Warner Home Video

Cruise was filming The Outsiders in Tulsa, Oklahoma when he got the call to audition for Risky Business. Cruise told Interview, “Originally, Paul [Brickman] had seen Taps and said, ‘This guy for Joel? This guy is a killer! Let him do Amityville III!’ Somehow, my agent, without me knowing, arranged to have me just drop by the office to say hello. So I went in wearing a jean jacket, my tooth was chipped, my hair was greasy. I was pumped up and talking in an Oklahoma accent, ‘Hey, how y’all doing?’ Paul just sat there, looking at me.” Cruise returned to Tulsa but flew back to L.A. and auditioned again. “I walk in and see this stunningly gorgeous woman sitting there looking at me and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God,’” Cruise said. “Rebecca [De Mornay] had already been cast. They wanted to see the two of us together. I tested, and to make a short story long, we didn’t test that well. Paul just believed in me.”

4. CRUISE LOST WEIGHT IN ORDER TO LOOK MORE BABY-FACED.

According to an interview with Cruise in a September 5, 1983 issue of People, Cruise “shed 14 pounds in five weeks by jogging in the Florida sun and strict dieting. When he had reached his weight goal, he stopped exercising ‘so I could put on a little layer of baby fat’ for his unathletic character.” Cruise explained, “[Joel's] a very vulnerable person. I didn’t want any physical defenses up for him. No muscle armor at all.”  

5. CRUISE IMPROVISED THE UNDERWEAR SCENE.

In what became the movie’s most iconic moment, Cruise uses a candlestick holder as a mic and dances around his house to Bob Seger’s 1978 song “Old Time Rock and Roll." “I was just looking for something that was a timeless rock and roll piece that wouldn’t be dated,” Brickman told Yahoo! of his song choice. The scene wasn’t filmed at the Highland Park-located house; it was filmed at a schoolhouse in Skokie, Illinois.

Cruise told Cameron Crowe how the scene unfurled: “So I took the candlestick, and I said, ‘How about making this the audience?’ And then I just started ad libbing, using it as a guitar, jumping on the table. I waxed half the floor and kept the other half dirty, so I could slide in on my socks. As we went along, I threw more stuff in. Like the thing with the collar up, jumping on the bed. Originally, it was only one line in the script: ‘Joel dances in underwear through the house.’ We shot it in half a day.” And Cruise danced his way into history.

6. SEVERAL PARODIES EXIST OF THE SEGER DANCE SCENE—INCLUDING TWO INVOLVING BEN STILLER.

When Ron Reagan, Jr. hosted a 1986 episode of SNL, the cold open entailed Reagan being home alone at the White House, where he does what any First Kid would do: strip down to his underwear and dance to “Old Time Rock and Roll." During a scene in Scrubs, three of the characters hilariously recreate the dance moment. A 1992 episode of The Ben Stiller Show involves Stiller doing a spot-on impression of Cruise, who in the sketch is turning his life into a musical called Tom Cruise: Dress Casual, replete with a snippet of the underwear scene. Then, at the 2000 MTV Movie Awards, Stiller once again parodied Cruise—but this time as Cruise’s stunt double. Cruise appears in the skit as himself and allows Stiller to once again act out the underwear scene. The Stiller/Cruise comedic partnership continued years later when the good-humored Cruise worked with Stiller in the Stiller-directed 2008 film Tropic Thunder.

7. SEVERAL PORSCHE 928S WERE USED IN THE FILM.

“Porsche, there is no substitute,” Joel says as he speeds around town in his dad’s Porsche, only to have it later sink into Belmont Harbor. Porsche manufactured the 928 model from 1978 to 1995, and it was the first mass-produced Porsche with a V8 engine. Four of the 1979 models show up in the movie (and a 1981 model), including one that was gutted for the lake scene, and another that was painted gold. A collector tried to track down all of the Porsches but only found one of them, which he bought for $49,200 at a 2012 Hollywood memorabilia auction.

8. CRUISE THINKS THE FILM IS ABOUT CAPITALISM.

Ten years prior to casting Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, Cameron Crowe spoke with Cruise for Interview and asked him what he thought Risky Business was about. “It’s about today’s capitalistic society,” Cruise said, in 1986. “Do the means justify the ends? Do you want to help people, or do you just want to make money? Joel is questioning all of that. So am I ... I’m not saying I’m some erudite political figure—but it bothers me. At least I’m asking the question. The movie is Joel’s exploration of society, how he gets sucked into this wild capitalistic ride.”

9. THE MANUFACTURER OF THE CRYSTAL EGG WENT OUT OF BUSINESS IN 2011.

“I’m very disappointed in you,” Joel’s mom tells her son after she comes home from vacation to find her prized crystal egg cracked. Earlier in the film, hookers steal the egg from the mantel but return it to Joel by throwing it like a football. In real life, the egg was made by a century-old Corning, New York manufacturer named Steuben Glass Works, who made all kinds of prized pieces until they shuttered operations in 2011, mainly because the demand for crystal declined post-recession.

10. THE FILM WAS THE MOVIE DEBUT OF BOTH MEGAN MULLALLY AND BRONSON PINCHOT.

Before she was a Emmy-winning actress, Megan Mullally played a hooker in Risky Business. Wearing pink lingerie and with a cigarette dangling out of her mouth, she appears for just a few seconds. In the end credits she’s listed as “Call Girl.” Bronson Pinchot has much more screen time starring as Joel’s wise-cracking friend Barry. In a 2009 interview with The A.V Club, Pinchot said working with Cruise was “weird” and called Cruise “the biggest bore on the face of the Earth.”

11. TOM CRUISE AND REBECCA DE MORNAY DATED IN REAL LIFE.

Cruise has always been coy about his private life, but in 1986 he opened up to Rolling Stone about a girlfriend whom he fell in love with. “That girlfriend was his Risky Business costar, Rebecca De Mornay,” reads the article. “Despite their incendiary love scenes, they didn’t start dating until after the film’s release in late summer of 1983.” The long-distance relationship dissolved some time after Cruise shot the film Legend, in London, and before he went off to film Top Gun. “Relationships are hard,” Cruise told the magazine. “You have to know when you’re going to be in a different place from someone else, you have to have the strength to separate.” In 1987, Cruise married his first wife, actress Mimi Rogers.

12. TWO ENDINGS WERE SHOT, BUT BRICKMAN ONLY LIKED THE ORIGINAL.

At the end of Risky Business, Joel dines at a restaurant with Lana and he says, “I was just thinking where we’ll be in 10 years,” and she says they’re going to make it big. He asks, “Was this a setup?” and she says, “No.” Cut to them walking through a park at night and them talking about how they won’t be seeing each other for a while. She asks to spend the night with him and he jokingly asks if she has any money, and then his voiceover kicks in: “My name is Joel Goodsen. I deal in human fulfillment. I grossed over $8,000 in one night ... Time of your life, huh, kid?”

But in the alternate ending, they dine at the same restaurant and have a similar conversation. “Was our night together just a setup?” he asks Lana and she says “no” then adds “Why does it have to be so tough?” He summons her to come over and sit on his lap, which she does. The camera pulls back to reveal a stunning view of Lake Michigan (it’s obvious they’re dining inside the Hancock building). While still on his lap, the couple embrace and Joel’s voiceover is exactly the same except “time of your life” gets changed to “isn’t life grand?”—a subtle yet more sarcastic and ambiguous ending.

“We had to change the ending to make it more upbeat and commercial,” Cruise told Cameron Crowe. “Geffen Films felt it was too ... basically they felt it was a bummer, okay? At one point, Paul [Brickman] said he wouldn’t direct the new ending. They were going to hire another director to direct it. Paul really fought it. We all did … In the end, I think we got across the same point, though. Joel knows in his heart that this woman is more important than money.” At a 30th anniversary screening of the film, Brickman finally showed an audience the ending he had intended for the film.

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

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