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.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Cyber Monday has arrived, and with it comes some amazing deals. This sale is the one to watch if you are looking to get low prices on the latest Echo Dot, Fire Tablet, video games, Instant Pots, or 4K TVs. Even if you already took advantage of sales during Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday still has plenty to offer, especially on Amazon. We've compiled some the best deals out there on tech, computers, and kitchen appliances so you don't have to waste your time browsing.

Computers and tablets

Amazon

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet 64GB; $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet 64GB; $84 (save $35)

- HP Pavilion x360 14 Convertible 2-in-1 Laptop; $646 (save $114)

- HP Pavilion Desktop, 10th Gen Intel Core i3-10100 Processor; $469 (save $81)

- Acer Nitro 5 Gaming Laptop; $973 (save $177)

Headphones and speakers

Beats/Amazon

- Bose QuietComfort 35 II Wireless Bluetooth Headphones; $200 (save $100)

- Sony Bluetooth Noise-Canceling Wireless Headphones; $278 (save $72)

- JBL LIVE Wireless Headphones; $100 (save $30)

- JBL Charge 4 - Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $120 (save $10)

- Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker II; $79 (save $50)

- Powerbeats Pro Wireless Earphones; $200 (save $50)

Video Games

Sony

- Watch Dogs Legion; $30 (save $30)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

- The Last of Us Part II; $30 (save $30)

TECH, GADGETS, AND TVS

Samsung/Amazon

- Amazon Fire TV Stick; $30 (save $20)

- Echo Show 8; $65 (save $65)

- Nixplay Digital Picture Frame; $115 (save $65)

- eufy Smart Doorbell; $90 (save $30)

- Samsung 75-Inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $898 (save $300)

home and Kitchen

Ninja/Amazon

- T-fal 17-Piece Cookware Set; $124 (save $56)

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Curved Round Chef's Oven; $180 (save $136)

- Ninja Foodi 10-in-1 Convection Toaster Oven; $195 (save $105)

- Roborock E4 Robot Vacuum Cleaner; $189 (save $111)

- Instant Pot Max Pressure Cooker 9 in 1; $80 (save $120)

- Shark IZ362H Cordless Anti-Allergen Lightweight Stick Vacuum; $170 (save $110)

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

10 Surprising Facts About Richard Pryor

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Richard Pryor, who was born on December 1, 1940, is considered by many to be the greatest stand-up comedian of all time. Jerry Seinfeld referred to him as “the Picasso of our profession.” Chris Rock has called him comedy’s Rosa Parks. Yet the indelible mark Pryor made on the world of comedy only tells part of his story.

Like his career in the spotlight, Pryor’s world offstage was also highly compelling and full of shocking turns. He’s one of those people whose real life was so off-the-wall at times that it becomes tough to separate fact from fiction. Here are just a few stories about the brilliant and chaotic life of the great Richard Pryor.

1. Richard Pryor had a tragic childhood.

Richard Pryor had a tragic early life, experiencing things that no child should have to endure: Born to a prostitute named Gertrude on December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois, Pryor’s father was a notoriously violent pimp named LeRoy Pryor. For much of his childhood, Pryor was raised in the actual brothel where his mother worked, which was owned by his own no-nonsense grandmother, Marie Carter. With his mother periodically dropping out of his life for long stretches, it was Marie who served as Pryor’s central guardian and caretaker.

In 2015, The New Yorker published an article to mark the 10th anniversary of Pryor’s passing, which offered further details on his turbulent early life, noting:

Pryor said that one of the reasons he adored movies as a boy was that you were never in doubt as to why the women in them were screaming. As for the sounds that Richard heard in the middle of the night in his room on the top floor of one of Marie’s businesses, he had no idea what was happening to those girls. A number of times, he saw his mother, Gertrude, one of the women in Marie’s employ, nearly beaten to death by his father. Gertrude left when Richard was five. He later registered no resentment over this. “At least Gertrude didn’t flush me down the toilet,” he said. (This was not a joke. As a child, Pryor opened a shoebox and found a dead baby inside.)

2. Richard Pryor walked away from a successful career.

Early in his career Pryor found success by modeling his comedy largely on the work on Bill Cosby, which led to many comparisons being drawn between the two—a fact that Cosby reportedly grew to dislike.

There are conflicting tales of just how Pryor made the 180-degree change in style that led to him becoming a comedic legend. One of the most well traveled tales, and one that Pryor himself confirmed on more than one occasion, states that Pryor was performing his clean-cut act in Las Vegas one night when he looked out into the audience and saw Dean Martin among the crowd. If you believe the story, seeing the legendarily cool Rat Packer’s face made Pryor question what exactly he was doing and caused him to abruptly leave the stage mid-performance. Around this time Pryor moved to the San Francisco Bay area, dropped out of the comedy limelight for several years, and later reemerged with the more pointed, in-your-face style that made him an icon.

3. Richard Pryor won an Emmy for writing.

Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Pryor in Tomlin's 1973 TV special, Lily.CBS Television, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Though Pryor was better known for his work in front of the camera than behind it, the only Emmy he ever won was for writing. In 1974, Pryor won the Emmy for Best Writing in Comedy for Lily, a comedy special starring Lily Tomlin (in which he also appeared). He earned a total of four nominations throughout his career, two of them as an actor and the other two as a writer.

4. Richard Pryor made Lorne Michaels quit Saturday Night Live.

Back in 1975, Saturday Night Live was brand new, so at the time the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, wasn’t yet a powerful TV icon. Therefore, when Michaels stuck his neck out and demanded the right to have Pryor on as a guest host, he was really risking a lot. It took Michaels handing in a fake resignation to convince NBC executives to allow the famously foulmouthed comic to appear. Michaels himself had to implement a secret five-second delay for that night’s episode to be sure that any off-the-cuff, unscripted choice language didn’t make its way out over the airwaves. The delay was kept from Pryor who, upon later finding out, confirmed that he would have refused to do the show had he known about it

The episode, the seventh one of SNL’s premiere season, contained one of the most memorable and edgy sketches ever to appear on the show: (the NSFW) Word Association. Chevy Chase and Pryor’s personal writer, Paul Mooney, have each claimed to have written the sketch.

5. Richard Pryor lost the starring role in Blazing Saddles.

Pryor and Gene Wilder made four films together (Silver Streak; Stir Crazy; See No Evil, Hear No Evil; and Another You), but there could have been at least one more. Pryor was one of the credited writers on Mel Brooks’s classic Blazing Saddles and the plan for a time was that he would also co-star in the film, playing Sheriff Bart alongside Wilder as the Waco Kid. In the clip above, Wilder explained how Pryor’s infamous drug use caused him to end up in a remote city and subsequently lose the starring role to Cleavon Little.

6. It wasn’t a drug mishap that caused Richard Pryor to set himself on fire.

One of the most retold stories about Pryor centers around the incident on June 9, 1980 where he set himself on fire and took off running down a Los Angeles street fully engulfed in flames. Though he wasn’t expected to survive the episode, he eventually pulled through and spent the next six weeks recuperating in the hospital. At the time it was often reported that the cause of the accident was Pryor freebasing cocaine. Pryor later admitted that in a drug-fueled psychosis he had actually attempted to kill himself by dousing his body in 151-proof rum and setting himself ablaze. A friend of Pryor’s at the time has gone on record as saying that the idea for the act likely came about that evening after the two of them watched footage of Thích Quảng Đức, the Vietnamese monk who famously burned himself to death in 1963 as an act of protest.

7. Richard Pryor was married seven times.

Pryor was married seven times—to five different women. In the 2013 documentary Omit the Logic, a friend of Pryor’s—who served as the best man at one of his weddings—recounts how Pryor showed up at his hotel room door just a few hours after marrying Jennifer Lee, insisting that he already wanted a divorce. Pryor would get divorced from Lee the next year, only to remarry her 19 years later; the two were still together when Pryor passed away in 2005.

8. Richard Pryor had a soft spot for animals.

In 1986 Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease that ultimately left him confined to a wheelchair. Pryor was such an avid supporter of animal rights, however, that he actively spoke out against animal testing of any kind—even when that testing meant getting closer to a cure for his own condition. The biography on RichardPryor.com provides more insight into this part of his private life:

He's been honored by PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for saving baby elephants in Botswana targeted for circuses. In 2000, as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was preparing to open at Madison Square Garden, Pryor gave the Big Top's first African-American ringmaster, Jonathan Lee Iverson, something to think about when he wrote him a letter in which he stated: “While I am hardly one to complain about a young African American making an honest living, I urge you to ask yourself just how honorable it is to preside over the abuse and suffering of animals."

9. Richard Pryor won the first Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Beginning in 1998, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts began awarding its annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which "recognizes individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, best known as Mark Twain." Pryor was chosen as their very first recipient. In the more than 20 years since, he has been joined by an illustrious group of comedy legends, including Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Carol Burnett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Dave Chappelle.

10. Despite his deteriorating health, Richard Pryor never stopped performing.

Even while MS continued to rob him of his mobility, Pryor’s comedic mind continued cranking. Throughout the early 1990s Pryor would often show up at Los Angeles’s famous standup club The Comedy Store to take to the stage in his wheelchair. In the above clip from The Joe Rogan Experience, a few comics discuss what it was like to watch the all-time great perform in his diminished state.

This story has been updated for 2020.