In the rags-to-riches-back-to-rags-then-back-to-riches story of The Jerk, Steve Martin plays Navin R. Johnson, a man who one day discovers that he is both adopted and white. Johnson sets out to see the world and becomes a millionaire by inventing the Opti-Grab, a device which keeps eyeglasses from slipping down one's nose. But because it also makes people cross-eyed, he loses it all. Directed by Carl Reiner, the movie is largely considered one of the funniest movies ever made. Here are some facts about the film that you need, along with this ashtray. And this paddle game. And this remote control.
1. STEVE MARTIN BASED THE FILM OFF A LINE FROM HIS STAND-UP.
The film proposal was based on Martin’s “It wasn’t always easy for me; I was born a poor black child” routine. Navin saying he doesn’t need anything, then picking up different items he does need, is also from his act.
2. MARTIN CO-WROTE THE SCRIPT WITH THE SCREENWRITER OF JAWS.
Carl Gottlieb, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for the screenplay for Jaws, co-wrote The Jerk and also portrayed Iron Balls McGinty in the movie. Michael Elias (The Frisco Kid, Head of the Class) was the third credited writer. "Our goal was to have a laugh on every page," said Martin.
3. MIKE NICHOLS WAS INITIALLY REPORTED AS THE DIRECTOR.
The Graduate director departed the project less than a month after it was reported that he would be at the helm of The Jerk. Nearly a decade later, Nichols directed Martin and Robin Williams in a 1988 Lincoln Center production of Waiting for Godot.
4. THE ORIGINAL TITLE WAS EASY MONEY.
5. THE JERK CAME FROM DOSTOYEVSKY.
"It needs to be something short, yet have the feeling of an epic tale," Martin said to his director, Carl Reiner, one day. "Like Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, but not that. Like The Jerk."
6. THE ROLE OF MARIE WAS WRITTEN FOR BERNADETTE PETERS.
Martin and Peters were an item by the time filming began. They met in 1977, when they were both on the Kenny Rogers celebrity softball team. A few months later, Martin asked her out after they taped an episode of Hollywood Squares together.
7. MARTIN AND REINER CARPOOLED TO WORK EVERY DAY.
This was due to the gas shortage. "Every day ... we came up with at least one or two new jokes on the way to work," said Reiner.
8. MARTIN WAS NOT THE CAT JUGGLER, OFFICIALLY.
Even though he looks a lot like Navin Johnson, the actor credited for playing the carnival performer with the unique skill was “Pig Eye Jackson.”
9. THE GAS STATION IS NO MORE.
The madman (M. Emmet Walsh) hated the cans at a gas station in Pasadena, California. It’s now a Carl’s Jr.
10. NAVIN AND MARIE WERE IN THE MANSION OF A SHEIK WHO WAS HATED BY HIS BEVERLY HILLS NEIGHBORS.
Mohammed al-Fassi annoyed the neighborhood by purchasing the mansion in 1978 and painting the 38-room, white-stucco home a shade of green, replacing the red tile roof with copper, filling the outdoor urns with plastic flowers, and having the statues painted to resemble humans, including some very specific anatomical features. He also installed a zebra skin revolving bed and a life-size macrame camel in the living room. It was referred to as “a dirty Disneyland” by the press. The mansion burned down in 1980 while al-Fassi was abroad, provoking chants of “Burn! Burn! Burn!” The exteriors were of a different mansion, the same one used in The Godfather, and later on in The Bodyguard.
11. THE LICKING WASN’T SCRIPTED.
Reiner instructed Martin to lick Peters at the last minute, to her surprise.
12. BILL MURRAY WAS CUT FROM THE FILM.
He played a “flamboyantly gay decorator” who designed the mansion, in a scene that has never seen the light of day. The day after The Jerk made its debut, Murray admitted he was cut from it during Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update segment, before joking that the movie was a “dog” and “there’s something missing.”
13. LITTLE BILLY DIDN’T GET TO KEEP HIS SHIRT.
Whenever someone found out Jon Leichter played Billy in The Jerk, people asked if he got to keep his “Bullshit” shirt. The shirt was acquired by the wardrobe department, who took it back after Leichter was done filming. Found Item Clothing gave him a replica for his 40th birthday.
14. MARTIN AND REINER MADE A BIG DEAL OUT OF SHOWING THE MOVIE’S TRAILER.
Deputy mayor Ray Remy honored Martin with a citation that decreed "two minutes of June 27 as Steve Martin Minutes in Los Angeles." The 1000 people who showed up to Westwood’s Village Theater received tiny bags of popcorn meant to last the entire trailer. Martin and Reiner spoke beforehand, with Martin saying it was the most exciting two minutes of his life, and Reiner claiming that making the trailer was one of the toughest things he had ever done, and that he went over budget.
15. MARTIN WAS DISAPPOINTED WITH HIS FANS’ REACTION TO "TONIGHT YOU BELONG TO ME."
He thought the moment was touching, and looked forward to the reaction at the premiere screening in St. Louis, Missouri. To his chagrin, much of the audience left when that scene started to go get some popcorn.
16. STANLEY KUBRICK WANTED TO WORK WITH MARTIN AFTER SEEING IT.
Kubrick invited Martin to London because he liked The Jerk. They played chess and talked about making a sex comedy film version of Arthur Schitzler’s novella Traumnovelle, a story about a doctor dealing with his wife confessing to having sexual fantasies about another man. Years later, the tone of the proposed project took a different turn and became Eyes Wide Shut.