15 Surprising Facts About Death Wish

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

When Brian Garfield wrote the 1972 novel Death Wish, about a New York City accountant-turned-vigilante named Paul Benjamin, he had no idea that it would spawn one of Hollywood's longest-running film series, with five movies released over 20 years. The first film, 1974's Death Wish, was so controversial that Garfield openly wished it would not air on television after it allegedly inspired some real-life copycat killings.

While Charles Bronson will forever be linked to the lead role (who changed from Paul Benjamin to Paul Kersey for the film, and became an architect), Bruce Willis is getting ready to give the iconic character a go with Eli Roth's update of the film, which hits theaters this weekend. In the meantime, here are 15 things you might not know about Death Wish.

1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY A COUPLE OF REAL-LIFE CRIMES (THAT WERE MUCH LESS VIOLENT).

Author Brian Garfield was inspired to write Death Wish after he grew very angry when, in separate incidents, his wife's purse was stolen and his car was vandalized. “I knew the vandal had done us no real harm ... Yet my first response to the discovery of this mindless violence was swift and stark," Garfield later wrote. "My boundaries had been violated, my property trespassed upon. He had no right. 'I'll kill the son of a bitch.'" While Garfield's flash of anger eventually dissipated, the idea of writing a novel about a man who never got over crimes committed against his immediate family didn't fade away so easily.

2. ORIGINALLY SIDNEY LUMET WAS SET TO DIRECT, WITH JACK LEMMON STARRING.

The adapted screenplay by Wendell Mayes (Anatomy of a Murder, The Poseidon Adventure) was written with the idea that Sidney Lumet would be behind the camera and Jack Lemmon would be starring as Paul. Lumet supposedly wanted to shoot it in black and white. When Dino De Laurentiis came on as producer, Lumet dropped out. With Lumet out, Lemmon lost interest.

3. HENRY FONDA AND GEORGE C. SCOTT BOTH TURNED DOWN THE LEAD ROLE.

Henry Fonda declined the part because he said the script was "repulsive." George C. Scott said no because of all its violence.

4. CHARLES BRONSON AND HIS AGENT DISAGREED ON THE FILM'S MESSAGE.

While Charles Bronson was immediately interested in the role, his agent wasn't so sure. "It's the only time Paul Kohner, my agent, ever disagreed with me about a film," Bronson said in 1974. "Paul felt very strongly that it was a dangerous picture—that it might make people think it's right to take the law into their own hands. This is what the hero of the picture does when he wants a one-man vigilante squad to kill muggers, after three of them have murdered his wife and raped his daughter. I told Paul I thought the message was the same there that runs through a lot of my pictures: That violence is senseless because it only begets more violence."

5. BRIAN GARFIELD THOUGHT BRONSON WAS ALL WRONG FOR THE PART.

Garfield didn't like the fact that as soon as Bronson appeared on screen, "you knew he was going to start blowing people away." Director Michael Winner dismissed the author's criticisms, calling him "an idiot."

6. BRONSON THOUGHT DUSTIN HOFFMAN SHOULD HAVE PLAYED HIS PART.

Even though he liked the message, Bronson wasn't originally convinced that he would be the best actor for the job. "The way the part was written, it was about a meek little New York-born accountant," Bronson said. "I thought it was a much better picture for Dustin Hoffman." Eventually, it was Winner who convinced Bronson to take the role anyway. "He said we could change the part to a more active and virile architect, and we'd all make a potful of money."

7. JEFF GOLDBLUM MADE HIS FILM DEBUT IN THE MOVIE.

When discussing his feature debut, Jeff Goldblum admitted, "I stick out like a sore thumb." Goldblum played one of the "Freaks" who killed Paul's wife and raped his daughter. Back in 1983, Goldblum told New York Magazine that a job was a job. "Did it bother me it was such a brutal part? No. It was the first movie I'd gone up for, and I got it." Winner remembered Goldblum as being "loose and brilliant" in his audition.

8. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS HAD A SMALL ROLE, BUT DOESN'T LOOK BACK ON THE FILM FONDLY.

Olympia Dukakis was uncredited, but paid, for playing one of the cops at the precinct. It wasn't a particularly positive experience for the future Oscar winner. "Yeah, they sent me over, and the director [Michael Winner] was, uh, not necessarily liked by the actors," Dukakis told The A.V. Club in 2015. "I mean, he made me turn around, and he wanted to see me, and … he treated me like a piece of meat during the audition. But it was, like, one day, so I could take the money and go home and say, 'F**k you and the horse you rode in on.'"

9. THERE WAS CONCERN ABOUT USING THE WORD "DEATH" IN THE TITLE.

Posters with the title Sidewalk Vigilante were printed because De Laurentiis worried about having the word "death" in the title. "The fact that it had the word death made me a little uneasy, a little perplexed," the producer admitted. "Then I realized it might bring in an additional audience—horror flick fans—so I left it the way it was." For his part, Winner thought Sidewalk Vigilante was a "ghastly" title.

10. HERBIE HANCOCK WROTE THE SCORE, AT THE SUGGESTION OF MICHAEL WINNER'S GIRLFRIEND.

"It was the first film score by Herbie Hancock, the brilliant jazz musician," Winner wrote in his memoir, Michael Winner: Winner Takes All: A Life of Sorts. "I chose him because Dino wanted a cheap band and at the time I was having an affair with one of the actresses in the movie who was very into jazz music. She said, 'Herbie Hancock is a new genius.' I listened to his record Head Hunters, thought it absolutely brilliant, and persuaded Dino to take him."

11. GARFIELD THOUGHT THE MOVIE AND HIS BOOK SENT DIFFERENT MESSAGES.

Paramount Pictures

"The point of the novel Death Wish is that vigilantism is an attractive fantasy but it only makes things worse in reality," the author said in 2008. "By the end of the novel, the character (Paul) is gunning down unarmed teenagers because he doesn’t like their looks. The story is about an ordinary guy who descends into madness. Oddly enough Mayes’s script honored that thought, and the only significant change in it during shooting was the wordless ending, but that ending changed the story entirely." The ending had Bronson smirking at some Chicago hoodlums while cocking a finger gun.

12. THE MOVIE GOT SOME HARSH REVIEWS.

Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that “it's a despicable movie, one that raises complex questions in order to offer bigoted, frivolous, oversimplified answers" and found it to be "a bird-brained movie to cheer the hearts of the far-right wing." Variety's review opened by claiming Death Wish is "awkwardly hung" on the "vulgar exploitation hook" of "poisonous incitement to do-it-yourself law enforcement."

13. AUDIENCES LOVED IT SO MUCH THAT PARAMOUNT PICTURES CHARGED THEM MORE MONEY TO SEE IT.

Prices were raised from $3.50 to $4 per ticket. At that point, only The Godfather (1972) and The Great Gatsby (1974) had been as expensive. Death Wish ultimately made $22 million at the box office.

14. CHICAGO AND SAN FRANCISCO REFUSED TO AIR IT ON TV.

When it came time to air the movie on network television, Washington D.C. delayed the start time from 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Chicago and San Francisco opted not to air it. But every other major CBS affiliate around the country aired an edited version of the film during prime time on November 10, 1976, despite Garfield's protests. "I think it is a dangerous film," he said. "And the proof is that several people have already committed vigilante crimes inspired by the film, and said so." Garfield said this despite potentially losing $50,000 if Death Wish didn't run.

15. SYLVESTER STALLONE WANTED TO REMAKE IT.

Sylvester Stallone was set to direct and star in a Death Wish remake for MGM back in 2008. When that project, uh, died, it opened the door for Eli Roth and Bruce Willis to step in.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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Late MythBusters Star Grant Imahara Honored With New STEAM Foundation

Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Genevieve via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Fans of MythBusters and White Rabbit Project host Grant Imahara were saddened to hear of his passing due to a brain aneurysm in July 2020 at the age of 49. Imahara, a graduate of the University of Southern California, used the television medium to share his love of science and engineering. Now, his passion for education will continue via an educational foundation developed in his name.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation was announced Thursday, October 23, 2020 by family and friends on what would have been Imahara’s 50th birthday. The Foundation will provide mentorships, grants, and scholarships that will allow students from diverse backgrounds access to STEAM education, which places an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. (Formerly referred to as STEM, the “A” for art was added more recently.)

Imahara had a history of aiding students. While working at Industrial Light and Magic in the early 2000s, he mentored the robotics team at Richmond High School to prepare for the international FIRST Robotics Competition. Whether he was working on television or behind-the-scenes on movies like the Star Wars prequels and The Matrix sequels, Imahara always found time to promote and encourage young engineering talent.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation’s founding board members include Imahara’s mother, Carolyn Imahara, and close friends Don Bies, Anna Bies, Edward Chin, Fon H. Davis, Coya Elliott, and Ioanna Stergiades.

“There are many students, like my son Grant, who need the balance of the technical and the creative, and this is what STEAM is all about,” Carolyn Imahara said in a statement. “I’m so proud of my son’s career, but I’m equally proud of the work he did mentoring students. He would be thrilled that we plan to continue this, plus much more, through The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation.”

Imahara friend Wade Bick is also launching an effort in concert with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to name a study lounge after Imahara. Donations can be made here.

You can find out more about the foundation, and make a donation, on its website.