13 Close-Up Facts About Grosse Pointe Blank

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For a generation of moviegoers, John Cusack was a sensitive heartthrob in '80s teen films like Better Off Dead, Say Anything..., and One Crazy Summer. In 1997, after several years in lower-profile roles, Cusack reemerged for the next generation as Martin Q. Blank, a depressed hitman who attends his high school reunion. Grosse Pointe Blank opened in 1997 and was a minor hit, earning $28 million (about twice that at 2017 ticket prices) before going on to become a cult favorite. It reintroduced John Cusack to the world, and it gave Dan Aykroyd his best role in several years, too. Let's relive the '80s for one night and dive deep into Grosse Pointe Blank.

1. THE SCREENWRITER WAS MOTIVATED BY PANIC OVER HIS OWN REUNION.

In 1991, Tom Jankiewicz got a letter about his 10-year reunion back at Bishop Foley Catholic High School in Madison Heights, Michigan. He was in L.A. by now, trying to become a screenwriter, supporting himself by working at Big Lots and as a substitute teacher. But he wasn't ready to see all those old friends again. His brother later said, "When the letter came, he wasn't where he wanted to be yet ... It freaked him out, but it made him productive. He sat down and got serious about [what would become] Grosse Pointe Blank."

2. SOME CHARACTERS ARE NAMED AFTER THE WRITER’S FORMER CLASSMATES.

Jankiewicz didn't actually go to his reunion, but he did use the names of former classmates for some of the characters in his screenplay. Jeremy Piven's character, Paul Spericki, for example, was named after Jankiewicz's best friend, and the movie's reunion announcement was a near-verbatim copy of the real one. He chose Grosse Pointe—"the Beverly Hills of Michigan"—over his own hometown because it sounded better, and he named Marcella (Joan Cusack) after his manager at Big Lots.

3. YOU MAY HAVE HEARD THAT IT'S BASED ON A REAL GROSSE POINTE STUDENT WHO BECAME A HITMAN. IT ISN'T.

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Jankiewicz reportedly loved that urban legend, but there's no truth to it. Jankiewicz just didn't think a movie about a cashier at Big Lots attending his 10-year reunion would be very interesting, and he used his fondness for crime fiction to come up with the hitman idea.

4. KIEFER SUTHERLAND WANTED TO BE IN IT AT ONE POINT.

Though several production companies liked the concept, it took a while for Jankiewicz to sell his script. Kiefer Sutherland wanted to make it (this would have been around 1992 or 1993), but, in the words of one columnist, "the mix of comedy and violence proved to be a tough sell."

5. JOHN CUSACK AND HIS FRIENDS PERSONALIZED IT.

Cusack had a company, New Crime Productions, that he'd formed with old Chicago friends Steve Pink and D.V. DeVincentis, and with which another friend, Piven, was also involved. They found Jankiewicz's screenplay, optioned it, and set to work revising it to match Cusack's specific tastes and talents. Piven, Pink, and DeVincentis all have onscreen roles, as do Cusack's siblings Joan, Ann, and Bill. A journalist who went to high school with Cusack in Evanston, Illinois found allusions to their school in the finished movie, writing, "If I'm not mistaken, the heroine's last name, Newberry, belonged to a pair of cute, artistic Evanston sisters; and the bully is a thinly disguised (and inexplicably cruel) parody of another of my classmates, who I pray hasn't seen this movie."

6. THE DIRECTOR CLAIMS WRITING CREDIT, TOO.

George Armitage was a Roger Corman protégé who had written and/or directed a few blaxploitation films in the 1970s, including Hit Man and Darktown Strutters, plus the well-received 1990 crime film Miami Blues (starring Alec Baldwin). Grosse Pointe Blank was the first movie he directed that he didn't also write, but he said he could have had screenplay credit for this one, too. "I did as much as anyone did in terms of writing," he told an interviewer. "Because the Writers Guild is insane with the way they handle the credits, I decided that if I threw my name into the mix, the percentage would drop for everybody and they'd get screwed out of it."

7. SOMEWHERE THERE'S A TREASURE TROVE OF ALTERNATE TAKES AND DELETED SCENES.

Armitage said they "basically shot three movies simultaneously": one that stuck to the script, one that was "mildly understated," and one that went "completely over-the-top" in terms of improvisation and energy. It was usually the third version that got used, which means there are alternate versions of nearly every scene still out there somewhere. (So far, the film's DVD and Blu-ray releases haven't had any of them.)

8. THE KISS DEBI PLANTS ON MARTIN WAS IMPROVISED.

In one of those loose "third versions" of the scene where Martin walks into Debi's radio booth for the first time, Minnie Driver decided to let her character put all the cards on the table and just kiss him. Armitage said, "It was just wonderful, completely out of the blue. You should have seen the smile on Johnny's face afterwards."

9. CUSACK FOUGHT A WORLD-CHAMPION KICKBOXER, WHO ALSO HAPPENED TO BE HIS TEACHER.

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Benny "The Jet" Urquidez has nine black belts and was a competitive fighter in the 1960s and '70s before taking on some movie roles. In Grosse Pointe Blank, he plays Felix La PuBelle, the assassin who pursues Martin throughout the film, culminating in a fight to the death in the high school hallway. Urquidez got the job because he was already Cusack's kickboxing instructor; they met when Cusack had to learn "the sport of the future" for Say Anything... Urquidez continued to train Cusack for years afterward.

10. QUENTIN TARANTINO WAS A FAN, AND ALMOST HAD A CAMEO.

Quentin Tarantino, who'd just burst onto the scene with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, was a fan of Armitage's work and somehow came to be personally acquainted with him. While filming the 7-Eleven shootout in Grosse Pointe Blank, Armitage added a nod to Tarantino with his help. "I called him and said, 'Could I use your lobby card of the Pulp Fiction cast?' Armitage recalled. "So we wired that with squibs and shot it up too." He said Tarantino wanted to make a cameo—"he wanted to be shot or blown up or something"—but it never materialized.

11. IT WAS FILMED ALMOST ENTIRELY ON LOCATION ... IN LOS ANGELES.

The crew spent only half a day in the real Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and most of that in a helicopter, getting aerial shots of the town. "I would have given anything if we could have made the movie there," Cusack said. "But it was all number crunching, so we spent it on the movie instead of the location." Doubling for Grosse Pointe High School was John Marshall High School, an L.A. institution that's been used in numerous films. Grosse Pointe's main drag was in nearby Monrovia, California.

12. CUSACK SAW IT AS A METAPHOR FOR THE REAGAN/BUSH YEARS.

"I grew up fascinated by people in the Reagan administration, their ethics, their mercenary values," he said in an interview. "People who plan wars and then go home to their wives and their kids ... How do they live? To me, Grosse Pointe Blank was a metaphor for the people in the Bush White House." Elsewhere, he described the movie as "a black comedy about the American Dream, that 'win at all costs' personality you see every day ... A tongue-in-cheek look at the American value system."

13. THE ORIGINAL SCREENWRITER DIED SUDDENLY AFTER A POST-SCREENING Q&A.

There's a sad postscript to Grosse Pointe Blank. The original writer, Tom Jankiewicz, continued to work in Hollywood as an uncredited (but not unpaid) script doctor, and as a journalist and copywriter. He was a shy, kind, tall man—six-foot-nine—who stayed out of the spotlight. In January 2013, on a whim, he accepted an invitation to a college professor's screening of Grosse Pointe Blank and treated the students to a Q&A afterward. During the discussion, Jankiewicz collapsed, and he died at the hospital later that night. It was a shock; he was only 49 and in good health. Family members speculated that his heart had been weakened by a case of bronchitis he'd had a few weeks earlier.

10 Facts About Ken Miles, the Race Car Driver at the Center of Ford v Ferrari

Raycrosthwaite Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Raycrosthwaite Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Though you’d be hard-pressed to find a car enthusiast who doesn't know the name Carroll Shelby, it wasn't until recently—with the release of Ford v Ferrari—that Shelby's teammate, Ken Miles, has been allowed to share the spotlight. The movie, which centers around the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mansa race that’s been the center of more than a few heated debates—has finally given Miles his due.

Director James Mangold said that the first cut of Ford v Ferrari was close to four hours long, but that he eventually had to cut it down to its final two-and-a-half-hour running time. Naturally, a lot of great material didn’t make it into the final cut, including some of the most interesting facts about Miles's life. Here are 10 fascinating facts that you won’t find in Ford v Ferrari.

1. Ken Miles started racing when he was just 11 years old.

Ken Miles was born on November 1, 1918 in Sutton Coldfield, England, a town located less than 10 miles north of Birmingham. At the ripe old age of 11, Miles started motorcycle racing on a 350 cc Triumph bike. A crash broke his nose and cost him three teeth—which led to him purchasing a larger motorcycle.

2. Ken Miles met his wife when he was a teenager.

When he was just 15 years old, Miles met a young woman named Mollie, then turned to a friend and said, “I’m going to marry that girl.” And he eventually did. The courtship was so all-consuming that at one point the headmaster of Miles's school called his parents and asked if there was something they could do about “this whole Mollie business.”

3. Ken Miles built his first car when he was 15 years old.

Miles was a busy teenager. When he was 15, he built an Austin 7 Special that he named “Nellie,” and some of the mechanical modifications he made on the car became signatures of his later vehicles. Mollie, who seemed to be a fan of the wooing, painted Nellie a British Racing Green. Miles sold Nellie during World War II, but continued to design cars after the war was over.

4. Ken Miles was a military man.

For seven years, Miles served in the British Territorial Army. His primary job was tank recovery, a job that required him to reclaim tanks and get them operational again. In 1944, he took part in the D-Day landings as part of a tank unit. Miles was also one of the first British soldiers at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, an experience he rarely talked about even though he was frequently photographed wearing his military coat.

5. Ken Miles loved American engines.

Christian Bale as Ken Miles in 'Ford v Ferrari' (2019)
Christian Bale as Ken Miles in James Mangold's Ford v Ferrari (2019).
Merrick Morton © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

During his military service, Miles found time to study and keep up with developments in engine technology. Separated from his racing friends, Miles had to work a little harder to share this love. In a letter to Motorsport Magazine, Miles went into the specifics about exactly what he loved about a new engine and how much potential he saw in it. He looked forward to designing his own supercharged version of the engine and installing it into a four-wheel drive vehicle.

6. Ken Miles understood how important physical fitness was for a driver before everyone else did.

Though physical fitness wasn’t as emphasized for drivers back then, Miles thought it was crucial, something we now know to be true. At five-foot-11-inches, Miles was a remarkably lean 147 pounds. Miles was an avid jogger who would carry two-pound weights in each hand.

7. Ken Miles once toilet-trained a cat—then was said to have done the same with a bobcat.

Miles once trained a cat to use the toilet. In addition to being a fun story he shared at parties, it was a fact that emphasized his stubbornness and his willingness to stick with a challenging assignment.

When Miles’s toilet-trained cat died, his friends sent him a wire telling him to go to the airport, where a new cat would be waiting for him. When he went to pick up the crate, Miles discovered that they’d sent him a bobcat. Carroll Shelby said in his biography that Miles was able to toilet train the bobcat as well (though Shelby was known for not letting the truth get in the way of a good story).

8. Ken Miles had a knack for sarcasm.

James T. Crow wrote an obituary for Ken Miles for Road & Track in which he wrote that Miles had "wit and charm like almost no one I’ve ever known. But if he could be elaborately polite, he also had a command of sarcasm that could make your teeth shrink." Crow’s obituary stands as one of the more complete reflections on who Miles was, and also observed that "It was said about [Miles] that he was his own worst enemy and this was undoubtedly true as he could have had almost anything he wanted if he could have been more tactful." Shelby at least was delighted by Miles’s total lack of tact.

9. Ken Miles saw himself as a mechanic first and a driver second.

Though he’s most remembered as a driver, Miles saw himself first and foremost as a mechanic. In A.J Baime’s book, Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans, Miles is quoted as saying “I am a mechanic. That has been the direction of my entire vocational life. Driving is a hobby, a relaxation for me, like golfing is to others.” Miles was hired on as the test driver and competition director for Shelby-American, a position that allowed him to use his mechanical expertise as well as his uncanny driving capability.

10. Ken Miles’s death changed the racing world.

On August 17, 1966, Ken Miles died when the Ford J-car he had been testing for almost an entire day at California's Riverside International Raceway flipped, crashed, and caught on fire, then broke into pieces and ejected Miles, who was killed instantly. But the J-car had been specifically designed to avoid this type of accident, and the damage done to the vehicle made it impossible to determine an exact cause for the crash.

"We really don't know what caused it," Carroll Shelby said. "The car just disintegrated. We have nobody to take his place. Nobody. He was our baseline, our guiding point. He was the backbone of our program. There will never be another Ken Miles."

Though it wasn’t uncommon for race car drivers to die in the 1960s, what was uncommon was the reaction Miles’s friends and family had to his death. Shelby said that it broke his heart when they lost Ken, and Shelby-American withdrew from Le Mans racing after 1967.

If there was a silver lining to Miles's death, it was that additional safety precautions—including a steel tube rollover cage—were implemented into the J-car's design that saved the lives of multiple other drivers, including a young Mario Andretti when he was involved in a similar crash a year later.

Ken Miles's death was a tragedy, for his young son and wife, for his team, and for the entirety of racing. Thanks to Ford v Ferrari though, Ken Miles is finally receiving the attention and recognition that should have been his all along.

11 Fun Facts About Dolly Parton

Brendon Thorne, Getty Images
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. You won't find Dolly Parton on a Dollywood roller coaster.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. Dolly Parton once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike contest—and lost.


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Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. Dolly Parton spent a fortune to recreate her childhood home.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. Dolly Parton won't apologize for Rhinestone.


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Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. Dolly Parton is Miley Cyrus's godmother ... sort of.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. Dolly Parton received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
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In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBTQ members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted. "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. Dolly Parton started her own "library" to promote literacy, and has given away more than 100 million books.

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. There's a statue of Dolly Parton in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. The cloned sheep Dolly was named after Dolly Parton.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. Dolly Parton turned down an offer from Elvis Presley.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. In 2018, Dolly Parton earned two Guinness World Records.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

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