13 Running Facts About The Fugitive

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Don't you hate it when you tell a U.S. Marshal that you didn't kill your wife and all he says is, "I don't care"? It's enough to make you want to jump off a dam. That amazing moment is one of many indelible images from The Fugitive, the 1993 blockbuster that earned Tommy Lee Jones his only Oscar (so far) and served as about the tenth reminder that Harrison Ford was among the world's biggest movie stars. As befits a movie with an unnecessarily complicated plot, the behind-the-scenes story of The Fugitive is just as twisty. On the 25th anniversary of the film's release, let's take the plunge.

1. THE STORY WENT THROUGH A LOT OF DRAFTS, INCLUDING SOME RIDICULOUS ONES.

It was a five-year process during which nine writers wrote "at least 25 different screenplays," according to producer Arnold Kopelson. (This might be one of those stories that gets bigger each time it's told. The week the film was released, Kopelson said it was eight writers and 14 drafts. But still.) No surprise—the movie was to be based on a TV series that had run for 120 episodes and had a master plot running through it, in which wrongly convicted Dr. Richard Kimble searches for the one-armed man who killed his wife. There are countless variations of how that could be condensed into a single two-hour story. In one of the drafts, the big twist was that Tommy Lee Jones's Agent Samuel Gerard had hired the one-armed man to kill Kimble's wife as revenge for a botched surgery.

2. IT WAS ALMOST ALEC BALDWIN INSTEAD OF HARRISON FORD.

Kopelson, a fan of the TV series, had been trying off and on to get the film made since the 1970s. It was finally about to happen in the early '90s, with Alec Baldwin in the lead role and Walter Hill (48 Hrs.) as director, but Warner Bros. didn't think Baldwin had enough star power. "With an expensive movie, the consideration is, what star can 'open' it," Kopelson said, "and the studio wasn't certain at that time that Alec could do it." (By the way, this was the second time Baldwin had lost a role to Harrison Ford, who also replaced him as Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October sequel Patriot Games.)

3. IT SEEMS LIKE NOBODY INVOLVED HAD EVER WATCHED THE SHOW.

Except for producer Kopelson, anyway. Harrison Ford said he'd never seen it. Andrew Davis, the director, said, "You know, it was the '60s, and I was into other things besides watching television." Tommy Lee Jones made similar comments. Maybe that's a lesson for successfully turning a TV series into a movie: Don't be too attached to the source material.

4. THAT'S A REAL TRAIN HITTING A REAL BUS.

No miniatures. Twenty-seven cameras (according to Davis). One take. (Ford jumping free from it was a superimposed image, of course.) It was filmed in Sylva and Dillsboro, North Carolina, where the wreckage is now a tourist attraction.

5. SO FAR, IT'S THE ONLY ADAPTATION OF A TV SERIES TO BE NOMINATED FOR BEST PICTURE.

Dozens of TV shows have been turned into movies, but The Fugitive is the only one so far to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. (No, Marty doesn't count. That was based on a TV movie. And not Traffic, either, which was an adaptation of a miniseries. Look, we said The Fugitive was the only one. Don't question us.)

6. THE CHASE THROUGH THE ST. PATRICK'S DAY PARADE WAS REAL.

Rather than try to stage a fake one, Davis used Chicago's actual St. Patrick's Day parade as the setting for part of Kimble and Gerard's cat-and-mouse game. Without rehearsal, Ford and Jones just went out into the crowd and did their thing, with camera operators running around trying to keep up. Ford observed that since his character was keeping a low profile, it meant he himself didn't stand out much and lasted several minutes in the crowd before being recognized.

7. IT WAS FILMED IN A HOSPITAL, AND IN A SCHOOL POSING AS A HOSPITAL.

They were able to shoot some of the hospital scenes in a real hospital in Sylva, North Carolina, while others were filmed in a nearby elementary school whose hallways were dressed to look like a hospital. Apparently old schools and old hospitals look a lot alike.

8. TOMMY LEE JONES MADE UP A LOT OF HIS OWN DIALOGUE.

The film began shooting before the script was complete, with writer Jeb Stuart on the set to come up with new material as needed. That left the door open for the actors to suggest their own ideas, which Jones was happy to do. "Think me up a cup of coffee and a chocolate donut with some of those little sprinkles on top" was his contribution, as was the (above) exchange involving the word "hinky."

9. HARRISON FORD WASN'T FAKING HIS BEFUDDLEMENT IN THE INTERROGATION SCENE.

To lend more realism to the scene where Dr. Kimble is first questioned by police, Davis had Ford and the other actors do it with only half a script—the cops' half. Ford, not knowing in advance what the questions would be, had to ad lib responses in character. Naturally, this came across as being defensive and flustered, which was exactly what the situation called for. Acting!

10. IT ENDED UP BEING A RUSH JOB.

Kopelson spent all those years trying to get the project going—and then once it got going, it had to be done fast. Shooting began in February 1993, six months before the scheduled release date. (Warner Bros. really wanted the film by the end of the summer.) The shoot itself was sufficient; it was the pre- and post-production schedules that were shortened. Consequently, instead of having one or two editors and a few assistants, Kopelson had "like, seven editors and 21 assistants working almost around the clock ... It was a rather harrowing experience."

11. A LOT OF EDITORS GOT CREDITED—AND THE ACADEMY WAS OK WITH IT.

Six men ended up being officially credited as the film's editors: Dennis Virkler, David Finfer, Dean Goodhill, Don Brochu, Richard Nord, and Dov Hoenig. When it received an Oscar nomination for Best Editing, that was the most names that category had ever included. (It’s almost unheard of for any film to have more than three editors, let alone a film that isn’t a disaster.)

12. SCENES HAD TO BE RE-SHOT WHEN AN ACTOR GOT SICK.

Dr. Nichols, the colleague who helps Kimble, was originally played by Richard Jordan. Sadly, Jordan fell ill during the shoot, and had to drop out. (He died a few weeks after the film was released.) When he was replaced by Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbé, a few scenes had to be redone, including one near the beginning, when Kimble still has his beard. Ford had to regrow it, which is why it looks slightly different in Krabbé's first scene from the way it looks elsewhere.

13. THE DAM SCENE COST $2 MILLION, INCLUDING ABOUT $60,000 FOR DUMMIES.

The maze of tunnels leading to the dam were fake, and built in a Chicago warehouse. The last section of the tunnel—the part that opens over the dam, where Kimble and Gerard have their dramatic confrontation—was actually transported from Chicago to the Cheoah Dam in North Carolina, where it was rigged to look like it belonged there. For the big jump, there were no stuntmen involved. Ford himself (secured by a wire) did the shot where Kimble looks over the edge and considers jumping, and dummies were used for the plunge itself. Six Harrison Ford lookalike dummies were commissioned, each costing somewhere between $7000 and $12,000. They did not survive intact, much to the dismay of their manufacturer, who'd been hoping to re-rent them.

Additional sources:
Director's DVD commentary

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

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