13 Sharp Facts About Hook

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People of a certain age remember it fondly, but Steven Spielberg's Hook was not well-received when it was released in December of 1991. Critics found it overlong and curiously lacking in imagination, and though it was profitable, it wasn't the mega-hit everyone expected from a Spielberg movie about a grown-up Peter Pan played by Robin Williams. (It was the sixth highest-grossing movie of 1991. Among Spielberg movies, it ranks 15th out of 30.) Home video earned Hook some more young fans, and it eventually became something of a cult favorite for '90s kids.

1. THE FILM WAS DELAYED, APPROPRIATELY, BY STEVEN SPIELBERG'S DESIRE NOT TO BE AN ABSENTEE FATHER.

Steven Spielberg had been thinking about a live-action version of Peter Pan through the first half of the 1980s, but put it on hold in 1985, when his first child, Max, was born. "I guess it was just bad timing," the director later said, according to Joseph McBride's Steven Spielberg: A Biography. "I didn't want to go to London and have seven kids on wires in front of blue screens swinging around. I wanted to be home as a dad, not a surrogate dad."

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY A 3-YEAR-OLD'S DRAWING.

Screenwriter Jim V. Hart had been trying to find a new angle to the Peter Pan story for years when, in 1982, his 3-year-old son produced a drawing. "He said it was a crocodile eating Captain Hook," Hart recalled in Steven Spielberg: A Biography, "but that the crocodile really didn't eat him, he got away ... So I went, 'Wow, Hook is not dead. The crocodile is. We've all been fooled.'" A few years later, Hart's son brought up the subject of Peter Pan again, asking whether he'd ever grown up. "I realized that Peter did grow up, just like all of us Baby Boomers who are now in our forties," Hart said. "I patterned him after several of my friends on Wall Street, where the pirates wear three-piece suits and ride in limos."

3. MICHAEL JACKSON WAS SPIELBERG'S FIRST CHOICE FOR THE LEAD.

Vinnie Zuffante/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

"Michael had always wanted to play Peter Pan," Spielberg told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. "But I called Michael and said, 'This is about a lawyer [who used to be Peter Pan],' so he understood at that point it wasn't the same Peter Pan he wanted to make." However, Vanity Fair reported in 2003 that Jackson had paid a witch doctor to put a curse on Spielberg (among others), so perhaps there was lingering resentment.

4. NICK CASTLE WAS PAID $500,000 NOT TO DIRECT IT.

The director of The Last Starfighter and The Boy Who Could Fly (not to mention an episode of Spielberg's Amazing Stories) was working with screenwriter Hart to get the movie made at Columbia-TriStar when Sony bought the company and put someone new in charge—Mike Medavoy, who'd been Spielberg's first agent. Medavoy sent Spielberg the Hook script for perusal, and Spielberg jumped at the chance to direct it. Castle was taken off the project with a $500,000 settlement and a "story by" credit along with Hart. (As the story goes, Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams weren't willing to make the film with Castle anyway, so it wasn't a matter of Spielberg "stealing" a movie from another director.)

5. IT WAS ALMOST A MUSICAL.

The most famous previous adaptations of Peter Pan (the Disney cartoon and the Broadway show) had been musicals, so Spielberg had that in mind for his version. John Williams wrote several songs for it before the idea was discarded, later incorporating their tunes into the musical score. Two songs (with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse) did make it into the final film: "We Don't Wanna Grow Up" and "When You're Alone." 

6. PRINCESS LEIA WROTE SOME OF IT.

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Though Spielberg liked Hart's screenplay overall, he thought the characters of Captain Hook and Tinkerbell were underwritten. To work on Hook's dialogue, he brought in a writer named Malia Scotch Marmo (who later helped on Jurassic Park, too). For Tinkerbell, Spielberg called on Carrie Fisher—actress, novelist, and screenwriter. Marmo got a writing credit, but Fisher remained uncredited.

7. IT WENT WAY OVER SCHEDULE AND WAY OVER BUDGET.

Spielberg had been a careful and conscientious director ever since the disastrous excesses of 1941, but he let the size of the Hook production get the better of him. Shooting was supposed to last 76 days; it lasted 116. It was supposed to cost $48 million; it cost somewhere between $60 and $80 million. Hoffman and Julia Roberts's perfectionism were contributing factors, along with the general difficulties of working with children, employing huge live-action special effects, and coordinating scenes with hundreds of extras. Still, Spielberg accepted all the blame himself. "It was all my fault," he said. "Nobody else made it go over budget."

8. GWYNETH PALTROW GOT HER PART THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY: CONNECTIONS.

Gwyneth Paltrow, who was 18 years old at the time, was cast as the teenage version of Wendy when Spielberg—her godfather and a close family friend—noticed she looked like Maggie Smith, who plays the elderly Wendy. Spielberg said he realized it when the Paltrow and Spielberg families were driving home from seeing The Silence of the Lambs

9. GLENN CLOSE HAS A CAMEO.

Glenn Close plays the (male) pirate who displeases Captain Hook and gets locked in a chest with a scorpion. 

10. THE KIDS ARE NAMED AFTER HANSEL AND GRETEL.

Peter Banning's kidnapped children are called Jack and Maggie, which are nicknames for John and Margaret. The German equivalents of those names, Johannes and Margarete, have the familiar diminutives of Hansel and Gretel. 

11. IT HAS MORE HOFFMAN THAN YOU REALIZED.

In addition to playing Captain Hook, Dustin Hoffman provides the voice of the airline pilot when the Bannings fly to England—appropriate, of course, because he says, "This is your captain speaking." Young Peter Pan is played by Hoffman's son, Max, then not quite 7 years old, and Max's older brother, Jake, appears as a Little League player. 

12. JULIA ROBERTS WAS HAVING A TERRIBLE TIME.

Her million-watt smile notwithstanding, America's sweetheart was miserable for much of the shoot because of problems in her personal life. She'd recently had a nasty breakup with Kiefer Sutherland, was beginning a new romance with Jason Patric, and was generally frail and exhausted. Defending her, Spielberg said, "Her biggest problem was timing. Her personal life fell apart, and she reported to work on the same weekend." She freaked out one day on the set when someone called for "Kieffo" (the name of Hoffman's stunt double) and Roberts misheard it as "Kiefer," i.e., Sutherland. "Call security. How did he get on the lot?" she asked the set coordinator, who cleared up the confusion. 

13. THE SET WAS CRAWLING WITH STARS, EVEN ONES WHO WEREN'T IN THE MOVIE.

One of Hollywood's top directors working with some of its biggest stars on one of the most expensive sets ever built—naturally, everyone wanted to stop by Sony Pictures Studios and see what all the fuss was about. Among the celebrities sighted on set were Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Michelle Pfeiffer, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Mel Gibson, Prince, and actual royalty: Queen Noor of Jordan. 

Additional sources: Steven Spielberg: A Biography, by Joseph McBride

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

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