Screams, Rivalry and Sweat: The Real Story Behind Dirty Dancing

Dirty Dancing is close to turning 30 and no one - not even stars Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey - could have predicted the phenomenon it would become. Three decades later and we’re still talking about the dance-musical-romance’s sensual choreography, its oldies soundtrack, and abstaining from putting Baby in a corner. Here are some not-so-dirty facts about the iconic movie, which grossed nearly $215 million worldwide.


Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey Didn’t Get Along

Despite their on-screen chemistry, Patrick Swayze details in his autobiography about what it was like working with Jennifer Gray claiming, “We did have a few moments of friction when we were tired or after a long day of shooting. She seemed particularly emotional, sometimes bursting into tears if someone criticized her.”

Tension from a Previous Film

In 1984, the two also starred in “Red Dawn” and did not get along on that set, either. In fact, Patrick Swayze almost did not land the role because of their friction.

Both Were 10 Years Older Than Their Roles

Jennifer Grey was given about five minutes to prove she could be 16 years old. At the time, she was actually 26. Likewise, Patrick Swayze was supposed to be around 24, but in real life, he was 34 years old.

Johnny Castle Was Supposed To Be Italian

Billy Zane (you might know him the bad guy in “Titanic”) was first in line for the part of Johnny Castle, but his dance moves were less than stellar. Patrick Swayze was perfect for the role, so they rewrote the character as Irish.

Dr. Ruth Backed Out of a Role

Dr. Ruth is a famous sex therapist. She was offered the role of Mrs. Schumacher, but she turned it down because the character was a petty thief.

It Was Filmed in the South

The movie takes place in upstate New York, but all of the scenes were actually shot in the south. The outdoors was filmed at a camp in Lake Lure, North Carolina. The indoor scenes were completed at a resort in Mountain Lake, Virginia.

Everyone Expected a Flop

The test screenings did so poorly; they almost skipped theaters and went straight to video. However, the movie went on to become a huge hit, grossing $215 million worldwide on a $5 million budget.

Patrick Swayze Thought the Film Had a Lot of ‘Heart’

Swayze was quoted as saying, “On a certain level, it’s really about the fabulous, funky little Jewish girl getting the guy because what she’s got in her heart.”

Bill Medley Thought “Time of My Life” Was For a Bad Porno

Bill Medley turned down the job to sing the now-hit song, thinking the title of the movie meant it was a bargain bin porno, but he obviously came around. He did a duet with Jennifer Warnes and even won an Oscar, Golden Globe, and Grammy for the song.

Based On True Events

The story was actually inspired by screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein’s real-life experience. Her family would visit the Catskills resort throughout the 1960s; her father was a Jewish doctor, her nickname was ‘baby’ until she was 22 years old, and she learned how to dance dirty at house parties.

The Movie Started as a Deleted Scene

In her film 1980 romantic drama, “It’s My Turn,” Eleanor Bergstein wrote a dirty-dancing scene, but it was later cut. She was inspired to create an entire movie based off that cut scene.

The Title Came First

Producer Lisa Gottlieb and writer Eleanor Bergstein met for lunch to throw around ideas. “I said, ‘Well what’s the story?’ And she said, ‘I don’t really have a story, but it should involve Latin dancing…'”

A Bad Crowd

Writer Elanor Bergstein created the story based on her own life and drew from her past inspirations, but none of those people could help because, “My old partners are either in jail or out on parole … it was a very rough neighborhood.”

A Freezing Cold Lake

The lake scene was literally freezing at only 40 degrees. They couldn’t film any close up because the actors’ lips were blue.

Patrick Swayze Hated the Famous Line

“Nobody puts Baby in the corner” is an iconic line that everyone knows if they have ever seen “Dirty Dancing.” However, Patrick Swayze could not stand it and wanted to get rid of it altogether. Now it’s the most famous quote of the movie and in retrospect, he admitted that it worked.

Johnny Was Inspired By a Tough Cookie

The inspiration for Johnny was supposedly a dancer named Michael Terrace that Bergstein knew in Brooklyn. "I remember when I was making the film, I was going through the dance steps with the director and the choreographer and they said 'Eleanor, maybe you should get some of your old partners to dance with you' and I said, 'My old partners are either in jail or out on parole," she recalled. "It was a very rough neighborhood."

The Movie Was a Hit at the Box Office

The movie cost just $5 million to make. It earned $64 million at the North American box office and a total of $170 million worldwide. It was number 11 on the most grossing movies of 1987.

Jilted Johnnies

Val Kilmer turned down the chance to smolder up the screen as dance instructor Johnny Castle, opening the door for Billy Zane. When Zane and Jennifer Grey delivered zippo in the chemistry department, Patrick Swayze pirouetted on into the production.

Conan O’Brien Was Responsible for the Film’s Rerelease

The film was re-released in 1997 due to a petition led by Conan O'Brien in which he asked viewers to send letters calling for the film's re-release. O'Brien later joked that he actually didn't like the movie that much.

Jennifer Grey

Baby stole the hearts of 80’s audiences with her off kilter beauty. A botched nosejob left her pretty much unrecognizable, and she stayed out of the limelight for quite a few years. In 2010, she appeared on and won Dancing With The Stars, putting her back center stage when she was 50 years old. She’s also married to actor Clark Gregg, who is famous for his role as Agent Phil Coulson in the Marvel Universe.

Patrick Swayze

Johnny Castle was every woman’s favorite part of Dirty Dancing. With his slick moves, gorgeous good looks, and charming demeanor, he managed to steal the hearts of fans everywhere. Patrick made many successful movies over his career most noticeably, Ghost, Roadhouse, Point Break, and To Wong Foo With Love. He passed away in 2009 at age 57 after a brutal battle with pancreatic cancer.

Cynthia Rhodes

Penny Johnson was Johnny’s tall, beautiful dancing partner. Rhodes went on to appear as an actress and dancer in other films like Flashdance and Staying Alive. Now she is freshly divorced from singer Richard Marx. She spent the majority of her life after Dirty Dancing raising her three boys as a stay at home mom.

Lonny Price

Neil Kellerman was the dorky son of the resort’s owner. With his ridiculous dance moves, he was always trying to woo Baby away from Johnny. Price had other minor roles in the 80’s, including in The Muppets Take Manhattan. After that he mainly worked as a director of various soap operas including One Life To Live, for which he won an Emmy in 1995, and then moved on to direct Broadway productions, which he still does today.

Jane Bruckner

Lisa was the annoying older sister of Baby and the perfect portrayal of the nightmare sibling. She’s 58 years old now, and mainly works as a screenwriter with very few acting roles over the years.

Max Cantor

Cantor played the slimy waiter Robbie. As he tried to bed half the girls at the resort, one couldn’t help but root against him. Sadly his downfall came in real life because he only made two films before he died of a heroin overdose in 1991 at age 32.

Miranda Garrison

Garrison played the vixen Vivian who just wanted a few “dance lessons” with Johnny because her own marriage was lacking desire. She made a career as a choreographer on many different films over the years including Mulholland Falls.

Neal Jones

Johnny’s younger cousin Billy was the one who helped Baby carry a watermelon. At 56 years old, Jones has had a long career in many films and television appearances including Devil’s Advocate and Law and Order.

Kelly Bishop

Kelly Bishop played Baby’s oblivious mom. After that she went on to a long career in film and television. She’s best known for her role as the matriarch on Gilmore Girls for seven years, and at 72 is still actively acting, she will appear in the Gilmore Girls reboot that will air on Netflix.

Jerry Orbach

Jerry Orbach played the poor dad, Jake, who only wanted his two girls to behave like ladies. Orbach went on to appear in many film and television roles including a long stint on Law and Order as Lennie Briscoe for 12 years. Sadly he passed away from prostate cancer at age 69 in 2004.

Jack Weston

Max Kellerman was the owner of the resort. At 71-years-old, Weston has had a long career in film and television, but died in 1996. His last movie was “Short Circuit 2” in 1988.