Friday, July 22, 2022

Neon Badges: BEVERLY HILLS COP, Part 1

 by Anthony King

“The whole thing was in flux every day.”

The origin of Beverly Hills Cop is a stereotypical they said-he said-he said scenario.

Scenario 1: Michael Eisner had just been transferred from his job as the senior vice president in charge of programming at ABC to president and COO of Paramount Pictures movie studio. In 1976 his boss, Paramount chairman and CEO Barry Diller, gifted Eisner a brand new Mercedes convertible as a congratulations. The first day Eisner was driving his new car he was pulled over and given a speeding citation. He then started to think about how different being a police officer in Beverly Hills must be from being a cop in, say, downtown Los Angeles. Eisner suggested to Don Simpson, then an up and coming executive within the Paramount ranks, there may be a film somewhere in that idea.

Scenario 2: One afternoon Eisner was driving on the freeway in his beat up station wagon he had brought with him from the east coast. He was pulled over by a Beverly Hills police officer, and remembers the cop as being “extremely efficient, reasonably rude, with an air of superiority and quiet condescension.” Eisner assumed he was pulled over because “his battered station wagon wore its New York City heritage on its body and was unsuitable for symbol-conscious Hollywood.” The next day, Eisner traded in the wagon for a Mercedes and decided to commemorate the entire incident in a movie. “I went to the office and said we have to do a movie about a Hollywood cop.”

Scenario 3: In 1977 Don Simpson, then a young executive at Paramount, had an idea of a cop from East L.A. transferring to Beverly Hills.
Whatever and whenever the genesis of the story of a working-class cop operating among the rich and famous in Beverly Hills, it would still take multiple writers, multiple leading men, and nearly a decade to get the finished product. For the next five years, different writers took their turn with the script, but none were suitable. Then a young writer named Danilo Bach delivered a treatment that struck a chord with Don Simpson. With the working title “Beverly Drive,” Bach wrote a story about a cop from Pittsburgh named Elly Axel. While they felt they had the basic gist of a story, the script still wasn't what they were looking for. In 1983 Simpson teamed up with his friend and future partner Jerry Bruckheimer and got his first screen credit as producer on Adrian Lyne's Flashdance. That year, another young writer named Daniel Petrie Jr., whose father Daniel Petrie directed cult favorites like Buster and Billie, Lifeguard, and Fort Apache, The Bronx, was hired by Simpson to rewrite Bach's story and ended up handing in a script that was better than anything that had been submitted previously, and as close to anything Simpson had imagined. “It was wonderful,” recalled Bruckheimer. The biggest change? Elly Axel was now Axel Elly, and instead of Pittsburgh he came from Detroit. Now came time to cast the lead fish of our fish-out-of-water story. Richard Pryor was considered; Al Pacino, hot off his incredible run in the '70s, was contacted, but he was already signed on for a little film directed by Brian De Palma playing a Cuban drug lord; James Caan and Harrison Ford were looked at but they weren't “out-of-water” enough. And then one day Don Simpson was looking through a magazine and ran across a picture of an extremely handsome young man who had just come off of Barry Levinson's Diner. Simpson ripped the page out, held it up to Bruckheimer, and said, “Isn't he great?” Calls were made, hands were shook, signatures were signed, and Mickey Rourke was signed on to play the lead cop who went through yet another name change, in a movie that had received a new title: Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop. But, as is the case in Hollywood, production was delayed. Then delayed again. And again. Finally, Rourke had to back out of his contract so he could make his next film with Stuart Rosenberg, The Pope of Greenwich Village.

One of the causes for the delay was the search for a director. Beverly Hills Cop was first offered to Martin Scorsese, but he turned it down citing the fact that the story reminded him of Coogan's Bluff. Next the offer went to David Cronenberg, who was primarily known for his sci-fi and horror work. Needless to say, Cronenberg passed. Simpson and Bruckheimer had no director, and now they had no star, and they found themselves dead in the water. Don Simpson needed a short vacation, so while relaxing on a beach he received an urgent call from Paramount. “I thought somebody had died,” he remembers. But instead the news broke that Sylvester Stallone had just signed a contract to star in their film. Sly wasn't yet the blockbuster action star we think of now. He'd written, directed, and starred in some remarkable pictures that showed his range. Probably best know for Rocky at the time, Stallone had also written, directed, and/or starred in The Lords of Flatbush, Paradise Alley, First Blood, and Nighthawks, proving that he could play a cop that would go to any lengths to get the job done.
Stallone says, “When I read the script, I thought they’d sent it to the wrong house. Somehow, me trying to comically terrorize Beverly Hills is not the stuff that great yuk-festivals are made from. So I rewrote the script to suit what I do best,” meaning, this was going to be a full-on action film. Nevertheless, Simpson and Bruckheimer were back in business, and they had one of the biggest rising stars in Hollywood as their leading man. Simpson remembered Stallone's rewrite having “heart, passion, and pathos. It was superb. It had more edge and more of the blood vengeance motif.” His rewrite also included another character name change: Axel Foley was now Axel Cobretti. “By the time I was done, it looked like the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan on the beaches of Normandy. Believe it or not, the finale was me in a stolen Lamborghini playing chicken with an oncoming freight train being driven by the ultra-slimy bad guy.” Naturally, this course of action, says Petrie, “had the effect of raising the budget to a level that was higher than Paramount wanted to spend on the picture.” Now questions were being raised about what type of movie they were really making here. For two days, Stallone, Petrie, Simpson, and Bruckheimer debated about whose script to shoot. Both were great, but Sly's “didn't have the fish-out-of-water theme or the tension between street-smart and 'by-the-book' police.” Then, two weeks before production was slated to begin, it was decided that they would shoot Petrie's script. Sly says, “Needless to say, they drop kicked me and my script out of the office, and the rest is history.”

Petrie remembers “Paramount asked Stallone if he was willing to do my script or alternatively he could take the stuff I had written for him and all of the stuff that he had written and make another movie out of it, so long as it wasn't about a cop who came from out of town to Beverly Hills. By that time, the movie was so different that he was able to do that and he was extremely gracious about it and took that suggestion.” Of course, Stallone did take his his rewritten script and in 1986 made Cobra. Once again, and for the last time, Simpson assumed, the film was D.O.A. Nearly a decade with multiple screenplays by multiple screenwriters, plus $2 million already invested by the studio were going up in flames. On top of everything else, this string of failures and collapses were not making Don Simpson look like a capable producer. “I saw the film falling apart,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg who was then Paramount's president of production. Barry Diller, about to pull the plug on the whole thing said, “What are we going to do? We don't have a movie.” At that moment, Don Simpson said a name: Eddie Murphy. Diller pulled the stogie from his mouth, thought for a second, and said, “I love it!”
Unbeknownst to anyone else, Don Simpson had already been talking with Eddie Murphy. Simpson said, ''I told Eddie about it a month before Sly dropped out and he went crazy. He loved it. He wanted to know why he hadn't been exposed to it.'' Simpson and Bruckheimer sent Eddie the script, and flew out to New York to have dinner with their potential star; their last hope. At dinner, after plenty of talk, Eddie said, “Enough of this. Do you guys want to make the film or not?” Simpson turned to Bruckheimer and said, “Call L.A. We've got him.”

Edward Regan Murphy was born on April 3, 1961 in Brooklyn. His parents divorced when he was three years old, and five years later Eddie's father was stabbed to death by a scorned lover. Being raised by a single mother – including a year in foster care when his mother took ill – Eddie developed a sense of humor early on to combat difficult situations. At 15, Eddie listened to a Richard Pryor album and decided then and there he would grow up to be a comedian. Eddie developed characters and impersonations based on his other heroes like Peter Sellers, Bill Cosby, Redd Foxx, Robin Williams, Bruce Lee, and Charlie Chaplin. On July 9, 1976, Eddie performed in a talent show at the Roosevelt Youth Center doing an impersonation of Al Green, marking the start of his career. This opportunity led to other jobs at night clubs in and around the Bushwick neighborhood.

In 1981 Eddie gained national notoriety as a cast member of Saturday Night Live with characters like a grown-up version of the Little Rascals' Buckwheat, a Mr. Rogers parody called Mr. Robinson, and a grumpy version of Gumby. Then in 1982, producer Joel Silver and director Walter Hill took a chance on Eddie and cast him alongside Nick Nolte in Hill's 48 Hrs. Everyone knew Eddie was funny, but could he act? His performance as fast talking con artist-cum-detective Reggie Hammond answered that question with a resounding yes! The film, which did extremely well at the box office, also made Eddie a movie star. During his Rolling Stone interview, Eddie remembered how important that film was to his career. “My significance in film – and again I’m not going to be delusional – was that I’m the first black actor to take charge in a white world on-screen. That’s why I became as popular as I became. People had never seen that before. Black-exploitation movies, even if you dealt with the Man, it was in your neighborhood, never in their world. In 48 Hrs. that’s why it worked, because I’m running it, making the story go forward.”
The following year, Eddie released his first stand-up special called Delirious on HBO, which proved to be a screaming success, leading to a second special called Eddie Murphy Raw, released theatrically in 1987. Also in 1983, Eddie teamed with John Landis for the first time acting alongside his SNL cohort Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places. Then in July of 1984, Eddie was credited as a “Strategic Guest Star” in the Dudley Moore comedy Best Defense. Because the original cut of the film tested so poorly with audiences, Eddie was later added in. That still didn't help the film, which proved to be a major financial and critical failure. Eddie, while hosting SNL later that year, called it “The worst movie in the history of everything.” But in December of 1984, Eddie was going to bowl the world over.

On top of trying to find their lead, producers were also having a heck of a time nailing down a director. Scorsese and Cronenberg were no-gos, so Simpson and Bruckheimer turned to a director who was hailed a “wunderkind” while at the American Film Institute for his surrealistic student film Hot Tomorrows, Martin Brest. After graduating from A.F.I., Brest wrote and directed the hysterically touching geriatric heist comedy Going in Style starring George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg. While the film was received well by critics and audiences, it didn't exactly send Brest's career off to the races. It would be another five years until Simpson and Bruckheimer reached out to him and offered him a job to direct their film. But Brest was “gun-shy.” He had recently been fired from WarGames and didn’t know if he would ever direct again. “I was scared,” said Brest in a New York Times interview. “My next film could have been my last. I wanted to make sure that the next job I took would be absolutely brilliant. So I kept declining. I thought the tone was wrong. There were nuggets strewn throughout. But I thought it needed a lot of changes. I was concerned there wouldn't be time.” Knowing they were against the clock ticking down on their own careers, Simpson and Bruckheimer persisted. “He's smart and funny, and funny and smart is tough to get.” Finally, Brest took his phone off the hook and Simpson gave up. But Bruckheimer wouldn't let it go. He pursued Brest like a hawk. To amuse his suitors and to get them off his back, Brest flipped a coin. “I was scared to look. But I had made a firm commitment to adhere to the outcome. It came up heads, so I said I'd do it.” Simpson and Bruckheimer had staved off the career grim reaper yet again, and production was only two weeks away.
There was so much work to get done and so little time before principal shooting began. There needed to be more rewrites for the script; locations needed to be scouted; supporting cast needed to be filled out. Eddie undertook the rewrites as the dialogue needed to be something he would be comfortable saying. Brest headed to Michigan to scout locations for the few scenes they would be shooting in Detroit. While he was there he met Homicide Detective Gilbert R. Hill, who was in charge of showing them around the city. Brest loved his time with Hill and saw a father-son quality between him and Eddie, and suspected they could really play off one another. So Hill was hired as Foley's superior, Inspector Todd, and being a real life cop, ended up becoming a role model for Eddie in creating his character.

The two other key players in Beverly Hills Cop were really created during their auditions. The characters of Taggart and Rosewood were originally supposed to be more hard-nosed than what they ended up being in the film. Rosewood, for instance, was more of an anti-authority loose cannon called Siddons, and ended up being killed in a blaze of glory in one of Stallone's rewrites. During auditions, Brest would pair up different actors during callbacks and ask them to improvise a bit so he could get a sense of their chemistry. One of the pairs was John Ashton and Judge Reinhold. Ashton had done plenty of TV and had a few smaller, serious roles in movies like Breaking Away and Borderline. Reinhold had had a few chances to show off his comedic chops in big hits including Stripes and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In their tandem audition, Brest gave them direction of being a long-married middle-aged couple just having a normal conversation. Reinhold picked up a magazine and said, “Wow. You know, it says here that by the time the average American is fifty, he's got five pounds of undigested red meat in his bowels,” which, of course, became an exchange between Rosewood and Taggart in the movie. They were hired on the spot.
Everything had miraculously come into place just as the sun dawned on day one of principal photography. Now Simpson and Bruckheimer were ready to make a movie. They just didn't know how big this movie would become.

Next week: production gets underway, Eddie Murphy becomes a superstar, and Paramount ends up with a mega hit.

1 comment:

  1. One of the rare action franchise that has not become a tv show yet, or nostalgia sequelized. Though i'm sure they're trying