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