‘I Had the Most Absurd Nightmare’: 15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Trading Places’
It was the fourth highest-grossing film of 1983. It’s the one where the rich people are the villains, but our heroes get to become rich, too. It’s the one with the slurs, Jamie Lee Curtis’ boobs and one of the grossest salmon scenes in comedy history. It’s Trading Places, and here are some facts about it…
’Black and White’
“I got a call from Jeff Katzenberg, the executive at Paramount at that time, asking if I would read a script called Black and White, which I thought was a lousy title — ironically black or white was something I did with Michael Jackson several years later,” director John Landis said in an oral history of the film. “It was very old fashioned, a social comedy very much like the screwball stuff done in the 1930s.”
Inspired by Tennis-Playing Doctors
“There were these two brothers who were both doctors who I would play tennis with on a fairly regular basis,” co-writer Tim Harris told Business Insider, “and they were incredibly irritating to play with because they had a major sibling rivalry going, all the time about everything. So they always had to be separated, you know, play on the other team. And they were very wealthy but also incredibly cheap — we would play on public courts where it was like a couple of bucks for four guys for an hour. And they’d have arguments about who was coming up with 50 cents, and I think one very hot day I played with them, and I just came home and was fed up with it, and I just thought, ‘God, I just don’t want to play with these people, they’re awful.’
“And I had the idea of them betting on a nature/nurture situation with somebody in their company, and I’d pretty much worked out the whole thing, and went over to Herschel’s (his co-writer) and told it to him and he thought it was fabulous. At the time I was living in what was a fairly run-down part of L.A. near Fairfax Avenue that was completely crime-ridden. I lived in an apartment complex where everybody either had a gun held to their head or been raped or whatever — just a very criminal environment — that was part of it I suppose as well.”
On the Movie’s Blackface
“I was in blackface in that film, and I probably couldn’t get away with it now,” Aykroyd told The Daily Beast this year. “Eddie and I were improvising there. Eddie is a Black man and his entourage were all Black people, and I don’t think they batted an eye. There was no objection then; nobody said anything. It was just a good comic beat that was truthful to the story. I probably wouldn’t choose to do a blackface part, nor would I be allowed to do it (today). I probably wouldn’t be allowed to do a Jamaican accent, white face or Black. In these days we’re living in, all that’s out the window. I would be hard-pressed to do an English accent and get away with it. They’d say, ‘Oh, you’re not English, you can’t do it.’”
Eddie Murphy, Still Relatively Unknown
“(Eddie) was just starting out and developing his comedic gift and comedic voice,” Aykroyd remembers. “To see and be a part of a talent emerging like that was part of film history.”
The Studio Didn’t Want Jamie Lee Curtis
During an interview with Yahoo!, Curtis recalled how, at the time, she was trying to move away from horror films. “The only decision I ever made in my life, literally, career-wise, was (when) I just said, ‘After Halloween II, I’m done.’ ’Cause I knew show business pretty well. And I understood that if I didn’t try for something else…”
“(Paramount) did not want me,” she remembers about the casting of her character, Ophelia. “Nobody else wanted me. I guarantee you, John Landis was the only person who said, ‘She’s going to play this part.’ And without that moment, I wouldn’t have now the career that I get to have.”
“She had just made Halloween II, for which she’d been paid I think $1 million,” Landis remembers, “and we paid her probably $70,000. When I cast her, the studio went nuts. I was called into the head of the studio’s office and he said, ‘This woman’s a B-movie actress,’ and I said, ‘Not after this movie!’ But boy they really didn’t like the fact that I cast Danny and Jamie.”
Not a Fan of the Topless Scene
While Curtis has said that she’s grateful for Landis betting on her and subsequently helping her diversify her movie career, she felt embarrassed doing the topless scene. “I was 21 years old, and the part required Ophelia to take off her dress,” she said. “Did I like doing it? No. Did I feel embarrassed that I was doing it? Yes. Did I look okay? Yeah. Did I know what I was doing? Yeah. Did I like it? No. Was I doing it because it was the job? Yes. I wouldn’t do it today; it’s the last thing in the world I would do now.”
Written for Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder
Landis originally had the two comedy heavyweights in mind, but then Pryor mistakenly set himself on fire. Murphy was pitched after Landis saw the preview of 48 Hours.
Can You Spot Giancarlo Esposito?
Widely known today as Gus Fring from Breaking Bad fame, Esposito was “Cellmate #2” in Trading Places. “I was in awe of Eddie Murphy,” Esposito said back in 2013. “At that time, I was probably a little jealous of Eddie Murphy. Because you work all your early career to be a dramatic actor, and then this guy, a comedian with an affable personality who’s incredibly talented, just shoots right by you to stardom. But that day, we became friends.”
Revitalizing Aykroyd’s Career
By the time Trading Places came around, no one was sure if Aykroyd would have another box-office hit without his late onscreen Blues Brother, John Belushi. Trading Places, of course, was a hit and would lead to Aykroyd enjoying a successful decade with films like Ghostbusters and Driving Miss Daisy — the former making him a cult classic figure and the latter earning him an Oscar nomination.
Jim Belushi As a Drunk Man in a Gorilla Suit
That is all.
G. Gordon Liddy As Clarence Beeks
Yes, the infamous Watergate conspirator was apparently strongly considering playing the Dukes’ security expert (ultimately portrayed by Paul Gleason), but allegedly dropped out after learning about the sexual assault at the hands of a gorilla by the end of the movie.
“It was in the script that the final scenes were in Chicago at the commodities exchange,” Landis told Business Insider, “but they would not let us shoot there. We really had tried every which way to get permission to shoot there, and I think truthfully once they saw we had a clear understanding of how it worked, it was like, ‘No!’ So we ended up at the commodities exchange in New York, which was at the World Trade Center at the time. About 90 percent (of the floor traders in the movie) were actual traders, and a great deal of it I shot during actual trading hours. They were into it — if anything they were less rough. I was quite taken aback at how physically rough it was — they really elbowed one another. It was like a contact sport. They were basically trading like 8 or 9 hours a day, so we were in there for 3 to 4 hours on two days between opening and closing, and we got a lot done. I actually shot some ‘guerrilla’ stuff there that I used in the movie.”
The ‘Eddie Murphy Rule’
In 2010, the “Eddie Murphy Rule” law came into effect that banned the use of “non-public information from agencies like the U.S. Treasury, Federal Reserve and Department of Agriculture to trade in the futures market.”
The Curtis Sisters
Jamie Lee Curtis’ sister, Kelly, has a part in the movie as Muffy, one of the tennis players.
Well, with an Ending Like That…
“Somebody came up to me recently and said it was because of Trading Places that he’d gone into the world of finance, which is like a huge paradigm turn — that a film written as satire of that world ends up inspiring somebody to go into that world and make a lot of money,” co-writer Harris said in film’s oral history. Now, that’s funny.