Back in 1988, Tim Burton unleashed Beetlejuice on the world. While Pee-wee’s Big Adventure announced Burton’s arrival in Hollywood, his second feature is the one that kicked the doors in and endeared him to the alternative culture. Additionally, the movie managed to rack up a healthy amount of awards as well as becoming a cult classic in the process.
Speaking about the movie to Uproxx, cinematographer Tom Ackerman recalled the fond experience of working on it. “I have to say that Beetlejuice was one of those movies in which it gave all of us a chance to do our best work. As such, it’s hard for me to isolate a given scene or shot,” he said. “Tim [Burton] led us to do a movie that really worked. I suppose you could say that’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
While it does seem like the cast and crew had a whale of a time on set, it wasn’t all roses and sunshine. There’s a lot of stuff that happened behind the scenes and many things that fans don’t know about the movie. That’s why we’re here – to uncover the nitty-gritty.
With that said, it’s showtime! Here are the 15 Shocking Things You Didn’t Know About Beetlejuice.
15. Michael Keaton Only Spent Two Weeks On Set
Interestingly, despite Michael Keaton receiving top billing for Beetlejuice, he appeared in less than 20% of the movie and only rocked up around the 25-minute mark. (So, Jared Leto can suck on that when he complains about his Juggalo Joker being cut from David Ayer’s Suicide Squad.)
As a result of this, Keaton was only required to be on set for two weeks. That’s an incredibly short time for any lead actor, so he must’ve been thrilled about this since he’s been rather frank about how he enjoys having time to himself (to go fishing).
14. Jeffrey Jones Is A Convicted Felon
Jeffrey Jones built up quite an extensive career for himself, acting in movies such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Crucible, Stuart Little, and Beetlejuice. All his good work, however, came crashing down in 2002 after he was nabbed for possession of illegal photos and the solicitation of a 14-year-old boy to pose for them.
In 2003, Jones pleaded no contest to the solicitation charge, while the possession charge was dropped as it was considered a misdemeanor.
As a result, his punishment was five years probation, counseling, and the requirement to register as an offender.
13. The Original Script Was Much Darker
While Beetlejuice is fondly remembered as a whimsical comedy, its original script leaned more towards the horror side of things. At a MoMA Tim Burton exhibit a few years ago, there were original versions of the script on display, complete with Burton’s notes and comments, which indicated a move away from the bleak to the lighthearted.
For one, the Maitlands’ car crash was meant to be far more gruesome than it was.
Two, Betelgeuse was meant to assault Lydia and not marry her as per the final version. Finally, Betelgeuse was a real nefarious and unlikable character.
12. Michael Keaton Originally Turned Down The Role
In many ways, Michael Keaton is similar to Bill Murray. Neither actor is in the game for the money and tend to choose movies that interest them. Heck, you only need to look at why Keaton dropped out of Batman Forever, saying the script was terrible and he just wasn’t interested.
As such, it often takes a little bit of persuasion to convince these actors that a project is worth their time. For Keaton, he wasn’t too keen on Beetlejuice when he received the script. Tim Burton wasn’t to be deterred and headed off to meet with Keaton – and the rest is history.
Nowadays, Keaton cites Beetlejuice as one of the most fun movies that he ever made and a favorite of his filmography. Imagine if he’d stuck to his original decision and hadn’t let Burton twist his arm?
11. Betelgeuse Was Originally A Winged And Reptilian Demon
Most movies go through various rewrites and creative changes from what eventually becomes the final product – and Beetlejuice was no different.
In fact, ol’ Betelgeuse was depicted as a winged, reptilian demon whose human form is that of a Middle Eastern man in the original script.
This concept came from the brain of Michael McDowell, who worked with Larry Wilson on the story. Tim Burton, though, wanted to do something a little more different than what the two envisioned and brought Warren Skaaren on board to polish things up, aka change things.
Obviously, the character didn’t turn out the way that McDowell and Wilson originally conceived and we saw the bio-exorcist ghost morph into more of a used car salesman. Hey, things turned out for the better here, right?
10. “Day-O” Was Played At Glenn Shadix’s Funeral
One of the fondest memories of Beetlejuice is the dinner scene where the guests are supernaturally compelled to dance to Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)”. It’s such a fun, eccentric moment that sums up the tone of the movie beautifully.
In 2010, 58-year-old Glenn Shadix, who played Otho in the movie, fell in his kitchen and died of blunt trauma to his head. At his memorial service, the final song played was “Day-O” – a fitting sendoff to the gifted actor and a fan-favorite of the movie.
Shadix had been extremely proud of Beetlejuice, saying in a 2008 interview that was posted on his website, “We had so much fun filming this unusual and so very original movie that I had a feeling something very special was happening.”
9. Michael Keaton Ad-Libbed A Lot
It should come as no surprise that a Tim Burton movie set allows for creativity and actors to spread their wings and do the unconventional. Thus, we find it perfectly acceptable that Burton allowed star Michael Keaton to ad-lib his lines in the movie.
Considering that Keaton started out as predominantly a comedy actor, ad-libbing is second nature to him.
In an interview with Coming Soon, Keaton revealed how he improvised many of his lines in his first feature film.
“When I did Night Shift, I improvised quite a bit because I would improvise at the audition so sometimes I would return to the original lines and then when I was on set I would improvise even more,” he said.
8. The Snake Scene Was Filmed Before Michael Keaton Was Cast
As you all know, most movies aren’t filmed in the same linear sequence as the script; therefore, you might get the ending completed before the first scene is even shot. With Beetlejuice, Tim Burton took exactly the same approach.
The famous snake scene was actually done before Michael Keaton was cast as the lead character. Thus, an animatronic snake was utilized, which bore no likeness to him.
After Keaton joined up and additional footage was shot, it was decided to use a snake that looked more like Betelgeuse.
Apparently, this was at the behest of the studio execs, who felt the audience wouldn’t know the snake was actually Betelgeuse and not some other random monster. In retrospect, that was smart advice and added a little more character to the scene.
7. A Script For The Sequel Was Commissioned
Beetlejuice made good money for Warner Bros. From a budget of $15 million, it brought in over $73 million and developed a rabid following. Naturally, the smell of money was a temptation that couldn’t be resisted and a script for the sequel was commissioned.
In 1990, Burton hired Jonathan Gems to write Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian. The movie would’ve followed the Deetz family as they moved to Hawaii and then discovered their company was built on ancient burial grounds. Betelgeuse would be the hero and save the day by winning a surfing contest. Yes, we’re being completely serious about this plot.
The movie didn’t happen – and we’re a little bummed about it since it sounded insane. However, there have been talks that Burton will return for a Beetlejuice sequel, along with Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder. Maybe it’ll still be set in Hawaii?
6. Tim Burton Wanted Sammy Davis Jr. To Be Betelgeuse
While we can’t imagine anyone else but Michael Keaton as Betelgeuse nowadays, Tim Burton originally wanted someone else for the part: the legendary Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr.
This shouldn’t come, as a surprise as Burton was renowned for casting his movies a little more differently than others.
Plus, Burton was a really huge fan of Davis and wanted to work with him.
Interestingly, an earlier draft of the script called for Betelgeuse to be an African-American man, so it would make sense to get someone of Davis’ talent and caliber for the role.
5. Juliette Lewis Auditioned For The Role Of Lydia
Reportedly, actresses Molly Ringwald, Diane Lane, Sarah Jessica Parker, Brooke Shields, and Jennifer Connelly all turned down the role of Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice (maybe they thought the script was too weird?).
One actress in contention, though, was Juliette Lewis, who found fame in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers and as the flamboyant singer of Juliette and the Licks.
At the end of the day, Tim Burton decided to go with Winona Ryder after being wowed by her performance in 1986’s Lucas.
Ryder was only 17 years old when she filmed Beetlejuice.
4. Kirstie Alley Was The First Choice For Barbara
It has become widely known that Geena Davis immediately signed on to portray Barbara Maitland after meeting with Tim Burton. However, she wasn’t the first choice for Barbara.
Burton’s original pick for the part was Cheers star Kirstie Alley. Sadly, she wasn’t able to take the role because the show’s producers wouldn’t let her out of her contract. That’s a real bummer, isn’t it?
Truth be told, Alley isn’t the first or the last star to lose out on a role because of a TV show commitment. In fact, it’s probably due to these contract issues that most movie stars are reluctant to sign long-term TV deals. Look at how Michael Keaton didn’t want to commit to J.J. Abrams’ Lost for the exact same reason.
3. Catherine O’Hara Met Her Future Husband On Set
We’re pretty certain that no cast or crew member plans on meeting their future partner while working on a movie, but that’s what happened to actress Catherine O’Hara and production designer Bo Welch on the Beetlejuice set.
Welch told Uproxx the story of how the relationship happened: “Towards the end of the movie Tim [Burton] told me, we were shooting in Vermont, ‘You should ask Catherine out.’ And I said, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you should ask her out.’ It didn’t even occur to me that I was even supposed to talk to actors.”
“But since Tim told me to I did and then we dated and we’re married and here we are today,” he said.
2. Anjelica Huston Was Almost Cast As Delia
As the rumor goes, Anjelica Huston was all but set to play Delia Deetz; however, she had to bow out of the production due to illness. Fortunately for Huston, she got another chance at an eccentric, dark comedy in the shape of Barry Sonnefeld’s The Addams Family.
Naturally, Tim Burton and company needed to find someone else for the part and offered it to actress Catherine O’Hara – but she initially declined Burton’s offer.
Not giving up, though, Burton flew out to meet and convince her about the part. O’Hara was immediately on board after meeting with the director. It sounds like Mr. Burton is quite the salesman – maybe that’s how he has convinced execs that he needs to cast Johnny Depp in nearly all of his projects.
1. The Movie Was Almost Called Scared Sheetless
Before Beetlejuice was settled on as the final name of the movie, there was a bit of back and forth regarding what it should be called. You see, a lot of a film’s marketability is in its title, so the studio wanted to make sure it was just right and didn’t think Beetlejuice was catchy enough.
Reportedly, House Ghosts was their preferred title, because being too on the nose is no such thing in Hollywood.
Tim Burton jokingly offered Scared Sheetless as an alternative and cheeky reference to the scene where the Maitlands attempt to scare the Deetz family out of the house by wearing bed sheets.
The studio thought he was serious and considered it. Fortunately, someone came to their senses and decided to keep the original name of Beetlejuice.
Do you know any other interesting things about Beetlejuice? Let us know in the comments section!
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