by Will Padilla
Although 2020 was terrible in almost every other way, we had the great fortune to speak with a number of 1980s icons who helped us prove that our favorite decade was the best for pop culture. While we learned much during those conversations, here are the Top 5 items revealed by our guests this year.
5. Planes, Trains and Missed Opportunities
Long before her recurring roles in “The Boys,” “Homeland,” and the “The Blacklist,” Laila Robins made her feature film debut in the holiday classic “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” But “Planes” wasn’t the first movie she was offered (and it wasn’t the first time she was to appear opposite Steve Martin on screen.) Having completed her training at The Yale School of Drama, Robins longed for a bohemian career on stage. Her ultimate goal: to perform on the Guthrie Theater, the legendary hometown theater that Robins’ frequented with her family when she was a child. Robins’ break on stage, however, came quickly and was bigger than she could have anticipated. In 1984, she was cast on Broadway opposite Jeremy Irons in a role originated by Glenn Close.
It was at this time, Robins revealed to us on a recent episode, that she was offered a role of Anna Crowley in “The Money Pit.” But after a screen test, the producers had second thoughts. They told the then up-and-coming actor, “Laila, you're funny, but you're not wacky, and so we're going to kind of look around a little bit more." A short while later, however, while Robins continued her role on Broadway, the film’s producers had another change of heart and once again offered her the part. “But by then I was kind of a little insecure about well, I'm not wacky enough,” Robin’s told us in November, “and I passed on it. I passed on working with Tom Hanks. What was I thinking?” (The role eventually went to Shelley Long.) Of course, Robins has worked consistently since the 1980s and has appeared in most of the hit dramatic shows of the last ten years.
For stories about other roles Robins nearly nabbed—and some behind-the-scenes insights into “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”—listen here.
4. If Only It Were Bigger on the Inside
Having recently watched “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” it’s as if we have stepped into a fantastical, magic phone booth and leapt forward in time. Although it seems like just yesterday, the first film in the “Bill & Ted” trilogy premiered more than 30 years ago. Despite the number of years that have passed, however, Alex Winter (“Bill”) still remembers many details from the original production. Some of which he may want to forget.
During our interview with Winter, he revealed to us that the phone booth used in the “Excellent Adventure” was not modified to accommodate the many actors who were crammed into it. In fact, it was an authentic “ratty, old phone booth that they stuck the circuits of time in.” And while, unlike Dr. Who’s fictional transport, the size of the booth left the actors cramped inside, that didn’t cause the most discomfort for Winter. “We shot in Phoenix and it was extremely hot,” Winter told us. “And it was very challenging and smelly. Very, very smelly.” The biggest culprit was the 16th president of the United States. Well, at least, the wardrobe donning the actor portraying him. “I don’t know why Abe Lincoln smelled like he had been alive for 200 years,” Winter said, “but he did.” Winter continued, “I think it was just his wardrobe was like a giant black blanket.”
For more behind-the-scenes details about “Bill & Ted,” and Winter’s other cult classic “Freaked,” listen here.
3. Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Forgery
Harold Faltermeyer is probably best known for his groundbreaking score of 1984’s “Beverly Hills Cop.” His soundtrack for the Eddie Murphy-starring vehicle, which includes the hit “Axel F,” relied entirely on synthesizers to create the mood of the action-packed film. Additionally, Faltermeyer composed the hit song “The Heat Is On,” which was performed by Glenn Frey. And Faltermeyer’s contributions to 1980s pop culture, didn’t end there. In the years that followed, He scored another nine films, including “Top Gun” and “The Running Man,” and composed and/or produced hit records for Billy Idol, Donna Summer and Patti LaBelle.
As Faltermeyer revealed to us on the podcast, however, the success with his first hit film brought him many similar offers, one of which drove him from Hollywood. “The thing is that with a blockbuster and an innovation like ‘Beverly Hills Cop,’” Faltermeyer said, “you made something new, you created something which was not there before. So, everybody wanted to have that.” Upon completing 1987’s “Fatal Beauty,” yet another buddy cop film, Faltermeyer said auf wiedersehen to the genre. Or so he thought. For it was actually 1992’s “Kuffs,” another action comedy film, that saw Faltermeyer flee Hollywood for the literally greener pastures of his Austrian home. “And then I was sitting there, and I was listening to one of the themes [for “Kuffs”], and I said, ‘What the hell am I doing? I'm copying myself,’ and this can be.” From there Faltermeyer moved on to other projects, including producing “Behaviour” the fourth studio album from The Pet Shop Boys.
For more from Harold Faltermeyer listen to the entire episode here.
2. Frontman of FEAR Looks for Peace
Although Lee Ving formed the iconic punk band FEAR in the late 1970s, the group first found success in the early 1980s. Following a hostile performance in 1981’s “The Decline of Western Civilization,” in which Ving verbally accosted the audience, FEAR next burst into living rooms with an explosive—formerly banned—appearance on Saturday Night Live. Then, in 1982, the group released the punk classic “The Record,” which included a collection of raunchy, edgy and sometimes ironic songs.
A decade later, Ving teamed with Dave Mustaine of Megadeth to release "The Craving", the sole album from the duo's side project MD.45. That version included vocals and harmonica by Ving. In 2004, Mustaine reworked the album replacing Ving's tracks with his own. Regarding the 2004 re-release, Ving told us in ___ that it was done "without any notification or preparation, like notifying the guy who sang it first." When asked if Mustaine had contacted him since, Ving said that Mustaine had "not reached out in practically any way."
But Ving would like some closure to the matter. "In fact," Ving said of Mustaine, "if I knew how to call him, I would, just to get pressure off the matter. And we could be what friends we could be."
Listen to the entire profanity-laden, song-filled interview here.
1. Dignity Has No Price
In “Caddyshack,” little-known Cindy Morgan stole scenes from the entertainment giants Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Ted Knight. It’s an impressive feat made all the more amazing given that Lacey Underall was Morgan’s first role in a feature film. Two years later in 1982, Morgan would appear in a different kind of breakthrough role, this time as Lora/Yori in the largely computer-generated “Tron.” Once again, Morgan’s talent and charm easily cut through the darkness of movie theaters even alongside veteran Jeff Bridges. That said, it’s peculiar that a performer with her skills and beauty—seemingly destined for big screen success—would only appear in two films throughout her career.
As Morgan revealed to us on the podcast in April, however, her absence from cinema was the result of a nefarious cause. “I didn't work for a long time,” Morgan said, “because [“Caddyshack” producer] Jon Peters made good on his promise to blacklist me.” According to Morgan, Peters told her she’d “never [expletive] work again” because she refused to shoot a nude pictorial for Playboy that Peters had scheduled. To make matters worse, Morgan’s agent sided with Peters. Morgan fired her agent and declined the photo shoot, but said that Hollywood executives are vindictive. “If you dare to speak up and defend yourself…they will get even with you forever.” In spite of losing business opportunities, Morgan is happy to have maintained her integrity. “I went home that night and I looked in the mirror thinking, ‘Okay, you just throw this all away.’ But can I tell you something? I could look myself in the eye. It was the best thing I ever did.”
Listen to more behind-the-scenes stories about “Caddyshack” and “Tron” from Cindy Morgan here.