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Pretty Woman
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Pretty Woman

Pretty Woman (1990), directed by Garry Marshall and starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere was a modern-day Cinderella story. Or a Cinderella story with a twist. Prince Charming is a businessman and Cinderella is a street walker. Like Cinderella, she gets her fella in the end. It's a Disney film, after all.

The original script, titled 3000 by J.F. Lawton, was much darker. Vivian (Roberts) is a drug-addicted hooker who is rescued for a week by Edward (Gere) and then returned to the streets. Of course it had to be changed. Roberts described the original script as "a really dark and depressing, horrible, terrible story about two horrible people and my character was this drug addict, a bad-tempered, foulmouthed, ill-humored, poorly educated hooker who had this weeklong experience with a foulmouthed, ill-tempered, bad-humored, very wealthy, handsome but horrible man and it was just a grisly, ugly story about these two people." The author concurred, "the original story of 3000 was basically like the movie Pretty Woman except for the ending - he didn't fall in love with her in the original script, and she does end up back on the street." Lawton, a 28 year-old film trailer editor and aspiring screenwriter had directed scenes from the script for the Sundance Institute (Robert Redford's incubator for aspiring filmmakers in Utah). It was bought by Vestron Pictures to be shot as a low-budget film using the original script.

Gary Goldstein, a producer at Vestron thought Julia Roberts would be ideal as Vivian after seeing her in Mystic Pizza (1988) and sent the script to her agent, Elaine Goldsmith. Roberts, despite her description of the original screenplay "chased it down like a dog. I just loved it. My reaction to her was a balance of intrigue and fear - the same balance I felt toward Daisy in Mystic Pizza and Shelby in Steel Magnolias [1989]." As Roberts was falling in love with the character of Vivian, Vestron went out of business. Goldstein still had the rights to the script, and Roberts had no films lined up.

Enter Steve Reuther, a producer who liked the script. He and Arnon Milchan got involved and managed to interest both Universal and Touchstone Films (a division of Disney). After a bidding war, the rights to 3000 were sold to Touchstone for $17 million. With the sale came a happy ending. Garry Marshall had just directed Beaches (1988) for Touchstone. "Garry was a little nervous about making the ending too upbeat, because the script was well respected in Hollywood and he didn't want to be accused of being the guy who turned it into fluff," remembered Lawton, who was asked to do another draft of the script. "I did two drafts that made it more of a love story - they got together at the end. I took out the fact that he had a girlfriend he was cheating on with her and a few other things, and Disney's reaction was that I'd gone too far, lightened it up too much." Lawton was fired and another writer, Stephen Metcalfe, was hired to do a fourth draft, and Robert Garland for a fifth, and Barbara Benedek for a sixth. "Garry Marshall had a bunch of writers punching up material, one-liner people. At that point I threw up my hands. I heard rumors they were thinking of hiring me back, but that never happened," Lawton added.

Marshall's first meeting with Roberts was just as confusing. Roberts said, "He was saying 'I don't understand you. Some say you can't dress her up. Some say you can't dress her down. What do I do with you?' And I'd say, 'I don't understand you. You're funny but this script is bad and I don't understand what kind of job I'm trying to get.' So we both asked each other a lot of questions and even then until like the moment before we started to shoot the movie, I still was slightly bewildered and stayed in that state the whole filming of the movie."

Disney wasn't convinced that Roberts was the right woman for the role. Marshall tested her against several different actors, including Tom Conti, Sam Neill and Charles Grodin. "So we did the scene, and of course Charles is ad-libbing and was hysterical. In the middle of the scene I saw Julia suddenly take a stance and she started holding her own against Grodin. I had found her funny bone." It was only when Roberts told Disney that she would make another movie instead that they decided to go with her. Her salary was $300,000.

Finding a leading man proved just as challenging. John Travolta had auditioned and Richard Gere was suggested, but they learned that Gere had already read 3000 and rejected it. Roberts and Marshall went to Gere's apartment in New York to persuade him. Returning from the bathroom, Marshall saw the two sitting together. "They were bathed in this eerie light, and they looked so good together that I thought, 'We just have to get Richard.' I told Julia she had to persuade him to come on board." Eventually, they succeeded and the cast was rounded out by Jason Alexander, Hector Elizondo, Laura San Giacomo, and Ralph Bellamy.

The filming of Pretty Woman began on July 24, 1989 and locations included the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel on Rodeo Drive (the only hotel that would allow its exterior and lobby to be filmed), the former Ambassador Hotel, and various sites in San Francisco, including the War Memorial Opera House. Sets were built in Burbank to double as the hotel rooms and Edward's office. Roberts prepared for her part by talking to prostitutes on Hollywood Boulevard and learned that the girls weren't just prostitutes, but women with hopes and dreams and goals. It would be something she would inject into the character. Filming finished on October 18th and the movie was released on March 23, 1990.

Pretty Woman was an immediate smash. The critics were generally positive. Roger Ebert, writing for The Chicago Sun-Times was surprised that "Pretty Woman is such an innocent movie - that it's the sweetest and most openhearted love fable since The Princess Bride [1987]. Here is a movie that could have marched us down mean streets into the sinks of iniquity, and it glows with romance. [...] Gere and Roberts work easily together; we sense that their characters not only like one another, but feel comfortable with one another. The catch is, neither one trusts the feeling of comfort. They've been hurt so often, they depend on a facade of cynical detachment. Everything is business. He offers her money to spend one week with him, she accepts, he buys her clothes, they have sex and of course (this being the movies) they fall in love. [...] I mentioned that the movie is sweet and innocent. It is; it protects its fragile love story in the midst of cynicism and compromise. The performances are critical for that purpose. Gere plays new notes here; his swagger is gone, and he's more tentative, proper, even shy. Roberts does an interesting thing; she gives her character an irrepressibly bouncy sense of humor and then lets her spend the movie trying to repress it. Actresses who can do that and look great can have whatever they want in Hollywood. There could indeed be, I suppose, an entirely different movie made from the same material - a more realistic film, in which the cold economic realities of the lives of both characters would make it unlikely they could stay together. And, for that matter, a final scene involving a limousine, a fire escape and some flowers is awkward and feels tacked on. But by the end of the movie I was happy to have it close as it does." The film had its detractors who were tired of the "whore with a heart of gold" theme, notably critic Gary Giddins who wrote, "In the insidious Pretty Woman all women who aren't explicitly identified as tramps are gold-digging wives or snooty shopkeepers. It's the kind of working-class fantasy that wants the men in the audience to identify with a ruthless corporate pirate and the women to identify with a simple but grand-hearted streetwalker who, given a chance, could be a lady's lady....The attempted laughs (few succeed) are at her expense. She's so stupid she doesn't know how to eat pâté, so stupid that she doesn't know opera involves music. Yet she wins the heart of her zillionaire client after six days of baths and blowjobs, revealing to one and all of her essential girlish decency....Needless to say (this whole review is needless but it's my job), Roberts turns Gere into a decent fellow who abandons his corporate raider ways."

The pro and con debate over Pretty Woman continues to this day and critical essays are still written on the subject. Despite the debate, for Julia Roberts the film was nothing short of a career launcher. She became a star overnight, earned an Academy Award nomination and for almost twenty years was the highest-paid woman in Hollywood. Pretty Woman has remained the role with which she is most associated. It's hard to read any article written about her that doesn't have the title appear in it somewhere. As for Touchstone, Pretty Woman was a real-life Cinderella story. To date, it has grossed over $463 million dollars.

Producer: Arnon Milchan, Steven Reuther
Director: Garry Marshall
Screenplay: J.F. Lawton
Cinematography: Charles Minsky
Art Direction: David Haber
Music: James Newton Howard
Film Editing: Priscilla Nedd; Raja Gosnell (uncredited)
Cast: Richard Gere (Edward Lewis), Julia Roberts (Vivian Ward), Ralph Bellamy (James Morse), Jason Alexander (Philip Stuckey), Laura San Giacomo (Kit De Luca), Alex Hyde-White (David Morse), Amy Yasbeck (Elizabeth Stuckey), Elinor Donahue (Bridget), Hector Elizondo (Barney Thompson), Judith Baldwin (Susan).
C-119m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning. Descriptive Video.

by Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:
Ebert, Roger "Pretty Woman" The Chicago Sun-Times 23 Mar 90
Giddins, Gary Natural Selection: Gary Giddins on Comedy, Film, Music and Books
Spada, James Julia: A Life
The Internet Movie Database VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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