Skip to main content

Nobody puts Baby in a walker.

I wouldn’t call it the time of my life, but Dirty Dancing was definitely part of my youth.

OK, well, I was 24 when it came out in 1987. But looking back, it feels like a part of my formative years. Probably all those summers spent in the Catskills growing up…. Wait a minute, that wasn’t me! I’ve never been to the Borscht Belt in my life. But I have seen that movie a dozen times or more. It starts to feel like real life.

Lionsgate announced they have greenlighted a Dirty Dancing sequel starring Jennifer Grey to be released more than 33 years after the original. Several much-loved characters have elected not to join the project, namely Patrick Swayze, who’s dead; Jerry Orbach, who’s dead; and Grey’s original nose – not dead, but long forgotten.

I started this as a love letter to the movie, I swear I did, but I have a hard time not making jokes about dead people and nose jobs. It’s a condition, I’m working through it. 

Before I switch gears and get to the non-snarky stuff, do yourself a favor and listen to this John Mulaney bit about Law and Order and Jerry Orbach. It shows why he’s one of the best comic minds – not just comics – out there today.


I have mixed feelings about a reboot. First of all, no disrespect to Jennifer Grey, she’s lovely, but she’s not the same person since Dancing and Ferris Buehler and Red Dawn. Case in point, Elisabeth Shue was adorable in Karate Kid and yummy in Cocktail, but have you seen her in The Boys? She’s still a wonderful actress and she’s worked way more than Jennifer has in the years following the Golden Era, but, you know, it’s important to blaze new trails. No one wants to see a Something About Mary sequel in 30 years with Cameron Diaz playing Magda, know what I mean?

I’ll let that sink in. I dare you to un-see it.

With apologies to David Letterman, I thought I would offer the top 10 reasons Dirty Dancing is awesome:

  1. It was written by Eleanor Bergstein, and it was AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL! She was Baby! How messed up is that?  Also, she’s listed as a producer on the upcoming sequel.
  2. Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze worked together in Red Dawn and disliked each other intensely. Grey initially didn’t want to accept the part because Swayze was confirmed as the male lead.
  3. The original cut of the movie had Jennifer Grey naked during the lovemaking scene. Test audiences reacted poorly, and the studio took the nudity out. Ouch. After which Jen got a nose job, which is hands-down the weirdest reaction to someone telling you, “Put on a damn shirt!” that I have ever heard of.
  4. The film was made by a home video company (Vestron) that had decided to become a Hollywood studio. Dirty Dancing was their first theatrical release.
  5. Dirty Dancing was made for $5 million 1987 dollars. It took in $218 million at the box office. (It’s also the first home video to sell a million copies.)
  6. While upholding his image as a dancer, the absolute pinnacle of grace and physical fitness, Patrick Swayze smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, struggled with alcoholism and, during filming, wore a girdle to look younger and…tighter.
  7. Swayze was 35 years old, playing a 20-something. Grey was 27, playing a 17-year-old.
  8. At least once a week, my wife or I find a reason to say, “I carried a watermelon.”
  9. Both of Baby’s "parents" were Broadway stars: Baby's mother, played by Kelly Bishop, won a Tony for originating the role of Sheila in A Chorus Line. Jerry Orbach was also a Tony-award-winner, and was nominated for Best Actor when he originated the role of Billy Flynn in Chicago.

And the number one reason Dirty Dancing is awesome…

Most people didn’t realize a theme of the movie was anti-Semitism. The Housemans, Baby’s family, were absolutely Jewish. Kellerman’s was modeled after a resort in the Catskills called Grossinger’s, one of several famous retreats in New York state that catered to Jewish families. Max, the owner, spouts Yiddish at one point, and Wayne Knight, pre-Seinfeld (Newman!), is clearly channeling the style of standup that was born in these resorts. The “Borscht Belt” came into existence because, even into the 1960s (and beyond) many of the “nice” hotels and resorts would not accept Jewish guests.

Accordingly, the main plot of the movie – the romance between Baby and Johnny Castle – isn’t just a tale of star-crossed lovers from different socioeconomic classes. Johnny is clearly not Jewish; the character was written as Italian but that had to change when Swayze was cast. The discrimination of the day cut both ways: Johnny was goyim, and no more welcome as a serious love interest in a conservative Jewish family than Jewish families were welcome at ritzy resorts like The Greenbriar in West Virginia.

That explains further the father’s interest in Robbie, the douchebag waiter played by Max Cantor. In the film Robbie is Jewish (his last name is Gould), an Ivy League student and aspiring physician, which is Baby’s father’s profession. In the Fifties and Sixties, that spelled pedigree in Jewish American homes.

Sadly – not to mention ironically – Max Cantor died of a heroin overdose at age 32, more likely a fate Dr. Houseman would have predicted for Johnny. Swayze, by comparison, died of pancreatic cancer at age 57.

The screenwriter, Eleanor Bergstein, was quoted as saying Dirty Dancing was a Jewish movie, "if you know what you're looking at."

Funny to think of diversity and inclusion being an issue back in 1963, when Dirty Dancing is set, isn’t it? We recall everything as so much simpler and more squeaky-clean then. The movie, face it, is charming. Even though it predates the Civil Rights movement. Even though it portrays Johnny’s pal Penny getting an illegal abortion, a decade before Roe v. Wade. There’s another thing people tend to forget, like the Mandela Effect.

Which brings us full-circle. How do you do Dirty Dancing in today’s environment? Is anything charming anymore? How do you have a coming-of-age movie in the time of Tik Tok? You couldn’t even have a screen romance between a 17-year-old and a 25-year-old without an “R” rating. The dancing they called dirty then is tame now, and the contemporary equivalent is basically foreplay.

I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m not saying Jennifer Grey can’t add value to the production. I’m just wondering aloud if there’s anything about the story that could be reasonably salvaged, a thread to pull through, that wouldn’t seem painfully anachronistic or hollow.

I’m also not saying I wouldn’t watch. But I would definitely wait for it to come to cable.


Popular posts from this blog

Thanks, Obama.

As I've said in an earlier post, I did not vote for Barack Obama - not once.  It was never because I didn't like him, or respect him. I just didn't like his platform, his agenda. It wasn't him, it was never personal. I thought it was great that a black senator, someone young and articulate, could energize the younger vote. I was just conservative, and didn't agree with liberal policy. I still push back on a good chunk, 50% or more, of liberal policy. But the last four years have resulted in the suspension of reality, not just tradition. As I mentioned before , I am not willing to subjugate my humanity to support the political tenets I believe in. People come first. Basic logic. Lizard-brain stuff. So yes, there have been many times during the past four years when I've looked in the rear-view at Barack Obama and admitted to myself, as well as others, "I was never once ashamed to have him as the President, even when I didn't agree with him." Feeling

Holy shirt.

In Annie they sang , “you’re never fully dressed without a smile.” I guess by those standards I’m naked. Since the pandemic began – what my daughter and her boyfriend call “the ‘rona” – I have kind of let myself go. In the beginning, communications about the whole COVID thing were fast and furious, and I was sitting at my dining room table trying my best to keep up while my newly expanded family swirled around me. You can get a flavor for that moment in time in my earlier blog post . It was 7 days a week, 12-plus hours a day, for a while – a few weeks at least. And I was focused on the work, plain and simple. Hunched over my laptop like a gargoyle atop Notre Dame, ultimately consigned to a bunker I built in my basement. (Public gratitude to my wife and kids for their help excavating.)  I didn’t much care what I looked like. I was shaving every three or four days. I had doubled down on T-shirts and basketball shorts. I didn’t wear socks for a month, maybe more. I was working on a Miami

The fault in our bipolar stars

 Kanye West for President. No, wait – I’m sorry – that wasn’t an endorsement, I was just reading aloud, shaking my head and rummaging around the kitchen for more bourbon. If you’re in Pennsylvania, you don’t need to worry because he won’t be on the ballot. But let’s be clear: if you do, for any reason, feel compelled to throw your vote away in an entirely invisible gesture that seems to say, “I don’t believe things could get any worse than they are right now, so let’s dance!” know that you can always write-in a vote for West, or his wife Kim , or their daughter North .  Short aside: While I condemn Kanye and Kim for imposing their dipshit reality-show-gone-awry cooties on their progeny, a not-small part of me is absolutely salivating at the prospect of an autobiography from their first born someday. It would be called North by North West , and she would have no idea why that’s funny. I am not a rap fan, which will not surprise anyone. Although I knew his name, I first became aware of K