Although many people are familiar with the concept of a forward step and two backward steps, not many are as familiar with the concept of being partially blacklisted. The best example in the West is Eric Stoltz. As for the East, the best example is Jackie Chan. Eric wasn’t allowed to do comedy, whereas Jackie wasn’t allowed to have control. Both actors benefited from being impeded. Despite Eric being swindled of straight man roles, his films have stood the test of time because most dramas prove to last longer than most comedies due to comedy being a subjective medium whose jokes tend to rely on being topical. In 2003, he proved to have comic facial ability in Out of Order. Similarly, Jackie extended his comedic and dramatic range.
Eric’s blacklisting is strange because, from the eyes of the U.S. audience, most of his pre-Zemeckis movies were comedies – Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Surf II and The Wild Life. Universal produced and distributed the former. It was only on TV that he was primarily dramatic. His firing from Back to the Future resulted in him not being seen in a comic light until five years later when he was seen in Say Anything (where he worked as a production assistant), which he was only cast in because the director was a close friend who had already worked with him twice.
Eric’s fortunes changed when Quentin Tarantino had cast him in Pulp Fiction. As pointed out here, he had the same manic energy that Michael Fox had as Marty McFly. Eric failed auditions for lead roles which Fox rejected. The first was for Top Gun, while the second was for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Due to his resemblance to Matt Murdock, Eric should’ve been in Daredevil (2003).
If Eric wasn’t canned from BTTF, he might have played Peter Parker in Cannon’s ’80s Spider-Man movie (which never got made). This is quite probable since Tom Cruise (who was actually considered for the role) was too busy to do it. Be that as it may, if Eric succeeded in becoming an A-lister then Scott Leva would not have been cast in 1987. Worth pointing out is the possibility that Universal may have wished to retain Eric’s services in the same way that Paramount retained Cruise’s. Whatever came of the success from not being ditched, we could very well have seen him be cast in Bright Lights, Big City and Casualties of War.
If the latter happened, he would’ve been reunited with Sean Penn (the star of Fast Times at Ridgemont High). It would be interesting to see how the method acting of both actors would cause tension. After all, it was Sean being stubborn that Eric lost the role of Jeff Spicoli. Like how Fox’s character was meant to look up to Penn’s prior to the rape incident, this reflects how Eric feels towards Sean in real life. It’s because of Sean that Eric picked up the habit of wanting to be known by his character’s name. Eric is highly underrated as a method actor because he could easily have decided to not dye his hair for BTTF by simply saying that Marty is the result of a recessive gene.
This isn’t a flight of fancy, because Eric’s real parents had dark hair. Given how much leeway that Crispin Glover had, Eric could easily have followed suit. Ironically, it never occurred to any of the film-makers that they could teach Crispin a lesson by recasting Eric as George so that people can observe how much Eric looks like Fox. Crispin’s services being dismissed from the BTTF sequels coloured how people saw him as being too weird to really fit in with the reserved establishment. Then again, his career didn’t regress that much seeing as how he never aspired to be a mainstream movie actor. In fact, he has a reputation for espousing opinions on propaganda.
When understanding how Peter Bogdanovich affected Eric’s chance of becoming an Oscar-nominated actor, one has to wonder what would happened had Rob Lowe been the one to play Rocky Dennis in Mask (as was almost the case). Maybe he wouldn’t have starred in Illegally Yours (a May, 1988 flop by Peter). Maybe he wouldn’t have engaged in sexual relations with a minor in July 17, 1988 (thereby regressing his career).
Had he starred in Mask, he would’ve experienced the same regression involving BTTF; especially seeing as how Eric’s constant latex wearing blemished his skin to the extent that the sores and scabs only subsided by the time that Mask was released. Lea Thompson claimed that he needed make-up to disguise his freckles. It would be amusing to know whether she knew about his condition or not. Picture this scenario – Rob stars in Mask, and Zemeckis isn’t fired from Cocoon.
This means that Rob would still have been acting in St. Elmo’s Fire while Zemeckis was directing Cocoon. Given how long it takes for a film to go from planning to filming, Rob would’ve been cast in BTTF because St. Elmo’s Fire would have made him perceived as being a cooler choice to work with than Fox. Because Operation Condor had a ground-breaking budget and due to the death of a stuntman, Jackie was disallowed to completely direct again for Golden Harvest.
Forced to work with other directors but allowed to choose which ones, there were a few instances where he took over but he still wasn’t credited because it was a way to please the distributors who finance his movies. He had to relinquish duties to other stunt coordinators. The few times that he choreographed were supervised by others who presided as safety inspectors. Twin Dragons is the best example. Having six other coordinators would have been a slight overreaction if not for the aforementioned fatality.
Elsewhere, partially blacklisted means less infamy. A movie star can be blacklisted from being in blockbusters but can be given many opportunities to appear in indie films which capitalize on a combination of nostalgia and irony (as is the case of many hipsters). A thespian can actually be blacklisted from being in indie films after being in blockbusting successes. The reason is that the thespian sold out and will make the film-maker be perceived as selling out. If an actor is accused of female assault then he will only be allowed to film scenes with males. If an actor is accused of homophobia, he will be shunned by gay colleagues. If some thespians prove to be anti-Semitic, they may as well retire because Jews have so much power in Hollywood.
Being fired because of an orchestrated plan by Spielberg (the above photo depicts him as directing the director of BTTF) could easily have curtailed the career of any actor – look at what happened to Megan Fox no longer being the successor to Angelina Jolie because of what she said prior to the making of Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Stoltz still managed to have a film career because Bogdanovich had Jewish lineage. As such, he had connections who could stop Eric from floating adrift. Receiving a Golden Globe nomination in 1986 helped him to move forward despite the fact that it wasn’t the stepping stone to Oscar glory that some insiders had predicted. Being fired from an Oscar-worthy film stopped others from casting him in Oscar baiters as well as blockbusters.
Unfortunately, the concept of being partially blacklisted doesn’t always work like the way that it should. John Landis (the white guy in the featured image) should have been blacklisted from making action films after the helicopter manslaughter in Twilight Zone: The Movie, yet he made Spies Like Us, Beverly Hills Cop III and Blues Brothers 2000. Like Jackie, he needed someone to reel in his desire for real danger in reels. Victor Salva should not have been allowed to work with minors after being arrested for an obvious crime. The problem is that Hollywood is not strict enough. We’re talking about a place where things are swept under carpets in order to make as much money as possible. It’s become second nature to bribe people by settling things outside of court. Such bribery results in NDA.
Mike Fenton (a casting director seldom listed as Michael) claimed that thespians are chosen based on who has the most clout e.g. this article features a suggestion list of casting choices for Doc Brown. In today’s metaphysical climate, social media followings play a big part in who’s accepted. It’s become too easy to cast someone based on who has the most Twitter followers, Facebook fans, Instagram flock, YouTube fleet or MySpace friends (as was the case in the past). An average-looking star is more bankable than a photogenic no-name. Conversely, a popular model is more lucrative than a TV actor of middling stature. You can read more about it in this article. As for Mr. Fenton, this 1986 article is a good indicator as to how he and other directors think.
It’s interesting as to how he attempted to redeem himself in regards to a particular actor, which is even more eerie given the name of the character that the actor was being pitched to play (for a film titled The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains). In the December 1988 issue of Box Office, Mike had this to say about a film where he was one of three casting directors (an uneven number of casting directors means that there is a majority vote): “Eric and Zemeckis knew that the film they were making could be a good film, but that it couldn’t be as special as it might be. They were both unhappy. Michael J. Fox was simply right for the role, and that’s not to say anything negative about Eric.”
Before casting BTTF was underway in August of 1984, Jane Feinberg and Fenton were involved in casting Secret Admirer – starring C. Thomas Howell, Casey Siemaszko, Courtney Gains and J.J. Cohen. Casting Howell in BTTF would have drawn much attention to the other movie because those other three actors played bullies in both versions of BTTF.
According to a comprehensive 2005 book titled Casting Might-Have-Beens (which was written by the uniquely-named Eila Mell), Matthew Modine rejected the chance to replace Stoltz. His reason was friendship. Like Eric, Matt played a titular character who suffers from some kind of condition. Unlike Mask, Birdy would later win the Grand Prize of the Jury at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival. In December 17 of 1984, Birdy was in the top ten list of films that were going to be nominated for best picture at the National Board of Review Awards (Crispin alluded to Eric’s firing being in December).
From a commercial perspective, Matt had co-starred in Universal’s Private School (1983). It starred Phoebe Cates (who had appeared in Fast Times at Ridgemont High). As such, NBC could timely air Private School on TV. Rejecting Spielberg stopped Modine’s career from substantially progressing. In turn, his career regressed after the box office failure of Cutthroat Island. It’s easy to be skeptical considering that the party line (a factoid instead of a fact) was that they wanted Fox from the beginning. However, the Modine angle is supported by Jeph Loeb claiming that they were looking for an actor to replace Eric (as opposed to exclusively looking for Fox).
This confirms a somewhat indecisive advice that Spielberg gave as quoted by Gale: “We can’t go to Sheinberg and tell him we have a problem without having a solution for the problem. So let’s figure out who else can be in the movie, before we tell him that we want to fire Eric. Don’t say we want to fire Eric and shut down. Say we want to fire Eric and hire maybe Michael J. Fox.”
On a similar note, it was mentioned in The Ultimate Visual History that Jennifer Jason Leigh was one of the applicants for the role of Lorraine (this was when Marty’s girlfriend was named Suzy prior to being named Jennifer). The fact that she didn’t win the role is because of herself being partially blacklisted. This is due to her pressing charges against Spielberg for the manslaughtering that occurred to her father (i.e. Vic Morrow) during Twilight Zone: The Movie. Spielberg would’ve been more lenient had she only antagonized Landis. It was the latter’s direction that got Vic manslaughtered.
The above photo is by Steve Granitz. It was took on February 18, 1988. Eric and Jennifer were at The Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles for the opening of Summer and Smoke (starring Christopher Reeve). There was a party following the play at the first Spago restaurant in West Hollywood. February 9 marked the release of Sister, Sister (starring Eric alongside Jen). As mentioned by Bob Z in the visual history book, Eric took his firing well. This is because Matt Modine informed Eric, so the latter had prepared for the inevitable.
In the 99th issue of Starlog magazine (October, 1985), Bob Z suggested that the film-makers had receded artistically as much as they proceeded commercially by replacing Eric with Fox: “It was psychologically debilitating. The pressure came when we filmed something we were happy with the first time again and did it exactly the same. That depressed us because we didn’t improve anything. Even though there was nothing wrong with it, we put on all this pressure to improve – even when there was nothing that needed improving. Even if we did just as well as we had before, we walked away feeling we could have done better.”
The Fox version isn’t better than the Stoltz version (I’ve read the screenplay). While the Fox version has its own merits, the Stoltz version is superior. There is a detention scene which plays out like a high school version of MacGyver. It’s more creative than the amplifier scene. The skateboard thievery is established in the ’80s, which makes the ’50s theft more amusing. There is a running gag about Marty admitting that it’s not his day. The first time that he meets Doc results in two witty lines when he leaves – the first one is from Doc to an old pedestrian which leads to the second one being said by Marty to Suzy.
Marty has two witty one-liners when he has dinner with his family in the ’80s. He isn’t interrupted when asking Doc if he’s wearing a suit like a pop group called Devo. Doc refuses to tell Marty how he injured his head. Marty finds out in 1955 when he sees him talking to a woman at a house party. She hits him on the head with a beer bottle. Marty thinks that 1955 isn’t a good year when he listens to the radio after escaping from the farm. When being a peeping Tom, George looks at a nude Lorraine instead of a semi-nude one. When awaking in Lorraine’s bedroom, Marty goes into detail about why his nightmare was bad.
He describes hair gel as crap. He doesn’t know what teens do for fun in the ’50s. He asks Doc, who asks him what they do in the ’80s. Marty says sex, drugs and rock music. Doc says no comment. When Marty tries to tell Doc about his fate, Doc says that he hates fortune tellers. When asked if George asked out Lorraine, Marty says that he’s tried everything but scaring him. He inadvertently inspires himself to do so. When acting as an alien, he tells George that he is receiving a transmission from Battlestar Galactica (which would later have a prequel TV series starring Stoltz). During the chase, 3-D (instead of the little boy) talks about inventing roller boards.
When George tries to hit the body bag, he accidentally punches a tree. Marty pretends that he’s hungry so that he can write a letter in Lou’s Cafe. After Lorraine tells him that she will let her kids do whatever they want, Marty demands to have her statement in writing. She asks him what his parents are like, he says that he’s reached the conclusion that he doesn’t know anything about them. There’s more suspense when George is trapped in a phone booth. He tells Lorraine that he will write a science fiction story based on their life. When Marty is guitaring on prom night, he dances like Michael Jackson.
When he returns to 1985, there is comic timing in how he reacts to his modern circumstances. He says “All right!” when seeing his surroundings before saying it again when he turns on the radio to hear a modern rock tune, but he cursively exclaims when his engine fails to start. Biff is more intimidating as a villain. In the cafe, he hits George in the chin instead of slapping him. Before he tries to rape her in Doc’s car, Biff tells Lorraine that Marty’s debt will be collected out of her ass. In terms of the soundtrack, the downside to the Eric edit is that Marty hears Papa Loves Mambo on the radio instead of Mr. Sandman.
The Fox version doesn’t have a whole lot going for it other than the near-miss road-crossing, the sight gag of Marty resting his head on his hand, like George, the life preserver quips, the Jerry Lewis put-down, the heavy double entendre, the joke about Strickland’s baldness, the Florence Nightingale observation, the make like a tree zinger, the daddy-o pun and the gay innuendo. Nevertheless, I rate the Fox version as 8/10, and the Stoltz version as 9. To be a 10, it needed to be more tragic. Gale did say that the film-makers toyed with the idea of having Marty be a suicidal teenager.
If his girlfriend dies in the first part of the film then Doc Brown could save her by the time that Marty returns to the ’80s. To explain how Doc would know this, Marty would give a photo of himself and his girlfriend so that Doc can see if he disappears or not. At the back of the photo is an epitaph. When Doc reveals that he wore a bulletproof vest, he decides not to tell Marty about his girlfriend being saved. Doc’s reasoning is that the best surprise should be saved for last. Marty goes to his bedroom to commit suicide but finds his girlfriend in his bed. She tells him how Doc saved her.