Early screen roles for Kevin Costner and Shannen Doherty. Costner as a frat boy in the morgue party scene (a non-speaking bit part), and Doherty plays a "Blue Bell" (liken to a "Girl Scout") in an elevator scene (with one line).
This film contains the first recorded version of the song "That's What Friends Are For" written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager. It was first recorded in 1982 by Rod Stewart for this soundtrack, and then made globally famous three years later by Dionne Warwick and Friends; a collective of known vocalists, including Gladys Knight, Sir Elton John, and Stevie Wonder. Their version of the song went to number one for three weeks on Billboard's charts in 1986, and was recorded as a benefit for American Foundation for A.I.D.S. Research. Sales of the record raised over three million U.S. dollars for that cause.
Ron Howard and Brian Grazer discovered Shelley Long in Caveman (1981), but she was in Calexico, California, filming Losin' It (1983). Later, during a two-day furlough to Hollywood, Long read for the lead female part of "Belinda Keaton" and was asked to return the next day to meet with Winkler. Although initially hesitant about portraying a prostitute, Long conducted independent research, and accepted the role.
Ron Howard reportedly approached his friend and Happy Days (1974) co-star Henry Winkler with the script during Winkler's lunch hour on the Paramount Pictures lot. Although Howard gave him the choice of either of the film's two lead roles, Winkler chose the part of "Chuck Lumley". Winkler welcomed the departure from his Happy Days (1974) character, Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli, and promotional materials claimed that he shed fifteen pounds for the film.
Henry Winkler was scheduled to begin principal photography for this movie in New York City during his holiday hiatus from Happy Days (1974), and would resume the following year, following production of the ninth season of Happy Days (1974). Winkler worked a total of nine days on-location in New York City before filming picked up again that day in California. Winkler worked on this movie Mondays through Wednesdays while concurrently shooting Happy Days (1974) on Thursdays and Fridays.
Kevin Costner played Frat Boy #1 in his second film role. Costner is seen at the frat party, holding a cup, wearing a college cardigan around his waist, wearing a checkered shirt with a collar. This is when Michael Keaton balances a bottle on his head, as Costner is behind him.
The name of the pimp who was murdered at the beginning of the film, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jones, is also the name of a song written by Harold Rome in the late 1930s, recorded by Judy Garland among many others, which celebrated the arrival of a new baby of that name in the Jones household. The movie character is probably a little too young to be the same person as the one in the song, since he would have to be over forty.
Near the end of the movie, when Bill becomes a towel boy in the exclusive gentleman's club, there is an exchange between Bill and Mr. Manetti (Joe Spinell) in which Bill calls him a "jack-off" under his breath. The term "jack-off" is a derogatory slang expression native to Pittsburgh and surrounding western Pennsylvania (despite the fact that it was being used nationwide before this movie came out). A nod to the fact that Michael Keaton is from Corapolis, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh.
Henry Winkler took this role of the wimpy morgue director, in part, to go against type, and play a character opposite of the macho Fonzie character. "I thought I'd play Richie Cunningham for once," he said on Twitter.
The movie's production notes stated that Ron Howard tested forty of two hundred possible actors for the role of Bill Blazejowski, eight of whom read scenes with Henry Winkler. Potential co-stars auditioned during the week, with semi-finalists returning on Saturdays to screentest, which was Winkler's day off from Happy Days (1974).
Brian Grazer conceived the story after finding a New York Times news story about a prostitution ring run from a city morgue. Grazer was exclusively contracted to Paramount Pictures, but the studio passed on the project. Grazer approached Ron Howard in summer 1980 after the pair had become acquainted on the Paramount Pictures studio lot, and began searching for a project together. They hired Happy Days (1974) writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel to draft the screenplay, which was approved for a 6.4 million dollar budget within a few days by The Ladd Company's Alan Ladd.
Ron Howard and Henry Winkler were well-known from appearing on Happy Days (1974). They worked together on this movie, but Howard directs and does not appear except for a brief cameo as a saxophone player and a man making out with his wife in front of Chuck's (Henry Winkler's) apartment.