Dustin Hoffman spent a lot of time with savant Kim Peek, the inspiration for Raymond's character. Rain Man writer Barry Morrow first met Peek in 1986, and on winning an Oscar for the screenplay of "Rain Man" in 1989, gave his Oscar trophy to Kim Peek. Hoffman he made Kim's father (the main caregiver) promise that he would "share [Kim] with the world." For nearly 20 years until his death, Kim Peek went all over the world impressing people with his incredible memory and ability to recall minute details from centuries of history.
The elderly man in the waiting room who talks on and on about the Pony Express is Byron P. Cavnar, an 89-year-old local who was in the waiting room when the crew arrived to film there. He got to talking on his favorite subject, the Pony Express, and director Barry Levinson got such a kick out of it that he let Caunar keep on talking as the cameras rolled; all his dialog was spontaneous and not scripted.
The part of Susanna had originally been written as a WASPish blonde woman. By having a foreigner play the role, whose native tongue wasn't English, it allowed for Tom Cruise's character to do a lot of exposition.
On "Oprah", Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman said the "farting in the phone booth" bit was improvised when Hoffman actually passed gas while the scene was being filmed. Hoffman said it was his favorite scene ever.
J.T. Walsh was originally supposed to play the psychiatrist at the end of the movie. When he couldn't, Barry Levinson filled in, after Hoffman suggested it. Levinson said if he didn't like the way it looked, he would have someone else film it. He ad-libbed repeatedly to "push Cruise's buttons".
Barry Levinson admitted that Ray's comment about Qantas being the only aircraft company to never have had a fatal crash was made up, and that he didn't know if this was true. In reality, Qantas has had eight crashes, all prior to the making of the film, but they were all propeller-driven planes, not jets.
During filming, Dustin Hoffman was unsure of the film's potential and his own performance. Three weeks into the project, Hoffman wanted out, telling director Barry Levinson, "Get Richard Dreyfuss, get somebody, Barry, because this is the worst work of my life." Hoffman would nab his second Best Actor Academy Award for his work.
Dustin Hoffman was originally to play the part of Charlie Babbit, but after being moved to tears seeing a savant named Leslie Lemke (who is blind, mentally handicapped, and has cerebral palsy) play full concertos on the piano by ear, he decided to play the part of Raymond instead.
The script originally called for two farm kids, but after Catherine Dougherty brought six of her seven sons to audition for the part, the script was re-written to include the six boys. The boys also have an older brother and one younger sister.
At one point Sydney Pollack let his friend Barry Levinson read the screenplay. Levinson was much taken with it. One evening, whilst driving across the desert, he saw a cluster of windmills on the horizon. He turned to his wife and said that it would make a perfect backdrop for a scene with Charlie and his girlfriend. Seven weeks before shooting, Pollack called Levinson and told him that he should make the movie. With a writers' strike looming, Levinson had to agree immediately.
Dustin Hoffman spent a year working with autistic men and their families to understand their complex relationships. Also, when he was a jobbing actor, he had worked in a psychiatric care home, and drew from his experiences then for the film.
Screenwriter Barry Morrow chose the name of the film by reading through a book of names, deciding which sounded most interesting when mispronounced. He eventually narrowed it down to four names, including "Rain Man" for Raymond and "No-Man" for Norman. Marrow decided that Rain Man was the best. In order to see if this instinct was correct, he asked his children which of the four they preferred and all agreed with his choice.
The film first opened with a disappointing $6 million in sales. However, in the following weeks, it generated great word of mouth amongst movie viewers, allowing the movie to steadily climb up to the number 1 slot.
The scene in the motel room where Charlie remembers his older brother - and why he called him Rain Man - was shot in one take. This was done well into filming when the actors had both found a natural rhythm together.
Ronald Bass's first involvement with the film (when Martin Brest was attached) all took place over the phone as he was suffering from adult chicken pox at the time. As both Brest and Dustin Hoffman's wives were pregnant at the time, no one actually wanted to sit down for a face-to-face meeting with him.
Steven Spielberg considered directing. He began making notes in order to prepare for the project. The reason he backed out is because his friend George Lucas needed him to start work on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). So Spielberg left the project and gave his notes to Barry Levinson. Sydney Pollack was the next director to work on the film. He ditched an action sequence in which Charlie saves Raymond from some thugs but he wasn't keen on the idea of a road movie.
(29 March 1989) When Dustin Hoffman's Best Actor Oscar was presented to him by Michael Douglas, the words that preceded the announcement of Hoffman's name were, "...and the Oscar goes to..." which, for the first time, had replaced the traditional line, "...and the winner is...", etc. The Academy had made the switch for discretionary purposes, and the practice has been in effect ever since 1989.
Hoffman's former New York roommate, Gene Hackman, was vying with him for Best Actor for Mississippi Burning (1988). When Hoffman won, he hugged Hackman as he left his seat on the way to the podium where he affectionately mentioned Hackman in his acceptance speech. He failed to mention Tom Cruise however.
The diner scene where Raymond counts toothpicks after the waitress spills them on the floor was filmed at Pompilio's Restaurant in Newport, Kentucky. Today, Pompilio's has a "bas relief" mural on one wall, which features velvet-sewn figures of Raymond and Charlie in their Buick Roadmaster, parked in front of the restaurant. The actual bronzed toothpicks that Dustin Hoffman counted in the scene are attached to the mural.
Raymond states that his underwear is from the K-Mart on Oak and Burnet. This address is actually for the Vernon Manor Hotel in Cincinnati, the hotel where Charlie, Raymond and Suzanna stay in the beginning of the movie.
Early in the film, when the lawyer is reading the will to Charlie, Charlie says "I definitely got the rose bushes, I have definitely got the rose bushes." This foreshadows Raymond's extensive use of the word "definitely" later on.
The Amarillo, Texas motel scene was actually filmed at the Big 8 Motel in El Reno, Oklahoma. The motel maintained the sign used in the film that read: "Amarillo's Finest." Before the motel closed down, guests sometimes requested to stay in the same room where Raymond and Charlie stayed, room #117. The motel has since been demolished.
The radio station slogan that Raymond is so fond of repeating, "97X - Bam! - The future of rock and roll", is from a real independent Ohio radio station, WOXY. The station still fields questions about the movie.
Warner Brothers had, at one point, the opportunity to make both "Rain Man" and Forrest Gump (1994) but ended up with neither because of concerns they were too similar. Peter Guber and Jon Peters' production company, which had picked up the script for "Rain Man", had a first look deal with the studio. However, Roger Birnbaum, an executive with the production company, felt that because Warner Brothers was also developing "Forrest Gump", they would likely let "Rain Man" die if they were to pick it up, because of the script's perceived similarity. So, reportedly, he purposely gave a weak pitch to the studio in the hopes that they would reject it and allow it to be pitched to another studio. This did in fact occur and United Artists ended up making the film. After the movie's enormous success, Warner Brothers decided to pass on "Forrest Gump" because they felt that audiences would be unlikely to go to a movie with such a similar theme as "Rain Man". "Forrest Gump," which most people would consider to be an entirely different type of film than "Rain Man", ended up being made by Paramount and became one of the most successful movies of all time, grossing almost $330,000,000 in U.S. theaters.
At one point, "Rain Man" was the biggest grossing Best Picture Oscar-winner. It was subsequently surpassed by Forrest Gump (1994) which had been put into development at a rival studio at roughly the same time.
In the movie when Charlie removes Raymond from Walbrook, we see them walking down a long oak tree lined driveway. In 2007 many of these oak trees had become diseased, forcing their removal (replacements were to be planted). Before the trees were cut down, several people came to the grounds of the convent and recreated the scene where Raymond and Charlie walk down the drive
Several of the Las Vegas casinos seen in the film have been replaced (The Algiers and Stardust, for example). But the original 1966 Caesars Palace tower is still there. Over the years it has been remodeled to match the newer towers on the property.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
Dustin Hoffman fought for the ending where Raymond goes back to Wallbrook, even though the screenwriters both wanted him to end up with Charlie. Hoffman thought it wouldn't be true to Raymond's character if they had him stay.