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The Right Stuff (1983) Poster

Trivia

An early press release announced that Ellen Barkin was cast in the film. Her part was eventually recast.
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Jump to: Cameo (1)
The mysterious "fireflies" observed by 'John Glenn' on his first orbital flight were actually tiny flakes of frost illuminated by sunlight. As the spacecraft orbited into darkness behind the Earth, the sub-zero temperatures caused condensation on its skin to freeze. When warmed by the sun on the other side of the orbit, the temperature change caused some of this frost layer to break free and to be illuminated by the sun. This was confirmed by Astronaut Scott Carpenter on the next Mercury flight when he banged on the craft's side, causing more of the flakes to break free and become visible.
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While filming the lung-capacity sequence - in which the seven original Mercury astronauts need to blow into individual tubes to keep toy balls suspended in a beaker and end up in a competition of physical stamina - the seven actors portraying the astronauts actually competed with each other for the same reason. Gordon Cooper was third, John Glenn was second and Scott Carpenter won (in the movie). In reality, Gordon Cooper - the astronaut portrayed by Quaid - was the only non-smoker among the seven original astronauts, and therefore possessed a far-greater lung capacity than any of the others.
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In the film, Alan Shepard says "Louise, I'm going to the moon, I swear to God. I'm on my way". Of the Mercury Seven, Shepard was the only one that did go there, on Apollo 14, becoming the fifth person to walk on the moon.
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While several of the lead actors chose to meet their real-life counterparts, Scott Glenn elected not to meet with Alan Shepard. Scott said he wanted to get down Shepard's character and nuances by observation and by hearing others' points of view. After filming, the real Alan Shepard wrote the director and commented on Scott Glenn's "spot-on" performance - except for "not being nearly as good-looking as he was."
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Ed Harris had to audition twice for the role of John Glenn. It was in fact Harris who insisted on the second audition because he felt his first reading of the part wasn't good enough. After the second reading, he got the part.
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This film contains the first realistic shots of a spacecraft reentry. For long shots, visual effects supervisor Gary Gutierrez used a small model of the Mercury capsule. This was coated with flammable material, ignited, and slid about 100 feet down a wire toward the camera, which was protected with a sheet of Lexan.
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Sam Shepard, who played legendary pilot Chuck Yeager, was actually afraid of flying.
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In the bar scene before Gus Grissom's flight, Deke Slayton is underwater swimming with some girls. Gordo says. "Go get 'em Deke!". In reality Deke couldn't swim and never told anyone. When the astronauts started underwater training at Scott Carpenter's suggestion, Deke sank to the bottom and had to be rescued. He subsequently practiced holding his breath underwater in his kitchen sink, according to his wife Marge.
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During the weekend of 4 April 1999, Gus Grissom's lost Liberty Bell 7 capsule was located and recovered on the ocean floor 90 miles northeast of the Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. It underwent a restoration and went on a national tour before being placed in a permanent exhibit. The hatch, which many thought would have proved or disproved Grissom's contention that it blew open on its own, has not been recovered. Inside the capsule the restorers found a large number of mercury dimes that Grissom had brought along as souvenirs. During the bar scene before Grissom's flight two rolls of dimes can be seen on the bar.
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Original composer John Barry left the film because he found it impossible to understand what Philip Kaufman wanted from the score, citing a meeting where the director described his ideal score as "sounding like you're walking in the desert and you see a cactus, and you put your foot on it, but it just starts growing up through your foot."
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To create the space uniforms for the Mercury astronauts, the costume designers used silver fabrics and other materials left over from costumes for singer/actress Cher.
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The bartender that chews out Gordon Cooper, calling him a "rookie" and a "pud-knocker", is Florence Lowe "Pancho" Barnes, and she is well within her rights to put Cooper in his place. Barnes earned her pilot's license in 1928. She flew solo, she crashed a plane, she held the women's world speed record (taking it from Amelia Earhart), and she worked as a stunt pilot in several Hollywood productions, all before any of the Mercury Seven astronauts reached the tender age of 10 years old. As a pioneering aviatrix, she was truly made of "the right stuff".
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During the newsreel segment when President John F. Kennedy gives Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) a medal for his flight, in the background we can see Charles Frank as Scott Carpenter. When the angle reverses to actual archival footage of President Kennedy dropping the medal, he bends to pick it up, and the real Scott Carpenter and Gus Grissom are in the background.
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According to Chuck Yeager, in his autobiography, it was not known that he broke the sound barrier until after they checked the Bell X-1 recording panel, and not when they heard the sonic boom, as shown in the movie. He still got his steak dinner for being the first to break the sound barrier though.
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When Ed Harris appeared in Apollo 13 (1995), it gave him the unique distinction of appearing with some of the same characters from The Right Stuff (1983) but played by different actors. Like Deke Slayton. Others are mentioned but never seen like Alan Shepard and the late Gus Grissom.
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Selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry.
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When the astronauts are inspecting the space capsule (or space *craft*) with Werner von Braun & his team, Gus Grissom (Fred Ward) is quite insistent that the hatch have "explosive bolts". The purpose of explosive hatches is to allow the occupants of the capsule to escape easily. In 1967 while doing a routine test of the Apollo 1 capsule, Gus Grissom & his two companions died when a fire broke out in the cabin. The men died mainly due to the fact that the hatch was not designed with explosive bolts.
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The gum, Beeman's, is a pepsin flavored gum (the same flavor as candy cigarettes) and is still available for purchase online.
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Rick Springfield turned down a role in this film so that he could star in Hard to Hold (1984) instead. Springfield has stated that he greatly regrets this decision.
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The closing narration states that Gordon Cooper was "the last American ever to go into space alone". While true when the film was made, Mike Melvill in June and September 2004 and Brian Binnie in October 2004 went into space alone in Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne (Not a NASA spaceship or spaceflight). Binnie's flight was the day Gordon Cooper died.
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The "Happy Bottom Riding Club", which was owned and operated by Pancho Barnes, burned down in 1952. The remnants can still be seen today at Edwards Air Force Base.
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Trudy Cooper did not actually say that she "wondered how they would've felt if every time their husband went in to make a deal, there was a one in four chance he wouldn't come out of that meeting". Writer and director Philip Kaufman chose Mrs. Cooper to voice statements made by Tom Wolfe, the author. The book describes a 23% chance of a normal pilot dying during the course of a 20-year career. The odds were higher at 53% for a test pilot.
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The role of Annie Glenn was the first film role for Mary Jo Deschanel, the wife of Director of Photography Caleb Deschanel. Mary Jo and Caleb are the parents of Emily and Zooey Deschanel.
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For close-up shots of the re-entry, no actual fire was used. The larger model capsule in these shots had liquid nitrogen pumped into it. This immediately evaporated, producing a fog of condensation, which escaped through a carefully placed ring of vents around the base of the capsule to form a flame-like pattern all around it. Then, to make the color right, the effect was simply filmed in orange light.
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The film plays down the rivalry between pilots, especially civilian (Scott Crossfield) and Air Force (Chuck Yeager). Yeager even writes in his autobiography that he thought Crossfield was arrogant, though a great pilot.
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Actor/comedian/impressionist Kevin Pollak looped the voice of President Eisenhower.
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During the training montage, Gordon Cooper is shown sleeping in the simulated capsule, as loud noises and flickering lights are going off all around him. This is a nod to the fact that Gordon Cooper was the first American to sleep in orbit.
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Some were concerned that when this film was released it would help propel John Glenn, then a popular political figure, into the presidency. "Newsweek" magazine had a cover story about it. In fact, Glenn's presidential aspirations went nowhere.
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The music accompanying John Glenn's orbit of the Earth is actually a song written by an Inuit woman on the set of Philip Kaufman's The White Dawn (1974) that was orchestrated by Henry Mancini for that film.
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The film eschewed the use of visual effects done in the lab. The decision was made to use methods pioneered by Republic Pictures special effects team Howard & Theodore Lydecker, and used in such Republic theatrical serials as "Radar Men of the Moon" and "Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe.". The shots of the Bell X-1 were accomplished using a model 'flown' on a long wire rapidly passing by the camera utilizing a natural sky background enhanced by clouds created using special chemicals. The use of the model can be seen when the plane banks and turns as the ailerons never move.
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Tom Wolfe was unhappy with the film because he felt it made too many changes to the book. William Goldman, the original screenwriter before he left the project also disliked it because he didn't like the way Philip Kaufman portrayed Chuck Yeager as the only hero in the film, while the rest of the astronauts only got lucky and didn't match up to him in any way.
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Although Bill Conti's score won the Academy Award for "Best Music, Original Score" and suites based on the score were issued, no complete soundtrack album was released until 2009. That album was made from master tapes kept all that time by Conti, and unfortunately some suffered damage in the interim.
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"Beeman's" is the lucky gum of pilots. See also The Rocketeer (1991).
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Pancho's was nicknamed the Happy Bottom Riding Club. The real name was "Pancho's Fly Inn". Pancho had put in a dirt landing strip, with the intention that the place would serve as a motel for pilots who, on cross-country trips could gas up, have a meal, and spend the night.
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On Roger Ebert's list of Great Movies.
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Ken Wahl, who previously starred in director Philip Kaufman's The Wanderers (1979), was initially cast as Gordon Cooper. Dennis Quaid replaced Wahl, giving up an undisclosed role in The Outsiders (1983), which was being produced simultaneously.
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Scott Glenn was initially considered for the role of Chuck Yeager but he expressed that he would rather play Alan Shepard, and was cast in that part instead.
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William Goldman wrote the first draft of the screenplay. In his book "Adventures in the Screen Trade" he calls his meeting with director Philip Kaufman "a nightmare".
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The aircraft carrier, used in the scene to introduce Alan Shepard, was the U.S.S. Coral Sea CV-43.
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First cinema film of Kathy Baker.
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The film's music temp track consisted of music from Holst's The Planets, Henry Mancini's score for The White Dawn and various other classical pieces which were favorites of Writer/Director Philip Kaufman.
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The tune that Gordon Cooper was whistling while trying to masturbate, is the official anthem of the United States Air Force, simply titled: "The Air Force Song". He was attempting to drown out the man in the next stall, who was humming "The Marines' Hymn" (presumably, John Glenn, as Cooper guessed).
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In addition to Holst, the soundtrack borrows musical passages from Tschaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major, opus35. In particular, triumphant chords matching scenes of the astronauts' spacecraft departure and rocketing into space.
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In the cookout scene at Edwards AFB, Sam Shepard is seen playing catch with his son. Chuck Yeager's real life nephew, Steve, played Major League baseball as a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
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While they didn't play their namesakes, two of the actors playing astronauts share the same last name with two actual astronauts. They are Scott and John Glenn and Sam and Alan Shepard.
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Bill Conti was appointed so late in the production, he was actually scoring to the final cut of the film instead of a first cut which composers are usually given to work to.
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Last cinema film of Kim Stanley.
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Hall of Fame lineman and Cincinnati Bengals player Anthony Muñoz, has a cameo appearance in the movie as a nurse. His actual voice is dubbed over.
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Allegedly composer Bill Conti wrote about three different scores for this film. The first consisting of his own original work. The second one being one that featured Holst's The Planets as inspiration. The final score purely copied the film's temp track which was primarily The Planet's peace under the condition that if 'Philip Kaufman' used that portion of the score he would've had to credit Gustav Holst, the real composer of the music knowing that he was plagiarizing it for Kaufman's benefit and did not want to take credit for something that was written by someone else. They had a compromise in the end, using the middle score that Conti wrote inspired by Holst, and the incorporation of "Wild Blue Yonder" during the Yeagher's Triumph sequence and Henry Mancini's White Dawn track stayed in the film. Conti would go on to win for Best Original score despite the fact that it was somewhat of an adaptation of The Planets.
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The Permanent Press Corps are all played by members of Fratelli Bologna, a San Francisco theater troupe.
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It's the general believe that Grissom was not at-fault in real-life hatch blowing incident. Kickback from the manual activation switch caused a tell-tale bruise to form on the hand activating it, and Grissom never developed the bruise. Schirra, at the end of his flight, deliberately activated his own hatch to demonstrate how the bruise formed and exonerate his comrade. The most likely explanation for Grissom's hatch blowing is that the external release lanyard came loose as it was only held in place with a single screw - a design that was changed to be more secure for subsequent flights. NASA apparently believed in Grissom's innocence as well, as he remained in a prime rotation spot for subsequent Gemini and Apollo flights. There is also significant belief among astronauts of the time that, had he not been killed in the Apollo 1 fire, Grissom would have been the first man to walk on the moon.
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O-Lan Jones, the woman who tried to talk to Sam Shepard as he leaves Pancho's bar, but the bartender tells her that he's married, was actually married to Sam Shepard at the time.
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The production was beset by 15 mile per hour, dust-laden winds when they were filming at Edwards Air Force Base.
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The scene where Lyndon Johnson said, "The Russians want our pecker in their pocket" was a variation of his oft-quoted statement, "I never trust a man till I have his pecker in my pocket."
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While Fred Ward is more than eleven years older than Dennis Quaid, their characters Gus Grissom and Gordo Cooper were less than a year apart in age, the two youngest of the Mercury Seven.
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David Clennon who portrays "liaison man" in The Right Stuff, also appears in the space-themed From the Earth to the Moon (1998) portraying Dr. Lee Silver, who trains astronauts.
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The unexpected box-office failure of the film was considered one of the causes of the demise of The Ladd Company, despite the massive success of Police Academy (1984).
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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American Airlines flight 1 crashed shortly after take off from Idlewild airport (IDL, now JFK) during the New York ticker tape parade for John Glenn after his space flight.
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The film cast includes five Oscar nominees: Sam Shepard, Ed Harris, Kim Stanley, Jeff Goldblum and Barbara Hershey.
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In the documentary "Moonshot", Allan Shepard explained that it was at his suggestion that he urinate in the suit before he was launched. He said at first they didn't want him to do it, because it would short out everything. Shepard then suggested that they shut everything off, and then after he was dried out, they could turn it back on, to which they agreed.
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Features Sam Shepard's only Oscar nominated performance.
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Sergei P. Korolev masterminded the Sputnik launch, the world's first artificial satellite. The Sputnik launch was also dramatized in The Iron Giant (1999) and October Sky (1999).
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The sound heard when the press Corp is on screen is meant to represent locusts.
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The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year not to be nominated in any of the writing categories.
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The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year to be also nominated for Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Cinematography.
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At the end of the film, Chuck Yeager bails out of an experimental Air Force plane - this was the F-104 'Starfighter', which held the altitude and speed records for a jet until the SR-71 'Blackbird', a spy plane developed by Lockheed's 'Skunk Works' under the command of Kelly Johnson. The Blackbird's speed record of 3+ Mach has never been beaten.
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Pancho's was eventually subject to a forced buy-out by the Air Force as part of a plan to put in an extremely long runway. As Pancho's was within a few degrees arc of the runway it was considered to be in the way and a danger to pilots who might veer off-course. A fierce legal battle took place, with Pancho losing on the grounds of imminent domain. The 1952 fire that destroyed the place happened during the course of the legal action. Some suspected that it was lost to arson perpetuated on behalf of the commander of Edwards Air Force Base, but this was never proven.
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In the late 1940's Pancho's became a moderately popular tourist location for families from Los Angeles and the surrounding area. As an attraction, rodeos would be held on weekends. Another big draw was the motion-picture star Lassie, whose trainer regularly brought her there on a weekly basis for over a year to perform tricks for the kids.
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One aspect of the whimsical aspect of the film is that whenever members of the press appear in a scene, an audio track of the sound of locusts appears in the background, indicative of the "feeding frenzy" of the reporters chasing the most popular source of news stories of the day.
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Caitlyn Jenner called this her all-time favorite movie.
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Jeff Goldblum's recruiter character asks Harry Shearer's character, "There aren't any snakes around here are there?". That same year in Kasdan's "The Big Chill", while out walking on Harold's property, Jeff's character is asked by Kevin Kline whether he's afraid of snakes.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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Cameo 

Chuck Yeager: Chuck Yeager himself, plays the bartender in Poncho' bar. 37:48.
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Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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