Based on the novel by Iris Rainer Dart, 1988 comedy-drama Beaches is one of the most beloved tear-jerkers of all time, and a key entry on the résumés of lead actresses Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey.
Centred on childhood friends who take very different paths in adulthood but never lose their bond, it’s never advisable to watch it without a dry handkerchief on standby. Here are some facts about Beaches that you might not have known.
25. Mayim Bialik didn’t get to do her own singing
Getting to play C.C. in Beaches was a big break for young actress Mayim Bialik. Aged only 11 at the time, Bialik had the advantage of looking a lot like her adult counterpart Bette Midler and, similar to Midler, Bialik was also a triple threat: an actress, a dancer, and a singer.
Unfortunately for Bialik, her singing voice proved to be a bit of a sticking point. The young actress’s singing voice was deemed too far removed from that of Midler, so all her vocals were overdubbed. Nonetheless, the film proved a great launchpad for Bialik, who would later enjoy small screen success in The Big Bang Theory.
24. The film’s director makes a cameo (kind of)
At one point during Beaches, we see a poster for an upcoming production entitled Sizzle 76. On the poster, it states that it’s a Garry Marshall production; Marshall being the director of Beaches. Prior to his film career, Marshall was best known for creating the beloved 50s nostalgia sitcom Happy Days.
After Beaches, Marshall enjoyed his biggest movie success with the celebrated rom-com Pretty Woman. Marshall later went on to direct such hits as Runaway Bride and The Princess Diaries. Sadly, Marshall passed away in 2016 at the age of 71, following complications after a stroke.
23. Lainie Kazan only accepted the role for the chance to work with Bette Midler
Actress Lainie Kazan, who has since become better known for the My Big Fat Greek Wedding movies, co-stars in Beaches as Leona Bloom. Kazan has a long history of stage work on Broadway and elsewhere, and made her film debut two decades before Beaches in 1968. However, initially, the American actress was not interested in taking the role of C.C.’s mother Leona.
There was one key thing that changed Kazan’s mind: the fact that Bette Midler was playing C.C. With that knowledge, Kazan happily accepted the part, as she was eager to work with Midler. This was despite the fact that Kazan was in one key respect an unlikely choice for the part…
22. There wasn’t much difference in age between Kazan and Midler
Lainie Kazan was born in May 1940, which means she was 48 when Beaches opened in December 1988. Meanwhile, her screen daughter Bette Midler was born in December 1945, making her 43 at the time of the film’s release. You don’t need to be a skilled mathematician to note that this is an age gap of only five years.
This being the case, Kazan and Midler were an unlikely cast for mother and daughter – but they made it work regardless. In any case, this is hardly the only time that a movie has cast actors of comparable age as parent and child. Take TV’s The Golden Girls, in which Bea Arthur is actually older than her screen mother Estelle Getty.
21. Barbara Hershey underwent a cosmetic procedure to prepare for the role
Beaches is set over the course of 30 years, following friends C.C. and Hillary from childhood to adulthood. For the scenes in which the characters are youngest, Mayim Bialik and Marcie Leeds played C.C. and Hillary. Later on in the film, however, Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey simply play their younger selves.
Hershey, who was 40 at the time, went to perhaps unexpected lengths to get a more youthful appearance. The actress underwent collagen lip injections specifically for the scenes in the movies when she plays Hillary in her 20s. Reportedly the whole cast was shocked when Hershey rocked up with new lips, but soon grew used to her new look.
20. Sets from another Midler film were reused in Beaches
As well as playing the lead role, Bette Midler was also one of Beaches’ producers. Therefore, it makes sense that the movie also re-uses some sets from an earlier Midler movie. Earlier in 1988, Midler starred alongside Lily Tomlin as two sets of twins, in the comedy Big Business.
As production on the two films was close together, they wound up holding screen tests with Barbara Hershey on the Big Business set. On top of that, a key set from Big Business also winds up appearing in Beaches too. This is the department store set where C.C. and Hillary famously fight.
19. A cut storyline revealed CC’s husband was a paedophile
Not everything from the Beaches book made it onto the big screen. One particularly sensitive story thread from Iris Rainer Dart’s 1985 novel was left out of the movie. The plotline in question involves the character of John Pierce, husband of Midler’s C.C.
The filmmakers opted to omit the novel’s shocking revelation that John, played by actor John Heard, was a paedophile. This would doubtless be a relief to many viewers who know and love Heard for his role in the Home Alone movies, and also ensured that the tone remained sad and sentimental rather than truly dark.
18. Shelley Winters turned down the role of CC’s mother
Given that she was just a mere five years older than Bette Midler, Lanie Kazan wasn’t the most obvious choice to play C.C.’s mother. However, Kazan was not the only actress under consideration for the part. Another person in the running was long-standing Hollywood mainstay Shelley Winters.
With a career dating back to the early 1940s, Winters was 68 at the time, so considerably more age-appropriate for Leona. However, Winters turned the part down over concerns that she would fail the insurance exams needed to appear in the movie. Winters would go on to appear in several more films before passing away in January 2006, aged 85.
17. One trailer for the film was guilty of false advertising
The theatrical trailer for Beaches promoted the film off the back of its leading ladies. And yet, whoever edited the trailer was either being liberal with the truth or didn’t know much about the film’s two stars. Midway through, that distinctive 80s movie trailer narrator guy tells us that Beaches stars “Academy Award nominees” Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey.
Midler was indeed a one-time Oscar nominee, having been up for Best Actress in 1980 for The Rose. Hershey, however, had not been Oscar-nominated at the time, making this a big fat lie. Still, Hershey would later get a nod from the Academy in 1997 for The Portrait of a Lady. By then, Midler had already earned her second nomination for 1991’s For the Boys.
16. The film was almost called Remember Me
Sometimes, a movie title proves so iconic that it’s hard to imagine they ever considered calling it anything else. There are some extreme examples, such as when Back to the Future was almost renamed Spaceman From Pluto. In the case of Beaches, the alternate title they almost went with is not nearly so outlandish.
For some time, the film was set to be released under the title Remember Me. This would have made sense given the terminal illness storyline, but it also might have been a bit of a spoiler. Ultimately, the filmmakers decided against this and kept the original title from Iris Rainer Dart’s novel, in order to ensure fans of the book knew to watch it.
15. Mayim Bialik and Marcie Leeds made a spoof remake as adults
After playing young C.C., actress Mayim Bialik went on to enjoy a long and successful career as an actress, not to mention gaining impressive credentials in the world of academia. Marcie Leeds, meanwhile, went from Beaches to a recurring role in late 80s fantasy drama Beauty and the Beast. By the early 90s, however, Leeds gave up acting and went on to medical school, ultimately becoming a surgeon.
Both women have gone on to achieve great things in both the entertainment world and the world of science – but neither of them have forgotten Beaches. The two reunited in August 2016, shortly after the death of director Garry Marshall, to honour his memory by re-enacting their scenes from the movie.
14. There was meant to be a sequel
As you might expect, the success of Beaches the movie also boosted sales of the original novel. Inspired by this interest, author Iris Rainer Dart penned a follow-up novel a few years later. Beaches II: I’ll Be There was first published in 1991, and followed C.C. in her new role as a surrogate mother to Hillary’s daughter.
Originally, there had been plans for this novel to also be adapted for the screen, as a TV movie. However, Midler was not poised to return as C.C., with the role instead earmarked for Barbara Eden, from TV’s I Dream of Jeannie. For reasons that are unknown, this adaptation of Beaches II: I’ll Be There never wound up being made.
13. It received terrible reviews
Earning $57 million off a $20 million budget, Beaches was a modest box office success. However, whatever success the comedy-drama enjoyed was in no way down to the reviews it received. On release, the critics were almost unanimous in their disdain for director Garry Marshall’s tear-jerker.
Many reviews blasted the film as being sentimental and contrived, with its emotional moments feeling ‘unearned.’ Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times said it was “shamelessly manipulative,” whilst Gene Siskel called it “too mechanical.” None of this stopped the film from accruing an enthusiastic following, particularly once it hit home video and television.
12. The theme song was a huge hit
Like many well-loved films of the 80s, one of the most memorable elements of Beaches is its iconic theme song. The film features Bette Midler performing the suitably emotional ballad Wind Beneath My Wings. Although the song is now synonymous with Beaches and Midler, you might not know it was written several years earlier.
Wind Beneath My Wings was written by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley in 1982, and had been recorded by a number of other artists beforehand. Midler’s recording was a number one hit single, and won the Grammy awards for Song of the Year and Record of the Year. It has since been re-recorded many more times, and has become one of the most frequently played songs at funerals.
11. There is a stage musical version
It’s become increasingly common in recent years for hit movies to be adapted into stage musicals. Beaches, as Barbara Hershey herself noted, was a “natural” choice for such an adaptation, given the role music plays in the story. So it was that in 2014, Beaches: the Musical premiered at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia.
The show was adapted from Iris Rainer Dart’s novel by playwright Thom Thomas and composer David Austin. After opening in Virginia, the show played in Illinois in 2015, and has been poised to reach both Broadway and London’s West End. To date, however, the Beaches musical has yet to be performed in either location.
10. The song about Otto Titsling was written by Bette Midler
Wind Beneath My Wings was not an original Bette Midler composition – but Beaches features one song that is. The track in question is the somewhat less emotional and considerably more ribald Otto Titsling. This vulgar comedy number is based on a popular urban legend about the invention of the bra.
The story is, of course, completely false, and was invented by British humorist Wallace Reyburn in 1971. Bette Midler co-wrote the track herself in collaboration with Jerry Blatt and Charlene Seeger. It was first recorded on Midler’s 1985 live stand-up comedy album, Mud Will Be Flung Tonight!
9. The film foretold the future
It’s not hard to note just how much common ground the character of C.C. Bloom shares with Bette Midler herself. Both women are larger-than-life, multi-talented performers who are most in their element on the stage. In one scene, C.C. and the doorman at her apartment building talk longingly about winning a Tony Award.
For those who don’t know, the Tonys are basically the Broadway equivalent of the Oscars. As it happens, Midler had in real life already won a Tony, having been given a special award in 1974. However, Midler would later go on to win another Tony, being named Best Actress in a Musical for her 2017 production of Hello, Dolly!
8. Medical knowledge has come a long way since the movie first aired
The emotional final act of Beaches sees Barbara Hershey’s Hillary meet a tragic demise from a terminal illness. We’re told her character is suffering from a medical disorder known as viral cardiomyopathy, which makes sense because when Beaches was first released, this was indeed a terminal condition with no effective treatment.
Happily, advances in medical science in the years since have significantly helped people suffering from the condition. Since 2005, thousands of people afflicted with viral cardiomyopathy have had their lives saved, as the use of beta-blockers and implantable cardio defibrillators can help alleviate symptoms and increase life expectancy.
7. The cottage is now a Beaches museum
Near the end of the film when Midler visits the dying Barbara Hershey, we are introduced to cottage number 13. This is a real location in Crystal Cove State Park in California, and it still stands today. We can also see this very same eye-catching location on the Beaches movie poster and video cover art.
The cottage quickly became famous for its association with Beaches, which has since been capitalised on. Today, the building is officially known as Cottage #13: The Beaches Film and Media Center. It has become a museum dedicated to the movie, and regularly attracts visits from fans.
6. It wouldn’t be the last time Bette Midler and director Gary Marshall would work together
Beaches would not be the last time that Bette Midler and director Garry Marshall would work together on a film. Six years later, the duo reunited on a very different movie. The movie in question was Midler’s 1994 Halloween-set family comedy adventure Hocus Pocus.
Midler played one-third of the wicked witch sisters the Sandersons, alongside Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy. Garry Marshall didn’t direct Hocus Pocus, that duty fell to Kenny Ortega, but he did make a memorable cameo appearance. Marshall plays the middle-aged man dressed up as the Devil for Halloween, in an uncredited role. Somewhat oddly, his wife is played by his real-life sister, Penny Marshall.
5. The character C.C. Bloom was actually based on Midler
We’ve already said that the character of C.C. Bloom bears a striking resemblance to real-life Bette Midler. It probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, then, that the role was written with Midler in mind. Mary Agnes Donoghue wrote the screenplay adaptation of Iris Rainer Dart’s novel, envisaging Midler as C.C right from the beginning.
Beaches was Donoghue’s second credit as a screenwriter, and she followed it with 1991’s Paradise, which she also directed. Donoghue went on to write the screenplays for Deceived, White Oleander and Veronica Guerin. She also wrote the stage play Me and Mamie O’Rourke, which was performed in London’s West End by Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.
4. It was a breakthrough role for Mayim Bialik
For younger versions of C.C., the producers were looking for a sassy redhead. Mayim Bialik, although a brunette, was perfect for the role. She was cast as the part when she was just 11, after four long months of auditions. Her physical resemblance to Bette Midler was key to her casting, although reportedly Midler herself didn’t think Bialik looked like her.
Although Beaches didn’t get great reviews, Bialik earned a lot of praise, with Variety calling her ‘extraordinary’. Three years later, Bialik landed the lead role in hit sitcom Blossom, which established her as a big star. After Blossom, she stepped away from acting to study neuroscience, but she later returned to TV as Amy on The Big Bang Theory.
3. The whole crew cried at Barbara Hershey’s death scene
Today, the mere mention of the title Beaches is synonymous with the terms ‘weepie’ and ‘tear-jerker.’ This is because of the film’s tragic emotional climax, and its knack for reducing viewers to blubbering wrecks. It turns out this wasn’t only true for viewers of the movie, but also for those making it.
On the day they shot Hillary’s death scene, Barbara Hershey recalls “When it finished and I opened my eyes, the whole crew was crying.” In an amusing twist, it just so happened that this was a day on which Hershey had brought her teenage son along to watch her work. On seeing all these tearful faces, Hershey says her child “basically thought everyone had lost their minds.”
2. The film made the Disney executive cry
Making regular viewers and crew members cry is one thing, but studio executives are another breed entirely. Such high-ranking film industry figures are infamous for their cut-throat attitudes and emotional detachment. This means that filmmakers are often wary of dealing with executives, given the power they wield to make-or-break careers.
When the finished cut of Beaches was ready to screen for the top brass at Disney to see it, nerves ran high. It turns out they needn’t have worried, because even those hardened studio figures proved susceptible to the emotional power of Beaches. Producer Margaret South reflects, “David Hoberman, who was our [Disney] executive, a tough guy, fell on the floor and burst into tears at the end of the movie.”
1. It was remade for TV in 2017 with Idina Menzel and Nia Long
You might not have known it, but Beaches is yet another 80s classic that has since been remade. A new version of Iris Rainer Dart’s story was produced as a TV movie in 2017. As C.C. Bloom, the film cast Frozen and Wicked actress Idina Menzel, a fitting choice given her Broadway musical credentials, and similar career trajectory to Bette Midler.
Meanwhile, the role of Hillary was taken by Nia Long, with co-stars including Antonio Cupo and Colin Lawrence. Directed by Allison Anders for TV network Lifetime, the Beaches remake was met with a largely negative response.