Beverly Hills, 90210 was the pop-culture sensation of the 90s. The world was introduced to teen heartthrobs Luke Perry and Jason Priestley, while the likes of Shannen Doherty, Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth all became household names thanks to the show’s success. The series centred around a group of high school students living on the West Coast as they transitioned from school to adult life. Despite the relatively superficial premise, 90210 wasn’t afraid to address some serious issues over the course of the series, with storylines involving date rape, drug abuse and AIDS all featuring prominently.
We’ve brought you some things you didn’t know about Beverly Hills, 90210. Enjoy!
21. One of the actors thought the series was completely superficial
It was a programme about a bunch of entitled rich kids… and apparently that premise didn’t go over the heads of some of the actors who were involved in the series! In fact, Ian Ziering had to think twice about appearing in the programme because he was seriously unimpressed by the subject matter. Ziering had already moved back to New Jersey (his home state) when he received a call from his agent about a lead role in Beverly Hills, 90210.
As soon as he got the script, Ziering realised that some aspects of the show were a little bit…shallow, to say the least: “When I read the script for 90210, I thought, ‘Boy, this is very superficial,’ and it was.” Ziering told Entertainment Weekly:“I mean, the pilot was all about the glitz and the glamour of Beverly Hills, the obnoxious kids, and the fish-out-of-water story of Brenda and Brandon Walsh. “I couldn’t discern from that first script that the show would become very issue-oriented.”
20. Shannen Doherty’s audition went badly wrong
Shannen Doherty was one of the main stars in 90210. She played Brenda Walsh, the female lead for the first four seasons of the show and moved from being a fish out of water on the West Coast to being a confident member of the popular clique at West Beverly High. However, Doherty nearly ruined her own chances of bagging the lead role of Brenda after a horrible audition which left her convinced that she was never going to be hired.
Doherty explained in an interview with The New York Times: “My audition was horrible. I actually remember walking out and saying: ‘I lost that job. I blew it.’ And the casting director came out and sort of winked at me and said, ‘I wouldn’t count yourself out yet, kiddo.’ And I was like, ‘ok, whatever.’” Wow! Seems like they were really keen to get Doherty on board (they just had no idea about her lateness or bad attitude at that point…)
19. Dylan McKay was never supposed to be a recurring character
Luke Perry was one of the biggest heart throbs of the 90s. He was cool, good-looking and definitely had a James Dean vibe about him. So fans of the series might be surprised to learn that Perry’s on-screen character Dylan McKay was only supposed to be a guest star on the show. Producers had originally only intended for McKay to be a minor character in the series – his story arc was only supposed to last a few episodes.
However, Aaron Spelling loved Perry’s performance so much that he immediately expanded the role. Perry told The Hollywood Reporter: “I was a guest star, and Aaron wanted to make me a regular. The studio didn’t want to pick up the deal, and he used that instance to illustrate an important principle: He gets to pick who’s on the show.
“He didn’t want me to have to go in the room with the network, but he calmly looked at me and said, ‘Go get ’em, kid.’” Aww! Spelling definitely had the right instinct when it came to Perry’s rising popularity. Funnily enough, executives were already familiar with Perry as he had previously unsuccessfully auditioned for the role of Steve Sanders.
18. Aaron Spelling tried to control his daughter Tori’s storylines
Aaron Spelling was naturally very protective about what happened to his daughter Tori’s on-screen character Donna. Executive producer Larry Mollin once revealed the full extent of this concern to Vulture: “The thing that was always at play in the Donna story was that Donna was played by the daughter of Aaron Spelling. The minute we’d go in to pitch stories about an episode, he’d ask, ‘What’s Donna doing this week?’
“Even though Donna wasn’t one of the main characters in the inner-circle—she was a supporting character, really, in the beginning—you always had to start what the episode was about with, ‘What was Donna doing?’ That’s what the old man wanted to hear. It was sweet. It was actually very endearing, his admiration for her. Tori was really out there. She was just enjoying herself. So even though the old man couldn’t control her, he could control Donna Martin.”
Spelling once agreed that her father had been quite mindful of what happened to her character on-screen, stating: “When I was first cast, Donna was a just a smaller side character. She was a friend of Kelly and Brenda’s. So there was never a discussion about her character staying a virgin. I think she stayed a virgin because once we established that she was a fan favourite, people really started relating to her. Teens constantly would approach me and tell me that they were virgins and they had times where they were scared that being a virgin would make them seem uncool, but then Donna made it okay.”
17. Gabrielle Carteris was 29 years old when she was cast to play Andrea Zuckerman
Gabrielle Carteris is well-known to fans of the series as bespectacled Andrea Zuckerman. Although it’s common knowledge that not many of the actors who played their characters were teenagers anymore, Carteris was actually 29 years old when she won the part of Andrea! The actress herself admitted she was worried about producers finding out…
The actress stated: “They didn’t know, I lied. I actually talked to a lawyer about how could I sign these contracts and lie about my age and still be able to do the show. ‘Is it OK?’ And, ‘Yes it is, as long as you just say you’re over 21.’” Eventually Carteris’ real age caught up with her when a journalist managed to find out the truth: “Then a magazine—that I won’t say—did an interview on the show with somebody else and they went and asked my agent [my age], I said, ‘I don’t talk about my age,’ or whatever, they found it in the DMV, illegally.
“So, then they were printing it and I thought, ‘This is it! I’m gonna lose the job, there’s no way.’ By that time, the show had been on long enough, so it was OK.” It also turns out that Ziering was only one year younger than Carteris! The actor told EW: “I was 28 years old playing a 16-year-old. I just kept my mouth shut. I never talked about it. And I wasn’t the oldest in the cast either. I just thought, if they’re going to buy, I’m going to sell it.”
16. Beverly Hills High wanted nothing to do with the series
As you can imagine, Beverly Hills High didn’t want anything to do with 90210. We all know that West Beverly High is a fictional school, but many of its scenes had to be filmed around a real-life location. Executives quickly approached Beverly Hills High – but they weren’t keen on the idea at all. Instead, filming for all of the school scenes took place at Torrance High School, 20 miles away from Beverly Hills High. Apparently Beverly Hills High wouldn’t allow use of its name or its location.
Any 90s kids will probably think that the high school set we see on screen looks suspiciously familiar…and that’s because Torrance High has played host to a number of classic shows over the years. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, She’s All That and the 90210 reboot were all filmed within its confines, so the building definitely boasts a lot of TV history within its walls.
15. There was plenty of in-fighting between the main cast members
It’s ironic that 90210 was all about a bunch of high school kids, because apparently that’s how all of the main actors behaved away from the cameras. There was plenty of drama amongst the actors, and actress Jennie Garth has previously spoken out about just how bad things got in an interview with The New York Times. The actress explained: “There were times when it was worse than high school.
“The environment there was like: Are you kidding me? There was a lot of tension and unnecessary drama on the set, a certain amount of competition, and a certain—probably—anger about different salaries as the years progressed. People would find out how much someone was making, and then they’d be angry and want that, or if you got days off in your contract, they’d want that.
“Nobody was brave enough to step in and set us straight, and have a serious talk with us about it.” However, there was also a lot of love (or loving) going on behind the scenes too. Jason Priestley once wrote in his memoir: “Various combinations of people slept with each other over the years. He also confessed that his first adult relationship was with his co-star Christine Elise (who played Emily Valentine).
14. Tiffani Thiessen needed a hand double in her very first episode
Tiffani Thiessen joined the cast in season five after Shannen Doherty’s departure. She quickly became a fan favourite, playing the lead role of Valerie Malone aka West Beverly’s bad girl. Fans were instantly introduced to her rebellious character when they were shown a scene depicting Valerie smoking a dubious leafy substance. Naughty!
Funnily enough, actress Thiessen wasn’t actually able to roll it herself, despite several attempts to do so. This left producers with a bit of a problem! They really wanted to include the scene, so were forced to bring in a ‘hand model’ to show Valerie rolling one hand. Thiessen explained to EW: “They wanted me to roll [it] with one hand so I looked like some kind of pro. I couldn’t do it. The person you see is actually somebody else’s hand rolling.”
Aww! Luckily that was the only time anybody needed to come in and help Thiessen with her character – she went on to make Valerie completely her own.
13. None of the cast members were allowed to cut their hair or wear sunglasses
Aaron Spelling was apparently very strict when it came to his 90210 stars. Sources from behind the scenes have revealed that Spelling used to grow infuriated when one of his actors would come back from a holiday with a haircut – one of the producers on the show has revealed the full extent of Spelling’s paranoia about hairstyles.
Publicist Kevin Sasaki once told The Hollywood Reporter: “If someone came back after hiatus with a completely different haircut, Aaron would go crazy.” This particular quirk was confirmed by none other than his daughter Tori, who didn’t dare venture out to the salon during her time on the show: “Hair was very important to my dad. And if you watch, there are never sunglasses on 90210.
“He’d always say, ‘Let them see it in your eyes before they hear it in your words.’ Luke Perry’s famous squint was probably because my dad wouldn’t let him wear sunglasses.” Wow! So Perry had Spelling to thank for that brooding look then.
12. Hilary Swank was fired from the series
Most people might not realise that double Oscar-winner Hilary Swank once had a main role on 90210! Swank appeared on the show as Carly Reynolds from 1997 to 1998. Her character was slightly different – Carly was a single mother who played Sander’s love interest on the eighth season. But despite being contracted for two years, Swank was fired after only 16 episodes on the series.
In a 2014 interview with Conan O’Brien, Swank admitted that as a young actress she had been devastated over leaving the hit show. However, it turned out to be a fateful move for Swank… After being fired from the show, she went on to star as Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry (1999) – and won her first Oscar! So she can’t have been too gutted about being sacked from the series.
At the time it must have felt like a big deal, but everything happens for a reason – and now Hilary Swank has two shiny Oscar statuettes on her mantel! Still, we’ll always remember her as Carly!
11. The Walsh family don’t actually live in Beverly Hills
Show executives had to do a bit of cheating when it came to the Walsh’s actual location… In the first season, the whole series is based around Brenda and Brandon as they try to adjust to live on the West Coast after moving to Beverly Hills from Minneapolis. But all is not as it seems… In fact, the Walsh family’s house isn’t located in Beverly Hills at all. The house used for exterior shots of their residence is actually situated at 1675 East Altadena Drive, Altadena.
Altadena is about 30 miles away from Beverly Hills. Unfortunately executives just couldn’t see Altadena, 91001 having quite the same success so they obviously kept the title the same. Super fans of the series can actually visit the Walsh residence today – it’s still there and often attracts rabid 90210 pilgrims who want to relive the classic 90s series. Sadly Jason Priestley doesn’t live there in reality though, so who really cares?
10. John Hughes and Thirtysomething were both huge influences on the show
Producer Darren Star has a lot of TV hits under his belt. He’s responsible for bringing us Sex and the City, Melrose Place and of course – Beverly Hills, 90210. In fact, Star was only 27 years old when he was approached by Fox executives to come up with a series based around teenagers living in Beverly Hills. Naturally Star jumped at the chance – Aaron Spelling had already signed on to the project as a producer – and he began looking around for inspiration.
It turns out that Star was heavily influenced by director John Hughes and the series Thirtysomething. He told the New York Times: “The one show I really liked was Thirtysomething. “The issues were so small and particular to that group, and I wanted teenagers to examine their own navels, in a sense. It would be their point of view, like the John Hughes movies that were very popular at the time, like The Breakfast Club.” Who knew?! Beverly Hills, 90210 proved to be a massive hit for Star thanks to his excellent work on the series.
9. Jason Priestley only had a weekend to prepare before filming began
Brandon Walsh was the last role to be cast. Long after Shannen Dohert, Tori Spelling and everybody else had been confirmed for the series, executives were still desperately searching around for somebody to play Brenda’s brother. Finally they managed to find Jason Priestley…right at the very last minute! The actor once discussed just how tight the timing was: “Everybody had been cast except for Brandon. I read for Aaron on Thursday. I got the job Friday afternoon, and on Monday we started production.” Wow!
If his start on the show was fairly rushed, Priestley has very sour memories of when it was finally time for him to leave. By the ninth season, the actor had also become a producer and director on the series, but things had clearly gone wrong somewhere behind the scenes because there was zero fanfare once he departed. Priestley explained: “When I left the show, it was so anticlimactic, it just left a bad taste in my mouth. It was the fourth episode of the ninth season. I did the first scene of the morning—literally with this actor who was brought in to replace me—and that was it.
“I hugged the crew, picked up my box of stuff, went to my car and drove away. There was no party, no nothing. I felt like I’d wasted nine years of my life.”
8. The casting directors had ‘no idea’ that Tori Spelling was Aaron’s daughter
There were probably a few eyebrows raised when the other cast members found out that Tori Spelling was producer Aaron’s daughter. However, an urban legend has floated around for a long time stating that the casting directors had no idea that Tori was essentially their bosses daughter. Spelling herself has a few thoughts about that particular rumour though…
Spelling auditioned under a different name, and only found out about the series after receiving a call from her agent. She explained exactly what happened in an interview with Entertainment Weekly: “I heard about the show from my agent. She said, ‘Your dad is doing it.’ I was like, ‘I haven’t heard anything about it.’ I popped into his briefcase when he got home, and I was like, cool. I really wanted to play Andrea. I went in under a different name, then I got the part of Donna—which I’m sure had something to do with my dad.”
Even Tori doesn’t quite believe that the casting directors had no idea who her father was! Nevertheless, Spelling really brought the role of Donna to life so it didn’t matter in the long run anyway. After Aaron sadly passed away in 2006, Tori referred to him as “my idol.”
7. The show became a hit thanks to two very subtle changes
Believe it or not, 90210 was not an overnight success. The show initially suffered from lukewarm viewing figures throughout much of the first season, leaving executives scratching their heads about where to go with the show. However, two things managed to spur the series into the worldwide phenomenon it would later become. Fans will remember that the season one finale saw Brenda losing her virginity to Dylan – a storyline that really helped to boost the ratings among younger audiences.
Then the network decided to air the series over the summer rather than the winter. Entertainment Weekly reported: “By the end of season two, 90210 nearly double[d] its audience (from 9.5 to 17.4 million viewers), and [was] pulling in an astonishing 52 share of teen TV-watchers. Then came the hysterical fans, the mall riots, the action figures …” Pretty soon 90210 was the biggest teen drama on the planet and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wasn’t watching it each week. Things could have been so different…
6. A bomb threat was once called in during filming
90210 eventually got so popular that it even attracted acts of terrorism. Apparently when the cast and crew were getting ready to film the infamous graduation scene – which involved plenty of extras milling about on set – a bomb threat was called in to the set. But it didn’t quite have the intended effect! Actress Jennie Garth became a household name thanks to her time on the show and found the news entertaining rather than frightening.
The actress once explained: “We got a bomb threat once. While we were filming a graduation scene, someone hid a bomb underneath the bleachers. It was like, ‘Ooh! We hit it big!’” Not the most natural response to a bomb threat but hey – they were right, 90210 was one of the most successful teen dramas of the 90s and attracted a lot of attention along the way. Garth would later appear in the ill-fated 90210 reboot.
5. The characters had a lot of different name changes
Everybody knows who Dylan McKay and Brandon Walsh are. But who is Donna Morgan?! Fans will remember that Donna wasn’t initially a very large character on the show and in fact, in a season one episode her character is referred to as Donna Morgan, not the more iconic Donna Martin. Donna is auditioning to be the school’s DJ when somebody announces her name as Donna Morgan. The Morgans/Martins actually experienced a few name changes over the seasons…
In the first season, we’re introduced to Donna’s mother ‘Nancy’ (pictured below) who is played by actress Jordana Capra throughout the initial series. By season two, things had changed… Donna’s mother experienced a name change of her own and was referred to as Felice from the second season onwards. And that wasn’t the only adjustment that executives made. Actress Katherine Cannon took over from Capra and played the role of Felice for the rest of the series.
4. Tiffani Thiessen and Brian Austin Green were a couple when Thiessen first joined the cast
Actress Tiffani Thiessen was actually in a relationship when she joined 90210. And her boyfriend happened to be none other than Brian Austin Green, who was playing David Silver at the time. This relationship caused more than a few problems on set, especially when it came to the more romantic storylines. Thiessen played Valerie Malone, the replacement to Shannen Doherty’s character Brenda, and she ended up kissing with Luke Perry’s character Dylan in the very first episode.
Thiessen once recalled: “That was probably the more awkward thing. Literally having your boyfriend on the show and then literally kissing another man, ‘I get paid for this, honey. I don’t know what to tell you.'” We’d like to get paid to have that job! Sadly Thiessen and Green split up in the mid 90s, with Green eventually dating another of his 90210 co-stars – Vanessa Marcil (who played Gina Kincaid). Marcil and Green actually have a child together named Kassius, who was born in 2002.
3. Ziering once trashed his dressing room
Ian Ziering was not happy about his rape accusation storyline, and once made sure that everyone knew about it. The storyline in question came during the show’s fourth season, and Ziering was struggling with how intensely his character Steve Sanders was suffering – to the point that he had a mini-breakdown during filming. Ziering was given a great script to work with for the false rape accusation storyline, and in return he delivered an epic performance. But the actor grew angry when it turned out that a lot of his scenes had been heavily edited.
Ziering decided to completely destroy his dressing room in response to the changes that had been made. The actor explained: “But, they edited out so much powerful stuff. That was like the first time I really got some great words to say and I workshopped them and I studied. I brought game, and it never even made it through the edit. Ziering then admitted: “I tore the dressing rooms apart. We all work so hard for our characters and to not even get a heads up … I’m not a volatile person, I have a very long fuse, but after working so hard on this particular episode, I just didn’t feel like they were with me on this one.” Yikes! We can’t imagine how frustrating that must have been – to put in all that preparation and not get the chance to see your work on screen.
2. They weren’t really shouting “Donna Martin Graduates”
The ‘Donna Martin graduates’ scene is probably one of the most famous storylines in the whole series. By the third season, Donna was slowly becoming a bigger character. Eventually she ended up getting drunk at prom and the school banned her from graduating – and her classmates had the best response ever! The episode features Donna’s West Beverly classmates protesting against the school administration and doing the infamous “Donna Martin Graduates” chant to make sure that she graduates alongside them.
But it turns out that nobody was yelling that particular chant at all. In his 2014 memoir, Priestley revealed that he had instructed everybody to yell “Donna Martin Masturbates” instead! Priestley remembered the little prank fondly: “I knew they were going to go back and reloop this dialogue anyway, so it was pretty irresistible.” Nice! Listen closely next time you’re watching the iconic scene.
1. Luke Perry was actually on Team Brandon
Luke Perry’s character Dylan spent most of his time battling for Kelly’s affections. Even though Brandon was his best friend, one of the central romantic storylines involved Dylan and Luke trying to get together with Kelly Taylor. And Perry has revealed that he always wanted to see Kelly end up with Brandon! Perry once revealed in an interview with Bill Simmons: “My guy was a lot of things, [but] stable wasn’t one of them. If you’re looking out for her in the long term, which is what you wanna do, then you gotta do that thing and fall on the sword and let your best friend have her and that’s what my guy would do.”
Aww! How about you? Were you on Team Brandon or Team Dylan?