20 Things You Might Not Have Known About 80s Rom-Com Classic Overboard
Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell are one of Hollywood’s golden couples. Although they’ve never wed, they’ve been together since 1983, proving that the secret to a lasting celebrity marriage is to not bother getting married at all.
Perhaps the most celebrated film the pair made together is 1987’s Overboard, a screwball romantic comedy which casts Hawn as spoiled heiress Joanna Stayton, and Russell as struggling single father and carpenter Dean Proffitt. After a meeting between the two goes sour, Joanna is struck by amnesia – at which point Dean plots to convince her that she is his wife, forcing her to take care of his home and kids.
Sweeter than it sounds, the film has long been close to the heart of many 80s kids – but you might not know these 20 facts behind the overlooked Overboard.
20. Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s kids were present on set
Fitting considering that Overboard is largely about family, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s real children were with them on set whilst the film was in production.
One of Hollywood’s golden couples, Russell and Hawn met on the set of 1968 musical The One and Only Genuine, Original Family Band before beginning a romantic relationship in 1983.
Hawn was previously married to musician Bill Hudson, and Russell to Season Hubley; both had children from these past marriages, but were keen to have one big family. According to Hawn’s daughter Kate Hudson, “Kurt is a saviour who came into my life. He’s been there for everything,” and she considers him her true father.
On the set of Overboard, it’s rumoured that Hawn and Russell’s first child took his first steps: Wyatt Russell, who is now an actor himself.
The younger Russell starred alongside his father in Escape from L.A. (1996), appeared in 22 Jump Street (2014), and will star as U.S. Agent – an incarnation of Captain America – in the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2020).
19. Roddy McDowall produced the film as well as co-starred in it
Roddy McDowall co-stars in Overboard as Joanna’s long-suffering butler Andrew. McDowall had a long, prolific career as an actor, dating back to his childhood in the 1930s – but Overboard was also one of his few producing credits.
McDowall starred in dozens and dozens of films, everything from Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) to GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords (1986). But it was much rarer for him to produce a movie.
In the late 40s, McDowall had worked as an associate producer on several films, such as Rocky (1948) – no, not that one – and Tuna Clipper (1949). In both of these productions, McDowall was also the lead star.
For Overboard, however, McDowall took a more minor role, but also executive produced the film. For him holding that position, Overboard remains unique in his storied film career.
McDowall sadly passed away in 1998. One of his final films roles was as Mr Soil, the head of the colony of ants in A Bug’s Life (1998).
18. The film was inspired by a true story
As much as the premise of Overboard seems like one of those things that only happens in the movies, the story was surprisingly inspired by a real-life incident of a female amnesiac in Florida.
Details are understandably scarce, given the sensitivity of the issue, but news reports from 1981 tell a story of a woman found stranded in a park and not even knowing who she was.
According to a New York Times article from 1980, “an amnesia victim [was] found naked and near death in a state park seven months ago.”
“News reports of her plight and a national television appearance prompted hundreds of calls to the hospital from anxious families who thought she might be their missing daughter,” the article continues.
The woman was later identified as Cheryl Tomiczek and subsequently reunited with her family. While in limbo, she was known as Jane Doe, but preferred to keep using her new name: “I think Jane is nice,” she notes in a follow-up article. “I’m kind of used to that.”
17. You might recognise Dean’s pick-up from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Kurt Russell’s Dean Proffitt drives a beat-up blue Dodge pick-up truck in support of his carpentry business – but if you ever suspected you knew the car from another movie, you aren’t wrong.
The very same vehicle appears in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), tailgating the Griswold family in the opening sequence.
It’s not exactly known how the same truck ended up featuring in both films, though it’s likely a typical rental option for filmmakers, but the devil is in the detail.
If you look closely at the truck in Christmas Vacation, you can see that the driver-side door has been daubed over in black paint. The paint is in the exact shape and position as Dean Proffitt’s logo.
The films are both family comedies in which there are simply too many children – it just seems that Proffitt managed to offload his truck after getting plugged into his new wife’s fortune!
16. Joanna’s yacht would later appear in Indecent Proposal
Slightly higher up the vehicular glamour scale is Joanna’s yacht, dubbed the SS Immaculata in the movie, but in fact known as the Attessa – and, years later, it would be featured in another notable Hollywood movie.
The yacht would be used again in 1993’s Indecent Proposal, as the pleasure cruiser of Robert Redford’s wealthy lothario.
One of the most luxurious vessels in the world, the Attessa came complete with crystal chandeliers and velvet cheetah upholstery, and at times was also called Yecats and Huntress.
If this palace on the water wasn’t opulent enough already, the boat was later lengthened to 142 ft and a helipad was added on the aft deck.
Unfortunately, the yacht was destroyed in a fire some years later, though all crew and passengers survived.
15. Jeffrey Wiseman’s Pee-Wee Herman impersonations were ad-libbed
Dean’s son Joey, played by Jeffrey Wiseman, has a tendency to speak in an impersonation of Pee-Wee Herman – but this particular character trait did not come from the script.
Director Garry Marshall encouraged the cast to improvise, and young Wiseman, who was reportedly a bit of a handful on set, came up with the Pee-Wee voice.
It might seem a strange reference point nowadays, but it’s important to remember that Pee-wee’s Playhouse had just hit screens in 1986, and would be a children’s entertainment staple until 1990.
Wiseman continued his work as a child actor until 1992. While Overboard was his most loquacious role, his most widely seen performance undoubtedly comes playing Mitch Murphy in Home Alone (1990).
You might not recognise the name, but Mitch Murphy is Kevin McCallister’s neighbour who comes over during the family’s rush to the airport. He accidentally gets tallied in the headcount of children, leading to Kevin being left behind.
14. John Candy was considered for the role of Dean’s buddy Billy
Character actor Michael Hagerty takes a key supporting role in Overboard as Billy, best friend of Russell’s Dean, but the filmmakers had originally courted a bigger name for the part: John Candy.
However, production on Overboard clashed with Candy’s work on Planes, Trains & Automobiles, so he had to decline.
As much as we’d have loved to see John Candy in Overboard, it would be hard to give up John Hughes’ classic buddy film!
Hagerty proficiently fills John Candy’s boots, at least insofar as anyone could compete with the legendary actor.
Also known for his role as building superintendent Mr Treeger in Friends (1994-04), Hagerty has performed in a wide variety of TV shows and films, from Cheers to Seinfeld to Ally McBeal.
13. The Arturo and Katerina story wasn’t in the script, and the screenwriter hates it
Once Dean and Annie (as Dean renames her) come to fall in love, he woos her with an old sea legend about lovers lost at sea. This, however, was not in Leslie Dixon’s script, and she is highly disdainful of the plot device.
Dixon told Vanity Fair in 2017 that this part of Overboard “embarrasses me to this day,” even though she still loves the rest of the film.
Even more strangely, the story of the drowned lovers appears to be entirely original. While it’s drawn from a long history of women longing for the return of their seafaring lovers, it’s not clear exactly how it ended up in the film.
The characters of Arturo and Katerina may originate in an opera by Carlo Coccia named Caterina di Guisa, which sees the two characters illicitly fall in love, much to the disdain of Caterina’s husband, Henry I of Guise.
It may seem a little highbrow for a rom-com, but all ideas have to come from somewhere!
12. The film has been remade four times, including as a South Korean TV show
They’re remaking everything these days, and a hugely watchable comedy like Overboard is no exception – though few films have the dubious honour of having been remade four times.
Western audiences will most likely be familiar with the 2018 remake, starring Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez. This was a faithful recreation of the original, except for one major difference: a gender-swap, with Faris’ character rehabilitating Derbez’ snobby amnesiac.
In between the original film and the remake, Overboard served as inspiration for several foreign films from all over the globe.
1992 saw the release of Ek Ladka Ek Ladki, a Hindi film that retains the central premise of Overboard, while also throwing in the tantalising complication of the heiress being cheated out of her fortune by an unscrupulous relative. In fact, her speedboating accident is entirely and nefariously planned.
The film was then remade again, as 1997’s Malayalam film Mayaponman, and in 2006 as South Korean TV series Couple or Trouble. In the latter, both lead characters end up overboard, though only one develops amnesia. We won’t rest until there’s an Overboard remake that sees everyone in the drink!
11. Anna Faris sought Hawn and Russell’s blessing to remake the film
When it came to the 2018 remake, the pressure was certainly on for Anna Faris. While Kurt Russell is a well-liked actor with a stellar catalogue of films, few actors are as beloved as Goldie Hawn .
“I had a lot of emotions about it,” Faris told SheKnows in 2018. “It’s one of my favorite all-time movies that I have! And I was nervous about filling such big shoes – Goldie Hawn has been such a hero of mine.”
When Russell and Hawn learned that a new version of Overboard was in the works, and that Faris was attached, the couple invited the younger actress out to dinner.
“I wanted to reassure him that this was different but would also hopefully honor the movie that they made,” Faris said of Russell. “I think all of us as a production have been worried that superfans like myself would feel like we are treading on very sacred ground…”
At the end of the meal, Faris says she got the blessing of her two idols, and they even paid for the meal!
10. It was the last film Russell and Hawn would make together for 31 years
Although Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn have had a remarkably solid relationship over the past three decades, their careers have never quite been in sync. In fact, they’ve only starred alongside each other four times.
Although the pair met while working on The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, neither had top billing, making it easy to discount it from the list of Hawn-Russell collaborations.
Their next picture, 1984’s Swing Shift, was a critically acclaimed romantic drama war film. But when your genre has more syllables than ‘onomatopoeia’, it’s a tough sell. Swing Shift was a notorious box office flop.
The pair followed Swing Shift up with the modestly successful Overboard, which earned a mild box office profit but noticeably tepid reviews. But compared to solo efforts like Shampoo (1975) and Escape from New York (1981), it seems that something just wasn’t working on the silver screen.
These difficulties meant the couple would not co-star again for 31 years, when Hawn briefly appeared as Mrs Claus opposite Russell’s Santa in The Christmas Chronicles (2018).
9. Kurt Russell’s father has a cameo
As is so often the case in Hollywood, acting is a family business for Kurt Russell. As we’ve mentioned, he helped his son break into the industry with a part in Escape from LA, but it’s less common for children to be getting their parents a gig.
Such was the case in Overboard, in which Kurt Russell’s father, Bing Russell, has a cameo as Sheriff Earl. It’s a minor role, but represents one of only a handful of silver screen appearances for Russell Sr.
Bing Russell had always dreamed of being an actor, and broke through in the 1959 TV series Bonanza, in which he played Deputy Clem Foster.
Russell went on to star in several notable TV shows, such as The Fugitive, The Twilight Zone, and I Dream of Jeannie, but major parts in film would always elude him. He was helped by the success of his son, who gained him roles in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) and Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972).
Bing Russell also owned the Portland Mavericks, the only independent baseball team in the Class A Northwest League. He kept all corporate sponsorship out of the interior of the stadium, and hired the league’s first female general manager, Lanny Moss.
8. It was Ray Combs’ first – and last – film
Ray Combs is best known as a sharp-tongued gameshow host, most notably of the second incarnation of Family Feud. But before his big break making families look stupid, Combs scored a role on a highly anticipated 1987 Hawn-Russell project.
Combs stars in Overboard as a cop in the hospital, who demands proof that Dean is really Annie’s husband. Needless to say, his idea of what constitutes proof is a bit wonky!
But make no mistake – this isn’t some ‘before they were famous’ Easter egg. Combs had already made a name for himself as a stand-up comic, performing on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show to a raucous reception, and being a regular warm-up act for classic comedies like The Golden Girls.
Combs then went on to host Family Feud for seven years, though he was temporarily replaced by the previous host, Richard Dawson, as ratings began to tumble.
Mired in debt and despair at his dismissal from Family Feud, Combs committed suicide by hanging in 1996.
7. It was poorly reviewed at the time, but has become a cult classic since
It’s hard to believe today, especially for any Goldie Hawn fans out there (or Hawn-dogs, as we’re dubbing them), but Overboard didn’t exactly get a rosy reception on its release.
Variety slated the film as “an uninspiring, unsophisticated attempt at an updated screwball comedy that is brought down by plodding script…”
In fact, almost all of Variety’s praise is saved for Goldie Hawn’s performance, describing the other turns – except for Hagerty – as “pedestrian.” There’s no more damning criticism than being called ‘pedestrian’ by Variety.
However, while Overboard’s box office was unremarkable, it holds some insight into the film’s future cult status: it made $1.9 million in its first weekend, and then continued to increase its takings, and then increased them again. In short, positive word of mouth saved the film.
Nowadays, fans praise Overboard for the raw chemistry between Russell and Hawn, its good-natured comedy, and Hawn’s amazing heiress fashion.
6. It was influenced by a hugely political Italian film
To steal a Ray Combs line: if we surveyed 100 people and asked them to describe Overboard, what would they say? Screwball rom-com would certainly be high on the list. Communist-capitalist soul-searching would be… well, a big old X.
But if you’re a fan of our articles, you might already know that classic films often have the strangest inspirations. Hollywood screenwriters are, obviously, major cinephiles, and there’s nothing cinephiles love more than Italian filmmaking.
Swept Away (or: Swept Away… by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August to go on its full title) is a 1974 film in which a rich yacht owner and a member of her crew are stranded on a deserted island.
The yacht owner, an unrepentant capitalist, and her communist crew member clash. The crew member is better suited to island life, and forces his former boss into a subservient role – which includes sexual subservience.
Once they return to civilisation, they both regain their normal lives, and both are deeply affected by the societal disruption that took place. It’s… a bit weightier than Overboard, for sure.
5. Reese Witherspoon loves the film so much it’s her email address
Reese Witherspoon has starred in some of the biggest films, from Legally Blonde (2001) to Walk the Line (2005). Not only that, but Witherspoon is a leading advocate of women on screen, and has produced numerous women-led films and TV shows under her production company Hello Sunshine.
Born in 1976, Witherspoon grew up in the Goldie Hawn golden age, and was hugely influenced by her work – and one film in particular stood out. Witherspoon recently revealed that her first email address was [email protected]
Sidenote: don’t you miss when the world was full of pithy email addresses, complete with kitschy rom-com references, rather than just Gmails with names attached? Just us?
Witherspoon is such a fan of Hawn that in 2017 she was chosen to present Hawn and Russell with their stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“She just lights up the screen. She’s lit up my life,” Witherspoon said at the ceremony. “She’s changed my life, and she’s quite simply my idol.”
4. The screenwriter is the granddaughter of legendary photographer Dorothea Lange
Like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (the game that posits everyone is connected to Kevin Bacon by six steps or fewer), it turns out Overboard has its own tangled web of relationships. For example, screenwriter Leslie Dixon is the granddaughter of Dorothea Lange, the famous photographer.
Born in 1895, Lange is best known for her photojournalism during the Great Depression. You may not recognise her name, but you’ll almost certainly recognise her most famous photo.
Migrant Mother (1936) depicts Florence Owens Thompson as she and her family search for work on a pea-picking farm. It’s an image that has become emblematic of the jobless destitution of the era.
Leslie Dixon is also the granddaughter of esteemed landscape artist Maynard Dixon. She has said of her grandparents, when interviewed for a Broadway World podcast, “Both my grandparents’ work goes at Sotheby’s for a million, but these artists made no real money in their lifetimes.”
What’s certain is that Leslie Dixon has made some real money, penning box office hits aplenty, from Overboard to Mrs Doubtfire (1993).
3. There’s a brewing gaslighting controversy over the film
It’s fair to say that a lot of media has been reassessed in the past few years – both as a natural consequence of time passing, and as a result of renewed focus after the rise of the #MeToo movement. And we’re sorry to say that Overboard doesn’t come out unscathed.
While the film is still viewed positively, Birth. Movies. Death. has sardonically described it as “the most heartwarming rom-com about gaslighting ever made.”
Gaslighting is the abusive practice by which someone encourages their partner to doubt themselves and their reality. This often manifests in saying they’re crazy, or claiming that certain events never took place, or that the victim’s version of those events is wrong.
Regardless of how you feel about Overboard, it’s easy to see why the film might be accused of promoting this behaviour: after all, Dean literally tricks Joanna into thinking she’s a different person in order to take revenge.
Dixon has poo-pooed these points. “There’s nothing wrong with Dean other than the fact he doesn’t know how to be a mother,” she told Vanity Fair in 2017. “He knows how to be a father, but he’s too permissive, and the kids are running wild … What Dean does to Joanna, the audience kind of roots him on.”
2. Hawn and Russell rewatched it instead of having sex
Actors don’t often rewatch their old movies – unless it’s for an ironic art project – but Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn love Overboard so much they preferred watching it to having sex.
“We hadn’t seen it from the beginning; we don’t watch our movies,” said Hawn on the Late Late Show. “You know how sometimes you forget why you fell in love? I remembered everything, and why I fell in love. It was really something to be able to watch that.”
“We were going to make love,” she continues, “so that put the whole kibosh on that…” though in hindsight “it was actually a turn on.”
As for Kurt Russell, he said of the encounter in a separate Men’s Health interview, “You remember things you didn’t realize you remembered, and you’re completely inundated with the sweep of memory.”
It’s certainly ironic that a film about amnesia helped the couple remember the spark behind their relationship!
1. The film might have derailed a presidential campaign
You thought you knew everything about Overboard, but did you know that it made Barack Obama president? Well, it might not be fair to extrapolate quite that far, but there’s still an interesting story here.
In the party scene on the yacht, there are several glamourous women dancing. One of these women is Rielle Hunter, a film producer who would go on to change the course of American history.
Hunter is best known for having conducted an extramarital affair – and conceiving a child – with then-Senator John Edwards in 2007. Edwards had been the Democratic Party’s nominee for Vice-President in 2004, and was seeking the presidential nomination in 2008.
Edwards was a leading contender in the race until the scandal broke, which derailed his campaign; it ultimately ended in ignominy.
Barack Obama would go on to capture the nomination and then the presidency. So, when you think about it, he really owes it to Goldie Hawn!