20 Mad Facts About 1991’s What About Bob?
A film that sees the ever-brilliant Bill Murray follow his poor psychiatrist on holiday, What About Bob? employs comedy to explore the paper-thin line between sanity and madness.
Film reviewer Leonard Maltin has compared the relationship between Murray’s Bob Wiley and Richard Dreyfuss’ Dr Leo Marvin to the one shared by the Road Runner and Wile E Coyote in the classic Looney Tunes animation, and if you’ve watched What About Bob? then you’ll know exactly what he means.
We’ve collected some fascinating facts about What About Bob? into a handy list. Typical of Bill Murray, this comedy is fun to watch, but was apparently much less fun behind the scenes…
20. Woody Allen was approached to direct, write and star
What About Bob? made it to screens in 1991 with Frank Oz directing lead actors Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss.
However, this was not the plan when Touchstone Pictures (the more mature, dramatic wing of Walt Disney Studios) first announced the film in 1989.
At that point, it was announced that What About Bob? would team Bill Murray with another film comedy icon of the time, Woody Allen.
Allen was considered the perfect fit for the role of Bob’s long-suffering psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin.
The famed filmmaker tended only to act in films which he wrote and directed himself, so Allen was also offered the director’s chair and the option to rewrite the screenplay.
However, Allen had an exclusivity deal with Orion Pictures at the time, so he was legally unable to take the job.
19. It could have seen Robin Williams star opposite Patrick Stewart
Even though Bill Murray was linked to What About Bob? from early on, Hollywood knows better than to put all its eggs in one basket.
Another comedy legend, Robin Williams, was linked to the role of Bob at one point in development.
However, Williams – a very busy actor in the early 90s with such films as Dead Poet’s Society, Hook and The Fisher King – decided to turn it down.
A number of actors were also considered for the role of Dr Leo Marvin before Richard Dreyfuss was cast.
Reportedly director Frank Oz’s first choice for the part was Patrick Stewart, then best known for his role on TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Other actors said to have been in contention for the role include Chevy Chase, Kevin Kline and James Caan, whilst Steve Martin was also a possibility for either of the leads.
18. Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss did not get along during filming
The characters of Bob Wiley and Dr. Leo Marvin have a rather difficult relationship on screen, but things were worse off camera.
Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss have both openly admitted they didn’t get along at all during filming.
Dreyfuss told Yahoo! in 2019 that Murray was a “drunken bully,” and recounted the actor roaring, “everybody hates you! You are tolerated!” directly in his face over dinner.
Dreyfuss recalls that immediately after this Murray hurled a heavy glass ash tray at his head, and just barely missed.
Even so, Dreyfuss admitted in another interview with The AV Club, “I’ve got to give it to [Murray], I don’t like him, but he makes me laugh even now.”
Murray reflected on things a little differently, saying in 1993, “Richard Dreyfuss and I didn’t get along particularly, but it worked for the movie. I mean, I drove him nuts, and he encouraged me to drive him nuts.”
17. Leo Marvin’s ‘teenage’ daughter was actually 26 years old
Kathryn Erbe co-stars in What About Bob? as Anna Marvin, the teenage daughter of Leo (Dreyfuss) and Fay (Julie Hagerty).
Of course, actors who play high school age characters on screen are often a little older in real life.
In Erbe’s case there was quite a significant gap, as the actress was actually 26 years old at the time the film was being shot.
Indeed, Erbe is only 10 years younger than her on screen mother Hagerty, who was 36 at the time.
What About Bob? was only Erbe’s second film role, following her 1989 debut Runaway Dreams.
Erbe has since been best known for her role on TV series Law and Order: Criminal Intent.
16. Frank Oz thought the film would turn out to be “a piece of s**t”
What About Bob? director Frank Oz has enjoyed one of the most unique and varied Hollywood careers of the past 50 years,
He first gained recognition alongside Jim Henson was one of the central performers and puppeteers with The Muppets, and this would lead to him serving as puppeteer and voice actor for Yoda in the Star Wars sequels.
Oz then became a noted director himself, first collaborating with Henson on The Dark Crystal and The Muppets Take Manhattan, then going solo on hits Little Shop of Horrors and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
However, Oz was not entirely confident that What About Bob? would turn out to be a decent movie during production.
Speaking to Ain’t It Cool in 2007, Oz admitted the set was “full of tension,” and says “I was really scared to death that we had a piece of s**t, because it was so impossible to judge it.”
The director reflects, “I felt I knew what I was doing, but there was this huge sigh of relief when the movie worked.”
15. Siggy actor Charlie Korsmo is now a law professor
For a few years in the early 90s, Charlie Korsmo was one of the most familiar child actors around.
After making his debut aged 10 in Men Don’t Leave, Korsmo appeared as ‘the Kid’ in 1990 blockbuster Dick Tracy.
1990’s Heat Wave followed before Korsmo appeared in What About Bob?, The Doctor and most famously Steven Spielberg’s Hook in 1991.
However, Korsmo’s career cooled down after Hook, and he didn’t take another film role until 1998’s Can’t Hardly Wait.
Korsmo says he was “tired of the grind and wanted to go back to school,” and he wound up getting himself a serious education.
First he got a B.S. in physics from the illustrious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then a law degree from the similarly prestigious Yale Law School. Today, he’s a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland.
14. Richard Dreyfuss sued Disney over his share of the film’s profits
The behind the scenes drama on What About Bob? didn’t end once the film wrapped production.
Many years later, actor Richard Dreyfuss filed a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company over the film.
Dreyfuss sued the studio in a dispute over his promised share of the film’s profits.
The lawsuit, filed in 2015, claimed that Disney refused to allow a firm that specialises in ‘profit participation audits’ to examine What About Bob?’s financial returns.
Dreyfuss filed the suit alongside Christine Turner, widow of Turner & Hooch producer Raymond Wagner, who said the same of that film’s returns.
Dreyfuss ultimately withdrew from the suit, but Turner reached a settlement with Disney in 2018.
13. The film’s ‘insane asylum’ remains a popular tourist destination
Remember the scene in which Bob sweet-talks the staff of a psychiatric unit?
Well, it was filmed at the Elks National Retirement Home in Bedford, Virginia.
Built in 1916, the 100 acre property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
The Elks National Home historic district includes 23 contributing buildings, 3 contributing sites, 1 contributing structure, and 2 contributing objects.
In 2014 the home was purchased for $4.5 million and renamed English Meadows Elks Home.
Every Christmas the home puts up thousands of festive lights and it’s still a popular tourist destination for fans of the film.
12. Bill Murray improvised many of his best scenes
Bill Murray has long been known to improvise heavily in his big screen comedy performances.
This was certainly the case in What About Bob? in which Murray ad-libbed plenty of his funniest moments.
This includes the scene in which Julie Hagerty’s Fay Marvin allows her son to share a sleepover with Bob.
As they had rehearsed before the cameras rolled, Hagerty held up the sheets to allow Bob to climb into the bed.
However, Murray chose to surprise his co-star and start crawling underneath the sheets instead.
This left Hagerty struggling to keep a straight face, and doubtless there were many more such incidents.
11. All of Bob’s conditions are based on real-life disorders
Much of the humour in What About Bob? comes from the veritable smorgasbord of mental disorders suffered by the title character.
However, as unlikely as some of Bob’s ailments might seem to be, they are all based on genuine, recognised medical disorders.
These include pathophobia, which is the fear of disease; bacillophobia, a fear of germs.
Bob probably also has somatisation disorder, which is associated with dizzy spells and nausea.
At the same time, however, Bob may have factitious disorder, an ailment which compels the sufferer to feign illness and/or deliberate get sick or injured.
Dr Leo Marvin’s on-screen diagnosis of Bob was a “multi-phobic personality characterised by acute separation anxiety and extreme need for family connections.”
10. Bill Murray at one point threw a producer into a lake
Richard Dreyfuss was not the only person to suffer the wrath of Bill Murray on the set of What About Bob?
The film’s producer Laura Ziskin also revealed that Murray threw her into a lake after they had an argument.
Ziskin went on to say that “Bill also threatened to throw me across the parking lot and then broke my sunglasses and threw them across the parking lot.”
The producer recalls, “I was furious and outraged at the time, but having produced a dozen movies, I can safely say it is not common behaviour.”
What About Bob? certainly isn’t the only time that Murray has been reported to have caused friction on a movie set.
Infamously the actor clashed so badly with Lucy Liu on the set of Charlie’s Angels that he refused to return for the sequel.
9. Bill Murray was for some reason “terrified” of filming in New York City
One would have thought that, after taking the lead in 1984 classic Ghostbusters and its 1989 sequel, Bill Murray would be a bit blasé about shooting in New York.
After all, the ‘city that never sleeps’ is the backdrop for both films, and Murray and co spend much of their screen time on those iconic streets.
However, according to director Frank Oz, the actor was not at all comfortable when it came to shooting scenes for What About Bob? in the Big Apple.
Oz recalled in 2007 that, “I remember for some reason Bill was really frightened about shooting in the city.”
The scene in question saw Murray’s Bob call Dreyfuss’ Leo on the phone, and was filmed at the corner of 40th Street and 3rd Avenue.
Any anxiety Murray might have hasn’t kept him from shooting in New York City many times since, including his upcoming movie On the Rocks, which reunites him with Lost in Translation writer-director Sofia Coppola.
8. The production blew up a three-quarter scale model of the house
Like so many great films, What About Bob? features one of those things most of us only get to enjoy in the movies: an explosion.
In one somewhat darker moment, the idyllic lake house where the Marvin family are vacationing is spectacularly blown to smithereens.
As the film was made in 1991 before CGI was commonplace, it’s clear that this particular explosion was a practical effect.
However, while it’s not unheard of for real buildings to be really destroyed on film, that didn’t happen in this instance.
Instead, the crew detonated a 3/4 scale replica of the property which was constructed on a nearby lot.
The house itself still stands today, although it’s actually on Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, Virginia, rather than Lake Winnipesaukee as purported in the movie.
7. The film was nearly the basis for a gender-reversed 2017 sitcom
It’s not too uncommon for popular movies to provide the basis for TV shows, and this was almost the case for What About Bob?
A sitcom based on the 1991 movie was announced in 2017, with a twist: this time, the central characters were female.
A pilot episode was shot for the proposed sitcom, with the new title What About Barb?
Leah Remini (The King of Queens) took over from Richard Dreyfuss as the central psychiatrist, Dr Suzanne Marvin.
Meanwhile, English actress Jessica Gunning (whose credits include TV’s Prime Suspect) took over from Bill Murray as the troubled patient renamed Barb.
After reviewing the pilot episode, NBC opted not to order a What About Barb? series, and the would-be sitcom ended there.
6. The trailer has been re-cut as a tense psychological thriller
What About Bob? is, of course, a light-hearted, largely family-friendly comedy starring a couple of the most best-loved, relatable everyman actors of their time.
However, when you consider the premise (an obsessive man with extreme mental disorders stalking the family of his doctor) it’s not hard to imagine things playing out in a rather more sinister fashion.
This occurred to Cinefix, who cut an alternative trailer for What About Bob? in 2017, presenting the film as a dark psychological thriller.
This was of course done in jest, but it’s not hard to see how, with some fairly small changes, What About Bob? could have wound up being that kind of movie.
The film was released in 1991, not long after the most influential and acclaimed thriller of the time, The Silence of the Lambs.
1991 also saw the release of Martin Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear, which also sees a madman (Robert De Niro) stalk the family of a mild-mannered white collar professional (Nick Nolte).
Who knows: if What About Bob? had gone into production a little later, perhaps the filmmakers would have been tempted to do something in a darker vein like those thrillers.
5. It was the final film made by actor Roger Bowen
What About Bob? co-stars Roger Bowen as Phil, a fellow psychiatrist colleague of Richard Dreyfuss’s Leo Marvin.
Sadly, this would prove to be the final film appearance of Bowen, who died five years later.
Born in 1932, Bowen served in the US military in Korea before breaking into acting.
It’s perhaps fitting, then, that Bowen’s best-known role was that of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake in the 1970 film M*A*S*H*.
Bowen passed away at the age of 63 on 16 February 1996, as a result of a heart attack.
By a bizarre coincidence, Bowen’s death came one day after that of fellow actor McLean Stevenson, who played Henry Blake on the M*A*S*H* TV series.
4. It was almost directed by Pretty Woman’s Garry Marshall
As we mentioned earlier, Woody Allen had been offered the director’s chair on What About Bob? before Frank Oz.
However, before either of these men were in the frame for the job, another director was attached.
That was Garry Marshall, best known as the creator of one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, Happy Days.
Marshall’s TV success in the 70s led to a big screen directing career in the 80s, with such films as Overboard and Beaches.
When Marshall parted ways with What About Bob? he took on what proved to be one of the best-loved movies of the era: 1990’s Pretty Woman.
After Pretty Woman, Marshall would go on to direct another dozen films, the last of which – 2016’s Mother’s Day – hit screens a mere three months before he passed away aged 81.
3. Frank Oz’s fellow Muppeteer Fran Brill plays a role in the movie
Director Frank Oz isn’t the only Muppet player with a part to play in What About Bob?
Oz also gave a small acting role to one of his fellow Muppeteers, Fran Brill.
Brill co-stars as Lily Marvin-Wiley, the sister of Richard Dreyfuss’s Leo Marvin.
As part of Jim Henson’s Muppet team, Brill worked most prominently on Sesame Street, winning an Emmy award for her work on the beloved TV show.
She also took acting roles in movies including Midnight Run, Being There and City Hall.
Brill continued to work on Sesame Street, playing such characters as Zoe and Little Bird, until her retirement in 2014.
2. Leo’s wife Fay is also played by a film comedy icon
Bill Murray is of course a comedy legend, and Richard Dreyfuss is an Oscar-winner with an illustrious career that includes 1975 classic Jaws.
However, it should be stressed that the cast of What About Bob? includes another less-celebrated actor who nonetheless made a significant mark in film comedy.
We’re referring to Julie Hagerty, who co-stars as Fay Marvin, the wife of Leo (Dreyfuss).
Hagerty made her film debut as flight attendant Elaine in one of the most celebrated comedies ever, 1980’s Airplane!
She would reprise the role in 1982’s Airplane II: The Sequel, as well as appearing in Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and Albert Brooks’ Lost in America.
In more recent years, Hagerty has appeared in 2019 seasonal comedy Noelle, as well as taking a recurring role on TV’s Family Guy.
1. Marvin’s children are all named after famous psychiatrists
Given that the central character Dr Leo Marvin is a psychiatrist, it’s only fitting that What About Bob? makes reference to some major figures in that field.
This is most pointed when it comes to Leo’s children: his daughter Anna (Kathryn Erbe), and his son Sigmund (Charlie Korsmo).
The most obvious homage here is of course Sigmund, named for the father of psychology Sigmund Freud.
We can’t help wondering whether the character is sometimes called ‘Siggy’ as a nod to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, in which the historical figure at one point suggests this abbreviation of his name – but we don’t have anything to back that up.
Anna, meanwhile, is named after Anna Freud, the youngest child of the psychoanalyst who followed her father into that field as a pioneer of child psychology.