Bill Murray could have starred in 'Rain Man,' and 4 other things you didn't know as classic film turns 30

In 1984, Barry Morrow attended an Arc convention in Arlington, Texas. A young writer, Morrow was best known for chronicling the decision that he and his wife had made to take in and care for an older man with an intellectual disability. While taking a break from the convention, Morrow went in search of coffee and stumbled upon a curious scene.

“I heard this odd moaning sound coming from a closed room,” Morrow told Yahoo Entertainment. “I peeked in and I saw this lone figure in a room full of books. … I noticed he was holding a book upside down. I said, ‘That’s a pretty good trick, you can read upside down.’ I was kind of goofing with him.”

“And he said, ‘Yes. Not everyone can do it.'”

“‘You are reading upside down?'”

“‘Just this book.'”

The upside-down reader was named Kim Peek, and that moment of happenstance sparked a friendship that would last until Peek’s death in 2009. “His brain [was] perhaps unique in all of creation, according to the doctors who examined him. … He was a megasavant, and there’s probably never been a person like him before,” Morrow shared.

Peek’s abilities would inspire Morrow to write Rain Man. The movie, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, was released on Dec. 12, 1988, and would go on to win four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Hoffman and Best Original Screenplay for Morrow. In honor of its 30th anniversary, the screenwriter shared five facts that you may not have known about the 1980s classic.

1. Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman were simultaneously offered roles in Rain Man

It’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Cruise and Hoffman in the roles of the Babbitt brothers, but there’s an alternate universe where Bill Murray might have played the titular role. The notoriously difficult-to-reach Murray, who would instead be featured in another 1988 classic, Scrooged, did not reply when the offer came.

“Dustin was the first person to commit to the project,” Morrow explained. “[The script] was sent to him and Bill Murray simultaneously by Mike Ovitz at CAA. … I think what I heard was that Bill Murray just didn’t read the script and Dustin did, and Dustin called and marked his territory. … I think they realized Bill Murray wasn’t going to play the Tom Cruise role, he was going to be a Rain Man or not. And since Hoffman was in first, the search for his brother began.”

Morrow said that it took a few years to find the right actor to play Charlie Babbitt and indicated that he had some hesitation initially when Cruise was cast, because of the large gap in age between Hoffman and Cruise.

“I had written the roles for people who were closer in age than they were. Hoffman was 50 when he made the picture, and Tom Cruise was half his age. It seemed to be too big a spread, but it worked. Especially when they come down the escalator in their matching Armani suits.”

2. The role of Raymond Babbitt was written with Dustin Hoffman in mind

“I’ve never said this before, because you never get the person that you imagine playing the role you did when you started the script,” Morrow said. “It just doesn’t happen. Just like they never use the music you think they should use.”

Although Murray was also offered the role, Morrow had Hoffman in mind when he went about creating the character of Raymond Babbitt.

“My thought was: ‘Dustin Hoffman would be perfect for this.’ But what are the chances?”

Pretty good, as time would tell.

Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in <i>Rain Man</i> (1988). Screenwriter Barry Morrow said that offers were simultaneously made to Hoffman and Bill Murray, but that Hoffman responded first and claimed the part of Raymond. (Photo: United Artists/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in Rain Man (1988). Screenwriter Barry Morrow said that offers were simultaneously made to Hoffman and Bill Murray, but that Hoffman responded first and claimed the part of Raymond. (Photo: United Artists/Courtesy Everett Collection)

3. Steven Spielberg and Sydney Pollack considered directing the film before Barry Levinson took it on

“There were a lot of directors who discussed it and maybe were attached for a while,” Morrow recalled. “Martin Brest was the very first, and he left to do Midnight Run, which was a wonderful movie written by a friend of mine. [Brest] didn’t quite get the movie, I think.

“[Steven] Spielberg had a conflict, a timing thing. Martin Brest left for creative reasons. Sydney Pollack actually called me … to say he wasn’t going to direct the picture, [explaining ] ‘I just didn’t want to do a road movie. If we could have figured out a way to do it in New York, I would have done it.’”

4. Dustin Hoffman’s performance was influenced by his time working as an attendant at the New York Psychiatric Institute

Before Hoffman got his break in The Graduate, he worked odd jobs to make money while living in New York City with his friends Robert Duvall and Gene Hackman. One of those jobs was at the New York Psychiatric Institute. His time there would go on to inform his performance as Raymond.

“We met in a restaurant in Malibu … and Dustin started talking about his years in New York City, where he worked at a mental hospital,” Morrow reminisced. “He would get up from his chair and kind of walk around the restaurant and do different walks and talks, and you could see he was remembering these characters, these patients, these human beings that he got to know. And he was just trying to fit everything on, to see how it looked.”

5. The real-life Rain Man, Kim Peek, refused to count cards in a casino

The Las Vegas sequence, possibly the most memorable part of Rain Man, originated in Morrow’s desire to have a “big scene” where Charlie could “exploit” Raymond’s abilities. To see how it might work out, Morrow tried to get Peek to test it out in a Reno casino. But while Raymond Babbitt was willing to count cards and earn some cash along the way, the real-life Rain Man had far more scruples.

“Of course, counting cards in Vegas is not only dangerous, but you can get very, very rich if you can pull it off,” Morrow pointed out. “Kim Peek, his father and I went to Reno, Nevada, and I was going to test out my theory that a rain man could [count cards for profit]. … I just wanted to know for my own satisfaction.

“I bought Kim a little book called How to Beat the Casino. … Kim has read the book and I’m ready to test it. So I’m walking on the floor and turn to him, and he hasn’t moved. I said, ‘C’mon, we’re going to try this out.’

“He said, ‘I can’t do it, Barry. … I won’t do it, it’s not fair.’

“‘It’s not fair, I know it’s not fair,'” Morrow responded. “‘That’s the whole point. Look, Kim, see this building? You know how it was paid for? By the casino not being fair. So for one day, one hour, 10 minutes, we’re going to flip it. And it’s going to be a little bit more fair on your side than theirs.’

“He wouldn’t do it,” Morrow concluded with a slap to his forehead.

Reporting by Jon San

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