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Trivia / Death Becomes Her

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  • Deleted Role: Tracey Ullman, a long-time friend of Meryl Streep, had a supporting role as a bartender named Toni who befriends Ernest (and later runs away with him). Despite her character being cut (due to a last minute ending change), she appeared in much of the film's promotional material, including the theatrical trailer (see below) and at least one promotional picture.
  • Divorced Installment: The film was originally going to be a sequel to the 1989 Tales from the Crypt movie. The TV theme song was actually used in the trailer, even after the film became stand-alone.
  • Irony as She Is Cast:
    • Meryl Streep, a well-known, awarded actress today, plays the role of hammy actress Madeline Ashton. And she pulls it off, too. Because she's Meryl Streep.
    • In-universe example: Madeline is cast in a musical version of Sweet Bird of Youth, which is about an older woman desperately clinging to her youth and beauty and keeps a hot gigolo.
    • Also, Goldie Hawn as the (initially) mousy Helen and Bruce Willis as the weak-willed Ernest.
  • Missing Trailer Scene: The theatrical trailer includes several scenes that never made it into the film: a shot of Madeline driving her convertible down a sunny street, some dialogue between Madeline's agent and a young woman at the book party ("Is that someone?" "That's Madeline Ashton. She was a big star in the 60s." "I thought she was dead!"), and Ernest removing Madeline from a freezer and helping her up the mansion stairs ("I feel sweaty!" "That's not sweat, dear. I think you're defrosting"). The latter scene was also featured on the VHS (and later, DVD) cover. Two scenes from the film's original ending (featuring Tracey Ullman) were also included: one with Ernest and Toni (Ullman) examining the body of a man slumped over the bar ("Now HE'S dead!"), and Madeline and Helen confronting a sobbing Toni (with Helen hysterically exclaiming, "He's dead? Ernest is dead? EVERYBODY'S dead!").
  • Playing Against Type: Bruce Willis playing a cowardly, bumbling Henpecked Husband. Bonus points for the character being literally impotent.
  • Troubled Production: No major catastrophes, but this movie was made back in the early 90s, when digital effects were still in their infancy. This means that they had to stage the scenes down to the smallest detail, and any slight unplanned movement would ruin a take, which had the effect of exhausting the actors. Later on, Meryl said that while she was proud of the movie and her work in it, never again would she do a movie so effects-heavy.
  • Uncredited Role: Sydney Pollack portrays the E.R. doctor who examines Madeline in an uncredited role.
  • Underage Casting: Though her character, Helen Sharp, is portrayed as a 50 year old woman during the majority of the film, Goldie Hawn was actually 46 years old when she shot this film.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • Much like The Frighteners and From Dusk Till Dawn, Death Becomes Her was originally planned to be a Tales from the Crypt movie, but it was ultimately decided that it should be it’s own film.
    • Kevin Kline was cast as Ernest, yet asked for too much money.
    • The original script had a number of scenes and plot elements that never made into the film:
      • Ernest originally had a subplot where he befriends a kind female bartender named Toni (played by Tracey Ullman). In the scripted ending, Ernest flees to Toni's bar (with the potion still intact), and she helps him escape Madeline and Helen by faking his death before they run away and start a new life together. The final scenes of the movie would have shown Madeline and Helen vacationing in the Swiss Alps, still young and beautiful, but completely bored and miserable. They snark at an elderly couple holding hands, who are revealed as Toni and Ernest (with Ernest's right hand, which received the potion, still smooth and youthful) — showing that Ern has found true happiness in old age, whilst Madeline and Helen are still vain, unhappy, and stuck together. The ending was scrapped in favor of a darker, edgier conclusion; unfortunate, as Death Becomes Her was intended to be Ullman's big return to film.
      • Madeline and Helen originally met as college students at Radcliffe (rather than in high school), and their feud began because Helen envied Madeline's popularity and success with men. In this treatment, Madeline (while still vain, self-absorbed, and spiteful) was a far less malicious character: Ernest was the first love interest she had stolen from Helen, and she regretted her actions (admitting that she did so out of fear and desperation).
      • Helen originally did not become an obese, insane cat lady, and wasn't supposed to take the potion until the film's final act, shortly before her fight with Madeline. (She would have aged reasonably since her last meeting with Madeline, but still would have been beautiful and glamorous enough to seduce Ernest and make Madeline feel insecure at the book party.)
      • Madeline's lover was a Latin cabana boy named "Marcello". The original screenplay gave him more screentime, included a scene where he and Madeline meet for sex after Ernest leaves for work (during which she discusses her feud with Helen), and another where Madeline calls him immediately after taking the potion to arrange a meetup.
      • There were several brief scenes involving Madeline's agent at Helen's book party (including one where Madeline talks to him about getting an appearance on "Hollywood Squares").
      • Several still-living (at the time) celebrities were going to appear in younger form at Lisel's party, including Dick Clark and George Hamilton.
      • When Ernest entered the morgue to look for Madeline, he was supposed to be distracted by a drawer holding the body of a dead priest, which eerily rolled open on its own (repeatedly). This would have explained the strange, crying nuns in the hallway, as well as Ernest's sudden conviction that Madeline's resurrection was a "miracle" and a sign from God. (It's unknown whether the scene itself was actually filmed, as the deleted scenes have never been released.)
      • One draft of the script gave more depth to Lisle's character. Originally, she wasn't going to be merely 71, but old beyond imagination. Her deepest desire was to use the potion to preserve the greatest minds and creative talents of the world forever, such as William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln and Max Factor. Unfortunately for her, those great minds came to the same conclusion that Ernest ultimately did: eternal life is not a dream but a nightmare, and she killed them in retaliation. The fact that pretty much the only people interested in the potion were the vain, narcissistic personalities of Hollywood was a bone of contention for her. It brought her wealth, but not the collection of intelligent talent she dreamed of.
      • There was also draft suggesting that Lisel was actually Cleopatra (explaining the Egyptian symbols on the potion box).
      • One proposed ending for the film had Madeline and Helen stealing a car at Lisle's and chasing after Ernest, only to drive off a cliff and crash with a fiery explosion (just like in the staged "accident" Helen planned earlier in the film). Madeline and Helen would have emerged from the wreckage of the car as charred, smoldering skeletons.
  • Working Title: Bruce Willis jokingly suggested My Man Death and It's Death, Baby as titles for the film.


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