10 Behind-The-Scenes Stories About 'Spaceballs'
As far as Mel Brooks comedies go, 1987's Spaceballs is usually ranked among the likes of Blazing Saddles, The Producers, and Young Frankenstein as among his best. It combines an all-star cast of comedic actors with Brooks's signature joke-a-minute sensibility to parody not just Star Wars but the entire science fiction genre.
But while Spaceballs is regarded as a great comedy, it's also an impressive technical achievement. Brooks wanted the special effects in Spaceballs to be as good as the ones from the movies he was parodying; to achieve this, he hired the same people who made those effects: George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic team.
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Rick Moranis Improvised The Scene Where Dark Helmet Plays With Dolls
In the 1970s, Rick Moranis was a fixture on Canada's SCTV sketch comedy show, and he starred in some of the '80s' best comedies. Dark Helmet is one of his most ridiculous and beloved characters.
"Rick would try and break me up just before we would do a take, but he would drop the visor," recalled George Wyner, who played Colonel Sandurz. "So he could laugh his little tuchus off, and no one knew. And I'm ruining the take, because I'm laughing. And all I see are his little knees shaking a little bit."
In 2015, Rick Moranis told The Hollywood Reporter that he improvised the dialogue from the scene where Lord Helmet plays with Spaceballs action figures, including the "Your helmet is so big" line:
What I remember is not feeling that well that day. I think I had a fever. I wasn’t at the top of my game, but somehow was able to come up with that.
The mark of a true pro.
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Mel Brooks Got Lucas’s Blessing - As Long As There Was No ‘Spaceballs’ Merch
Even though Spaceballs has many influences, the most obvious is the Star Wars franchise. Mel Brooks was cautious about not offending Star Wars creator George Lucas. He even sent the director a copy of the script, giving Lucas a chance to object to any of the jokes. Lucas raised no objections, at least as far as the script was concerned.
But Lucas's lawyers had one problem with Spaceballs: since many Spaceballs characters resemble Star Wars characters, they argued it was unfair to make Spaceballs merchandise.
"The Lucas people were just upset about one aspect of Spaceballs," Brooks told Starlog magazine. "They didn't think that it was fair for us to do a take-off and then merchandise the characters, which would kind of resemble them. As far as doing a parody though, of Darth Vader and that sort of thing, it's no problem..."
Brooks agreed not to merchandise the film - an agreement that also inspired one of the funniest scenes, in which Yogurt pitches every imaginable kind of Spaceballs merch.
(Incidentally, one of the Jawa-like 'Dinks' in the 'merchandising' scene (and others) was played by Ed Gale, who also played the title role in Howard the Duck and Chucky in Child's Play.)
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John Candy’s Costume Included A 30-Pound Battery Pack And Remote-Controlled Ears
John Candy's character Barf, the loyal human-dog sidekick to Bill Pullman's Lone Starr, is clearly a parody of Chewbacca. Initial sketches for the Barf costume would have had Candy's face completely covered, but MGM refused to have one of the film's biggest stars conceal his features. In the end, Brooks and Candy decided to use light makeup on Candy's face while putting two large dog ears on top of his head.
In order to make Barf's ears move in a realistic way, the team rigged remote-controlled wires into the fake ears. This required Candy to wear a 30-pound battery pack while on set.
Perfoming with all this paraphernalia was a real test of Candy's patience, and the animatronic elements made it difficult for him to be spontaneously funny. Costar Bill Pullman recalled:
John's sense of comedy was so ephemeral, it was these shy, short moments and there was real difficulty delivering that while trusting the ears and him wanting more control over the tail.
Candy, though, was a trooper. "It was a real testimony to his character that he never yelled. He never got angry," Pullman remembered. "He would sit down, say he needed a break and everyone would just back off. Then he would get up and say 'OK, let's try it again.'"
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The Name Of The Film Was Inspired By Mel Brooks Spilling A Drink On Himself
Mel Brooks's working title for Spaceballs was Planet Moron, but he wanted the final name to have the word "space" in it somewhere. While brainstorming titles with the movie's writers, Brooks reportedly spilled a beverage on himself and yelled "Balls!" in frustration.
There's no deeper meaning than that, which is kind of perfect for a movie as nonsensical as Spaceballs.
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Mel Brooks Was Allergic To The Yogurt Costume Body Paint
Mel Brooks plays two roles in Spaceballs: President Skroob and Yogurt, the wise Yoda parody with the golden face who's obsessed with merchandising the movie.
To convey this joke, Brooks decided to have Yogurt's face colored gold instead of Yoda's green. This required him to wear gold makeup. The production crew promised it was non-toxic, but Brooks later said it gave him a severe allergic reaction that had to be constantly treated with Benadryl.
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Joan Rivers Was A Last-Minute Voiceover Addition
The role of Dot Matrix was memorably voiced by legendary comedian Joan Rivers, although she didn't physically wear the costume. That job went to a mime named Lorene Yarnell. Yarnell was also originally supposed to voice the character, but the performance didn't quite work for the film. Brooks opted to bring in Rivers during post-production.
While Rivers got to record her lines in an air-conditioned studio, Yarnell had to wear the Dot Matrix costume in the extreme heat of Arizona's Yuma Desert. "We'd have to keep opening the mask so that she could breathe, and she'd just be dripping with sweat," recalled co-star Daphne Zuniga. "I mean, it was so hot out there. This poor woman, I think, lost a lot of weight... and she was tiny to start with."