Weird History

12 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Taxi Driver' That Are As Wild As The Film Itself  

Skyler Hanrath
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Among the 1970s accounts of abrasive men eking out lives on the fringes of society, Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader's Taxi Driver towers above the rest. Their vision of an alienated veteran wandering through the streets of a New York on the brink continues to stand today as an exacting - if disturbing - encapsulation of a social type. The fact this famously spoke to similarly disaffected men is almost no surprise. Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle is a character who, distressingly, is all around us, even today.

But bringing this archetype to the screen was no easy feat. Behind the camera, the production dealt with everything from psych evaluations to warnings from wiseguys. Here are a few of the nightmares that went into pulling off Taxi Driver, now widely considered one of the best films ever made.

To Appear In The Film, Jodie Foster Had To Pass A Psych Evaluation
To Appear In The Film, Jodie F... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 12 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Taxi Driver' That Are As Wild As The Film Itself
Photo: Columbia Pictures

Given the nature of Iris, the pre-teen street worker played by Jodie Foster, the actress was subjected to rigorous testing before she was cleared to appear in the film. Some of it even included psychological evaluations.

California's strict vetting standards for underaged performers at the time required proof their work would not lead to lasting harm. Just how thoroughly Foster was screened is questionable, however, as California's then-governor, Edmund Brown, reportedly stepped in to expedite her processing. Once she did appear on set, neither her co-stars nor the production crew had a firm grasp on how best to accommodate her, making her experience read as fairly harrowing today.

The Film Inspired An Attempt On Ronald Reagan's Life
The Film Inspired An Attempt O... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 12 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Taxi Driver' That Are As Wild As The Film Itself
Photo: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

One of Taxi Driver's uglier legacies occurred when it served as an inspiration for a real-world act of inhumanity. After watching the film at least 15 times, John Hinckley Jr. developed a close identification with Travis Bickle, whose arc builds to a politically and personally motivated rampage.

Hinckley directly mimicked Bickle's behavior by targeting the sitting president, Ronald Reagan, outside a Washington-area Hilton in a misguided attempt to impress Jodie Foster, an actress from the film with whom he had become obsessed. Police quickly apprehended him and learned his motives in subsequent interviews. After spending decades in a mental facility, he was released in 2016.

The Crew Had To Hire Syndicates To Protect Them From Other Syndicates
The Crew Had To Hire Syndicate... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 12 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Taxi Driver' That Are As Wild As The Film Itself
Photo: Columbia Pictures

The vision of 1970s New York as a near-fallen city has become ingrained in the popular consciousness, and this trope owes much of its popularity to films such as Serpico, The Warriors, and, of course, Taxi Driver.

The production only had to deploy minimal effort to achieve the dilapidated state of the film's locations, as the city was already run-down when filming began. The situation was so severe that, according to producer Michael Phillips, the production enlisted the help of local syndicates to patrol the set. The ad-hoc security force had to ward off interruptions from rival groups.

Paul Schrader Based His Screenplay On His Personal Three-Week Bender
Paul Schrader Based His Screen... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 12 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Taxi Driver' That Are As Wild As The Film Itself
Photo: Columbia Pictures

Paul Schrader, Taxi Driver's writer, came to the film after a string of bad breaks. After moving away from an early career as a film critic in which none other than Pauline Kael mentored him, he transitioned into writing screenplays.

The burst of creativity that produced Travis Bickle and his cab followed Schrader's bout of heavy drinking and depression in Los Angeles, which he embarked upon after weathering a breakup and falling into debt. When an ulcer interrupted his binge, he wrote the script while recovering and got out of town. Despite the script's seedy origins, it went on to be nominated for a WGA Award, as well as helped foster Schrader and Martin Scorsese's creative partnership.