Pretty Woman follows young sex worker Vivian Ward, played by Julia Roberts, as she meets her handsome “prince” who rescues her from the mean streets of Los Angeles. In Garry Marshall’s 1990 romcom, Vivian ‘s prince is actually a dashing corporate raider named Edward Lewis, played by Richard Gere, who is so taken with her charms he hires her to be his “beck and call girl” to the tune of $3,000 for the week he’s in town. In spite of their clear-cut business arrangement, Vivian and Edward catch feelings, which is only complicated by their individual social statuses. But, since Pretty Woman is a Disney movie — a modern spin on Cinderella — this fairy tale about a “hooker with a heart of gold” ends happily ever after.
While Pretty Woman remains a classic decades later, its star Julia Roberts told The Guardian that she doesn’t think it would be possible to make the movie today, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy it. We have to go shopping now, but before we do, here is the untold truth of Pretty Woman.
Pretty Woman was supposed to be a dark drama
The Sex Worker Outreach Project told CNN that Pretty Woman whitewashes the reality of this line of work. The organization may have instead appreciated the original screenplay by J.F. Lawton, which was a dark drama, not a romantic comedy.
Originally titled 3,000, in reference to the money Edward pays Vivian, the daring tale followed drug-addicted Vivian for her week with Edward as she tries to stay clean. It ends not with the two falling in love, but a bleak moment shared between Vivian and her friend Kit, using Vivian’s cash to take the bus to Disneyland. There are no dreams coming true in the original screenplay as Vivian “stares out emptily ahead” and the film closes.
With Garry Marshall’s success directing Beaches, Disney was looking for another grittier project to add to their diversifying roster, and 3,000 was it. Even as a drama, Julia Roberts was interested and became an advocate for the movie in both iterations, light and dark. While Lawton remains the only screenwriter credited, it was the work of Marshall and producer Laura Ziskin that molded Pretty Woman into the beloved movie it is today.
Julia Roberts and Richard Gere weren't the first choices for Pretty Woman
All these years later, it’s virtually impossible to imagine Pretty Woman not headlined by Richard Gere and America’s sweetheart Julia Roberts. Their chemistry is remarkable even with their almost 20-year age difference. While Roberts was on board with the film from the start, she was not the top choice to play Vivian. In fact, a whole host of other actors were considered for the role, but they all ultimately turned down the part due to the movie’s content.
Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer actually auditioned together for the roles of Edward and Vivian, respectively, and Sam Neill, Tom Conti, Charles Grodin, as well as John Travolta were all also under consideration for the lead. Diane Lane, Molly Ringwald, Daryl Hannah, and Patricia Arquette auditioned and were offered the role of Vivian Ward, however none of them regretted saying no since they didn’t feel comfortable playing a sex worker.
In the end, it was actually Julia Roberts who got Richard Gere to star in Pretty Woman opposite her. According to the star, she slid him a post-it that said “Please say yes” — after he had already passed on the role a couple times.
Did you notice this meta moment in Pretty Woman?
Vivian Ward has street smarts and knowledge about muscle cars, but until she meets Edward she hasn’t experienced much of high art and culture. After Vivian finally gets some proper clothes thanks to Barnard Thompson, her fairy godfather and manager of the Regent Beverly Wilshire, Edward picks her up for a quick jaunt on his private plane up to San Francisco to see the opera.
Together, they watch Verdi’s La Traviata, a story about a sex worker who falls in love with a rich client. NPR calls La Traviata “the original Pretty Woman” and, aside from opera buffs, most people never noticed the meta moment of Vivian watching a version of her own life on stage, set to beautiful music no less.
This makes you wonder: Was she so moved by the opera on its pure musical merits or did she cry because she’d never seen herself reflected anywhere like that before? Or both? Either way, La Traviata‘s presence in Pretty Woman adds meaningful context to the story.
The necklace box scene in Pretty Woman was supposed to be for the gag reel
There are so many iconic scenes in Pretty Woman, from Kit’s exchange with the older couple at the front desk to Vivian’s ouster from a fancy dress shop on Rodeo Drive. But one in particular that has been homaged almost to the point of cliché is when Edward presents Vivian with an incredible necklace to go with her red ballgown. She stares at it in amazement and when she goes to touch it, Edward snaps the box shut on her hand. Vivian’s belly laugh is so radiant and natural; if you weren’t smitten with her before, you certainly were after seeing this scene.
Amazingly, the scene was unscripted and Richard Gere’s little prank was only supposed to end up on the movie’s gag reel. When everyone saw how beautifully and spontaneously that moment played out, especially in developing the relationship between Edward and Vivian as well as showing Edward’s lighter side, Garry Marshall decided to keep it in the film itself.
This is how much the necklace in Pretty Woman really cost
Edward was such a loyal customer at Cartier, he got them to loan him the beautiful necklace Vivian wears to the opera. As Edward fastens the diamond and ruby jewelry around Vivian’s neck, she asks how much it would cost if he actually decided to buy it. “A quarter of a million [dollars],” he says with a smile as Vivian laughs uncomfortably at the knowledge she’s wearing a small fortune on her person.
As it turns out, the necklace was just as expensive in real life as it was in the movie. According to Collider, the $250,000 necklace was loaned to the filmmaker and came with its own security detail for the entirety of its time on set. The security guard was standing just off screen whenever the necklace was being filmed to prevent theft. Now that is no laughing matter.
A female producer changed the ending of Pretty Woman
After Vivian’s week with Edward is over and she returns to her grungy apartment near Hollywood, Edward makes a huge romantic gesture replete with roses and the limousine stereo blaring La Traviata. When the red-haired maiden Vivian sticks her head out her window, she ribs Edward, insisting that he climb the stairwell to her window even though he’s deathly afraid of heights. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Edward works through his anxiety to get to his lady and give her the knight-in-shining-armor ending she’s always wanted. “So what happens after he climbs the tower and rescues her?” Edward asks Vivian. “She rescues him right back,” Vivian retorts.
Producer Laura Ziskin actually wrote this powerful line. She explained to People, “I didn’t want a movie whose message would be that some nice guy will come along and give you nice clothes and lots of money and make you happy. Those words at the end said these people changed each other.”
Pretty Woman may have its misogynistic moments, but it’s those words that have set the film apart from other romcoms even all these years later.
Director Garry Marshall has a cameo in Pretty Woman
Cinema legend Garry Marshall wasn’t just the director of Pretty Woman, he also gave himself a small cameo in the film as he was known to do on many of his other projects. As Richard Gere’s Edward Lewis is shredding the Lotus Esprit’s transmission driving around Hollywood trying to find his hotel, he stops to ask a homeless man for directions. The man isn’t much help at all and, instead, offers to show Edward the stars’ homes. “That’s Sylvester Stallone’s house right there!” he shouts, pointing at a run-down single family home that is categorically not Stallone’s mansion.
While uncredited for the role, Garry Marshall’s distinct raspy voice and New York accent is clearly audible as he cackles at his own joke and Edward Lewis drives off, about to meet his historic fate.
Julia Roberts used a body double in Pretty Woman
It’s to be expected that a movie about a sex worker is probably going to have some sex scenes and nudity, even in the case that a film like Pretty Woman was actually produced by Disney. Since this was Julia Roberts’ first lead role, she was understandably nervous about being stripped down on camera. Luckily for her, this was the 1980s and 1990s.
At that time, there was a model named Shelley Michelle who body-doubled for many famous actresses, including Kim Basinger. And, it’s actually Shelley Michelle’s body you see in the opening montage of the film as Vivian gets ready for her working night. On the movie poster, its another body double, Donna Scoggins who served as Julia Roberts’ stand-in, according to Bustle.
Body doubles weren’t used for all of Roberts’ risqué scenes, but listening to Julia Roberts talk about the scenes she did do, it may have been a good idea to use the double. Roberts told ABC News in 1990 that she would get so nervous to do the sex scenes that she’d break out in hives. Things eventually got easier for the actress, but she hasn’t forgotten the stress.
The movie poster for Pretty Woman has big mistakes. Huge.
The Pretty Woman movie poster is as iconic as the movie itself in many ways, and was a staple on the walls of many who grew up in the 1990s. The poster features a scantily-clad Roberts, using a body double, with thigh-high latex stiletto boots and a black-suited Richard Gere cheekily leaning against her. But, the poster also features several big mistakes.
In the movie, Roberts never actually wears that pink and black ensemble that’s featured on the poster. She wears a similar outfit, but with a white top and jean skirt. Even worse, Richard Gere’s hair in the movie poster is shown to be jet black when, in the movie, his hair is firmly in the silver fox spectrum. Julia Roberts also wasn’t the only one with a body double on the poster: Richard Gere had one too and the production photoshopped just his face over the stand-in.
Today the error would be shamed so terrifically over social media that the studio would likely be forced to fix it. But, since this is an older film, the continuity error somehow only adds to Pretty Woman’s ongoing charm.
These car manufacturers turned down product placement in Pretty Woman
Had the chips fallen differently, the car that Edward drives so badly around Los Angeles would’ve been an entirely different make. Originally, Ferrari and Porsche had been approached about using one of their new models for the film, according to Influx, but when they found out that the car would be used by a wealthy man to pick up a prostitute, they both turned down the offer.
Porsche responded with a polite no, but Ferrari’s rejection came with its own set of caveats: they had the studio agree to not use a Ferrari in any case at all, even if the studio paid for the car themselves. They were openly offended that anyone would even consider their luxury vehicle to be a space where transactional sex could ever take place.
British car manufacturer Lotus had no such qualms and thankfully loaned three Lotus Esprits to the production. It was a smart move on their part, as Lotus’ sales reportedly tripled during 1990 and 1991.
The cast and crew pranked Roberts during the bathtub scene in Pretty Woman
There were a number of pranks that took place on the Pretty Woman set. One of these — the moment when Edward closes the jewelry box on Vivian’s hand — actually ended up in the movie. But another far more elaborate one did not.
While Vivian “goes for a swim” in Edward’s enormous tub for a bubble bath, she’s listening to Prince’s song “Kiss” on her walkman and singing along happily. This is the moment when Edward asks Vivian to spend the entire week with him and they negotiate terms and payment. Once they are done, a delighted Vivian says, “Holy s***!” and dunks her head underwater.
During one of the takes, the entire crew, including Richard Gere, ran out of the room while she was under. Upon resurfacing, she was shocked to see the room completely empty. Footage of the prank surfaced on the film’s silver anniversary — and it is absolutely as hilarious as it sounds.
There was a musical based on Pretty Woman
Garry Marshall had planned to make Pretty Woman into a Broadway musical. Sadly, he passed away in 2016 before he was able to see it on stage. Before his death, Marshall announced the stars of the play, Playbill reported, and production continued without him.
Pretty Woman: The Musical debuted in 2018, but only ran for a year to a series of seemingly well-deserved critiques. First, the only music from the movie that made it into the musical was the opera La Traviata. That’s right. Not even the titular song “Oh Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison was featured in the musical. Instead, rocker Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance wrote original songs, none of which invoked the movie as they should have.
The play even distorted many of the iconic moments from the movie, and particularly the shopping scenes where Vivian is turned away by snobby saleswomen only to triumphantly return gloating, “You work on commission, right?” Even the iconic outfits that Vivian wears like the brown polka-dotted dress never made it to stage. As The Daily Beast wrote, “Pretty Woman: The Musical has little of the movie’s magic.”
You can sit at the Pretty Woman table at the actual restaurant featured in the film
Who would have thought that one day a movie that pokes fun at star-chasing and celebrity sightings in Hollywood would one day find itself on a list of star tours? Yes, fans can jump on board to live out their Pretty Woman fantasies in real life.
During an iconic scene in the film, Vivian and Edward have dinner with James Morse, played by Ralph Bellamy in his last on-screen role, and his son David, played by Alex Hyde-White, because Edward wants to buy and dismantle kindly Mr. Morse’s company. Vivian looks stunning in a slinky, black cocktail dress, but also charmingly awkward as she muddles her way through her first multi-course meal at an upscale restaurant.
Well, you can have your own moment at that very table where escargot went catapulting through the air and Vivian puzzled over which fork to use for which course at Cicada Restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Discover Los Angeles lists the Italian eatery as one of LA’s ten most romantic movie locations, and that same table is available for reservations year-round.
Richard Gere disavows his Pretty Woman character in real life
Richard Gere’s Edward Lewis is handsome and wealthy, but emotionally cold and distant due, in part, to his line of work. At first Vivian asks if Edward is a lawyer since he has a “sharp, useless look” about him. But Edward is actually a corporate raider who seeks out struggling companies, buys them, and then liquidates all the capital so he can go on to do it again elsewhere. Like a Wall Street pirate, Edward compares himself to Vivian as a sex worker saying, “We both screw people for money.” Yikes.
While wealthy like his character in real life, since Pretty Woman Richard Gere has converted to Buddhism and is now a well-known supporter of the Dalai Lama and other Buddhists living in exile from Tibet.
In an interview with Australia’s Women’s Day magazine (via New York Daily News) he called Pretty Woman a “silly romantic comedy” that “made those [Wall Street] guys seem dashing, which was wrong.” Gere finds this aspect of Pretty Woman unsavory and says, “Thankfully, today, we are all more skeptical of those guys.”
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