‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ star Judge Reinhold sees revived career after an ‘executive murder plot’



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Judge Reinhold was set to become a massive movie star in the 1980s, but everything changed in the blink of an eye.

After starring in the “Beverly Hills Cop” movies alongside Eddie Murphy and making a memorable appearance in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Reinhold got a chance at becoming a leading man in “Vice Versa,” but as he explained in a new Vanity Fair profile, an “executive murder plot” killed the movie and nearly took his career out with it.

“Vice Versa” was a body-swap movie that starred Reinhold and Fred Savage playing the part of his son. It was released in 1988, and although the actor had appeared in a number of successful movies prior to this one, the movie did not perform at the box office.

According to Reinhold, that was because of several things that went down behind the scenes.

He explained that David Puttnam, a producer of “Chariots of Fire,” became the CEO of Columbia Pictures in 1986, and “he wanted to bring the price of lead actors down, but make the backend profits real.”

After starring in the “Beverly Hills Cop” movies, Reinhold explained in a new Vanity Fair profile that an “executive murder plot” killed the movie “Vice Versa,” and nearly took his career out with it. REUTERS

Reinhold believed in his ideas, but “he wasn’t, unfortunately, around long enough to prove that formula” because of what he called an “executive murder plot” by higher-ups in the industry.

He said that Puttnam “went public with his disdain for how high the salaries were and what he wanted to do, and he pissed a lot of people off. By the time we were ready to be released … He didn’t know, but the guillotine had been set. People didn’t like him, so they wanted him out.”

The actor called Puttnam “a really, really cool guy,” and said, “I swear to God, I trusted him. He told me, ‘I want to use you as a template. Take a cut, and we’re going to make this work, and if the film is profitable, you’re going to benefit.’ And that’s the way it should be. And so we’ll bring the price down up front.”

Reinhold explained that David Puttnam became the CEO of Columbia Pictures in 1986, and “he wanted to bring the price of lead actors down, but make the backend profits real.” ©TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Colle / Everett Collection

Months before “Vice Versa” was released, the Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron-led movie “Like Father, Like Son” came out – a movie with a very similar plot to Reinhold’s movie. As he explained, that film actually went into production after “Vice Versa,” and when it was finally time to release his movie, it was not given a fighting chance at the box office.

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“That’s why I talk about the film in a disappointing way,” Reinhold told Vanity Fair. “I’m proud of the film. It was my first time with my name above the title, and the studio just pulled it [from theaters] right before Easter break, when it would’ve had a chance to perform. It was rough. They kind of buried it, and we watched it all go down. We’d worked really hard.”

As he told the Los Angeles Times in 1992, “That was really the end of my highfalutin Hollywood career. That’s when the phone stopped ringing.”

A handful of years before, in 1980, Reinhold’s first feature film was released – a movie that has been titled both “Running Scared” and “Desperate Men.” It was a low budget piece, but he said he had beaten out Dennis Quaid for his role.

The movie was set in the Everglades, and at one point during filming, Reinhold remembered the director telling him, “Look, we don’t have enough money to really finish, we just have a threadbare budget. Can we pay you when we get back to LA?”

He continued, “And I said, ‘Hey, I’m green, but I’m not dumb.’ There was a ’59 Cadillac that I drove in the movie. I said, ‘You give me that car, I’m yours.’”

As he told the Los Angeles Times in 1992, “That was really the end of my highfalutin Hollywood career. That’s when the phone stopped ringing.” ©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

“They worked it out a little too easily,” he went on. “I got that car. My mother was a realtor in Boca Raton, and I had to leave the car with her and fly back to Los Angeles to audition for ‘Ordinary People’ for Robert Redford. While I was doing that, my mother had an accident in the car, and it turns out the car was stolen. Somebody had scraped off the registration number. I remember I was on a pay phone in LA and had to explain it to them, and I told ’em where the production office was, but it was long gone.”

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A year later, he had a small part in “Stripes,” starring Bill Murray, John Candy and Harold Ramis. It was then that he learned a trick that he would also employ when acting alongside Eddie Murphy – gripping his legs to keep himself from laughing.

“I would put my hands in my pockets and squeeze my thigh really hard to the point where it would be bruised at the end of the day, just to keep from laughing,” he said. “I couldn’t blow a take with Bill. There’s times where you can see even Candy almost lose it.”

“They worked it out a little too easily,” Reinhold said about the deal that was made to get him to finish a film set in the Everglades. Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

In 1982, he appeared in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” a role he landed because he shared a duplex with the movie’s director, Amy Heckerling, and dated her assistant. Another thing that worked in his favor was that Heckerling had wanted Nicolas Cage to play the part that ultimately went to Reinhold, but he was just 17 at the time.

“Because he was still 17, they would’ve had to submit the production to kid work hours,” he said. “They wouldn’t have been able to have a full schedule. The budget wouldn’t accommodate Nic being 17. So very reluctantly, they let him go.”

He eventually won the role after his girlfriend suggested that he could do it instead, and he went on to film a very memorable scene from “Fast Times” – a scene in which his character is caught masturbating by his crush, played by Phoebe Cates.

Reinhold learned a trick that he would also employ when acting alongside Eddie Murphy – gripping his legs to keep himself from laughing. Lisa OConnor/AFF-USA.com / MEGA

“If you take that scene out of context, it’s kind of creepy,” Reinhold admitted. “But to me, it was very funny when I read the script … that was one of maybe the dumbest and one of the bravest things I’ve ever done. Obviously, it was simulated, but it was an extremely personal thing, and it was just humiliating.”

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He said, “When I read the script, I thought it was just so funny. But when it came time that day…. I don’t know how it was for Phoebe. I think we were both awkward. We both had to work through it. The audience doesn’t realize it, nor should they have to think about it, but it’s not easy, that stuff. I just went with it. One thing that made [performing] it easy was that I was incredibly uncomfortable.”

Murphy, already a comedy legend, was cast in place of Sylvester Stallone and the “Beverly Hills Cop” script was slowly rewritten to include more comedy. REUTERS

Two years after “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” was released, “Beverly Hills Cop” hit theaters, although in its early stages, it was a very different movie. When Reinhold was cast, Sylvester Stallone had the lead role, and the movie was “pretty straight action.” He remembered visiting Stallone so that he could approve his casting.

After Stallone left the project, Murphy, already a comedy legend, was cast in his place and the script was slowly rewritten to include more comedy. Reinhold told the outlet that during filming, they would stop to “refine” scenes that were not working, and they would improv as well to get the feel right.

“I learned on ‘Stripes’ what it really took,” he said. “If you’re not willing to jump off the bridge, then find something else to do with your life. Eddie is really off-the-cuff. I had to put my hands in my pockets again.”



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