Barbara Hershey Went Under the Knife for Beaches

Based on a novel by Iris Rainer Dart, this 1988 classic has evolved to become one of the most nostalgic and beloved dramas of all time, introducing the world to lead actresses Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. We give you – the history of Beaches.

Bette Midler / Barbara Hershey, Bette Midler / Marcie Leeds, Mayim Bialik / Mayim Bialik, Marcie Leeds.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com

The story centers on childhood friends who, as they grow up, take on very different paths in life. However, they never lose their tight bond. Just a disclaimer, if you haven’t watched the film, we advise you to stack up on some tissues and keep them close at hand.

Mayim Bialik Didn’t Actually Sing

Mayim Bialik got her big break landing the role of C.C. in Beaches. She was only 11 at the time shooting began, yet she looked older. Her appearance was a huge advantage, as she looked very much like her adult co-star, Bette Midler.

A promotional portrait of Mayim Bialik in Beaches.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Touchstone Pictures

In the movie, both stars were asked to sing, but when it came down to it, Bialik’s singing voice was viewed as way too different from Midler’s, so, unfortunately, all of her vocal bits were overdubbed. Even so, the movie kicked off Bialik’s career, who would later star in the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory.

The Director Makes a Cameo

At one point in the film, a poster is shown for an upcoming production called Sizzle 76. On the banner, it reads that it’s a Garry Marshall production, a reference to Marshall, the director of Beaches. Prior to his career in film, the director was best known for creating Happy Days, one of the most beloved sitcoms from the ’50s.

A portrait of Garry Marshall.
Photo by Audrrey C. Tiernan/Newsday/Getty Images

After he released Beaches, Garry Marshall enjoyed his biggest film success yet with the classic rom-com Pretty Woman. Later in his career, Marshall went on to direct more hits like Runaway Bride and The Princess Diaries. Sadly, in 2016, Marshall passed away at the age of 71 after suffering a stroke.

Lainie Kazan Agreed to the Role Because of Bette Midler

Lainie Kazan, who has since starred in the hilarious franchise My Big Fat Greek Wedding, played Leona Bloom in Beaches. The actress has a long history of performing on stage on Broadway and in other venues. She made her silver screen debut two decades before starring in Beaches. But it took a bit of convincing to get her on board.

A still of Lainie Kazan in a scene from Beaches.
Source: Disney

Ultimately, there was one thing that changed her mind – Bette Midler. The fact that Midler was starring as C.C. got Kazan excited, as she was eager to work with the actress. With Midler in mind, she happily said yes to the role!

There Was Barely an Age Gap Between Kazan and Midler

Actress Lainie Kazan was born in the spring of 1940, making her 48 when the film aired in the winter of 1988. Her on-screen daughter, actress Bette Midler, was born just five years later, which means she was 43 at the time of shooting. This small age gap is weird, isn’t it?

A photo of Lainie Kazan at the time / A still of Bette Midler in the film.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd., Ron Galella Collection, Getty Images / Source: YouTube

Kazan and Midler were an unlikely duo to be cast as mother and daughter, but incredibly, they made it work. In any case, this is hardly the only time that a movie has cast actors of comparable age as parent and child. Take TV’s The Golden Girls, in which Bea Arthur is actually older than her screen mother Estelle Getty.

Barbara Hershey Went Under the Knife for the Role

Beaches plays out over the course of three decades, following best friends C.C. and Hillary from childhood to adulthood. In the scenes when the characters are at their youngest, actress Mayim Bialik played C.C. and Marcie Leeds played Hillary.

A still of Barbara Hershey in a scene from the film.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Touchstone Pictures

Later in the movie, actresses Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey take on the characters, but being in their ’40s, they needed some help to look younger. Barbara, who was 40, went to great lengths to appear more youthful. She got some lip injections specifically for bits in the film when she was supposedly to be Hillary in her 20s. The whole cast was reportedly super surprised when they saw Barbara arrive on set with a pair of new puffed-up lips.

If You’ve Recognized Some Sets from Before…

As well as landing the lead role, Bette Midler also worked as one of the film’s producers. She convinced the crew to re-use some sets of an earlier film she starred in, sets from the 1988 comedy Big Business, in which she starred alongside Lily Tomlin.

A still from the film Beaches.
Source: YouTube

As production on both movies happened around the same time, they held screen tests with Barbara Hershey on the set of Big Business. Moreover, one of the central sets from Big Business ended up appearing in Beaches as well! This set is the department store where C.C. and Hillary have their famous fight.

One Bit About CC’s Husband Was Left Out

Not every little bit of the novel made it into the final cut. One particularly sensitive part of the book was left out, the one that concerned the character of John Pierce, C.C.’s husband. There’s a good reason this part was left out…

A still of John Heard, Bette Midler, and Barbara Hershey in a scene from Beaches.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Touchstone Pictures

The filmmakers preferred to omit the book’s shocking revelation that John, played in the film by actor John Heard, was a pedophile. Undoubtedly, this was a relief to the cast members, and to many viewers who adored and previously recognized Heard due to his role in the Home Alone franchise. It also ensured that the film’s tone remain sentimental and moving rather than twisted and dark.

Shelley Winters Turned Down the Part of CC’s Mom

As mentioned before, actress Lanie Kazan wasn’t the obvious pick for CC’s mother, being that she was only five years older than her co-star Midler. With that in mind, it’s understandable that Kazan wasn’t the only one in the running for the part. Another actress considered was Hollywood’s beloved Shelley Winters.

A portrait of Shelley Winters.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Winters kicked off her career back in the early ’40s and was 68 at the time shooting for the film began. She was obviously a lot more age-appropriate for the role of Leona. But ultimately, the actress turned down the role because she was concerned about failing certain insurance tests, she had to take in order to star in the film. She would end up starring in several more productions before passing away at the start of 2006 at the age of 85.

One of the Movie’s Trailers Stretched the Truth

Beaches’ theatrical trailer promoted the movie by riding on the success of its leading ladies. But no matter how successful they were, whoever edited the trailer stretched the truth (or simply didn’t know much about the actresses). Midway through the trailer, the narrator says that the stars are both Academy Award nominees, however…

A still from the promotional trailer.
Source: YouTube

While Midler was, indeed, a one-time Oscar nominee, (she was nominated for Best Actress in The Rose), Hershey hadn’t yet been nominated to the Oscars. In other words, whoever made the trailer lied. Eventually, Hershey really did get a nomination for The Portrait of a Lady. By then, Midler was at her second nomination, this time, for The Boys (1991).

It Was Almost Called “Remember Me”

Sometimes, a film’s title proves to be so fitting that it’s impossible to imagine that the makers ever considered naming it anything else. There are a few examples of such cases, like when Back to the Future was nearly called Spaceman from Pluto. When it came to Beaches, they almost decided on the name Remember Me.

A still from the film.
Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Touchstone Pictures

This title made sense, considering the tragic storyline and all… but it could have easily been a spoiler. Luckily, the filmmakers voted against this exposing name and went with the original title from Iris Rainer Dart’s book, mainly to ensure that fans of the novel would watch it.

Mayim Bialik and Marcie Leeds’ Fun Remake

After landing the role of child C.C., actress Mayim Bialik went on to star in several other successful productions. Not only that, but she gained some impressive credentials in the world of academia. In the meanwhile, Marcie Leeds, moved on from Beaches and landed a recurring role in the drama Beauty and the Beast. After that, Leeds decided to go to medical school and became a surgeon.

A photo of the scene recreated by Marcie Leeds and Mayim Bialik.
Source: YouTube

Both starlets have achieved great things, both in the world of showbiz and the world of science. Even so, neither one has forgotten their days on the set of Beaches. They reunited in the summer of 2016, a bit after the death of the movie’s director Garry Marshall, in honor of his memory. The two re-enacted some iconic scenes of the film, delighting fans worldwide!

A Sequel Was in the Making

As expected, the success of the film adaptation of Beaches instantly boosted the sales of the original novel. Inspired by the events, author Iris Rainer Dart wrote a follow-up novel several years later. She called it – Beaches II: I’ll Be There − and published it in 1991. The story centered around C.C. in her journey as a surrogate to Hillary’s daughter.

A still of the film Beaches.
Source: YouTube

Initially, there was talking about turning this novel into a film as well. But Midlerrefused to return to the screen as C.C. Instead, the role was given to actress Barbara Eden. But in the end, the adaptation of the sequel never came to be (for reasons unknown).

The Movie Received Horrible Reviews

In box-office terms, the movie was a hit. It earned $57 million off a $20 million budget. But despite what it raked in; the comedy drama received a storm of bad reviews. After its release, film critics bashed Garry Marshall’s tear-jerker. However, whatever success the comedy-drama enjoyed was in no way connected to the reviews it received.

A promotional poster of the film.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Touchstone Pictures

Many critics bashed the movie for being too sentimental, with all of the emotional moments feeling phony and rushed. Sheila Benson, a critic working for The Los Angeles Times, tagged it as being “shamelessly manipulative,” while critic Gene Siskel said it was “too mechanical.” But none of these remarks stopped the movie from gathering a pretty impressive and enthusiastic following.

The Theme Song Was a Smash Hit

Like many adored movies of the ’80s, one of Beaches’ greatest elements was, of course, its iconic theme song. The movie had Bette Midler singing the tear-jerking ballad Wind Beneath My Wings. Even though the song is totally synonymous with Beaches nowadays, you might be surprised to know that it was written a few years earlier.

A promotional portrait of Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Touchstone Pictures

The song was written by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley back in 1982, and before reaching Midler, it had been recorded by several other artists. The actress’s recording made the song a number one hit single, and it even won the Grammy awards for both Song and Record of the Year. Since then, it has been re-recorded time and again and is played a lot at funerals.

The Musical

Over the years, many films have taken to the stage after being adapted into musicals. For Beaches, this was certainly a natural choice, given the central role that music plays in the storyline. So, finally, in 2014, Beaches: the Musical took the stage at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia.

A photo from the play.
Source: Maryland Theater Guide

Like the film, the musical was adapted from Iris Rainer Dart’s novel. It was tweaked and written by playwright Thom Thomas along with composer David Austin. After its first show in Virginia, the musical traveled to Illinois a year later and has aspired to shine on both Broadway and London’s West End.

One Song Was Written by Bette Midler

While Wind Beneath My Wings wasn’t written by Bette Midler, another song from the film was! Midler’s track was somewhat less emotional but still great – Otto Titsling. The star based her bold comedy number on an urban legend about how the bra was invented.

A photo of Bette Midler attending an event.
Photo by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Obviously, the story is totally false and was the complete invention of British comedian Wallace Reyburn back in 1971. Bette collaborated with Jerry Blatt and Charlene Seeger for this track, which was first recorded on her 1985 live standup comedy album – Mud Will Be Flung Tonight!

The Film Prophesized the Future

It’s not hard to see the similarities between C.C. Bloom and Bette Midler. Both women are ambitious, larger-than-life characters and super skilled performers who easily feel comfortable taking center stage. In one part of the film, C.C. and the doorman at her building talk about the Tony Awards.

A still Hershey and Midler playing cards at the launderette in a scene from the film.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Touchstone Pictures

In case you didn’t know, the Tony Awards are like the Oscars but for Broadway shows. And as turns out, Midler had won a Tony herself. She was given that special award in 1974. Years later, Midler would go on to win an addition Tony after being named Best Actress in a Musical in Hello, Dolly! (2017).

We’ve Come a Long Way Since the Movie’s Release

The final sequence of the film shows Hillary’s tragic passing from a terminal illness. She was diagnosed with a medical disorder called viral cardiomyopathy. When the movie came out, this illness was indeed a terminal condition with no treatment whatsoever.

Barbara Hershey attends an event.
Photo by Dominik Bindl/Getty Images

Thankfully, advances in medicine in these past several years have significantly improved the lives of people suffering from the illness. Since the year 2005, many people afflicted with the illness have had their lives saved. Doctors now have the tools to alleviate symptoms and increase life expectancy.

There’s a Beaches Museum

At the end of the movie, when Midler pays a visit to her ill friend, viewers can see cottage number 13. This is a real cottage located in Crystal Cove State Park in California. And if you’d like to visit it, it still stands proudly today! This same location can also be spotted on the film’s movie poster.

Bette Midler sings in a scene from the film.
Photo by Touchstone/Getty Images

The place quickly gained recognition for its association with the movie, and, today, the cottage is officially known as Cottage #13. It has since become a museum dedicated to Beaches, attracting fans regularly.

Midler and Marshall Teamed Up Again

The movie Beaches wasn’t the last time Bette Midler and Garry Marshall joined forces. In fact, six years later, the actress and director teamed up again on the set of a different film. This time, the movie in question was 1994’s iconic film Hocus-Pocus.

A still of Bette Midler as a witch in Hocus-Pocus.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Walt Disney Pictures

In it, Bette Midler was cast as one of the wicked Sanderson sisters, along with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy. While director Garry Marshall didn’t direct Hocus Pocus (Kenny Ortega did), he did give a great cameo appearance. The director starred as the middle-aged man with the Devil costume. Weirdly, his wife in the film is played by his real-life sister, Penny Marshall.

C.C. Bloom Was Based on Bette Midler

As noted, before, the fictional character of C.C. Bloom resembles the actress who played her – Bette Midler. So, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that the persona was really written with Midler in mind. Writer Mary Agnes Donoghue, responsible for the screenplay adaptation of the novel, imagined Midler as C.C right from the very beginning.

A still of Bette Midler in a scene from the film.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Touchstone Pictures

Beaches was Mary’s second film she worked on as a screenwriter, and she later continued with 1991’s Paradise, which she not only wrote but also directed. She went on to work on the screenplays for Deceived, Veronica Guerin and White Oleander. Mary is also responsible for writing the stage play Me and Mamie O’Rourke.

Mayim Bialik’s Breakthrough Role

For the younger version of C.C., the filmmakers had a sassy redhead in mind. Even though actress Mayim Bialik was a brunette, she fit perfectly into what they had in mind. The young star was just 11 when she was cast in the role. While many believed she resembled Midler, Midler herself didn’t think the two looked alike.

A photo of Mayim Bialik behind the scenes.
Source: YouTube

Although the movie didn’t get the best reviews, Bialik was still widely praised. Variety magazine even called her “extraordinary.” Three years after the film’s release, Bialik landed another great role on the show Blossom, which fully established her status as a force to be reckoned with in the business. After the sitcom wrapped up, she stepped away from the limelight to pursue a career in neuroscience, but later returned to TV to star in – how fitting – The Big Bang Theory.

The Crew Cried During Hillary’s Death Scene

Nowadays, just mentioning the name Beaches will automatically get people to say things like “oh, what a tear-jerker” or “oh, how sad.” This is because the movie ended with a tragic, dramatic, emotional climax – Hillary’s death. Not only did viewers cry during this scene, but so did the crew.

Mayim Bialik speaks at a microphone.
Source: YouTube

Actress Barbara Hershey recalled: “When it finished [the scene] and I opened my eyes, the whole crew was crying.” This also happened to be the day that Barbara had brought her son to watch her work. Funnily, her son “basically thought everyone had lost their minds.”

The Disney Executive Bawled His Eyes Out

Getting viewers at home or ordinary crew members to cry is one thing; however, getting high-ranked, tough studio executives to cry is another. When you’re that high up in the industry, you’ve likely seen it all, and it won’t be that easy to get you in tears.

A still from Barbara and Bette at a scene on the beach.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Touchstone Pictures

But this wasn’t the case with Beaches. As it turns, even the toughest guy on set cried his eyes out. The film’s producer, Margaret South, revealed: “David Hoberman, who was our Disney executive, a tough guy, fell on the floor and burst into tears at the end of the movie.”

A TV Remake

This might come as a surprise, but Beaches was remade into a TV movie (like many other ‘80s classics). A tweaked version of Iris Rainer Dart’s novel was produced as a TV film in 2017. For the character of C.C. Bloom, the movie cast Frozen and Wicked starlet, Idina Menzel, a wonderful pick given her experience on Broadway.

A promotional portrait of Nia Long and Idina Menzel for the film.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: A&E Studios

For the role of Hillary, Nia Long was cast. More co-stars include Antonio Cupo and Colin Lawrence. The TV remake was directed by Allison Anders, and, sadly, was met with mostly negative reviews.

Then and Now – Bette Midler (C.C. Bloom)

Throughout her impressive career, which now spans over 50 years, Midler has been granted several prestigious awards, including four Golden Globes, three Grammys, three Primetime Emmy Awards, a Kennedy Center Honor AND two Tony Awards.

Bette Midler attends an event.
Photo by Mark Sagliocco/WireImage/Getty Images

Apart from her acting, Bette found fame in the world of music. Several of her songs became smash hits, including her cover of “Do You Want to Dance,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “From a Distance, and, of course, “Wind Beneath My Wings.

Then and Now – Barbara Hershey (Hillary Whitney)

Like her co-star Bette Midler, Barbara’s career has also been a long and fruitful one. She has starred in many roles both on the small and big screen, appearing in several genres, from dramas to Westerns to comedies.

Barbara Hershey poses for the press.
Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Crowned as “one of America’s finest actresses,” by The Chicago Tribune, this starlet went on to win an Emmy as well as a Golden Globe. She received various nominations for her outstanding performances both as lead and supporting actress.

Then and Now – Mayim Bialik (Young CC Bloom)

After starring as the young version of CC Bloom in Beaches, Mayim landed the leading role in the television sitcom Blossom. Years later, she took on the fantastic persona of Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler on the sitcom The Big Bang Theory.

Mayim Bialik attends an event.
Photo by Jason Mendez/WireImage/Getty Images

For her role as Dr. Fowler, Mayim has received four Emmy Award nominations. Recently, in the summer of 2021, it was stated that Mayim would host Jeopardy! after the show’s host, Mike Richards stepped down from the position.

Then and Now – Marcie Leeds (Young Hillary Whitney)

Marcie Leed had a short-lived career as a child star before she gave it all up to focus on her education instead. She quit showbiz when she was about 14 years old. The former star decided she wanted to become a surgeon and never looked back since.

A photo of Marcie Leeds and Mayim Bialik during an interview.
Source: YouTube

Her father and manager at the time, Steve, was questioned a lot about his daughter’s sudden disappearance from Hollywood. In response, he calmly stated: “She is very focused and committed to any choices she makes in life.”

Then and Now – Grace Johnston (Victoria Whitney)

Grace Johnston’s career began as early as the age of four. While her career hasn’t been as fruitful and diverse as the leading ladies of Beaches, Grace, now in her 30s, has also enjoyed several exciting projects.

A photo of Grace Johnston attending an event.
Photo by Rachel Murray/WireImage/Getty Images

The Beaches star has acted in projects like ABC Afterschool Specials, Bloodlines, The Devil’s Dozen, and One Good Cop. Her most recent acting projects include 2013’s Camp, 2018’s Pistachio, and 2019’s Apple Seed. We’re curious to see what she will do next.

Then and Now – John Heard (John Pierce)

American actor John Heard was widely known for his role in the Home Alone franchise. But other than that, he starred in several hits from the ’80s, including, obviously, Beaches, Heart Beat (1980), Cutter’s Way (1981) and Cat People (1982).

A dated portrait of John Heard.
Photo by J. Vespa/WireImage/Getty Images

John found success in the ’90s as well as early ’00s. A little before the turn of the century, he received an Emmy nomination for his role as Vin Makazian on The Sopranos. Sadly, in 2017, the actor died from cardiac arrest.

Then and Now – James Read (Michael Essex)

Apart from Beaches, James Read is best known for playing George Hazard in the television series North and South. In 2014, he starred as Clyde Weston on the popular soap opera Days of Our Lives. He also landed a recurring role in the series Charmed where he played the character of Victor Bennett.

A portrait of James Read.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The actor also starred as Ken Davis on ABC’s drama Wildfire, as well as the 2010 TV series Persons Unknown where played Franklin Fairchild. One of his most recent gigs is the ABC soap opera General Hospital, where he starred as Gregory Chase.

Then and Now – Lainie Kazan (Leona Bloom)

One of the biggest stars of the cast, Lainie Kazan was nominated for several awards, including an Emmy Award and a Tony Award. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in 1982’s My Favorite Year.

A portrait of Lainie Kazan attending an event.
Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images

This star is widely known for her role in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, as well as many other projects including TV appearances on shows including The Nanny, Veronica’s Closet, St. Elsewhere, and Will & Grace. Other film credits include I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.

Then and Now – Spalding Gray (Dr. Richard Milstein)

Spalding Gray was a fantastic actor and writer. He wrote several monologues in his career which he performed himself in the ’80s and ’90s. He also worked on film adaptations for several of his writings. His monologues were described as “trenchant, personal narratives delivered on sparse, unadorned sets with a quiet mania.”

A studio portrait of Spalding Gray.
Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Tragically, at the age of 62, Spalding committed suicide by jumping into New York City’s harbor after years of struggling with depression and suffering several injuries following a car crash. A documentary about his life, And Everything Is Going Fine, was released in 2010.

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