In 1983, the film Flashdance (which would spawn parodies for decades to come) came out of nowhere, and boy did it make a dent! The film that cost $8 million to make went on to make $200 million worldwide. It also became a hallmark film, despite bad reviews.
After all this time, Flashdance is still considered one of the most memorable movies of the ’80s. From Jennifer Beals’ off-the-shoulder grey sweatshirt in the legendary bra-removal scene to the Oscar-winning original song, Flashdance… What a Feeling, the movie was a major influence on the style and culture in the ’80s and beyond. That said, the movie was less than acceptable to many who said it was plain ridiculous, including Roger Ebert who listed it as his most hated films of all time.
Let’s go behind the scenes…
Two Dancers From Canada
Ever since Flashdance was released, people have speculated that the story is based on the lives of two Canadian exotic dancers: Gina Healy (aka Gina Machina), who worked at a club called Gimlets, and Maureen Marder, who worked construction by day and danced by night. According to Healy (in an interview with Buzzfeed), a man named Tom Hedley who frequented the club where she and Marder worked pitched the idea of Flashdance to Paramount.
In a lengthy and detailed 2014 BuzzFeed article, Marder and Healey recounted how Hedley invaded their club, had a photographer take pictures of them to sell his idea, and based the character of Alex on one of them (most likely Marder as she was a construction worker).
Did He Steal the Idea From Their Lives?
The pair of dancers claim that Hedley stole their story without providing proper compensation. Hedley has consistently refuted these claims, stating that his story is a work of fiction. In his words: “There’s no part of their stories that’s in the film.”
Before the film’s release, both Gina Healy and Maureen Marder reportedly signed away their rights to the story in exchange for $2,300. Despite the fact that they accepted the money in exchange for their rights, Marder and Healy have insisted that they deserve a much better reward for their involvement. Marder went so far as to file a lawsuit against Jennifer Lopez, who later imitated scenes from Flashdance in her music video for I’m Glad.
(More on the dancers’ story later on…)
Both Male and Female Body Doubles
The film’s most iconic moment is Alex’s audition at the end. All those difficult jumps, spins, and breakdancing blew audiences away. It may burst your bubble, but several people served as body doubles for Jennifer Beals in that scene. There was a gymnast, a male breakdancer, and a dancer named Marine Jahan.
Jahan performed many of the harder dance moves in the film, but sadly for her, she didn’t receive credit for her work. Jahan actually auditioned for the role of Alex but was cast as her dance double instead. Only after she signed her contract did she realize she needed to ask the producers for billing.
She Was Excluded From the Credits
Then, after watching a preview of the film, Jahan was disappointed to see that her name was excluded from the end credits, and she realized that the producers had ignored her submission for billing. According to producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, Jahan’s name was left out because they had to cut the length of the credits.
“The film credited the dog and not Marine,” Flashdance choreographer Jeffrey Hornaday noted, who sat near Jahan at the screening. He had said to her at the moment, “I’m sorry, kid. But you were great. They were applauding for you.” Jahan responded with: “Yes, but they don’t know it.”
The Song Maniac Was Made for a Horror Film
“He’s a maniac, maniac that’s for sure
He will kill your cat and nail him to the door.”
Believe it or not, those were Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky’s original lyrics for the song Maniac. “That direction obviously wasn’t going to work,” Sembello told Song Facts. He explained that Phil Ramone, the producer of the soundtrack, saw the potential of the song and asked them to change some of the lyrics.
“She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor
And she’s dancing like she’s never danced before.”
The lyrics were then altered to the new concept of a “girl possessed with the passion of a gift for dance.”
The Song That Did Win an Oscar
The revamped song was nominated for an Academy Award but ultimately disqualified because “the song was changed from the original, which pisses me off to this day,” Sembello admitted. Still, the soundtrack itself was a huge hit; it sold more than six million copies.
The original soundtrack of Flashdance won the 1983 Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special. As for the song Flashdance… What a Feeling, performed by Irene Cara, was also nominated for Best Original Song and won.
The Water Dance
One of Alex’s first stage performances in the film is the burlesque number, where she pours water on herself and essentially shocks the audience with her powerful dance moves. Director Adrian Lyne said he liked the idea of this dance because of its inherent sexiness. The scene became a pop-culture staple – one that’s both honored and parodied.
In a director’s commentary on the film, director Adrian Lyne spoke about making the water dance routine. Apparently, the scene led him down a difficult path. During preproduction, he proposed the water dance to various studio executives. But…
The Scene Almost Didn’t Make It Into the Film
Lyne’s primitive rehearsal version wasn’t exactly titillating enough to capture the studio execs’ attention the way Beals’ final version was. “I tried to explain [to them] that I wanted to do a wet dance, and they were infinitely skeptical,” Lyne recalled.
“They were all sitting on bleachers looking at me,” he explained. “I had a girl at the bottom, and I had a hosepipe with water, no lighting. I was trying to explain that the water was going to fly everywhere, and her body was going to look great because of the sheen on her body.” Eventually, Lyne got the green light to shoot the water dance scene.
Struggling With the Lighting
But he got the lighting wrong on her the first time, too. When they finally got to shoot the dance, Lyne made some novice mistakes. Beals eventually performed the final version on a black stage, which made the water stand out more. Lyne had to learn that the hard way.
He really “struggled” with the making of the scene. “I realized that the background needed to be dark. It’s such a fundamental obvious thing, so the sparkling water would show up. I was trying to do it against a white background which is insane.” He finished the rant with, “Finally, I realized my idiocy.”
The Director Thought the Script Was Dumb
Lyne (who went on to direct the controversial film 9 ½ Week) wasn’t a fan of the script. “I just didn’t like the story,” he confessed in an interview. “I thought it was kind of dumb. I wasn’t crazy about it.” He said he turned it down three times.
Lyne also said that it was difficult for him to do because he could tell that they were going to spend $8 million on the movie. So, he finally said yes. “I suppose it shows that you should have an open mind, really. I think it’s very dangerous waiting and waiting for the perfect movie to appear.”
The Studio Thought It Would Be a Flop
Lyne told Entertainment Weekly that Paramount originally thought Flashdance would be a flop. In the two weeks before it came out, he “literally couldn’t get anybody on the phone.” Lyne explained that it was “like everybody had run for the hills” since they thought it was going to be a total disaster.
The director admitted that he was also unsure if it would be a flop or not. In those two weeks, Paramount sold at least a quarter of their interest in the film. The studio simply assumed it was all going to go down the drain. The good news is that the film opened to a $4 million gross (almost $10 million today). The film stayed in the top 10 weekend box office for 15 straight weeks.
Kevin Costner Auditioned for the Role of Nick Hurley
Kevin Costner didn’t really become famous until the mid- ‘80s, so when he auditioned for the role of Nick Hurley, Alex’s boss and love interest, he wasn’t an obvious choice. Apparently, Lyne paid Costner $200 to lie in bed with Beals.
It must not have been good enough since the part went to Michael Nouri instead. Funnily enough, prior to auditioning for Flashdance, Costner appeared in an Apple commercial directed by Lyne, and that commercial aired a few months after Flashdance was released. In the commercial, you can see Costner on a bike with a brown pit bull running beside him.
Kyra Sedgwick and 4,000 Other Women Auditioned for Alex
Kyra Sedgwick didn’t follow protocol. She told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012 that her agent told her she was supposed to wear a leotard, heels, and no tights. “I had such bigger balls back in those days. I thought, ‘I’m not wearing a leotard. Instead, I’ll wear a little miniskirt and high heels.’”
Not the best idea. Her rebellion wasn’t the only thing that deterred her from getting the part. The actress also went on to explain that Lyne picked up his ringing phone in the middle of her audition. Sedgwick admitted that she turned to him and said, “You’re not going to answer that phone call. I’m auditioning for you.” She also said that today, “I don’t think I would ever do that.”
The Off-the-Shoulder Sweatshirt Was a Happy Accident
That sweatshirt caused a fashion frenzy in the ‘80s, but it was all a matter of happenstance. In fact, it was due to some unexpected shrinkage. “When I was in high school, I had a favorite sweatshirt that had remained in the dryer for too long,” Beals said in 2011.
She explained that the hole for her head was too small — she couldn’t get her head through. So, she cut around the hole and wore it to one of the auditions. However, costume designer Michael Kaplan likes to take credit. Kaplan said he came up with the idea after seeing dancers at the Pennsylvania Ballet Company wearing them.
The Infamous Bra Removal Scene
During an episode of PeopleTV’s Couch Surfing, Jennifer Beals revealed that the scene where she takes off her bra without removing her sweatshirt was something she took straight out of her own life.
Beals said she used to do it after school when her mom would drive her to horseback riding lessons and would have to change in the car. “I was in a wardrobe fitting with Adrian Lyne,” she recalled, “and I did that, and he said, ‘Oh we have to put that in the film.’” Well, he did, it worked, and the rest is history.
Michael Nouri Made the Lobster Scene Memorable
If we’re on the subject of memorable scenes, we can talk about the fancy restaurant scene where Alex wears a skimpy tuxedo, seductively eats lobster, and massages Nick’s you-know-what. Apparently, the scene was done more for shock value than sex appeal.
According to Beals, Lyne kept asking her to “be sexy,” to which she said, “I don’t know really what that means,” as she recalled in a Flashdance 30th anniversary screening Q&A. Michael Nouri had said to her, “Just shock him. Just do whatever you can to shock him.” Beals said she knew “shocking,” and thus, the lobster scene was born.
Remember the Sleazy Zanzibar Owner?
Lee Ving played strip club owner Johnny C. and went on play Mr. Boddy in Clue. But before these roles, he was immersed in a controversial music career. Ving is the lead singer of the still-active group Fear from L.A.
His group was profiled in Penelope Spheeris’ 1981 documentary called The Decline of Western Civilization (the title says it all). Besides the documentary, the band is known for trashing the SNL set during their 1981 Halloween appearance on the show. I guess the role of a sleazy bar owner isn’t that far off.
Jennifer Beals Today
Beals is also known for her appearances in popular movies like Devil in a Blue Dress, Roger Dodger, and The Book of Eli. The 57-year-old also landed parts in The Bride, Four Rooms, and on the TV shows Nothing Sacred, The L Word, The Chicago Code, The Night Shift, and Taken.
Beals reportedly turned down Dancing with the Stars. “I am not a dancer,” she told People in 2011. “They asked me, and I said ‘no.’ You could back up a truck to my door filled with cash, and I wouldn’t do it. I’m not that kind of a performer.”
Michael Nouri Today
Critics of Flashdance argue that in addition to the shallow plot, the movie represents the worst excesses of ‘80s film, such as short sequences and fast editing. Another common criticism revolves around the on-screen partnership between Beals and Nouri, mainly the significant age difference between the two (she was 18, and Nouri was 36).
After Flashdance, the now 75-year-old actor starred in All My Children, Damages, The O.C., The Young and the Restless, American Crime Story, and Love & War. He was also in the films The Proposal, The Terminal, and Con Man.
Irene Cara’s Moment of Fame
In 1983, Irene Cara reached the peak of her career with Flashdance… What a Feeling, which she co-wrote with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey. Cara wrote the lyrics to the song with Forsey while they were riding in a car in New York City, heading to the studio to record it.
Moroder then composed the music. Cara later admitted that she was reluctant to work with Moroder because she didn’t want comparisons to his other collaborators, like Donna Summer. But this collaboration paid off. Her Oscar win made her the first Hispanic-Black woman to win the award in a category other than acting.
The Backstory of Flashdance’s Alleged Inspiration
The Canadian dancers and the photographer who took their photos have gone most of their lives without being able to talk publicly about the credit they think they deserve. That is until they bared it all to Buzzfeed in 2014.
Gina Healey was 20 years old back in 1980 when she danced for Myron Zabol in his photography studio. Myron’s future wife, Shirley, was the shoot’s stylist, and she styled the three other models, two of whom were strippers like Healey. Maureen Marder was one of them. Healey remembers Marder only as Trish. Marder was the quiet one who wasn’t sure she should even be there.
Out of the Club and Into the Studio
Healey told her, “Look, it’s going to be OK. This could be your chance out of here.” After weeks of planning, Zabol and Shirley decided to take the dancers out of Gimlets (the club they danced in) and into the studio.
Absent from the shoot was Tom Hedley, the one who planned it all. In his place, he left a hurried note about a woman with a blue-collar day job who dances at night. That spring, The Globe and Mail reported that Hedley sold his movie idea to a Los Angeles production company named Casablanca for $300,000 and 5% of the net.
The Working Title: Depot Bar and Grill
Zabol edited the photo session with the dancers to a total of about 400 images, slipping the originals into slide sheets. As Gina Healey understood it, the photos were meant to serve as a kind of mood board to help Hedley sell his film script to a studio.
He made a promise to the dancers that he would compensate them after Casablanca made the sale. Zabol and Hedley shook on it as Shirley watched. But then Hedley disappeared. By 1981, the script was sold to Paramount. The original working title was Depot Bar and Grill, but now it had a new name: Flashdance.
It Spoke to the New MTV Generation
Hedley explained the reason for the new title: “The moment that fashion, music, and dance collided into a single image… In a second, in a flash.” Before Flashdance, musicals were a thing of the past. Then, all of a sudden, “everyone was wearing one-shoulder sweatshirts,” producer Lynda Obst recalled.
Flashdance appealed to the burgeoning MTV generation, while the heroine of the story embodied the second wave of feminism. Paramount’s sleeper hit defined the look, style, and sound of the ’80s. As for Hedley, based on the terms of his deal with Casablanca, he came out $8 million richer. The Zabols and the dancers, though, received nothing.
Legally Bound to Secrecy
They didn’t get credit or payment, nor were their slides ever returned. Healey and Marder were given a measly $2,300 each for signing away their life stories to Paramount and agreeing to never talk about their involvement. For three decades, Healey, Marder and the Zabols haven’t entirely been able to move on.
While the dancers were the ones who were legally bound to secrecy, the Zabols were not. Still, they agree that the women (now in their 60s) deserved more. “How many millions of girls have [they] influenced worldwide? Millions and millions,” Zabol said, adding that if he had gotten credit for what he did, his career would have been totally different.
Hedley’s Side of the Story
This kind of secret backstory is quite common in Hollywood. In the past decade, the filmmakers behind famed films like The Wolf of Wall Street, The Hurt Locker, The Hangover II, Honey, and Sister Act have all been sued by their alleged sources.
Hedley, of course, has his own side of the story. “There was a lot of who did this and who did that, which is just complete nonsense,” Hedley told Buzzfeed, “it doesn’t matter, it’s irrelevant.” The way he sees it, there are those with “some peripheral involvement at the beginning” who took “some kind of identity out of this. It isn’t accurate. This is a piece of fiction.”
Enough Is Enough
Hedley, now in his 70s, revived Flashdance in 2008 in the form of a stage musical. It was then that Healey, Marder, and the Zabols decided to stop their silence, despite the risk of litigation. “If they want to come and stomp on my face, then so be it,” Healey stated.
Healey lives in Kingston, Ontario (a city that was once the capital of Canada). She describes herself as a “faith-driven” person who has a plaque in her apartment that reads: “Live with no excuses, love with no regrets.” These days, she’s fully covered, and it’s because of the vitiligo, an autoimmune condition she developed in 2006, before her marriage ended.
She Now Works as a Grocery Store Cleaner
Two years later, post-divorce, she suffered a stroke while working a night shift as a cleaner at Loblaws, a Canadian supermarket chain. The woman who once struggled to maintain a sense of modesty when she danced naked for strangers laughed when Tom Hedley once told her that Madonna claimed to be the first real flashdancer.
“Madonna could never be Flashdance because she likes to take her clothes off,” Healey explained. “There has to be a fight to be pure.” As someone who read her Bible nightly, the former dancer used the music to justify her job.
Her Parents Never Knew
“I think there was a purity I felt inside when I was involved in the music that would keep me from feeling it was seedy,” Healey said. Yet, she never told her mother about her career as a stripper. To this day, her mom has no idea about Flashdance. And far as she knows, her dad (who left when she was six) doesn’t know, either.
Healey didn’t consider dancing until she visited Canada’s National Ballet School on a school trip. But ballet didn’t speak to her. She said that in her day, clubs were affordable. As a teen, she would sneak out so often with her boyfriend that her mom kicked her out, and she became a ward of the state.
Something Usually Happens
“I didn’t wake up one day and decide to take my clothes off, and dancing was the first thing I wanted to do. Neither do any of these girls,” Healey explained. Something usually happens. For her, it happened when she was four, at the hands of a female babysitter.
Even though she grew up in a religious household that saw nudity a sin, the abuse she experienced removed the shame of taking off her clothes. Eventually, the club Gimlets in Toronto was a refuge for her (and other women like her). The three-story red brick building was more burlesque than a strip club.
Before the Tables Turned
Healey started working at Gimlets in 1978, which was just before a new era of exotic dancing began. After Toronto started issuing licenses to sex workers and exotic dancers, the dancers left the business. In their place came the table dancers and cheaper acts that pranced around for tips, removing any art that striptease had had.
Flashdance caught these dancers before the tables turned. When Hedley saw Healey perform, she was known as Gina La Machina on stage. “She was the most inspiring,” Hedley recalled. She danced to songs like Meat Loaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light and wore unlikely outfits.
He Took Her Dreams
Healey has been working on an autobiography that she plans on titling I Flashdance and is seeking an editor and a publisher. According to Healey, Hedley has said multiple times that the women who inspired Flashdance were never able to cash in on their dreams.
“Are you kidding me?” she responded. “You took my dreams.” Hedley is mainly known as a magazine editor, but he was indeed credited with conceiving of and co-writing Flashdance. But other than that, his screenwriting career (six scripts over four years) isn’t very remarkable. In 2010, he told The Toronto Star that his ideas were “too original and difficult to sell.”
They Saw Them as Artists
Hedley became the youngest editor in Esquire history back in the ‘60s, after which he returned home to Toronto and took over the magazine Toronto Life from 1977 to ‘78. That’s where he met Myron Zabol, who worked as an editorial photographer.
He and Shirley knew some exotic dancers in the city (they lived near and worked at a strip club called Les Girls). According to Healey, the Zabols saw the dancers as artists. Hedley did, too, apparently, but he wasn’t sure what to do about it. So, he hired the Zabols to help him figure it out.
Gina La Machina
“I wanted to go out and look at the girls and see if we could create a style and take it to Paramount,” Hedley recalled. As Zabol and Shirley became regulars at Gimlets; they were amazed by Gina La Machina. “It was like this whole new dance,” Zabol said.
The question was, how do you show that in photography? So, they figured a video shoot would do the trick. When Hedley met Healey, he knew her as Gina La Machina. He told her he was working on a film called Depot Bar and Grill.
He Knew a Good Story When He Saw One
Healey wrote in a letter/affidavit to the Zabols years later, “Tom asked me if I’d mind him using my character here and there, with the understanding that I was to benefit from any involvement. I gave my consent.”
Hedley was also talking to Maureen Marder, who fascinated him because of her day job working as a construction worker. “There weren’t a lot of good-looking strippers lugging bags of cement around in those days,” said Dana Mundell, who saw the girl collect material from his lumber yard when she worked construction. A seasoned editor, Hedley knew a good story when he saw one.
He Said, She Said
Lynda Obst, a producer at Casablanca, remembers the script she and Hedley wrote, which revolved around a central character named Raven. Obst also knows that Hedley worked with certain women in Toronto to come up with the storylines, but she’s not 100% sure as to who they were.
Melinda Jason, Hedley’s former agent at the Gersh Agency, says the first thing he showed her when they met at the 1980 Toronto International Film Festival was Zabol’s photos of the Gimlets dancers. According to Jason, the late Paramount producer, Flashdance was paid for based on those photos together with Hedley’s idea.
Reconnecting After 30 Years
Healey isn’t even asking for credit at this point – she’s taking it. She started writing I Flashdance in 2009 after recovering from her stroke. Toronto journalist Bill Reynolds published a profile on Tom Hedley in the Literary Journalism Studies journal.
He helped Healey reconnect with Hedley 30 years after the man disappeared from her life. “What I wanted out of him was confirmation that I was his muse,” Healey said. As they spoke on the phone, Hedley told her, “It wasn’t just about you, Gina.” But once he started doing press for the musical, Hedley began regularly naming “Gina Gina the Sex Machina” as his inspiration.
Healey isn’t full content, but it’s progress.