Today In History: Big Business with Bette Midler & Lily Tomlin Opened On July 10, 1988

The Plot: In the 1940s in the small town of Jupiter Hollow, two sets of identical twins are born in the same hospital on the same night. One set to a poor local family and the other to a rich family just passing through. The dizzy nurse on duty accidentally mixes the twins unbeknown to the parents. Our story flashes forward to the 1980s where the mismatched sets of twins are about to cross paths following a big business deal to closedown the Jupiter Hollow factory.

Bette Midler, Big Hat, Big Business

Big Business, 1988 from Rémi Crosasso on Vimeo.


* Both Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin were nominated for Funniest Actress In A Motion Picture. Bette Midler won the award.

* The film grossed 40 million dollars (that was considered a hit)

* This movie was originally written for Barbra Streisand (Bette Midler’s role) and Goldie Hawn (Lily Tomlin’s role).

* The structure of the film was based loosely on “The Comedy of Errors” by William Shakespeare.

*The production company couldn’t get the rights to film at the actual Plaza Hotel in New York, so it had it recreated on sound stages. To recoup construction costs, Disney built a sitcom around it, The Nutt House. It was an expensive flop.

* Jim Abrahams based one of the boardroom scenes on an experience he had had, when many employees of a large agency all tried to get him to sign with them.

* Although Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin play two sets of twins, Tomlin is actually six years older than Midler.

* The name of the place in West Virginia where both sets of twins were born was “Jupiter Hollow”. “Jane Lew”, the town where the doctor provides direction to the closest hospital, is an actual town in West Virginia. “Jupiter Hollow” is a commune, less than eight miles from “Jane Lew”, in the town of Weston, WV.

* After the two sets of mis-matched twins meet for the first time, country Sadie comments about city Sadie, “Isn’t she divine?” An obvious reference to Bette Midler’s stage and screen title,”Divine Miss M”.

* Second and final [to date, August 2013] of two films that director Jim Abrahams has made with actress-comedian Bette Midler. The first had been Ruthless People made and first released about a couple of years earlier.

* Star Billing: Bette Midler received top first billing whilst Lily Tomlin received second billing.

* Principal photography on this picture commenced during August 1987.

* Actress Lily Tomlin’s first big film role in a theatrical release for about four years. Tomlin had last been seen as Edwina Cutwater in All of Me in 1984.

* The two characters played by Lily Tomlin, Rose Ratliff and Rose Shelton, are both first named “Rose”. Co-star Bette Midler once starred in a movie called The Rose where her character was called Mary Rose Foster and nicknamed ‘The Rose’. Midler later played another Rose-named character, Mama Rose, in Gypsy, the television version of the classic Broadway musical, and a remake of the earlier Gypsy. In one scene in Big Business, Midler’s character is asked whether she wants roses or tulips in the hotel room.

The movie won in 1989 the American Comedy Award for Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) awarded to actress-comedian Bette Midler.

* Just before the cameras rolled on each of her Rose Shelton scenes, actress-comedian Lily Tomlin would spin around in a circle several times until she got dizzy, in order to exhibit the air-headed qualities of this character.

* The name of the dog that Lily Tomlin gave to the canine she befriended was “Duke”.

* Second of two consecutive movies with a connection to William Shakespeare for actress-comedian Bette Midler. The title of Midler’s previous film, Outrageous Fortune, was derived from a passage in “Hamlet” whilst Midler’s next picture, Big Business, had a plot loosely derived from “The Comedy of Errors”.

* The name of the big business was a conglomerate called “Moramax”. The name is similar to the name of real-life film company “Miramax”, who at the time of the production of this picture, had been an independent group since 1979, and remained one until 1993 when The Walt Disney Company acquired it. Ironically, Big Business was produced by Touchstone Pictures, which was a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company.

* One of two 1988 live-action movies starring actress-comedian Bette Midler. The other picture was Beaches. Both were made by Touchstone Pictures. Midler also did some voice work for Touchstone’s parent brand Disney’s Oliver & Company released in the same 1988 year.

* One of a mid-late 1980s mini-cycle of movie comedies which starred Bette Midler that were all produced by the then new adult Walt Disney brand of Touchstone Pictures. The films include Big Business, Ruthless People, Outrageous Fortune and Down and Out in Beverly Hills.
* Some movie posters for the film featured a long blurb that read: “Mixed up at birth, two sets of twins finally meet their match. BIG BUSINESS. Two’s company. Four’s a riot”.

* The stereophonic sound on the film does not kick in until the end of the prologue ready for the transition to modern day. The sound until that point is mono.

* Mary Gross (Judy) and Michael Gross (Jay) are real life brother and sister.

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