First things first: The actor who played Bernie was not actually dead

By Nate Jones
July 02, 2014 05:30 PM
Rex USA

On July 5, 1989 – 25 years ago – two yuppies went to their boss’s beach house in the Hamptons, and the world of dressing up corpses to pretend they’re still alive would never be the same.

Weekend at Bernie’s was neither the best nor the most popular comedy of 1989, but much like Bernie himself, the corpse-centric movie has had a longer shelf life than anyone would have guessed at the time. Thanks to home video and cable TV, over the course of two-plus decades Weekend at Bernie’s has managed to age into something close to respectability.

But while other comedies of the time have spawned cults that obsess over their every line and prop, Weekend at Bernie’s hasn’t received quite this same level of attention. So let’s rectify that, with 11 things you never knew about this classic-ish film.

(We’ll give you one freebie at the beginning: The actor who played Bernie was not actually dead.)

1. A stuntman broke a rib while filming the scene where Bernie is dragged behind a boat.
Actor Terry Kiser played Bernie in both his pre- and post-death forms, but he left the truly dangerous work to the professionals, one of whom suffered multiple injuries during this boating scene. They couldn’t have used a mannequin?

2. Bernie’s house was made specifically for the film, and it was torn down after production was done.
If you seek a monument to Weekend at Bernie’s, don’t look around North Carolina’s Figure Eight Island. As a prerequisite for filming on the island – a private haven for wildlife and, more importantly, the rich – production was required to leave no trace of the set behind.

3. Andrew McCarthy was originally meant for the Jonathan Silverman part.
After reading the script, he , proving once more that it’s always more fun to play the sidekick.

4. Roger Ebert absolutely hated the film.
Nearly every professional reviewer frowned on the film’s one-joke premise, but Ebert took the scorn to another level, awarding the film a mere one star. “Weekend at Bernie’s makes two mistakes: It gives us a joke that isn’t very funny, and it expects the joke to carry an entire movie,” the veteran scribe complained. “It’s a decision that leads to some long, dreary sequences and a certain desperation on the part of the actors.” On Siskel & Ebert, the movie received zero thumbs up.

5. The shady accounting practices used in the film were also used on the film.
At least, that’s what director Ted Kotcheff and writer Robert Klane allege in a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox and MGM. Both men say their contracts for the film included a percentage of its profits, millions of dollars of which they have not seen a penny. The lawsuit has not yet been settled, but if we were the two of them, we’d refrain from going to the Hamptons alone for a little while.

6. There have been occasional plans to make a Weekend at Bernie’s III.
Sadly, none of them have materialized so far. But Hollywood’s loss is indie cinema’s gain, as one group of filmmakers has even tackled the project as part of a 48-Hour Film Festival.

7. At least one serious piece of academic criticism has been been written about Weekend at Bernie’s.
In Mikel Koven’s “Traditional Narrative, Popular Aesthetics, Weekend at Bernie’s, and Vernacular Cinema,” published in Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture, the University of Worcester lecturer places the comedy in a long tradition of comedic fables about dead bodies, arguing that the movie is a satire of the upper class of the late ’80s, “whose self-indulgences and self-obsessions make them oblivious to Bernie’s dilemma.”

8. The film inspired a small dance craze a few years ago.
This one is technically about Weekend at Bernie’s II, but it’s too good not to include. In 2009, the rapper Tre-Doh watched the 1993 sequel and was inspired to create a dance similar to Bernie’s voodoo-assisted gait in the movie. (Another reminder that Weekend at Bernie’s II is not a good film.) How to do it? Let Tre-Doh lead the way: “First you gotta get up in your drunk-man stance / Let your neck loose, let your head go to bopping / now bend your knees and bow, sweep or sway non-stopping.” A year later, a supercut of fans ended up on Reddit, and an Internet meme was born.

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9. Two men once pulled a real-life Weekend at Bernie’s – and were arrested for abusing a corpse.
In 2011, Robert Young and Mark Rubinson found their friend Jeffrey Jarrett unresponsive at his home and, instead of calling 911, took him out for a night of fun – all paid for with Jarrett’s credit card. After putting the body back where they found it, they visited a strip club, where they used Jarrett’s card to take out $400 from the ATM. The would-be Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy swore they didn’t know their friend was dead at the time, but they both pled guilty and were each given two years of probation, as well as community service.

10. Luckily, the scheme worked better for Barney on How I Met Your Mother.
Viewers never found out exactly how the “Weekend at Barney’s” scheme helped the CBS sitcom’s infamous bachelor seduce women, but that’s probably for the best.

11. Andrew McCarthy has been a part of your Netflix binges, without you knowing it.
He’s still acting, but Andrew McCarthy also has successful second and third careers as both a travel writer – his work has appeared in both National Geographic and the New York Times magazine – and as a television director. He’s helmed five episodes of Orange Is the New Black, including the famous chicken episode.

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