Going back to where it all began, there are a lot of interesting details that made it all happen. If you’re ready to do a bit of detecting, grab your magnifying glass and examine these facts about “Police Academy”.
An Unexpected Source of Inspiration
An incident on the set of Philip Kaufman’s 1983 epic, “The Right Stuff” was actually what inspired Paul Maslansky to make 1984's “Police Academy.” While on set, San Francisco's Police Department (SFPD) was conducting training and its new recruits appeared somewhat incompetent to Maslansky.
The American producer even noted that some SFPD trainees sported generous body proportions. These cadets may not have been the “right stuff” for law enforcement, but they were the right stuff for Maslansky's satire on SFPD's changes to their hiring policies – welcoming all shapes and sizes to the force.
While there are one or two jokes that are definitely below the belt, director Hugh Wilson wanted to keep “Police Academy” a good wholesome comedy. Pulling this off proved much harder, as Wilson soon learned.
Popular among audiences at the time were: “National Lampoon's Animal House” (1978), “Caddyshack” (1980), and “National Lampoon's Vacation” (1983). These movies championed a different type of humor than what Wilson wanted. The screenplay for “Police Academy” had originally incorporated some cheap grabs, which Wilson tried to tone down on and clean up…well, for the most part, anyway.
Filming in the Wrong Institution
For years, viewers have tried guessing the filming location of “Police Academy.” It is clear the movie was making a satirical poke at the American police. Interestingly, the movie was not filmed in America or at a police academy. The actual location of the film was Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital in Etobicoke in New Toronto.
You can certainly see where some of the actors got their inspiration. Fortunately, the psychiatric hospital has been transformed into the Lakeshore campus of Humber College. The college campus has become a popular destination with the franchise’s fans.
It may not have been a hit with the critics, but “Police Academy” was such a triumph, that the 1986 movie “Recruits” made it obvious that it was trying to ride off of the former’s success. The Canadian film made no bones about their inspiration as they used the phrase “Police Academy” in their poster’s promotional slogan, “You failed the police academy.”
“Recruits” tried to tap into the raunch market more than the predecessor, featuring a blonde police officer dressed very provocatively.
Bruce Willis Auditioned for Mahoney
Who could ever forget the goofball charm of Carey Mahoney? This lead character, played by Steve Guttenberg, is loved for his womanizing, practical jokes, and heart of gold. Tough guy Bruce Willis was just getting his career started at the time and auditioned for Mahoney’s part.
Willis had had some minor roles before and was looking for his big break. Sadly, it was not meant to be for Bruce and Mahoney. Somehow, we just cannot believe this hard-as-nails action hero could have pulled off the character's goofy charm.
Laverne Hooks' Fat Suit
The Police Academy is known for accepting all sorts and Laverne Hooks was certainly one of them. Played by Marion Ramsey, Hooks' character is known for her memorable line “Don’t move, Dirtbag!” Her not-so-athletic figure received much sympathy from the audience, making her a favorite. The actress was originally supposed to discard the fat suit she had donned in the entire movie in the final scene, a sign that her police training paid off.
Owing to time constraints, her appearance without the fat suit never made the final cut, causing her to reappear in the fat suit for the sequel.
A Comedy Tradition Begins
There's a memorable scene where Mrs. Fackler, played by Debralee Scott, follows her husband outside to his car, donning a dressing gown and hair curls. She incessantly pleads with Mr. Fackler not to join the police academy. This is one of the original’s legendary scenes. In fact, it was so iconic it started a comedy tradition!
Subsequent films used this trope, each building on the previous so that by “Police Academy 3: Back in Training”, with roles reversal, Fackler rode on the hood trying to stop Mrs. Fackler from joining the academy this time.
Michael Winslow Lands Role After Opening for Count Basie
William James Basie aka Count Basie was a legendary American big band and jazz musician. Producer Paul Maslansky was a fellow jazz musician and enthusiast. He attended one of the Count’s last performances, along with the film’s director, Hugh Wilson. Featuring on the same night as Count Basie’s performance was Michael Winslow.
Afterward, Maslansky approached Winslow intending to use him in the film. Basie made Maslansky promise to take care of the young performer. Only one month after the "Police Academy" release, the legendary Count Basie passed away.
Police Academy Was Destined for Arthouse Cinema
Hugh Wilson was not the first director to work on the project, but when he took over, he had a much greater vision for the film. The director was trying to create a sophisticated, classy satirical comedy about the subject matter, hoping to give the film an artsy direction and feel.
Wilson adapted the original screenplay as best he could, but directors’ visions aren’t always translated to film. "Police Academy" is not specifically remembered for being an artistic film, but it has gone down in showbiz history.
Roger Ebert Wrote Scathing Reviews
Renowned for being the first-ever film critic to get his very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Roger Ebert was committed to his passion. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, “Police Academy” (1984) did not make Ebert’s ‘Great Movies’ recommendation list.
Ebert was harsh in his review, stating “If there's anything worse than a punch line that doesn't work, it's a movie that doesn't even bother to put the punch lines in” (1984). Though Ebert gave the film zero, he did not call the movie immoral as he did with other films he awarded zero.
The Blue Oyster Bar? It's in Toronto!
You will be disappointed if you travel to California to find the “Police Academy” Blue Oyster Bar. The actual filming took place in a Toronto-based bar, The Silver Dollar Room, which was known for its live music scene in downtown Toronto.
The bar was established back in 1900, but you will be further disappointed to hear that in May 2017, it has been closed down, and subsequently demolished in 2018.
Steve Guttenberg’s Father was a Cop
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Steve Guttenberg was given his big break with the role of Carey Mahoney. The actor’s father, Jerome Stanley Guttenberg, was actually a New York City cop.
The actor’s mother continuously pleaded with her husband to quit. The senior Guttenberg finally did and started working in an electronics store. But that did not stop the son and aspiring actor from auditioning while wearing his father’s old police shirt.
Michael Winslow's Sound Effects
One standout character is Larvell Jones. Played by Michael Winslow, Jones is best known for his vocal skills, which could be used for good, for bad, and for the unforgivably hilarious. The character could imitate a range of nonhuman sounds like the screeching of tires and sirens. Jones’ imitation would either be used to deceive criminals or pull off hilarious pranks on his colleagues.
Interestingly, Winslow was so talented at reproducing sounds that he was used for creating the actual film’s sound effects. Now, if that is not good hiring, we don’t know what is.
The Film Was an R-rated Box Office Success
Try as he might, director Hugh Wilson aimed to clean up the original “Police Academy”. He failed. The movie still received an R-rating, due to its inclusion of not-too-prudish scenes, scantily clad women (or rather women not clad in anything at all), scenes with firearms, and somewhat filthy language.
Nevertheless, the film still went on to be a box-office success, its earnings nearing a total of $150 million. The latter films tended to be more conservative and none were R-rated, but none of them reproduced the same box-office success as the first.
Scott Thomson and Brant Von Hoffman Donned Wigs
Filming does not go in sequence. Plenty of times directors try to get through the hardest scenes first, no matter when they appear chronologically in the film. Generally, this does not cause problems – unless, you’re shaving actors’ heads.
Scott Thompson and Brant Von Hoffman who played Chad Copeland and Kyle Blankes respectively had to don wigs due to an out-of-sequence head-shaving scene. Production still needed to film the scene of Copeland and Blankes arriving at the academy as new trainees. To work around this, Thomas and Von Hoffman donned wigs for the scene.
The Film Was Originally 180 Minutes Long
Some of the longest films are period dramas, dramas, or experimental films. They are not generally “nitwit” comedies, as director Hugh Wilson used to describe “Police Academy.” For a nitwit comedy that was 102 pages, the original script for the film would run for two or two and a half hours.
Wilson said that the comedy would have been as long as “Gandhi”. Thanks to Wilson’s foresight, the final runtime of the movie was about 90 minutes.
The Origins of the Shoe-Polish Prank
After Lt. Harris’ enthusiastic instruction on the megaphone, he walks away with a circular shoe-polish impression on his face. Of course, we know it was the prankster Carey Mahoney who treated Harris’ megaphone with shoe polish. But do you know that this prank was originally played on the “Death Wish”’ director Michael Winner?
A member of production later joined the “Police Academy” crew and told the director, Hugh Wilson, about it. He thought it was an excellent prank for Mahoney to play on Lt. Harris.
Plenty of A-list Actors Lost Out to Steve Guttenberg
Even after starring in “Police Academy,” actor Steve Guttenberg isn’t exactly a household name. The actor has had a career spanning several decades but he is still most known for his role as prankster Carey Mahoney. Interestingly, there were numerous A-listers fighting for this role including Tom Hanks, Michael Keaton, and Judge Reinhold.
Instead, the production went with the less mainstream choice of Guttenburg. Fans are happy that Guttenburg got the role because his performance as Mahoney is perfect. The actor certainly knocked it out of the park.
Hooks Based Her Voice on Michael Jackson
One of the iconic characters of the original “Police Academy” was Laverne Hooks, known for her being extremely soft-spoken, especially the more nervous she got. A clear example is in the classroom scene where after being questioned by her superior, her voice becomes more and more minute, fading almost entirely.
Did you know the actress Marion Ramsey based her teeny-tiny voice on Michael Jackson? Ramsey explained in the movie’s commentary that she had actually met the King of Pop and was inspired by his very particular voice.
Tackleberry Could Really Play the Sax
Do you remember the party scene at the beach? Not everyone makes it to the party. But if you were quick, you would have noticed Eugene Tackleberry playing some tunes on the saxophone, while joined by a cadet on air guitar…or rather air…racket?
What makes this scene special is that actor David Graf actually could play the sax! In October 2000, we learned just how great a saxophone player Graf was when he made a one-time appearance at “Ray and Sharon Courts: Hollywood Collector’s Show.”
Police Academy Predicts the Future
Though they never could have known, 1984's “Police Academy” predicted the future, almost seven years ahead. Doug Fackler carelessly throws an apple out of the car, and then a chain of events quickly leads to a massive riot.
In 1992, the LA riots started in a similar fashion, after the cops withdrew from a looting scene on Florence Boulevard and Normandie Avenue. The events quickly ballooned to what is known as the LA Riots.
Commandant Lassard Was Written for Leslie Nielsen
Some characters of “Police Academy” were drafted into the script after production came across an excellent actor. However, some characters were created based on a specific actor. In this case, Commandant Lassard (who was called Captain Lewis Lassard in earlier drafts) was based specifically on actor Leslie Nielsen.
The actor Robert Conrad was also offered the role, but he refused it. Much later, Conrad would regret turning down the role. Eventually, the role would be given to actor George Gaynes.
Hightower Flips a Car
Cadet Laverne Hooks’ driving lesson didn't go as planned, especially, after driving over Cadet Copeland’s feet. After the mad Copeland calls Hooks some offensive names, Moses Hightower comes in. Knowing he has awakened the giant, Copeland plans to make his escape in the police car. But Hightower gets there first and flips the car, protecting Hooks.
Interestingly, art imitated life. When production did not include Hooks’ actress, Marion Ramsey, in a later film, the actor Bubba Smith, starring as Hightower refused to make an appearance. Smith, this time around, defended the actress off-screen.
Callahan’s first name might be a mystery for the whole movie – it is only in the 6th movie that they reveal the character’s name. Her subordinates would not dare call her anything but Lt. Callahan. What is interesting is that the name “Callahan” was supposedly a rip-off of Clint Eastwood’s character, Harry Callahan. It is not that far-fetched considering Lt. Callahan’s formidable personality and rigorous training methods.
It is probably not a coincidence that the actress, Debralee Scott – starring as Lt. Callahan – had played a victim of Harry Callahan in “Dirty Harry” (1971).
The Score Is a Parody
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is Shakespeare’s play famously known for being a play within a play. Sadly, “Police Academy” has not quite been credited with being a parody within a parody. The film is obviously a spoof of inept policing and it’s obvious that the film’s score is poking fun at that.
With its grand majestic orchestral pieces, the score was clearly intended as tongue-in-cheek, especially as the bold notes can be heard moments before something is about to go wrong.
Pranking Kyle Blankes
Pranks were commonplace within the film. And clearly, this sense of humor and good fun extended to the cast themselves. In fact, the production had no issues with including plot holes and gaps in the storyline – the more, the merrier.
After Mahoney is reprimanded for pulling a prank on Karen Thompson, an announcement is made stating, “Lieutenant Hoffman, report immediately to the infirmary.” There is no lieutenant or even cadet by the name of Hoffman. The crew was just having fun and pranking Brant von Hoffman, who played Kyle Blankes.
Lassard Is Really Just Lardass
You might be disappointed to learn that there is no family name or surname such as Lassard. There is a very similar ‘Lessard’, which hails from a province in the south of France. Clearly, the “Police Academy” production was willing to go to great lengths to poke fun at inept police with the character Commandant Lassard.
You probably remember that Commandant Lassard is actually the head of the Metropolitan Police Academy. Despite his superior role, the character’s name was inspired by nothing more than the anagram of “lard ass”.
Donovan Scott’s Audition
Leslie Barbara has some memorable scenes in “Police Academy”. The character is known for developing courage throughout the film. One iconic scene has him show much reluctance for being a test dummy in Lt. Callahan’s self-defense class.
Donovan Scott, the actor who starred as Barbara, could not have been more different. During his audition, Scott performed a forward cartwheel, landing on his back and earning himself a role in the film. According to Wilson, he was so impressed with the actor’s willingness to put himself forward that he gave Scott the role.
The Pranks Continue
“Police Academy” is one of the films just known for its crew’s clowning about, sense of humor, and practical jokes – lots and lots of practical jokes. An unknown name probably to audiences – unless you’re the type to watch till all the credits’ role – is Steve Shewchuk.
The name ‘Shewchuk’ has some resemblance to “Sweedchuck”. If you were quick, you’d notice “Sweedchuk: Fine European Tailoring” appeared on a window while Doug Fackler asks Tackleberry how he is doing. The production was clearly messing about and having fun with Steve Shewchuk who was the film’s set decorator.
How Long Is Cadet Training?
If you ask Commandant Lassard, you will probably never find out. Commandant Lassard is Head of the Metropolitan Police Academy (also referred to as the Midcity Police Academy). There is a running gag throughout the original film where Lassard speaks of the cadet training being 14 weeks and, on a later occasion, 24 weeks long. Numbers may not be one of Lassard’s strengths.
He deploys his cadets to the wrong number, putting them in danger. Despite all of these mishaps, Lassard insists that he “never forgets a number”.
Bubba Smith Was the Last Cast Member
With a name such as Moses Hightower, this man was blessed with immense stature. Or maybe it is another sign of production having a laugh. We all remember Moses Hightower for his supernatural strength, his height which was not unlike a giant's, and his driving – or rather his inability to drive.
Though this character is so iconic, Bubba Smith was the last member of the cast to be hired. Interestingly, the franchise stuck with Smith for six of the seven films. Smith even joined the series once more.
Larvell Jones Was Written Into the Script
If there is one of the “Police Academy” franchise characters that you are unlikely to forget it is Larvell Jones. Actor Michael Winslow is the only actor to feature in every “Police Academy” movie and spin-off, including the series to be. Some audiences even say that having a movie without Jones would be sacrilegious. And yet, Jones’ character wasn’t in the original script.
After watching his comedic routine, producer Paul Maslansky was so impressed that he created Jones’ role. Winslow had no idea that he inspired the role with his comedy routine.
Bill Clinton’s Favorite Movie
“Police Academy” may not be a thought-provoking, philosophical masterpiece, but if you are looking for something laid-back which offers plenty of laughs, then the film is a perfect choice. And that may be the only criterion for Bill Clinton’s favorite movie.
Apparently, the former president told actor Steve Guttenberg that “Police Academy” is one of his favorite movies of all time. He has watched the movie several times, especially during stressful periods in his career. So anytime you have a scandal to handle and you want to relieve some pressure you could always rewatch “Police Academy,” and feel like a former president.
Tackleberry’s Firearm Love
Despite being a good aim, Tackleberry loses his chance to become a court martial. Why did he lose this opportunity? The answer is being a little bit too trigger-happy. The character is known for going wild, including stepping behind a target and shooting through it three times, from the wrong side.
We simply hear breaking glass and though we cannot see it for ourselves, we know it’s another one of Tackleberry’s victims. The motivation behind naming this character Tackleberry is that the term “tackleberry” is used in private security to speak about someone who had a special appreciation and fondness for firearms.
Producer Paul Maslansky Finally Has a Hit
Though the American producer had at least two decades in showbiz before the first “Police Academy”, it was not until the film was released that Maslanksy was put on the showbiz map. The producer had been involved with the creation “Jason and the Argonauts”, “She Beast”, and “The Blue Bird”. Thanks to the big success of the film, Maslansky’s financial woes were finally at an end.
After the film’s box-office big earnings became noticeable, the producer showed his relief, stating “At last I don't have to worry about my children's education”.
Adult Actress Georgina Spelvin
During Commandant Lassard’s training presentation, he is slightly interrupted. Unknown to his students except for Carey Mahoney, a woman with incredible expertise in carnal pleasure is showing off her skills to Lassard’s delight and fear. He can barely deliver the presentation.
What is interesting is that adult film actress, Georgina Spelvin, made a cameo appearance. No wonder Lassard was wracked with tension during the delivery of this presentation. After her cameo, Spelvin retired from showbiz.
“Police Academy” has gone down in history as having a notably less star-studded cast than it could have. It is not only A-list actors that auditioned or may have been featured in the film, but actor Dom DeLuise was intended to be the film’s director.
Fate had other things in mind and Warner Bros finally had their say, choosing Hugh Wilson. Things could not have come at a better time for Wilson as he had just been turned down for what would later be the critical masterpiece “Amadeus” (1984).
Almost every scene contains an easter egg that if you look away for a moment, you will miss! One such example is when Larvell Jones is playing the imaginary harmonica.
You will remember this is just after Carey Mahoney and Jones meet for the first time. After Mahoney is taken away, Jones begins playing the non-existent harmonica. A kid walks by donning a green *M*A*S*H shirt. This is an easter egg alluding to fellow cast member G.W. Bailey (playing Lt. Harris) who made the line-up for *M*A*S*H.
Kim Cattrall’s Finest Work
You might remember actress Kim Cattrall from her role as Samantha Jones in the series “Sex and the City” and its two subsequent films. What you might not remember is that this actress had one of her first breaks in the original “Police Academy”.
The star had had some appearances on TV series such as “Charlie's Angels”. What is interesting is that Cattrell said of all her roles in other movies, this is her favorite. Based on the ratings of other Cattral films, the critics tend to agree.
When a Stuntman Drinks
This piece of trivia you must know, as it is the most infamous of “Police Academy.” The stuntman who was supposed to play the irate driver who Hightower bumps into was found passed out after heavy drinking. Director Hugh Wilson decided to make sure the show would go on by playing the angry driver himself.
Wilson was probably not pleased with the drunk stuntman but audiences loved seeing the director make a convincing angry driver.
There is a scene featuring Laverne Hooks saying, “I'll bet there's a back door to this place”. She then proceeds to try and open the door but even after several attempts, the door won’t budge.
Only after repeated tries, Hooks manages to open the jammed door. This scene was not originally in the screenplay, but after speeding it up, production decided to keep it in. With the increased pacing, it proved to be the right choice as the scene increased both the humor and tension.
One of the iconic elements of “Police Academy” is its movie poster. Drew Struzman had been a well-established movie poster artist coming up with designs for blockbusters and epics such as “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”, “Indiana Jones” and “Back to the Future” franchises.
Struzman’s artistry was equally made for comedies such as the “Police Academy”. His poster is credited with capturing the quirks and strange antics of this collection of oddball officers. The artist did such a good job that he went on to do the posters for three of the “Police Academy” films.
Lt. Harris’ Stick
In one of our first introductions to Lt. Harris, played by G.W. Bailey, we see him waving a kind-of walking stick with a silver top. After a salute to a fellow officer, he takes out a handkerchief and makes to clean the clearly treasured stick.
This stick will be much associated with Lt. Harris, giving his character a kind of edge, especially when he meets his new recruits later in the scene. Though this stick becomes Lt. Harris' trademark, it was an extra who originally brought the stick onto the set as a prop.
The Unplanned Hubcap
Mrs. Fackler’s desperate attempts to stop her husband, Doug Fackler, from joining the police force include sustaining a few injuries in the process. Fortunately, it was not only Fackler’s wife that sustains injuries but also Fackler’s car after he makes a quick getaway from his wife.
His car’s hubcaps come off and roll into the road. This was completely unintentional but it helped to increase the comedy of the scene so well that the production decided to leave it in.
Leslie Halliwell Resigned From ITV Job
If you work in film or took a keen interest in film of the last century, then you might have heard of the legendary British film critic Leslie Halliwell. He released his much-acclaimed “Halliwell’s Film Guide” and went on to become the type of critic that Hollywood would call when it needed guidance.
Apparently, the “Police Academy” crew did such a good job of convincing the audience of police incompetence, that Halliwell became worried that crime would increase if ITV, a British network, would continue to air the film. They refused to pull the movie back, so Halliwell resigned.
The Film Used a Comedy Composer
Though the original “Police Academy” was working on an extremely tight budget of $4.5 million, the production made sure to cross their Ts and dot their Is with much of the film’s creation. That includes its score. Robert Folk may just be the Hans Zimmer of comedy soundtracks, except he’s not German.
That being said, the American composer has created the scores of numerous comedies. You might have heard some of his soundtracks in “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls”, “Toy Soldiers”, the animation “Rock-a-doodle”, “In the Army Now” and “Trapped in Paradise”.
Accidents on Set
Every actor is aware of potential injuries that can occur on set. If you remember, in the obstacle course scene, there's a recruit who successfully manages to lift himself and then stick a landing. In the process of doing so, the actor broke a limb.
In another scene, Leslie Barbara, played by Donovan Scott, is floating in a booth down the river. For a split second, the booth seems to flip over. The movie’s commentary available on the DVD explains that really happened – the booth with Scott almost did really flip over.
David Graf’s Audition and Subsequent Offer
A memorable addition to the number of memorable auditions was David Graf. The actor who would later play trigger-happy Eugene Tackleberry appeared for his audition in camouflage. But the truth is that he rather reluctantly joined the cast.
A potential offer to work on Richard Benjamin’s “Racing on the Moon” (1984) was sent Graf’s way. The storyline seemed much more promising or rather more sophisticated to Graf, in comparison to the “Police Academy” one. Thank goodness, Warner Bros made Graf the right offer, as he went on to star as the mad-about-guns Tackleberry.
West Germany Was Crazy About It
“Police Academy” was a box-office goldmine. With its total budget coming up to roughly $4.5 million, production was super delighted and chuffed that the movie did so well.
One of its unexpected successes was among foreign audiences, especially, the Germans. In 1984, the film became the most successful in West Germany. We’re not exactly sure what made it a hit in West Germany, we can only say it probably did not reach their counterparts in East Germany.