There is a very huge connection between the Catskills and the movie, Dirty Dancing. Enjoy the following information about people’s real-life experiences in the Catskills and the actual film locations used to capture the special quality of the Catskills.
Dirty Dancing was actually filmed at two main locations – Mountain Lake Hotel in Virginia and Lake Lure Inn in North Carolina – that were seamlessly used together to represent the Catskills. It is said that the movie could not be made in the real Catskills due to budgetary constraints.
Great lengths were taken to make the film appear as though it was made at one location. In reality, here is how the scenes were split up between the two main locations. Mountain Lake is the site where the Houseman family pulled up in their car to the main lodge, Johnny entered the dining room and told the college guy where to put the pickle, Penny crouched down crying on the floor in the corner of the kitchen, Baby and Johnny practiced their lift in the lake, Johnny danced with Vivian in the gazebo, and on and on. Now I must say that both the Virginia people and the N. Carolina people state that the famous lift scene was done on their turf.
At Lake Lure Inn, scenes filmed include the interior dance scenes (of course the grand finale), the scene in which Johnny and Baby practice dancing on a log, Johnny’s cabin scene, Baby on the rock stairway scene, and the employee cottage scenes. Did you know that a third film location, Rumbling Bald Resort in North Carolina was used to shoot the golf course scene? The absolutely fantastic thing about all of this is that fans can still visit each of these three locations and get their Dirty Dancing fix. One can even stay in the very rooms that Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze inhabited during filming at the two main locations.
Getting back to the original desired setting, the Catskills in 1963 is the backdrop for the story line of Dirty Dancing. The Catskills is a resort area less than two hours from New York City. The area has been affectionately nicknamed the “Borsch Belt” as in its heyday (20s through the 80s), there were more than five hundred resorts (plus many boarding houses and bungalow colonies) open where many Jewish families vacationed and many Jewish entertainers got their start and performed on a regular basis there. The vacationing region turned into a cultural entity that became a very special way of life. Many prominent people visited and performed at the resorts. Some of the performers included: Woody Allen, Pearl Bailey, Joey Bishop, Red Buttons, Sid Caesar, Rodney Dangerfield, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Katz – Jennifer Grey’s grandfather, Jackie Mason, Don Rickles, Nipsey Russell, and Henny Youngman. Sadly, there are only about twelve resorts still open.
Eleanor Bergstein, the writer of Dirty Dancing, spent vacation time with her family (father was a physician) in the Catskills. It is very obvious that Ms. Bergstein captured the special time that took place in the Catskills heyday – the charm of a simpler, past time – and that is part of what makes Dirty Dancing so popular. It is interesting to note that Eleanor Bergstein used some of her other life experiences in the story line. For example, she was called Baby until about age twenty-one as she was the younger daughter. Also, she won dance contests as a teen and was an Arthur Murray dance instructor.
Jackie Horner – a legendary dancer/entertainment icon who is still working as a dance/entertainment professional in the Catskills – states she was a story consultant for the movie (see special screen credit to Jackie Horner at end of movie credits). She reports many experiences that she and her Catskills dance partner, Steve Schwartz (known professionally in the Catskills as Steve Sands) lived are in the movie. For example, she reported to me (I was lucky enough to interview her regarding the movie) that the watermelon was spiked and she would take it to parties, and that Shelly Winters had brought up the idea of practicing lifts in the lake. Also, an interesting note is that Steve Schwartz (I was lucky to interview Steve as well) used to spend summers at the Catskills with his family before his father died and then he ended up professionally dancing there. He tells many stories about the “Babies,” “Bungalow Bunnies,” dance activities, and daily life in the Catskills.
In conclusion, the Catskills connection is key to Dirty Dancing. There are a multitude of authentic experiences used from the Catskills heyday that help make this movie so popular and special. Moviegoers experience things as real and are taken back to a time when things were simpler.
Link: The Patrick Swayze Pancreas Cancer Research Fund at Stanford Cancer Center http://med.stanford.edu/cancer/features/research_news/Patrick_Swayze_Pancreas.html.