Parenthood was one of those movies I watched every day once I recorded it on VHS. I probably hadn’t seen it in 20 years but it was remarkable how I still remembered the film shot for shot when it screened at an American Cinematheque tribute to Ron Howard this weekend. So when Howard and screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel revealed two alternate Parenthood subplots they cut from the script, it was like hearing all new Parenthood stories.
“Of the four original stories we wrote, two stayed in the movie, the Steve and Mary story and the Diane Wiest story,” Ganz said. “The Rick Moranis story was similar but bad. His wife was having an affair, she was cheating on him, something. The fourth story was just a complete mistake. It wasn’t Tom Hulce. It was some uncle who had a heart condition. Ron said, ‘I love these two stories. Why don’t you go back?’”
“They had nothing to do with parenthood,” Mandel said. “That’s where we made our mistake.”
Howard’s original concept for Parenthood was quite different too. Originally it wasn’t going to be a connected ensemble of stories.
“My original idea was to do a sketch comedy, kind of Kentucky Fried Movie about this, of parents’ struggle,” Howard said. “I thought of it as a very broad, very satirical thing but I pitched it to Lowell and Bobaloo. They heard that out and they just kept saying, ‘Why would you satirize that?’ It grew into something far more ambitious.”
Parenthood started when little Bryce Dallas Howard barfed on Ron at the beginning of a 17 hour international flight. Ganz actually had a child vomit after he said the line, “Do you feel like you want to throw up?” Other anecdotes in Parenthood were also based on true stories.
“I was frightened to death that people in my extended family would recognize themselves but they never do,” Ganz said.
There was only one Steve Martin improv in the film, when Kevin Buckman catches the pop fly and wins the Little League game.
“The one thing that he really contributed was the run,” Howard said. “He just said, ‘Ron, I’ve got one thing. I’ve got a run and I don’t want to rehearse it, I don’t want to show it to you. It’s in my head. Just set up the camera.’ So I got three cameras for that day and that’s it. Take 1, that’s the run.”
Many fans assume the Cowboy Gil scene was also Martin’s, but it was actually inspired by a suggestion of Grazer’s.
Martin was actually worried about doing the Cowboy Gil schtick.
“We wrote the Cowboy Gil scene,” Ganz said. “That was pure Bryan just saying you need one scene in this movie where you don’t talk about it, you see it. When Steve read the script, that was the one scene he had a little problem with. He liked it very much but he said, ‘Oh God, I’m going to do this scene and everybody’s going to say you wrote it just for me. They’re going to say Steve wanted to do a performance and he made the writers…’ Ron talked him off the ledge. I don’t know how he did it but you did it. Of course he was fantastic in it.”