On March 23, 1990, two of Hollywood’s most enduring fairy tales were born. The first, released in theaters by (naturally) Disney, was the story of a down-and-out young woman who wins the love of a mogul, and lives happily ever after. The twist: She’s a prostitute. The result: a pop-culture sensation grossing $432.7 million worldwide. Pretty Woman made Julia Roberts a superstar, rescued Richard Gere’s career, and rewrote the old Cinderella cliche as ”Someday My John Will Come.”
The other fairy tale isn’t as well known outside of the 310 area code, but it’s no less notorious. It’s the story of J.F. Lawton, the young screenwriter who penned Pretty Woman — or Three Thousand, as the original treatment was titled (a reference to the fee charged by Roberts’ character, Vivian, for a week of her services). According to legend, Lawton’s first draft was unflinchingly honest about its gritty subject matter: In the end, the handsome prince dumps his hired honey, who returns to the streets in a crack-fueled rage.
Disney, the story goes, demanded a happy ending, and eventually got it — over Lawton’s objections. It became a cautionary tale around Hollywood: Idealistic young scribe writes daring film, only to see it transformed into studio pap, then ratified by ignorant moviegoers at the box office. It’s a familiar story — and, in this case, more or less untrue.
”There’s this need to portray me as the wounded artist,” says Lawton, now the creator/executive producer of Pamela Anderson’s jiggle-happy TV vehicle, V.I.P. ”[The truth is] almost the opposite.” In the late ’80s, Lawton was trying to attract attention with the ”unconventional” Three Thousand. Disney took the bait: According to Lawton, the studio wanted something ”darker than Beaches.” When Lawton had a change of heart and added a happy ending to the original script, he says the studio turned to other writers to restore some of the grit.
But director Garry Marshall remembers it slightly differently: ”The dark ending was quite good, but that’s not what Disney wanted to make. They told me, ‘Do what you did to Beaches,’ which was the same job. They brought me in to give it a prettier ending.” Marshall ultimately shot five different finales; the Cinderella version won out, and Lawton was awarded sole credit by the Writers Guild.
Today, Lawton has few regrets — and he’s delighted with the tamer Pretty Woman. ”Hollywood makes far more depressing, bleak movies than people want to see,” he avers. As for ”selling out”: ”I was thrilled.” And why not? Like his heroine, he ended up living happily ever after.
TIME CAPSULE MARCH 23, 1990
AT THE MOVIES, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s Joe Versus the Volcano proves to be an average Joe, earning $5.25 million for third place at the box office. ON TV, 21 Jump Street limps along in its final season on Fox. IN MUSIC, Paula Abdul’s (right) Forever Your Girl is No. 1 on the Billboard album chart for the seventh straight week. AND IN THE NEWS, Exxon Valdez skipper Capt. Joseph Hazelwood is sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service and must pay $50,000 in restitution for the negligent discharge of oil, the only crime of which he was convicted in the tragic spill.