Here are 10 trivia facts about Taxi Driver from 1976, which originally appeared as our Mystery Movie Quiz on our Facebook page. There are hundreds of pieces of behind-the-scenes information about this movie. Please feel free to comment and add more trivia we might have missed.
1. This movie has political overtones.
In the film, troubled ex-Marine and New York City cabbie Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) meets Betsy (Cybil Shepherd), a campaign worker for U.S. Senator Charles Palatine’s (Leonard Harris) bid for the White House. Travis admires Betsy’s purity and tries to befriend her (in his own inimitable manner), but things go awry, so he does what makes sense to him — he decides to kill the presidential hopeful she is working for. Supposedly the senator’s role was first offered to Rock Hudson, who had to turn it down due to his contractual agreement to do his then-TV series, McMillan & Wife.
Trivia buffs probably recall that when De Niro tries to apologize to Shepherd for his behavior, he calls her from the phone booth in The Ed Sullivan Theater lobby at 1697 Broadway, now the home of Dave Letterman’s The Late Show. (Remember phone booths? Heck, at one time, phones were private and music was public!)
2. A sibling of one of the stars appears in the movie playing the same character.
When principal photography for Taxi Driver was being shot, Jodie Foster was the same age as her character, the 12-year old prostitute Iris. Accordingly, the child actress couldn’t participate in the most explicit scenes. However, her older sister Connie, 19 at the time, was available and agreed to be Jodie’s body double. Ironically, it wasn’t the first time Jodie showed a little skin — she appeared in an ad for Coppertone suntan lotion when she was three. Although Foster plays a very adult role in the film, she would not have been permitted to enter a theater to see the finished, R-rated movie without being accompanied by a parent or guardian, since she was only 12.
Casting the role of Iris was a long and tedious process. Kim Basinger and Linda Blair were the second and third choices after Melanie Griffith had to turn down the role due to concerns from her mother, actress Tippi Hedren. But before Jodie Foster was signed, over 250 applicants auditioned. Some of the young actresses who were either asked or applied have gone on to become well known in Hollywood, including Debra Winger, Kim Cattrall, Kristy McNichol, Carrie Fisher, Mariel Hemingway, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bo Derek, Michelle Pfeiffer, Heather Locklear and Rosanna Arquette. It’s been reported that after searching everywhere, the five finalists came down to Foster, Leigh, Hemingway, McNichol and Locklear.
3. Aspects of the lead character’s role are based on real-life events.
When he lived in Los Angeles, author Paul Schrader lost nearly all his friends after suffering a nervous breakdown, which also cost him his job and his wife, and he would have become homeless if he hadn’t moved into a friend’s empty apartment. During this trying time, he avoided conversation with anyone and everyone, often for weeks at a time, while frequenting porn theaters, and eventually became obsessed with firearms. Probably the most obvious similarity between the real-life Schrader and fictional Travis Bickle were their feelings of isolation from society — as Schrader called it, “the pathology of loneliness” — both being from the Midwest while living in a big city. Schrader wrote his script in only five days, keeping a loaded gun on his desk as a driving force. The movie script’s location was switched from L. A. to New York, where taxi drivers are much more abundant.
Robert De Niro and director Martin Scorsese, both from urban communities, immediately understood and were able to envision the story’s dire situations. (Brian DePalma was the chosen director in the planning stages of Taxi Driver, but after the producers watched Scorsese’s Mean Streets, they agreed the job was his if he could guarantee De Niro would get on board). Oddly enough, Scorsese claims he offered the title role to Dustin Hoffman, who turned it down. Years later Hoffman admitted it might have been an error in judgment on his part. Jeff Bridges was another young actor in consideration for the role… but now that all is said and done, can anyone imagine any other actor than De Niro behind the wheel?
Remember how we said earlier that “things go awry” when Travis tries to start a relationship with campaign worker Betsy? Well, choosing a seedy adult movie theater as the site for their first date certainly got things off on the wrong foot, and helped send De Niro’s character closer to the edge. His downward spiral intensfies when Travis sees it as his duty to save Iris, the 12-year-old streetwalker being controlled by her pimp-boyfriend, Sport (Harvey Keitel), from the clutches of the sex trade. Bickle eventually stages his showdown by staking out the hotel where Iris brings her “Johns” and…well, we don’t want to ruin the movie by telling what happens next — there must be lots of folks who have never seen it!
5. One of the most classic scenes in the film was completely improvised.
One of the famous scenes in filmdom, “You talkin’ to me?” was reported to be totally ad-libbed. Schrader’s screenplay merely said, “Travis looks in the mirror,” but Scorsese, directing on the floor from below, remembered Marlon Brando’s mirror scene in Reflections in a Golden Eye and was inspired to keep the monologue going.
De Niro, however, might very well have had his own inspiration from his former acting classes with legendary “method” teacher Stella Adler. One of Adler’s exercises offered to students was to have them repeat several different versions of the same phrase. When the film was released, Adler admitted surprise, possibly even pride, upon seeing her former student interpreting her program.
6. One of the stars is also well-known for a different occupation in addition to acting.
Before Hollywood, Cybil Shepherd was probably best known as a model, which was her original occupation. She eventually was named Model of the Year in 1968.
Cybill was not the film’s producers’ first choice for the role of Betsy. The hunt to fill Betsy’s role included just about every blonde in Hollywood at the time…plus a few women who weren’t blonde. Those who were either offered the part or were under consideration included Mia Farrow, Jane Seymour, Sigourney Weaver, Glenn Close, Susan Sarandon and Meryl Streep. To get the part, Shepherd had to give up her role in Peter Bogdanovich’s1976 early Hollywood comedy Nickleodeon. Director Scorsese believed Mary Steenburgen was the best choice — but that was before filming started.
7. This was the last appearance for a well-known film icon.
Taxi Driver was the last movie from Columbia Pictures to show the classic Torch Lady in her well-known appearance. First seen in 1928, she experienced many changes and after being revamped in 1936, remained pretty much the same until ’76, when she was replaced by a stylized torch logo. Brought back to the screen in the early ’80s, her regal appearance has taken many turns since then.
Martin Scorsese was nominated for Best Director and/or Best Screenplay Academy Awards a total of seven times, as of 2011. His achievements include Raging Bull (1980), also starring De Niro; The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) with Willem Dafoe; Goodfellas (1990) which was also nominated for Best Screenplay and includes a cast of classic Scorsese actors; The Age of Innocence (1993) , which starred Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis, for Best Screenplay; Gangs of New York (2002) also with Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio; and The Aviator (2004), again with DiCaprio in his Oscar-nominated role, co-starring with Cate Blanchett. The filmmaker finally took home a Best Director award with 2006’s The Departed, starring DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Academy Award-nominated Mark Wahlberg.
Although Scorsese did not himself receive a nod from the Academy for Taxi Driver, the movie was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (De Niro), Best Supporting Actress (Foster) and Original Music Score (Bernard Herrmann). Sadly, Herrmann died on Christmas Eve 1975, before the film was released.
9. It contains dialogue that is among the most quoted in film history.
“You talkin’ to me?”… the words seem simple enough but when grouped with more of the same, and chanted by Robert De Niro, the quote takes on an unmistakable meaning. The actual quote, “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin’ to? You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?,” was voted among the 10 most famous movie lines by the American Film Institute for their “AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes.”
10. The film appears on the list of the top 50 favorite films of all time.
The American Film Institute chose Taxi Driver as #47 among their list of all-time favorite films. Along with its four Academy Award nominations, the gritty look at life on the streets of New York City was also honored around the globe with a total of 27 awards and nominations, including a pair of Golden Globe noms and the coveted Palme d’Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival.
And now, here are some scenes from the 1976 theatrical trailer for Taxi Driver: