15 Fascinating Facts About ‘Trading Places’

Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche weren’t familiar with Eddie Murphy or Dan Aykroyd. The feeling was mutual.

In the classic film Trading Places, millionaires Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer (Don Ameche) Duke find themselves at odds over the age-old debate of nature versus nurture. They make a high-stakes bet of $1 to settle their disagreement and devise a unique experiment. They choose to switch the roles of a homeless con artist named Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) and a successful executive named Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd). As the plot unfolds, we witness how the lives of these characters intertwine, revealing unexpected twists and turns. This thought-provoking comedy explores social status, identity, and the power of circumstance.

Discover these fascinating facts about Trading Places the 1983 comedy classic that catapulted its two stars into stardom, all in celebration of its 40th anniversary. When they uncover the bet, they embark on a quest for revenge.

1. The idea was inspired by a tennis game.

“There were these two brothers who were both doctors who I would play tennis with on a fairly regular basis, and they were incredibly irritating to play with because they had a major sibling rivalry going, all the time about everything,” screenwriter Timothy Harris told Insider in 2013. He introduced the concept of brothers engaging in a thought-provoking debate on nature versus nurture to his writing partner, Herschel Weingrod. Together, they embarked on a collaborative journey to explore this fascinating topic.

2. The screenwriters hung out with drunk traders for research.

“The traders I met and hung out with here in L.A., because it was three hours behind New York, had their happy-hours very early in the day,” Weingrod told NPR in 2013. “You can imagine what they were like by, maybe, 2 p.m.”

3. It was originally a vehicle for Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, titled Black and White.

Comedy legend Richard Pryor almost appeared alongside Gene Wilder in this flick. / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

Comedian Richard Pryor was originally attached to the project alongside Gene Wilder, but as director John Landis put it, he then “unfortunately set himself on fire.”

4. Landis didn’t know who Eddie Murphy was.

Director John Landis initially had no clue who Eddie Murphy even was. / Pascal Le Segretain/GettyImages

Murphy was still an up-and-coming star when the casting was underway. “48 Hrs. (1982) hadn’t come out yet, but they’d previewed it, and Eddie Murphy had previewed very well, and they thought, ‘Ah, this kid’s going to be a star,’” Landis recalled of his discussions with Paramount Pictures. “So they said, ‘What do you think about Eddie Murphy playing the Billy Ray Valentine part?’ And I of course said, ‘Who’s Eddie Murphy?’”

During the first morning of shooting, Bellamy, who portrayed Randolph Duke, shared a memorable moment with Ameche, his on-screen brother Mortimer, and Murphy in the makeup trailer. Discover the behind-the-scenes story of their encounter in Bellamy’s recollection.“I said, ‘Why, this is my 72nd movie.’ And Don answers, ‘Why, this is my 56th.’ And Eddie Murphy looks embarrassed and said, ‘Boys, this is my first. Ever.’ It broke everybody up, and the movie became my biggest hit.”

5. Landis also thought Ameche was dead.

Ray Milland, known for his role in (Dial M for Murder) was initially chosen to play Mortimer. However, he couldn’t pass the insurance physical. Director Landis then suggested Don Ameche, but it seemed Ameche had vanished from the movie scene for 13 years. “The horrible question was asked, ‘Did he die?’” Eventually, Ameche was located, but he held off on returning to movies until he received the same payment promised to Milland. Interestingly, two years after the hit film Trading Places, Ameche starred in Cocoon (1985) and even won an Oscar for his outstanding performance.

6. The co-stars weren’t familiar with each others’ work.

Aykroyd (left, with John Belushi) was fresh off the success of “The Blues Brothers” when he starred in the film. / Sunset Boulevard/GettyImages

Bellamy and Ameche “cheerfully confessed” that they were not familiar with the work of Murphy and Aykroyd. Interestingly, Murphy and Aykroyd also acknowledged their unfamiliarity with Bellamy and Ameche.

7. Jamie Lee Curtis was a hard sell to the studio.

Curtis was best known for slasher movies at the time, and Landis had to fight to keep her in the picture. / Aaron Rapoport/GettyImages

When it came to casting, Landis encountered challenges, particularly for the role of Ophelia. Eventually, Jamie Lee Curtis, renowned for her appearances in iconic slasher films such as Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), Prom Night (1980), and Terror Train (1980), secured the role.

“What really got me in trouble was Jamie Lee Curtis, because up to that point she had only done horror pictures,” Landis said. “But Jamie did a terrific job. She somehow made her part, the hooker with a heart of gold, almost believable!”

8. G. Gordon Liddy almost agreed to play Clarence Beeks.

Instead, the role was given to Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club) after G. Gordon Liddy reportedly considered playing Clarence. However, Liddy changed his mind after reading the final scene, which depicted his character being sexually assaulted by a gorilla. In the movie, Beeks is seen reading Liddy’s autobiography Will on the train. Discover more about this interesting casting decision and its impact on the film in this article.

9. It was shot in Philadelphia, New York City, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The crew spent 15 days filming the outdoor scenes in Philadelphia. Harris specifically selected the city for its unique qualities “has a connection with the founding of the country, the constitution, everybody being entitled to the pursuit of happiness, all the idealism that’s built into America.”

The Duke & Duke office and other Philadelphia locations were actually filmed in New York City, adding a touch of movie magic. And on the final day of production, March 1, 1983, the cameras rolled on a breathtaking beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

10. Curtis stayed in Marlene Dietrich’s Park Avenue apartment during the shoot.

During that time, Curtis was in a committed relationship with J. Michael Riva, Marlene Dietrich’s grandson and a talented production designer. Their apartment, situated at 993 Park Avenue, was a place filled with stories waiting to be discovered.

11. Breaking Bad’s Gus Frind was one of Murphy’s cellmates in the flick.

Giancarlo Esposito of “Breaking Bad” fame makes an early appearance in the film. / Jamie McCarthy/GettyImages

Giancarlo Esposito, known for his role in the popular series Breaking Bad, briefly appeared as Cellmate #2 in the comedy hit.

“I was in awe of Eddie Murphy,” Esposito told The AV Club in 2013. “At that time, I was probably a little jealous of Eddie Murphy. Because you work all your early career to be a dramatic actor, and then this guy, a comedian with an affable personality who’s incredibly talented, just shoots right by you to stardom. But that day, we became friends.”

12. There were other interesting cameos.

In the movie, Bo Diddley took on the role of a pawnbroker, while Jim Belushi donned a gorilla costume. Al Franken and Tom Davis portrayed baggage handlers, and Frank Oz played the role of a police officer. Notably, Kelly Curtis, the sister of Jamie Lee Curtis, brought the character “Muffy” to life.

13. Al Franken still gets paid for his cameo.

Franken still collects royalties from the film. / Owen Franken – Corbis/GettyImages

Al Franken recently disclosed his financial records for 2012, shedding light on an interesting fact: he is still receiving royalties for his portrayal as the baggage handler.

14. Aykroyd and Murphy caused billions of dollars in trading to grind to a halt.

Originally, in a shoot at the World Trade Center’s commodity exchange, Comex, real stock traders and some extras were scheduled to perform on a weekday while actual trading took place. This intriguing setup adds an element of authenticity to the movie, capturing the fast-paced world of stock trading in a unique way.

As per the studio production notes, the presence of the two stars caused a disruption in business activities, leading to a staggering $6 billion halt in trading. Subsequently, the filming schedule was rearranged to accommodate the situation over the weekend.

15. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission instituted an “Eddie Murphy Rule” in 2010, based on the film’s ending.

The “Eddie Murphy Rule” went into effect in 2010. / Lynn Goldsmith/GettyImages

Back in 2010, it wasn’t officially against the law to use government information for trading in commodity markets. However, things took a turn when the “Eddie Murphy Rule” was implemented as part of the Wall Street Transparency and Accountability Act, a significant component of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Curious to learn more about this rule?

In the movie “Trading Places,” the Duke brothers gained an unfair advantage by using confidential information from an upcoming USDA report. This report indicated a decline in the value of orange crops, leading them to focus on purchasing futures of frozen concentrate orange juice. However, their plan encountered a major obstacle when Aykroyd and Murphy, the main characters, forged the report themselves. Find out how this intricate plot unfolds in this captivating comedy.