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'Trading Places' screenwriter speaks on craft at OU

The public was invited to a screening of the 1983 hit “Trading Places” starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, written by speaker Herschel Weingrod and co-writer Timothy Harris.
BY SANDI DAVIS Modified: March 11, 2013 at 3:35 pm •  Published: March 12, 2013

Screenwriter Herschel Weingrod knows how to write funny screenplays. He brought his expertise — and one of his hit movies — to an auditorium on the University of Oklahoma campus last week.

The public was invited to a screening of the 1983 hit “Trading Places” starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, written by Weingrod and co-writer Timothy Harris.

The pair also wrote or rewrote screenplays for “Twins,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “Space Jam,” “My Stepmother is an Alien” and “Falling Down.”

The movie and question-and-answer session was part of the “Nature of Laughter” Presidential Dream Course hosted by professors Andrew Horton, OU College of Arts and Sciences Film and Media Studies Program and Joanna E. Rapf, OU College of Arts and Sciences English Department.

Before the screening began, Weingrod spoke to The Oklahoman about writing comedy and the creating of “Trading Places.”

“It was a happy accident,” Weingrod said. “We knew about brothers who were doctors and had a practice together. They liked to play tennis but no one liked to play against them and wouldn't play each other because they cheated.

“We talked about having brothers who didn't really like each other and who made bets on everything,” he explained. “There also was a lot of talk about ‘nature versus nurture,' heredity versus environment, and that was a great idea.”

The writer added the story of the Russians trying to corner the wheat market in the 1980s by changing the commodity to orange juice, and the frame of the script was done.

“Originally we wanted Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder for the movie,” Weingrod said. “The studio asked us if we had a second choice if they couldn't get Richard and I said I'd seen a guy on ‘Saturday Night Live' who would be good. I never thought he'd be a movie star though.”

Murphy was doing the movie “48 Hours” when he got the “Trading Places” script. He said he'd take the part.

“We wanted to make a social comedy, to explore themes that make people nervous — race, religion, sexual orientation,” Weingrod said. “We did it in ‘Trading Places,' and ‘Falling Down,' and those are the ones I'm the most proud of.”

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