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The Cotton Club is a 1984 crime-drama, centered on a popular real-life Harlemmarker jazz club in the 1930s, the Cotton Clubmarker.

The movie was co-written (with William Kennedy) and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, choreographed by Henry LeTang, and starred Richard Gere, Diane Lane, and Gregory Hines. Other actors that appeared included Nicolas Cage, Bob Hoskins, Laurence Fishburne, Fred Gwynne, Maurice Hines, James Remar and Gwen Verdon as Tish Dwyer. Despite performing poorly at the box office, the film was nominated for several awards, including Golden Globes for Best Director and Best Picture (Drama) and Oscar for best Best Art Direction (Richard Sylbert, George Gaines) and Film Editing.

The Cotton Club was the first privately financed major motion picture, paid for almost entirely by brothers Fred and Ed Doumani of Las Vegasmarker. The movie was not as successful as anticipated, making only $25,928,721 on a budget of over $50 million.


Gere plays a musician named Dixie Dwyer who begins working with mobsters to advance his career but falls in love with the girlfriend (Lane) of gangland kingpin Dutch Schultz. Hines and Lonette McKee play dancers at the Cotton Club in a sub-plot of the movie. The movie features many song and dance numbers including fictional performances by Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. Nicolas Cage plays Dixie's brother Vincent, who also becomes a gangster. Cage's character is based on real-life gangster Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll. Gregory Hines' real-life brother Maurice plays his brother in the film.

The character of Dixie Dwyer is loosely based on the famous 1920s hot jazz cornetist, Bix Beiderbecke, right down to the alliterative name, and everyone simply calling him "Dix." The character "Lila" is loosely based on Lena Horne. Laurence Fishburne's character, "Bumpy Rhodes", meanwhile, is based on Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson; Fishburne would later play Johnson in the film Hoodlum.



Inspired to make The Cotton Club by a picture-book history of the famous nightclub by Jim Haskin, Robert Evans was the film's original producer and wanted also to direct. Evans eventually decided that he did not want to direct the film and asked Coppola at the last minute. Richard Sylbert claimed that he told Evans not to hire Coppola because "he resents being in the commercial, narrative, Hollywood movie business". Coppola claimed that he had letters from Sylbert that ask him to work on the film because Evans was crazy. The director also said that "Evans set the tone for the level of extravagance long before I got there". Coppola accepted the job because he needed the money — he was deeply in debt from making One From the Heart with his own money. By the time Evans decided not to direct and brought in Coppola, at least $13 million had already been committed. Las Vegas casino owners Edward and Fred Doumani put $30 million into the film. Other financial backers included Arab arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, and vaudeville promoter Roy Radin, who was eventually murdered. According to William Kennedy in an interview with Vanity Fair, the budget of the film was $47 million. However, Francis Ford Coppola told the head of Gaumont, Europe's largest distribution and production company, that he thought the film might cost $65 million.

Author Mario Puzo was the original screenwriter and was eventually replaced by William Kennedy who wrote a rehearsal script in eight days which the cast used for three weeks prior to shooting. According to actor Gregory Hines, a three-hour film was shot during rehearsals.

Over 600 people built sets, created costumes and arranged music at a reported $250,000 a day.

From July 15 to August 22, 1983, 12 scripts were produced, including five during one 48-hour non-stop weekend. Kennedy estimates that between 30-40 scripts were turned out.

On June 7, 1984, Victor L. Sayyah filed a lawsuit against the Doumani brothers, their lawyer David Hurwitz, Evans and Orion Pictures for fraud and breach of contract. Sayyah invested $5 million and claimed that he had little chance of recouping his money because the budget escalated from $25 to $58 million. He accused the Doumanis of forcing out Evans and that an Orion loan to the film of $15 million unnecessarily increased the budget. Evans, in turn, sued Edward Doumani to keep from acting as general partner on the film.


The Cotton Club was released on December 14, 1984 and grossed $2.9 million on its opening weekend, fourth place behind Beverly Hills Cop, Dune, and 2010. The film would have had to gross $100 million to break even. Robert Evans took the blame for hiring Coppola while the director responded that if he had not been hired, the film would have never been made. Evans claimed that Coppola made the budget escalate dramatically by rejecting the script, hiring his own crew, and falling behind schedule.


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