When Back to the Future co-creator/co-writer Bob Gale was visiting his parents back home in Missouri, he found himself in the basement – leafing through a hodgepodge of items from their past. During this rummaging, he keyed in on his father’s old high-school yearbook where he was surprised to learn that the patriarch of the family was the student body president – while he himself was the polar opposite during his own high school tenure – favoring exploits like heading up the “Student Committee To Abolish Student Government.”
“Gee, if I went to high school with my dad, would I have been friends with him,” Gale asked himself. This question would became the genesis for what would span the Back to the Future franchise.
As the plot of Back to the Future famously goes, Marty’s run-in with his mother, Lorraine, in 1955 triggers a chain of events where she will no longer meet the love of her life, George McFly. In turn, this threatens Marty and his siblings very own existence back in 1985.
The parts of Lorraine Baines and George McFly were played by Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover who were 24 and 21-years old at the time when the film was released. Not only were they tasked with playing Marty’s peers in 1955, but Hollywood prosthetics and old-age makeup also made them appear 30 years older to fit in with the timeline that was deemed the “present.” In fact, Michael J. Fox was actually older than Crispin Glover.
These physical changes in Lorraine and George’s appearances allowed the audience to understand in a visual context just how much Marty’s choices could disrupt the space time continuum. The Hollywood theatrics also proved to be one of the biggest black eyes for the movie.
While George McFly appears in the subsequent sequels, his role in the film was greatly reduced to a handful of scenes where he is puttering around. However, as much as it appeared to be Crispin Glover in aging makeup – once again reprising his role as George McFly – it was in fact a completely different actor all together.
Prior to his work on Parts II and III, Jeffrey Weissman was a journeyman actor who had made a name for himself on the Hollwood periphery for his lookalike work.“I had been working in TV and film, and was ‘in between’ gigs, when a friend who had played Stan Laurel called me up and asked me if I had ever considered doing lookalike work,” Weissman said. “His ‘Oliver Hardy’ partner had lost his ‘Stan’ at Universal, where they had been playing the classic comedy team, and I needed work, so I auditioned, and got the job.”
With the initial seedlings for another Back to the Future film being planted, Weissman received a phone call inquiring if he knew who Crispin Glover was – specifically asking about his height and weight. He said that he did – assuming it was for a potential job to be Glover’s stand-in for the sequel.
“I next went through a series of meetings, auditions and screen tests,” Weissman said. “I met with assistant director David McGiffert, and next went to read (along with other actors), the ‘George and Marty hanging the clothes in the backyard’ scene from the first film for casting director Judy Taylor. Co-casting director Mike Fenton (along with associate Marci Liroff) had cast me in Twilight Zone: The Movie, so he may have vouched for me. I then met with make-up designer (from the first BTTF film) Ken Chase, and sat for make-up sessions in his backyard workshop, to fit prosthetics to play 17-year-old George for screen tests with Robert Zemeckis and Dean Cundey. The prosthetics made me look like Crispin, but not exactly. Robert asked Dean what he thought of my performance, and I heard Dean say, ‘I think we have Crispin without the trouble.’ This was the first time I had an inkling that I was possibly being more than just a stand-in or photo-double.”
One of Weissman’s most notable scenes as George McFly occurs when he is 77-years-old – suspended from the ceiling in an Ortho-lev machine after his character’s backstory dictated that he had hurt his back on the golf course. While it fits in with the futuristic premise, it’s widely speculated that filmmakers and producers assumed that the viewing public would have a harder time distinguishing that it was not Crispin Glover if George McFly was hung upside down.
Glover himself points to the same scene as his first indication that producers wanted him as uncomfortable as possible during filming. “Why would you hang somebody upside down if they have a bad back?,” Glover said to The A.V. Club. “What was apparent to me was, if I was going to return to be in the film, they wanted to make me physically uncomfortable, and monetarily, there was a punishment too. Because I had asked questions.”
Those questions are the heart of Crispin Glover’s argument as to why he didn’t portray George McFly in the sequels. “The reason that I didn’t end up being in the film is because I was asking questions that the producers/director didn’t like,” Glover told Opie and Anthony. “I was a serious actor, and when I started actually analyzing the screenplay once we were involved in the [first] project, I had questions about things.”
Specifically, Glover took issue with the happy ending in Back to the Future. “I thought it was not a good idea for our characters to have a monetary reward because it basically makes the moral of the film be that ‘money equals happiness,'” Glover said. “What I was arguing was that the love should be the reward. Zemeckis got really mad when I said this.”
Despite the tension between Robert Zemeckis and Crispin Glover, the actor still insisted that he wanted to participate in the sequels. “I actually wanted to be in the film, but the offer was less than half of the offers of Lea Thompson and Tom Wilson who had similar sized roles,” Glover said. “It just wasn’t fair.”
While the Back to the Future legacy will best be remembered for the relationship between Marty and Doc – and perhaps the filmmakers and writers predictions about what the future would be like – the dissolution and subsequent rebirth of the George McFly character did prove to be a game-changer for the film industry.
Since Jeffrey Weissman essentially wore a prosthetic that was crafted for Crispin Glover’s face – rather than filmmakers simply re-casting the role and redoing the makeup – Glover filed suit against the producers alleging that they didn’t own his likeness, nor did they have his permission to use it. “They owned the character they wrote, but they didn’t own my face,” Glover said.
As a result of Glover’s lawsuit, laws exist today between the Screen Actors Guild and directors/producers that no longer allow such a practice.