40 Things You Didn’t Know About Martin Scorsese


Happy birthday to tireless filmmaker and living legend, Martin Scorsese. Here’s hoping we can all be as productive and creative in our 70s. The director will see his biopic about stock swindler and motivational speaker Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street, hit theaters on December 25, and he’s currently filming a documentary about former President Bill Clinton. And let’s not forget that Sinatra biopic in the works, an adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel, Silence, and his ongoing work as executive producer for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. While we have an idea of what the future holds for Scorsese, there are a lot of fascinating details about his past that we wanted to share with you in honor of the director’s birthday

Both of Scorsese’s parents, Charles and Catherine (pictured in the baby photo, above), have appeared in his films — including his debut feature, Who’s That Knocking at My Door, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino.

Scorsese was a sickly child. The family took him to the movies for fun, which is where his passion for cinema started.

The director almost joined the priesthood. “I went into the seminary after grade school, but they threw me out at the end of my first year for roughhousing during prayers. They thought I was a thug,” he once revealed. Catholic themes have greatly influenced his body of work.

He used to be married to Blue Velvet actress Isabella Rossellini.

The director is a big fan of the old Hammer horror films. Scorsese didn’t work with friend and Hammer icon Christopher Lee until 2011’s Hugo.

We have Body Double and Blow Out director Brian De Palma to thank for introducing Scorsese to frequent collaborator, Robert De Niro.

Marty taught director Oliver Stone at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He was an instructor for Stone’s Sight and Sound class — an introductory production course. “He was just a wild-haired, fast-talking New Yorker with a passion for film,” Stone said of the filmmaker. Scorsese also taught Spike Lee.

Scorsese was the assistant director and editor on the 1970 documentary Woodstock, chronicling the legendary 1969 music festival.

Marty worked on Elvis’ 33rd and final film, Elvis on Tour, in 1972.

John Hinckley, Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981, blamed Scorsese’s Taxi Driver for his crime. He was obsessed with Jodie Foster’s child prostitute character, which led to him stalking the actress. Hinckley thought the shooting would impress the star and get her attention.

The director was originally offered the role of Charles Manson in the 1976 TV film Helter Skelter, but he turned it down.

Taxi Driver won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, but the movie didn’t take home an Academy Award — despite being nominated in four categories.

The box office failure of Scorsese’s New York, New York, starring Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli as two performers in a rocky relationship, drove him into a deep depression. By that time, he was also struggling with an addiction to cocaine (along with Quaaludes and alcohol). When he was at Cannes in 1978, Scorsese couldn’t find any coke, so he took a private jet to Paris in a desperate attempt to score some.

Robert De Niro encouraged Scorsese to get sober after the director almost died from internal bleeding due to a drug interaction. That’s when De Niro approached him with the book Raging Bull: My Story, Jake LaMotta’s memoir. De Niro had tried to pitch a film around the story years earlier.

Marty directed an episode of Steven Spielberg’s television anthology, Amazing Stories, in 1986. “Mirror Mirror” follows a horror novelist who doesn’t believe in the supernatural until he starts to see a haunting figure when he looks in a mirror.

During the making of Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, the filmmaker banned smoking from the set. This was due to his asthma, but also to preserve the integrity of his biblical characters for the press. Willem Dafoe’s Jesus holding a cigarette would have caused a ruckus.

The original cast of The Last Temptation of Christ included Aidan Quinn as Jesus, Sting as Pontius Pilate, Ray Davies as Judas Iscariot, and Vanity as Mary Magdalene.

Scorsese played painter Vincent van Gogh in Akira Kurosawa’s magical realist movie, Dreams.

You can spot Scorsese in his 1995 film, Casino, as a gambler at one of the tables.

There were a number of actresses up for the part of Ginger in Casino (played by Sharon Stone), the unstable hustler married to a mob boss (Robert De Niro), including Madonna and Traci Lords.

Martin Scorsese doesn’t grant outsiders access to his film sets when directing Robert De Niro.

Steven Spielberg almost directed Cape Fear, but recommended Marty for the job.

The director has fond memories of the Copacabana nightclub in New York City, which is featured in Goodfellas. He visited the club on his prom night.

The detail-obsessed Scorsese tied star Ray Liotta’s tie for Goodfellas every day to make sure his style was just right.

Scorsese’s late dog, a Bichon Frise named Zoe, used to sit on his lap while he directed his films.

The music-loving moviemaker carries an iPod everywhere.

Scorsese is listed as one of dozens of people barred from entering Tibet. Disney quarreled with Chinese officials over the director’s 1997 film Kundun.

He is extremely superstitious and has a phobia surrounding the number 11. It crippled him with anxiety during the 1970s. He used to avoid anything to do with it, including traveling on the 11th day of November, or staying on the 11th floor of hotels.

Scorsese screens films for his teenage daughter Francesca and her friends every Saturday. Her birthday is the day before his (November 16).

He almost made a movie about foul-mouthed comedian Richard Pryor. It would have been based on the actor’s 1995 autobiography, Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences. Damon Wayans was cast as Pryor, but the project fell apart.

An admirer of filmmaking duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, it comes as no surprise that a young Marty rented The Tales of Hoffmann on a regular basis from his local video store. Unbeknownst to Scorsese, another budding filmmaker was obsessively renting the same movie: George Romero.

“Romero rented it weekly, saying it was always in stock because no one else wanted to watch it. One day, the clerk told him a kid from Queens had gotten it first.

The kid’s name: Martin Scorsese.

‘We were the only kids who took that film out,” Romero said with a laugh.’”

King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun (1946), about a young Mestiza girl who lives with her Anglo family, was the first film Scorsese ever saw. He was only four-years-old.

He loves the TV show Fawlty Towers.

In Taxi Driver, Scorsese appeared as a distraught passenger in Travis Bickle’s cab, who agonized over killing his cheating wife. Another actor was set to play the part, but called in sick that day.

Martin Scorsese worked as a news editor at TV network CBS after graduating NYU.

Ben Kingsley based his characterization of pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès in Hugo on Martin Scorsese (who has a cameo in the film as a photographer).

He turned down Steven Spielberg’s offer to direct Schindler’s List. He believed a Jewish filmmaker would be a more appropriate fit.

Scorsese has two regrets: not reading more when he was younger and never learning how to cook.

He directed the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Bad.”

Marty draws his own storyboards.