How Did Crispin Glover and Back to the Future II Change Actors’ Rights Forever?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Crispin Glover sued the studio that produced Back to the Future II and the lawsuit led to a change in actors’ rights forever.

Crispin Glover was one of the co-stars of the 1985 hit film, Back to the Future.

He played George McFly, the father of Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly, who Marty meets in 1955 when Marty accidentally travels to the past from 1985 (and then proceeds to try to get…back to the future. Check out this past Movie Legend to see the bizarre way that Marty originally used to return to the future).

The movie was such a success that they decided to make a sequel (heck, they decided to make TWO sequels! They filmed them in a row to save money). Glover, however, was not happy with the amount of money that they were offering him to appear in the second film, so he ultimately decided not to do the film (as you might imagine, Glover and the film’s producers both have differing ideas on who was being unreasonable over the financial terms of Glover’s participation in the sequel).

This led to some interesting shenanigans that ultimately ended up with actors’ rights being changed forever!

In the second film, screenwriters Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale partially explained away George’s absence for part of the film by using a plot that involved an alternate timeline where George had been killed.

However, there were two other parts of the film where George showed up. One was in the future and one was in the past when Marty returns to the past of the first film.

In both sequences, they used actor Jeffrey Weissman as the new George. In the future scenes, they distracted audiences from the change by having George appear in scenes upside down. When you add in the “old man makeup,” it is easy to confuse the two actors.

In the past sequence, however, they went even further. You see, they were already reusing old footage from the original film as part of the plot where Marty returns to the past. So Glover would appear in some of these scenes via footage from the first film. As a result, they needed to make Weissman look as much like Glover as they could. So they had him wear prosthetics (including a fake chin, a fake nose, and fake cheekbones) to make him look like Glover and then they were sure to film him in ways to obscure his face as much as possible, although occasionally we see his full face.

Glover took issue with this and sued Universal Studios over what he felt was, in effect, an infringement on his rights. They were using his likeness without his permission. We did an old TV Legends Revealed involving Vanna White that also dealt with this “publicity right,” the right to control how your image is used by others in commercial endeavors.

Nowadays, you cannot do what the filmmakers in Back to the Future II did. However, while Glover’s lawsuit was certainly the inspiration for the change, I think there is a clear misunderstanding out there that Glover won the lawsuit which led to the change. That is not the case.

Glover and Universal settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed cash payment to Glover. SEPARATELY from the case, the Screen Actors Guild added clauses to their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that states that filmmakers cannot use an actors’ likeness in their film without his or her permission.

So Glover certainly deserves credit for bringing the issue up for discussion and almost certainly leading to the Screen Actors Guild making the change.

Therefore, I feel that the legend is…

STATUS: Basically True

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

One Reply to “How Did Crispin Glover and Back to the Future II Change Actors’ Rights Forever?”

  1. I agree with Crispin here- if you want my image, ya gots to pay me. Dressing another dude up with bad prosthetics (judging from the pic here- blending, it’s a thing) is just a bridge too far. I’m better with soap opera recasting- “The part of Marty’s dad is now played by Some Rando.”

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