What A Way To Make A Living: Fascinating Facts About The Film 9 to 5

The smash comedy hit 9 to 5 has wowed audiences since its 1980 debut. Centered on three women and their misogynist boss, the film has second-wave feminism underpinnings that make it as culturally significant as it is entertaining. Jane Fonda not only produced and starred in the movie, but she was also the one who came up with the story’s premise. As relevant as 9 to 5 was, its creators couldn’t have known that it would go on to be the highest-grossing female-dominant film of its time. Read on for more fascinating facts about this timeless classic.

The Movie Is Based On A Real Organization

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Jane Fonda conceptualized the idea for 9 to 5 after a friend of hers began an organization with the same name. The association is still around today and aims to provide female workers with equal rights on issues such as pay, medical leave, discrimination, harassment, and more.

In a 1981 interview with The Canberra Times, Jane stated that she’d heard women of the organization swapping stories, and that’s how her idea for the film began. Jane’s company, IPC Films, was one of the film’s leading production companies.

Ann-Margret And Carol Burnett Could Have Been Leads

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Screenwriter Patricia Resnick admitted to Rolling Stone that the lead roles were written specifically with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton in mind. Since the movie was Jane’s idea, it went without saying that she would star in the film.

Since they didn’t know for sure that Lily and Dolly would be on-board, they decided that Carol Burnett and Ann-Margret would be the backups for their roles. Ultimately, Patricia lucked out and was able to book the very actors she had envisioned for her script.

In The Original Script, Characters Really Try And Terminate Their Boss

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Patricia Resnick told Rolling Stone that she had initially written 9 to 5 as a dark comedy wherein the main characters actually try to assassinate their boss. Jane Fonda resisted the idea, afraid that the audience would have a hard time relating to the malevolent female characters.

Patricia eventually convinced Jane to try her dark script, but then director Colin Higgins joined the project. He had the idea to transform the story into a broad comedy by tweaking one thing: the murder attempts would be fantasies, not real life.

Jane Fonda Worried It Would Be “Too Preachy”

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

When Jane Fonda and producer Bruce Gilbert were first conceptualizing the movie, they thought of it as a drama. Jane stated that the one thing that got in the way was that it seemed “too preachy, too much of a feminist line.”

Since Jane wanted to work with comedian Lily Tomlin, she thought it might be a better idea to make the film a comedy. Still, Jane worried about “lecturing the audience” and continued to edit out lines throughout the production.

Lily Tomlin Almost Turned Down The Role

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Lily Tomlin confessed to the Evening Times that she initially planned on rejecting the offer to be a lead in 9 to 5. Lily stated she was exhausted from spending seven months shooting The Incredible Shrinking Woman and wasn’t ready to jump into her next role.

It was Lily’s partner, Jane Wagner, who convinced her that rejecting the part would be a huge mistake. Ultimately, Lily was grateful she stuck with the film because of the friendships she made. Decades later, Lily and Jane Fonda teamed up again to make the hit series Grace and Frankie.

The Characters’ Names Were Based On The Actresses

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Unlike some films, the actors were cast before the script was written. This enabled the film developers to incorporate the actresses names’ into the character names. Jane’s character became Judy; Lily’s character was Violet; Dolly’s character was called Doralee.

All of the actresses had unique ways of preparing for their roles. Jane interviewed women who had joined the workforce later in life. Lily would walk out of her trailer pretending to be Violet on a movie set. Dolly prepped for the film as though it were a play, and was shocked to discover that scenes could be filmed out of order.

Dolly Hadn’t Acted Before, But Jane Believed In Her

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

In an interview with Today, Jane Fonda explained how Dolly Parton came to be a top choice for one of the lead roles. Though Dolly had yet to star in a film, she was a fantastic country music star. Jane stated that the songs Dolly writes “have a kind of depth and humanity that made me feel that she could act.”

Jane’s hunch proved to be correct. An overzealous Dolly not only did an incredible job with her role, but she also memorized the entire script! She told Today that she’d assumed she had to remember all the lines, not just her own.

Dolly Parton’s “9 To 5” Earned Her Two Grammys

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

The one condition Dolly Parton had before she agreed to join the cast of 9 to 5 was that she wanted to write the movie’s theme song. Jane Fonda agreed, and Dolly’s song “9 to 5” earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song and won two Grammys.

Dolly Parton told The View that she used her acrylic fingernails in the song to mimic the sound of a typewriter. In 1985, Dolly demonstrated how she used her nails to make the sound as part of her defense when Neil and Janice Goldberg sued her for copying “Money World.”

Sheena Easton’s “9 To 5” Came Out At The Same Time

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Half a year before the film 9 to 5 came out in theaters, UK singer Sheena Easton released the song “9 to 5.” The song wasn’t affiliated with the film and threatened to cause confusion between Sheena and Dolly’s singles.

To avoid any discrepancies, Sheena changed her track’s title to “Morning Train (Nine to Five)” before it hit American radio stations. The song became Sheena’s only hit to peak at number 1 in both the US and Canada.

It Was The Second-Highest Grossing Film Of 1980

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

9 to 5 earned more than $100 million at the box office, making it the 20th highest-grossing comedy to date. It was also the second highest-grossing film of 1980, beaten only by The Empire Strikes Back.

Considering its success, it’s no surprise that the studio pushed for a sequel. Lily Tomlin told BuzzWorthy that none of the proposed scripts seemed to fit, so the idea ultimately fell through. We’ll have to wait and see if a reboot ever comes around.

It Was The First Female-Dominated Film To Gross So Much

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

9 to 5 was not only an extraordinarily successful comedy, but it was also the first female-dominated film to gross more than $100 million! Jane Fonda told The Canberra Times, “I’ve always been attracted to those 1940s films with three female stars.”

Initially, the movie was set to come out on VHS at the same time that it hit theaters. After receiving pushback from movie theater owners across the country, producers elected to postpone the VHS release for three months.

Dolly’s Little Sister Reprised Her Role In The TV Version

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Twentieth Century Fox Television
Twentieth Century Fox Television

Though a sequel didn’t pan out, producers did manage to come up with a television series inspired by the movie. The series starred none other than Dolly Partin’s little sister, Rachel Dennison, as Doralee (the character played by Dolly in the film).

It also featured Valerie Curtin as Judy (the character played by Jane Fonda in the film) and Rita Moreno as Violet (portrayed by Lily Tomlin in the movie). The series was successful enough to run from 1982 until 1988.

Jane Fonda Almost Hit On Dolly Parton’s Husband

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Dolly Parton has been married to Carl Dean since 1966! Though Carl typically stays out of the limelight, he appeared on the set of 9 to 5 while they were shooting. IMDb reports that when Jane Fonda first saw him, she pointed him out to Lily Tomlin and said, “Look at that handsome man! I call him, he’s mine!”

Dolly Parton eventually introduced Carl to her co-stars. When Jane Fonda realized that her crush was Dolly’s husband, she grew embarrassed at her over-eager remark.

The Musical Version Hit Broadway In 2009

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

With all of the success that the film has experienced over the years, it should come as no surprise that it was later adapted into a musical. The show hit Broadway in April 2009 and closed after 148 performances over the course of 130 consecutive days.

The opening cast included character actress Allison Janney of The West World and Stephanie J. Block of Orange Is The New Black. It also starred Megan Hilty as Doralee, who popularly played Glinda the Good Witch in Wicked.

Jane And Dabney Reunited For On Golden Pond

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Jane Fonda was so pleased with Dabney Coleman’s performance as the cruel boss in 9 to 5 that she recruited him for another film. Just a year after the movie’s release, the two starred together again in On Golden Pond.

Jane managed to get Dabney cast as her husband in the drama. The movie is about an elderly couple who live on a pond in New England. Jane portrays their daughter, who seeks to repair her relationship with her ailing father.

Most Of The Leads Reunited For The Beverly Hillbillies

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Thirteen years after the release of 9 to 5, three of its main stars appeared in the 1993 film The Beverly Hillbillies. Lily Tomlin starred as Miss Jane Hathaway, Dabney Coleman portrayed the role of Milburn Drysdale, and Dolly Parton appeared as herself.

The lead star who didn’t appear in The Beverly Hillbillies was Jane Fonda. The same year, Jane put out two of her renowned exercise videos: Jane Fonda’s Favorite Fat Burners and Jane Fonda’s Yoga Exercise Workout.

They Filmed In A House Owned By The LA Times Family

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

While much of the filming took place on a 20th Century Fox studio lot, the hostage scenes were done off the set. Judy, Violet, and Doralee all hold their boss captive at an actual home known as the “Chandler House.”

It was named after previous tenants Norman and Dorothy Buffum Chandler of the famous family who owned the LA Times. The historic house was often rented out for film and television productions. The powerful family would also entertain former presidents at the home, earning it the nickname “Western White House.”

Dabney Coleman Was Typecast As A Bully

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Dabney Coleman’s role in 9 to 5 left him typecast as the mean and arrogant bully. In the coming years, Dabney continued to be limited to these kinds of characters since he was famously known for nailing the part.

The actor went on to play a jerk in the film Tootsie, a racist on Different Strokes, and a rude loudmouth in Wargames. A couple of his roles were good guys, such as his part in On Golden Pond alongside Jane Fonda. But the overwhelming majority of his characters have been the bad guy.

Dolly Parton Bought Her Character’s Wardrobe

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Dolly Parton purchased almost all of the outfits her character, Doralee, wore in 9 to 5. The costumes are now on display at her “Dollywood” museum in Tennessee. On the movie’s commentary track, Dolly recalls Jane telling her to “slow down on her eating.”

Since the movie was filmed out of order, Dolly had to fit into the same costumes throughout the production. She lightheartedly admitted that she’d gained some weight and noticed she looked heavier in her yellow outfit midway through the film.

Many Critics Believe The Film Was A Precursor To Other Hits

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Some think that 9 to 5 was a necessary precursor to the 1988 smash hit Working Girl. Critics have also recognized it as the mother of films like The Devil Wears Prada, Horrible Bosses, The Associate, and Clockwatchers.

On the flip side, 9 to 5 is thought by some to have been inspired by the 1948 film Unfaithfully Yours. The latter is a black comedy about a man who believes his wife is cheating on him with his male secretary and goes on to plan her demise. The film’s remake came out in 1984, just a few years after 9 to 5.