Back to Future: Mayor Red = Red the Bum?

I pointed out here that in Back to the Future, the mayor in 1955 is the bum in 1985. However, that point was quickly refuted with what seems to be a pretty good cite.

Apparently, Bob Gale co-wrote the screenplay, so he should know, but I’m still skeptical. First, BttF was full of little jokes like that, both subtle and not (e.g., Twin Pines Mall becoming Lone Pine Mall). Second, it brought a joke full circle: Goldy the “colored boy” from 1955 ascends to become mayor in 1985, while the Honorable Red from 1985 descends into homelessness. Third, Fox “ad-libbing” that name as a random coincidence isn’t at all plausible. Why would he be ad-libbing at all?

I’d do a poll, but I never learned how.

Fox may have ad-libbed it with the mayor character in mind, so it’s not necessarily a coincidence. It’s pretty good though, I never noticed that detail before.

I always thought he said “Fred.”

Does anyone have a clip where Marty says his line? I can’t even place it.

I haven’t seen the movies in a while–isn’t there something that’s the opposite of this where Michael inspires some janitor to try for mayor because he was the mayor in 1985?

From the OP:

There is a picture of “Red” Thomas on the campaign van in the scene where Marty discovers when he is–there’s a still of it in that link. I can’t find a birth date for Hal Gausman (the set decorator whose photo they used), but he has movie credits going back to 1961; that means he’d been working on movie sets for at least 24 years, and was probably in his 40s at minimum. Assuming “Red” Thomas was approximately the same age as the man chosen to portray him–and a reasonable age for a mayor in the 1950s–he would have been in his 70s in 1985.

If “Red” the bum is supposed to be the same guy, he’s the best-preserved 70-year old bum ever. His hair and beard haven’t even gone gray yet. If they inserted it deliberately as a joke, why wouldn’t they use an actor for the role of the bum who could plausibly match the photo?

How is it implausible? Ad-libbing is something actors do. Here’s that section from the script (PDF):

Note that in the script, Marty didn’t even get out of the car, let alone address the bum. Presumably, when they were shooting this, it became clear that it wasn’t a dramatic enough return, so they had him get out of the car, and Fox–who had been practicing being Marty, after all–came up with something Marty-like to say. Saying something to/about the other actor in the scene is a natural thing to do, so he had to come up with a name to address him by, and “Red” is what came out. Maybe he was influenced by the mayor’s nickname, or maybe not–it could have been something as simple as George Flowers’ hair looking reddish in the set lighting.

I don’t have a clip handy, but it’s right after he returns to 1985 and is looking around to reassure himself that he really made it back. I think the full line is “Red! You look great! Everything looks great!”

Goldie Wilson was already the mayor in 1985 before Marty went back, but Marty did mention it in 1955-Goldie’s presence. 1955-Goldie was inspired by it, but the most it changed was to cause him to start working toward it earlier.

What I said was implausible was that Fox would ad-lib a name for the bum that coincidentally was also the name of the town’s 1955 mayor, especially a name as distinctive as Red. It had to be meant to conflate those two characters. I could be convinced that this was a late addition, maybe even as late as the day of shooting, but not that it was unintentional. Also, though I respect Fox as a comic actor, I really doubt it was his idea.

i agree that it’s probably too coincidental to be an ad lib. scenes involving the character wouldn’t have been shot together so to just subconsciously pull it out of thin air seems suspect.

as for the goldie the janitor, the exchange went something like:

goldie talks to his boss at the malt shop: you’ll see. i’m not going to be a mop boy for long. i’m taking night classes. i’m going to make something of myself.

marty: yeah. that’s right. you’re going to be mayor.

goldie: yeah… hey YEAH! i’ll be MAYOR.

boss: a colored mayor. yeah, that’ll be the day.

so i think marty does implant the idea of becoming mayor rather than reinforce, unless you’re referring to the nebulous “be somebody” as a plan already in motion.

Well, no. It’s logically impossible for Marty to be the source of the idea, because Goldie Wilson is already mayor in 1985 before anyone starts time traveling. The first “save the clock tower scene” includes ads for his re-election campaign. That’s why Marty said he was going to be mayor–because he already was in Marty’s unmodified timeline. As I said, at most Marty’s comment got him focused on becoming mayor earlier than he otherwise would have, which may or may not have actually affected when he actually became mayor.

Scenes? Thomas–or a photo of him, rather–appears in one scene. The bum appears in one scene. These are not major characters. Thomas got his name to make a parallel between the two mayors–“Red” Thomas and “Goldie” Wilson; it’s a “the more things change” time travel gag. The bum didn’t even have a name.

Seriously, folks :dubious:

I’ve cited the script, which doesn’t contain the line, and in which the bum has no name. I’ve cited one of the writers, who said that Fox ad-libbed the line. I’ve made an admittedly circumstantial, but reasonable, argument that the two characters are too different in age to be the same person, further supported by the fact that they were portrayed by two different people who looked nothing alike. That’s leaving out the question of how Marty would even recognize Thomas from briefly seeing a 30-year old photo of him, and why he’d call him by his nickname if he did.

Against that, your argument is that a professional actor couldn’t possibly have ad-libbed a line that includes a common nickname?

Doesn’t Red reappear in BTTF Part II? I think he’s in front of Biff’s Casino.

Though some of those are deleted scenes on the DVD Extras, and maybe he was cut out.

He does, when Marty is stumbling through the crowd in alt-1985–just long enough to complain about the “crazy drunk pedestrian”. Since that scene was obviously written as a callback to the one under discussion here, it’s not really relevant.

Then where did Chuck Berry get the idea to write “Johnny B Goode”? It’s just a movie, it’s not supposed to logical sense.

Maybe it’s Red’s son, Red Jr.

Ostensibly it was ad-libbed, either by Fox or Zemeckis, perhaps with the idea of the Mayor becoming a bum his own city; yet he only looks to be about 50ish years old. In the shot of the Mayor in the re-election poster in '55, we see Red was at least 50 or 60 years old already.

I’d be satisfied to fanwank that it’s Red’s son, Red Jr., who Goldy beat in the elections. The inconsistency in age stops me from accepting it’s Mayor Red.

A decent story must hold to its internal logic as much as it can. Sometimes the story throws in something fun hoping its not analyzed so closely. There’s a couple cases like this in BttF, but over all, it’s fairly consistent.

You can also argue that Marty playing Johnny B. Goode only hastened Barry’s inspiration. We don’t know if the rest of his career was altered because of that.

Same with Mayor Goldie Wilson.

Actually, the movie–indeed, the whole trilogy–maintains pretty consistent time travel logic. (Trust me, you don’t want to get me started on it.) Like cmyk said, it’s possible that it hastened Berry’s writing of that particular song, but Berry already had his sound and his break before November 12, 1955. He met Muddy Waters, who hooked him up with Chess Records, in May of 1955, and released “Maybellene” in July, and it had topped the charts by September. He was established. As long as Marty didn’t hunt Berry down and kill him or something, the release of “Johnny B. Goode” was inevitable, though the date may have been in flux. This is, once again, a logical necessity because Marty–who has no memory of the modified timestream because he’s ahead of the changewave–already knows the song.

I asked Michael J. Fox about the ad lib, but he was a little shaky on the details.


You, sir, are going to Hell for that one…:mad:

If he actually said “Red” that is. I always thought he called the bum “Fred.”