road trip!

Heels on wheels: 20 surprising facts about iconic drag comedy ‘To Wong Foo’

Image Credit: ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,’ Universal Pictures

Coming to the stage: America’s original drag superstars Vida Boheme, Noxeema Jackson, and Chi-Chi Rodriguez!

Played by Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo (respectively) these are the legendary queens at the heart of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, the 1995 road-trip comedy directed by Beeban Kidron and written by playwright Douglas Carter Beane.

The film follows the trio of New York City queens on the road to a pageant in Hollywood who become stranded in small-town America after their Cadillac convertible breaks down. While there, they pretend to be actual women, win over the skeptical locals, and wind up giving everyone a glamorous drag makeover (obviously!).

Though it came hot on the heels of another drag queen road trip movie from Australia (more on that below), To Wong Foo was one of the first mainstream American features to center the art of drag—instead of just men who cross-dressed as a means to and end. A respectable commercial success, it helped kick off a wave of queer wide releases in theaters, including movies like The Birdcage.

While it remains a nostalgic favorite to this day, scroll down below for 20 surprising facts you might not know about the queer classic To Wong Foo.

1. To Wong Foo opened at No. 1 at the box office.

Image Credit: ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,’ Universal Pictures

The film opened on September 8, 1995 with $9 million, remained in the top the following week (outgrossing new debuts like Spiek Lee’s Clockers & Angelina Jolie thriller Hackers), and eventually earned nearly $50 million in total.

2. Spielberg loved the script, but had reservations.

Steven Spielberg. (Photo: Getty Images)

Out producer Mitch Koin gave Spielberg the screenplay to read early on, but the famed E. T. filmmaker was concerned about its commercial potential and whether it was funny or not, according to Today.

3. Robin Williams convinced Spielberg to make the movie.

Robin Williams. (Photo: Getty Images)

That being said, Spielberg had the late, great Williams read the script aloud to him while the pair were on an airplane together, and the director was sold. Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment produced the film.

4. Williams even has a cameo.

Image Credit: ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,’ Universal Pictures

Williams famously performed in drag in the 1993 hit comedy Mrs. Doubtfire. However, he felt he couldn’t play one of To Wong Foo‘s three leads because of his looks and age. Instead, he cameos as a friend of the queens, John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.

6. Vida Boheme proved difficult to cast.

Image Credit: ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,’ Universal Pictures

A who’s who of hot actors of the ’90s auditioned for the central role of the seasoned queen, including: Tom Cruise, Robert Downey Jr., Kyle MacLachlan, Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe, Matthew Broderick, Rob Lowe, John Cusack, Viggo Mortensen and many more.

7. Swayze was cast over many, many A-listers.

Image Credit: ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,’ Universal Pictures

Casting director Kerry Barden told Today she wanted someone who could play matriarchal over sexy (but come on, Swayze was always sexy!). It also didn’t hurt that the Dirty Dancing star was a trained dancer who knew how to move his body with grace.

8. Swayze based Vida Boheme on several inspirations.

Patrick Swayze promoting ‘To Wong Foo,’ circa 19965 | Photo Credit: Getty Images

He reportedly used his own mother—famed choreographer Patsy Swayze—as well as Demi Moore, Lauren Bacall and Audrey Hepburn as inspiration for his fabulous character.

9. Both Swayze and Leguizamo received award nominations.

Photo: Getty Images

Though they weren’t Oscar nominated, both received Golden Globe nominations. Swayze lost Best Actor – Comedy or Musical to John Travolta in Get Shorty, while Leguizamo lost out to Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys for Best Supporting Actor.

10. The film received a top GLAAD nom, too.

Image Credit: ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,’ Universal Pictures

It was nominated for Outstanding Film – Wide Release at the 1996 GLAAD Media Awards, alongside the biopic Carrington and Jodie Foster’s Home For The Holidays, but Boys On The Side ultimately won the honor.

11. The film features many cameos from real-life drag queens.

Image Credit: ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,’ Universal Pictures

A number of recognizable and very legendary queens appear in the film, including Lady Bunny, Miss Coco Peru, Hedda Lettuce, Miss Understood, Lady Catiria, and, of course, RuPaul as the brilliantly named drag show emcee Rachel Tensions.

12. Candis Cayne helped Swayze get used to walking in heels.

Candis Cayne

Trans actress Candis Cayne also makes a small appearance in To Wong Foo. She told Today, “Patrick was a stud, he was an action-guy, strong and masculine with big arms and shoulders. He did have a dancer background, but I was asked to help him move, get comfortable in heels.”

13. And Julie Newmar herself makes a cameo!

Image Credit: ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,’ Universal Pictures

The fabulous icon—know for her Broadway credits and for playing Catwoman in the original Batman series— appears in the triumphant finale of her namesake movie.

14. Kidron is now a British politician.

Director Beeban Kidron at the ‘To Wong Foo’ premiere in 1995 | Photo Credit: Getty Images

After years of filmmaking work, Beeban Kidron became politically active and has regularly advocated for children’s rights and safety in the digital world. She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2012, and her official title is “The Baroness Kidron,” which is not a drag queen name—even though it’d make a fabulous one!

15. Screenwriter Douglas Carter Beane originally envisioned it as a play…

‘To Wong Foo’ writer Douglas Carter Beane, circa 1999 | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Beane—who previously wrote the book for Xanadu and later worked on the book for the Sister Act musical—had theatrical ambitions for To Wong Foo, but ultimately decided it would be too hard to get a car on-stage.

16. …and now it’s a musical!

To Wong Foo The Musical
“To Wong Foo The Musical” premieres at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre.

Carter Beane and his husband, composer Lewis Flinn, premiered the show in England in 2023.

17. Beane was inspired to write it in response to an anti-gay propaganda film, The Gay Agenda.

Image Credit: ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,’ Universal Pictures

He told Today, “It was a born-again Christian film, and they actually showed sections of it on television,” he explained. “There was a line in it where they had these drag queens at a pride parade, asking, ‘Do you want these drag queens in your town, America?’ And I thought to myself, ‘Yes! You need these queens.’”

18. The film has often been compared to another drag queen road trip movie.

The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert was released a year earlier to international acclaim.

19. Priscilla is often looked upon more favorably…

The Aussie movie is more frank about the characters’ sexualities, specifically in its discussion of character Bernadette Bassenger being a trans woman (albeit one played by cis, straight actor Terrence Stamp).

20. …But To Wong Foo is still beloved.

Image Credit: ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,’ Universal Pictures

The film’s legacy and impact on the LGBTQ+ community is still felt to this day. Leguizamo told Andy Cohen many queer kids still come up to him to thank him for his portrayal of a Latino drag queen. And, indeed, beloved drag queen Jorgeous just played “John Leguizamo as Chi-Chi” in RuPaul’s Drag race All Stars 9‘s Snatch Game challenge.

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4 Comments*

  • Paul2

    Priscilla was really a much better movie. i just couldn’t get close to Wong Foo.

  • RIGay

    I loved both “Wong Foo” and “Priscilla”.

    Do you think movies like those can get made today by mainstream production houses?

  • Sister Bertha Bedderthanyu

    I loved both of them. Each one had a quirky feel that I loved.

  • Huron132

    These two movies are road movies with 3 drag queens. That’s about the most these had in common. One was more serious and other was definitely a comedy. Both told stories that still mean something today. I watch these two several times a year, I need the fix of great acting and great story and great music!

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