If the producers of "Airplane!" had gotten their original pick in casting the role of co-pilot Roger Murdock, we would've never heard the immortal line: "Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes."
The A.V. Club just published an oral history of "Airplane!", and one of the more interesting nuggets is that they wanted Pete Rose to play Murdock. But the job ended up going to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the rest of cinematic history.
From The A.V. Club story:
David Zucker: "That was another lucky break that we got, because Kareem himself was not the first choice for that role. We actually wrote it for Pete Rose."
Jim Abrahams: "I'm not sure if Pete Rose actually accepted the role or not, or if we’d even gotten the green light from Paramount to use him. We may never have even sent him the script. I just know that we ended up having to film in August, so he was still in the middle of baseball season.
"I couldn’t even have told you if Kareem had even done any acting at that point, but he was fine. I mean, he couldn’t have been better in a million years as far as being what we were looking for. He wasn’t supposed to be able to act. [Laughs.] So that just played into it all the more. But he's a really bright, fascinating man. He’s the original Renaissance man and just a very interesting guy. Basketball never defined him, ever. Not even during his heyday. He was about a lot more stuff than just basketball."
Actually at the time that "Airplane!" was being filmed in 1979, Kareem had already been in the Bruce Lee movie "Game Of Death." After his "Airplane!" success, Kareem popped up a few years later in "Fletch."
The role of the pilot Ted Striker was played by actor Robert Hays, but among others considered were Bruce Jenner and David Letterman. Jenner was a household name at the time after his decathlon gold medal at the 1976 Olympics turned him into a commercial icon, notably with the Wheaties cereal box cover. Letterman was three years away from debuting his "Late Night With David Letterman" show on NBC.
(H/T: MLB Cut 4)