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The True Story Behind the Legendary “Lost Ending” of THE SHINING

Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING has one hell of an ending: maniac Jack Torrance’s frozen grimace, followed by the slow push-in on the antique photograph on the Overlook Hotel wall, is one of the most memorable one-two gut-punches in film history. But Kubrick’s original version of the film included another scene inserted between these two iconic horror images.

In the “lost” ending of THE SHINING, Jack’s frozen stare cuts to a scene where the Overlook Hotel’s manager, Stuart Ullman, visits Jack’s wife Wendy and son Danny in a Colorado hospital where they’re recovering from their ordeal. According to THE SHINING’s screenplay, Ullman explains to Wendy that investigators found “nothing out of the ordinary” at the haunted hotel, but Ullman also gives Danny a yellow tennis ball — the same one that Jack was throwing around before he tried to murder his family in the Overlook.

Rather than wrapping up the story in an easily understandable bow, the lost ending seems to add a layer of mystery; the investigation suggests the ghosts were only in Wendy and Danny’s minds, but the tennis ball suggests that the place really was haunted… and that Ullman had something to do with it.

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Unless you caught the first night’s showing of THE SHINING in Los Angeles or New York, you can’t really say how the inclusion of this scene might affect the meaning of THE SHINING. Kubrick cut the scene after those initial showings, and it has never reappeared.  All that is publicly available from THE SHINING’s hospital scene are the pages of the screenplay, and the three continuity Polaroids you see here.

So what happened? Why did Kubrick choose to change THE SHINING’s ending after it had been shown, and what became of the actual footage?

Kubrick’s public statements about the ending of the film relate to why he changed the ending from Stephen King’s novel, but not the end of the film. (“The end of the book seemed a bit hackneyed to me and not very interesting,” Kubrick told Michel Ciment. “I wanted an ending which the audience could not anticipate.”) But while he doesn’t seem to have ever discussed the hospital scene “on the record,” Kubrick apparently spoke about it privately.

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We tracked down Jay Friedkin, the editor who physically cut the hospital scene from THE SHINING’s reels on the East Coast. Friedkin went on to a long career in feature film editing, including an Oscar nomination for 1995’s BABE, but in 1980, he was a 23-year-old apprentice editor working his way up in the movie-editing world. When Stanley Kubrick and Warner Brothers needed an editor to change THE SHINING, young Friedkin was tapped to travel from theater to theater and excise the hospital scene.  He says he spoke to Kubrick at some length as to why the legendarily thoughtful and obsessive director decided to alter his film.

According to Friedkin, “He very meticulously explained exactly what frame to cut out of and what frame to cut back to. For some reason, he decided to bother explaining to me why he was taking this scene out, too. We actually spoke for a half an hour or 45 minutes.”

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Kubrick’s decision, according to Friedkin’s recollection of the conversation, came down to audience response, as opposed to some rarefied artistic intention.

“It wasn’t like he hated the scene or anything like that… He was a director looking at the reaction that the film was having on people,” Friedkin explained.

“The way he described it was, he had watched screenings with and without this scene. He said that when the hospital scene was cut out, there was a buzz in the room. People were jazzed up. Some applauded and they stayed through the whole credits. When it was in, the audience kind of quietly left the film throughout the credits. So he just felt like it did the wrong thing.”

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As for the fate of the film itself, Friedkin says that he didn’t keep any of the film ends containing one of the most sought-after lost scenes in cinema history. He couldn’t have, even if he had wanted to.

“Warner Brothers diligently collected all the pieces of film I had,” Friedkin said. “They knew how many theaters I was going to and how many copies there were.”

Where the film reels went from there is as mysterious as the events in the Overlook Hotel. We placed a call to Warner Brothers’ archivist, but haven’t heard back.

The story of Friedkin’s place in Kubrickian history is a fascinating tale in itself; after the call from Kubrick, Warner brothers sent a limousine to Friedkin’s place to take him from theater to theater to cut the scene out of the movie.

“It was a limited release, so it was playing at five or six theaters in the New York area… two theaters in Manhattan, and there were a couple theaters on Long Island, and the last theater was in New Jersey,” Friedkin said. “In the morning it was fine, because the film wasn’t playing. But in the later part of the day, the film was playing, so I had to judge whether I could get everything done before that reel came up.” Friedkin said.

“The last theater I got to was out in New Jersey somewhere. God knows why it was playing there. It was a big multiplex. I’m arriving and there are lines all over the place, because it’s Saturday night in New Jersey, and I get out of the limo and the manager comes running up to me… Everyone thinks I’m hot shit, and I hear people saying, ‘Who is that? Who is that?’ and someone says, ‘I think it’s Peter Frampton!’ I had long blonde hair, and that’s about it. How often do editors get mistaken for Peter Frampton? I mean, how often do editors get a limo? For me, it was only that time and when I went to the Oscars!”

After his day of being chauffeured around to East Coast cinemas and mistaken for a rock star, Friedkin spoke to Kubrick about THE SHINING two more times. Kubrick called once to make sure that everything had gone okay with the editing of THE SHINING’s ending, and another time with a question about box office receipts.

“Kubrick called me two weeks later, because he was concerned that the grosses in one theater were significantly less than the grosses in another theater,” Friedkin said. “He was convinced there was something wrong with the print. So he asked me to go to the different theaters to see.”

The print was fine, and Friedkin suspects the differences in box office had a mundane cause: “One of the theaters was in Midtown on 57 street. It was more known for art films and classy films. The other was the Olympia up on 100 and something street,” Friedkin said. “Which means it was playing to people who didn’t give a fuck about Stanley Kubrick, and were only going to go see THE SHINING because of the trailer.”

As it stands, the ultimate fate of the lost ending remains as indeterminate as THE SHINING itself. Friedkin didn’t save a copy, and Warner Bros. isn’t talking, but there’s another source that could have a copy of the scene: Friedkin’s counterpart in Los Angeles. Someone cut the scene out of the Los Angeles screenings of the movie too… but we have no idea who it was.

“If through, sheer, bizarre luck of the Universe, you discover who the poor schmuck was who ran around the L.A. theaters doing this, I’d love to talk to them,” Friedkin said.

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