Happy Gilmore, a film that (along with the success of Billy Madison) solidified Adam Sandler as the new comedy leading man, featured an unlikely cameo by the silver-haired icon that made the 1996 golf comedy an instant classic. And ET had a front-row seat on set as the two filmed their golf course brawl, the culmination of their characters’ increasing dislike for one another.
“It's the pro celebrity tournament and I am desperate to win. I want to win and he plays badly and I become more and more disgusted with him and he has a violent temper,” Barker explained to ET while on location in Vancouver. “And finally he clobbers me and much to his surprise I get up and whip him good.”
Barker was no stranger to putting his fists up, having studied karate with Chuck Norris for eight years before getting the call from his agent. After reading the script, Barker had a very simple reason for agreeing to do the film. “Because I win the fight,” said Barker, whose decade-spanning career had yet to include starring on the big screen. “I came to Hollywood in 1950, and in 1995 I get my first role in a picture. [It] took me 45 years to break into movies!”
Sandler, a co-writer and producer on the film, told ET the sequence’s nonstop comedic moments also had the input of his old college roommate Judd Apatow. The Funny People director was busy at the time making a name for himself writing for The Larry Sanders Show and co-scripting Heavyweights.
“We didn’t know it was going to be as funny as it was while Bob’s here,” Sandler said of the initial idea to create a role for Barker. “You think of it. You read it. You say, ‘Boy, that looks like it could be funny. I hope it is.’ And then Bob raised it a lot.”
While some of the brawl’s more intense moments required stunt men for both of them, such as their long tumble down a hill, Barker assured producers before shooting began that he still wanted in on the action. “When we heard Bob was gonna do it, we got all excited. Then we heard he wants to do his own stunts. We were like, ‘What?’” Sandler said.
He would continue to praise Barker’s acting chops throughout the shoot, noting that their scenes drew an unusually large crowd on set. “I’ve never seen more people come out for every take. Every time Bob’s about to hit me wherever, craft services just runs up, watches. I get hit and then they run away laughing,” Sandler said.
Celebrity cameos would become a popular staple of future films under Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions banner, including the likes of Billy Idol, John McEnroe, Vanilla Ice and, yup, Al Pacino.
Sandler’s next movie, Sandy Wexler, see the actor playing a ’90s talent agent in Los Angeles. Among the many stars already reported to appear in the film is comedian and former late night host Arsenio Hall. While it hasn’t been confirmed, the film’s ’90s setting begs the question if perhaps Hall might be following the grand tradition started by Barker and appearing in the movie as himself. It’s also not hard to envision Hall utilizing his popular “dog pound” fist pump in another celebrity melee.
Upon retiring from The Price Is Right in 2007, Barker’s acting turn -- 45 years in the making -- continued to be fresh in the minds of the show’s contestants. At the time, Barker revealed to ET, “I don’t tape a Price Is Right that someone doesn’t start talking about Happy Gilmore. I did that picture with him 10 years ago and it’s still going on!”