How old was Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, and how old was Jennifer Grey? Dirty Dancing features an iconic pairing in Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, but how old is Jennifer Grey, how big is their age gap, and does it make the movie problematic? Dirty Dancing is somewhat autobiographical for screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, as it’s based on her own teenage experiences. This fact only brings the question of Baby and Johnny’s age difference further into the light. While the movie doesn’t explicitly state the two protagonists’ ages, there’s enough evidence to suggest that the years between them border on creepy.
Johnny and Baby’s ages in Dirty Dancing come into question simply by looking at Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Indeed, Baby doesn’t even look like she’s in the same age group as Patrick Swayze’s Johnny in Dirty Dancing, and the movie takes no strides to explain any part of it. While this could be a product of the time it was made, Dirty Dancing might not hold up well under today’s magnifying glass in terms of its more problematic areas. So, how old is Jennifer Grey? Here’s exactly how old Baby and Johnny are in Dirty Dancing, and whether their age is too great.
How Old Are Baby And Johnny?
How old is Jennifer Grey? Clues in Dirty Dancing place Johnny’s age at 25 years old and Baby’s age at 17. At the beginning of Dirty Dancing on HBO, Baby’s narration references the “summer of ’63.” Early dialogue reveals that she’s planning to attend Mount Holyoke (an all-female private college in Massachusetts) to study the economics of underdeveloped countries. In the politically charged Dirty Dancing, Baby also states that she plans to join the Peace Corps shortly before laying eyes on Johnny for the first time.
Some reports have suggested that Baby is supposed to be 18 or even 19 years old. However, based on a 2017 interview with Grey (via Closer Weekly), it seems that Baby was presumably born in 1946 and is supposed to be 17 years old. The character doesn’t actually reveal her age in Dirty Dancing, nor does Johnny ask on-camera. If Baby is indeed a minor, that would explain her father’s confrontational attitude toward Mr. Castle throughout most of the film.
In Dirty Dancing, Johnny’s 1938 birthdate makes him 25 years old. The character initially questions why Baby gained access to a private dancing area, but then invites her to boogie and subsequently teaches her some moves. Swayze’s Johnny and Jennifer Grey’s Baby/Frances slowly become friends while dealing with Penny’s medical procedures (Jake Houseman provides the appropriate assistance), and they eventually become romantic partners.
Dirty Dancing on HBO never addresses the eight-year age difference between the two characters, which makes the film somewhat controversial – both then and now – because Baby is indeed a minor. In 1963 America, though, it wasn’t uncommon for men and women to be in a relationship or marry at a young age. The focal Dirty Dancing relationship may not be appropriate, but the age gap isn’t enough to make Baby’s father concerned during the climactic performance. In fact, Jake Houseman essentially apologizes to Johnny.
How Old Were Patrick Swayze And Jennifer Grey During Dirty Dancing?
The late Swayze was approximately seven years older than Grey in real life. When Dirty Dancing premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1987, Roadhouse star Patrick Swayze was 34 years old and was best known for portraying Darrel “Darry” Curtis in The Outsiders and Jed Eckert in Red Dawn. As for Grey, she had just turned 27 and had previously portrayed Jeanie Bueller in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. She also appeared alongside Swayze in Red Dawn as Toni Mason. In 2010, Grey won Dancing with the Stars season 11, just over a year after her Dirty Dancing co-star, Swayze, passed away at age 57 from pancreatic cancer.
Johnny And Baby’s Age Gap In Dirty Dancing Is Questionable At Best
Johnny and Baby’s age gap in Dirty Dancing is certainly problematic for many. But if she was 17 years old and he was 25, New York state law would deem nothing wrong with their relationship. This means that the age gap is technically legal but still problematic, and would definitely raise concerns were a movie to feature such a relationship dynamic today. Despite this, age gaps like in Patrick Swayze’s Dirty Dancing are quite common in film.
Movies like Licorice Pizza can get away with extensive lovers’ age differences, and people seem to be forgiving of its inclusion. After all, Dirty Dancing is still a beloved and critically acclaimed movie when it comes down to it. The film is so prolific that it got a TV remake in 2017. Dirty Dancing remains popular, but when put up to today’s standards, the age gap between Johnny and Baby wouldn’t fly unquestioned were a script to include it today.
Dirty Dancing’s Problematic Age Gap Isn’t Alone
Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze’s age gap in Dirty Dancing is certainly creepy, but it’s not the only movie to feature a problematic age gap between the two leads. Whether it’s the ages of the actors themselves or the characters they play, Hollywood has pumped out plenty of iconic films that showcase uncomfortable age differences between romantic partners. Take, for example, any Woody Allen film.
The romance between Colin Firth and Emma Stone in Allen’s 2014 rom-com Magic in the Moonlight is a more modern example. The age gap between the two actors is 28 years, with Firth being 53 at the time and Stone being 25. While legal, the knowledge that Firth was 28 when Stone was born made many viewers uncomfortable.
A more overt example is seen in the ’90s classic American Beauty. American Beauty shows a 42-year-old Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey, then 39) falling in love with his teenage daughter’s 16-year-old friend, Angela (Mena Suvari, then 19). The 1980 Martin Scorsese drama Raging Bull shows an adult Robert de Niro fall for a 15-year-old character played by a 17-year-old actress. Finally, Entrapment, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery, showed sparks fly between the two characters, but did nothing to explain actor Sean Connery and Zeta-Jones’ nearly 40-year age gap.
So, the age difference in Dirty Dancing may be problematic, but it isn’t alone in its depiction, and it’s far from being the worst offender. Not to mention, the Johnny-Baby age gap isn’t the only problematic thing about this iconic film.
The Age Of Baby & Johnny Wasn’t The Only Dirty Dancing Lie
How old Patrick Swayze was in Dirty Dancing and his age gap with Jennifer Grey, unfortunately, isn’t the only lie in the movie. Now in her 60s, Grey opened up about their tense relationship on set.
“The same way Baby and Johnny were not supposed to be together … a natural match, right? And we weren’t a natural match. And the fact that we needed to be a natural match created a tension. Because normally when someone’s not a natural, you… both people move on, but we were forced to be together. And our being forced to be together created a kind of a synergy, or like a friction. I actually just had a thought about Patrick. I feel like if I could say anything to him now I would say, ‘I’m so sorry that I couldn’t just appreciate and luxuriate in who you were, instead of me wishing you were more like what I wanted you to be.” (via People).
Though their relationship started out rough, Swayze and Grey – who, in reality, had just a seven-year age gap – worked it out in the end. In fact, over three decades after the release of Dirty Dancing, Grey is part of the team working on Dirty Dancing 2, which is slated for theatrical release in 2024 – hopefully with no problematic age gaps between romantically-involved characters.