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Movie Detail Monday: ‘Kingpin’ and the Timely Turkey

As a bowler, I know that right about now your bladder feels like an overstuffed vacuum cleaner bag and your butt is kinda like an about-to-explode bratwurst.

Kingpin Bill Murray Three Strikes
Kingpin Bill Murray Three Strikes

It’s turkey time, and while most of you would rightly assume that this edition of Movie Detail Monday would focus on the food, I’ve decided to zig instead of zag and serve y’all an entirely different kind of turkey.

In bowling, the feat of rolling three strikes in a row is referred to as a turkey. Why? Well according to random posts on the internet–so don’t take this as gospel–in certain tournaments held around Thanksgiving or Christmas back in the day, the first person on each team to bowl three strikes in a row would be awarded an actual, LIVE turkey. Awesome … and a little weird!

In “Kingpin,” inarguably the second greatest bowling movie of all time (shoutout to “The Big Lebowski“) we’re treated to Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray) and Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) facing off against one another in a final showdown at the National Bowling Center in Reno, Nevada.

In real life, Harrelson isn’t much of a bowler. According to co-directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly, he only got a handful of strikes throughout the entire shoot despite having a bowling coach and PLENTY of practice. As a result, a stand-in was used whenever a full shot of a strike or spare was required.

On the other hand, Murray happens to be quite a skilled bowler and it shows on screen. As proof, did you know that the three strikes in a row that Murray bowls–i.e. a turkey–in the climactic scene actually happened?

According to the Farrelly Brothers’ Oral History of Kingpin interview given to Fast Company:

“When we did the final tournament scene, we had a thousand people in the National Bowling Center in Reno,” said filmmaker Bobby Farrelly. “When we got to the final part and Bill had to get three strikes in a row, I figured it could take 10 to 15 rolls. It’s gonna take a while for him to get three strikes. But I explained the situation to the audience: ‘It’s the last frame, he needs a turkey here. And so on the first one, you guys clap big, and then the second one, you clap bigger, and on the third one, you explode because he needs all three.’ Of course, Bill gets up there: first one, strike. Everybody goes nuts. Second one, strike, the place goes crazy. Third one, strike. Three in a row. They were really blown away. Like, Bill just threw three strikes in a row when he had to and they erupted. It was not fake at all.”

So there you have it, a turkey feast for all you film trivia fanatics. Watch the sequence above, or for an even more incredible look at the behind the scenes footage, click HERE.