While it’s universally agreed that the original Die Hard is one of the finest Christmas movies ever made, there’s a part of the Die Hard Christmas legend that’s far lesser known: for 30 years now, Die Hard fans have pondered the similarity between the name of Silent Night composer Franz Gruber and the name of Die Hard antagonist Hans Gruber. Hans and Franz. Two Christmas Eve traditions that were meant to go together, surely? Can that possibly be a coincidence?
Interestingly enough, in the original Roderick Thorp novel Nothing Lasts Forever, the book upon which Die Hard is based, the character is named Anton Gruber, not Hans Gruber.
They went to Arnold [Schwarzenegger]. They went to Sly, who turned it down. They went to Richard Gere—turned it down. They went to James Caan—turned it down. They went to Burt Reynolds, and all of these people rejected it because, remember, this is 1987. You had all these Rambo movies. We’ve had Commando, Predator, and in the wake of all of these, the hero, they said, was like a pussy. The reaction? “This guy’s no hero.” Right? In desperation, they went to Bruce Willis.
Exhibit B is the notion that Hans and Franz began as a spoof on Arnold Schwarzenegger, for an SNL sketch, also in 1987:
This sketch was one of the most popular on SNL, and the characters and their catchphrases entered American pop culture. When Schwarzenegger entered politics, he referred to the sketches himself, using the phrases “girlie men” and “pump you up.” He even used the “girlie men” term during the 1988 Presidential election. Accompanying then Vice President George H.W. Bush, he attacked Bush’s Democratic opponents by saying to the crowd: “They all look like a bunch of girlie men, right?” He used the phrase again to attack California state legislators in speeches during his election campaign for governor of California.
Exhibit C is Die Hard screenwriter Steven E. de Souza‘s rather gaudy list of credits, which contains any number of classics we all quote from all the time without thinking about it, and also includes classic Schwarzenegger vehicles Commando and Running Man. I can really, really see de Souza making this historical connection while working up this script with Schwarzenegger in mind, and then changing Anton Gruber to Hans Gruber so that Arnold could drop a Hans and Franz one-liner in the film. I can almost hear Arnold saying it now.
Still, I had some lingering doubts. Hans Gruber is a Beethoven fan himself, after all. So, to get down to the true meaning of Die Hard — at least as far as Hans Gruber is concerned — I asked de Souza about this matter over the 2017 holiday season:
That’s a better story than the truth, which is that the typical pre-production database search discovered a real person named Anton who could claim to be maligned so the studio lawyers advised it be changed
— Steven E. de Souza (@StevenEdeSouza) December 27, 2017
The real villains behind Hans Gruber are the studio lawyers. Not the villains I expected, but perhaps the ones I deserve. Yipee Ki-Yay.