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How 11 Classic TV Stars Got Their Big Breaks

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You never know which little role is going to lead to the first big one. Here are the defining moments that helped 11 stars of classic TV shows to land their first major breaks:

1. Mary Tyler Moore

Mary Tyler Moore had fired the imagination of many TV-viewing young men in the late 1950s when she had a small recurring role on Richard Diamond, Private Detective. Only her sultry voice was usually heard, although there was occasionally a shot of her lengthy dancer’s legs or a profile of her lips as she spoke. Moore auditioned for the role of Danny Thomas’s daughter on Make Room for Daddy, and while Thomas was impressed with her acting, he ultimately turned her down because “no one would believe that someone with that cute button nose could be related to him.” However, when his production company was casting The Dick Van Dyke Show and an actress was needed to play Laura, Thomas remembered the attractive girl with the button nose and ordered his assistant “get me that girl with the three names.”

http://youtu.be/_eawC4W2SDU

2. Lucille Ball

Lucille Ball had been appearing in minor roles in a string of B-movies since the 1930s, often as a blonde chorus girl. It wasn’t until 1948 when she landed the role of housewife Liz Cooper on the radio show My Favorite Husband that she’d found her niche – comedy. After 124 episodes on radio, CBS decided to bring My Favorite Husband to television. The only problem was they wanted Richard Denning, Lucille’s radio husband, to continue the role on TV, whereas Lucille refused to have anyone but her real-life husband Desi Arnaz play the part. CBS eventually hired two other actors to play Liz and George Cooper, but the network still thought that Ball had solid TV potential with her brand of physical comedy, so they eventually relented and gave the green light to a Desilu-produced series called I Love Lucy.

http://youtu.be/syAI-O9MiYg

3. Dick Van Dyke

When Carl Reiner submitted the pilot of his proposed sitcom Head of the Family, executive producer Sheldon Leonard liked everything about it except one small detail – Reiner himself. Leonard felt that Reiner was more of a “gag man” – a comic who was just reeling off a series of jokes – than an actor that could carry a sitcom. He also felt that Reiner was too ethnic (read: Jewish) to play white bread, affable Rob Petrie. Someone had mentioned this guy Dick Van Dyke who could apparently act, sing, and dance and was appropriately middle-American-looking. Leonard went to Broadway where Van Dyke was performing in Bye, Bye, Birdie and decided he’d found their new Rob Petrie.

http://youtu.be/C0GyZwQFOW4

4. Bob Newhart

Bob Newhart was trained as an accountant, but his philosophy of “as long as you’re within two or three bucks, you’re OK” when it came to reconciling a bank statement didn’t sit well with his bosses, so he spent many long overtime hours searching for an elusive four or five cents. To satisfy his creative urge, he performed comedy with a Chicago-area theatrical stock company in his spare time. That led to a few short gigs of his stand-up on the radio, which led to a record deal. His album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, was a million-seller and garnered a Grammy Award. In turn, he landed some guest appearances on TV variety shows, and it was a performance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour that impressed Grant Tinker and the other execs at MTM Productions enough to approach Newhart about starring in his own sitcom.

http://youtu.be/TD1MW-nyhxg

5. Bill Cosby

While attending Temple University in the late 1950s, Bill Cosby took a night job as a bartender to earn some cash. One night the comedian that was supposed to appear at the club failed to show up, so Cosby took the stage and had the crowd in stitches with his stories of growing up and family life. He eventually landed a record deal, which led to some national TV appearances. Star-spotter Sheldon Leonard saw Cosby's act on The Tonight Show in 1963 and decided to cast him opposite Robert Culp in his new drama series I Spy.

http://youtu.be/oo7_X-e6sP4

6. Rue McClanahan

The future Golden Girl’s TV exposure had mainly been in soap operas when producer Norman Lear hired her for a spot on an episode of All in the Family. Entitled “The Bunkers and the Swingers,” it featured Rue McClanahan and Vincent Gardenia as a couple who’d placed an ad in the “Swap” column of a local magazine. Edith innocently answered the ad, not understanding that the couple was interested wife swapping, not in being pen-pals. When Doris Roberts turned down the role of Vivian on Lear’s new series Maude, he remembered McClanahan’s work on AITF and asked her to audition for the part.

http://youtu.be/psRhAnHuGD0

7. Carol Burnett

When Garry Moore’s variety show debuted on CBS in 1958, one of his stable of comedic performers was a young comedienne named Carol Burnett. Burnett’s self-deprecating humor was a hit with the audience (she’d been insecure about her looks ever since her grandmother had advised her to become a writer, because “you can always write, no matter what you look like”) and eventually won an Emmy Award. Lucille Ball was impressed with Burnett’s skills on the Moore show and offered her the lead in a new sitcom she was creating. Carol declined, however; she wanted to try her hand at a variety show because she loved singing almost as much as comedy. The Carol Burnett Show debuted on CBS in 1967 and ran for 11 seasons.

http://youtu.be/IgTN13_bfXQ

8. Henry Winkler

Yale-educated Henry Winkler didn’t give off the proper greaser “vibe” when he petitioned for an audition for the role of Fonzie on Happy Days. In fact, Winkler’s two TV credits (both on MTM Productions) had him costumed in a suit and tie, which didn’t help his case much. It wasn’t until Winkler returned with a reel of his leather-jacketed appearance in a low-budget 1974 film called The Lords of Flatbush (in which he appeared with a young Sylvester Stallone) that Garry Marshall agreed to let him read for the role.

http://youtu.be/_cwYEkgdJSs

9. Pernell Roberts

Producer David Dortort originally considered Claude Akins for the role of Adam Cartwright when he was casting Bonanza. But one afternoon he saw a handsome young actor dressed in black Western gear walking around the Universal lot. That actor’s name was Pernell Roberts and his dark hair and rich voice was the picture Dortort had in mind for the eldest Cartwright brother. The deal was sealed when he saw Roberts in action in the newly released film Ride Lonesome. On his second day on the Bonanza set, Roberts walked into Dortort’s office, removed his hairpiece and announced that he wanted to play the role of Adam without wearing it. Dortort (after recovering from his surprise that the lush head of hair was a rug) refused, stating that Roberts looked at least 15 years older without his toupee.

http://youtu.be/LLge0Iw73es

10. Redd Foxx

Comedian Redd Foxx had been performing on the “chitlin’ circuit” for several years and had released a couple of successful comedy albums. Granted, his records were usually kept in a special bin at record stores because of Foxx’s penchant for very blue humor. Nevertheless, potty mouth aside, when Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin were looking for a star for their American adaptation of Britain’s long-running sitcom Steptoe and Son, they remembered Foxx’s role as a cantankerous junkman in the 1970 film Cotton Comes to Harlem and asked him if he’d be interested in a series.

http://youtu.be/NKmSwcFkxCc

11. Gary Coleman

Diminutive child star Gary Coleman was just six years old when he appeared in a local TV commercial for Chicago’s Harris Bank. Norman Lear happened to see the chubby-cheeked tyke and, in a portent of things to come, hired him to appear as Martin Mull’s adopted son in an episode of his syndicated late-night show America 2Night. Coleman, who went by his middle name "Wayne" at the time, was an immediate hit with the audience and inspired Lear (along with Bud Yorkin) to create a vehicle especially for the youngster.

http://youtu.be/bjtwB5ie3ng

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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