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How 11 Classic TV Stars Got Their Big Breaks

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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15 Incredible Facts About Pigeons
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Though they're often described as "rats with wings" (a phrase popularized by the movie Stardust Memories), pigeons are actually pretty cool. From homing instincts to misleading rump feathers, here are 15 things you might not know about these avian adventurers.

1. THEY MIGHT BE THE FIRST DOMESTICATED BIRD.

The common city pigeon (Columba livia), also known as the rock pigeon, might be the first bird humankind ever domesticated. You can see them in art dating back as far as 4500 BCE in modern Iraq, and they've been a valuable source of food for thousands of years.

2. THEY WON OVER CHARLES DARWIN—AND NIKOLA TESLA.

Pigeon-breeding was a common hobby in Victorian England for everyone from well-off businessmen to average Joes, leading to some fantastically weird birds. Few hobbyists had more enthusiasm for the breeding process than Charles Darwin, who owned a diverse flock, joined London pigeon clubs, and hobnobbed with famous breeders. Darwin's passion for the birds influenced his 1868 book The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, which has not one but two chapters about pigeons (dogs and cats share a single chapter).

Nikola Tesla was another great mind who enjoyed pigeons. He used to care for injured wild pigeons in his New York City hotel room. Hands down, Tesla's favorite was a white female—about whom he once said, "I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman and she loved me. When she was ill, I knew and understood; she came to my room and I stayed beside her for days. I nursed her back to health. That pigeon was the joy of my life. If she needed me, nothing else mattered. As long as I had her, there was a purpose in my life." Reportedly, he was inconsolable after she died.

3. THEY UNDERSTAND SPACE AND TIME.

In a 2017 Current Biology study, researchers showed captive pigeons a series of digital lines on a computer screen for either two or eight seconds. Some lines were short, measuring about 2.3 inches across; others were four times longer. The pigeons were trained to evaluate either the length of the line or how long it was displayed. They found that the more time a line was displayed, the longer in length the pigeon judged it to be. The reverse was true too: If the pigeons encountered a longer line, they thought it existed in time for a greater duration. Pigeons, the scientists concluded, understand the concepts of both time and space; the researchers noted "similar results have been found with humans and other primates."

It's thought that humans process those concepts with a brain region called the parietal cortex; pigeon brains lack that cortex, so they must have a different way of judging space and time.

4. THEY CAN FIND THEIR WAY BACK TO THE NEST FROM 1300 MILES AWAY.

A pigeon flying in front of trees.
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The birds can do this even if they've been transported in isolation—with no visual, olfactory, or magnetic clues—while scientists rotate their cages so they don't know what direction they're traveling in. How they do this is a mystery, but people have been exploiting the pigeon's navigational skills since at least 3000 BCE, when ancient peoples would set caged pigeons free and follow them to nearby land.

Their navigational skills also make pigeons great long-distance messengers. Sports fans in ancient Greece are said to have used trained pigeons to carry the results of the Ancient Olympics. Further east, Genghis Khan stayed in touch with his allies and enemies alike through a pigeon-based postal network.

5. THEY SAVED THOUSANDS OF HUMAN LIVES DURING WORLD WARS I AND II.

Pigeons' homing talents continued to shape history during the 20th century. In both World Wars, rival nations had huge flocks of pigeon messengers. (America alone had 200,000 at its disposal in WWII.) By delivering critical updates, the avians saved thousands of human lives. One racing bird named Cher Ami completed a mission that led to the rescue of 194 stranded U.S. soldiers on October 4, 1918.

6. TWO PIGEONS ALMOST DISTRACTED FROM THE DISCOVERY OF EVIDENCE OF THE BIG BANG.

In 1964, scientists in Holmdel, New Jersey, heard hissing noises from their antenna that would later prove to be signals from the Big Bang. But when they first heard the sound, they thought it might be, among other things, the poop of two pigeons that were living in the antenna. "We took the pigeons, put them in a box, and mailed them as far away as we could in the company mail to a guy who fancied pigeons," one of the scientists later recalled. "He looked at them and said these are junk pigeons and let them go and before long they were right back." But the scientists were able to clean out the antenna and determine that they had not been the cause of the noise. The trap used to catch the birds (before they had to later be, uh, permanently removed) is on view at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

7. YOU CAN TRAIN THEM TO BE ART SNOBS …

Japanese psychologist Shigeru Watanabe and two colleagues earned an Ig Nobel Prize in 1995 for training pigeons, in a lab setting, to recognize the paintings of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso and to distinguish between the painters. The pigeons were even able to use their knowledge of impressionism and cubism to identify paintings of other artists in those movements. Later, Watanabe taught other pigeons to distinguish watercolor images from pastels. And in a 2009 experiment, captive pigeons he'd borrowed were shown almost two dozen paintings made by students at a Tokyo elementary school, and were taught which ones were considered "good" and which ones were considered "bad." He then presented them with 10 new paintings and the avian critics managed to correctly guess which ones had earned bad grades from the school's teacher and a panel of adults. Watanabe's findings indicate that wild pigeons naturally categorize things on the basis of color, texture, and general appearance.

8. … AND TO DISTINGUISH WRITTEN WORDS.

In a 2016 study, scientists showed that pigeons can differentiate between strings of letters and actual words. Four of the birds built up a vocabulary of between 26 and 58 written English words, and though the birds couldn't actually read them, they could identify visual patterns and therefore tell them apart. The birds could even identify words they hadn't seen before.

9. FLUFFY PIGEON FEET MIGHT ACTUALLY BE PARTIAL WINGS.

A white pigeon with curly feathers and fluffy feet.
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A few pigeon breeds have fuzzy legs—which hobbyists call "muffs"—rather than scaly ones. According to a 2016 study, the DNA of these fluffy-footed pigeons leads their hind legs to take on some forelimb characteristics, making muffed pigeon legs look distinctly wing-like; they're also big-boned. Not only do they have feathers, but the hindlimbs are somewhat big-boned, too. According to biologist Mike Shapiro, who led the study, "pigeons' fancy feathered feet are partially wings."

10. SOME PIGEONS DISTRACT FALCONS WITH WHITE RUMP FEATHERS.

In a life-or-death situation, a pigeon's survival could depend upon its color pattern: Research has shown that wild falcons rarely go after pigeons that have a white patch of feathers just above the tail, and when the predators do target these birds, the attacks are rarely successful.

To figure out why this is, Ph.D. student Alberto Palleroni and a team tagged 5235 pigeons in the vicinity of Davis, California. Then, they monitored 1485 falcon-on-pigeon attacks over a seven-year span. The researchers found that although white-rumped pigeons comprised 20 to 25 percent of the area's pigeon population, they represented less than 2 percent of all the observed pigeons that were killed by falcons; the vast majority of the victims had blue rumps. Palleroni and his team rounded up 756 white- and blue-rumped pigeons and swapped their rump feathers by clipping and pasting white feathers on blue rumps, and vice versa. The falcons had a much easier time spotting and catching the newly blue-rumped pigeons, while the pigeons that received the white feathers saw predation rates plummet.

Close observation revealed that the white patches distract birds of prey. In the wild, falcons dive-bomb other winged animals from above at high speeds. Some pigeons respond by rolling away in midair, and on a spiraling bird, white rump feathers can be eye-catching, which means that a patch of them may divert a hungry raptor's focus long enough to make the carnivore miscalculate and zip right past its intended victim.

11. DODOS WERE RELATED TO TODAY'S PIGEONS.

Two blue and green Nicobar pigeons.
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Though most of this list focuses on the rock pigeon, there are 308 living species of pigeons and doves. Together, they make up an order of birds known as the columbiformes. The extinct dodo belonged to this group as well.

Flightless and (somewhat) docile, dodos once inhabited Mauritius, an island near Madagascar. The species had no natural predators, but when human sailors arrived with rats, dogs, cats, and pigs, it began to die out, and before the 17th century came to a close, the dodo had vanished altogether. DNA testing has confirmed that pigeons are closely related to the dodo, and the vibrant Nicobar pigeon (above) is its nearest genetic relative. A multi-colored bird with iridescent feathers, this near-threatened creature is found on small islands in the South Pacific and off Asia. Unlike the dodo, it can fly.

12. AT ONE POINT, MORE THAN ONE-QUARTER OF ALL THE BIRDS LIVING IN THE U.S. MAY HAVE BEEN PASSENGER PIGEONS.

Wild/feral rock pigeons reside in all 50 states, which makes it easy to forget that they're invasive birds. Originally native to Eurasia and northern Africa, the species was (most likely) introduced to North America by French settlers in 1606. At the time, a different kind of columbiform—this one indigenous—was already thriving there: the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). As many as 5 billion of them were living in America when England, Spain, and France first started colonizing, and they may have once represented anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of the total U.S. bird population. But by the early 20th century, they had become a rare sight, thanks to overhunting, habitat loss, and a possible genetic diversity issue. The last known passenger pigeon—a captive female named Martha—died on September 1, 1914.

13. THEY'RE REALLY GOOD AT MULTITASKING.

According to one study, they're more efficient multitaskers than people are. Scientists at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum put together a test group of 15 humans and 12 pigeons and trained all of them to complete two simple jobs (like pressing a keyboard once a light bulb came on). They were also put in situations wherein they'd need to stop working on one job and switch over to another. In some trials, the participants had to make the change immediately. During these test runs, humans and pigeons switched between jobs at the same speed.

But in other trials, the test subjects were allowed to complete one assignment and then had to wait 300 milliseconds before moving on to the next job. Interestingly, in these runs, the pigeons were quicker to get started on that second task after the period ended. In the avian brain, nerve cells are more densely packed, which might enable our feathered friends to process information faster than we can under the right circumstances.

14. PIGEONS PRODUCE FAKE "MILK."

Only mammals produce genuine milk, but pigeons and doves (along with some other species of birds) feed their young with something similar—a whitish liquid filled with nutrients, fats, antioxidants, and healthy proteins called "crop milk." Both male and female pigeons create the milk in the crop, a section of the esophagus designed to store food temporarily. As is the case with mammal milk, the creation of crop milk is regulated by the hormone prolactin. Newly-hatched pigeons drink crop milk until they're weaned off it after four weeks or so. (And if you've ever asked yourself, "Where are all the baby pigeons?" we have the answer for you right here.)

15. ONE STUDY SUGGESTS THAT, GIVEN THE RIGHT CONDITIONS, THEY'RE AS GOOD AT IDENTIFYING CANCER AS DOCTORS.

We've already established that pigeons are excellent at differentiating between artists and words, but a 2015 study revealed they can also distinguish between malignant and benign growths in the right conditions. Researchers at University of California Davis Medical Center put 16 pigeons in a room with magnified biopsies of potential breast cancers. If the pigeons correctly identified them as either benign or malignant, they got a treat, According to Scientific American.

"Once trained, the pigeons' average diagnostic accuracy reached an impressive 85 percent. But when a "flock sourcing" approach was taken, in which the most common answer among all subjects was used, group accuracy climbed to a staggering 99 percent, or what would be expected from a pathologist. The pigeons were also able to apply their knowledge to novel images, showing the findings weren't simply a result of rote memorization."

Mammograms proved to be more of a challenge, however; the birds could memorize signs of cancer in the images they were trained on but could not identify the signs in new images.

No matter how impressive their results, "I don't anticipate that pigeons, no matter how good they become at pathology or radiology, will be playing a role in actual patient care—certainly for the foreseeable future," study co-author Richard M. Levenson told Scientific American. "There are just too many regulatory barriers—at least in the West."

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Jim Henson's Labyrinth Is Being Adapted Into a Stage Musical
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More than 30 years after its cinematic debut, Labyrinth could be hitting the stage. In an interview with Forbes, Jim Henson's son and Henson Company CEO Brian Henson shared plans to transform the cult classic into a live musical.

While the new musical would be missing David Bowie in his starring role as Jareth the Goblin King, it would hopefully feature the soundtrack Bowie helped write. Brian Henson says there isn't a set timeline for the project yet, but the stage adaptation of the original film is already in the works.

As for a location, Henson told Forbes he envisions it running, "Not necessarily [on] Broadway, it could be for London's West End, but it will be a stage show, a big theatrical version. It’s very exciting."

Labyrinth premiered in 1986 to measly box office earnings and tepid reviews, but Jim Henson's fairytale has since grown into a phenomenon beloved by nostalgic '80s kids and younger generations alike. In the same Forbes interview, Brian Henson also confirmed the 2017 news that a long-anticipated Labyrinth sequel is apparently in development. Though he couldn't give any specifics, Henson confirmed that, "we are still excited about it but the process moves very slowly and very carefully. We're still excited about the idea of a sequel, we are working on something, but nothing that's close enough to say it's about to be in pre-production or anything like that."

While fans eagerly await those projects to come out, they can get their fix when the film returns to theaters across the U.S. on April 29, May 1, and May 2. Don't forget to wear your best Labyrinth swag to the event.

[h/t Forbes]

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