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The First Time News Was Fit To Print, IX

More old news from the Times archives. As always, we've found people, places and things with first mentions worth mentioning.

Hedge Fund

November 26, 1966
A Mutual Fund That Is Unusual
The Hubshman Fund, described as the first mutual fund offered to the public that will employ both hedging and leveraging principles, is scheduled to begin operating today.
* * * * *
The Hubshman Fund, with headquarters at 350 Park Avenue, is modeled after one of Wall Street's little known but profitable vehicles for private investors "“ the hedge fund.

These hedge funds are limited partnerships, as contrasted to mutual funds that are open to the public. Typical partners of hedge funds include sophisticated businessmen and families of wealth who are attracted by the principle of making money in the stock market by taking both long and short positions.

John Updike

March 2, 1958

The Magic World Of Words
updike.jpg What influences a child's sensitivity to language, to choice of words, to color, to tempo, to construction? There may be innate differences in this sphere just as there are in music and visual art. Whether for biological or cultural reasons, girls and women, generally, are more skillful "“ and certainly more prodigal "“ with words than are boys and men. Allowing for individual differences, though, what can parents do to nurture, or at least not to destroy, the young child's gift for language?

We took this question up with...John Updike, who to our mind is one of the most skillful and versatile young artists we've read. As for specifics, Mr. Updike said: "When children are picking up words with rapidity, between two and three, say, tell them the true word for something, even if it is fairly abstruse and long. A long correct word is exciting to a child. Makes them laugh; my daughter never says rhinoceros without laughing. Also around this time, puns are popular. A child sees the humor of nonsense."

Still to come: Silicon Valley, White Collar Crime, Web 2.0, Big John Studd and more.

Silicon Valley

January 16, 1975

New Markets Are Sought For Miniaturized Computers
pirates-of-silicon-valley.jpgThe United States electronic industry has developed circuitry so miniaturized that it is pushing to install many computer functions in such things as automobiles, gasoline pumps, traffic signals and supermarket cash registers. This development is expected, within a few years, to give computer technology more impact on daily life than it has today, when computer circuitry in consumer products is limited to pocket calculators, digital watches and some cameras.
* * * * *
The buildings of Intel were put up on a former citrus orchard. Santa Clara south of San Francisco Bay next to San Jose, is in the heart of what those in the electronics industry call "Silicon Valley" because so many makers of semiconductors are here.

White Collar Crime

December 28, 1939
Dr. Sutherland Says The Cost Of Duplicity In High Places Exceeds Burglary Losses
"White-collar criminality" was sharply attacked by the retiring president of the American Sociological Society, Dr. Edwin H. Sutherland of Indiana University, in an address tonight which discarded accepted conceptions and explanations of crime.

Speaking at a joint session of that society...Dr. Sutherland described present-day white collar criminals as "more suave and deceptive" than last century's "robber barons" and asserted that "in many periods more important crime news may be found on the financial pages of newspapers than on the front pages."

Energizer Bunny

October 23, 1989
Amid TV's Ad Clutter, A Rabbit Runs Wild
energizer.jpgRight from the start, the new commercial for Eveready's Energizer batteries does not look like the run-of-the-mill television ad. The star of the whimsical campaign is a bright pink toy bunny wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses and blue thongs. Banging a big bass drum as it struts around the set, the mechanical rabbit suddenly runs amok and marches out of the sound studio's doors.

But unsuspecting viewers watching when the spot made its debut last week were in for an even bigger surprise. Halfway through what appears to be a coffee commercial that shows two women quietly chatting, the runaway rabbit pops up and creates havoc as it tramps across the table.

Then, just when it seems safe to go back to ignoring commercials, the Energizer bunny charges through the laboratory setting of a spot for a nasal spray. Startled viewers were left wondering when the marauding rabbit would turn up next.

Web 2.0

August 14, 2000

As Innovation Lags Behind And The Mainstream Moves In, Net Entrepreneurs Look For Ways Out
"We're burned out," Ms. Harmel said, speaking of Net entrepreneurs of a certain level of experience and fatigue. "Some of us are tired and rich. Some of us are tired and not rich. But we're all tired."

Data on this topic are scarce, but anecdotal evidence suggests that a changing of the guard is under way in the Internet industry, as the early proponents of the Web are stepping aside for the mainstream business people who have migrated to the new medium. Such a cultural shift was to be expected, given how the Web itself has become a mainstream phenomenon. But analysts say the executive shift could have broad implications for e-commerce.

"Call this Web 2.0," said Clay Shirky, a partner at Accelerator Group, a consulting firm that works with Web start-ups, who has worked in the Internet industry since 1993. "This has been going on slowly, and now people are realizing the landscape has changed without us having caught onto it."

Post-it Notes

August 30, 1981

Some Practical Gadgets To Keep In The Bag
post-it.jpg Post-It Notes are another member of this family. In this case, however, the adhesive is to be found in a narrow stripe along one edge of the back of pieces of note paper. The notes, available in various size sheets, come in the form of handy pads. Merely jot a note to yourself or someone else, lift the note from the pad and touch it to the wall, door, film box, photo paper box, or other surface. The note will stick to almost any surface and can be removed without doing harm to painted walls or any other delicate finishes.

Big John Studd

December 22, 1983
Fitness Offerings
studd.jpgEarlier this month President Reagan gave Parade Magazine, the Sunday newspaper supplement, an exclusive story on how he keeps fit. Included in the article over the President's byline was an exhortation to Americans to follow his example and take up, among other exercises, weight lifting.

So far, according to the White House press office, there "hasn't been a large response." But among the early respondents were several people apparently seeking indirect White House endorsement of their exercise products.

Spalding, the company that gave the nation the high-bounce pink rubber ball sometimes called the Spaldeen, has offered the President the free use of Power Rings, a weight-lifting device that retails for $109. And Big John Studd, a professional wrestler who says he is the only man to have body-slammed Andre the Great, has asked the Reagan re-election committee to give the President his own exercise contraption, which is a bicycle handlebar affixed to a wagon wheel.

Here are some of the topics featured in previous installments of this series:

"¢ Volume I: The Simpsons, Barack Obama, iPod and Microsoft
"¢ Volume II: Donald Trump, Starbucks, Global Warming and Wikipedia
"¢ Volume III: JFK, The Smurfs, the Internet
"¢ Volume IV: Larry David, Ulysses S. Grant, VCRs
"¢ Volume V: Walkman, Osama bin Laden, Pearl Jam
"¢ Volume VI: Times Square, Marijuana, Googling
"¢ Volume VII: Kobe Bryant, Apartheid, Gatorade
"¢ Volume VIII: Bob Dylan, Barbie, War on Terror

T.jpgWant complete access to The New York Times archives, which go all the way back to 1851? Become an NYT subscriber.

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


Getty Images

By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


Getty Images

Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
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Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

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