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Seven Curses That Seem To Be Doing Their Jobs (plus that Billy Goat one)

Looks like the Curse of the Billy Goat has struck again, and with the Cubs' loss last weekend, it will be at least one more year until the curse is lifted. 2008 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Cubs' last World Series win, so a Series win next year would be pretty poetic anyway.

The story goes like this: Greek immigrant William "Billy Goat" Sianis, who owned the nearby Billy Goat Tavern, bought two tickets to game four of the 1945 World Series against Detroit. The second ticket was for his pet billy goat, Murphy. They made it into the game for a little while, but were thrown out after owner P.K. Wrigley complained about the goat's smell. In retaliation, Sianis cursed the Cubs and said they would never win a pennant or a World Series again. Looks like there might be something to that curse.

If you're not too superstitious, read on for seven more curses that seem to be doing their jobs. By the end of this post, you won't want to endorse soup, knit any presents or turn 27.

1. The Curse of William Penn

WilliamPenn.jpgWilliam Penn is not a man to be crossed. His wrath isn't confined to one sport "“ no, he has cursed all four professional sports teams in Philadelphia. A statue of Penn adorns the top of City Hall in Philly, and legend has it that an agreement was made that no building in town would ever stand taller than the statue. That was all fine and dandy until 1987, when One Liberty Place was constructed three blocks away from City Hall, dwarfing William Penn by nearly 400 feet. Ever since that date, not one of the professional teams in Philly has won any of their respective championships. There may be hope, though "“ in June 2007, a new tallest-building-in-Philly record was set with the Comcast Center, which stands 58 stories. When the final beam was raised, the iron workers attached a William Penn figurine to the top of it, officially making him the tallest thing in town again. We'll see if it appeases Mr. Penn. It hasn't appeared to yet... along with the Cubs, the Phillies lost their hopes at a 2007 World Series win last weekend.

2. Sports Illustrated, Campbell's Soup and the Madden NFL video game series

Curses.jpg

All three seem to have one thing in common: whenever NFL players appear on their covers (on the can, in the case of the soup), he will either be injured soon afterward or be cursed with an exceptionally poor performance. I won't cite all of the instances that this has held true, because it is pretty overwhelming. SI has a whole site dedicated to their jinx. Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, Marshall Faulk and Ray Lewis were all injured after appearing on the Madden cover. The Campbell's Soup curse applies to Terrell Davis, Kurt Warner, and yes, Donovan McNabb. Again. As the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles (see 'The Curse of William Penn'), he may very well be the most cursed player in sports history.

3. The Sweater Curse

CosbySweater.jpgNot all curses are sports-related. Any knitter worth his or her salt will tell you about the Sweater Curse. Legend has it that after spending much time, effort and money to create a sweater for your significant other, the relationship will fail soon after giving them the garment. I am a knitter and have yet to gift anyone a sweater...although I'll admit this is more a matter of skill than superstition. (Note: This is the best picture we found in a search for "cosby sweater." He was a pitchman for Texas Instruments in the 1980s. OK, back to the list.)

4. The Curse of Tippecanoe

tecumseh.jpgBroken but still worth mentioning, The Curse of Tippecanoe was placed in 1811, when William Henry Harrison defeated Tecumseh (at right) and his brother Tenskwatawa in battle. They cursed Harrison "“ and all future Presidents. For the next 120 years, every president who was elected on a 20-year interval would die before his term officially ended. Harrison was elected in 1840 and died of pnumonia the next year. Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and William McKinley, respectively elected in 1860, 1880 and 1900, were all assassinated. Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920, suffered a stroke before his term was up. Franklin Roosevelt, re-elected in 1940, had a fatal cerebral hemorrhage. Granted, this was during his fourth term, which would not be allowed by today's laws. John F. Kennedy, elected in 1960, was, of course, assassinated. It was Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, who finally broke the curse. He narrowly escaped being assassinated, however, so it wasn't for a lack of effort on Tecumseh's part.

5. The Omen

TheOmen.jpgIt wouldn't be a post written by me if I didn't work horror movies in somewhere. I have a legitimate reason, though: both The Omen and Poltergeist are plagued by curses.

The Omen author and scriptwriter David Seltzer's plane to the filming location in the U.K. was struck by lightning, and so was the movie's star Gregory Peck's. They were on two separate planes. Poor Gregory Peck kept just barely escaping aviation disaster "“ in another incident, he canceled a reservation he had on a flight. The flight he canceled crashed and killed everyone on board.

The hotel where director Richard Donner was staying was bombed. And on the very first day of shooting, the main members of the crew got in a head-on collision. Even those barely associated with the movie couldn't escape: a warden at the safari park used for a scene in the movie was killed by a lion less than 24 hours after the scene was shot.

Finally, the incident that I find the creepiest is that special effects artist John Richardson, who created the famous beheading scene, was injured on the set of a movie a year later. His girlfriend was beheaded in the same accident.

6. Poltergeist

poltergeist.jpgThe actresses who played sisters in the original movie both died at terribly young ages: Dominique Dunne, who played the older sister, was murdered by her boyfriend in 1982. Heather O'Rourke, who played Carol Anne, died in 1988 of septic shock.

Why the curse? Supposedly, real human remains were used as props for the movie. The actress who played the mom in the movie, JoBeth Williams, said she was told the skeletons used in the swimming pool scene were the real deal. She also said that when she would get back to her house after filming Poltergeist every day, the pictures on her wall would all be crooked. She would move them back to their rightful positions, only to find them crooked again when she got home the next day.

7. The 27 Club

Forever27.jpgFinally, readers who are 27, beware, lest you join the 27 Club. Only people who die at the age of 27 are allowed to join, and, OK, they also happen to be famous rock stars. The illustrious list includes Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain and Pigpen McKernan (founding member of the Grateful Dead). Although these are the most famous, other musicians who died at the same young age include bluesman Robert Johnson; Dave Alexander, the bassist for Iggy Pop and the Stooges; Peter Ham, the keyboardist/guitarist for Badfinger; and Kristen Pfaff, the bass guitarist for Hole.

I know there are other curses, especially sports-related ones. Let me know what other curses I should be avoiding.

Previously on mental_floss:

Quiz: Discontinued Ben & Jerry's Flavor or Band I Found On MySpace?
Six Cool Plants I Would Find A Way To Kill
12 Classes We Wish Our Schools Had Offered
Strange Gravestones
Five Ballpark Promotions That Went Wrong

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16 Fun Facts About The Carol Burnett Show
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CBS

After a short stint in the New York theater world, comedienne Carol Burnett landed a job as a regular on The Garry Moore Show in 1959. She caught the attention of CBS executives, who offered her her own series in 1967. With her husband Joe Hamilton at the helm, Burnett broke new ground as the first female host of a TV variety show. The Carol Burnett Show ran for 11 seasons and earned a handful of Emmy Awards in the process. To celebrate the legendary comedienne's 85th birthday, here are some fun facts about the show and the folks who made it so side-splittingly hilarious.

1. CAROL BURNETT’S MOTHER WANTED HER TO BE A WRITER.

As Carol Burnett painfully recalled later in life, whenever she’d expressed an interest in a career in the theater as a teen, her mother would always dissuade her and recommend that she would have better luck studying to become a writer. “You can always write, no matter what you look like,” she would add.

2. A TOTAL STRANGER HELPED TO LAUNCH BURNETT’S CAREER.

As she was nearing graduation from UCLA, Burnett and several fellow drama students were invited to a departing professor’s house to perform at his bon voyage party. She performed a scene from the musical Annie Get Your Gun and later that evening, while she was standing in the buffet line, a man she’d never seen before approached her and complimented her performance. He then inquired what she planned to do with her life. She confessed that she dreamed of going to New York one day for a career on the stage, but seeing that she barely had enough gas money to drive back to Los Angeles that evening, it would be a very long time before she’d make it to Broadway. The man told her he’d be happy to lend her $1000 to get her started, with three conditions: that she repay him without interest in five years, that she was never to reveal his identity, and that once she was successful she must pass a similar kindness along to another person in need. (After pondering the offer over the weekend and consulting her mother and grandmother—who advised her to steer clear of the strange man who was probably involved in human trafficking or something worse—she took a chance and accepted his check.)

3. VICKI LAWRENCE CAUGHT BURNETT’S ATTENTION BY WRITING HER A FAN LETTER.


CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Vicki Lawrence cut her hair in a short “pixie” cut as a high school senior, many of her classmates commented on her resemblance to Carol Burnett. Lawrence’s somewhat overbearing stage mother encouraged her to write Burnett a letter, which she did, enclosing a photo and a newspaper article that mentioned her upcoming appearance in the Inglewood, California Miss Fireball Contest. To her surprise, a seven-months-pregnant Burnett showed up at the pageant to cheer her on. When Burnett had her baby, Lawrence took some flowers to the hospital, thinking she’d just drop them off. But when the nurse on duty saw her, she immediately mistook her for Burnett’s real-life half-sister Chrissie and exclaimed, “Wait until you see the baby!” and ushered her into Carol’s room.

4. LAWRENCE ENDED UP PLAYING BURNETT’S SISTER ON THE SHOW.

When they were casting The Carol Burnett Show, the star remembered the teen and hired her despite her lack of experience. At first her only role was in the recurring “Carol and Sis” sketch, in which Lawrence played “Chrissie,” Burnett’s younger sister. Lawrence recalled in her 1995 autobiography that Burnett was very nurturing to all her co-stars, making sure everyone got their share of the best jokes, but it was Harvey Korman who took her under his wing in the beginning and taught her about timing, dialects, and working with props.

5. THE Q&A AT THE BEGINNING WAS BURNETT’S HUSBAND’S IDEA.


By CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Joe Hamilton was not only Carol Burnett’s husband, he was also the show’s executive producer. It was traditional at the time (and still is, in some cases) to have a stand-up comic step onstage before a show to tell some jokes and “warm up” the audience. Hamilton was wary of going that route, however; as Burnett later recalled, “He worried, ‘What if the guy is funnier than the rest of you?’” He thought it would be a good ice-breaker if Burnett herself went out front before the proceedings to welcome the audience and answer a couple of questions. Over the next 11 seasons, the question that she was asked the most was “Can you do your Tarzan yell?”

6. BURNETT ONCE USED HER TARZAN YELL AS A FORM OF IDENTIFICATION.

While shopping for nylon stockings at New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman one day, the saleswoman recognized Burnett and asked for her autograph for her grandchildren. When it came time to check out, Burnett realized that she didn’t have her credit card or driver’s license in her wallet. She inquired if she could write a check. “I’ll have to see some ID,” replied the woman who’d requested an autograph just moments before. The floor manager intervened and told Burnett that she’d accept her check if Burnett would do her Tarzan yell. Burnett complied, prompting a security guard to kick open a nearby door, burst in and point his gun at her.

7. LYLE WAGONNER WAS THE FIRST CENTERFOLD IN PLAYGIRL MAGAZINE.

Joe Hamilton was looking for a handsome, “Rock Hudson-type” when casting the announcer for his wife’s show. Former encyclopedia salesman Lyle Waggoner landed the job not only due to his devastating good looks, but also because he had a good sense of humor about how pretty he was. He was even good-natured about the teasing he got from his castmates after posing for the centerfold of Playgirl magazine’s premiere issue in 1973.

8. HARVEY KORMAN WAS THE FIRST CAST MEMBER HIRED.

The producers wanted a “Harvey Korman-type” for Burnett’s second banana, but didn’t bother to actually ask Korman if he was interested in the job because he was already a regular on The Danny Kaye Show, and most likely he wouldn’t leave a steady job for an unproven new show. Burnett herself spotted Korman in the CBS parking lot one day and “practically threw him over the hood of a car” begging him to join her show. Unbeknownst to her, Kaye’s show was about to get the axe after a four-year run, so Korman cheerfully accepted her offer shortly after that first meeting.

9. TIM CONWAY RARELY FOLLOWED HIS SCRIPT.

Conway had been a frequent guest star on the show, and when Lyle Waggoner decided to leave the show in 1974 (he felt that he was being “underused”), Conway was hired to replace him the following year. Conway was legendary for veering off-script and ad-libbing for lengthy stretches, to the amusement of some of his co-stars (Korman) and annoyance of others (Lawrence, who sometimes resented Conway’s disruptions and spotlight-hogging). Lawrence finally slipped her own ad-lib in on one memorable occasion, as Conway rambled on and on about an elephant during a “Family” sketch. Her NSFW remark brought the rest of the cast to their knees and was said to be Dick Clark’s favorite all-time outtake on his Bloopers and Practical Jokes TV show.

10. MRS. WIGGINS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AS AN ELDERLY WOMAN.

Conway created the Mr. Tudball/Mrs. Wiggins characters and wrote (or ad-libbed) many of their sketches. His original concept had Mrs. Wiggins being ancient, slow, and forgetful. But costume designer Bob Mackie decided that Burnett had played too many “old lady” characters on the show and designed a very voluptuous look for her instead. He explained at the time that he had certain “ditzy” CBS secretaries in mind when he stitched the curvy costume together.

11. THE SHOW THAT BECAME MAMA’S FAMILY STARTED OUT AS A MUCH DARKER ONE-OFF SKETCH.

A sketch called “The Reunion,” which originally aired in March of 1974, featured the characters that eventually became known as “The Family.” In this initial installment, Roddy McDowall played Phillip Harper, the successful younger brother of Eunice, returning home for a visit after winning a Pulitzer Prize. The family members were far crankier and more argumentative (and perhaps more representative of actual family life as they talked over one another and changed topics as soon as a thought occurred to them) than the cartoonish characters they eventually came to be on the syndicated series Mama’s Family. The piece proved to be so popular that 30 more “Family” sketches appeared over the next four seasons, with such guest stars as Alan Alda and Betty White turning up as members of the extended Harper family.

12. IT WAS BURNETT’S IDEA TO MAKE EUNICE AND HER FAMILY SOUTHERN.

The creators of "The Family" sketch were The Carol Burnett Show staff writers Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair. McMahon hailed from Kansas City, Missouri, and envisioned the Harpers to be of typical Midwestern stock, but as Burnett read the initial script she heard her own Texan and Arkansan family members speaking. She started speaking the lines with a pronounced Southern drawl, and Vicki Lawrence soon followed suit.

13. DICK VAN DYKE WAS A REGULAR FOR A SHORT TIME.

Harvey Korman left The Carol Burnett Show at the end of season 10 to star in his own sitcom on ABC.  (The Harvey Korman Show was cancelled after five episodes.) Dick Van Dyke was brought in as a replacement, but he was never a very good fit. As Burnett commented after the fact, “When Harvey put on a wig and a dress, he became a woman; when Dick Van Dyke did it, he was Dick Van Dyke in a wig and a dress.” Van Dyke wasn’t overjoyed with the job, either; he lived in Arizona at the time and the monthly 4000-mile commute was exhausting. He was released from his contract in November 1977.

14. BURNETT’S “WENT WITH THE WIND” CURTAIN ROD DRESS WAS BOB MACKIE’S BRAINSTORM.

Burnett’s Gone with the Wind parody has made many “funniest shows of all time” lists over the years, and one of the defining moments of the sketch was when Carol (as "Starlett O’Hara”) descends the stairs at Tara wearing the green velvet drapes with the curtain rod still in them and admits, “I saw it in a window and I couldn’t resist.” The original script called for Burnett to have the curtains tossed haphazardly over her shoulders, but Mackie decided that it would be funnier to create an actual dress and leave the hanger intact across her shoulders. He is slightly bitter all these years later that of all his magnificent creations, that “joke” dress has become his signature piece; of all the memorable glamorous gowns he’s created for celebrities over the decades, that curtain rod dress is the one that hangs in the Smithsonian.

15. CONWAY’S FAMOUS “DENTIST” SKIT WAS BASED ON AN ACTUAL INCIDENT.

When Conway was in the Army having some work done on his teeth, the dentist accidentally injected his own thumb with Novocain. Conway exaggerated the experience to hilarious effect in a classic skit that left Harvey Korman struggling to contain his laughter. During a 2013 interview, Conway told Conan O’Brien that Korman actually wet himself from laughing so hard.

16. THERE WAS ONLY ONE CELEBRITY GUEST THAT BURNETT WAS NEVER ABLE TO BOOK.

Over the 11 seasons the show ran, a veritable “Who’s Who” of the entertainment industry did a guest turn, from Steve Martin to Julie Andrews to then-governor Ronald Reagan to Robin Williams to Ethel Merman. The only guest who Burnett dearly wanted to have but never did get was Bette Davis. Davis was willing to appear but demanded more money that the show had budgeted. Joe Hamilton advised his wife that if they gave in to Davis’s demand, it would set an unpleasant precedent.

Additional Sources:
Vicki!: The True-Life Adventures of Miss Fireball, by Vicki Lawrence
This Time Together, by Carol Burnett
Let’s Bump Up the Lights (The Carol Burnett Show DVD extra)

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The 1988 BBC Report That Spelled the End for Doctor Who
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Given the amount of excitement, and press, surrounding the July 2017 announcement that Jodie Whittaker would be taking the keys to the TARDIS from Peter Capaldi to become Doctor Who's Thirteenth Doctor (and its first female Doctor), it’s hard to imagine that audiences could ever tire of the iconic sci-fi series. But, as Den of Geek reports, television-watchers in 1988 had a rather different opinion of the regularly-regenerating Time Lord.

A "not for publication" Television Audience Reaction Report discovered in the BBC Archive, compiled shortly after Sylvester McCoy made his debut as the Seventh Doctor, revealed that Whovians weren't buying what McCoy was selling. While viewership was up a tick (.1 million over the previous year's average), the show's Appreciation Index—which measured a series' popularity on a scale of one to 100—was a 60 which, according to the report, was "much lower than the average of 69 for the 1986 series. It is also considerably lower than the average of 75 for UK Originated Drama: Other Series and Serials between BARB Weeks 37 and 50."

Though the series' core fan base was mostly sticking around, "their number seems to be decreasing with each successive series," with a mere 46 percent of the sample audience saying that they'd want to see another season of Doctor Who (which, at that time, was in the 24th season of its initial run):

"Under half the sample audience (47%) agreed with the statement that Doctor Who was an entertaining program. Just over a quarter (28%) agreed that the stories this series had been good, while 49% disagreed with this statement. The stories' attention holding qualities received a similarly poor rating."

Ouch!

As for McCoy, the report stated that he "was not proving to be a popular Doctor. He received a personal summary index figure of 46 at the end of the series … Sylvester McCoy's predecessor in the role—Colin Baker—although only moderately popular himself, received much better ratings than these, as his personal index figure of 66 shows. A popular character, such as Jim Bergerac played by John Nettles, can receive a personal index rating of around 90."

But The Doctor wasn't even the biggest problem: His companion, Mel, was even less popular with viewers:

"Bonnie Langford, who played the Doctor's assistant Mel can only be described as unpopular with respondents. Indeed 56% of respondents who answered a questionnaire on the 'Paradise Towers' story wished she had been eaten—as seemed likely at one point during the course of this adventure. Her summary index rating of 34 compares unfavourably with the 47 she received at the end of the 1986 series. Both figures, it should be noted, are extremely low."

It should hardly be surprising that the memo (which you can read in full here) spelled the beginning of the end of Doctor Who's original incarnation. The series came to a conclusion in December 1989, with McCoy still in place as The Doctor. Fortunately, the BBC didn't hold a grudge.

In 1996, they attempted to revive interest in the series with a TV movie/backdoor pilot that featured Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. It didn't work. Nearly 10 years later, after lots of rallying, longtime series fan Russell T. Davies was given the greenlight to bring Doctor Who back with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor in 2005. Though Eccleston's tenure was short-lived—David Tennant took over the very next season—audiences have not looked back since.

[h/t Den of Geek]

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