In the Beginning: Today we're seeing Red

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Well, almost. With just 3 (three!) days to go until our new book's release, mental_floss is happy to present another origin story you're bound to dig. Enjoy!

The Red Carpet

IMG_1571.preview.JPGIf you want a black and white explanation for the public obsession with celebrity, it helps to start by understanding the red.

Great Feets

Hollywood actors are often considered American royalty, and as it turns out, they have the carpeting to match. The first mention of the red carpet we could find dates back to the story of Agamemnon, written by the Greek playwright Aeschylus in 485 BCE. In the play, Mycenaean King Agamemnon's wife tricks him into walking across a red carpet fit only for the "feet of the gods."Red-tinted colors, especially deep purplish reds, were especially admired in the early Greek and Roman societies because they were both expensive and scarce. In fact, throughout recorded history, royals and others of high rank have used the colors red and purple to symbolize how important and wealthy they were. The use of the red carpet appeared again in the 1600s, when Jahangir, a Mughal emperor, visited his brother-in-law on New Year's Day. His brother-in-law carpeted the road from the palace to his house with gold brocades and rich velvets to prevent his royal feet from ever touching the ground.

Americans See Red

Over time, rolling out the red carpet for special or honored people trickled down from royalty. In1821, U.S. president James Monroe became the first to receive the treatment with a red carpet rolled out to the river to guide his path.

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New York Central's luxury train, the 20th Century Limited, debuted in 1902 establishing the "redcarpet treatment" not only for royals and dignitaries but for anyone receiving special treatment. The train traveled the smooth water-level route from New York to Chicago and the railroad rolled out a red carpet to welcome passengers onto the train.As for Hollywood, the red carpet first emerged in 1922 when the famous exhibitor Sid Grauman opened up the Egyptian Theatre (seven years before the first Academy Awards ceremony). And while the Academy Awards have become the best known use of the red carpet in history, with virtually every famous starwalking its length at one time or another, the question remains: So, how does Oscar's red carpet arrive each year?

The answer is: not very glamorously, but plenty safe, in dozens of rolls wrapped in plastic on flat bed trucks. Strangely enough, the actual shade of red is a secret, designed by the academy to be a slightly purplish red that appears more reddish on TV.

Rolling It Out

Though the process of rolling out a carpet sounds like it would be simple enough, the process takes hours of meticulous labor. The crew unrolls the rugs on their hands and knees, then cuts the edges with a huge putty knife to make sure they match perfectly. Another worker follows the process to scoop up the remnants to make sure they can't be stolen for color copying or eBay sales. In all, it takes more than 20 men a full two days to install the carpet (including ironing every seam after everything is in place). Just like celebrities keep stylists on hand in case of emergency, so does the carpet itself. One expert always appears at the show in tuxedo to ensure that the carpet looks its best and never forms a rumple that might trip someone famous. In all, the modern-day film stars probably receive a more detailed and luxurious red carpet welcome than most monarchs or dignitaries in history.

51yai+MKH5L._AA240_.jpgCan't wait the 3 days for In the Beginning? Pre-order your copy at any of these fine stores today: Amazon, B&N, Borders, Books-A-Million. Oh, and if you e-mail us your proof of purchase at newsletters@mentalfloss.com, we'll send you an autographed sticker to place in the book!

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October 29, 2007 - 4:53am
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