A Dino Named Sue: The Most Complete T. Rex Ever Found

If you've only got one afternoon in Chicago, which museum should you attend? After mulling over the possibilities and consulting my Magic 8-ball, I decided to hit up the Field Museum. It was a great choice, largely because I got to meet this old gal, who happens to be one of the most controversial set of bones in existence.

The Discovery

The dino named Sue was almost not found. After the crew on the dig found a few Edmontosaurus bones, they were pretty much ready to call it quits. But then their truck got a flat tire. While waiting on the tire to be fixed, Sue Hendrickson thought she would bide her time by checking out some cliffs that they were unable to get to before. After finding some small pieces of bone, she looked up to see where they had fallen from. Sticking out of the cliff were some much larger bones that looked to be well preserved. (Photo from the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research)

hendrickson The remains were eventually excavated and the crew discovered that the T. Rex was 80 percent complete "“ the most complete set of T. Rex bones ever found. In fact, only seven T. Rex fossils that are more than 50 percent complete have ever been found, so this was really an amazing find. The reason the skeleton is so complete, they speculated, is because the dino was covered with water and mud shortly after it died, so other animals weren't able to make off with pieces of it very easily.

The Controversy

Pretty much as soon as word of the discovery got out, people started fighting over who "owned" Sue (the dino, not the paleontologist). The excavation crew had permission from Maurice Williams, the owner of the land, to dig and remove the skeleton and paid him $5,000 for those privileges. But Mr. Williams said the $5,000 didn't include the sale of any findings "“ just permission to remove and clean them.

It gets even more complicated. Williams belonged to the Sioux tribe, and the Sioux insisted that the bones were rightfully theirs. However, the United States Department of the Interior held the land the dinosaur was found on in trust, so they claimed the land actually belonged to them and not Williams. Concerned that something would happen to the valuable fossil, the FBI and the National Guard seized the it from the dig site in 1992 and transferred it to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. It was eventually decided that the fossil did belong to Maurice Williams. He decided to sell it, which was when the Field Museum pooled funds with California State University, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, McDonald's, Ronald McDonald House Charities and lots of individual donors to purchase the T. Rex when it when up for auction at Sotheby's. They ended up buying it for $8,362,500.

The Restoration

The Field Museum built a new research laboratory specifically for preservationists to work on Sue. It also allowed the museum's visitors to watch the preservation through glass. Copies were made of each bone and models were made of the 20 percent of the bones that were missing. McDonald's got one complete set to put on a traveling tour and Disney's Animal Kingdom received a set that you can still see in the DinoLand U.S.A. section of the park.

The preservationists also took CT scans of each bone to see what they could learn, but at nearly five feet long, the skull was way too big to fit in a conventional medical scanner. So they borrowed the scanner at Boeing's Rocketdyne lab in California, which was usually used to check out space shuttle pieces.
What they discovered from all of their scans was that Sue was really old for a dinosaur. She had also broken numerous rib bones, but they had all healed so they were injuries that occurred before she died as opposed to injuries that caused her death. The ribs weren't her only injuries, though "“ she had also broken her fibula, experienced some damage to her skull and damaged vertebra of her tail. They think that she died from disease, though, and not from a fight or a fall. All in all, more than 25,000 hours were spent cleaning and restoring Sue.

The Display

Once properly examined and cleaned, the Field Museum was ready to show Sue off to the public in her entirety. Problem: without muscles, Sue's 600-pound head was simply too heavy for her body to easily hold up. Plus, her head had some damage to it and wasn't in the greatest shape. So, the solution was to cast a mold of the skull, fixing the smashed parts so the head wouldn't look distorted. It was also much more lightweight and was easier to attach to the body. The original skull is on display for museum patrons to see; it's not attached to anything.

sue head

When the whole thing was assembled, Sue ended up being 42 feet long and 13 feet tall at the hips. Despite her huge size, her brain cavity is only big enough to hold about a quart of milk.
So, that's the story of Sue. If you're ever in Chicagoland, I highly recommend checking her out. The whole museum is fantastic "“ I lost my husband in the Native American exhibit for about an hour, and when he wandered out he confessed that he could have spent an entire day there. It's a wonderful, not-boring museum with lots and lots of dino bones for you to ponder. I'll leave you with a few of them.

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MGM Home Entertainment
11 Fun Facts About A Fish Called Wanda
MGM Home Entertainment
MGM Home Entertainment

In 1988, the British heist comedy A Fish Called Wanda had audiences in the UK and across the pond rolling in the aisles. Thirty years later, the Oscar-winning ensemble movie about a clueless (but don’t call him stupid) weapons expert, a bumbling barrister, a quick-witted femme fatale, and a stuttering con artist remains a cult favorite. Starring John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and of course, the eponymous fish, the film is packed with smart writing, silly slapstick, and some of the strongest comic performances of its starring actors’ careers. Here are 11 facts about A Fish Called Wanda for your unreserved enjoyment (just don’t ask us to repeat the part in the middle).

1. IT WAS DIRECTOR CHARLES CRICHTON’S FIRST FILM IN TWO DECADES.

Back in the 1950s, Charles Crichton was a famous director of Ealing Comedies—a series of comedy films produced by London’s Ealing Studios—who was known for his work on films like The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953), Hue and Cry (1947), and The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). By 1988, however, he hadn’t directed a feature film in two decades (though he had worked on TV shows and documentary shorts). He came out of semi-retirement to work on what would become his final film at the behest of John Cleese.

2. CRICHTON AND JOHN CLEESE SPENT FIVE YEARS WRITING THE FILM.

A Fish Called Wanda was years, even decades, in the making. Cleese and Crichton first met and began discussing ideas for a comedy heist film, inspired by The Lavender Hill Mob, all the way back in 1969. Though they parted ways professionally, Cleese continued to look for opportunities to collaborate on a film with Crichton. More than a decade later, he finally got his chance when he found himself working with Crichton on a series of business management training videos.

Though Crichton was already in his late seventies, Cleese managed to convince the semi-retired director to brainstorm ideas for a feature film with him. For the next few years, the two met periodically to throw around ideas and work on the script. All in all, the entire scriptwriting and pre-production process took more than five years and cost $150,000 of Cleese’s own money.

3. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE EALING COMEDIES.

Unsurprisingly, A Fish Called Wanda was heavily indebted to the Ealing Comedies, especially Crichton’s own The Lavender Hill Mob, a heist comedy which starred Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway as a pair of bumbling bank robbers. Cleese, however, claimed the parallels between the Ealing Comedies and A Fish Called Wanda were unintentional, but embraced the comparison.

“I knew that my memory of all these great Ealing films was very present, although I wasn’t consciously trying to write an Ealing comedy,” Cleese explained. “But I do remember when we interviewed Johnny Jympson when we were looking for an editor, and Johnny’d read it, and he came in and sat down, and Charlie said, ‘What’d you think?’ and Johnny was almost nervous and he hemmed and hawed a little bit and then he said very uncertainly, ‘Well, it’s an Ealing comedy, isn’t it?’ and we both said, ‘Yes!’”

4. THE ACTORS HELPED SHAPE THEIR CHARACTERS.

Cleese encouraged Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, and Jamie Lee Curtis to contribute ideas and help develop their characters. Curtis, in particular, was responsible for major changes to Wanda’s personality. "She was a sexually brazen, cold-hearted manipulator, who simply wanted money,” Curtis told The New York Times. “I didn't find that real. I decided she didn't altogether know what she wanted, but finds a wonderful power in manipulating people and feels personal satisfaction in trying to fool them. She plays a slightly different role for each man, yet she enjoys being herself, and she's not cold-hearted, not vicious.''

Curtis told The New York Times she reveled in the rare opportunity to shape her own character: ''Most films, one person is in charge, and you're afraid even to raise your hand with a suggestion,'' she explained. ''That's frustrating if you're a bright person and trust your instincts. But this was totally a collaborative effort, and I'm afraid it's spoiled me.'' She was, apparently, so enthusiastic a contributor over the course of a two-week rehearsal period that Palin gave her a shirt that read, “Wait, I have an idea.”

5. KEVIN KLINE’S CHARACTER WAS INSPIRED BY A LOS ANGELES SELF-HELP GURU.

In A Fish Called Wanda, Kline’s Otto is a pseudo-intellectual who constantly misinterprets everything from the teachings of Buddhist philosophy to the writings of Nietzsche. According to Cleese, his character was inspired by the real-life self-help guru Zen Master Rama, sometimes called the “yuppie guru.”

“I got the real key to the character out of Los Angeles Magazine,” Cleese explained in an interview. “I found a double-page spread for a guru, and I’m pretty sure his name was Zen Master Rama, and he looked about 32 and very unsure of himself, and he had a funny sort of hairstyle like a dandelion at the end of September. But the key thing was the line across the top of this two page advertisement for the seminars he ran at weekends, which was ‘Buddhism gives you the competitive edge.’ And I thought this was unbelievably funny.”

6. CLEESE’S CHARACTER WAS NAMED AFTER CARY GRANT.

Cleese named his character Archie Leach after movie star Cary Grant, who was born Archibald Leach. Though Cleese’s bumbling lawyer has little in common with the famously debonair Grant, Cleese explained that he chose the name because he and Grant shared a hometown, and because it was the closest he would ever get to “being Cary Grant.”

7. THE ORIGINAL ENDING WAS MUCH DARKER.

A Fish Called Wanda started off as a much darker comedy, but test audiences in America were apparently uncomfortable with the film’s cruelty, and lack of romantic payoff, so Crichton and his cast went in for a few re-shoots. In addition to softening Palin’s character a bit, they ended up re-shooting the film’s ending three times.

“We played the whole movie with this very sort of dark intent—it was a very black comedy—and of course, when they tested the movie in America, it tested very funny, except that people didn’t like that there was no real love story,” Curtis said, further explaining:

“The original ending of the movie was much darker. The costume designer and I had a really great time costuming this character, and in a department store in London on sale, we found a pair of shark shoes, and we bought them because we just thought, ‘Well, she’s just a shark.’ And we wore them in that last scene, and literally the last shot of the movie was going down my leg and freeze framing on the shark shoe. And right then, you knew she was going to take him for everything. The minute they got off the plane, she was going to bop him on the head, take the stuff, and leave.”

8. CLEESE CUT A BIG CHUNK OF THE CATHCART TOWERS SCENE.

In addition to changing the ending, Cleese cut several minutes from the film’s penultimate scene, in which Archie tries to get the stuttering Ken (Palin) to telling him where Wanda, Otto, and the diamonds are. Ken, whose stutter gets worse under pressure, can’t seem to utter the two words “Cathcart Towers.”

Initially, the scene was a Monty Python-esque series of increasingly absurd stunts—Ken attempting to sing the words (which remains in the final film), Archie trying to feed a tissue through a typewriter, Ken writing in toothpaste on a window—but Cleese worried the scene, which arrives at the climax of the film, was overly long and dragging the plot down, and so deleted most of it.

9. ONE AUDIENCE MEMBER LAUGHED HIMSELF TO DEATH.

Ole Bentzen, a Belgian audience member, was so tickled by the scene in which Ken has French fries stuck up his nose, that he actually laughed himself to death. The scene reminded him of a similar experience at a family dinner, in which his family had shoved cauliflower up their noses to great comic effect. He began laughing so hard, his heart rate escalated dangerously, causing a fatal heart attack.

10. IT WAS NOMINATED FOR THREE OSCARS.

Comedy movies rarely fare well at the Oscars, but A Fish Called Wanda was an exception. The film was nominated for three awards: for Best Original Screenplay (for Cleese and Crichton), Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Kevin Kline, who took home the statuette.

11. IT WAS THE TOP VIDEO RENTAL OF 1989.

A Fish Called Wanda beat a number of higher-budget blockbuster movies, including Die Hard (1988) and Coming to America (1988), as well as the Oscar-winning Rain Man (1988), to become the top video rental of 1989. Its success was due, in part, to an advertising partnership with Cadbury Schweppes, which plastered grocery stores for weeks with ads for the film.

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