The Quick 10: 10 Places I Demanded to Stop on my Road Trip

Heeelloooo, _flossers! I'm back from my whirlwind road trip to Florida. I think we spent more time in the car than we did actually in the Sunshine State, but that's OK. I managed to get some good road trip stops in, so that's what I'm going to share with you today. I think my friend and my husband stopped letting me drive, because every time I did, the car would mysteriously find its way to exits with signs like "See the giant Superman!" They complain, but secretly they love me for it"¦ I think. Here are seven places I made them go and three that got slashed from the agenda.

williams1. Tennessee Williams' grave in St. Louis, Mo. People who _floss regularly already know that I have a weird fondness for cemeteries. I could easily take a cross-country trip and just stop at old graveyards with crumbling stones and obscure celebrities. I don't know if I could talk anyone into going with me, though, so I have to settle for squeezing in one or two here and there. On this trip, we visited the final resting place of Mr. Thomas Lanier Williams "“ better known as Tennessee. When I stopped to ask the cemetery office for a map to the Pulitzer Price-winning author's grave, the guy behind the counter gave me a knowing look and asked, "Writing a paper?" I'm nearly 10 years past high school at this point, so I was a bit amused by this. Anyway, after he died from choking to death on the lid of an eye drop bottle in 1983 (he put the cap in his mouth and tilted his head back to put the drops in his eye), Tennessee ended up at the Calvary Cemetery - against his wishes. He wanted to be buried at sea near the same place that one of his greatest influences, author Hart Crane, had allegedly killed himself. Poor Tennessee. This way, though, he's buried next to his sister Rose, whom he was very close to when they were alive. Mental health problems plagued her all of her life and she was the inspiration for Laura in Williams' The Glass Menagerie. In fact, her small stone next to his bears the inscription, "Blow out your candles, Laura." Tennessee isn't the only luminary to be buried in Calvary and the adjacent Bellefontaine Cemeteries "“ a tour around the historical boneyards would also turn up Sara Teasdale, Dred Scott, Kate Chopin, William S. Burroughs and William Tecumseh Sherman. Crap, I missed all of those? We're so going back. But we didn't have time to search too long, because we had to get to our next destination"¦

clark2. The Giant Superman in Metropolis, Ill. When DC Comics declared Metropolis the hometown of Superman on January 21, 1972, the real Metropolis wasted no time capitalizing on it. On June 9 of the same year, the Illinois State Legislature passed a resolution to legally give the town the "Hometown of Superman" nickname. Just a few references to the man in blue tights include a 30-foot statue, the Super Museum, and the Metropolis Planet newspaper, a take on the fictional Daily Planet from the comics. And, oh my God, in researching Metropolis, I just discovered that the Birdman of Alcatraz is buried in Metropolis. ARRRGH. I missed all kinds of cool graves on this trip! Oh, there's a backstory to why this was an important stop to make: in 2003, four of us decided to do Spring Break at Disney. Yeah. Most college kids hit up Cabo or San Padre; we were all over Disney World. On the way home from our time with the Mouse, my car broke down in Paducah, Kentucky (right next to Metropolis). After sitting at a mechanic/gas station/restaurant for an entire day only to be told that my car couldn't be fixed there, my friends and I were, um, not in the greatest of moods. Plus we had just been with each other for about seven days straight and we were probably all ready for a little space. So when a local helpfully said, "Why don't you borrow Eddie's truck and go into town to see the giant Superman?" the poor guy was met with four sets of eyeballs searing holes through his skull. I've been curious about giant Superman ever since, though, and now I can say I've finally experienced all of his glory.

tootsies3. Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville, Tenn. Tootsie's is one of the most historic honky-tonks in Nashville. We stopped because I have a friend in Nashville who kindly gave us room and board for the night; it just so happens that she also has all kinds of Nashville connections so we got to sit in the "World Famous" front window that people usually pay big bucks to sit in. Or maybe not. I don't really know how much it costs. Tootsie's was the local favorite of a bunch of country music veterans you might be familiar with: Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Mel Tillis, among them. In fact, according to Tootsie's web site, Willie Nelson was offered his first songwriting gig after performing onstage at Tootsie's.

safe4. Jack Daniel's Distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn. It's true "“ Moore County, where Lynchburg is located, is a dry county. So no free samples, friends. I think I got drunk anyway "“ there was a point on the tour where we got to smell the whiskey soaking in charcoal and our tour guide told us to stick our noses right down next to the barrel while he fanned the lid for us to smell. Now, I pretty much lack a sense of smell altogether, but let me tell you, I smelled this. It went up my nose and straight to the back of my throat where I could taste it. Whoo! Some other facts about Jasper Newton Daniel "“ he was only 5'2" and had size four feet. His feet were so tiny that when they built the life-sized statue of him for the distillery, the only part that wasn't to scale were his feet. His size fours wouldn't have supported the rest of the statue if they had left them the proper size. This picture to the left is the safe that killed my buddy Jack. This story is pretty legendary, but I'll repeat it just in case you haven't heard it. Mr. Daniel came to work one morning and tried to open his safe, but had forgotten the combination, which he was always doing. He kicked the safe in frustration, but since it was iron it didn't exactly yield to his foot. He broke his toe, which eventually resulted in infection and blood poisoning. It was the blood poisoning that eventually killed him.

surrender5. The "Unconditional Surrender" statue in Sarasota, Fl. You know the famous picture from Life magazine, and you probably know that it occurred on V-J Day in Times Square. For the geographically-challenged, that's Manhattan, not Sarasota. Even after reading about it, I'm still not entirely sure why it's in Sarasota. It was first erected in front of Marina Jack's on Highway 41 in 2005 but was dismantled in the spring of 2006. It wasn't gone for good, though "“ it popped up 2,500 miles away in San Diego. I would have liked to see that thing going down the highway on the back of a truck. Anyway, the good people of Sarasota raised the money to bring it back, if only on a temporary basis. To get it in Sarasota permanently will cost $750,000, which a non-profit group is working on raising. I guess time will tell if "Unconditional Surrender" will stay in Sarasota; for the meantime, I'm glad we got to see it. And for the record, if you look up her skirt, you don't actually see anything. Nice try, though.

ringling6. Cà d'Zan, the Ringling Mansion. Sort of. We drove by, anyway. Me: "I think that's it"¦ I've only ever seen it in cake, though." Everyone else in the car: ""¦" For the record, it was on one of those Food Network Challenges "“ the cake artists had to recreate a famous American Mansion out of candy and cake. Um. Anyway, the Ringling estate also includes Mabel Ringling's Rose Garden and the Ringling Museum of the American Circus. This is one of the primary reasons we didn't go in "“ there's no way I could deal with a bunch of clown memorabilia. But the architecture was gorgeous "“ even better than the white and milk chocolate rendition I saw on T.V. (Disclaimer: This is not my picture.)

peanut7. The World's Largest Peanut Monument in Ashburn, Ga. We actually passed this on the way down to Florida and said, "Hey, a giant peanut!" Then when I was looking for places to stop on the way home, I spotted this gem and decided to make an actual stop. In a nutshell: the giant peanut monument wasn't all it was cracked up to be. I'm sorry; I've made that joke about five times now and it makes me giggle every time I write it. Ashburn is nicknamed the Peanut Capital of the World, so I guess the monument is pretty self-explanatory.
And a couple that got cut from the itinerary:
8. Johnny Cash's grave in Hendersonville, Tenn. Boo. We were going to swing through Henderson on our way into Nashville on Wednesday night, but by the time we got there it was getting to be pretty late and the cemetery gates closed at dusk. But we might be going back sometime this summer anyway"¦ my husband thinks he needs a pair of cowboy boots now and wants to spend some time at Opryland. This is a guy who falls asleep listening to Slipknot, by the way.

9. The Whistle Stop Café in Juliette, Ga. Aww. Another casualty due to time. I don't see myself passing through Juliette any time soon, but if anyone has sampled the fried green tomatoes there, be sure to share with us in the comments.

10. Graceland! I was definitely a little bummed about this one, but we were passing through Memphis somewhere around 4 a.m. and didn't really want to wait around for five hours for Elvis to get out of bed and show us his digs. Because he's alive, you know. I was also interested in stopping in Holly Springs, Miss., to see Graceland Too. We could have had ourselves a whole Elvis-themed road trip back: we also passed through Tupelo, his hometown. Alas, it was not to be. At least not this trip.

I thank you all for your wonderful suggestions and hope to hit more of them up sometime this summer. The City Museum in St. Louis sounds pretty awesome, and that's not so bad of a road trip from where we are. I think we might have to make a long weekend out of it in the next few months.

Next up? Milwaukee and Chicago in a couple of weeks, and the L.A. area over Memorial Day. I'd love to hear your suggestions for stops, as always. Comment or hit me with a Tweet and let me know where I should force my friends and family to stop! You can also check out my blog for more Road Trip goodness such as the Mark Game.

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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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