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The London Marathon

After living in Boston for six years, I'm a bit of a marathon snob. Not that I've ever actually done one myself, it's just that getting (or taking) a Monday off to watch and celebrate the world's most respected road race has left a mark. So when I found out that the London Marathon "“ which has only been around since 1981 "“ was on for this weekend, internally, I sort of said, "Meh."

But the London Marathon, sponsored by Flora, a British margarine company, is a pretty important marathon in its own right. It's got its own history, its own tradition, and its own characters, as well as the fact that its course is plotted through some of London's most historic areas, including Embankment, Parliament, and St. James Park (although the Tower of London portion, which crossed some rough cobblestone terrain, has been rerouted).

Here are a few more interesting facts about the London Marathon:

It started with an article

Believe in the power of the press, because it was an article written by former Olympic champion and British journalist Chris Brasher that prompted the organization of the first London Marathon. In 1979, after running the New York marathon, Brasher penned an article for The Observer, describing the experience in joyful terms as the "greatest folk festival the world has ever seen," and summed up by asking if London could ever pull off something like it. (Of course, Brasher's inspiration for running the marathon himself began, as many, many things in the UK do, with a conversation in a pub.)

London "“ or rather Brasher and a few other like-minded sports enthusiasts "“ rose to the challenge. Two years later, after securing £50,000 in financial backing from Gillette, the London Marathon kicked off, with 6,255 runners crossing the finish line.

london-marathon2.jpgThe winners of that first London Marathon were an American, Dick Beardsley, and a Norwegian, Inge Simonsen, who clasped hands at the finish line and crossed together. In the years since, as the race has grown to more than 35,000 runners annually, only one other American male runner has won the race: Moroccan-American Khalid Khannouchi crossed the finish line with a time of 2:05:38 in 2002. In 2006, Deena Kastor became the first American woman to win the race.

The current sponsor is Flora, however, that will change next year, as Virgin, which seems to have a finger in virtually every industry known to man, takes over for a period of five years and with a goal of raising £250 million for charity. Since its inception, the marathon has raised more than £360 million for charity and is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world's single largest annual fundraising event.

Celebrity runners

Britain has its own cadre of celebrities and a fair few of them have run the London Marathon. Foul-mouthed celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has run the marathon five times; TV presenter and former official model for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Nell McAndrew, has run the marathon at least twice; actors from long-running Brit soap opera EastEnders are perennial Marathoners, with at least one of them popping up every year; and the late reality TV star Jade Goody ran in 2006.

Tradition! Tradition!

As with many charity driven marathons, fancy dress is a long-standing and essential component. Because when you're panting through your 21st mile, you want to look over and see a banana and a dog skipping past you. Runners in fat suits, runners in kilts, and runners in carefully constructed London telephone booth costumes have all crossed the finish line in recent years; one man has even made a tradition of flipping a cooked pancake in a skillet as he runs.

Some runners have made the London Marathon itself their tradition. The Ever Presents are a dwindling group of die-hards who have managed to run the marathon every single year. A group of roughly 22, they're all men who ran the inaugural London Marathon in 1981, and, despite the cruel passage of time, the loss of hair, teeth and stamina, they're still going.

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For the non-runners, there's a lengthy tradition of drinking. On the interactive course map provided by the marathon organizers, pub locations are handily indicated with a pint glass icon. And there are a lot of pint glasses. Many of the pubs also run marathon specials, raising money and awareness for various charitable causes "“ so while you never really need a reason to drink, a charitable cause is a good one.

Inspiring stories

By their very nature, marathons are events where inspiring things happen, where people push themselves to their limits and far beyond, often in the name of a good cause.

Michael Watson, a former British boxing champion, was nearly killed in the ring in 1991 when the combination of a devastating uppercut to the chin and subsequent unlucky fall into the ropes put him in a coma for 40 days. After he awoke, Watson was confined to a wheelchair, told he'd never walk again, and had to re-learn how to write and speak. But in 2003, Watson "ran" the London Marathon. Raising money for the Brain and Spine Foundation, Watson walked for two hours each morning and each afternoon, completing the course in six days. He slept in a support bus that followed him and that also carried both his neurosurgeon and Chris Eubanks, the boxer who delivered the nearly fatal uppercut.

For his efforts, Queen Elizabeth awarded him an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 2004.

warriors.jpgLast year, six Maasai Warriors ran the marathon, raising awareness about and money for clean drinking water in their rural Tanzanian village. The warriors, who are famed for their ability to run long miles over rough terrain without tiring, said their elders told them that the marathon wouldn't be too difficult a challenge, since they spend their days killing lions and herding cattle (and often fueled by the fresh blood of said cattle). Wearing their traditional clothing and shoes made of old car tires, the warriors finished the race in under 5 and a half hours and raised £114,726; nearly a year after running the marathon, the village now has safe, clean drinking water.

The warriors' visit also prompted a British charity to write up a four-page "guide" for the visiting tribesmen, with helpful hints, such as "Even though some [people on the street] may look like they have a frown on their face, they are very friendly people "“ many of them just work in offices, jobs they don't enjoy, and so they do not smile as much as they should."

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Martin Wittfooth
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Art
The Cat Art Show Is Coming Back to Los Angeles in June
Martin Wittfooth
Martin Wittfooth

After dazzling cat and art lovers alike in 2014 and again in 2016, the Cat Art Show is ready to land in Los Angeles for a third time. The June exhibition, dubbed Cat Art Show 3: The Sequel Returns Again, will feature feline-centric works from such artists as Mark Ryden, Ellen von Unwerth, and Marion Peck.

Like past shows, this one will explore cats through a variety of themes and media. “The enigmatic feline has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years,” the show's creator and curator Susan Michals said in a press release. “One moment they can be a best friend, the next, an antagonist. They are the perfect subject matter, and works of art, all by themselves.”

While some artists have chosen straightforward interpretations of the starring subject, others are using cats as a springboard into topics like gender, politics, and social media. The sculpture, paintings, and photographs on display will be available to purchase, with prices ranging from $300 to $150,000.

Over 9000 visitors are expected to stop into the Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles during the show's run from June 14 to June 24. Tickets to the show normally cost $5, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a cat charity, and admission will be free for everyone on Wednesday, June 20. Check out a few of the works below.

Man in Garfield mask holding cat.
Tiffany Sage

Painting of kitten.
Brandi Milne

Art work of cat in tree.
Kathy Taselitz

Painting of white cat.
Rose Freymuth-Frazier

A cat with no eyes.
Rich Hardcastle

Painting of a cat on a stool.
Vanessa Stockard

Sculpture of pink cat.
Scott Hove

Painting of cat.
Yael Hoenig
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20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
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entertainment
11 Magical Facts About Willow
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Five years after the release of Return of the Jedi (1983) and four years after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), George Lucas gave audiences the story for another film about an unlikely hero on an epic journey, but this time he had three Magic Acorns and a taller friend instead of a whip and gun to help him along. Willow (1988) was directed by Ron Howard and starred former Ewok and future Leprechaun, Warwick Davis.

Over the past few decades, Willow—which was released 30 years ago today—has become a cult classic that's been passed down from generation to generation. Before you sit down to explore that world again (or for the first time), here are 11 things you might not have know about Willow.

1. IT WAS WRITTEN FOR WARWICK DAVIS.

In an interview with The A.V. Club, Warwick Davis revealed that George Lucas first mentioned the idea for the film to Davis’s mother during the filming of one of the Ewok TV specials in 1983, in which he was reprising his role as Wicket. Lucas had been developing the idea for more than a decade at that point, but working with Davis on Return of the Jedi helped him realize the vision. “George just simply said that he had this idea, and he was writing this story, with me in mind,” Davis said. “He didn't say at that time that it was going to be called Willow. He said, 'It's not for quite yet; it's for a few years ahead, when Warwick is a bit older.'" The role was Davis’s first time not wearing a mask or costume on screen.

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED MUNCHKINS.

Five years after he mentioned the idea, Lucas was ready to make his film with Ron Howard directing and a then-17-year-old Davis as the lead. The original title was presumably inspired by the characters from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the subsequent Victor Fleming film.

3. IT WAS CRITICIZED FOR BEING A COPY OF STAR WARS.

Having thought of the two worlds simultaneously, Lucas may have cribbed some of his own work and other well-known stories a little too much for Willow, and some critics noticed. “Without anything like [Star Wars’s] eager, enthusiastic tone, and indeed with an understandable weariness, Willow recapitulates images from Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, Gulliver's Travels, Mad Max, Peter Pan, Star Wars itself, The Hobbit saga, Japanese monster films of the 1950s, the Bible, and a million fairy tales," wrote Janet Maslin of The New York Times. "One tiny figure combines the best attributes of Tinkerbell, the Good Witch Glinda, and the White Rock Girl.”

Later in her review, Maslin continued to point out the similarities between the two films: “When the sorcerer tells Willow to follow his heart, he becomes the Obi-Wan Kenobi of a film that also has its Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3P0 and Princess Leia stand-ins. Much energy has gone into the creation of their names, some of which (General Kael) have recognizable sources and others (Burglekutt, Cherlindrea, Airk) have only tongue-twisting in mind. Not even the names have anything like Star Wars-level staying power.”

4. IT WAS THE LARGEST CASTING CALL FOR LITTLE PEOPLE IN MOVIE HISTORY.

Lucas has previously cast several little people for roles in Return of the Jedi, and there were more than 100 actors hired to portray Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. But, according to Davis, the casting call for Willow was the largest ever at the time with between 225 and 240 actors hired for the film.

5. THE DEATH DOGS WERE REAL DOGS IN COSTUME.

The big bad in the film, Bavmorda, has demon dogs that terrorize Willow’s village. The dogs are more boar-like than canine, but they were portrayed by Rottweilers. The prop team outfitted the dogs with rubber masks and used animatronic heads for close-up scenes.

6. IT WAS THE FIRST USE OF MORPHING IN A FILM.

While trying to use magic to turn an animal back into a human, Willow fails several times before eventually getting it right, but he does succeed in turning the animal into another animal, which is shown in stages. To achieve this, the visual effects teamed used a technique known as "morphing."

The film’s visual effects supervisor, Dennis Muren of Industrial Light & Magic, explained the technique to The Telegraph:

The way things had been up till that time, if a character had to change at some way from a dog into a person or something like that it could be done with a series of mechanical props. You would have to cut away to a person watching it, and then cut back to another prop which is pushing the ears out, for example, so it didn't look fake ... we shot five different pieces of film, of a goat, an ostrich, a tiger, a tortoise, and a woman and had one actually change into the shape of the other one without having to cut away. The technique is much more realistic because the cuts are done for dramatic reasons, rather than to stop it from looking bad.”

7. THE STORY WAS CONTINUED IN SEVERAL NOVELS.

Willow has yet to receive a sequel, but fans of the story can return to the world in a trilogy of books that author Chris Claremont wrote in collaboration with Lucas between 1995 and 2000. According to the Amazon synopsis of Shadow Moon, the first book picks up 13 years after the events of the film, and baby Elora Danan’s friendless upbringing has turned her into a “spoiled brat who seemingly takes joy in making miserable the lives around her. The fate of the Great Realms rests in her hands, and she couldn't care less. Only a stranger can lead her to her destiny.”

8. THERE IS A MISSING SCENE CONCERNING THE MAGIC ACORNS.

Hardcore fans of the film have noticed that there is a continuity error that involves the Magic Acorns Willow was given by the High Aldwin. During an interview with The Empire Podcast, Davis explained that in a scene near the end of the film, he throws a second acorn and is inexplicably out after having only used two of the three Magic Acorns he had been given earlier in the film. Included in the Blu-ray release is the cut scene, in which Willow uses an acorn (his second) in a boat during a storm and accidentally turns the boat to stone. Davis says that his hair is wet in the next scene that did make it into the original version of the film, but the acorn is never referenced.

9. JOHN CUSACK AUDITIONED FOR THE PART OF MADMARTIGAN.

Val Kilmer in 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Val Kilmer famously played the role of the reluctant hero two years after played Iceman in Top Gun (1986), but he was not the only big name to audition for the role. Davis revealed in a commentary track that he once read with John Cusack, who in 1987 had already starred in Sixteen Candles (1984), Stand by Me (1986), and Hot Pursuit (1987).

10. THERE IS A NOD TO SISKEL AND EBERT.

During a battle scene later in the film, Willow and his compatriots have to fight a two-headed beast outside of the castle. The name of the stop motion beast is the Eborsisk, which is a combination of the names of famed film critics, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.

11. THE BABY NEVER ACTED AGAIN.

A scene from 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

As is the case with most shows and films, the role of the baby Elora was played by twins, in this case Kate and Ruth Greenfield. The IMDb pages for both actresses only has the one credit. In 2007, Davis shared a picture of him posing with a woman named Laura Hopkirk, who said that she played the baby for the scenes shot in New Zealand, but she is not credited online.

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