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Nixon as Skeletor? 7 Great Actors in Movies Promoting Toys

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Every actor may dream of winning an Oscar, but it's safe to say not quite as many aspire to someday portray an action figure or video game character on the silver screen. This doesn't mean that only hacks end up playing He-Man, though. Quite a few great actors have lent their faces or voices to these feature-length commercials. Have a look at a few of our favorite thespians' forays into the toy aisle:

1. Frank Langella as Skeletor

Stage and screen actor Frank Langella has enjoyed a sterling career that has included two Tony nominations and worldwide acclaim for his portrayal of Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon. He's also played Skeletor! When the popular Masters of the Universe toy line became a feature film in 1987, Langella lined up as He-Man's nemesis.

Langella later told reporters that Skeletor was one of his favorite parts ever and explained that he accepted the role because his young son was obsessed with He-Man at the time. Have a look at Langella's performance, and be sure to enjoy the special effects. I think you'll agree the snappy script is every bit as good as the one for Frost/Nixon.

2. Orson Welles in The Transformers: The Movie

Talk about a sour note to go out on.

Orson Welles' last theatrical role was voicing the antagonistic planet-eating robot Unicron in 1986's The Transformers: The Movie. Welles was so sick during the recording sessions that the film's sound crew actually had to run the illustrious actor's voice through a synthesizer to get a usable sound out of it.

For his part, Welles seemed to realize the role was absurd. He described it to his biographer as, "I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I'm destroyed. My plan to destroy Whoever-it-is is thwarted and I tear myself apart on the screen." Here's a look at Welles' final theatrical line:

3. Mickey Rooney in Care Bears

Mickey Rooney is one of the select group of actors who have won Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes, but that doesn't mean he was above shilling for the Care Bears. When the world's children demanded an animated Care Bears feature in 1985, who better to play the kindly narrator/orphanage proprietor than the former vaudeville star? Check him out here:

4. Burgess Meredith in G.I. Joe: The Movie

Meredith was beloved for his performances in Rocky as well as strong showings in a number of Otto Preminger movies. Even his performance as the Penguin in the Batman TV series was nearly perfect in its campy way. His voice work in 1987's G.I. Joe: The Movie? Not so much. Not even Burgess' enthusiastic readings could save the character Golobulus, who could best be described as "farfetched even by G.I. Joe standards." If you ever wanted to hear Meredith say, "fungusoid," here's your chance! (See a clip here.)

5. Dennis Hopper as King Bowser Koopa

Just because Dennis Hopper is known for his work in movies like Easy Rider, Blue Velvet, and Hoosiers doesn't mean that he takes himself too seriously. He's not afraid to tackle a meatier role like, say, a germophobic T-Rex descendant in a movie adaptation of a video game. In 1993, Hopper brought his considerable chops to the role of King Bowser Koopa in the big-screen version of the Super Mario Bros. franchise. Take a look for yourself; this scenery chewing makes Hopper's work in Waterworld feel like his turn in Apocalypse Now.

6. Jon Voight in Bratz

Voight's sterling resume speaks for itself: Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance, and a Best Actor Oscar for Coming Home. Something's telling me he doesn't get quite as excited when he talks about his role as Principal Dimly in 2007's Bratz. Yes, the Midnight Cowboy decided to try his hand at promoting dolls with massive noggins. A clip of Voight actually acting in the movie proved hard to come by, but skip to the 1:30 mark to hear his take on the film:

7. Drew Barrymore in Star Fairies

It wasn't all E.T. and partying for a young Drew Barrymore. She may not be in the same class as Frank Langella or Mickey Rooney, but she did voice a little girl in an animated movie to support Tonka's Star Fairies toy line in 1985. If you want to hear Barrymore, skip to about 1:20:

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

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Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually break away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write the “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ Could Have Been a Meat Loaf Song
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Imagine a world in which Bonnie Tyler was not the star performer on the Royal Caribbean Total Eclipse Cruise. Imagine if, instead, as the moon crossed in front of the sun in the path of totality on August 21, 2017, the performer belting out the 1983 hit for cruise ship stargazers was Meat Loaf?

It could have been. Because yes, as Atlas Obscura informs us, the song was originally written for the bestselling rocker (and actor) of Bat Out of Hell fame, not the husky-voiced Welsh singer. Meat Loaf had worked on his 1977 record Bat Out of Hell with Jim Steinman, the composer and producer who would go on to work with the likes of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand (oddly enough, he also composed Hulk Hogan’s theme song on an album released by the WWE). “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was meant for Meat Loaf’s follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell.

But Meat Loaf’s fruitful collaboration with Steinman was about to end. In the wake of his bestselling record, the artist was going through a rough patch, mentally, financially, and in terms of his singing ability. And the composer wasn’t about to stick around. As Steinman would tell CD Review magazine in 1989 (an article he has since posted on his personal website), "Basically I only stopped working with him because he lost his voice as far as I was concerned. It was his voice I was friends with really.” Harsh, Jim, harsh.

Steinman began working with Bonnie Tyler in 1982, and in 1983, she released her fifth album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It sold 6 million copies.

Tyler and Steinman both dispute that the song was written specifically for Meat Loaf. “Meat Loaf was apparently very annoyed that Jim gave that to me,” she told The Irish Times in 2014. “But Jim said he didn’t write it for Meat Loaf, that he only finished it after meeting me.”

There isn’t a whole lot of bad blood between the two singers, though. In 1989, they released a joint compilation album: Heaven and Hell.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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