11 Celebrities Posing with mental_floss

Dateline: Novi, Michigan – Motor City Comic Con 2012. Your intrepid reporter and her ever-patient husband/photographer brave the hordes of Darth Vaders, Dudley Do-Rights, and Daryl Dixons to bring you 11 celebrities posing with mental_floss:

1. Sean Patrick Flanery

With a name like Sean Patrick Flanery, one would presume that that Irish brogue used by The Boondock Saints' Connor McManus came naturally. But one would be wrong. The actor grew up in Houston, Texas, and it proved as tough for Flanery to adopt a Celtic lilt as it did for him to overcome his Texas twang. Flanery’s tough guy persona is bona fide; he has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as well as one in karate. As you can see here, he even took an attack pose when we handed him an issue of mental_floss.Kind of hard to picture him as the sensitive (and hairless) Jeremy Reed in the film Powder, no? Sean loves to hear from fans, so check out his website at www.seanflanery.com or tweet him (@seanflanery).

2. Loni Anderson

When Loni was born in 1946, her father wanted to christen her with the Hawaiian-sounding name Leiloni. Further consideration made him realize that a name pronounced "Lay Loni" might be unsuitable later in life, so he and her mother shortened it to Loni. Anderson first gained fame as the sexy but smart receptionist Jennifer Marlowe on WKRP in Cincinnati. She also starred in the made-for-TV movie ratings-grabber The Jayne Mansfield Story. In 1984, she co-starred with Lynda Carter as a pair (no pun intended) of private investigators in the TV series Partners in Crime. Anderson’s résumé  is filled with later TV and movie appearances, but for some reason, the mention of Loni Anderson and Lynda Carter together caused my photographer (my husband, Sandy) to twitch uncontrollably and loll his tongue out of his mouth à la Homer Simpson. I had to cut short our interview for a quick trip to the hydration booth.

3. Bill Mumy (and friend)

By the time seven-year-old “Billy” Mumy played young Anthony Fremont - who sent mean people to the corn field - on the “It’s a Good Life” episode of the original Twilight Zone, he already had some two dozen TV appearances under his tiny belt. Of course, Mumy went on to appear as a regular on Lost in Space and Babylon 5, and had roles in many films, but he’s also kept busy all these years as a musician, writer, producer, and voiceover artist. He’s one-half of novelty duo Barnes & Barnes (remember “Fish Heads”?) but has also written several mainstream musical scores for dozens of TV shows, from the soap Santa Barbara to several Animal Planet series. Find out more about the Marvel Comics he’s written, his current band The Jenerators, his twice-weekly Real Good Radio Hour, and much more at www.billmumy.com

4. Valerie Perrine

Perrine earned a special place in television history by being the first female to appear nude on prime-time network TV. True, the network was PBS, and many affiliates refused to air the 1973 playlet Steambath, which also starred Bill Bixby and Herb Edelman. One year later, Valerie co-starred with Dustin Hoffman in the Oscar-winning Lenny, a biopic about controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. At the other end of the spectrum, Perrine was nominated for a Razzie Award in the ill-fated disco musical Can’t Stop the Music, which has since become a Xanadu-esque cult favorite. In person, it’s clear that Valerie Perrine and Dawn Wells have been sharing anti-aging tips. She's as lovely as ever, and it was truly a pleasure to meet her.  You can see her entire TV/filmography, her Playboy cover, and more at www.valerieperrine.com

5. Butch Patrick

Butch Patrick is bemused by reviews of the recent Dark Shadows feature-film remake that liken Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Barnabus Collins to that of the original Eddie Munster. Because, as any The Munsters fan knows, Eddie was a werewolf; Collins is a vampire. Nevertheless, it’s a tribute to Patrick's characterization that little Edward Wolfgang Munster is still vividly remembered, even 46 years after the show ceased production. Patrick’s website www.munsters.com is the official source of Munsters behind-the-scene stories, memorabilia, and other titillating tidbits about TV’s First Family of Fright.

6. Christopher Knight

As middle brother Peter on The Brady Bunch, Christopher Knight generated more fan mail than even hunky older brother Barry Williams. To his credit, Knight found a way to combine his innate charisma with his keen interest in science and mechanics. Since 1988, he's worked with several hi-tech companies as a software engineer and account manager, racking up his share of multi-million dollar accounts along the way. He has dabbled in the occasional reality television series, but not enough to interest him in maintaining a personal website. He humbly states that he’s “not really into” promoting himself, but after talking to him for just 10 minutes, it's easy to see why he’s tops as a sales professional – we’d certainly buy a used car from him!

7. Dawn Wells

The lovely former Miss Nevada could win a Nobel prize tomorrow, and without a doubt, the newspaper headlines would say: "Mary Ann wins Nobel." But Dawn Wells is fine being identified with her Gilligan’s Island character. In fact, she embraces it, which is probably why she looks more beautiful at 74 than most women 20 years her junior. While dabbling in regional theater over the years, Wells has also undertaken a number of charitable pursuits, including the Terry Lee Wells Foundation and Discovery Museum that honors her late cousin (www.nvdm.org). Long after Gilligan's Island was off the air, Dawn didn't hesitate to lend a hand when aging castmate Natalie Schafer (Mrs. Howell) needed care. Her efforts even inspired her to design a clothing line for seniors that was just as functional - but far more attractive - than the traditional hospital gown.

A personal note: at the time we chatted with Dawn, her booth had the longest line of any celebrity at the convention, and a number of those waiting were in wheelchairs and could not speak other than guttural utterances in either the affirmative or negative. Each one of those fans, though, had seen enough Gilligan’s Island episodes to know what they liked and picked out a specific 8 x 10 photo from the available choices. Dawn Wells not only took the time to personally autograph the pictures, but also came out from behind her table to speak with all of them and give them a smile and a hug. Visit her official site at www.dawn-wells.com

8. Deep Roy

“Deep Roy” may sound like a deliberate attempt at a catchy stage moniker, but it’s actually just a variation on the Kenyan-born Indian actor's real name: Gurdeep Roy. Acting opportunities are often limited for Little People, but Deep Roy has been working consistently since 1976, when he made his big screen debut in The Pink Panther Strikes Again. You may remember him from Big Fish, and more recently he played all the Oompa-Loompas in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Deep's complete filmography is far too exhaustive to mention here, so please take a moment to check out his official website at www.deeproyinc.com

9. Erin Gray

In 1971, an advertising executive at New York’s McCann-Erickson Agency came up with a tag line to promote a pricey line of L’Oreal hair dye: “Because I’m worth it.” The woman chosen to first utter that famous line on a TV commercial was a pretty, up-and-coming model named Erin Gray. Hollywood beckoned, and Gray enthralled millions of viewers with her portrayal of Colonel Wilma, the beauty with brains on TV’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. She went on to portray the beautiful-yet-wholesome girlfriend-turned-wife of the father on Silver Spoons, but on the set, her young stepson on the show had decidedly unwholesome feelings for her. Rick Schroder confessed in a 2011 interview that, as a typical teenage boy, he found it "cruel" that Erin liked to perform yoga stretches during filming breaks! Erin has been working steadily in TV, theater, and films over the years – you can find detailed information at www.eringray.com

10. Peter Tork

Just like the false story that Charles Manson auditioned to become a member of The Monkees, it was untrue that none of the four chosen men had musical experience. Both Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork had worked as professional musicians prior to landing roles on the TV series. No less a master than Jimi Hendrix - who opened for The Monkees on a U.S. tour - proclaimed that Peter Tork was “the most talented Monkee” after jamming with him on several occasions. Adept at many musical instruments, including guitar, bass, keyboard, banjo, and french horn, Tork earned a living playing backup for John Phillips, Steven Stills, Van Dyke Parks, and Arthur Lee at shows in New York’s Greenwich Village. Peter has continued to dabble in acting over the years, but his true love is music, specifically the blues. Since the 1990s, his band Shoe Suede Blues has provided him with a creative outlet. Find out more about Peter’s past and present at www.petertork.com

11. Yvonne Craig

Instead of allowing us kids to watch Batman on the color, living-room TV, dad banished us to the tiny, old black-and-white set in the basement. That changed with the show's third season, when Yvonne Craig joined the cast as Batgirl. Go figure, there was something about her figure-hugging costume and high kicks (delivered with stiletto boots) that seemed to appeal to him. As we learned during our time with her, Yvonne started out as a ballerina, which confirms my dad’s oft-mentioned remark, with tongue lolling out à la Sandy above, that “with legs like that, she must be a dancer!” Craig still draws attention with her beauty and her acting ability, and if you want to catch up with her, or just gawk at photos of her in that sparkly catsuit, head over to www.yvonnecraig.com

Follow-Up:

All of the above celebrities were kind enough to chat with us and pose with a magazine, and almost every one of them flipped through the issue and asked questions. (We left the copies with them, of course.) A few of them - we won't mention names - took the time to reach underneath the table and pull out reading glasses to peruse it closely. A couple started peppering us with trivia questions to challenge us. Both Peter Tork and Bill Mumy’s assistants asked us for an extra copy because “they’d never get to see it” nodding toward said celebs who actually sat down and started seriously reading, temporarily ignoring the fans in line. We ask you to not only share your memories of these celebs (Childhood crush? He/she scared you on a TV show? etc.) but also to take a moment to click on their websites and tell ‘em that you appreciate their work (and that mental_floss sent you!).

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ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy
5 Fascinating Facts About Koko the Gorilla
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy

After 46 years of learning, making new friends, and challenging ideas about language, Koko the gorilla died in her sleep at her home at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California on June 21, 2018. Koko first gained recognition in the late 1970s for her ability to use sign language, but it was her friendly personality that made her a beloved icon. Here are five facts you should know about the history-making ape.

1. SHE KNEW OVER 1000 SIGNS.

Francine "Penny" Patterson, then a graduate student at Stanford University, was looking for an animal subject for her inter-species animal communication experiment in the early 1970s when she found a baby gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo. Originally named Hanabiko (Japanese for "fireworks child," a reference to her Fourth of July birthdate), Koko took to signing quickly. Some of the first words Koko learned in "Gorilla Sign Language," Patterson's modified version of American Sign Language, were "food," "drink," and "more." She followed a similar trajectory as a human toddler, learning the bulk of her words between ages 2.5 and 4.5. Eventually Koko would come to know over 1000 signs and understand about 2000 words spoken to her in English. Though she never got a grasp on grammar or syntax, she was able to express complex ideas, like sadness when watching a sad movie and her desire to have a baby.

2. SHE CHANGED WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT LANGUAGE.

Not only did Koko use language to communicate—she also used it in a way that was once only thought possible in humans. Her caretakers have reported her signing about objects that weren't in the room, recalling memories, and even commenting on language itself. Her vocabulary was on par with that of a 3-year-old child.

3. SHE WASN'T THE ONLY APE WHO SIGNED.

Koko was the most famous great ape who knew sign language, but she wasn't alone. Michael, a male gorilla who lived with Koko at the Gorilla Foundation from 1976 until his death in 2000, learned over 500 signs with help from Koko and Patterson. He was even able to express the memory of his mother being killed by poachers when he was a baby. Other non-human primates have also shown they're capable of learning sign language, like Washoe the chimpanzee and Chantek the orangutan.

4. SHE HAD FAMOUS FRIENDS.

Koko received many visitors during her lifetime, including some celebrities. When Robin Williams came to her home in Woodside, California in 2001, the two bonded right away, with Williams tickling the gorilla and Koko trying on his glasses. But perhaps her most famous celebrity encounter came when Mr. Rogers paid her a visit in 1999. She immediately recognized him as the star of one of her favorite shows, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and greeted him by helping him take off his shoes like he did at the start of every episode.

5. SHE WAS A LOVING CAT MOM.

Koko was never able to have offspring of her own, but she did adopt several cats. After asking for a kitten, she was allowed to pick one from a litter for her birthday in 1985. She named the gray-and-white cat "All Ball" and handled it gently as if it were her real baby, even trying to nurse it. She had recently received two new kittens for her 44th birthday named Ms. Gray and Ms. Black.

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NBC Universal
12 Wild Facts About The Jerry Springer Show
NBC Universal
NBC Universal

Trash TV will never be the same: NBC Universal just announced that after more than a quarter-century on the air, The Jerry Springer Show has been canceled. Springer, the former mayor of Cincinnati, has taped more than 4000 episodes over the course of 27 seasons, and featured more than 35,000 guests. Because the format allowed for crass topics and guests who weren’t afraid to throw chairs at each other, in the late 1990s the show’s ratings topped Oprah Winfrey’s. Over the years, guests have accused the producers of staging and encouraging the fights for ratings. Still, it’s been popular enough to remain on the air since September 30, 1991. Here are 12 final thoughts about the controversial talk show.

1. THE FIRST SEASON TAPED IN CINCINNATI.

Before he stepped in front of the cameras, Springer’s main gig was in politics. He (unsuccessfully) ran for Congress in 1970, but was elected to Cincinnati’s city council a year later. In 1977, he served as the city’s mayor for one year and made a run for governor in 1982, but was derailed by a sex scandal.

In September 1991, Cincinnati NBC affiliate WLWT needed to replace The Phil Donahue Show, so they tapped Springer to host his own politically-focused daytime talk show, The Jerry Springer Show. At the same time, he was also appearing as a nighttime co-anchor on WLWT. In 1992, Springer moved The Jerry Springer Show to Chicago; he flew back and forth between Cincy and Chicago every day so that he could continue hosting his nightly broadcast. But in 1993 he resigned from Channel 5, after the ratings slid

2. TWO ANCHORS QUIT BECAUSE SPRINGER APPEARED ON THEIR NEWS SHOW.

In 1997, Springer began a temporary job on Chicago’s WMAQ as a news commentator. Anchor Carol Marin, who had worked at the station for 19 years, refused to share airtime with Springer and quit the show. “I am sorry she found it necessary this week to use me as the stepping stone to martyrdom,” Springer said at the time. In solidarity with Marin’s decision, co-anchor Ron Magers departed a few weeks later. Dozens of people from religious and women’s organizations protested the station’s nighttime addition as well.

The heat ended up being too much for the station; in May 1998, it dropped the Springer Show, though a Fox affiliate quickly snatched it up. To cover costs, they had to air the show not once, but twice a day.

3. SECURITY DIRECTOR STEVE WILKOS THOUGHT HIS JOB WAS A “ONE-TIME GIG.”

The show hired Steve Wilkos, a former Chicago cop and marine, for a 1994 KKK-themed episode. “The pay was good and I figured it was a one-time gig,” Wilkos told Mediaweek. “But I ended up doing another show, and another, and before I knew it, I was hired as the full-time director of security. So, I left my career as a cop to give this a shot.”

Eventually, Wilkos gave advice on a “Steve to the Rescue” segment, and started subbing for Springer when the host went off to appear on Dancing with the Stars. That led to Wilkos getting his own show, The Steve Wilkos Show, in 2007.

4. THE SHOW WAS TARGETED BY THE GOVERNMENT.

In 1998, at the peak of the show’s popularity, education secretary William Bennett and Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman spoke at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention and implored broadcasters to remove the program from their schedules. “Drop it, or if you won’t drop it, urge the producers to clean up the show,” Lieberman pleaded.

“We’re here for three reasons,” Bennett added. “The first is to remind broadcasters of the high standards they once had; the second is to remind people in the business how low much of it has sunk, and also to remind people of the enormous influence and responsibility they wield.”

“The kind of perversity and violence on that show every day has to have a bad effect on the people and children who watch it,” Lieberman said. “Springer is not a network show. You make the decision to carry it. It’s not worth it … If you can’t do that, at least put it on late at night so that fewer kids are watching.”

5. SPRINGER STARRED IN HIS OWN MOVIE.

At the apex of his popularity, Springer played a talk show host named Jerry Farrelly in the 1998 box office and critical bomb Ringmaster. The movie, like Springer's talk show, involved love triangles and cheating. It did win Springer an award, though: a Razzie for Worst New Star.

6. RELIGIOUS LEADERS FORCED THE SHOW TO TONE DOWN ITS VIOLENCE.

Under pressure from Chicago religious leaders, executives from The Jerry Springer Show promised to reduce the violence, though the fights are what helped it topple Oprah in the daytime talk show ratings. “We don’t want to take away from the show—we just think that Jerry will be able to do this show a different way,” Greg Meidel, the chief executive of then-distributor Studio USA, told the Los Angeles Times in 1998. “It will still be confrontational, it will still be unpredictable, you will still sense the conflict. You will still see yelling and screaming. But we’re not going to show anyone getting hit.”

A spokeswoman for the religious Community Renewal Society felt it was a “partial victory,” but she also called for the cursing and poor treatment of women to be toned down.

7. AUSTIN POWERS PARODIED SPRINGER.

In the opening of 1999’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Scott Evil (Seth Green) appears on The Jerry Springer Show—Springer cameos as himself—and confronts his father, Dr. Evil, who plots to take over the world. In typical Springer Show fashion, a fight breaks out and a lot of cursing spews from the guests’ mouths.

8. ONE FEATURED LOVE TRIANGLE ENDED IN A MURDER.

In 2000, during an episode called “Secret Mistresses Confronted,” a husband, his new wife, and his ex-wife appeared on the show and got into a tiff. The newlyweds accused the ex, Nancy Campbell-Panitz, of stalking them. But hours after the episode aired, a friend of Campbell-Panitz discovered her dead, beaten body inside her home. Eventually, Campbell-Panitz's ex-husband and his new wife turned themselves in. In 2002 the case went to trial and the court found the ex-husband, Ralf Panitz, guilty of second-degree murder. He is currently serving a life sentence in prison.

9. SPRINGER ELIMINATED THE WORD “TRANNY.”

The Jerry Springer Show was one of the first talk shows to focus on transgender issues, but he regularly referred to his guests as “trannies,” like in a 2014 episode named “Trannies Twerk it Out.” The LGBT community felt it was time to phase out that word, and Springer immediately obliged. “I didn’t know it was offensive to them and I’m not interested in offending people, so obviously I’ll just change the term,” he told The Huffington Post. “There’s no argument there.”

10. THE SHOW PRODUCED A CONTROVERSIAL EPISODE ON BESTIALITY.

A 1998 episode entitled “I Married a Horse” featured a British man who married his horse. Cameras went overseas to film the man and his “wife.” A disclaimer opened the segment: “Sexual contact with animals is illegal in this country and most of the Western world. This is the first film to examine a subject which many find deeply disturbing.” Some stations found the episode so disturbing that they refused to air it, opting instead to broadcast a rerun of “Past Guests Do Battle.”

11. IT WAS TURNED INTO AN OPERA (WHICH ALSO CREATED CONTROVERSY).

A musical version of the show, Jerry Springer: The Opera, debuted in London in April of 2003 and toured the UK in 2006. The production drew ire from the Christian community, because it included actors playing God, Satan, and Jesus, and the actors uttered about 8000 obscenities. When the BBC decided to air a performance in 2005, 45,000 angry viewers contacted the station about the show’s content. But, that didn’t prevent the opera from expanding to the U.S. In 2007, Las Vegas became the first American city to welcome the show. In 2008, Harvey Keitel played Springer in a two-day New York City performance.

12. SPRINGER MOVED THE SHOW TO STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT—AND RESIDENTS WEREN'T HAPPY.

In 2009, after spending 17 years in Chicago, The Jerry Springer Show moved to the east coast and besieged the idyllic town of Stamford, because Connecticut offered tax breaks and built the Stamford Media Center to create a local entertainment industry. Springer’s arrival was met with protests from the community.

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