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The Time Andy Kaufman Wrestled a Bunch of Women

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On October 20, 1979, Andy Kaufman made his ninth appearance on Saturday Night Live. Previous audiences had laughed at his oddball routines that tread the line between comedy and performance art. Once, he led a spirited sing-a-long to “Old MacDonald Had A Farm.” Another time, he came out in a tux and read The Great Gatsby aloud in a phony English accent. His best-known spots featured the nervous Foreign Man, who did bad celebrity imitations, said, “Tank you veddy much,” then finished with a dead-on Elvis Presley tribute. Of course, Foreign Man was also the inspiration for Kaufman’s character Latka on the sitcom Taxi.

But on this night, Kaufman wanted to do something riskier.

He posed a challenge, offering $500 to any woman who could beat him in a three-minute wrestling match. Dressed in full-length white thermal underwear, baggy black swim trunks, black socks and black shoes, Kaufman strutted around, claiming he was the World Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion. He goaded the females in the audience, poking fun at women’s lib, and saying that women were “meant to be in the kitchen” while “washing the potatoes, scrubbing the carrots, raising the babies.”

Kaufman got his challenger, who he proceeded to pin to the mat. It was a weird spectacle, unlike anything ever seen on network TV before.

What the audience didn’t know was that Kaufman had been wrestling women across the country for months, as part of his touring act. His friend and co-conspirator Bob Zmuda, dressed as a referee, would set up the challenge. Any woman that could pin Andy Kaufman walked away with the cash. Fifteen or twenty ladies would volunteer. Then, to prove that they weren’t using a shill, Kaufman would let the audience vote for the best candidate.

“I wanted to recapture the old days of the carnivals,” Kaufman said. “Wrestlers used to go from town to town with carnivals, and offer $500 to any man who could last in the ring with them for three minutes. So I figured if I could offer a prize and make it like a contest, it could be very exciting. But I couldn’t very well challenge men in the audience, because I’d get beaten right away. Most men are bigger than me and stronger than me. So I figured if I challenge women, they’d have a good chance to beat me.”

It should be remembered that in the 1970s, wrestling was not the polished, theatrical television event that it later became, but a low-budget, sleazy affair. And that’s what Kaufman loved about it. As a kid, his hero had been wrestler “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. “I remember the frenzy he brought to the crowd,” Kaufman said. “He was incredible. So what I wanted to do was recreate that in my act. I would have to say all these nasty things about women, just to get them to come up on stage, and to define for the audience that they should be booing me.”

They booed all right. And they sent hate mail. Despite Kaufman’s over-the-top parody of a trash-talking, chauvinistic jerk, a lot of people believed the whole thing was real. Just like they believed wrestling was real.

http://youtu.be/RY3oRVzjSIg

For Kaufman, there was a fringe benefit to the wrestling charade. He was painfully shy, and always had trouble meeting women. But rolling around on a mat for a few minutes with the opposite sex proved to be a very effective way to get dates. According to Bob Zmuda, Kaufman ended up sleeping with some of his wrestling opponents.

From 1979-1983, Kaufman wrestled over 400 women (his most publicized match was against Playboy playmate Susan Smith in 1981). He retired undefeated. The next phase of his wrestling career was his feud with pro wrestler Jerry Lawler, as documented in the classic documentary I’m From Hollywood. In 1982, in a live call-in poll, Kaufman was banned from Saturday Night Live for not being funny enough (the stunt was his idea).

Kaufman died of cancer in 1984. He was 35.

In 2009, an entertaining book called Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts! collected the best of the letters and photos that he received during his wrestling days.

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The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox
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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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