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11 Pop Culture References Younger Readers Won't Get

If someone is described as meaner than Simon Cowell or a bigger lush than Snooki, you probably understand the reference. But will anyone get those same jokes in 30 years? Take a look at some common pop culture references from years gone by:

1. Mutt and Jeff

Mutt and Jeff were two comic strip characters created by Bud Fisher in 1907. Augustus Mutt was a tall, lanky ne’er-do-well who liked to bet on the ponies, while his pal Othello Jeff was short, rotund and shared Mutt's passion for “get rich quick” schemes. The strip became so popular that “Mutt and Jeff” entered the lexicon to describe any duo consisting of a tall person and a short person.

2. Euell Gibbons

Today we might describe natural food enthusiasts as “crunchy granola types,” but at one time it would have sufficed simply to compare them to Euell Gibbons. The health food fanatic gained fame after appearing in a series of TV commercials for Grape Nuts cereal. Lines like “Have you ever tasted a pine tree? Several parts are edible” made him ready fodder for talk show hosts and comedians in the 1970s.

http://youtu.be/mOx_EOau2oo 

3. Mortimer Snerd

In today’s parlance a clueless doofus is often described as “…and he was all like ‘duh’.” Years ago a typical “D’oh!”-boy was referred to as a regular Mortimer Snerd, referring to a not-so-bright dummy used by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen:

http://youtu.be/xkrzFQc3BgA

4. Rula Lenska

If anyone personified Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame, it was Rula Lenska. American audiences first became acquainted with her in a series of TV commercials for Alberto VO5 hair products. What made poor Rula an eventual punch line was the caption that appeared as she introduced herself – it said simply “famous actress.” Johnny Carson and other personalities were off and running after the first few ads were broadcast, comparing any name in the news to Rula “Who the Heck Is She?” Lenska. The folks at Alberto Culver got the message and changed the caption on future commercials to explain that Rula Lenska was an “English Television and Theater Star”.

http://youtu.be/lqUxUC8L0aU

5. Anita Bryant

As Miss Oklahoma, Anita Bryant finished as second runner-up in the 1959 Miss America pageant. Ten years later she became the spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission and appeared in a series of TV commercials singing the praises of orange juice. Then in 1977 she led a highly publicized campaign to repeal a Dade County, Florida, ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. Her statements equating homosexuals with child molesters resulted in a national backlash that, for many years, made “Anita Bryant” a common insult directed at any person displaying an intolerance for gay people.

http://youtu.be/3ld8DQkC6po

6. Twiggy

Twiggy (born Leslie Hornsby) was just 16 years old when her career as a fashion model was launched. Dubbed “The Face of ‘66,” Twiggy was the darling of Swinging London and Carnaby Street. At 5’7” tall she weighed a mere 90 lbs. and her stick-like figure set a new fashion standard. It also became a common point of reference when describing body types; an overweight person could be tactfully described as “Well, she’s no Twiggy” while a too-thin person would “make Twiggy look fat!” Kids today may recognize her as a former judge on America's Next Top Model.

7. Phyllis Diller

Ever since punk rock and the New Wave fashions of the 1980s, it’s pretty hard to actually look outrageous anymore. But back in the 1960s and 70s, folks tended to dress a tad more conservatively, so comedienne Phyllis Diller was able to elicit laughs just by stepping onstage with her wild fright-wig hair and tacky outfits. Likewise, men used to get lots of mileage out of lines like “She looked just like Raquel Welch last night when I took her home, but then this morning I woke up with Phyllis Diller!”

http://youtu.be/mH66_tFP8VA

8. Archie Bunker

Back before we used euphemistic terms like “red states” and “blue states”, we tended to tread a bit more lightly when it came to calling out someone on their political beliefs. Rather than outright referring to someone as a bigot, it was understood what was meant if you compared them to the central character of TV’s All in the Family. (And doing so thusly somewhat softened the critique, since Archie was considered to be something of a “loveable” bigot.)

http://youtu.be/rStu_cfDx-Y

9. Foster Brooks

Today’s TV alcoholics are different, and not as omnipresent as they once were (see Will and Grace's functional drunk Karen Walker, for example). But once upon a time it was not offensive nor politically incorrect to find humor in the pseudo-drunken antics of Foster Brooks, who based an entire career on the unsteady gait and slurred speech of the stereotypical over-imbiber. During that same era, anyone would catch your drift if you described someone as being “as excited as Foster Brooks during Happy Hour.”

http://youtu.be/xvAIFsIduF4

10. Eddie Haskell

Not everyone remembers Leave It to Beaver from either its original run on TV or its various syndication stints, so there are some folks who can’t appreciate the delicious appropriateness of describing an unctuous slimy wise-guy as an “Eddie Haskell” type. Actor Ken Osmond was pitch-perfect when he delivered lines like: “Wally, if your dumb brother tags along, I'm gonna -- oh, good afternoon, Mrs. Cleaver. I was just telling Wallace how pleasant it would be for Theodore to accompany us to the movies.”

http://youtu.be/TYcqPbpRX9I

11. Wimpy

You may have at one time or another described someone as “wimpy” because they were cowardly, lazy, thrifty, and/or gluttonous. But that description was popularized by a character in the original Popeye comic strip named J. Wellington Wimpy. Wimpy had a weakness for hamburgers (in fact, there is a fast food burger chain in the UK called Wimpy’s) and his famous plea to the grill cook, "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” eventually became a catchphrase for “spot me now, I’ll pay you later."

What are some references you've used that seem to baffle the next generation?

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


Getty Images

By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


Getty Images

Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
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Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

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