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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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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
Getty Images

During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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