In the mid-1950s, Sparkle Moore had a strong voice, killer songs, and a really cool look. She was sometimes called the “female Elvis,” but the Omaha rocker born Barbara Morgan wound up having a wildly different career than the King’s. That’s what makes her such a fascinating character.
Whereas Elvis made gobs of money and stuck around long enough to become a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of fame, Moore released just two 45 RPM singles before settling down to start a family. Neither of her records made the charts, but in a review of the first, 1956’s “Rock-A-Bop,” Billboard wrote, “Gal pulls a female Elvis Presley and belts out a catchy rock and roll ditty with style and drive."
The critic probably didn’t flip the platter to play “Skull and Crossbones,” the far more memorable B side. Addressed to a guy who Sparkle calls “a jinx to my soul,” the jaunty rockabilly jam was a precursor to “Killer” and “Tiger,” the A and B sides of Moore’s second and final single, released in May of 1957.
Written by Sparkle herself, the three songs form a kind of bad-boy trilogy that must have seemed pretty daring at the time. Compare “Skull and Crossbones” to "Will You Willyum,” the signature hit by Moore’s nationally acclaimed contemporary Janis Martin—the most famous “female Elvis”—and Sparkle is practically punk.
She certainly dressed the part. At a time when female singers only wore dresses, Sparkle sported men’s slacks and suit jackets. She was butch on the bottom and bombshell up top, with a platinum blonde pompadour that made her look like Sparkle Plenty, the Dick Tracy character for whom she was named. In a rare 1986 interview with the magazine Kicks, Sparkle remembered how she used to freak people out with her masculine stage wear.
“People would see me when I went to play somewhere, and they’d say, ‘Can’t you wear something more sexy, like a gown?’” Moore said. “And I never would. I always wore a playing suit, and I’d say, ‘This is as sexy as I get.’”
It was plenty sexy—just like her music.
On “Killer,” a showcase for her Elvis-style “hmmm” ad libs and hiccuping delivery, Moore sings, “I was a victim of the killer’s charms / I’m not a victim of the killer’s arms / I took my chance and ignored the alarms.” She tangled with this duck-tailed lothario, gave as good as she got, and lived to tell the tale.
Her performance on “Tiger,” all about a smooth operator who seduces with his record collection, is even stronger. This one ends on a tender note: Just as Moore starts crying about her crush packing up his 45s and going home, her mother reassures her, “Look his way / I think this daddy is a goin' to stay.”
That’s essentially where the story ends. The unreleased ballad “Flowers of My Heart” surfaced years later, but Moore’s discography is basically those four songs, all issued on the Cincinnati indie label Fraternity and subsequently repackaged on various rockabilly compilations.
Moore's career lasted less than two years—just long enough for her to tour with pill-popping rockabilly wildman Gene Vincent; hobnob with celebs like Sammy Davis Jr., who compared her to James Dean; and get booked at the Grand Ole Opry, a gig she had to cancel due to laryngitis. The bio on Sparkle’s official website also claims that she “takes credit for being the first hippie to hit California several years later with a guitar strapped on the side of a Harley,” but since she’s done virtually no press, it’s unknown what adventures she got into in Hollywood. (Interview requests sent through her site's “Contact” form yielded no replies.)
It’s also unclear to what extent Moore chose to walk away from show business to raise a child. For as sexist as the music industry is today, it was even worse in the ‘50s, when female rockers were very much a novelty and women in general were expected to stay home and keep house. It would be great if Moore was totally free to make the decision that was right for her, but the reality was probably more complicated.
Either way, her story didn’t quite end in 1957. In 2010, the same year she was inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Moore returned with Spark-A-Billy, a 22-song collection she wrote and self-recorded. With its hodgepodge of styles and homemade digital production aesthetic, the album is a detour from her old sound. Still, it’s nice to know that Sparkle continues to make music, and on her own terms.
Netflix might know your TV habits better than you do. Recently, the entertainment company's normally tight-lipped number-crunchers looked at user data collected between November 1, 2016 and November 1, 2017 to see which series people were powering through and which ones they were digesting more slowly. By analyzing members’ average daily viewing habits, they were able to determine which programs were more likely to be “binged” (or watched for more than two hours per day) and which were more often “savored” (or watched for less than two hours per day) by viewers.
They found that the highest number of Netflix bingers glutted themselves on the true crime parody American Vandal, followed by the Brazilian sci-fi series 3%, and the drama-mystery 13 Reasons Why. Other shows that had viewers glued to the couch in 2017 included Anne with an E, the Canadian series based on L. M. Montgomery's 1908 novelAnne of Green Gables, and the live-action Archie comics-inspired Riverdale.
In contrast, TV shows that viewers enjoyed more slowly included the Emmy-winning drama The Crown, followed by Big Mouth, Neo Yokio, A Series of Unfortunate Events, GLOW, Friends from College, and Ozark.
There's a dark side to this data, though: While the company isn't around to judge your sweatpants and the chip crumbs stuck to your couch, Netflix is privy to even your most embarrassing viewing habits. The company recently used this info to publicly call out a small group of users who turned their binges into full-fledged benders:
To the 53 people who've watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?
Oh, and if you're the one person in Antarctica binging Shameless, the streaming giant just outed you, too.
Netflix broke down their full findings in the infographic below and, Big Brother vibes aside, the data is pretty fascinating. It even includes survey data on which shows prompted viewers to “Netflix cheat” on their significant others and which shows were enjoyed by the entire family.
We can tell by the way you use your walk that you're a fan of Saturday Night Fever, the 1977 blockbuster that made John Travolta a mega-star and brought disco into the mainstream. (Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion.) To enhance your appreciation of what was the highest-grossing dance movie of all time until Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) and Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike (2012) beat it, here's a groovy list of facts to celebrate the film's 40th birthday. Put on your boogie shoes and read!
1. THERE WAS A PG-RATED VERSION OF IT, TOO.
Saturday Night Fever was an instant hit when it was released in December 1977, quickly becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. What's especially impressive is that it did this despite being rated R and thus (theoretically) inaccessible to teenagers, the very audience that a disco movie would (theoretically) appeal to. And so in March 1979, the film was re-released in a PG version, with all the profanity, sex, and violence either deleted or downplayed. This version took in another $8.9 million (about $30 million at 2016 ticket prices), bringing the film's U.S. total to $94.2 million. Both versions were released on VHS and laserdisc, though the R-rated cut didn't become widely available on home video until the DVD upgrade.
2. IT WAS BASED ON A MAGAZINE ARTICLE THAT TURNED OUT TO BE SEMI-FICTIONAL.
"Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," a detailed look at the new generation of urban teenagers by British journalist Nik Cohn, was published in New York Magazine in June 1976. The central figure in the article was Vincent, "the very best dancer in Bay Ridge," whose name was changed to Tony Manero for the movie. But years later, Cohn confessed: "[Vincent] is completely made-up, a total fabrication." The styles and attitudes Cohn had described were real, but not the main character. Cohn said he'd only recently arrived in Brooklyn, didn't know the scene well, and based Vincent on a Mod he'd known in London in the '60s.
3. THE BEE GEES HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.
Most of the film had already been shot when music producer-turned-movie producer Robert Stigwood commissioned the Bee Gees to write songs for it. The brothers, only modestly successful at that point and hard at work on their next album, didn't know what the movie was about but cranked out a few tunes in a weekend. They also repurposed several songs they'd been working on, including "Stayin' Alive," a demo version of which was prepared in time to be used in filming the opening "strut" sequence. (You'll notice Travolta struts in sync with the music.) So if the movie's signature songs didn't come until later, what were the cast members listening to when they shot the dance scenes? According to Travolta, it was Boz Scaggs and Stevie Wonder.
4. THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM BROKE ALL KINDS OF RECORDS.
With 15 million copies sold in the U.S. alone, Saturday Night Fever was the top-selling soundtrack album of all time before being supplanted by The Bodyguard some 15 years later. It's also the only disco record (so far) to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, and one of only three soundtracks (besides The Bodyguard and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) to win that category. It was the number one album on the Billboard charts for the entire first half of 1978, and stayed on the charts until March 1980, long after the supposed death of disco.
5. THE MOVIE EXTENDED DISCO'S LIFESPAN BY A FEW YEARS.
Disco had been popular enough in the mid-1970s to land multiple disco tunes on the Billboard charts, but by the end of 1977, when Saturday Night Fever came out, the backlash had started and the trend was on its way out. But thanks to the movie (and its soundtrack), not only did disco not die out, it achieved more widespread, mainstream, middle-America success than it ever had before.
6. IT HAS SOME ROCKY CONNECTIONS.
First connection: It was supposed to be directed by John G. Avildsen, whose previous film was Rocky. Ultimately, that didn’t work out and Avildsen was replaced with John Badham a few weeks before shooting began. Second connection: Tony has a Rocky poster on his bedroom wall. Third connection: Saturday Night Fever’s 1983 sequel, Staying Alive, was directed by ... Sylvester Stallone.
7. TRAVOLTA WAS ALREADY SO FAMOUS THAT MAKING THE MOVIE WAS A HASSLE.
Saturday Night Fever made Travolta a movie star, but he was already a teen heartthrob because of the popular sitcomWelcome Back, Kotter, where he played a delinquent teenager with the hilarious and timeless catchphrase "Up your nose with a rubber hose." Still, nobody was prepared for how Travolta's fame would affect the movie, which was to be shot on the streets of Brooklyn. As soon as the neighborhood found out Travolta was there, the sidewalks were swarmed by thousands of onlookers, many of them squealing teenage girls. (Badham said there were also a lot of teenage boys holding signs expressing their hatred for Travolta for being more desirable than themselves.)
Co-star Donna Pescow said, "The fans—oh, my God, they were all over him. It was scary to watch." Badham said, "By noon of the first day, we had to shut down and go home." Since it was nearly impossible to keep the crowds away (or quiet), Badham and the crew resorted to filming in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn.
8. THE WHITE CASTLE EMPLOYEES WEREN'T ACTING WHEN THEY LOOKED SHOCKED.
In the brief scene where Tony, his boys, and Stephanie are loudly eating at White Castle, those were the real burger-flippers, not actors. Badham told them to just go about their business. He also told his actors to cut loose and surprise the White Castlers in whatever way they saw fit. The shot that's in the movie appears to be a reaction to Joey standing on the table and barking, but Badham said it was actually in response to something else: "Double J (actor Paul Pape) pulling his pants down and mooning the entire staff of the White Castle."
9. THE FEMALE LEAD GOT THE PART THANKS TO A SERENDIPITOUS CAB RIDE.
Casting the role of Tony's dance partner, Stephanie, proved difficult. Hundreds of women auditioned, but nobody seemed right. Meanwhile, 32-year-old Karen Lynn Gorney was looking for her big break into show business. As fate would have it, she shared a cab with a stranger who turned out to be producer Robert Stigwood's nephew. He mentioned that his uncle was working on a movie, and Gorney replied, "Oh, am I in it?"— her standard joke whenever she heard about a film being made. The nephew wound up submitting Gorney as a candidate, and the rest is history.
10. TRAVOLTA’S GIRLFRIEND DIED DURING FILMING.
Travolta met Diana Hyland on the set of the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, in which she played his mother. (She was 18 years older than him.) They had been dating for six months when Hyland succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 41, after filming just four episodes of her new gig on Eight Is Enough. Travolta was able to leave Saturday Night Fever and fly to L.A. in time to be with her before she died, then had to return to work.
11. THE COMPOSER HAD TO SCRAMBLE TO REPLACE A NIXED SONG.
For Tony and Stephanie's rehearsal scene about 30 minutes into the movie, Badham had used the song "Lowdown" by Boz Scaggs, going so far as to shoot the scene, including the dialogue, with the song actually playing in the background. (That's usually a no-no, for exactly the reasons you're about to read about.) According to Badham, no sooner had they wrapped the scene than Scaggs' people reached out to say they couldn't use the song after all, as Scaggs was thinking of pursuing a disco project of his own. Badham now had to have the actors re-dub the dialogue (since the version he'd recorded was tainted by "Lowdown"); what's more, he had to find a new song that would fit the choreography and tempo of the dancing. Composer David Shire rose to the occasion, writing a piece of instrumental music that met the specifications, and that’s what we hear in the movie.
12. THEY MADE UP A DANCE BECAUSE THE CHOREOGRAPHER DIDN'T SHOW UP.
In another rehearsal scene 55 minutes into the movie, Tony and Stephanie do the "tango hustle," which looks like a combination of both of those dances. This was something Travolta and Gorney invented as a matter of necessity: the film's choreographer didn't realize he was supposed to be on the set that day, and the actors didn't have any steps prepared. The tango hustle, alas, never quite caught on.
13. TONY’S ICONIC WHITE SUIT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BLACK.
Travolta and Badham both assumed Tony's disco outfit would be black, as men's suits tended to be at the time. Costume designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein convinced them it should be white, partly to symbolize the character's journey to enlightenment but also for practical reasons: a dark suit doesn't photograph very well in a dark discotheque.
14. TONY’S SUIT WAS LATER SOLD FOR $2000—THEN FOR $145,500.
Von Brandenstein took Travolta to a cheap men's clothing store in Brooklyn (swamped by teenage fans, of course) and bought the suit off the rack—three identical suits, actually, so they wouldn't have to stop filming when one became soaked with Travolta's sweat. Two of the suits disappeared after the movie was finished; the remaining one, inscribed by Travolta, was bought at a charity auction in 1979 by film critic Gene Siskel, who cited Saturday Night Fever as one of his favorite movies. He paid about $2000 for it. In 1995, he sold it for $145,500 to an anonymous bidder through Christie's auction house.
In 2012, after a lengthy search, curators at London's Victoria and Albert Museum found the owner (who still preferred to remain anonymous) and persuaded him to lend it for an exhibit of Hollywood costumes. It is now presumably back in that man's care, whoever he may be. (P.S. Badham says on the 2002 DVD commentary that the suit is on display at the Smithsonian, a tidbit repeated by NPR in 2006 and Vanity Fairin 2007. But they must be mistaken. The suit’s sale in 1995 and rediscovery for the 2012 museum exhibit are verified facts; the suit isn't in the Smithsonian's online catalogue; and finally, a 2007 Washington Post story about the Smithsonian lists the suit as one of the items the museum director wanted to get.)
Additional sources: John Badham DVD commentary DVD featurettes