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10 Sharp Facts About True Blood

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Set in fictional Bon Temps, Louisiana, Alan Ball's True Blood—which ran on HBO from 2008 to 2014—deals with vampires trying to acclimate to living among humans, often with violent results. The Japanese invent Tru Blood, a synthetic blood beverage meant to satiate vampires so they won’t seek out real blood. (That doesn’t work out so well.)

Ball, creator of Six Feet Under, based the show on Charlaine Harris’s The Southern Vampire Mysteries books. Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) is part fairy and part telepathic human, who falls in love with a 173-year-old vampire, Bill (Stephen Moyer). (In 2010, Moyer and Paquin married.) Sookie's also drawn to Eric (Emmy Award-winner Alexander Skarsgård) and shape-shifting werewolf Alcide (Joe Manganiello).

Also along for the ride to battle vampires and other fantastical creatures are Sookie’s dimwitted brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten); Sookie’s boss, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell); and her friends Tara (Rutina Wesley) and Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis, who sadly passed away in July). 

The show debuted on September 7, 2008 and became a sensation—so much so that in 2010, Paquin, Moyer, and Skarsgård posed naked, covered in blood, on the cover of Rolling Stone. After 80 episodes, the show concluded on August 24, 2014. True Blood blended sex, violence, and humor in a way no HBO show had done before—thus becoming the network’s highest rated show since The Sopranos. Here are 10 things you might not have known about True Blood.

1. A TRIP TO THE DENTIST INSPIRED THE SHOW.

Creator Alan Ball had to get a root canal and showed up 30 minutes early to his appointment. With time to kill, he visited a Barnes and Noble across the street and saw Charlaine Harris’s book Dead Until Dark, the first in a series of 13 novels. “The tagline is, ‘Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn’t such a bright idea,’ which made me laugh,” Ball told Emmy TV Legends. “I’m from the South, Charlaine’s from the South. It had a very authentic Southern feel to it. It’s this great mix of drama and comedy and horror and sex and violence and social commentary. She walked this line that was so incredibly entertaining that I couldn’t put the book down.” He read three more of her books in the series and thought it’d make a good TV show. At the time the book was under option to be made into a film, but when the option expired, Ball jumped at the chance. He filmed a pilot and two more episodes, and HBO green-lit the series.

2. ANNA PAQUIN “AGGRESSIVELY” PURSUED THE ROLE OF SOOKIE.

Anna Paquin in 'True Blood'
HBO

Ball hadn’t considered the naturally brunette actress for the role, but one day Oscar-winner Anna Paquin’s representatives called the show’s casting director and said she wanted to audition. “And I said, ‘Really? That doesn’t—huh. She wants to do this?’” Ball told The New York Times. “Because at the time Anna was dark-haired, and certainly her body of work didn’t lead me anywhere near Sookie Stackhouse. But she aggressively pursued it.”

Paquin welcomed playing a part that she described to The New York Times as being “about as radically different from me and a lot of the work I’ve previously done as you could possibly come up with.” In an interview with Rolling Stone, Paquin explained how people saw her as too serious. “But it only takes one person with a little bit of imagination to go, ‘You know, pale-skin girls with brown hair can also be blond girls with a fake tan,’ and presto change-o, makeover. It’s not rocket science.”

3. CHARLAINE HARRIS WAS MORE INTERESTED IN PEOPLE THAN VAMPIRES.

“I didn’t want to write about being a vampire,” Harris told Vanity Fair. “I wanted to write about people who were interacting with vampires. I thought it would be fun to write about a woman dating a vampire, so I imagined what kind of woman would do such a stupid thing.”

Bon Temps is a city in Northern Louisiana; Harris picked that region to avoid Anne Rice’s territory. “My thinking was that Anne Rice had done such a great job with Southern Louisiana, that I would take the part [of Louisiana] no one wanted,” Harris said. “Her works were groundbreaking and very innovative and I thought it would be fun to kind of rappel off of them.”

4. HARRIS USED THE VAMPIRES TO COMMENT ON GAY RIGHTS.

Deborah Ann Woll and Stephen Moyer in 'True Blood'
Jaimie Trueblood/HBO

Harris published Dead Until Dark, the first book in the series, in 2001. “When I began framing how I was going to represent the vampires, it suddenly occurred to me that it would be interesting if they were a minority that was trying to get equal rights,” Harris told the New York Post. “It just seemed to fit with what was happening in the world right then.”

However, Ball didn’t agree with her. “I have a hard time seeing the vampires as a metaphor for gays and lesbians,” he told Rolling Stone. “Just because the vampires on our show are, for the most part, vicious murderers and predators, and I’m gay myself, so I don’t really want to say, ‘Hey, gays and lesbians are basically viciously amoral murderers.’”

5. ALAN BALL THINKS THE SHOW IS ABOUT “INTIMACY.”

While developing the show for HBO, the network asked Ball for a one-sentence pitch for what the show was about. “I thought, ‘Oh, dear God, what am I going to say?’ I said, ‘Well, ultimately at its heart, it’s about the terrors of intimacy,’” he told The New York Times. “Which is an answer I just pulled totally out of [nowhere] at that moment. But I do think that actually, there is some truth to that. That is kind of what it’s about.”

In 2012, Ball told NPR he thought the show was about “how we deal with our primal desires. How do those elements of our psyche manifest themselves in a world where monsters were real?”

Chris Bauer, who played Andy Bellefleur, added his two cents on what the show was about. “How do people in that amount of space get along with each other when they are people with really different beliefs, life experiences, [and] philosophies?,” he told Vulture. “It’s like two species trying to get along, even though externally we look the same. That's where all the racism, all the homophobia, all the sexism, all the diminishing-others-for-their-differences comes from. It's so applicable.”

6. RYAN KWANTEN DOESN’T THINK JASON IS “DUMB.”

Ryan Kwanten stars in 'True Blood'
John P. Johnson/HBO

In an interview with Vulture, Ryan Kwanten was asked, “What are the challenges of playing someone that dumb?” He responded with, “I see him more as simple than dumb … He can get away with some of the things he does because of that innocence. Whereas being dumb, you don’t really get sympathy for that. He was originally based on a couple of people I knew, but it’s turned into his own beast now.”

7. ALEXANDER SKARSGÅRD DIDN'T ALWAYS ABIDE BY THE PROPER NUDITY PROTOCOLS.

To keep partially covered up during sex scenes, the show's female actors wore thongs while the male actors had to wear socks on their private parts. But Alexander Skarsgård bucked the trend during the season six finale. Eric is sunbathing on a snowy landscape in the mountains of Sweden, but the crew set up a green screen and filmed it atop a parking structure in Hollywood. “And it was a very hot day, so I didn’t need the sock,” he told Vulture. At the end of the scene, Skarsgård, gets up from his chair and reveals, well, everything, so to speak.

“I don’t want a sock around it, that feels ridiculous," Skarsgård told Rolling Stone. "If we’re naked in the scene, then I’m naked. I’ve always been that way.”

8. RUTINA WESLEY WAS OKAY WITH DYING. 

Rutina Wesley and Kristin Bauer van Straten in 'True Blood'
John P. Johnson/HBO

During the fifth season, Tara becomes a vampire. At the beginning of the final season, HBO threw no punches when they killed her off in the premiere episode. Wesley didn’t mind, though. “I think it’s great,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “I think somebody had to go. To have a main character right off the bat go, that’s gonna bring everybody into the show. It’s like, ‘Okay, and the show has started.’ This is the final season. We can’t all make it to the end.”

9. DENIS O’HARE USED HISTORY TO CREATE HIS CHARACTER’S BACKSTORY.

Russell Edgington, a.k.a. the King of Mississippi, is a 2800-year-old vampire. O’Hare researched that era and decided to make him a Pagan Celt. “They are just wild people,” O'Hare told Film School Rejects. “They have a very different relationship to everything in terms of nature and in terms of their own belief system. I just love that. That kind of helped make him just a different kind of character.”

10. JOE MANGANIELLO GOT HIS JOB WITH HELP FROM A BLOG.

Joe Manganiello in 'True Blood'
John P. Johnson/HBO

Fans of Harris’s book had a blog in which they listed who should play certain characters, and some people suggested Joe Manganiello for Alcide. Manganiello stumbled upon the site, read the books, and told his agent he wanted to audition.

“It had been my dream, since I was a little kid, to play a movie monster and a werewolf,” Manganiello told Collider. He posted the blog posts to his website, and someone who was friends with a True Blood casting director saw them. “I guess he was out at breakfast with one of the casting directors and the waiter came up to their table and the casting director said, ‘Oh, wow, that waiter would make a great werewolf, if only he was an actor.’ And, this guy said, ‘No, you know who’d make a great werewolf? This guy,’ and he pulled up my picture and showed it to him.”

Joe auditioned for a different werewolf part. “I wound up being brought in a second time for that other werewolf character, and then they wound up bringing me back in for Alcide.”

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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