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The Stories Behind 22 Classic Album Covers

1. Nevermind (1991)

Nirvana
Design by Robert Fisher and Kirk Weddle

Spencer Elden's first time swimming was a memorable one.

At four months old, Elden was one of several babies on hand at a Pasadena public pool to audition for Nirvana's album cover.

"I showed Kurt the baby picture," designer Robert Fisher said, "and he liked it but felt it needed something more. We threw all kinds of ideas around and Kurt jokingly suggested a fish hook. We spent the day thinking of all the things you could put on a fish hook. Although Kurt never gave me a rationale for the design, I must assume that the naked baby symbolized his own innocence, the water an alien environment, and the hook and dollar bill his creative life entering into the corporate world of rock music."

As for Elden, he says, "Most bands around today can't even get near to what Nirvana did on that album, and I'll always be happy to be a part of it."

2. The Velvet Underground & Nico, aka "The Banana Album" (1967)

The Velvet Underground & Nico
Design by Andy Warhol

With apologies to Carmen Miranda and Chiquita, the world's most famous banana is the ripe, peelable print on the cover of the Velvets' debut.

Designed by pop artist Andy Warhol, the image was a silkscreen made from simple black-and-white acetate film. In case the genitalia-esque shape wasn't provocative enough, Warhol added the invitation: "Peel slowly and see." Beneath the sticker a pink, flesh-colored fruit was revealed.

"The banana actually made it into an erotic art show," said Velvets singer Lou Reed.

But for Verve Records, the banana was a production nightmare. "Someone had to sit there with piles of albums, peel off the yellow banana skin stickers and place them over the pink fruit by hand," said Warhol's artistic director Ronnie Cutrone.

By 1968, the peelable banana was dropped. Originals now fetch up to $500 apiece. The fruity image has since thrived on everything from art prints to T-shirts to handbags.

3. Who's Next (1971)

The Who
Design by John Kosh and Ethan Russell

Sometimes you can't go when you need to. That's what photographer Ethan Russell found out when he shot the cover for Who's Next.

Turning away from a concrete piling, located in an old English mining town called Easington Colliery, the band appear to have just left their urine signatures on the stone. But Russell recalled discreetly, "Most of the members were unable to go, so rainwater was tipped from an empty film canister to achieve the desired effect.

In 2003, VH1 named Who's Next the second greatest album cover of all time.

4. Skull and Roses (1971)

Grateful Dead
Design by Stanley Mouse

Talk about vintage. The skull and roses that became the Grateful Dead's enduring trademark has its roots in a 19th century woodcut made to illustrate a poem from the 11th century.

"I found the original image in the stacks of the San Francisco Public Library," said painter Stanley "Mouse" Miller. "It was created by an artist named Edmund Sullivan to illustrate a poem in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The block print underscores the verse, 'The Flower that once has blown forever dies.'"

"I thought, 'Here's something that might work for the Grateful Dead.'"

Mouse made a name in the '60s as a hot-rod painting sensation (remember Rat Fink?), modifying dragsters and choppers.

His work with the Dead continued through many classic albums, including Workingman's Dead and American Beauty.

5. Houses of the Holy (1973)

Led Zeppelin
Design by Hipgnosis

It was no fun being one of Robert Plant's love children.

"Freezing rain, bad food and turpentine – a nightmare." That's a male model recalling his experience as one of the naked innocents on the cover of Zep's fifth album.

At 4 a.m., every morning for a week, three adults and two children were sprayed silver from head to toe, then driven to Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland to crawl on the rocks toward a sunrise that never rose.

Faced with deadlines and a dwindling budget, design company Hipgnosis took the weather into their own hands, painting a honey-peach dawn and hand-tinting bare bottoms to a rosy glow.

Worried that those bare bottoms might cause controversy, Atlantic Records tied the finished album with a Japanese-style band of paper called an "obi." Printed with the title in Celtic style letters, it was the world's first rock 'n' roll Huggie.

6. Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

Pink Floyd
Design by Hipgnosis and George Hardie

For a band who once sang, "We don't need no education," it's ironic that the cover image of their best-selling album is based on a school textbook illustration.

The Floyd was "bored with the photos" from their earlier LP covers and wanted something "smarter."

"The prism represented both the diversity and cleanliness of the sound of the music," designer Storm Thorgerson said. "In a more conscious way, it worked for a band with a reputation for their light show. The triangle is a symbol of ambition, one of the themes Roger was concerned with. So you had several ideas coming together."

Of the finished result, Thorgerson said, "It's either a brilliant piece of art direction or perhaps just a jammy idea... but it worked really well in its context."

7. London Calling (1979)

The Clash
Design by Ray Lowrie and Pennie Smith

Pink and green should never be seen, goes the old fashion dictum.

But the colors, framing a black and white photo of Paul Simonon smashing his bass on stage, made for a vivid combination on the Clash's breakthrough album.

Designer Ray Lowry acknowledge the design's inspiration when he said, "It was intended as a genuine homage to the original unknown genius who created Elvis Presley's first rock 'n' roll record."

As for the photo, Simonon said, "The show had gone quite well that night, but for me, inside, it just wasn't working well, so I took it out on the bass. If I'd been really smart I would have got the spare bass out, as it wasn't as good as the one I smashed up. When I look at it now I wish I'd lifted my face up a bit more."

8. The Joshua Tree (1986)

U2
Design by Steve Averill and Anton Corbijn



The Joshua Tree is a slow-growing shrub with sharp-tapered leaves, indigenous to the desert in the American southwest. It was named by a band of 19th century Mormons. The tree's unique shape reminded them of the Biblical story of Joshua reaching out to the heavens.

It was this strange timeless aspect of the tree that lured U2 into Death Valley National Park in California. The cover photo, snapped by Anton Corbijn, proved a perfect foil to the grand rock hymnals on the album.

"It's supposed to be the oldest living organism in the desert," said drummer Larry Mullen, Jr.

It must have been pretty old, because it fell over and died in 2000. U2 fans have since built a makeshift shrine in the desert to commemorate the famous tree.

9. Licensed to Ill (1986)

Beastie Boys
Design by Steve Byram and World B. Omes


Private jets and fatal plane crashes are the heads and tails of rock 'n' roll's fateful coin.

The Beastie Boys tapped into this idea with a gatefold sleeve whose glamorous front unfolds to a charred and smoking back.

Producer Rick Rubin said the idea came from reading about Led Zeppelin's luxurious private jet. "The Beastie Boys were just a bunch of little guys and I wanted us to have a Beastie Boys' jet. I wanted to embrace and somehow distinguish, in a sarcastic way, the larger-than-life rock 'n' roll lifestyle, the excesses and the destruction."

Collage artist World B. Omes assembled the Beastie Boys jet from photographic elements (American Airlines later complained that it looked like one of theirs), then drew over and hand-colored it with water soluble crayons.

Trivia: The plane's identification number on the tail – 3MTA3 – reads "Eat Me" if you hold the cover up to a mirror.

10. Odelay (1996)

Beck
Design by Beck Hansen and Robert Fisher

Look up in the sky. It's a mop. It's a throw rug. No, it's a Komondor. The airborne dog, a Hungarian breed with matted, cord-like fur, provoked a lot of "Huh?"s when this landmark album was released.

Which was exactly what Beck hoped for. A quirky artist who often relies on found objects and unintentional mistakes to inform his process, Beck stumbled on the Komondor picture in a vintage book of dog breeds.

Art director Robert Fisher said, "The photo was taken by a famous dog photographer called Ludwig, who lived a few blocks from the office. She was in her late seventies, and was enthusiastic to have a visitor.

"Beck felt that it was kind of ambiguous, unrelated to the music, and was chosen almost at random. The viewer could read into the cover whatever they wanted. Odelay also sounded a bit like a dog command."

11. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

Wilco
Design by Lawrence Azerrad

In early 2002, fans gazing at the cover of Wilco's fourth album were asking, "What the heck are those things? Stacks of poker chips? A microscopic close-up of hair shafts? An allusion to the recently fallen Twin Towers?"

But to anyone living in Wilco's hometown, Chicago, the image was instantly familiar. Marina City, designed in 1959 by Bertrand Goldberg, is comprised of two cylindrical residential / commercial towers that cut a futuristic profile on the ChiTown skyline.

Wilco wasn't the first to show Marina City to the world. In 1973, Sly and the Family Stone featured the towers in a collage on the back cover of their classic LP There's A Riot Goin' On. And anyone who watched The Bob Newhart Show in the early '70s would've seen those towers in the opening title sequence.

Designer Lawrence Azerrad went on to do more striking artwork for Wilco, including the cover of 2011's The Whole Love.

12. Satan Is Real (1960)

The Louvin Brothers
Design by Ira Louvin

The cover of this country classic walks the line between goofy humor and heart attack seriousness. Look at that buck-toothed devil. He's more Mortimer Snerd than Mephisopheles. But there's something in the rapturous faces of the brothers that makes you think of crazy snake-handling preachers. And that's real fire dancing behind them.

Charlie Louviin said, "Ira built that set. The devil was twelve feet tall, built out of plywood. We went to this rock quarry and then took old tires and soaked them in kerosene, got them to burn good. It had just started to sprinkle rain when we got that picture taken. Those rocks, when they get hot, they blow up. They were throwing pieces of rock up into the air."

The brothers survived the cover shoot to give us their best-selling album ever. Sadly, Ira was killed in a car accident in 1965. Charlie died in 2011.

13. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

Bob Dylan
Design by Don Hunstein

"Meeting her was like stepping into the tales of 1,001 Arabian nights. She had a smile that could light up a street full of people."

That's Bob Dylan in Chronicles, waxing poetic about Suze Rotolo, his girlfriend from 1961 to '64 and the muse clutching his arm on the cover of his breakthrough album.

The picture was taken in February 1963 by photographer Don Hunstein. Dylan was 21, Rotolo 19. The location is Greenwich Village, on Jones Street, near West 4th and Bleecker.

"I didn't do the shoot with a record cover in mind," Hunstein recalled. "I brought only one roll of color film with me, and most of the pictures on it were not good."

But the magic shot captured Dylan in all his bohemian glory, and helped make him a household name. Rotolo passed away in 2011.

14. Rubber Soul (1965)

The Beatles
Design by Robert Freeman and Charles Front

Bye bye moptops, hello Mary Jane.

For their landmark 1965 release, the Beatles traded their clean-cut image for a psychedelic look.

The slightly warped angle of the sleeve was a happy accident. "[Photographer] Robert Freeman was showing us the slides," Paul McCartney recalled. "He had a piece of cardboard that was album cover-size and he was projecting the photographs onto it. We had just chosen the photograph when the cardboard fell backwards a little, elongating the photograph. It was stretched and we went, 'That's it, Rubber So-o-oul, hey, hey! Can you do it like that?'"

Charles Front added the eye drop lettering. (Trivia: Held upside down in front of a mirror, it appears to say "Road Abbey.")

George Harrison said, "We lost the 'little innocents' tag, the naiveté, and Rubber Soul was the first one where we were fully fledged potheads."

15. Eat a Peach (1972)

The Allman Brothers Band
Design by W. David Powell and Jim Holmes

"The images on the cover are found art," says W. David Powell. "They came from postcards we picked up in a drugstore in Athens, Georgia. The postcards had the trucks with the giant peach and watermelon. I added lettering with the band name to the trucks, and pasted the cards onto a background, spray-painted pink and blue."

Inside the gatefold sleeve, Powell and his college buddy Jim Holmes collaborated on a painting of a mushroom wonderland teeming with strange creatures. "It owes a lot in inspiration to Heironymous Bosch," says Powell, then adds with a chuckle, "I don't want to reveal the background psychotropics that were involved, but we were not in a particularly rational state of mind."

Voted by Rolling Stone as one of the Top 100 Album Covers of All-Time, the sleeve image is alive and well on T-shirts and hats.

Trivia: Forty years on, an urban legend persists about the peach truck, claiming that it was the fatal vehicle in Duane Allman's motorcycle accident death. Not true.

16. Brain Salad Surgery (1973)

Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Design by H.R. Giger and Fabio Nicoli

The original title for ELP's fifth album, Whip Some Skull On Ya, was a slang term for oral sex. But the prog rockers ditched it for an even more provocative euphemism, lifted from a Dr. John song.

ELP found a sympathetic soul in Swiss designer H.R. Giger. When the band contacted him, Giger was in the midst of painting a triptych, Landscape XIX – Work Z16, whose themes, coincidentally, were penises, skulls, and a woman's mouth. The main part of this painting became the cover of Brain Salad Surgery – a woman's lips squeezed between a metal vice with a protruding phallus.

Atlantic Records objected, and a reluctant Giger airbrushed the offending member into a shaft of glowing light. If you look hard, you can make it out.

Trivia: Giger went on to design the intergalactic monster in Ridley Scott's Alien.

17. Candy-O (1978)

The Cars
Design by Alberto Vargas

As hood ornaments go, the auburn-haired beauty reclining against the front of the Cars' second album is unbeatable.

The erotic image was created by the legendary Alberto Vargas. The Peruvian artist got his start designing posters for the Ziegfeld Follies and Hollywood movies, then made his name creating iconic WWII-era pin-up girls for Esquire magazine. He was eighty-two when Cars drummer David Robinson coaxed him out of retirement for one last painting.

Vargas had never heard of the Cars, but the aerodynamic model – coincidentally named Candy Moore – was much to his liking. So much so that he imagined her au naturel. Elektra Records had to insist that the old master cover up the nipples and pubic hair with a sheer body stocking.

Of the accusations that the cover was sexist, Robinson said, with his best Spinal Tap chuckle, "Maybe it is. I don't know."

18. Breakfast in America (1979)

Supertramp
Design by Mike Doud and Mick Haggerty

Call her the Statue of Libby. The waitress with the good old-fashioned name replaces Liberty's stone tablet and torch with a menu and a glass of fresh OJ, welcoming us to Gotham made from cups and kitchen utensils.

For this Grammy-winning cover, designers Mike Doud and Mick Haggerty set out to capture the mood of the recently relocated Brits of Supertramp to America.

"The cover expressed with wry humor our mental and physical place at that time," said sax player John Helliwell. "The imagery appealed to us – living in the land of dreams and ambitions, and substituting the English transport café for the friendly diner."

Libby was originally going to be a cheesecake-type model, but the band ended up choosing a more matronly gal from the Ugly Model Agency. She later went on tour with the band, announcing them from the stage.

19. She's So Unusual (1983)

Cyndi Lauper
Design by Janet Perr

The primary color-rich cover of Lauper's debut perfectly caught her bubbly persona.

"Cyndi kept saying how she wanted peeling paint and walls that looked distressed," recalls designer Janet Perr, "and I thought Coney Island. I knew that there were a lot of abandoned, boarded up buildings there. And of course, because it was by the beach, the lighting would be really beautiful.

"We were on the boardwalk with a boom box, and Cyndi had on a great vintage dress, and she was dancing with her shoes off. She was really like that – flouncy and jumping around – and I think that really came out in the photo shoot."

Annie Leibovitz snapped Lauper in a pose like a new wave marionette.

The result: 16 million albums sold and a Grammy for design to Perr. "It was a great thing for me," Perr recalls, "because the Rolling Stones called the week after."

20. Post (1995)

Björk
Design by Paul White and Stephane Sednaoui

This cover was Björk's postcard to herself.

"The motivation behind it was her desire to be surrounded by her possessions from home," designer Paul White said. "She felt very isolated from everything in Iceland while recording the album. She was away from friends and family and communicating with them via messages. Post was about her state of mind – remote communication and a sense of awe and surprise at the changes in her life after the success of her first album."

The garishly colorful blur of a background (orange and pink are notoriously difficult for designers to bring off) is meant to symbolize both flying postcards and a tumbling house of cards. Meanwhile, Björk remains still, with the airmail braiding around her jacket communicating her longing for home.

Trivia: A discarded cover design featured Björk surrounded by silver balls with her tongue extended towards a falling silver ball.

21. OK Computer (1997)

Radiohead
Design by Stanley Donwood

"Someone's being sold something they don't really want, and someone's being friendly because they're trying to sell something – that's what the cover means to me," said lead singer Thom Yorke. "It's quite sad, and quite funny as well."

The chilly collage of images and text was created by Stanley Donwood, who has designed all the Radiohead covers.

As for the album's title, Yorke said, "We did this promo trip to Japan, and on the last day, we were in a record shop and this one kid shouted at the top of his voice, 'OK COMPUTER!' really, really loud. Then he had 500 people chant it all at once. I got it on tape. It sounds amazing. It reminds me of when Coca-Cola did 'I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing,' that amazing advert in '70. The idea of every race and every nation drinking this soft drink. It's actually a really resigned, terrific phrase."

22. A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)

Coldplay
Design by Sølve Sundsbø

In 2002, singer Chris Martin was flipping through a back issue of Dazed & Confused magazine when he fell in love with a face. Or half a face.

Looking like some graphic novel version of an ancient Greek head bust, the striking image had been produced by fashion photographer Sølve Sundsbø. When the magazine asked him for a portrait with a "technological feel, something all white," Sundsbø swapped his camera for a 3-D scanner (of the kind often used for industrial design and prosthetics). The computerized machine couldn't read color, so the model's cape resulted in motion-like spikes. And since the scanner also had limited range, the top half of the model's head was lopped off.

Sundsbø went on to do more designs for Coldplay. And in 2010, his cover design was chosen by Britain's Royal Mail for one of their "Classic Album Cover" postage stamps.

See Also:


The Stories of 10 People Featured on Historically Bad Album Covers

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16 Fun Facts About The Carol Burnett Show
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CBS

After a short stint in the New York theater world, comedienne Carol Burnett landed a job as a regular on The Garry Moore Show in 1959. She caught the attention of CBS executives, who offered her her own series in 1967. With her husband Joe Hamilton at the helm, Burnett broke new ground as the first female host of a TV variety show. The Carol Burnett Show ran for 11 seasons and earned a handful of Emmy Awards in the process. To celebrate the legendary comedienne's 85th birthday, here are some fun facts about the show and the folks who made it so side-splittingly hilarious.

1. CAROL BURNETT’S MOTHER WANTED HER TO BE A WRITER.

As Carol Burnett painfully recalled later in life, whenever she’d expressed an interest in a career in the theater as a teen, her mother would always dissuade her and recommend that she would have better luck studying to become a writer. “You can always write, no matter what you look like,” she would add.

2. A TOTAL STRANGER HELPED TO LAUNCH BURNETT’S CAREER.

As she was nearing graduation from UCLA, Burnett and several fellow drama students were invited to a departing professor’s house to perform at his bon voyage party. She performed a scene from the musical Annie Get Your Gun and later that evening, while she was standing in the buffet line, a man she’d never seen before approached her and complimented her performance. He then inquired what she planned to do with her life. She confessed that she dreamed of going to New York one day for a career on the stage, but seeing that she barely had enough gas money to drive back to Los Angeles that evening, it would be a very long time before she’d make it to Broadway. The man told her he’d be happy to lend her $1000 to get her started, with three conditions: that she repay him without interest in five years, that she was never to reveal his identity, and that once she was successful she must pass a similar kindness along to another person in need. (After pondering the offer over the weekend and consulting her mother and grandmother—who advised her to steer clear of the strange man who was probably involved in human trafficking or something worse—she took a chance and accepted his check.)

3. VICKI LAWRENCE CAUGHT BURNETT’S ATTENTION BY WRITING HER A FAN LETTER.


CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Vicki Lawrence cut her hair in a short “pixie” cut as a high school senior, many of her classmates commented on her resemblance to Carol Burnett. Lawrence’s somewhat overbearing stage mother encouraged her to write Burnett a letter, which she did, enclosing a photo and a newspaper article that mentioned her upcoming appearance in the Inglewood, California Miss Fireball Contest. To her surprise, a seven-months-pregnant Burnett showed up at the pageant to cheer her on. When Burnett had her baby, Lawrence took some flowers to the hospital, thinking she’d just drop them off. But when the nurse on duty saw her, she immediately mistook her for Burnett’s real-life half-sister Chrissie and exclaimed, “Wait until you see the baby!” and ushered her into Carol’s room.

4. LAWRENCE ENDED UP PLAYING BURNETT’S SISTER ON THE SHOW.

When they were casting The Carol Burnett Show, the star remembered the teen and hired her despite her lack of experience. At first her only role was in the recurring “Carol and Sis” sketch, in which Lawrence played “Chrissie,” Burnett’s younger sister. Lawrence recalled in her 1995 autobiography that Burnett was very nurturing to all her co-stars, making sure everyone got their share of the best jokes, but it was Harvey Korman who took her under his wing in the beginning and taught her about timing, dialects, and working with props.

5. THE Q&A AT THE BEGINNING WAS BURNETT’S HUSBAND’S IDEA.


By CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Joe Hamilton was not only Carol Burnett’s husband, he was also the show’s executive producer. It was traditional at the time (and still is, in some cases) to have a stand-up comic step onstage before a show to tell some jokes and “warm up” the audience. Hamilton was wary of going that route, however; as Burnett later recalled, “He worried, ‘What if the guy is funnier than the rest of you?’” He thought it would be a good ice-breaker if Burnett herself went out front before the proceedings to welcome the audience and answer a couple of questions. Over the next 11 seasons, the question that she was asked the most was “Can you do your Tarzan yell?”

6. BURNETT ONCE USED HER TARZAN YELL AS A FORM OF IDENTIFICATION.

While shopping for nylon stockings at New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman one day, the saleswoman recognized Burnett and asked for her autograph for her grandchildren. When it came time to check out, Burnett realized that she didn’t have her credit card or driver’s license in her wallet. She inquired if she could write a check. “I’ll have to see some ID,” replied the woman who’d requested an autograph just moments before. The floor manager intervened and told Burnett that she’d accept her check if Burnett would do her Tarzan yell. Burnett complied, prompting a security guard to kick open a nearby door, burst in and point his gun at her.

7. LYLE WAGONNER WAS THE FIRST CENTERFOLD IN PLAYGIRL MAGAZINE.

Joe Hamilton was looking for a handsome, “Rock Hudson-type” when casting the announcer for his wife’s show. Former encyclopedia salesman Lyle Waggoner landed the job not only due to his devastating good looks, but also because he had a good sense of humor about how pretty he was. He was even good-natured about the teasing he got from his castmates after posing for the centerfold of Playgirl magazine’s premiere issue in 1973.

8. HARVEY KORMAN WAS THE FIRST CAST MEMBER HIRED.

The producers wanted a “Harvey Korman-type” for Burnett’s second banana, but didn’t bother to actually ask Korman if he was interested in the job because he was already a regular on The Danny Kaye Show, and most likely he wouldn’t leave a steady job for an unproven new show. Burnett herself spotted Korman in the CBS parking lot one day and “practically threw him over the hood of a car” begging him to join her show. Unbeknownst to her, Kaye’s show was about to get the axe after a four-year run, so Korman cheerfully accepted her offer shortly after that first meeting.

9. TIM CONWAY RARELY FOLLOWED HIS SCRIPT.

Conway had been a frequent guest star on the show, and when Lyle Waggoner decided to leave the show in 1974 (he felt that he was being “underused”), Conway was hired to replace him the following year. Conway was legendary for veering off-script and ad-libbing for lengthy stretches, to the amusement of some of his co-stars (Korman) and annoyance of others (Lawrence, who sometimes resented Conway’s disruptions and spotlight-hogging). Lawrence finally slipped her own ad-lib in on one memorable occasion, as Conway rambled on and on about an elephant during a “Family” sketch. Her NSFW remark brought the rest of the cast to their knees and was said to be Dick Clark’s favorite all-time outtake on his Bloopers and Practical Jokes TV show.

10. MRS. WIGGINS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AS AN ELDERLY WOMAN.

Conway created the Mr. Tudball/Mrs. Wiggins characters and wrote (or ad-libbed) many of their sketches. His original concept had Mrs. Wiggins being ancient, slow, and forgetful. But costume designer Bob Mackie decided that Burnett had played too many “old lady” characters on the show and designed a very voluptuous look for her instead. He explained at the time that he had certain “ditzy” CBS secretaries in mind when he stitched the curvy costume together.

11. THE SHOW THAT BECAME MAMA’S FAMILY STARTED OUT AS A MUCH DARKER ONE-OFF SKETCH.

A sketch called “The Reunion,” which originally aired in March of 1974, featured the characters that eventually became known as “The Family.” In this initial installment, Roddy McDowall played Phillip Harper, the successful younger brother of Eunice, returning home for a visit after winning a Pulitzer Prize. The family members were far crankier and more argumentative (and perhaps more representative of actual family life as they talked over one another and changed topics as soon as a thought occurred to them) than the cartoonish characters they eventually came to be on the syndicated series Mama’s Family. The piece proved to be so popular that 30 more “Family” sketches appeared over the next four seasons, with such guest stars as Alan Alda and Betty White turning up as members of the extended Harper family.

12. IT WAS BURNETT’S IDEA TO MAKE EUNICE AND HER FAMILY SOUTHERN.

The creators of "The Family" sketch were The Carol Burnett Show staff writers Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair. McMahon hailed from Kansas City, Missouri, and envisioned the Harpers to be of typical Midwestern stock, but as Burnett read the initial script she heard her own Texan and Arkansan family members speaking. She started speaking the lines with a pronounced Southern drawl, and Vicki Lawrence soon followed suit.

13. DICK VAN DYKE WAS A REGULAR FOR A SHORT TIME.

Harvey Korman left The Carol Burnett Show at the end of season 10 to star in his own sitcom on ABC.  (The Harvey Korman Show was cancelled after five episodes.) Dick Van Dyke was brought in as a replacement, but he was never a very good fit. As Burnett commented after the fact, “When Harvey put on a wig and a dress, he became a woman; when Dick Van Dyke did it, he was Dick Van Dyke in a wig and a dress.” Van Dyke wasn’t overjoyed with the job, either; he lived in Arizona at the time and the monthly 4000-mile commute was exhausting. He was released from his contract in November 1977.

14. BURNETT’S “WENT WITH THE WIND” CURTAIN ROD DRESS WAS BOB MACKIE’S BRAINSTORM.

Burnett’s Gone with the Wind parody has made many “funniest shows of all time” lists over the years, and one of the defining moments of the sketch was when Carol (as "Starlett O’Hara”) descends the stairs at Tara wearing the green velvet drapes with the curtain rod still in them and admits, “I saw it in a window and I couldn’t resist.” The original script called for Burnett to have the curtains tossed haphazardly over her shoulders, but Mackie decided that it would be funnier to create an actual dress and leave the hanger intact across her shoulders. He is slightly bitter all these years later that of all his magnificent creations, that “joke” dress has become his signature piece; of all the memorable glamorous gowns he’s created for celebrities over the decades, that curtain rod dress is the one that hangs in the Smithsonian.

15. CONWAY’S FAMOUS “DENTIST” SKIT WAS BASED ON AN ACTUAL INCIDENT.

When Conway was in the Army having some work done on his teeth, the dentist accidentally injected his own thumb with Novocain. Conway exaggerated the experience to hilarious effect in a classic skit that left Harvey Korman struggling to contain his laughter. During a 2013 interview, Conway told Conan O’Brien that Korman actually wet himself from laughing so hard.

16. THERE WAS ONLY ONE CELEBRITY GUEST THAT BURNETT WAS NEVER ABLE TO BOOK.

Over the 11 seasons the show ran, a veritable “Who’s Who” of the entertainment industry did a guest turn, from Steve Martin to Julie Andrews to then-governor Ronald Reagan to Robin Williams to Ethel Merman. The only guest who Burnett dearly wanted to have but never did get was Bette Davis. Davis was willing to appear but demanded more money that the show had budgeted. Joe Hamilton advised his wife that if they gave in to Davis’s demand, it would set an unpleasant precedent.

Additional Sources:
Vicki!: The True-Life Adventures of Miss Fireball, by Vicki Lawrence
This Time Together, by Carol Burnett
Let’s Bump Up the Lights (The Carol Burnett Show DVD extra)

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14 Wild Facts About Double Dare
Nickelodeon
Nickelodeon

Some game shows will reward you with cars and cash prizes for being smart and intuitive. Nickelodeon’s Double Dare, which ran from 1986 to 1993 and taped more than 500 episodes, gave its kid contestants bicycles or boom boxes in exchange for fetching giant balls of snot from oversized noses.

To celebrate Double Dare's return—Nickelodeon just announced that it has ordered 40 more episodes of the gross game show—we thought we’d drop some facts on the show’s history, the comedian originally set to host, and how one kid wound up snapping a bone in half on the perpetually hazardous course.

1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY MOUSE TRAP.

While kicking around ideas for a kid-oriented game show, Nickelodeon executive—and Double Dare co-creator—Geoffrey Darby recalled that a staffer brought up the classic board game Mouse Trap, which invited players to lure a (fake) mouse into a custom-built holding pen. Darby picked up on the thread, pitching the series as a Rube Goldberg machine that used people instead of balls.

2. DANA CARVEY WAS OFFERED THE HOSTING GIG.

Before settling on onetime magician Marc Summers, Double Dare looked at hundreds of host candidates. Soupy Sales, a comedian who had a popular kids’ show in the 1950s, was considered; so was Dana Carvey, who was reportedly offered the job on the same day he was invited to join Saturday Night Live. He opted for the sketch show, leaving the slot open for Summers.

3. THE VERY FIRST OBSTACLE COURSE WAS A DISASTER.

For the uninitiated, Double Dare typically pitted two teams against one another in a series of increasingly difficult—and disgusting—challenges, culminating with a run through a slime- and cream-covered obstacle course. When the show taped its first episode in September 1986, producers directed the contestants to find a flag hidden in a giant bag of feathers. Unfortunately, no one had bothered to hide the flag. On take two, the contestant was so rough with the feathers they didn’t see the flag had been gently placed within easy view. On the third take, a cameraman fell into the frame. They got it on the fourth try.

4. THE SET HAD ITS OWN SEWAGE SYSTEM.


Nickelodeon

Although Double Dare began on a studio set at a Philadelphia television station, it eventually moved to Nickelodeon’s home base in Orlando, Florida. The stage—which was usually filled with tourists visiting Universal Studios Orlando—was built specifically to accommodate the overflow of disgusting waste material created by the production. A sewage system allowed crew members to mop the glop off the floor and directly into grates. The “clean team” went through between 600 and 1000 towels per taping to erase any residual signs of slime.

5. THE STAGE WAS A TOTAL SLIPPING HAZARD.

No matter how much the crew steam-cleaned, vacuumed, or mopped, the bathroom-like tile of the stage floor maintained its essential sheen of foot-slipping gloss. The crew eventually grew accustomed to sliding across the set in tiny shuffle steps, similar to how you’d navigate a frozen-over driveway.  

6. THERE WAS ONE GRUESOME INJURY.

Despite a space that would never pass OSHA standards, surprisingly few participants were ever actually harmed during taping of Double Dare—with one exception. During one obstacle, a child running across the floor slipped, braced himself, and snapped his arm so severely the bone poked through the skin. Summers would later recall that the kid had lied on his application and may have had a preexisting health condition that made his bones more brittle. Because he wanted to appear on the show so badly, he didn’t mention it.

7. “GAK” WAS A SLANG TERM FOR HEROIN—AND SLIME.

It was inevitable that Double Dare would spawn a series of tie-in products, including board games and apparel. The show also helped licensees create GAK, a rubbery, goopy substance meant to mimic the slime seen on the series. The name came from crew members who worked on the show as a kind of homage to the street term for heroin, a factoid that went over most parents' heads.

8. THEY USED A THREE-TRIES RULE FOR NEW CHALLENGES.


Nickelodeon

After designing a new obstacle, producers would invite kids from the Philadelphia area on non-shoot days to give it a shot. If a child couldn’t get through it in three tries, the idea would be scrapped.

9. IT USED TONS OF FOOD.

In 1987, The New York Times convinced a show staffer to tabulate the gross amount of food material used during a typical taping of the show. Their tally: 50 gallons of whipped cream, 30 gallons of slime, dozens of eggs, and 100 cubic feet of popcorn. To offset concerns over food waste, the production used as much post-dated canned material or other past-due goods as they could.

10. PEOPLE WENT BONKERS OVER THE SHOW.

While kids were delighted to have a game show that rewarded sloppiness, they weren’t the only ones watching. After just nine months on the air, Double Dare fan clubs popped up at Cornell and Ohio State University; the production received more than 10,000 letters every month, with a portion coming from parents griping that they had to postpone dinner because their kids insisted on viewing the messy show precisely at 5:30 p.m.

11. SUMMERS HAS HOSTED BOOTLEG VERSIONS.

 With Nickelodeon wary of producing a full-blown revival of the series—the Summers-less Double Dare 2000 was not fondly received—the host has taken to emceeing unlicensed versions of the show for locally organized events. Every year, Summers hosts Dunkel Dare, a beer-themed challenge attraction that takes place during Philadelphia’s Beer Week.

12. SUMMERS WAS BELOVED BY SOME MOMS.


Nickelodeon

For years, Summers and Double Dare toured the country, doing live shows for crowds who were eager to try out the obstacles but couldn’t get to Orlando. After the live show, Summers would typically meet with fans to sign autographs. “There were all the mothers who would hand me their telephone numbers during the meet-and-greet after the show and tell me to call them when their husbands weren’t home,” he told People. “There was all sorts of nutty stuff going on.”

13. THEY DIDN’T ENDORSE JUST ANYTHING.

As alien a concept as it may seem today, Nickelodeon didn’t want to slap the Double Dare brand on anything that came along. The show turned down $1 million offered by watchmaker Casio to be the “official” time clock of the series; according to Summers, the network also refused another $1 million to license a Double Dare cereal.

14. THEY DID OFFER A CAR—ONCE.

With a tight budget, the original Double Dare generally kept the threshold for prizes low. In 1987, producers awarded a miniature automobile to a winning team strictly for their own amusement. Said executive producer Geoffrey Darby: “We wanted to be able to hear a kid scream, ‘It’s a new car!’”

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