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The Truth Behind 10 Movie Urban Legends

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clowSometimes, the myths surrounding movies are so strong that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Here are 10 movie urban legends, debunked.

1. The Wizard of Oz's Munchkin Suicide

The Urban Legend: As Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man head down the yellow brick road, you can see a mysterious figure dangling from a rope in the background. For years it was believed that a lovelorn munchkin hanged himself while the cameras were rolling during production, unbeknownst to the director, various stagehands, and the actors on the screen.

The Truth: What's actually moving in the background is a large exotic bird on loan from the Los Angeles Zoo. The urban legend started when The Wizard of Oz was released on VHS in 1989, and persisted over the decades, until the most recent Blu-ray edition of the American classic reveals the myth as false.

2. Three Men and a Baby's Ghost

The Urban Legend: After Three Men and a Baby was released on VHS in 1990, a legend emerged—about an hour into the movie, Jack Holden (Ted Danson) and his mother (Celeste Holm) are walking through Jack’s house with his newly found baby girl. In the background, you can see a mysterious figure behind the curtains of one of the windows. It was believed that this figure was the ghost of a boy who used to live in the house where Three Men and a Baby was being shot. The most common myth is that the boy committed suicide with a shotgun, which is why the house was vacant for the movie shoot.

The Truth: The mysterious figure behind the curtain is a cardboard cutout of Danson's character wearing a top hat and tails; it was used as a prop for a storyline that was eventually cut out of the movie. The house is also not a real house, but a set on a soundstage in Toronto.

3. Back To The Future Part II's Hoverboards

The Urban Legend: After the release of Back To The Future Part II in 1989, children and teenagers left movie theaters across the country wanting the Mattel Hoverboards featured in the sequel film. The film’s star Michael J. Fox and director Robert Zemeckis even stated that the Hoverboards were real and the only reason why they’re not available to buy were parents’ groups were worried that children might get hurt riding them.

The Truth: Zemeckis later admitted that all the flying sequences from the sequel were made possible through various special effects.

4. The Lion King's Naughty Sky Spelling

The Urban Legend: When The Lion King was first released on VHS in 1995, many viewers discovered the word “S-E-X” spelled out in dust after Simba flopped down on a mountain’s edge. Conservative activists protested Disney claiming that the movie studio was promoting sexual activities through a subliminal message in the film.

The Truth: In reality, the letter grouping was intended to spell out “S-F-X” as an Easter egg for the animation effects team who worked on the Disney film.

5. Poltergeist's Ghost Director

The Urban Legend: Although Tobe Hooper is credited as the official director of the 1982 horror film Poltergeist, it is widely believed that the film’s producer, Steven Spielberg, directed a majority of the movie.

At the time, Spielberg's contract with Universal Studios contained a clause that didn’t allow him to direct another movie while preparing for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Some questioned Spielberg’s role on Poltergeist when reports emerged that Spielberg was a more vocal and active presence than Hooper while on set.

Spielberg always clarified that Hooper wasn’t a take-charge kind of guy and if a problem occurred during production, he would step in with Hooper’s consent. The actors in the film seem to be divided on who the real director was: Some would say Hooper played an active role, while others contend Spielberg made adjustments after Hooper set up camera shots and scenes.

The Truth: The fact of the matter is that Tobe Hooper is Poltergeist’s official director, while Steven Spielberg was the film’s creative force and producer.

6. Ben-Hur's Chariot Race Death

The Urban Legend: During Ben-Hur’s iconic chariot race sequence, it was believed that one of the stuntmen driving a chariot was accidentally killed while filming the race. The footage was left in the final version of the film against the wishes of the stuntman’s widow.

The Truth: The only record of someone dying during the production of Ben-Hur in 1958 was one of the film’s producers, Sam Zimbalist, who died of a heart attack at age 54 while on set.

7. The Day The Clown Cried's Shelving

  

The Legend: In 1972, Jerry Lewis directed and starred in a film about a German clown who was jailed as a political prisoner at a Nazi camp during World War II. Lewis never released the movie, and rumors swirled that it was because he was embarrassed of the final product. To this day, The Day The Clown Cried has never been released in theaters and has only been screened for a small handful of people.

The Truth: The truth is that The Day the Clown Cried has been in heavy litigation since it went into production in 1972; in fact, Jerry Lewis, the film’s producer Nat Wachsberger, and the source material’s author Joan O’Brien couldn't come to financial terms during the film’s production in Sweden that would allow the movie to be released. Wachsberger was unable to secure the film rights from O’Brien and ran out of money before the film could be completed, so Lewis had to put up the money out of his own pocket to finish The Day The Clown Cried.

The Swedish government seized footage of the film when O’Brien filed the lawsuit, but Lewis managed to smuggle the final reel of the film out of the country. A behind-the-scenes film from The Day The Clown Cried remains the only footage available to publicly watch. According to Lewis's official website, "The film has been tied up in litigation ever since, and all of the parties involved have never been able to reach an agreeable settlement. Jerry hopes to someday complete the film, which remains to this day, a significant expression of cinematic art, suspended in the abyss of international litigation."

8. The Shining's Director Also Directed the Moon Landing

The Legend: Since The Shining was released on VHS, there have been many conspiracy theories and urban legends surrounding the true meaning behind Stanley Kubrick’s horror film. The most interesting of them all is that Stanley Kubrick faked the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969 and his film from 1980 is his confession.

The urban legend suggests that the U.S. government approached Kubrick after the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. Kubrick’s realistic approach to space exploration impressed government officials, so they felt Stanley Kubrick was the right fit to fake the Moon landing. According to the urban legend, there are many clues in The Shining that “prove” Stanley Kubrick faked the entire lunar mission. A majority of these clues are included in the documentary Room 237.

The Truth: The reality is that NASA landed two astronauts on the Moon on July 20, 1969—they even left some reflectors up there—and Stanley Kubrick had nothing to do with the mission.

9. Goldfinger's Death by Gold Body Paint

The Legend: In 1964, the third film in the James Bond film series featured the death of a young woman by the hand of her evil employer Auric Goldfinger. The woman was covered in gold paint, which led to her eventual asphyxiation. It was believed at the time of the film that the woman, actress Shirley Eaton, died because she covered her entire body in paint.

The belief was that the paint would cover and clog all your pores and you would slowly suffocate because the body “breathes” through your skin. To prevent death, it was important to leave a small part of your body unpainted.

The Truth: The reality is that painting your body would not lead to death. If it did, you’d have to wear the body paint for a prolonged period of time, as your body would suffer from overheating rather than asphyxiation.

10. The Blair Witch Project was a real documentary

The Legend: Footage from three student filmmakers who went missing while making a documentary about the Blair Witch legend (supposedly found one year after they disappeared) was presented as a real documentary. 

The film’s distributor, Artisan Entertainment, played along with the urban legend and centered all the film’s promotional materials with the idea that it was an actual documentary and not a fictional film. The urban legend marketing worked—The Blair Witch Project grossed $248.6 million worldwide against a $60,000 production budget.

The Truth: After its release, it was revealed that The Blair Witch Project was a fictional film from the minds of the film’s writers and directors, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez. The three student filmmakers were young actors Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard.

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
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Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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10 Badass Facts About Jason Statham
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Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET

Jason Statham is one of the preeminent action heroes of a generation—some would say he’s our last action hero. On the screen, he's been a hitman, a transporter, a con man, a veteran, and a whole host of other unsavory, but oddly endearing, tough guys. Before he stepped foot on his first movie set, though, Statham had a past life that would rival any of the colorful characters he’s brought to the screen. To celebrate his 50th birthday, we’re digging into what makes this English bruiser tick with these 10 fascinating facts about Jason Statham.

1. DIVING WAS HIS FIRST CALLING.

Before becoming a big-screen tough guy, Jason Statham exuded grace and fluidity as one of the world’s top competitive divers in the early 1990s. He spent 12 years as part of the British National Diving Squad, highlighted by competing in the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand.

Though he was an elite diver, Statham never qualified for the Olympics, which he admits is still a “sore point” for him. "I started too late," he has said of his diving career. "It probably wasn't my thing. I should have done a different sport."

2. HE DABBLED IN MODELING.

With his diving career over, Statham entered the world of modeling for the fashion company French Connection. If his rugged image doesn’t seem to naturally lend itself to the world of male modeling, that was exactly what the company was going for.

“We chose Jason because we wanted our model to look like a normal guy," Lilly Anderson, a spokesperson for French Connection, said in a 1995 interview with the Independent. "His look is just right for now—very masculine and not too male-modelly."

3. HE DANCED HALF-NAKED IN A COUPLE OF MUSIC VIDEOS.

A word of warning: The internet never forgets. Back in 2015, two ‘90s music videos went viral—“Comin’ On” by The Shamen and “Run to the Sun” by Erasure—and it’s not because the songs were just that good. It’s because both videos featured a half-naked, and quite oily, Jason Statham curiously dancing away in the background.

Both make liberal use of Statham’s lack of modesty, which is a far cry from the slick suits and commando gear we’d later see him sporting in The Transporter and Expendables series. So which one is your favorite? Leopard-print Speedo Statham from “Comin’ On” or his Silver Surfer look from “Run to the Sun”? And no, “both” isn’t an option. (Though “neither” is acceptable.)

4. GUY RITCHIE CAST HIM BECAUSE HE WAS SELLING KNOCKOFF JEWELRY AND PERFUME ON THE STREET.

After years of high dives, modeling, and pelvic gyrations, Statham was still looking to make a real living in the late ‘90s. His next odd job? Selling knockoff perfume and jewelry on London street corners. Luckily, that type of real-world hoodlum was exactly what director Guy Ritchie needed for 1998's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Ritchie was introduced to Statham through his modeling gig at French Connection and saw the potential this real-world con man had for the movie. He wrote the role of Bacon specifically for Statham, which would end up being the movie that propelled him to Hollywood stardom.

5. JOHN CARPENTER WANTED HIM AS THE LEAD IN GHOSTS OF MARS.

Though Statham gained acclaim for his role in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, he wasn’t quite a leading man yet. Director John Carpenter wanted to change that by casting him as James “Desolation” Williams, the main character in Ghosts of Mars.

While Carpenter was convinced that Statham was ready for the role, the producers weren’t. They pushed the director to cast someone with more name value, eventually settling on Ice Cube. Statham stayed in the movie in a smaller role as Sgt. Jericho Butler.

6. HE REGULARLY DOES HIS OWN STUNTS.

Jason Statham in Wild Card (2015).
Lionsgate

In addition to being in impeccable shape, Statham also takes pride in doing many of his own stunts in his movies, from hand-to-hand combat to dangling from a helicopter 3000 feet above downtown Los Angeles. In fact, he’s almost dogmatic in his belief that actors should be doing their own stunts.

“I'm inspired by the people who could do their own work,” the actor said. “Bruce Lee never had stunt doubles and fight doubles, or Jackie Chan or Jet Li. I've been in action movies where there is a face replacement and I'm fighting with a double, and it's embarrassing.”

The worst offenders? Superhero movies. And Statham isn't shy about sharing his thoughts on those:

"You slip on a cape and you put on the tights and you become a superhero? They're not doing anything! They're just sitting in their trailer. It's absolutely, 100 percent created by stunt doubles and green screen. How can I get excited about that?"

7. FILMING EXPENDABLES 3 ALMOST KILLED HIM.

For all the authenticity that Statham likes to bring to the screen by doing his own stunts, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. While filming an action scene for Expendables 3, the brakes failed on a three-ton stunt truck Statham was driving, sending it off a cliff and into the Black Sea.

If you've ever wondered if the real Statham was anything like the movie version, his underwater escape from a mammoth truck should answer that.

"It's the closest I've ever been to drowning,” Statham said on Today. “I've done a lot of scuba diving; I've done a lot of free diving ... No matter how much of that you've done, it doesn't teach you to breathe underwater ... I came very close to drowning. It was a very harrowing experience."

8. HE PRACTICES A RANGE OF MARTIAL ARTS.

Statham’s fitness routine is about more than just weights and core work. The actor is also involved in a variety of different fighting disciplines like boxing, judo, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Out of everything he does to stay in shape, it’s the martial arts that have the been most helpful for Statham’s onscreen presence. “That’s what I have to give most of my time to these days: training for what I have to do in terms of providing action in an authentic manner," he told Men's Health

Statham is not alone in his passion for martial arts; director Guy Ritchie is also a black belt in jiu-jitsu and a brown belt in karate. When Men’s Health asked Statham if the two ever sparred, he responded, “I remember when we started out, we’d go on a press tour for Lock, Stock… and we’d be moving all the furniture out of the way in the hotel room, trying to choke each other out.”

After all, what are collaborators for?

9. HE’S WELL AWARE SOME OF HIS MOVIES HAVE BEEN DUDS.

When asked by Esquire if he ever watched one of his movies during the premiere and thought "Oh, no ...," his response was a very self-aware: "Yeah, I think I've said that more often than not. Yeah."

He went on to rattle off his Guy Ritchie movies, The Bank Job, Transporter 1 and 2 (not 3), and Crank as being among his favorite films. As for the others, the actor joked, “And the rest is sh*t."

He clarified that remark as a joke and said, “I mean, you do a lot of films. You're always aiming for something and trying to push yourself to do something good.”

He then compared his work to the inner workings of a watch, saying, “A movie, it's like a very complicated timepiece. There's a lot of wheels in a watch. And some of those wheels, if they don't turn right, then, you know, the watch ain't gonna tell the time."

10. HIS MOVIES HAVE MADE MORE THAN $1.5 BILLION IN THE U.S. ALONE.

Statham's films may have a tough time impressing critics, but audiences and studio executives can’t get enough. Taken as a whole, Statham’s filmography has raked in just a touch more than $1.5 billion in the United States, with the worldwide total standing at $5.1 billion.

A lot of this is due to his more recent entry into the Fast and Furious franchise, but he’s also had seven movies cross the $100 million mark worldwide outside of that series. This isn’t an accident; Statham knows exactly what type of movie keeps the lights on, as he explained in an interview with The Guardian.

“So if you've got a story about a depressed doctor whose estranged wife doesn't wanna be with him no more, and you put me in it, people aren't gonna put money on the table. Whereas if you go, 'All he does is get in the car, hit someone on the head, shoot someone in the f*cking feet,' then, yep, they'll give you $20 million. You can't fault these people for wanting to make money.”

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