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9 Live Television Spectacles

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The hills were alive with the sound of just everybody turning their televisions on to watch NBC’s televised live version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic The Sound of Music last night, with the Carrie Underwood- and Stephen Moyer-starring event pulling in a solid 18.5 million viewers. Though the live televised musical format hasn’t been utilized in quite some time, it’s not nearly as foreign as some have made it sound. Though such a thing hadn’t been attempted in 50 years, there have been plenty of other large-scale live events piped into a TV near you over the past decades. 

1. 1955's Peter Pan (And again in 1956 and 1960)

Perhaps the most well-known live television spectacular, NBC’s version of the beloved J.M. Barrie play Peter Pan was also the first full-length Broadway production on color TV. The Mary Martin-starring live version first played on March 7, 1955, with a cast that featured nearly all of the stars of the 1954 Broadway production, and it proved to be wildly popular—it drew a then-record audience of 65 million viewers.

Peter Pan was so popular, in fact, that NBC restaged the whole thing the next year, with another live version hitting the airwaves on January 9, 1956. But even that wasn’t enough to sate hungry viewers, so yet another version was staged on December 8, 1960. This production was a bit different—there were some cast changes, it was expanded into a 100-minute version from the previous 90 minutes, and it was filmed in color for later telecasts. It’s still considered the definitive version of the Martin-starring “Pans” and it remains a perennial favorite.

2. 1957’s Cinderella

The magic of live versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein classics is not just confined to that new The Sound of Music: The Broadway duo’s Cinderella also got its own live telecast way back in 1957. The production starred no less than Julie Andrews herself, and the CBS telecast aired live on March 31, 1957, ultimately reaching a staggering 100 million viewers.

Despite being a bonafide Disney princess, the story of Cinderella was also lovingly rendered by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and two other film versions—the 1965 Lesley Ann Warren-starring version and the more recent 1997 Brandy Norwood-starring take—draw from the pair’s original work, not the animated classics.

3. 2000’s Fail Safe

It’s not just stage musicals that can go the terrifying live TV route, it’s also heady dramatic stage plays—even heady dramatic stage plays that star George Clooney. Back on April 9, 2000, CBS unleashed a live version of Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler’s Cold War novel Fail Safe on a history-hungry audience. (The book had previously been adapted into a film by Sidney Lumet back in 1964.)

It was an undeniably serious affair—the Stephen Frears-directed special was introduced by Walter Cronkite, it played in black and white, and it featured such glam settings as the Pentagon and a fallout shelter—but it also had a star-studded cast. Clooney was joined by Richard Dreyfuss, Harvey Keitel, Noah Wyle, Hank Azaria, Brian Dennehy, Don Cheadle, Sam Elliott, and James Cromwell in the special, which centered on the unexpected fallout when a U.S. bomber is mistakenly ordered to drop a nuke on Moscow.

4. 2005’s The Quartermass Experiment

Five years after Fail Safe, the BBC tried its hand at the super-serious live telecast with a remake of the 1953 series, The Quartermass Experiment. The science fiction serial from Nigel Kneale was adapted to a contemporary setting, starring Jason Flemyng in the eponymous role, an astronaut who is the only man to return from a three-person mission to space (and even he returns…well, different). The special also starred rising actor David Tennant.

The telecast wasn’t without a few bumps—it finished a full 20 minutes early, included limited line flubs and cast stumbles, saw the appearance of a cameraman and a sound guy popping up in a shot, and had two separate interruptions by on-screen graphics announcing the death of Pope John Paul II—but it was a big success for the BBC, as it became the fourth-highest-rated program in BBC Four history.

5. 1980’s The Oldest Living Graduate

Clooney isn’t the only big name star to take to live television for a beloved project—Sally Field did it, too, with The Oldest Living Graduate. Based on the 1974 Preston Jones play of the same name, Field and co-stars Henry Fonda, Timothy Hutton, Harry Dean Stanton, John Lithgow, and Cloris Leachman top-lined the talent-stacked production, which aired on NBC on April 7, 1980.

Filmed at Dallas’ Southern Methodist University, the tale of a Texas family and their many machinations, motivations, and maddening issues was a small-scale hit, one that was eventually bolstered by a sad bit of trivia—it marked Fonda’s final stage appearance.

6. 1961’s Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte’s beloved classic has been adapted for the screens—big and small—many times over, but it was only done live on television just once. CBS cut down the rich romance for a slim hour of live television back on April 27, 1961. The Sally Ann Howes- and Zachary Scott-starring drama focused on the middle section of Bronte’s sprawling novel, picking up when young governess Jane first arrives at the foreboding Thornfield Hall and meets the dashing (and dangerous) Mr. Rochester.

Despite its limited runtime, the special is considered a solid take on the material, and one of the very best American versions of the beloved British novel.

7. 1981’s All the Way Home

Just a year after hitting the small screen with the televised version of The Oldest Living Graduate, Sally Field returned to the stage for yet another live telecast of a hard-hitting play. Based on Tad Mosel’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning 1961 play (which was in turn based on James Agee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Death in the Family), All the Way Home centered on a Tennessee family in the midst of great upheaval and tragedy after the death of their patriarch.

Like The Oldest Living Graduate, the film was broadcast live from a performance, this one staged at the University of Southern California. The live telecast played on NBC on December 21, 1981.

8. 2005’s The West Wing episode “The Debate”

A number of television shows have used the gimmick of a live episode to enthrall audiences, but only a few truly stand out. One such winner is “The Debate,” the seventh episode of The West Wing's seventh season. The beloved series’ final season needed a big bang to get it going, and two live broadcasts, featuring characters going “off script,” seemed like the way to go.

Two live versions of the episode were performed—one for each coast—both starring Alan Alda as Senator Arnold Vinick and Jimmy Smits as Congressman Matt Santos gunning for the presidency in an aggressive, energetic “live presidential debate.” The episode certainly had the appropriate live flavor, and the production’s choice to not include any original cast members only added to that veracity (even as it riled West Wing devotees).

9. 1997’s ER episode, “Ambush”

NBC was no stranger to the live show format: The network quite memorably utilized the technique almost a decade earlier, when medical drama E.R. opened its fourth season with two live episodes.

Unlike “The Debate,” however, “Ambush” used the show’s principal cast to fine effect, while also adhering to an outside gimmick to drive it. The September 25, 1997 double-show was framed as a documentary, with a camera crew invading the E.R. to chronicle the recovery of Anthony Edwards’ Dr. Mark Greene. Along the way, the episode included a near-riot, a heart attack, and the arrival of Dr. Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston). The two episodes were successful, despite a few minor mistakes in each (a character drops a pen in one episode, a patient loses his concealed weapon in another).

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10 Surprising Facts About The Babadook
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In 2014, The Babadook came out of nowhere and scared audiences across the globe. Written and directed by Aussie Jennifer Kent, and based on her short film Monster, The Babadook is about a widow named Amelia (played by Kent’s drama schoolmate Essie Davis) who has trouble controlling her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who thinks there’s a monster living in their house. Amelia reads Samuel a pop-up book, Mister Babadook, and Samuel manifests the creature into a real-life monster. The Babadook may be the villain, but the film explores the pitfalls of parenting and grief in an emotional way. 

“I never approached this as a straight horror film,” Kent told Complex. “I always was drawn to the idea of grief, and the suppression of that grief, and the question of, how would that affect a person? ... But at the core of it, it’s about the mother and child, and their relationship.”

Shot on a $2 million budget, the film grossed more than $10.3 million worldwide and gained an even wider audience via streaming networks. Instead of creating Babadook out of CGI, a team generated the images in-camera, inspired by the silent films of Georges Méliès and Lon Chaney. Here are 10 things you might not have known about The Babadook (dook, dook).

1. THE NAME “BABADOOK” WAS EASY FOR A CHILD TO INVENT.

Jennifer Kent told Complex that some people thought the creature’s name sounded “silly,” which she agreed with. “I wanted it to be like something a child could make up, like ‘jabberwocky’ or some other nonsensical name,” she explained. “I wanted to create a new myth that was just solely of this film and didn’t exist anywhere else.”

2. JENNIFER KENT WAS WORRIED PEOPLE WOULD JUDGE THE MOTHER.

Amelia isn’t the best mother in the world—but that’s the point. “I’m not a parent,” Kent told Rolling Stone, “but I’m surrounded by friends and family who are, and I see it from the outside … how parenting seems hard and never-ending.” She thought Amelia would receive “a lot of flak” for her flawed parenting, but the opposite happened. “I think it’s given a lot of women a sense of reassurance to see a real human being up there,” Kent said. “We don’t get to see characters like her that often.”

3. KENT AND ESSIE DAVIS TONED DOWN THE CONTENT FOR THE KID.

Noah Wiseman was six years old when he played Samuel. Kent and Davis made sure he wasn’t present for the more horrific scenes, like when Amelia tells Samuel she wishes he was the one who died, not her husband. “During the reverse shots, where Amelia was abusing Sam verbally, we had Essie yell at an adult stand-in on his knees,” Kent told Film Journal. “I didn’t want to destroy a childhood to make this film—that wouldn’t be fair.”

Kent explained a “kiddie version” of the plot to Wiseman. “I said, ‘Basically, Sam is trying to save his mother and it’s a film about the power of love.’”

4. THE FILM IS ALSO ABOUT “FACING OUR SHADOW SIDE.”

IFC Films

Kent told Film Journal that “The Babadook is a film about a woman waking up from a long, metaphorical sleep and finding that she has the power to protect herself and her son.” She noted that everybody has darkness to face. “Beyond genre and beyond being scary, that’s the most important thing in the film—facing our shadow side.”

5. THE FILM SCARED THE HELL OUT OF THE DIRECTOR OF THE EXORCIST.

In an interview with Uproxx, William Friedkin—director of The Exorcist—said The Babadook was one of the best and scariest horror films he’d ever seen. He especially liked the emotional aspect of the film. “It’s not only the simplicity of the filmmaking and the excellence of the acting not only by the two leads, but it’s the way the film works slowly but inevitably on your emotions,” he said.

6. AN ART DEPARTMENT ASSISTANT SCORED THE ROLE AS THE BABADOOK.

Tim Purcell worked in the film’s art department but then got talked into playing the titular character after he acted as the creature for some camera tests. “They realized they could save some money, and have me just be the Babadook, and hence I became the Babadook,” Purcell told New York Magazine. “In terms of direction, it was ‘be still a lot,’” he said.

7. THE MOVIE BOMBED IN ITS NATIVE AUSTRALIA.

Even though Kent shot the film in Adelaide, Australians didn’t flock to the theaters; it grossed just $258,000 in its native country. “Australians have this [built-in] aversion to seeing Australian films,” Kent told The Cut. “They hardly ever get excited about their own stuff. We only tend to love things once everyone else confirms they’re good … Australian creatives have always had to go overseas to get recognition. I hope one day we can make a film or work of art and Australians can think it’s good regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.”

8. YOU CAN OWN A MISTER BABADOOK BOOK (BUT IT WILL COST YOU). 

IFC Films

In 2015, Insight Editions published 6200 pop-up books of Mister Babadook. Kent worked with the film’s illustrator, Alexander Juhasz, who created the book for the movie. He and paper engineer Simon Arizpe brought the pages to life for the published version. All copies sold out but you can find some Kent-signed ones on eBay, going for as much as $500.

9. THE BABADOOK IS A GAY ICON.

It started at the end of 2016, when a Tumblr user started a jokey thread about how he thought the Babadook was gay. “It started picking up steam within a few weeks,” Ian, the Tumblr user, told New York Magazine, “because individuals who I presume are heterosexual kind of freaked out over the assertion that a horror movie villain would identify as queer—which I think was the actual humor of the post, as opposed to just the outright statement that the Babadook is gay.” In June, the Babadook became a symbol for Gay Pride month. Images of the character appeared everywhere at this year's Gay Pride Parade in Los Angeles.

10. DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR A SEQUEL.

Kent, who owns the rights to The Babadook, told IGN that, despite the original film's popularity, she's not planning on making any sequels. “The reason for that is I will never allow any sequel to be made, because it’s not that kind of film,” she said. “I don’t care how much I’m offered, it’s just not going to happen.”

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15 Fascinating Facts About Amelia Earhart
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Amelia Earhart was a pioneer, a legend, and a mystery. To celebrate what would be her 120th birthday, we've uncovered 15 things you might not know about the groundbreaking aviator.

1. THE FIRST TIME SHE SAW AN AIRPLANE, SHE WASN'T IMPRESSED.

In Last Flight, a collection of diary entries published posthumously, Earhart recalled feeling unmoved by "a thing of rusty wire and wood" at the Iowa State Fair in 1908. It wasn't until years later that she discovered her passion for aviation, when she worked as a nurse's aide at Toronto's Spadina Military Hospital. She and some friends would spend time at hangars and flying fields, talking to pilots and watching aerial shows. Earhart didn't actually get on a plane herself until 1920, and even then she was just a passenger.

2. SHE WAS A GOOD STUDENT WITH NO PATIENCE FOR SCHOOL.

After working with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in Toronto, Earhart took pre-med classes at Columbia University in 1919. She made good grades, but dropped out after just a year. Earhart re-enrolled at Columbia in 1925 and left school again. She took summer classes at Harvard, but gave up on higher education for good after she didn't get a scholarship to MIT.

3. ANOTHER PIONEERING FEMALE AVIATOR TAUGHT EARHART HOW TO FLY.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Neta Snook was the first woman to run her own aviation business and commercial airfield. She gave Earhart flying lessons at Kinner Field near Long Beach, California in 1921, reportedly charging $1 in Liberty Bonds for every minute they spent in the air.

4. EARHART BOUGHT HER FIRST PLANE WITHIN SIX MONTHS OF HER FIRST FLYING LESSON.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

She named it The Canary. The used yellow Kinner Airster biplane was the second one ever built. Earhart paid $2000 for it, despite Snook's opinion that it was underpowered, overpriced, and too difficult for a beginner to land.

5. AMY EARHART ENCOURAGED HER DAUGHTER'S PASSION. HER FATHER, ON THE OTHER HAND, WAS AFRAID OF FLYING.

Earhart's mom used some of her inheritance to pay for The Canary. She was a bit of an adventurer herself: the first woman to ever climb Pikes Peak in Colorado.

6. EARHART HAD A LOT OF ODD JOBS.

In addition to volunteering as a nurse's aide, Earhart also worked early jobs as a telephone operator and tutor. Earhart was a social worker at Denison House in Boston when she was invited to fly across the Atlantic for the first time (as a passenger) in 1928. At the height of her career, Earhart spent time making speeches, writing articles, and providing career counseling at Purdue University's Department of Aeronautics. Oh, and flying around the world.

7. SHE WASN'T SURE ABOUT MARRIAGE, BUT SHE DEFINITELY BELIEVED IN PRE-NUPS.

When promoter George Putnam contacted Earhart about flying across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928, it was her first big break ... and the beginning of their love story. The two began a working relationship, which soon turned into attraction. When Putnam's marriage to Dorothy Binney fell apart, he eventually proposed to Earhart. She said yes, albeit reluctantly.

Earhart wasn't worried about safeguarding financial assets so much as she wanted the two of them to maintain separate identities. Earhart asked Putnam to agree to a trial marriage. If they weren't happy after a year, they'd be free to go their separate ways, no hard feelings. He agreed. They lived happily until her disappearance.

8. SHE WROTE ABOUT FLYING FOR COSMOPOLITAN.

In 1928, Earhart was appointed Cosmopolitan's Aviation Editor. Her 16 published articles—among them "Shall You Let Your Daughter Fly?" and "Why Are Women Afraid to Fly?"—recounted her adventures and encouraged other women to fly, even if they just did so commercially. (Commercial flights date back to 1914, but they wouldn't really take off until after World War II.)

9. FIRST LADY ELEANOR ROOSEVELT WAS SO INSPIRED BY EARHART THAT SHE SIGNED UP FOR FLYING LESSONS.

The two became friends in 1932. Roosevelt got a student permit and a physical examination, but never followed through with her plan.

10. EARHART WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO GET A PILOT'S LICENSE FROM THE NATIONAL AERONAUTIC ASSOCIATION (NAA).

That was in 1923, when pilots and aircrafts weren't legally required to be licensed. Earhart was the sixteenth woman to get licensed by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), which was required to set flight records. Still, the FAI didn't maintain women's records until 1928.

11. SHE ACCOMPLISHED A LOT OF "FIRSTS."

Earhart eventually became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger (1928) and then solo (1932) and nonstop from coast to coast (1932) as a pilot. She also set records, period: Earhart was the first person to ever fly solo from Honolulu to Oakland, Los Angeles to Mexico City, and Mexico City to Newark, all in 1935.

What do John Glenn, George H.W. Bush, and Amelia Earhart have in common? They all earned an Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross. But only Earhart was the first woman—and one of few civilians—to do so.

12. SHE WAS ONE OF THE FIRST CELEBRITIES TO LAUNCH A CLOTHING LINE.

Amelia Earhart Fashions were affordable separates sold exclusively at Macy's and Marshall Field's. The line's dresses, blouses, pants, suits, and hats were made of cotton and parachute silk and featured aviation-inspired details, like propeller-shaped buttons. Earhart studied sewing as a girl and actually made her own samples.

13. THE U.S. GOVERNMENT SPENT $4 MILLION SEARCH FOR EARHART.

At the time, it was the most expensive air and sea search in history. Earhart's plane disappeared July 2, 1937. The official search ended a little over two weeks later on July 19. Putnam then financed a private search, chartering boats to the Phoenix Islands, Christmas Island, Fanning Island, the Gilbert Islands, and the Marshall Islands.

14. THE SEARCH ISN'T OVER.

There are several theories about what happened to Earhart's plane during her last flight. Most people believe she ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Others believe she landed on an island and died of thirst, starvation, injury, or at the hands of Japanese soldiers in Saipan. In 1970, one man even claimed that Earhart was alive and well and living a secret life in New Jersey.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has explored the theory that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan lived as castaways before dying on Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro, in the western Pacific. Over the years, they've found a few potential artifacts, including evidence of campfire sites, pieces of Plexiglas, and an empty jar of the brand of freckle cream that Earhart used.

In early July 2017, a photo surfaced that seemed to confirm the theory that Earhart and Noonan crashed and were captured by Japanese soldiers, but that photo was quickly debunked.

15. TODAY, ANOTHER AMELIA EARHART IS MAKING HISTORY.

In 2014, another pilot named Amelia Earhart took to the skies to set a world record. The then-31-year-old California native became the youngest woman to fly 24,300 miles around the world in a single-engine plane. Her namesake never completed the journey, but the younger Earhart landed safely in Oakland on July 11, 2014. We think "Lady Lindy" would be proud.

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