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20 Things You Might Not Know About E.T.

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1. The film was initially patched together from different ideas for separate movies.

With his newfound success following the back-to-back smash hits of Jaws in 1975 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, director Steven Spielberg wanted to tell a smaller, more personal story for his next film. Entitled Growing Up, the proposed movie was inspired by the divorce of his parents when he was 15 years old. It included the feelings of alienation Spielberg felt being Jewish in an all Gentile neighborhood in Arizona and was told from the perspective of three children.

When the project was shelved, Spielberg moved on to another big budget film, 1941, but the basic idea stayed with him. Around the same time, Columbia Pictures demanded a sequel to Close Encounters. Spielberg wanted no part of that, though he had a small idea about what would have happened if an alien didn’t go back to the mothership at the end of that movie. To ensure they didn’t make the sequel without him, he instead commissioned writer/director John Sayles to create a script for a pseudo-sequel called Night Skies, about a suburban family terrorized by a group of aliens with one befriending the family’s son.

The project was too dark in tone for Spielberg, though, and ultimately, he had Columbia just re-release Close Encounters in a Special Edition with additional scenes. But he still recognized the potential of a film like Night Skies, so he and screenwriter Melissa Mathison then combined Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical story with the benevolent alien visiting a boy on earth to create E.T. The idea of the terrorized family was refashioned as another eventual Spielberg production: Poltergeist.         

2. Mathison’s first draft is the shooting script.

Most films go through several drafts before a final shooting script is locked into place, but Melissa Mathison’s first draft is what Spielberg used during the shoot of the film. Instead of constantly revising individual drafts, Spielberg gave Mathison the general narrative plot for her to round out. She would write for five straight days and then collaborate with him for five successive days of feedback. This process went on for eight weeks, and Spielberg later called the resulting screenplay “the best first draft I’ve ever read.” In order to maintain a spontaneous and streamlined shoot (and unlike the fully pre-visualized Raiders of the Lost Ark), Spielberg didn’t storyboard any of the shots for E.T. and kept the script Mathison had written on 3 x 5-inch notecards in his shirt pocket. This gave him the freedom to revise, improvise, and make things up with the child actors on set. To maintain secrecy while shooting, the production name was listed as the rather mundane “A Boy’s Life.”

3. A young Drew Barrymore’s little white lies made Spielberg cast her as Gertie.

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Getting the right young actors to play the three main young siblings was a paramount problem for Spielberg. The first kid he cast was Drew Barrymore as Gertie, the youngest of the trio. During her audition, the six-year-old Barrymore allegedly told Spielberg that she wasn’t really an actress at all but rather the drummer of a loud and menacing punk rock band called the Purple People Eaters, who painted their faces with makeup for every show and who had played to an arena packed with thousands of people the night before. Spielberg recognized the value of her vivid imagination and she got the part.

4. Henry Thomas’ improvised audition won him the part of Elliott.

The most difficult role for Spielberg to cast was that of Elliott, the boy who discovers and befriends E.T. Spielberg’s friend Jack Fisk (Sissy Spacek’s husband and the production designer of such films as Badlands and Eraserhead) suggested a young actor by the name of Henry Thomas, whom he directed in his 1981 film Raggedy Man. Spielberg brought Thomas in for a meeting to audition at Universal Studios, but instead of giving Henry the script to read, the director opted to have the young actor improv a scene with a government agent (played by casting director Mike Fenton) who is trying to take his alien best friend away from him. Spielberg’s only direction to Thomas was to do whatever it takes to stop the government agent from taking the alien away. In the heartbreaking audition (seen above), Thomas broke down in tears while pleading with Fenton not to take his friend, prompting Spielberg to conclude the session with “OK kid, you got the job."

5. Peter Coyote’s bad audition for Raiders of the Lost Ark got him a part in E.T.

Actor Peter Coyote, who plays the sympathetic government agent Keys in E.T., auditioned for the role of Indiana Jones during a May 1980 casting session held by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Coyote, who was given snippets of the Raiders script along with a character outline of Indy, brought along a dashing fedora to accentuate his audition in hopes of wowing the two Hollywood heavyweights. But when he was told it was his turn to go, he tripped over the wiring of the lights that were set up in the room. His stumbling first impression was the furthest thing from the debonair, tough-guy Indy. The part went to Harrison Ford, but Spielberg found something endearing in Coyote's clumsiness, and when it came time to cast Keysan adult with childlike wondermentthe choice was obvious. Sometimes being awkward pays off!

6. The combination of a painting and photos of famous people inspired the look of E.T..

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Spielberg originally had production illustrator Ed Verreaux—with whom he had worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark—draft the initial designs of the titular alien creature. Eventually, he went with a different set of design ideas, created by special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi. Rambaldi had previously designed the mechanical head effects for the xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s Alien and the visitors from Spielberg’s own Close Encounters of the Third Kind. For E.T., Spielberg tasked him with coming up with an alien form that audiences could sympathize with. The primary inspiration was one of his own paintings from the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, titled “Women of Delta.” It depicted a shriveled character with stumpy legs, a long neck, an oblong head, and large eyes. To make the alien empathetic, Spielberg had Rambaldi study photos of elderly people who lived during the Great Depression. He also collated the alien's facial design with photos of Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, and Carl Sandburg. Rambaldi completed his design in clay, and an impressed Spielberg quickly gave it the go-ahead. Artist Ralph McQuarrie, who was responsible for the famous concept art for George Lucas’ Star Wars, designed E.T.’s spaceship, saying it was meant to resemble a hot air balloon as if it were created by Dr. Seuss.

7.  The E.T. puppet was a conceptual wonder, but made the sets a logistical nightmare.

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For scenes that required the animatronic E.T. puppet—like Elliott’s room and the family’s living room—Spielberg had the production designers build the sets raised on stilts. The heavy robotic puppet was bolted down, and its wiring was hidden under the floor. The puppeteers were able to observe and manage the puppet’s performance from a series of TV monitors located in another room.

Spielberg wanted those on-set to act as if E.T. were a real actor for maximum believability, and asked the special effects designers to test out all puppet movements well before production began to ensure that the illusion wasn’t easily broken. Taking the farce even further, Spielberg told the young Drew Barrymore that the puppet was an actual living, breathing alien, and during the scene where—spoiler alert!—E.T. dies, the sobbing reaction shots of Barrymore are true-to-life tears, as she truly believed that E.T. had passed away.  

8. A mime was responsible for E.T.’s hand movements.

A puppet can only do so much, so to breathe a little bit more balletic life into his creature, Spielberg hired professional mime Caprice Rothe to provide fluid and naturalistic hand motions. Each time the puppet was meant to interact with Elliott or pick certain things up during a scene, Rothe would have to lay horizontally underneath the puppet and extend her hands vertically, for take after take. She wore sleeve-length gloves that were made up to look like E.T.’s leathery skin, and mimicked his long, slender, four-fingered hands with her ring and pinky fingers sneakily tucked away in the fourth digit. In the final cut, she was credited as the “E.T. Movement Coordinator.”

9. A trio of actors brought E.T.’s other movements to life.

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The scenes where Spielberg opted to show full-body shots of E.T. freely moving around were performed by three different actors. Two little people, Tamara de Treaux and Pat Bilon, wore special E.T. suits for wide shots of the alien walking around. They were able to see out of well-hidden slits cut into the upper part of E.T.’s chest. Other scenes, like when E.T. falls on his face from having a few too many beers, were performed by 12-year-old Matthew DeMeritt, an actor who was born without legs. His specially-rigged suit allowed him to walk with his arms where the alien’s feet would be.

10. The first voice of E.T. was Spielberg himself.

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During shooting, Spielberg acted out the voice parts of E.T. by positioning himself just to the side of the camera, uttering famous phrases like “E.T. phone home,” but also occasionally speaking in full sentences to better connect the character to the child actors. In the rough cut, Spielberg’s temp track was later replaced with the voice of actress Debra Winger. (Fun fact: Winger has an uncredited appearance in the Halloween scene as the zombie nurse carrying a little dog). For the final print, sound designer Ben Burtt—who previously worked on all of the Star Wars films and also on Raiders of the Lost Ark with Spielberg—hired a non-actor named Pat Welsh, whose deep and raspy smoker’s voice he overheard at a local camera store. Burtt lowered the pitch of her voice and mixed it with sounds of various animals breathing. For her performance, Welsh allegedly received only $380. In all there were 18 different contributors to the voice of E.T.—including Ken Miura, Burtt’s cinema professor from USC, who provided the burp in the scene where E.T. gets drunk.      

11. Harrison Ford appeared in one scene, but it was cut from the final film.

Ford was already an iconic Spielberg alum, so to play with that image, the filmmaker cast his Raiders of the Lost Ark star as the principal of Elliott’s school. Other than Elliott’s mother, another adult's face wasn't shown until the third act, so Ford was always filmed from behind.  Ford reprimands the youngster after the scene where Elliott frees all of the frogs about to be dissected (when he passionately kisses his classmate in an homage to John Ford’s 1952 film The Quiet Man). In another example of Elliott's and E.T.’s consciences melding, he’s seen levitating just out of his principal’s view until his mother barges in to take him home. These scenes were ultimately cut for time.

12. E.T.’s favorite candy was supposed to be M&Ms.

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Spielberg brought his idea to Mars Incorporated, the company that owns M&Ms, to ask if they could use their little candies in a scene where Elliott attracts the inquisitive alien back to his house. Universal Studios legally barred the company from seeing the final script, so Mars passed on the cross-promotional opportunity. Spielberg and company then brought the idea to the Hershey Company to see if they could use Hershey Kisses, but the company was looking to get more exposure for their newest creation, Reese’s Pieces, and suggested the peanut butter filled treats instead. Hershey agreed to spend $1 million for the rights to promote the use of their product in E.T., and Reese’s Pieces became the little alien's candy of choice. The agreement certainly paid off for Hershey, as the company reported a 65 percent increase in profits on Reese's Pieces just two weeks after the film premiere.

13. On set, Spielberg was an old hag.

In the Halloween scene (shot in October 1981), Elliott and his brother Michael dress E.T. up as if he’s their costumed little sister so that they can safely get him to the forest to phone home. To join in the fun, Spielberg spent the entire day dressed up as an old woman. He even bobbed for apples and went trick-or-treating with the cast at the wrap of that day’s shoot.

14. An international flight into LAX inspired one of the film’s later scenes.

In the original script, Elliott and E.T. are brought to an undisclosed hospital when the government captures them both, but production designer James Bissell and cinematographer Allen Daviau were having trouble finding a hospital suitable for filming. One day, Spielberg flew into Los Angeles International Airport aboard an overseas flight, and his return was severely delayed by the airport’s extensive construction that included huge scaffolding, over-sized plastic sheets, and cylindrical tubing everywhere. The space sparked Spielberg's imagination, so instead of bringing the two to a hospital, the government would create a temporary structure to shroud the family’s house in gigantic mylar sheets and plastic tubing similar to what he saw from the construction at LAX. The production covered the exterior of the house in the Northridge neighborhood of Los Angeles for the shots in the final film. The interiors were done on soundstages.

15. Everything in the famous shot of Elliott and E.T. flying across the face of the Moon was real—except Elliott and E.T.

Visual Effects Supervisor Dennis Muren and his team at Industrial Light and Magic were tasked with creating organic special effects to surround the potentially inorganic looking E.T. puppet. Surprisingly, the iconic shot of the boy and alien flying across the full moon was mostly a "real" shot. It took Muren and his team weeks to find the right spot to film a low moon among trees, so they used maps and charts to coordinate the scene once they found the right spot. In the shot, Elliott and E.T. are puppets that were added with special effects in post-production, but the rest is photo-real.

16. Spielberg gave a cinematic tip of the hat to George Lucas, and eventually Lucas did the same thing back.

The two friends and collaborators had hidden little nods to each other’s films in their work before, but for E.T., Spielberg didn’t need to hide anything at all. In one of the film’s cheekiest jokes, E.T. sees a child dressed up as Yoda for Halloween, prompting the little alien to exclaim, “Home! Home!” Spielberg didn’t tell Lucas about the joke until he held a personal screening for his friend at his Skywalker Ranch, which Lucas approved of with laughter. When he went on to make The Phantom Menace, Lucas returned the favor and made E.T.’s race of aliens part of the Galactic Senate. You can see them acting uncharacteristically hostile in the video above.

17. François Truffaut gave the film, and Spielberg, his blessing.

Spielberg worried that his intensely personal story wouldn’t resonate with audiences, and that they might have trouble identifying with a potentially off-putting alien character. Once finished, E.T. was publicly previewed a handful of times, but when the film was shown out-of-competition at the 1982 Cannes Film festival, audience members stood and applauded 15 whole minutes before the film ended. The standing ovation went on for another 15 minutes after the credits rolled, and Spielberg knew he had hit the perfect mark. After the Cannes screening, he received a telegram from fellow director François Truffaut, who acted in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The telegram read, “You belong here more than me,” echoing a similar line his character uttered in Close Encounters.

18. The film wowed audiences and heads of state alike.

Following Cannes, the film was released in the United States on June 11, 1982, and would go on to overtake Star Wars as the highest-grossing film of all time—a record it would hold until 1993, when it was beaten by another Spielberg film, Jurassic Park.  Spielberg held personal previews like the one with Lucas for his friends and colleagues, but he would also go on to screen the film at the White House for then-President Ronald Reagan and the First Lady, Nancy Reagan. The director recalled sitting next to the President for the show, and even thought he saw Reagan shed a tear or two. When the film was screened for newlyweds Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Spielberg and the stars in attendance were bizarrely ushered backstage the moment the film ended. Apparently, Diana had wept so much that her prim and proper makeup was running, causing the Royal minders to whisk her away to redo the makeup before holding an informal meeting at the Princess’ request.

19. There was a plagiarism scandal.

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Following the film’s resounding worldwide success, a claim of plagiarism arose when Indian director Satyajit Ray alleged that Spielberg had stolen the idea from a script he wrote in 1967, titled The Alien. Columbia Pictures had optioned the concept with Peter Sellers and Marlon Brando in the lead roles, but legal troubles forced Ray to abandon the project. When E.T. broke the bank in 1982, Ray felt certain that the similarities weren’t mere coincidence. Ray told the press, "E.T. would not have been possible without my script of The Alien being available throughout America in mimeographed copies," but Spielberg denied plagiarizing the script, saying, “I was a kid in high school when his script was circulating in Hollywood.” No further legal action was taken, and Ray would continue to make films until his death in 1992.

20. Spielberg and co-writer Melissa Mathison envisioned a sequel that was eventually abandoned.

Both Spielberg and Mathison wrote a story treatment for a potential sequel to E.T. during its initial theatrical run. Dated July 17, 1982, the treatment is titled “E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears,” and takes place the summer after the events in the first film. The story describes a plot in which Elliott and his friends are abducted by a mutated race of E.T.s led by an evil entity named Korel who is looking for Zrek, another alien stranded on Earth. Eventually, E.T. manages to save the group of kids and helps them back to Earth. Ultimately, Spielberg decided not to do a sequel because doing so "would do nothing but rob the original of its virginity.” You can read the 10-page treatment by clicking here. A novelized sequel by author William Kotzwinkle—who also penned the novelization of the original film—was published in 1985. E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet was set on E.T.’s home planet, which Kotzwinkle dubbed Brodo Asogi.

Additional Sources: E.T. Blu-ray special features; The Films of Steven Spielberg by Douglas Brode; Steven Spielberg: A Retrospective by Richard Schickel

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8 of the Weirdest Gallup Polls
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Born in Jefferson, Iowa on November 18, 1901, George Gallup studied journalism and psychology, focusing on how to measure readers’ interest in newspaper and magazine content. In 1935, he founded the American Institute of Public Opinion to scientifically measure public opinions on topics such as government spending, criminal justice, and presidential candidates. Although he died in 1984, The Gallup Poll continues his legacy of trying to determine and report the will of the people in an unbiased, independent way. To celebrate his day of birth, we compiled a list of some of the weirdest, funniest Gallup polls over the years.

1. THREE IN FOUR AMERICANS BELIEVE IN THE PARANORMAL (2005)

According to this Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans have at least one paranormal belief. Specifically, 41 percent believe in extrasensory perception (ESP), 37 percent believe in haunted houses, and 21 percent believe in witches. What about channeling spirits, you might ask? Only 9 percent of Americans believe that it’s possible to channel a spirit so that it takes temporary control of one's body. Interestingly, believing in paranormal phenomena was relatively similar across people of different genders, races, ages, and education levels.

2. ONE IN FIVE AMERICANS THINK THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH (1999)

In this poll, Gallup tried to determine the popularity of heliocentric versus geocentric views. While 79 percent of Americans correctly stated that the Earth revolves around the sun, 18 percent think the sun revolves around the Earth. Three percent chose to remain indifferent, saying they had no opinion either way.

3. 22 PERCENT OF AMERICANS ARE HESITANT TO SUPPORT A MORMON (2011)

Gallup first measured anti-Mormon sentiment back in 1967, and it was still an issue in 2011, a year before Mormon Mitt Romney ran for president. Approximately 22 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, even if that candidate belonged to their preferred political party. Strangely, Americans’ bias against Mormons has remained stable since the 1960s, despite decreasing bias against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and women.

4. MISSISSIPPIANS GO TO CHURCH THE MOST; VERMONTERS THE LEAST (2010)

This 2010 poll amusingly confirms the stereotype that southerners are more religious than the rest of the country. Although 42 percent of all Americans attend church regularly (which Gallup defines as weekly or almost weekly), there are large variations based on geography. For example, 63 percent of people in Mississippi attend church regularly, followed by 58 percent in Alabama and 56 percent in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Utah. Rounding out the lowest levels of church attendance, on the other hand, were Vermont, where 23 percent of residents attend church regularly, New Hampshire, at 26 percent, and Maine at 27 percent.

5. ONE IN FOUR AMERICANS DON’T KNOW WHICH COUNTRY AMERICA GAINED INDEPENDENCE FROM (1999)

Although 76 percent of Americans knew that the United States gained independence from Great Britain as a result of the Revolutionary War, 24 percent weren’t so sure. Two percent thought the correct answer was France, 3 percent said a different country (such as Mexico, China, or Russia), and 19 percent had no opinion. Certain groups of people who consider themselves patriotic, including men, older people, and white people (according to Gallup polls), were more likely to know that America gained its independence from Great Britain.

6. ONE THIRD OF AMERICANS BELIEVE IN GHOSTS (2000)

This Halloween-themed Gallup poll asked Americans about their habits and behavior on the last day of October. Predictably, two-thirds of Americans reported that someone in their house planned to give candy to trick-or-treaters and more than three-quarters of parents with kids reported that their kids would wear a costume. More surprisingly, 31 percent of American adults claimed to believe in ghosts, an increase from 1978, when only 11 percent of American adults admitted to a belief in ghosts.

7. 5 PERCENT OF WORKING MILLENNIALS THRIVE IN ALL FIVE ELEMENTS OF WELL-BEING (2016)

This recent Gallup poll is funny in a sad way, as it sheds light on the tragicomic life of a millennial. In this poll, well-being is defined as having purpose, social support, manageable finances, a strong community, and good physical health. Sadly, only 5 percent of working millennials—defined as people born between 1980 and 1996—were thriving in these five indicators of well-being. To counter this lack of well-being, Gallup’s report recommends that managers promote work-life balance and improve their communication with millennial employees.

8. THE WORLD IS BECOMING SLIGHTLY MORE NEGATIVE (2014)

If you seem to feel more stress, sadness, anxiety, and pain than ever before, Gallup has the proof that it’s not all in your head. According to the company’s worldwide negative experience index, negative feelings such as stress, sadness, and anger have increased since 2007. Unsurprisingly, people living in war-torn, dangerous parts of the word—Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Sierra Leone—reported the highest levels of negative emotions.

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11 Times Mickey Mouse Was Banned
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Despite being one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved characters, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Mickey Mouse, who turns 89 years old today. A number of countries—and even U.S. states—have banned the cartoon rodent at one time or another for reasons both big and small.

1. In 1930, Ohio banned a cartoon called “The Shindig” because Clarabelle Cow was shown reading Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn, the premier romance novelist of the time. Check it out (1:05) and let us know if you’re scandalized:

2. With movies on 10-foot screen being a relatively new thing in Romania in 1935, the government decided to ban Mickey Mouse, concerned that children would be terrified of a monstrous rodent.

3. In 1929, a German censor banned a Mickey Mouse short called “The Barnyard Battle.” The reason? An army of cats wearing pickelhauben, the pointed helmets worn by German military in the 19th and 20th centuries: "The wearing of German military helmets by an army of cats which oppose a militia of mice is offensive to national dignity. Permission to exhibit this production in Germany is refused.”

4. The German dislike for Mickey Mouse continued into the mid-'30s, with one German newspaper wondering why such a small and dirty animal would be idolized by children across the world: "Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed ... Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal.” Mickey was originally banned from Nazi Germany, but eventually the mouse's popularity won out.

5. In 2014, Iran's Organization for Supporting Manufacturers and Consumers announced a ban on school supplies and stationery products featuring “demoralizing images,” including that of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, and characters from Toy Story.

6. In 1954, East Germany banned Mickey Mouse comics, claiming that Mickey was an “anti-Red rebel.”

7. In 1937, a Mickey Mouse adventure was so similar to real events in Yugoslavia that the comic strip was banned. State police say the comic strip depicted a “Puritan-like revolt” that was a danger to the “Boy King,” Peter II of Yugoslavia, who was just 14 at the time. A journalist who wrote about the ban was consequently escorted out of the country.

8. Though Mussolini banned many cartoons and American influences from Italy in 1938, Mickey Mouse flew under the radar. It’s been said that Mussolini’s children were such Mickey Mouse fans that they were able to convince him to keep the rodent around.

9. Mickey and his friends were banned from the 1988 Seoul Olympics in a roundabout way. As they do with many major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, Disney had contacted American favorites to win in each event to ask them to say the famous “I’m going to Disneyland!” line if they won. When American swimmer Matt Biondi won the 100-meter freestyle, he dutifully complied with the request. After a complaint from the East Germans, the tape was pulled and given to the International Olympic Committee.

10. In 1993, Mickey was banned from a place he shouldn't have been in the first place: Seattle liquor stores. As a wonderful opening sentence from the Associated Press explained, "Mickey Mouse, the Easter Bunny and teddy bears have no business selling booze, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has decided." A handful of stores had painted Mickey and other characters as part of a promotion. A Disney VP said Mickey was "a nondrinker."

11. Let's end with another strike against The Shindig (see #1) and Clarabelle’s bulging udder. Less than a year after the Shindig ban, the Motion Picture Producers and Directors of America announced that they had received a massive number of complaints about the engorged cow udders in various Mickey Mouse cartoons.

From then on, according to a 1931 article in Time magazine, “Cows in Mickey Mouse ... pictures in the future will have small or invisible udders quite unlike the gargantuan organ whose antics of late have shocked some and convulsed others. In a recent picture the udder, besides flying violently to left and right or stretching far out behind when the cow was in motion, heaved with its panting with the cow stood still.”

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