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William Libbey

11 Images from the American Museum of Natural History's Archives

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William Libbey

There are plenty of awesome things that aren't on display at New York City's American Museum of Natural History. But now, anyone with the internet can get a peek at the museum's archives with its new online image database. The site features more than 7000 images from the institution's history—many of them never before seen by the public—including archival photographs, rare book illustrations, drawings, notes, letters, art, and Museum memorabilia.

There are an estimated one million images in the museum's collection, according to Tom Baione, Harold Boeschenstein Director in the Department of Library Services at AMNH. What's currently available on the site "came about organically," he says, "because we had requests for certain materials, maybe for a book project or an exhibit."

Eventually, the hope is that the museum will be able to get funding to digitize certain collections, but in the meantime, the museum's staff is digitizing negatives and other materials by size. "We could cherry pick all the good images but we figure eventually we want to have everything," Baione says. "In most cases, we have the original negative in our collection. They are stored on shelves in boxes by size, so we’re just going shelf by shelf."

To digitize the collections, negatives and lantern slides were scanned, and rare books were photographed. It's a delicate process. "The lantern slides are all printed on glass, so they’re inherently more scratchable, and many of our negatives are on glass too," Baione says. "They are handling big sheets of glass and they’re laying them down on another piece of glass so your hands are soft, and maybe your lap is soft, but all these materials around you are hard—so if you lose your grip, that image is gone." Rare books pose their own challenges: "The books don’t always want to open the way we want them to, so we have to do some tricks with the camera to get a good shot of the book without breaking the binding."

Baione talked us through a few of his favorite photos from the collection, which you can see below. "There are two words we use around here a lot: conservation and preservation," he says. "Conservation is fixing something. Preservation is making sure you don’t have to fix it. So by digitizing these images, we are preserving them because once we have a very good high resolution image we don’t have to go back to the original negative again."

1. Moving section of giant sequoia into Hall of North American Forests, 1912.

Julius Kirschner 

Bringing a section of a huge sequoia tree into the museum involved cutting it into two or three pieces, according to Baione. "I can tell by the floor where that was, and that’s kind of neat," he says. "You look at the guys who are actually doing the moving and they’re in some decidedly different kind of clothes. If you look at the guy who is holding some kind of leather, his work clothes look filthy."

2. Painting of the suggested Canada Lynx and Snowshoe Hare Group habitat, Hall of North American Mammals, 1935.

This painting of the Canada lynx and hare diorama looks quite different from the finished product. "In the diorama itself, the rabbit is taking shelter under a bush and the lynx is totally on top of him, but the rabbit has no idea," Baione says. "It did change and it’s interesting to see the thought process behind how things changed as they were being created."

3. Carl Lumholtz at granary, giant "olla", Cave Valley, Chihuahua, Mexico, 1891.

William Libbey

That big jar, Baione says, is the granary: "These cave dwelling communities would store grain to keep it dry and free from pests like rats or squirrels."

4. Girl holding bull frog, Natural Science Center, 1958.

Robert Elwood Logan

The museum still has a Natural Science Center like the one this girl visited in 1958. "They have demonstrations and live animals," Baione says. "There’s something called a discovery room where kids can go, and provided they’re here with a parent, they have specimens that kids can touch and they have reproductions of artifacts that can also interact with. There’s still lots of fun stuff for kids."

5. Hand colored lantern slide of Roy Chapman Andrews and George Olsen at nest of "the even dozen dinosaur eggs,” Third Asiatic Expedition, Mongolia, 1925.

James B. Shackelford

Lantern slides, Baione explains, are photographic prints made on glass. An artist would handcolor the slide, which would then be projected. This particular slide comes from the expedition where museum explorer Ray Chapman Andrews and his crew discovered fossilized dinosaur eggs. "Knowing Andrews, it was probably a little while afterwards—after they could clean up the mess and pose a little bit," Baione says. "It’s a little bit of a studio shot. But a good one. It was a huge deal because it was the first time something like that was discovered."

6. Installing models for the Forest Floor exhibit, 1958.

Alex J. Rota

Visitors to the museum will recognize this particular display. "The forest floor is where a lot of decomposition goes on, so in terms of ecology and nature, it is an important place," Baione says. "It’s neat to see the guy who created it in the diorama, pushing it around, getting in the right position. And it’s still here!"

7. Plant, botanical illustration by Arthur A. Jansson, with colors noted, for use in Plains Group, Akeley Hall of African Mammals, c. 1930.

The museum's dioramas are designed to demonstrate what environment an animal would have lived in, down to the plants and backgrounds (which all show real places). "In the Arts and Memorabilia section, you’ll see lots of sketches that were made in the field when they were planning some African mammal dioramas," Baione says. "They would go and make sketches of the place, but they would also collect specimens of the plant and immediately sketch them so that they could reproduce them in the dioramas themselves." While the rocks and tree bark is occasionally real, most of the plants were reproduced with paper. "They don’t want to put things in the diorama that could be attractive to insects that would go in and try to eat it," Baione says. "A lot of the vegetable matter is reproduced from paper."

8. Carlton Beil inspecting school service truck, 1950.

Alex J. Rota

Long before Internet databases, the museum still found a way to get its collections to knowledge-hungry kids: By lending out its lantern slide collections to schools, placing them in suitcases and delivering them in museum-authorized trucks like the one above. "The teacher would get a box of lantern slides with a script and then could go through one by one and discuss with the script what was going on in each of the pictures," Baione says. "They would show everything from expeditions to the far east or to Africa or South America or the Arctic. The museum had a thriving enterprise of making up these sets and delivering them to the schools. There was also a collection of miniature dioramas the size of a suitcase. These could be lent out to schools. Some had actual stuffed animals in them and others had a collection of pine cones or different types of fibers or stones so that kids could begin to be able to identify those things."

9. Green frog dissection and skeleton from Rösel von Rosenhof's Historia naturalis ranarum nostratium, 1758.

Denis Finnin

"It’s so cool that someone was able to carve that image into a piece of copper and then print it," Baione says. "That’s remarkable."

10. Alaska brown bear, specimen measurement chart for use in Alaska Brown Bear Group, Hall of North American Mammals, 1939.

Though the museum doesn't do taxidermy anymore (any that's done takes place outside of the museum), there was a point when most of it was done in-house—and to create the most accurate mounts possible, taxidermists collected reference of living animals and recorded specimens' measurements. This particular item comes from a filing cabinet of a man in the museum's exhibition and appropriate department. "These were his working files," Baione says. "They included anatomical sketches of the actual animals in the field, things from newspapers and magazines, images of the animals moving. Drawings that look like something you’d see at the wall of a butcher’s shop with all the dimensions."

Why did a taxidermist need all of this detail? Because creating an accurate, lifelike animal requires so much more than just stuffing skin. "They take a detailed measurement of the animal once it’s been collected, and then the skin comes off and then a sculpture is made in wax or clay—often with the animals actual bones inside," Baione says. "Then musculature of the animal, as sketched by the artist, is sculpted. A mold is made of that, and a lightweight cast is made of the animal’s musculature. Eyes and teeth are added and then the skin is reapplied to that cast. They’ll make a construction to make the tail stick up, there might be some cardboard stuck in ears, then install the eyes, teeth and paint the hooves. They’ll put in artificial or genuine nails. All of these tools together help the taxidermist come in and recreate that animal."

11. Hand colored lantern slide view of American Museum of Natural History, original building, New York City, 1883.

Compared to what the museum looks like now, the original 1883 structure seems pretty small. But "it’s actually a pretty big building in the grand scheme of buildings," Baione says. "If you put the museum next to your house it would seem like a shed. If you look at that building, you have to realize that you’re looking at the basement level, the first floor, second floor, third floor, fourth floor, fifth floor and the attic. So it’s really like a 7 story building. It’s skinny and part of the reason for that is it was actually a pretty sizable building at the time, and because they knew that other buildings would eventually surround it. So that was the plan."

On Monday, April 28, the museum is celebrating the launch of the site with a Slide Slam. Get your tickets here!

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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers’ Movies
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Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers’s movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’ 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS'S WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that featured a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination). 

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. "The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, "Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that."

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen Brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen Brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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10 Terrific Facts About Stephen King
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Scott Eisen/Getty Images for Warner Bros.

As if being one of the world's most successful and prolific writers wasn't already reason enough to celebrate, Stephen King is ringing in his birthday as the toast of Hollywood. As It continues to break box office records, we're digging into the horror master's past. Here are 10 things you might not have known about Stephen King, who turns 70 years old today.

1. STEPHEN KING AND HIS WIFE, TABITHA, OWN A RADIO STATION.

Stephen and Tabitha King own Zone Radio, a company that serves to head their three radio stations in Maine. One of them, WKIT, is a classic rock station that goes by the tagline "Stephen King's Rock Station."

2. HE'S A HARDCORE RED SOX FAN.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Not only did he write a story about the Boston Red Sox—The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (who was a former Red Sox pitcher)—he also had a cameo in the Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore movie Fever Pitch, which is about a crazed Sox fan. He plays himself and throws out the first pitch at a game.

In 2004, King and Stewart O'Nan, another novelist, chronicled their reactions to the season that finally brought the World Series title back to Beantown. It's appropriately titled Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season.

3. HE WAS HIT BY A CAR, THEN BOUGHT THE CAR THAT HIT HIM.

You probably remember that King was hit by a van not far from his summer home in Maine in 1999. The incident left King with a collapsed lung, multiple fractures to his hip and leg, and a gash to the head. Afterward, King and his lawyer bought the van for $1500 with King announcing that, "Yes, we've got the van, and I'm going to take a sledgehammer and beat it!"

4. AS A KID, HIS FRIEND WAS STRUCK AND KILLED BY A TRAIN.

King's brain seems to be able to create chilling stories at such an amazing clip, yet he's seen his fair share of horror in real life. In addition to the aforementioned car accident, when King was just a kid his friend was struck and killed by a train (a plot line that made it into his story "The Body," which was adapted into Stand By Me). While it would be easy to assume that this incident informed much of King's writing, the author claims to have no memory of the event:

"According to Mom, I had gone off to play at a neighbor’s house—a house that was near a railroad line. About an hour after I left I came back (she said), as white as a ghost. I would not speak for the rest of the day; I would not tell her why I’d not waited to be picked up or phoned that I wanted to come home; I would not tell her why my chum’s mom hadn’t walked me back but had allowed me to come alone.

"It turned out that the kid I had been playing with had been run over by a freight train while playing on or crossing the tracks (years later, my mother told me they had picked up the pieces in a wicker basket). My mom never knew if I had been near him when it happened, if it had occurred before I even arrived, or if I had wandered away after it happened. Perhaps she had her own ideas on the subject. But as I’ve said, I have no memory of the incident at all; only of having been told about it some years after the fact."

5. HE WROTE A MUSICAL WITH JOHN MELLENCAMP.

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

King, John Mellencamp, and T Bone Burnett collaborated on a musical, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, which made its debut in 2012. The story is based on a house that Mellencamp bought in Indiana that came complete with a ghost story. Legend has it that three siblings were messing around in the woods and one of the brothers accidentally got shot. The surviving brother and sister jumped in the car to go get help, and in their panic, swerved off the road right into a tree and were killed instantly. Of course, the three now haunt the woods by Mellencamp's house.

6. HE PLAYED IN A BAND WITH OTHER SUCCESSFUL AUTHORS.

King played rhythm guitar for a band made up of successful writers called The Rock Bottom Remainders. From 1992 to 2012, the band "toured" about once a year. In addition to King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Barbara Kingsolver, Matt Groening and Ridley Pearson were just some of its other members.

7. HE'S A NATIVE MAINER.

A photo of Stephen King's home in Bangor, Maine.
By Julia Ess - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

King writes about Maine a lot because he knows and loves The Pine Tree State: he was born there, grew up there, and still lives there (in Bangor). Castle Rock, Derry, and Jerusalem's Lot—the fictional towns he has written about in his books—are just products of King's imagination, but he can tell you exactly where in the state they would be if they were real.

8. HE HAS BATTLED DRUG AND ALCOHOL PROBLEMS.

Throughout much of the 1980s, King struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. In discussing this time, he admitted that, "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all. I don't say that with pride or shame, only with a vague sense of sorrow and loss. I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page."

It came to a head when his family members staged an intervention and confronted him with drug paraphernalia they had collected from his trash can. It was the eye-opener King needed; he got help and has been sober ever since.

9. THERE WAS A RUMOR THAT HE WROTE A LOST TIE-IN NOVEL.

King was an avid Lost fan and sometimes wrote about the show in his Entertainment Weekly column, "The Pop of King." The admiration was mutual. Lost's writers mentioned that King was a major influence in their work. There was a lot of speculation that he was the man behind Bad Twin, a Lost tie-in mystery, but he debunked that rumor.

10. HE IS SURROUNDED BY WRITERS.

A photo of Stephen King's son, author Joe Hill
Joe Hill
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Stephen isn't the only writer in the King family: His wife, Tabitha King, has published several novels. Joe, their oldest son, followed in his dad's footsteps and is a bestselling horror writer (he writes under the pen name Joe Hill). Youngest child Owen has written a collection of short stories and one novella and he and his dad co-wrote Sleeping Beauties, which will be released later this month (Owen also married a writer). Naomi, the only King daughter, is a minister and gay activist.

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