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20 Facts About The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

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1. Will Smith only agreed to star in the show because he was in serious debt to the IRS.

Smith gained widespread fame as the rapper The Fresh Prince, and with that fame came a significant jump in income. Unfortunately, Smith didn't manage his money wisely or pay enough in income taxes, and he owed the government a whopping $2.8 million. The IRS seized most of his belongings, including his income. The Fresh Prince almost declared bankruptcy—until producer Quincy Jones picked him to star in a new series, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was born.

2. And he had to pay up.

The IRS forced Smith to pay them 70 percent of his salary over the first three seasons.

3. He was almost a total novice.

Smith only had one other TV production under his belt—as a t-shirt salesman on an ABC after school special—when he accepted a role on The Fresh Prince, and is embarrassed by his earliest performances on the show. He had never been formally trained as an actor, and—in some cases—his lack of experience was painfully obvious. "I was trying so hard," he said. "I would memorize the entire script, then I'd be lipping everybody's lines while they were talking. When I watch those episodes, it's disgusting. My performances were horrible."

4. Tyra Banks Made Her Acting Debut on the Show

She played Smith's on-screen girlfriend, Jackie, in a season four episode.

5. The House in the Intro isn't in Bel Air.

Instead, the pictured house is located in the nearby (and similarly affluent) Brentwood.

6. Carlton's Dance was Inspired by Courteney Cox and Eddie Murphy.

"There was a video of Bruce Springsteen and Courteney Cox called 'Dancing in the Dark,' and Bruce Springsteen pulls her up onto the stage and she basically does that dance," actor Alfonso Ribeiro said. "And it was also from Eddie Murphy’s Delirious comedy video where he does 'the white man dance.' And what I did was ultimately take those two dances and combined them and made it my own, and made it my character’s."

7. Geoffrey Had A Last Name.

The ever-snarky butler of the Banks household's last name was ... Butler. (His middle name was Barbara.)

8. Nicky's Middle Names Were Inspired by Boyz II Men.

Audiences were first introduced to Nicky in season three, after he is born to Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv. His full name is Nicholas Andrew Michael Shawn Nathan Wanya Banks. What are the Boyz II Men member names? Michael, Shawn, Nathan, and Wanya. The four-member R&B group performed at Nicky’s christening in a season four episode.

9. Who's the Cabbie?

Many sites (including IMDb) state that that's Quincy Jones driving the taxi cab with dice in the mirror. But according to both Rashida Jones (Quincy's daughter) and Jada Pinkett Smith, the cabbie in the credits is "absolutely not" the Q. Besides, thanks to an auto accident at age 14 in which he was a passenger, Jones has never learned to drive.

10. Smith met his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, during auditions for the show.

She originally auditioned for the role of Will’s on-screen girlfriend. She didn’t get the part, but that didn’t stop the couple from getting married in 1997.

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11. Smith contributed stories for some episodes.

Will Smith was more than just the sitcom’s star. He also helped with stories and produced some of the episodes, including “Ain’t No Business Like Show Business” in season three. In this episode, Will’s friend Keith Campbell, a comedian from Philadelphia, visits and makes stand-up look so easy that Will decides to pursue a career in comedy.

12. Two Different Actresses Played Aunt Vivian.

Janet Hubert played the character during the first three seasons; Daphne Maxwell Reid played Aunt Vivian during the last three seasons. Janet Hubert has said that the producers offered her a 10-episode contract that prevented her from doing any other acting work. When she refused, the producers refused to negotiate and recast the role.

13. There were many famous guest stars.

Jay Leno, Queen Latifah, and Hugh Hefner all made guest appearances on the show.

14. The cast kept a "diary."

Earlier this year, Karyn Parsons, who played Hilary Banks, told ABC News about a notebook kept in the drawer of the set's kitchen island, which she took with her after the show went off the air. "Every now and then a camera person or the actors, somebody would just write silly poetry or 'James is getting on my nerves,'" she said. "We would make little notes, so I took that. I need to pull that out, especially now that James has passed, because I know he's written in there. I know he was written about."

15. The Show was Canceled and Brought Back

After NBC canceled Fresh Prince in its fourth season, the finale had Smith's character heading back to Philadelphia. After fan outcry, however, NBC decided to bring the show back; its fifth season opens with an NBC executive pulling Smith into a van to drive him back to California, saying "It's called the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, not The Fresh Prince of Philadelphia." Ultimately, the show had six seasons.

16. The Theme Song Caused a School Lockdown.

In 2013, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song caused a school to be put on lockdown. A receptionist from Ambridge Area High School in Pennsylvania called a student to remind him of an upcoming appointment. He didn’t answer, and the receptionist was directed to the student’s voicemail. The student imitated the show’s theme song for his answering message, and the receptionist thought he said “shooting people outside of the school” instead of “shooting some b-ball outside of the school.” The local police brought the student into custody, although he was later released.

17. You probably can't get the soundtrack.

Want to get a CD soundtrack of The Fresh Prince? You might have to take a plane to the Netherlands to get it; it was originally only released in Holland, where an extended remixed version of the title song hit #3 on the singles chart in 1992. The songs are now available online via Spotify and elsewhere for downloading.

18. The Show has been parodied.

There are multiple parodies of the show. Mad TV produced the animated Fresh Prawn of Bel-Air. A pet adoption group produced The Fresh Pup of Bel-Air.

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25 Future Stars Who Appeared on Seinfeld
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5 Baffling Foreign Language Versions of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Theme

19. Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay love The Fresh Prince.

In August 2012, the sitcom overtook the Harry Potter series as the entertainment of choice in the prison.

20. The show endorsed a pair of basketball sneakers.

They were called The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Jordan 5. (Well, they were actually called the Air Jordan 5 Bel Air, but that's not as good a name.)

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

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Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually break away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write the “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ Could Have Been a Meat Loaf Song
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Imagine a world in which Bonnie Tyler was not the star performer on the Royal Caribbean Total Eclipse Cruise. Imagine if, instead, as the moon crossed in front of the sun in the path of totality on August 21, 2017, the performer belting out the 1983 hit for cruise ship stargazers was Meat Loaf?

It could have been. Because yes, as Atlas Obscura informs us, the song was originally written for the bestselling rocker (and actor) of Bat Out of Hell fame, not the husky-voiced Welsh singer. Meat Loaf had worked on his 1977 record Bat Out of Hell with Jim Steinman, the composer and producer who would go on to work with the likes of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand (oddly enough, he also composed Hulk Hogan’s theme song on an album released by the WWE). “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was meant for Meat Loaf’s follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell.

But Meat Loaf’s fruitful collaboration with Steinman was about to end. In the wake of his bestselling record, the artist was going through a rough patch, mentally, financially, and in terms of his singing ability. And the composer wasn’t about to stick around. As Steinman would tell CD Review magazine in 1989 (an article he has since posted on his personal website), "Basically I only stopped working with him because he lost his voice as far as I was concerned. It was his voice I was friends with really.” Harsh, Jim, harsh.

Steinman began working with Bonnie Tyler in 1982, and in 1983, she released her fifth album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It sold 6 million copies.

Tyler and Steinman both dispute that the song was written specifically for Meat Loaf. “Meat Loaf was apparently very annoyed that Jim gave that to me,” she told The Irish Times in 2014. “But Jim said he didn’t write it for Meat Loaf, that he only finished it after meeting me.”

There isn’t a whole lot of bad blood between the two singers, though. In 1989, they released a joint compilation album: Heaven and Hell.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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