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10 Crazy Ways People Amused Themselves Before Television

Before people had hundreds of channels, if they wanted to watch surgery or gawk at celebrity babies, they had to actually leave the house.

1. Attending Public Dissections

Thanks to advances in science and the relaxing of church and government laws, the dissection of human corpses came back into vogue in the 1300s. At first these dissections were performed in small rooms or houses for the benefit of a handful for medical students. Then, almost overnight, a bored and apparently pretty morbid public started clamoring to attend them as well.

Specially designed “anatomy theatres” were purpose-built in many of the major European cities; most could seat well over 1,000 people. Tickets were sold to the public and the prices often varied based on how “interesting” that particular corpse was. The most expensive tickets sold in Hanover were 24 Groschen to see a woman who died while pregnant. The audiences were so excited about what they were watching that as early as 1502 a surgeon recommended having guards present at each dissection to “restrain the public as it enters.”

While most etchings from the period show only men at the viewings, women attended as well. In 1748, the crowds to see cadavers dissected at the theatre in Dresden, Germany were so large that they started having “ladies only” viewings, during which the women were invited to touch the corpses.

In many countries, these viewings only happened three or four times a year due to a lack of available bodies. In Bologna, Italy, dissections became fancy events, with women wearing their best clothes to the viewing, and balls or festivals followed in the evening.

Then in England in 1751, Parliament passed the Murder Act, allowing for all executed criminals to be publicly dissected. The increase in the number of public dissections did not diminish their popularity, and thousands of people continued to attend them each year until they were finally outlawed in the 1800s.

2. Watching People Inflate Balloons

Starting as early as the preparations for the first-ever hot air balloon flight in 1783, watching balloon ascents was incredibly popular, drawing some of the biggest crowds ever seen in Europe. Even the filling of the first balloon, which took numerous days, drew such huge crowds that they were in danger of interfering with the process, and the balloon had to be secretly moved the day before the flight. Benjamin Franklin, then the American Ambassador to the court of Louis XVI, was among the thousands of people who witnessed the first unmanned flight in Paris on August 27th. When the balloon came down in a village a few miles away, the locals were so terrified that they attacked it with pitchforks and rocks, destroying it.

The Montgolfier brothers sent the first living creatures (a goat, a duck, and a rooster) up in a balloon at Versailles in front of an enormous crowd that included the King and Marie Antoinette. The first ascents with humans drew upwards of 400,000 people, or “practically all the inhabitants of Paris,” with many of them paying large sums to be in special “VIP sections” close to the balloon.

The first hot air balloon flight in England was orchestrated by a man named Vincenzo Lunardi and drew a crowd of 200,000 people, including the Prince of Wales. One woman in the crowd was so astonished at the sight of the balloon that she supposedly died of fright and Lunardi was tried for her murder; he was eventually acquitted. George Washington was part of the crowd that viewed the first ballooning attempt in America in 1793.

Despite the overwhelming public interest in ballooning, it, like everything always will, had some detractors. Among their biggest fears were that women’s “honor and virtue would be in continual peril if access could be got by balloons at all hours to [their bedroom windows.]”

3. Poking Patients With Sticks

If you were bored in the 1800s, you could always pop down to the local insane asylum to liven up your day. Many of these institutions allowed the public to pay a small to fee to walk around gawking at the residents. Most patients lived in what was basically squalor, and the liberties afforded to these head-case tourists did not make things any better.

The most famous mental hospital of all time is probably St. Mary Bethlehem, aka Bethlam Hospital, aka Bedlam. The bastardized version of its name is where we get the word for absolute craziness. And in the 1800s it was very crazy at Bedlam. Visitors paid a penny to look at the patients and if they were being too calm and docile for the visitor’s liking, they were allowed to poke the patients with sticks. Many people smuggled in beer and fed it to the patients, just to see how the mentally ill acted when drunk.

In 1814 over 96,000 people visited just that one hospital. Of course, not everyone had a penny to spare for entertainment, and the hospital management knew everyone should be able to poke powerless and mentally unwell individuals with sticks, so every first Tuesday of the month admittance was free.

4. Riding Escalators

Image credit: Brooklyn Museum

The first escalators completely blew people’s minds. Nothing remotely similar had ever been seen before. Jesse W. Reno patented his idea for an “Endless Conveyor or Elevator” (later called the "inclined elevator") in 1892, and by 1896 the first working example had been installed…as a ride at the popular Coney Island amusement park.

It differed from modern elevators in that you sat on slats rather than stood on stairs, but the general principle was the same. The belt moved the riders up about two stories at a 25 degree incline. It was only displayed at the park for two weeks, but in that short time an astonishing 75,000 people rode it.

The same prototype was moved to the Brooklyn Bridge for a month-long trial period. It remained popular there, and in 1900 was shipped to Europe and displayed at the Paris Exposition Universelle, where it won first prize. Shortly thereafter, the Otis Company bought Reno’s patent and started producing escalators for businesses.

The novelty and excitement of riding an escalator was such that in 1897, the first department store in New York City to install one, Frederick Loeser, actually included it in its advertisements, promising customers that they could reach the second floor in a mere 26 seconds!

But while these escalators were very popular, they all had something in common: They only went up. It took the public and businesses almost three decades to accept that the far more frightening down escalators were safe to use.

5. Staring at Quintuplets

At the time of the Dionne Quintuplets' birth in 1934, in Ontario, Canada, no one even knew conceiving five babies at once was possible. Not only was it possible, but babies Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie, and Marie thrived despite being delivered two months premature. Their existence was so astonishing that newspapers paid huge sums for photos of them. A year later their father signed a lucrative contract to display the girls at the 1935 Chicago World’s Fair.

The Canadian government stepped in, claiming that their parents were obviously not fit to raise the quints if they were willing to exploit them like that. The Canadian parliament quickly passed a bill making the girls wards of the state. The quints were placed in a hospital/nursery directly across the street from their parents, where the Canadian and Ontario government proceeded to exploit the girls themselves, to an astonishing degree.

© Bettmann/CORBIS

In less than a decade, 3 million people, sometimes upwards of 3,000 a day, passed through “Quintland,” as the compound the girls were held in became known. This was at a time when the entire population of Canada was only around 11 million. Visitors viewed the quints playing, eating, and sleeping through special one-way windows. The quints were by far the most popular tourist attraction in Canada, drawing more visitors than Niagara Falls. It is estimated that the girls’ popularity directly contributed half a billion dollars to the Ontario economy in just nine years. Celebrities flocked to see them as well, including Amelia Earhart, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Bette Davis, James Cagney, Mae West, and the future Queen Elizabeth II.

And in case any particularly sharp readers are saying to themselves, “Surely televisions have been commercially available since the late 1920s,” don’t worry. Canada didn’t start broadcasts until 1952, nine years after Quintland closed. By that time, the girls had been returned to their family.

6. Mummy Unwrappings

Mummies have always been a source of fascination, especially to the English. One of Charles II’s mistresses, Nell Gwyn, supposedly owned a mummy way back in the 1660s. But it was 200 years later when the Victorians really went crazy for Egyptian mummies.

Egypt became a popular tourist destination and one of the must-have souvenirs was your very own mummy. No one is quite sure when it started, but at some point the owners of these mummies got curious about what exactly was inside the dusty wrappings. And if they were going to find out, why not invite all their friends over as well? And serve food and drinks! Eventually, the mummy unwrapping party was born. Some of these events were more scholarly than others, but there is evidence that dozens of parties had as their after dinner entertainment rather botched amateur unwrappings, after which the body and wrappings were just thrown away. Hundreds of mummies are estimated to have been lost in this manner.

Due to an export ban in the 1830s, mummies were much rarer in America than in Europe. Their unwrappings were huge events and advertised in the papers, although usually only men were allowed to attend, as the subject was “deemed inappropriate for women and children.” One famous unwrapping promised to include an Egyptian princess. The chance to see royalty, even long dead royalty, led to a crowd of 2,000 people, all of whom were shocked to eventually see the “princess’s” mummified penis.

7. Public Executions

Public executions were quite possibly the most attended events in history. Almost every country publicly killed convicts at some point, and everyone from little children to royalty showed up to watch.

The crowds that turned out, especially if the condemned was infamous by the time they were put to death, could be enormous. In 1746, the hanging of a Protestant pastor in Paris drew 40,000 people. The hanging of a man and woman in London, who had together killed a man, drew 50,000 people in 1849. The last hanging of a forger in England, in 1824, drew over 100,000 people, the largest crowd ever assembled for an execution in the UK. To put those numbers in perspective, the recent Super Bowl in New Jersey was held in a stadium that seats about 80,000 people.

While these executions were ostensibly a lesson to the crowd ("don't do bad things"), in reality they were a grisly entertainment venue, illustrated by the fact that people often paid huge sums to be as close to the scaffold as possible. Ballads and short (heavily embellished) histories of the condemned and their crimes were sold to the crowds, along with food and drink from vendors. Every aspect of popular executions was covered in the papers; ladies in high society often discussed at length the pros and cons of the outfits condemned women chose to wear to their deaths.

The executions themselves could last hours from start to finish, with the condemned often driven in a cart through throngs of onlookers, as if he or she was on a parade float. Sometimes they stopped off at pubs along the way, where the giddy public got many a condemned man drunk before his ultimate demise.

8. Military Battles

What better way to enjoy a lovely day than with a picnic? And if your country happens to be in the middle of a war at that moment, and a battle is happening just down the street, well, you‘ve got yourself some free entertainment to go with your sandwiches.

When wars were fought in fields with weapons whose range was short, people regularly turned out to enjoy the spectacle. There are unsubstantiated accounts of this occurring during the Battle of Bosworth and various battles of the English Civil War. But perhaps the best war for picnicking was the American Civil War.

The Battle of Memphis was only 90 minutes long, but 10,000 people turned out on the cliffs overlooking the Mississippi to watch the ships fight in the river below. Even a Confederate loss didn’t dampen the festive mood. That was not the case during the First Battle of Bull Run. The people of Washington had expected an easy victory for their side and the fashionable elite of the city, including numerous congressmen, grabbed their picnic baskets and their children and settled down for an afternoon of bloody entertainment. When the Union army retreated in defeat, the panicked picnickers fled, blocking the streets back to Washington.

9. Taking X-rays

Today X-rays may evoke bad feelings, associated as they are with hospitals and being unwell. But when they were first discovered in the 1890s, people went mad for this new technology. Here was a cheap, seemingly safe technique to actually look inside people! It was unlike anything that had ever been seen before. Even the name was sexy; “X-rays” sounded futuristic and mysterious.

Since the basic setup needed to make X-rays was both small and cheap, they started showing up in the oddest of places. Thousands of “Bone Portrait” studios sprang up, where photographers calling themselves “skiagraphers” specialized in taking X-ray photographs. These were especially popular with newly engaged couples. X-ray slot machines appeared in major tourist destinations, where for the cost of a coin you could stare at the inside of your hand for a minute.

Perhaps the oddest use was in shoe shops. In 1927, a device called a “fluoroscope,” or the retrospectively creepier “pedoscope,” started showing up in all good department stores. It X-rayed your feet while you tried on different pairs of shoes. This allowed you to see how different fits affected the bone structure of your feet, ensuring you bought the perfect size.

X-ray equipment was so easily obtainable and popular that a trade even sprang up in lead-lined underwear so that one could save one’s modesty from all the creepy Peeping Toms that people assumed were now walking the streets.

10. Taking Selfies

Some things never change.

While there were different versions of photo booths starting in the late 1800s, they didn’t produce great pictures. The beginning of the modern photo booth is usually traced to one man, a Russian immigrant named Anatol Josepho. He trained as a photographer in Europe and after a spell in Hollywood learning the mechanics of cameras, he moved to New York City. There he managed to borrow the astonishing sum of $11,000 to make his first photo booth. It produced clear pictures and could run completely on its own. He opened a studio on Broadway in 1925, put the photo booth inside, and sat back to watch the money roll in.

For 25 cents, customers were led to the box by a “white-gloved attendant,” who would then direct them to “look to the right, look to the left, look at the camera.” Then after about ten minutes, the booth spit out eight photos and the customers went away happy. They probably told all their friends to check it out — and check it out they did. Soon, the line to the studio was stretching around the block, and up to 7,500 people a day used the machine. According to the April 1927 issue of TIME, more than 280,000 people visited the photo booth in the first six months alone, including the Governor of New York and at least one Senator.

Within a year, Josepho was astonishingly wealthy and dating a famous silent film actress. Then a consortium of investors offered to buy his patent for $1 million. He accepted the deal, and immediately put half of that money into a trust for various charities. He invested the other half in several inventions.

Imitation photo booth studios popped up around the US and Europe, and even the Great Depression didn’t diminish people’s desire to look at pictures of themselves. One shop owner in NYC was so busy he managed to keep his entire extended family employed for the entire Depression.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
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Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


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By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


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Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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13 Enchanting Facts About Moonstruck
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Cher’s career made her more famous for singing than acting, but 30 years ago—on December 16, 1987—Moonstruck arrived in theaters and transformed her into a full-fledged movie star. (She even won the Best Actress Oscar for her spellbinding performance a few months later.) Cher plays Loretta Castorini, a widow living with her Sicilian family in Brooklyn. Despite being superstitious about love, she agrees to marry Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), that is until she meets his jaded brother (Nic Cage), goes to see La bohème with him, and realizes “I love him awful.”

Director Norman Jewison referred to the movie as “an operatic multi-generational romantic comedy,” which is one reason the movie grossed an impressive $91,640,528 and won three Oscars, including ones for Olympia Dukakis and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley. Here are 13 moony facts about the movie.

1. THE ORIGINAL TITLE WAS THE BRIDE AND THE WOLF.

An earlier draft of Shanley’s script had it named The Bride and the Wolf, but the title perplexed Jewison. “I said, ‘The Bride and the Wolf? It sounds like a horror film,’” he revealed to the DGA. “So we had a big battle about that and it ended up being called Moonstruck because I convinced [Shanley] it’s about the moon. Everybody’s talking about the moon. The father’s talking about the moon, the full moon. We keep shooting the moon. It should be called something. What is it? She’s moonstruck. That’s a good title. So we called it Moonstruck.”

It should be noted the definition of moonstruck means “mentally deranged, supposedly by the influence of the moon; crazed dreamily romantic or bemused.”

2. JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY BASED THE STYLIZED DIALOGUE ON REAL PEOPLE.

Shanley admitted to Bomb Magazine that Moonstruck’s language has a certain affectation and poetry to it. “I remember somebody saying, ‘People don’t talk that way, but if he talks that way in the movie you buy it,’” the playwright said. “There’s truth and not truth in that. I said, ‘Well, it’s not the way all people talk, but I was on the train and I heard two women talking and they were talking in the exact style of Moonstruck.’ I said, ‘Well, you know, I chose that.’ And that’s what style is all about. It’s just making a choice about which of the many things, many aspects, you’re going to choose to go with for a whole picture or play.”

3. NICOLAS CAGE WANTED TO MAKE PUNK FILMS, NOT MOVIES LIKE MOONSTRUCK.

Nicolas Cage in 'Moonstruck' (1987)
MGM

When Cage was in his early 20s, he “wanted to make the kind of movies that are essentially punk gestures,” he told The Baltimore Sun. “I read the screenplay to Moonstruck and thought, ‘I would never pay money to see this film!’ But my agent insisted I do it, practically forced me to do it. When I saw the finished film I didn’t know what in the world to make of it. That was my era of wanting to make new-wave, alternative films.”

His follow-up film, Vampire’s Kiss, was completely different from Moonstruck (for instance, Cage eats a live cockroach). “I was in such a state of shock that I had made a sweet, romantic movie I had to go and do Vampire's Kiss right after,” he told The New York Times.

4. CHER WAS AFRAID TO TAKE ON LORETTA.

In 1987, Cher wasn’t new to the acting world—she had been nominated for an Oscar in 1984, for Silkwood—but she was worried fans still wouldn’t take her seriously as an actress. A few months before Moonstruck was released, The Witches of Eastwick and Suspect came out, so she was in demand. “It wasn’t like Mask, which I felt I just had to do,” she told the Los Angeles Times. "I was a little frightened because there seemed to be all kinds of possibilities and all kinds of risks here. I wondered if, at this point in my career when there might be some people out there interested in seeing my movies, they would accept me in this role.”

5. DUKAKIS AND CHER DIDN’T THINK THE MOVIE WOULD BE SUCCESSFUL.

In an interview with The A.V. Club, Dukakis confessed she didn’t think the movie would be a hit. “As a matter of fact, one day we were sitting around talking, and somebody asked Cher what she thought was going to happen, and she gave it the thumbs-down,” the actress said. “Nobody really expected too much out of it. And then look what happened. And that’s because we were all stupid and didn’t understand what Norman Jewison was really doing. The guy’s incredible, you know?”

6. NORMAN JEWISON KNEW THE MOVIE WOULD WIN OSCARS.

In the same interview with The A.V. Club, Dukakis said she knew the movie was a big deal when she went with Jewison to a benefit in Canada where he screened the film. “And he said, ‘You know, you’re gonna get an Academy Award for this.’ I looked at him like he was stark-raving mad. I thought, ‘This little movie and that little Italian lady are gonna get an award?’ I said, ‘You really think so?’ He said, ‘Yeah!’ I thought, ‘He’s just being nice because I came up here to do the benefit for him. He thinks he has to say something nice to me.’ And then all that happened. It was just amazing. The writer got it, I got it, and then Jewison didn’t get it. Can you imagine?”

7. MOONSTRUCK CHANGED OLYMPIA DUKAKIS’S LIFE FOR THE BETTER.

By the time Moonstruck came around for her, the then 55-year-old had mostly made a name for herself in theater. But when she landed the role as Cher’s mother, Rose Castorini, and ended up winning Best Supporting Actress (and saying the line, “your life is going down the toilet,” something her mother said to her once), she became famous.

“It’s like somebody said ‘Look, she waited all these years, let’s give her something good,’” she said on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. “And it was incredible. And that changed my whole life. My daughter was going to college on credit cards when I did that movie. After that, we were able to send our children to college with no problems.”

8. CHER ENJOYED PLAYING THE "BEFORE" LORETTA MORE THAN THE "AFTER" LORETTA.

The “before” Loretta entails the gray-haired widow and the “after” is when she falls for Ronny. “But I much prefer playing her ‘before’ than ‘after,’” Cher told the Los Angeles Times. “The freedom is not interesting to me because that’s something I know, usually. Yet I don’t think of her as being constrained, exactly. My idea was to play her more as bossy and controlled.”

9. THE GRANDFATHER RELEASED TENSION FROM A SCENE.

During shooting of the climax, cast members lost their cool because they couldn’t get the timing right. According to The New York Times, Jewison said Cage threw a chair at another actor, and Cher was threatening to report Jewison to the Screen Actors Guild for keeping them through lunch. Feodor Chaliapin Jr., who played Cher’s grandfather, walked into the room and told them to “calma, calma, calma” and, “This is a Feydeau farce, and in a Feydeau farce we pull everything together in the last scene.” After he said that the rest of the cast behaved themselves and finished the scene.

10. CHER USED SONNY BONO’S FAMILY AS A REFERENCE POINT.

A still from Moonstruck (1987)
MGM

Cher, who is part Armenian and part Cherokee, didn’t know how Italian families worked. “I didn’t come from that kind of family. I really didn’t relate exactly to it, but I had a sense of it, like a distant sense of it,” she told Good Morning America. “Not like something that you can relate to first hand. I’ve known some families like that and I got feelings of it. After a while I thought I might be able to do this.”

But her Moonstruck family reminded her of her ex-husband’s family. “It kind of reminded me of Sonny’s family,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “Everybody eating and talking and shouting—but you have such good times.”

11. CAGE WASN’T ALLOWED TO SPEAK LIKE A WOLF.

Going along with the wolf theme, Cage said he desired to speak like Jean Marais in Beauty and the Beast. “He had that accent and his voice was very gravelly—and I thought of my character in Moonstruck like a wolf who spoke with a growl,” Cage said. “And so I was talking like that in the movie and I got a call from the director, Norman Jewison, and he said, ‘Nicolas, the dailies aren’t working.’ And then I started hearing names of other actors and I thought I was going to get fired. I had to quickly drop the Jean Marais.”

12. DANNY AIELLO HATED THE MOVIE.

On the Diane Rehm radio show, Aiello, who played Loretta’s fiancé and Ronny’s brother, told the host he “couldn’t stand the character I played.” He continued, “Norman Jewison, the director, when I told him, he said, ‘Are you crazy? You’re wonderful.’ But in my neighborhood you can’t play a wimp on the screen. You know, people didn’t even know me as an actor, but to see me as they didn’t know me, was troubling in the area where I live. So it did adversely affect me at first. All I know is that I was stupid looking on the screen.”

Aiello also felt Cher should’ve picked him over Cage. “I said, ‘Do you think Nicky Cage is going to get a woman what I have?’ I said, ‘That's not going to happen.’ I said, ‘Cher would be with me from the beginning.’” Despite not liking the role, it earned him more money and “it elevated a lot of other parts for me in comedic situations and so forth,” he said.

13. THE MOVIE MADE CAMMARERI BROS. BAKERY WORLD FAMOUS.

Ronny works at the Brooklyn bakery, and even though the bakery is only featured in a couple of scenes, it caused tourists to flock to the place after the movie was released. One of the owners, Gilberto Godoy, used to sign his autograph on bread bags, as he played a baker in the film. Jewison told The New York Times, “Whenever I can, I like to cast people who do the same job in real life,” and he picked that particular bakery because “It has one of the few coal-fired ovens left in the city,” he said. “Heat and humidity are always there. And bread is always rising, and there is an incredible smell. It helps the actors to be in a real environment.”

Godoy refused to close the bakery for the filming—he had a quota of 5,000 loaves a day to meet—so for three days he worked around the cast and crew. “It was hysterical,” Jewison said. “We had trucks, lights, cameras, Cher—and the poor guy was still baking.” The cast and crew did benefit from complimentary breads, though.

The tourists kept the bakery afloat until 1998, when the bakery briefly closed. It eventually moved into a different location and reopened. But in 2013 the 92-year-old bakery filed for bankruptcy.

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