CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

33 Fun Facts About Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Original image
Getty Images

On the genre-busting television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the heroine saved the world—a lot—over the course of seven seasons. Buffy premiered on the WB 19 years ago today; here are a few things you should know about the show. (And this is just the tip of the stake.)

1. THE SHOW IS A SEQUEL OF SORTS TO A MOVIE.

In the late ‘80s, writer Joss Whedon had an idea for a movie that would subvert the horror genre. “I had seen a lot of horror movies, which I love very much, with blond girls getting killed in dark alleys, and I just germinated this idea about how much I would like to see a blond girl go into a dark alley, get attacked by a monster and then kill it,” he said. “And that was sorta the genesis for the movie, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The movie, penned by Whedon and directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui, hit theaters in 1992. It starred Kristy Swanson as Buffy, Donald Sutherland as her watcher Merrick, and Luke Perry as her love interest, Pike (David Arquette also starred as Pike's best friend-turned-vampire Benny). But the film was different from what Whedon had originally intended. “My original script for the movie was kind of dark and scary and it was comedic, but the final product was much more a broad comedy,” he said.

A few years later, the rights holders approached Whedon about making a TV show out of his creation. He wasn’t sure it would work, but “I started to think about it and I came up with the notion of playing all sorts of horror movies in high school and making them metaphors for how frightening and horrible high school is,” he said. “With the show, I kinda wanted to get back to the roots of genuine horror, but with a lot of comedy and a lot of edge and a lot of self reflective sort of examination of horror. But at the same time, get genuinely creepy and hopefully genuinely moving.” And the TV version of Buffy was born.

2. KATIE HOLMES AND RYAN REYNOLDS COULD HAVE STARRED ON THE SHOW.

Could you imagine Katie Holmes as Buffy and Ryan Reynolds as Xander? According to a 2000 biography, before she was Dawson’s Creek’s Joey Potter, Holmes was offered the role of the slayer, but turned it down to go to high school. Reynolds refused the role of Buffy’s wisecracking sidekick. "I love that show and I loved Joss Whedon, the creator of the show, but my biggest concern was that I didn’t want to play a guy in high school," Reynolds told The Star in 2008. "I had just come out of high school and it was f***ing awful."

3. GILES WAS THE FIRST ROLE CAST.

According to casting director Marsha Shulman, “Anthony Stewart [Head] was the first person that got cast on the first day we started casting. He was just it.”

Many other actors who read for the part, Whedon said, made Giles too stuffy, but Head’s take was a little sexier. “Tony Head was one of the few people that we saw and instantly knew right away that nobody else was going to play that part,” Whedon said. “He embodied it perfectly.”

4. SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR AND CHARISMA CARPENTER SWAPPED ROLES.

Gellar auditioned for the role of Sunnydale High queen bee Cordelia Chase before eventually being cast as Buffy. “At the time, we were all trying to find our way to make the show something, its own thing apart from the film,” Schulman said in The Watchers Guide. “We didn’t think of Sarah as Buffy because we thought she was too smart and too grounded and not enough of a misfit in a sense, because Buffy was this outsider. How could Sarah be an outsider? She’s so lovely. So we brought her in as Cordelia, and she was fantastic as Cordelia. Then we went to the network, they knew that Sarah was a star from her previous work, and that she could be Buffy, and that we could do that Buffy.”

Carpenter, meanwhile, auditioned for Buffy before being cast as Cordelia. “I think that the way it turned out is the way it was meant to have turned out,” Carpenter told the BBC. “I’m extremely pleased that I wound up with the character that I have for a myriad of reasons. ... I don’t know that I would have been ready for that kind of fame if I’d gotten Buffy. So, I think [Buffy] went to the right person.”

5. WILLOW WAS RECAST AFTER THE PILOT WAS SHOT.

Willow, science geek and Buffy’s best friend, was an exceptionally tough part to cast. “We had actually cast someone else in the pilot. It just didn’t work,” Shulman said. “When we got picked up, we always felt that we were going to start again and look for another Willow.”

“I was determined that we wouldn’t have the supermodel in horn rims that you usually see on a TV show,” Whedon said. “I wanted somebody who really had their own shy quirkiness. While the network and I were looking for people, Alyson Hannigan slipped under our radar. She came in and we didn’t really know that she was going to be the guy, and then when she read for the network we were just blown away. She brings so much light and so much tenderness to the role, it’s kind of extraordinary.”

6. DAVID BOREANAZ WAS DISCOVERED BY THE CASTING DIRECTOR’S FRIEND.

Whedon, the network, and the casting director saw a number of guys read for Buffy's eventual boyfriend (and vampire!) Angel before David Boreanaz auditioned. “The breakdown said the most gorgeous, mysterious, fantastic, the most incredible man on the face of the earth,” Shulman said. “I think I saw every guy in town. It was the day before shooting, and a friend of mine and called me and said to me ‘You know, there’s this guy that lives on my street who walks his dog every day and I don’t know what he does but he has all the things you’re describing.’ And the minute he walked in the room, I wrote down on my notes: This is the guy.”

Still, despite the fact that Boreanaz gave “very good read,” Whedon wasn’t sold on him. “He wasn’t exactly my type,” he said. “I wasn’t sure we necessarily had the guy here until I asked the women in the room, who had turned into puddles the moment he walked in. I had to defer to them—they seemed to know better than me, and thank god I did, because David turned into a great star and a very solid actor.”

7. THE FIRST VERSION OF THE THEME SONG WAS A DUD.

Whedon wanted the credits sequence—which begins with “this scary organ and then devolves instantly into rock 'n roll”—to spell out for viewers exactly what the show was about: “Here’s a girl who has no patience for a horror movie, who is not going to be the victim, is not going to be in the scary organ horror movie,” he said. “She’s going to bring her own youth and rocking attitude to it.”

Dissatisfied with an early version of the theme, Whedon opened it up in a contest of sorts to local indie bands. It was Hannigan who suggested Nerf Herder; the band ultimately wrote and recorded the show’s theme. “They created the show and were filming the first season and the people there ... hired some fancy pants Hollywood guy to write the theme song and they didn’t like it; they wanted something more rocking, I guess,” Nerf Herder’s lead singer, Parry Gripp, said. “So they asked a bunch of local, small time bands who they could pay very little money to come up with some ideas and they liked our idea and they used it. And the rest is history!”

The band rerecorded the theme in the second or third season because the first recording was a hasty affair, and the song went off-tempo in the middle, Whedon said.

8. THE SHOW SHOT IN A WAREHOUSE—AND AT ACTUAL SCHOOLS.

In the beginning, Buffy didn’t have much of a budget, so instead of shooting on a soundstage, the crew used a huge warehouse in Santa Monica, California. “We were very much on a tight budget,” Whedon said. “This hall you’ll see a lot of in the first 12 episodes. It is the entire school. We only had the one hall, so we use it over and over again. It’s really kind of sad, actually.” The outside of the warehouse also doubled as the entrance to Sunnydale’s only club, The Bronze. “When we designed the club, we put the door to the club on the outside of the actual warehouse so that we could go in from the outside because that would give it real life and make it very realistic,” Whedon said. “And of course we did it just once, and then once more in the third season, because you have to wait until night to shoot, go in and out and light it, and it’s just enormously complicated.”

Torrance High School in Los Angeles subbed in for the exterior of fictional Sunnydale High. It’s a popular spot for film and TV; you might also recognize it from Beverly Hills 90210, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, 90210, She’s All That, Not Another Teen Movie, and more. And when Buffy went to college, most of Sunnydale University was shot in the warehouse, but some parts of the first episode of the fourth season were shot at UCLA.

9. THERE WAS A REASON FOR THE VAMPIRES’ CREEPY FACES—AND THE "DUSTING."

In the Buffy movie, the vampires looked like regular people with sharper teeth and paler skin. But for the show, Whedon wanted to increase the sense of paranoia by making the vampires resemble normal people until it’s time to feed—at which point, they transform into monsters. But there was another reason, too. "I didn't think I really wanted to put a show on the air about a high school girl who was stabbing normal-looking people in the heart,” Whedon said. “I thought somehow that might send the wrong message, but when they are clearly monsters, it takes it to a level of fantasy that is safer."

Getting into vamp mode—which required a prosthetic that fit from the forehead down to the bottom of the nose—took about an hour and 20 minutes. “It can be tedious,” David Boreanaz said in 1998, “and taking it off is the worst part, because you have to sit there and you just want to rip the damn thing off—but you can’t, because you’ll take a piece of your skin with you. It has to be removed very delicately. But the end result is definitely worth it.”

The film also had vampire bodies lay where they fell after they were staked. But Whedon had different ideas for the show. “It was a very conscious decision to have [the vampires] turn to dust, clothes and all, because I didn’t think it would be fun to have 15 minutes of let’s clean up the bodies after every episode,” he said. The show’s visual effects artists worked on and refined the technique over the seasons.

10. THE CREATORS DREW ON EXISTING VAMPIRE LORE FOR THE SHOW.

But they didn’t use everything. Vampires don’t fly on Buffy or turn into bats  because the show didn’t have the money and Whedon thought it looked silly. Other elements of vampire lore, however, were used: Vampires don’t have reflections; they can’t enter a house unless they’re invited; they’re vulnerable to garlic, crosses, sunlight, fire, and holy water; and they can be killed by beheading or via a stake through the heart.

11. GELLAR HAD SOME PROBLEMS WITH THE DIALOGUE.

The show was famous for its “Buffyspeak,” which was partially inspired by California Valleygirl-isms and how Whedon and the other writers spoke. For Gellar, though, that dialogue sometimes was an issue. “Joss has his own sort of language that’s difficult for us mere mortals to understand,” she said in 1998. “I grew up in New York. We didn’t have Valley girls, and constantly, I’m asking him ‘What does this mean? I’m not quite sure.’ There’s a very funny story about [my audition] where the first line is ‘What’s the sitch?’ And there I go walking in, and my first [question was,] ‘What does this mean?’ No idea it meant situation. Talk about blowing a job instantly.”

12. HERE’S WHERE YOU’VE SEEN SEASON ONE’S BIG VILLAIN BEFORE.

Underneath all of the Master’s vampy makeup is actor Mark Metcalf, who has appeared in Animal House (he played Doug Neidermeyer) and Seinfeld (he played The Maestro), among many other films and television shows. “Most of the guys we read came in and gave us villain villain villain in a very unimaginative way,” Whedon said. “Mark’s not that character, he’s just sly. He undercut all of the villainousness with real charm.”

13. THE CAST AND CREW HATED THE LIBRARY SCENES.

Head delivered much of the show’s expository dialogue in the library—and cast and crew alike came to dread those scenes. “He’s brought so much to all these really tough speeches, giving them life where they had very little because they’re full of so much information,” Whedon said. “When we finally blew up the school at the end of season three and were in the library for the last time, everybody breathed a great sigh of relief because these became the bane for us when we were filming, to go back into this space and talk yet again about what the peril was going to be.”

14. DARLA WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE IN THE SECOND EPISODE.

The vampire (played by Julie Benz) was supposed to expire at the end of “The Harvest” after Willow doused her with holy water, but Whedon kept her alive because he thought Buffy and Angel's romance would be more interesting if it was a triangle; Darla, of course, was Angel’s sire. She was eventually killed in episode seven, but would continue to pop up in other episodes—and in the spin-off show, Angel—from time to time.

15. GELLAR AND BOREANAZ WOULD EAT GROSS STUFF BEFORE KISSING SCENES.

In a 2002 interview with The Independent, Gellar called love scenes “the unsexiest thing in the world.” What she and Boreanaz did beforehand couldn’t have made it any sexier. “[We] were the worst,” she said. “We would do horrible things to each other. Like eat tuna fish and pickle before we kissed. If he had to unbutton my shirt or trousers I would pin them or sew them together to make it as hard as I could. Once I even dropped ice cream on him.”

16. THE SHOW BUILT ITS OWN GRAVEYARD.

In the first season, Buffy shot in a graveyard in Hollywood. “It meant going out all night, until sunrise, a lot of times,” Whedon said. “That was back when we had the energy for that kind of thing.” Starting in the second season, they created their own graveyard in the warehouse’s parking lot. “It made our lives a whole lot easier, but it doesn’t give you the scope that you get from [the Hollywood graveyard],” Whedon said. “It’s a really beautiful place. Looks great.”

"We poured in kerb, back-filled it with dirt and planted grass and lots of trees and stuff and that’s our graveyard set," production designer Carey Meyer told the BBC. "The majority of our cemetery stuff actually takes place in that little tiny parking lot. At night, with a couple of headstones in the background with all the trees and such, you can really cheat to make it look quite large."

17. WHEDON HAD AN INTERESTING NICKNAME FOR GELLAR.

At a cast reunion in 2008, Whedon revealed—to Gellar's surprise—an odd nickname for her, borne from the fact that she dealt with so much pain on screen. "David [Greenwalt] and I used to crow, when we realized what Sarah could do," he said. "We used to call her Jimmy Stewart, because he was the greatest American in pain in the history of film." Gellar laughed and said "I never knew that!"

18. AT LEAST TWO ACTORS PLAYED MORE THAN ONE VILLAIN.

Brian Thompson, who played vampire Luke in the first two episodes, returned in the second season to play The Judge. “Quite frankly, we were in a hurry,” Whedon said. “We already had his face cast and we knew he could put makeup on and give us a good performance.” Camden Toy, meanwhile, played a number of villains, including one of the Gentlemen in “Hush” (season four), a skin-eating demon called Gnarl in “Same Time, Same Place” (season seven), and Ubervamp Turok-Han (throughout season seven).

19. THE WRITERS HAD THEIR OWN TERM FOR PLOT-MOVING DEVICES.

It was coined by writer David Greenwalt. “A lot of this stuff is based on myth and horror movies, and a lot of it made up for our convenience,” Whedon says. “At one point, when we were trying to figure out exactly what Buffy would be trying to do [in the first episode], Greenwalt just shouted out ‘For God’s sake, don’t touch the phlebotnum in Jar C!’ We have no idea to this day what it was supposed to mean, but it became our word for the vague mystical thing—such as the master’s cork in the bottle theory—so phlebotnum is our constant on the show.”

20. WHEDON WROTE THE LARGELY DIALOGUE-FREE EPISODE “HUSH” TO CHALLENGE HIMSELF.

Season four’s tenth episode, “Hush,” features creepy villains called The Gentlemen, who come to Sunnydale and steal the residents’ voices ... so that no one can scream when the monsters cut out their hearts. There are only 17 minutes of spoken dialogue in the 44 minute episode. Whedon wanted to do a largely silent episode because he felt like he was phoning it in. “I had fallen into the ‘people a-yakkin, I can sort of do this without really thinking about it’ style of directing, and I wanted to curtail that in myself,” he said. “On a practical level, the idea of doing an episode where everybody loses their voice presented itself as a great big challenge because I knew that I would literally have to tell the story only visually, and that would mean that I couldn’t fall back on tricks. I wanted to do something harder.” Though Whedon was terrified that he wouldn’t be able to pull off the episode, it was well received by critics, and is a favorite of fans and the series’ stars alike.

21. THE GENTLEMEN WERE INSPIRED BY A DREAM.

A version of Buffy’s creepiest villains first appeared in a dream of Whedon’s; they floated toward him while he was in bed. “What I was going for was very specifically a very Victorian kind of feel, because that to me is very creepy and fairytale-like,” Whedon said. He created a drawing, which he delivered to makeup supervisor Todd McIntosh and John Vulich at Optic Nerve, the special effects house that created the prosthetics for the show. “I was drawing on everything that had ever frightened me, including the fellow from my dream, Nosferatu, pinhead, Mr. Burns—anything that gave that creepy feel,” Whedon said. “We get into a lot of reptilian monsters and things that look kind of like aliens, and what I wanted from these guys was, very specifically, fairy tales. I wanted guys who would remind people of what would they were scared of when they were children.”

Whedon’s ultimate hope was that kids of a certain generation would be as traumatized by the Gentlemen as he was by the Zuni Doll from Trilogy of Terror. The team cast mimes and actors who had done creature work—like Doug Jones—to play the Gentlemen.

22. THE HARDEST CHARACTER FOR WHEDON TO KILL OFF WAS BUFFY'S MOM.

One of Buffy's most critically acclaimed episodes is season five's "The Body," in which the slayer's mom, played by Kristine Sutherland, dies of natural causes. Whedon said in a 2012 Reddit AMA that Joyce was the toughest character for him to kill. He did the episode, he said in DVD commentary, because "I wanted to show not the meaning or catharsis or the beauty of life or any of the things that are often associated with loss, or even extreme grief, which we do get in the episode. But what I did want to capture was the extreme physicality, the almost boredom of the very first few hours. I wanted to be very specific about what it felt like the moment you discover you’ve lost someone. And so what appears to many people as a formal exercise—no music, scenes that take up almost the entire act, if not the entire act, without end—is all done for a very specific purpose, which is to put you in that moment of dumbfounded shock, that airlessness of losing somebody."

The moments after Buffy discovers her mother dead on the couch were done in a single take, which Whedon had Gellar perform seven times (the actress has called the episode one of her favorites). "The cameraman had the camera on his shoulder the whole time and was running around," Whedon said. "It wasn’t a steadicam—he had no harness because I wanted that urgency of handheld, that you’re in the moment of it. It’s an extraordinary piece of acting from Sarah ... to go from the extremity of first finding her, the helplessness of not knowing what to do. All the things that Sarah had to go through in this, she had to go through many, many times. And every take was extraordinary."

23. ONE SHOT IN "THE BODY" WAS INSPIRED BY DIRECTOR PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON.

One shot in "The Body" follows the coroner after he examines Joyce's body out to where Buffy waits with her friends in another single take. "I am a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan," Whedon said, "and I had been watching Magnolia excessively before I shot this. So these endless tracking shots probably owe something to that. What can I say, I’m a hack. But what I was really trying to get at here was, again, the reality of the space. I wanted to see Joyce very clearly, and then I wanted to walk all the way over to where Buffy was, where her loved ones were, so that you understood she was down the hall, she was really there. We weren’t on a different set." Whedon gave kudos to production designer Carey Meyer for building sets that would let him get those long takes.

24. GELLAR KNEW WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IN SEASON FIVE WELL IN ADVANCE.

Several moments in the final episode of season three foreshadowed two major events in season five: Namely, that Buffy would get a sister (Dawn, played by Michelle Trachtenberg) and that the slayer would die at the end of season five. "I’ve actually known the [plot of the] entire last season for about three years," she told the BBC. "There was a dream sequence that Buffy had with Faith. Faith had a riddle, and it was something like 'Little Miss Muffet, sitting on her tuffet,' counting down from whatever the numbers were, and I went to Joss to ask what it meant. That’s when he explained to me that I was going to have a sister, that Dawn, the character of Dawn, would be coming on the show. I think that’s exactly when I became aware also of what the future plans were."

Why manufacture a sister out of thin air? "Part of the mission statement was, let’s have a really important, intense emotional relationship for Buffy that is not a boyfriend," he told Salon. "Because let’s not have her be defined by her boyfriend every time out of the bat. So, Season 5, she’s as intense as she was in Season 2 with Angelus, but it’s about her sister. To me that was really beautiful."

25. SEASON SIX WAS THE TOUGHEST FOR GELLAR.

After the fifth season, Buffy moved from the WB to UPN and resurrected its heroine for the sixth season—which was darker in tone (and more controversial) than any season before it. "It was definitely tough for me," Gellar said at a Paley Center event in 2008. "It's so hard to separate myself from her, so it was tough for me to see these situations and say 'But Buffy wouldn't do this.' ... I know Joss and Marti both had to talk me off a ledge a couple of times because it just felt so far removed from me at the time, and maybe that was the point. Maybe I was struggling the same way she was struggling to find out who she was. It just felt so foreign to me. ... We love her, and I think it was hard for all of us to watch her suffer. ... It was a tough time. And I think that's what came through in the end, and that was great. When Buffy herself resurfaced, we sort of found our voice again."

26. WRITER/PRODUCER MARTI NOXON HAS A CAMEO.

She’s the lady with the parking ticket in “Once More, With Feeling.”

27. GELLAR CALLED THE MUSICAL EPISODE “DAUNTING.”

“I’m a perfectionist, I come from a long line of lots of preparation, and certainly that was not the case with this,” she said. “If I had my druthers, we would have gotten it about two years ago and been in classes for a year and a half, maybe six weeks of rehearsals? Instead of four days.” At a Paley Center event in 2008, Gellar admitted to “begging” to be let out of it. “I begged for Buffy the rat,” she said. “I kept thinking, ‘Bring the rat back.’”

28. STONE TEMPLE PILOTS’ LEAD SINGER WAS A FAN.

Scott Weiland reportedly become one while watching the show in prison. Gellar, who later appeared in the band’s music video for “Sour Girl,” had a theory about why the show was so popular among prison inmates: “Hot chicks doing battle. It's like acceptable porn.”

29. GELLAR KNEW THE SHOW WAS OVER BEFORE THE REST OF THE CAST.

In the March 7, 2003 Entertainment Weekly cover story, Gellar announced that Buffy was coming to an end after seven seasons. "I love this job, I love the fans," she said. "I love telling the stories we tell. This isn't about leaving for a career in movies, or in theater—it's more of a personal decision. I need a rest. Teachers get sabbaticals. Actors don't." The rest of the cast found out the day the story hit stands. “I was devastated," Hannigan said in 2013. "I was just very shocked.”

30. BUFFY’S ADVENTURES CONTINUE IN COMIC BOOKS.

A number of writers who worked on the TV show have also worked on the comics. Even James Marsters, who played vampire Spike on the show, wrote a comic about his character. "I was at the San Diego Comic Con and I was describing an idea that had been kicking around my head for a long time to [artist] George Jeanty, who draws a lot of the Buffy comic books," Marsters told io9. "And he thought that it was a fabulous idea and that I should definitely get in touch with [Dark Horse editor] Scott Allie. He made the phone call and then I pitched it to Scott over the phone and Scott liked it a lot. It's a story that was going to try to be made into a Spike movie years and years ago."

31. THERE WAS TALK OF AN ANIMATED SERIES.

Whedon and the show's other writers produced seven scripts for an animated Buffy series, which would have taken place during the show's first three seasons and been voiced by the cast. Sadly, no one wanted the show. "They were really fun to write," Whedon said. "We could not sell the show. We could not sell an animated Buffy, which I still find incomprehensible."

32. THE SHOW SPAWNED ACADEMIC COURSES...

A number of colleges and universities offer courses on the show; they're called "Buffy Studies." People have written books and held conferences dedicated to discussing the themes of the show and presenting papers on it. According to the Los Angeles Times, attendees at a 2004 Buffy conference "were presenting 190 papers on topics ranging from 'slayer slang' to 'postmodern reflections on the culture of consumption' to 'Buffy and the new American Buddhism.' There was even a self-conscious talk by David Lavery, an English professor at Middle Tennessee State University, on Buffy studies 'as an academic cult.'"

An informal study conducted by Slate in 2012 showed that, when it comes to pop culture in academia, Buffy is number one: "More than twice as many papers, essays, and books have been devoted to the vampire drama than any of our other choices—so many that we stopped counting when we hit 200."

33. ... AND A BOOK OF SLANG.

Publisher's Weekly called Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon "a strange marriage of a fan guide and a linguistics textbook." Said The Kansas City Star: "If you're curious about the word 'ubersuck,' or just want to remember which episode you first heard it in, this is the place to look. As Buffy would say, it is not uncool."

BONUS: RARE BEHIND-THE-SCENES FOOTAGE

During the second season, Pruitt filmed behind-the-scenes footage of the cast goofing off and getting into makeup, the stunt crew at work, and some of the show’s most iconic sequences. You can watch it above.

Additional sources: DVD commentary; The Watcher's Guide.

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise noted.

This piece originally ran in 2014.

Original image
Warner Bros.
arrow
entertainment
15 Things You Might Not Know About One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Original image
Warner Bros.

Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which premiered on this day in 1975, won critical acclaim, box office success, and a shelf full of Oscars. But even if you love the complex exploration of life inside a 1960s psychiatric hospital, there are a few things you may not know about its behind-the-scenes story. 

1. CUSTOMS NEARLY DOOMED THE PROJECT. 

Despite the middling success of the 1963 stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel starring Kirk Douglas, Hollywood legend Douglas was dead set on adapting the story for the screen. Douglas contacted Czech director Miloš Forman about the project, promising to send Forman a copy of the book for his perusal. 

Douglas mailed Forman the novel, but the package was confiscated by Czechoslovakian customs and never reached the director. Unaware of the parcel’s fate, the filmmaker resented Douglas’ broken promise, and Douglas thought Forman rude for never bothering to confirm receipt of the novel. It took a decade to sort the mess out, and things only cleared up when Kirk’s son Michael Douglas took another crack at production and contacted Forman once more. 

2. ONE STUDIO WANTED TO CHANGE THE ENDING.

When producers were shopping the picture to studios, 20th Century Fox was interested, but with a catch. Fox would distribute the film, but only if the filmmakers would agree to rewrite the ending; the studio wanted McMurphy to live. Producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas wisely considered this a deal breaker, and United Artists eventually distributed the film.

3. JACK NICHOLSON AND LOUISE FLETCHER WERE NOT THE FIRST CHOICES FOR THEIR CHARACTERS. 


Warner Bros.

When Kirk Douglas spearheaded the first attempt to bring One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to life on the big screen in the 1960s, he had intended to play the Randle Patrick McMurphy role himself, just as he had on stage. When production began in earnest 10 years later, Douglas was too old for the part, leaving director Forman to consider and contact the likes of Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, and (his personal favorite) Burt Reynolds before finally settling on Jack Nicholson.

A number of different actresses were considered for the role of Nurse Ratched, the film’s central antagonist, as well: Anne Bancroft, Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, and Angela Lansbury were all in the running, before Louise Fletcher ultimately got the part. 

4. LOUISE FLETCHER CHANGED FORMAN’S VIEW ON THE CHARACTER. 

Forman’s original view of Nurse Ratched was as “the personification of evil,” a characterization that made Louise Fletcher a bad fit for the part in the filmmaker’s mind. As Fletcher pressed for the role, Forman’s perspective of Ratched evolved: “I slowly started to realize that it would be much more powerful if it’s not this visible evil,” he said. “That she’s only an instrument of evil. She doesn’t know that she’s evil. She, as a matter of fact, believes that she’s helping people.” This new take on the character paved the way for the official casting of Fletcher. 

5. SEVERAL OF THE FILM’S STARS WERE NOT ACTORS. 

Following the production team’s decision to use Oregon State Hospital as its shooting location, the producers hit on the idea of casting facility superintendent Dr. Dean Brooks as Dr. John Spivey, the doctor charged with assessing R. P. McMurphy’s psychological health. Brooks agreed to play what turned out to be a sizable role, though it would be the only acting job he would ever take. He also helped secure employment for many of his hospital’s patients as extras and crew members during production. 

Mel Lambert, another non-actor, was wrangled to play the harbormaster who protested McMurphy’s ad hoc fishing trip. What’s more, Lambert—a respected area businessman who had a strong relationship with the local Native American community—introduced the production team to Will Sampson, the 6-foot-5-inch-tall Muscogee painter who would make his acting debut as the major character Chief Bromden. 

6. THE STARS LIVED ON THE WARD DURING PRODUCTION. 


Warner Bros.

All of the actors who played patients actually lived on the Oregon State Hospital psychiatric ward throughout production. The men personalized their sleeping quarters, spent their days on campus “get[ting] a sense of what it was to be hospitalized” (as actor Vincent Schiavelli put it), and interacting with real psychiatric patients. 

7. MANY SCENES WERE SHOT WITHOUT THE ACTORS’ KNOWLEDGE. 

To complete this realistic immersion, Forman led his performers in unscripted group therapy sessions in which he directed the actors to develop their characters’ psychological maladies organically. He would often capture footage of the actors, both in and out of character, without explicitly mentioning that the cameras were rolling. The film’s final cut includes a shot of a visibly irritated Fletcher reacting to a piece of direction fed to her by Forman. 

8. FORMAN AND NICHOLSON HAD A TREMENDOUS SPAT OVER THE FILM’S PLOT. 

While the intensity of the turmoil varies from rumor to rumor, reports from the set were consistent on one fact: The star refused to speak with Forman for a large chunk of the production process. Nicholson took issue with Forman’s suggestion that the hospital inmates would be an unruly bunch upon the initial arrival of McMurphy. Instead, the actor insisted that such disavowal of the medical staff’s authority should only begin after the introduction of McMurphy into their lives and routines. 

Although the version of the story that we see in the film today is more closely associated with Nicholson’s alleged reading, suggesting that Forman ultimately took his advice, Nicholson refused to interact with his director from that point forward. When the star and Forman needed to communicate with one another, they used cinematographer Bill Butler as a middleman. 

9. DANNY DEVITO CREATED AN IMAGINARY FRIEND DURING PRODUCTION. 


Warner Bros.

Emotionally strained by a demanding shooting schedule that kept him 3000 miles from his future wife, Rhea Perlman, DeVito developed the coping mechanism of an imaginary friend with whom he would have nightly chats. Concerned that his own sanity might be slipping away, DeVito sought the advice of Dr. Brooks, who assured him that there was no reason to worry as long as DeVito could still identify the character as fictional. 

10. THE CREW WAS WORRIED ABOUT THE SANITY OF ONE CAST MEMBER.

While Dr. Brooks had no concerns about DeVito, he echoed the rest of the cast and crew’s apprehensions about the psychological state of Sydney Lassick, who played Charlie Cheswick. Lassick exhibited increasingly unpredictable and emotionally erratic behavior during his time in character, a pattern that culminated in a tearful outburst during his observation of the final scene between Nicholson and Sampson. Lassick became so overwhelmed during the scene that he had to be removed from set. 

11. FLETCHER TOOK OFF HER CLOTHES IN ORDER TO GET FRIENDLIER WITH HER CO-STARS.

Envious of the camaraderie her male costars had forged, and hoping to dispel any associations with her tyrannical character, Fletcher surprised the cast one evening by ripping off her dress on the crowded ward. Years later, the actress laughed about the display, saying, “‘I’ll show them I’m a real woman under here, you know.’ I think that must have been what I was thinking.” 

12. THE FISHING TRIP SCENE BARELY MADE IT INTO THE FILM. 

Initially, Forman was vocally opposed to including a scene that took place beyond the grounds of the hospital out of concerns that a temporary liberation would undercut the dramatic force of the film’s ending. In the end, Zaentz convinced Forman to shoot the fishing trip sequence. It was the final scene filmed and the only piece shot out of chronological order. 

One thing to look for in the fishing scene: A very subtle Anjelica Huston cameo. Huston, who was dating Nicholson during production, has a nonspeaking role as one of the spectators on the dock as McMurphy and his fellow patients steer the stolen boat back to shore. 


Warner Bros.

13. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST WAS THE FIRST FILM TO WIN ALL “BIG FIVE” ACADEMY AWARDS IN 41 YEARS.

Not since 1934's It Happened One Night swept the Oscars had a film walked away with awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest took home the lot, with Nicholson and Fletcher winning the top acting awards. The feat would not be matched again for another 16 years, with Silence of the Lambs becoming the next (and last to date) movie to earn the distinction. 

14. THE FILM ENJOYED ONE OF THE LONGEST THEATRICAL RUNS IN MOVIE HISTORY. 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was revered worldwide, but Swedish viewers developed an especially soft spot for the film. Cuckoo’s Nest remained a regular option for Swedish moviegoers through 1987—11 years after its initial release. 

15. KESEY REFUSED TO SEE THE FILM (BUT MAY HAVE BY ACCIDENT). 

The poster child for the “the book was better” movement, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Kesey disapproved of a big screen adaptation of his novel as soon as he found out that the filmmakers had abandoned the use of Chief Bromden as the story’s narrator. Kesey never intended to see the movie, but one story says he inadvertently caught a few moments during a bout of channel surfing one evening. Once Kesey realized what he was watching, he promptly changed stations.

According to fellow novelist Chuck Palahniuk (who has famously praised director David Fincher’s adaptation of his novel Fight Club, plot changes and all), Kesey once stated privately that he did not care for the material.

Original image
Getty
arrow
Lists
The Origins of 10 Thanksgiving Traditions
Original image
Getty

There's a lot more to Thanksgiving than just the turkey and the Pilgrims. And though most celebrations will break out the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, there are a number of other customs that you might be less aware of (and some that are becoming too ubiquitous to miss).

1. THE TURKEY TROT FOOTRACE

Many towns host brisk morning runs to lessen the guilt about the impending feast (distances and times vary from race to race, but the feel-good endorphins are universal). The oldest known Turkey Trot footrace took place in Buffalo, New York, and has been happening every year since 1896. Nearly 13,000 runners participated in the 4.97 mile race last year.

2. THE GREAT GOBBLER GALLOP IN CUERO, TEXAS

During their annual TurkeyFest in November, they gather a bunch of turkeys and have the "Great Gobbler Gallop," a turkey race. It started in 1908 when a turkey dressing house opened in town. Early in November, farmers would herd their turkeys down the road toward the dressing house so the birds could be prepared for Thanksgiving. As you can imagine, this was quite a spectacle—as many as 20,000 turkeys have been part of this "march". People gathered to watch, and eventually the first official festival was formed around the event in 1912. The final event of the celebration is the Great Gobbler Gallop, a race between the Cuero turkey champ and the champ from Worthington, Minnesota (they have a TurkeyFest as well). Each town holds a heat and the best time between the towns wins. The prize is a four-foot trophy called "The Traveling Turkey Trophy of Tumultuous Triumph."

3. FRANKSGIVING

From 1939 to 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up by a week. In '39, Thanksgiving, traditionally held on the last Thursday of November, fell on the 30th. Since enough people would wait until after Thanksgiving to start their Christmas shopping, Roosevelt was concerned that having the holiday so late in the month would mess up retail sales at a time when he was trying hard to pull Americans out of the Great Depression. It didn't entirely go over well though—some states observed FDR's change, and others celebrated what was being called the "Republican" Thanksgiving on the traditional, last-Thursday date. Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas all considered both Thanksgivings to be holidays. Today, we've basically split the difference—Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November, regardless of whether that's the last Thursday of the month or not.

4. THE PRESIDENTIAL TURKEY PARDON

TIM SLOAN / AFP / Getty Images

The story goes that since at least Harry Truman, it has been tradition for the President of the U.S. to save a couple of birds from becoming someone's feast. Records only go back to George H.W. Bush doing it, though some say the tradition goes all the way back to Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey. (Lincoln is also the President who originally declared that the holiday be held on the last Thursday of November.) In recent years, the public has gotten to name the turkeys in online polls; the paired turkeys (the one you see in pictures and a backup) have gotten creative names such as Stars and Stripes, Biscuit and Gravy, Marshmallow and Yam, Flyer and Fryer, Apple and Cider, and Honest and Abe last year.

5. THANKSGIVING PARADES

Getty

Everyone knows about the Macy's Parade, but for a more historically accurate parade, check out America's Hometown Thanksgiving Parade in Plymouth. The parade starts with a military flyover and continues with floats and costumed people taking the parade-goers from the 17th century to the present time. There are nationally recognized Drum and Bugle Corps, re-enactment units from every period of American history, and military marching units. And military bands play music honoring the men and women who serve in each branch: the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard.

6. BLACK FRIDAY

Black Friday, of course, is the day-after sales extravaganza that major (and minor) retailers participate in. Most people think that the term comes from the day of the year when retail stores make their profits go from red to black, but other sources have it originating from police officers in Philadelphia. They referred to the day as Black Friday because of the heavy traffic and higher propensity for accidents. Also, just because you hear that it's "the busiest shopping day of the season" on the news, don't believe it. It's one of the busiest days, but typically, it's hardly ever the busiest, though it typically ranks somewhere in the top 10. The busiest shopping day of the year is usually the Saturday before Christmas.

7. CYBER MONDAY

Black Friday is quickly being rivaled in popularity by Cyber Monday. It's a fairly recent phenomenon—it didn't even have a name until 2005. But there's truth to it—77 percent of online retailers at the time reported an increase in sales on that particular day, and as online shopping has continued to grow and become more convenient, retailers have scheduled their promotions to follow suit.

8. BUY NOTHING DAY

And in retaliation for Black Friday, there's Buy Nothing Day. To protest consumerism, many people informally celebrate BND. It was first "celebrated" in 1992, but didn't settle on its day-after-Thanksgiving date until 1997, where it has been ever since. It's also observed internationally, but outside of North America the day of observance is the Saturday after our Thanksgiving.

9. FOOTBALL

JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images

It's a common sight across the U.S.: parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles passed out on the couch watching football after dinner. Well, we have the first Detroit Lions owner, G.A. Richards, to thank for the tradition of Thanksgiving football. He saw it as a way to get people to his games. CBS was the first on the bandwagon when they televised their first Thanksgiving game in 1956. The first color broadcast was in 1965—the Lions vs. the Baltimore Colts. Since the 1960s, the Dallas Cowboys have joined the Lions in hosting Thanksgiving Day games, and the NFL Network now airs a third game on that night.

10. NATIONAL DOG SHOW

Of course, if football isn't your thing, there's always the National Dog Show. It's aired after the Macy's Parade on NBC every year. Good luck telling your dad that he'll be enjoying Springer Spaniels instead of the Lions or Cowboys, though.

A version of this story originally published in 2008.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios