CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

25 Things You Should Know About Nirvana

Original image
Getty Images

Though he died tragically at the age of 27, today marks what would have been Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain's 50th birthday. To celebrate the occasion, here are 25 things you should know about the alternative rock icon and his legendary band.

1. KURT COBAIN DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL, THEN WORKED THERE AS A JANITOR.

Getty Images

Even though he was by all accounts a slob, Kurt Cobain worked as a janitor at Weatherwax High School, not long after dropping out of that very school. The dancing janitor in the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" music video was an inside joke for those who knew of Cobain's old job.

2. THE TITLE FOR "ABOUT A GIRL" CAME ABOUT VERY QUICKLY.

Chad Channing, one of Nirvana's drummers before Dave Grohl, claimed that one day he asked Cobain what the song was about. "About a girl," was Cobain's reply. "Why don't you just call it that?"

The girl in question was Cobain's girlfriend, Tracy Marander, who asked why he wrote about everything—including Floyd the Barber from The Andy Griffith Show—but her. Marander didn't even realize that she was the "girl" until she read the official biography of the band, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, four years later.

3. THERE WERE AT LEAST FIVE DIFFERENT DRUMMERS IN THE BAND BEFORE DAVE GROHL.

Cobain and Novoselic were always members of Nirvana—formerly known as Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew, Bliss, and Ted Ed Fred—but finding a permanent drummer proved to be even harder than coming up with a decent band name. In the beginning, there was trivia answer Aaron Burckhard, who pissed off Cobain by getting Kurt's car impounded after being arrested for fighting with a police officer. Then there was Melvins drummer Dale Crover, who pounded the skins for Cobain and Novoselic on their first demo tape before moving to San Francisco. Next came Dave Foster, who got arrested for assaulting the son of the mayor of Cosmopolis, Washington. Burckhard briefly returned before announcing he was too hungover to practice one day. Then a mutual friend introduced Cobain and Novoselic to Chad Channing, who hung around for two years before the group's co-founders decided he wasn't cutting it anymore. Mudhoney drummer Dan Peters played on the "Sliver" single.

Back in Washington, Crover performed with Cobain and Novoselic on a seven date tour with Sonic Youth in August 1990, before Dave Grohl's band Scream broke up and Melvins frontman Buzz Osbourne introduced Grohl to Cobain and Novoselic, ending the vicious cycle of rotating drummers.

4. NIRVANA'S FIRST SINGLE WAS A COVER.

Nirvana's first official release was a cover of "Love Buzz" by the Dutch rock band Shocking Blue. You know Shocking Blue not by "Love Buzz" but by their classic song "Venus," which reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in February 1970 and sold 7.5 million copies. A 1986 Bananarama cover also topped the charts. "Love Buzz" however did neither of those things, for either Shocking Blue or Nirvana.

5. NIRVANA'S FIRST ALBUM COST $606.17 TO MAKE.

Guitarist Jason Everman didn't play on Bleach, Nirvana's first album, but was added to the band to add a second guitar to the mix soon after. He was a leading candidate to foot the bill—which came to $606.17—because he was the only person in the band to have an actual paying job. Unfortunately for Everman, his withdrawn attitude clashed with Cobain's similar disposition while on tour, resulting in a lot of long, silent driving and a severe lack of band chemistry

Everman failed upward, becoming the bass player for Soundgarden. He would be canned from that gig after one tour, before Soundgarden made it big. Everman's life after near-stardom was profiled in The New York Times Magazine in 2013, where it was reported that he joined the Army's 2nd Ranger Battalion and then the Special Forces, serving tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Columbia University. 

6. "SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT" WAS INSPIRED BY COBAIN'S GIRLFRIEND'S DEODORANT. AND ALCOHOL.

After a night of drinking, Kurt Cobain and then-roommate Dave Grohl were joined by Bikini Kill songwriter/vocalist Kathleen Hanna and drummer Tobi Vail at their humble pre-fame abode. The party continued, and eventually Hanna spray painted "Kurt smells like teen spirit" on Cobain's wall, a reference to the deodorant Vail—Cobain's girlfriend at the time—used to smell pleasant without any white residue. As the rest of the legend goes, Cobain loved the phrasing and wrote the song without knowing of the Teen Spirit deodorant's existence until after it was recorded.

7. THE SONG'S RIFF WAS A "RIP OFF" OF THE PIXIES. AND "MORE THAN A FEELING."

The Pixies are universally credited with inventing the loud-quiet dynamic in 1987 with their debut EP Come on Pilgrim. It wouldn't be until 1990—one year after Nirvana's debut album Bleach—that Cobain's affection for the band would heavily influence his songwriting, and through that lens, "Spirit" pretty much sounds like a Pixies parody. Cobain admitted to trying to rip off the group, and at a big 1992 concert in Reading, he also acknowledged the song's passing resemblance to Boston's "More Than A Feeling."

8. WHEN COBAIN SAW HIMSELF ON TV FOR THE FIRST TIME, HE CALLED HIS MOTHER.

The music video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" premiered on MTV's alternative music show 120 Minutes on Sunday, September 29, 1991. Cobain watched himself in a hotel room at The Roger Smith Hotel in New York City and called his mother to tell her, "There's me."

9. THE BAND WAS ACCUSED OF PLAGIARISM.

It all began in 1989, when Nirvana's "Negative Creep" featured the chorus "Daddy's little girl ain't a girl no more," which reminded a lot of the band's early listeners of Mudhoney's "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More." Nothing came of it, but years later Cobain might have had that in mind when he warned Nirvana's co-manager Danny Goldberg about making "Come As You Are" the next single after "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

"Kurt was nervous about 'Come as You Are' because it was too similar to a Killing Joke song ['Eighties'], but we all thought it was still the better song to go with," Goldberg told Rolling Stone. "And, he was right, Killing Joke later did complain about it." But that's all they did—complain.

Killing Joke never actually took the band to court over the similarities to their 1984 song due to "personal and financial reasons," and possibly because "Eighties" itself sounds an awful lot like The Damned's 1982 song "Life Goes On." Shrugging and muttering to themselves that good artists borrow and great artists steal, Killing Joke welcomed Dave Grohl behind the drum kit to play on their 2003 album.

The only time that someone actually sued Nirvana was director Kevin Kerslake, who alleged that Cobain used some of his ideas for the "Heart Shaped Box" music video. The case was settled out of court.

10. THE ORIGINAL MUSIC VIDEO FOR "IN BLOOM" IS FROM 1990 AND SET IN NEW YORK CITY.

"In Bloom"—along with other Nevermind songs "Breed," "Lithium," and "Polly"—was a song intended for a 1990 album with Sub Pop, the band's initial record label. At first, Sub Pop seemed to be up to the task, paying for a recording session and releasing a music video showing the band performing the intended first single at a couple of different shows, traversing around David Dinkins-era lower Manhattan. Because nobody told Novoselic about continuity, he appears in parts of the video completely bald—the bassist thought his playing was so bad at one gig that he shaved his head to appease the bass gods. 

Sub Pop, however, would prove to be on the verge of bankruptcy, and would only be saved by the deal they made with Geffen Records to receive some royalties from Nevermind. Helping to keep the cash flowing was "In Bloom," the album's fourth single, promoted by a much more professional looking and thought out video with the band performing on an old Ed Sullivan Show type of program.

11. THE ORIGINAL "LITHIUM" VIDEO CONCEPT WAS A CARTOON.

Initially, Cobain and director Kevin Kerslake agreed on Cobain's idea for the "Lithium" video: an animated story about a girl named Prego who discovers some eggs that hatch. Unfortunately, the two discovered—a bit too late—that the animation would take four months to produce and decided to just use footage from a couple of live performances. Kerslake did his best to make things interesting by using video of the band at its most vibrant, manic moments during the quiet parts of the song, and vice versa.

12. NEVERMIND'S "CANDY-ASS" SOUND WAS THANKS IN PART TO JOHN LENNON.

Nevermind producer Butch Vig really wanted Cobain to double track his vocals to make the songs sound "fuller," "richer," and not have the record label spend a lot of money to purposely sound lo-fi. Cobain thought that would just be another indication of the band losing its indie, punk credibility (even though he was already recording a major label album). Vig knew that Cobain was a big John Lennon fan, so whenever Kurt would initially not agree to sing along with himself, Vig would tell him, "John Lennon did it." It worked, every time.

Cobain would later claim to resent the mainstream, radio-friendly production of the hugely successful album, poetically and timelessly describing it in 1993 as "candy-ass."

13. "DRAIN YOU," "LOUNGE ACT," AND SEVERAL SONGS ON NEVERMIND ARE REPORTEDLY ABOUT TOBI VAIL.

Author Charles R. Cross—backed with access to Cobain's private journals and pages of unrecorded lyrics—theorized in his 2001 Kurt Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven that Nevermind is full of references to Tobi Vail, who broke up with Cobain months before the album's recording. The "Smells Like Teen Spirit" lyric that talks about a woman being over-bored and self-assured was likely to be about Cobain's ex. "Drain You" begins with the line, "One baby to another said 'I'm lucky to have met you,'" quoting what Vail had once told Cobain. "Lounge Act" in particular was unequivocally about the Bikini Kill drummer, confirmed by Novoselic and by Cobain himself in an unwritten letter to Vail that Cross read. Cobain wrote: "Every song on this record [In Utero] is not about you. No, I am not your boyfriend. No, I don't write songs about you, except for 'Lounge Act,' which I do not play, except when my wife is not around." 

14. "POLLY" WAS BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Kurt Cobain wrote "Polly" in 1987 after reading an article about the torture and rape of a 14-year-old girl. Cobain chose to write the song from the perspective of the girl, inventing the name "Polly" to aid in a consistent, innocent-sounding bird metaphor. After hearing the song, Bob Dylan said of Cobain, "That kid has heart."

15. THE BAND WAS THROWN OUT OF THEIR OWN RECORD RELEASE PARTY.

On a Friday the 13th, Geffen threw the band a record release party with invitations that read, "Nevermind Triskaidekaphobia, Here's Nirvana." Cobain started a full-fledged food fight when he threw ranch dressing at Novoselic, and a bouncer responded by grabbing the two and Grohl and throwing them out. The band then stood in the alley behind the club and talked to their friends through the window, before moving the party to a friend's place, where Cobain shot a fire extinguisher and the place had to be evacuated. At the next venue, Cobain completed the destruction trifecta by tossing a gold record plaque by the group Nelson into a microwave after proclaiming it an "affront to humankind."

16. "WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC ASKED FOR NIRVANA'S PERMISSION TO WRITE "SMELLS LIKE NIRVANA" IN THEIR SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE DRESSING ROOM.

Three events on January 11, 1992 proved that Nirvana had completely made the unprecedented transition from underground punk band to universally beloved supergroup: Nevermind was #1 for the first time on that day's Billboard 200 albums chart; the band made their SNL debut performing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Territorial Pissings" on the Rob Morrow-hosted late night show. To the joy of Cobain, Novoselic, and Grohl, they got a phone call from "Weird Al" Yankovic.

"That was the craziest weekend because we get there, and the first time you see the SNL studio, it's tiny," Grohl recalled in 2011. "You imagine it being this big thing but honestly it's tiny, it's so small. The energy is crazy and people are running around and it goes so quickly, and one of the cast members comes up and says, 'Hey I'm friends with Weird Al Yankovic and he wants to talk to you about doing one of your songs.' And so I think we talked to him in the dressing room of SNL. He called the phone. You know you've arrived when Weird Al ... it was pretty huge. And he did a good job."

17. IN UTERO WAS INITIALLY GOING TO BE TITLED I HATE MYSELF AND I WANT TO DIE.

DGC

Nirvana's album titles tended to evolve over time: Nirvana's first album was recorded under the operating title Too Many Humans, until Cobain saw a sign in San Francisco that said to "Bleach Your Works"; Nevermind started out as Sheep, married to artwork of rows and rows of identical houses. Even though it was intended as a joke, Novoselic pointed out to Cobain that he was opening himself up to tons of potential lawsuits, and the idea was dropped.

18. THE SONG "I HATE MYSELF AND I WANT TO DIE" FEATURES A JACK HANDEY "DEEP THOUGHT."

Even though the threat of lawsuits stopped the band from naming an album "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die," it didn't stop them from recording a song with the title "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die," although it might be the reason that it was left off of the In Utero album. Instead, the song with the misunderstood title (it was supposed to be a joke) found a home as the opening track on The Beavis and Butt-head Experience compilation album. But in the middle of the song, after helping to promote one television show, Cobain acknowledged a different, more mainstream show when he mumbled, "Most people don't realize that large pieces of coral, which have been painted brown and attached to the skull by common wood screws, can make a child look like a deer," an SNL "Deep Thought" from Jack Handey.

19. ELTON JOHN SUFFERED COLLATERAL DAMAGE DUE TO NIRVANA'S WAR WITH GUNS N' ROSES.

Kurt Cobain considered Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose to be a homophobe and a racist, an opinion that other people agreed with thanks to the lyrics of the GNR song "One in a Million." At the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, two pianos were set up on stage for an epic performance of "November Rain." Thinking Axl was going to play on it, Cobain spit on the keys of one of the pianos. To his horror, Kurt later found out that he had given a coat of saliva on the piano played by special guest Elton John.

20. MTV REALLY DID NOT WANT NIRVANA TO PLAY "RAPE ME" AT THE VMAS.

Nirvana was causing nothing but trouble at the '92 VMAs, and naturally their choice of song was one big issue. MTV told the band that they would like to hear "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The band responded by saying that they were respectfully going to remember the clout they had earned over the past year and premiere a brand new song called "Rape Me" instead (a song that actually made its premier at a Santa Cruz concert one year earlier).

The network was not only scared by the title, but somewhat correctly surmised that the song was somewhat about them. The network countered that if the band played "Rape Me" on the live telecast that they would fire Amy Finnerty, an employee Cobain was close friends with, and would stop playing the band's videos. Although both parties agreed on "Lithium," MTV didn't trust Cobain, and for the second consecutive time, their paranoia proved to be well founded: When the band launched into the first few chords of "Rape Me," the control room was ready to go directly to commercial. At the last possible moment, Nirvana stopped the sneak preview to play the memorable version of "Lithium" which ended with Novoselic hitting himself in the head with his bass and Cobain and Grohl sarcastically saying hello to Axl Rose.

21. NOVOSELIC PLAYED A NIRVANA GIG AT THE SEATTLE CENTER COLISEUM, EVEN THOUGH HE WAS BANNED FROM THE PREMISES.

Before performing at a Washington Music Industry Coalition Benefit on September 11, 1992 (two days after the VMAs), Nirvana couldn't help but notice that a photo of Novoselic was on the wall backstage, indicating that he was banned for life due to his behavior at a Sonic Youth concert one year before. They opened the show discussing it. Novoselic has yet to be punished for the crime.

22. "HEART SHAPED BOX" WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED "HEART SHAPED COFFIN."

Even though the song was inspired by an actual heart shaped box sent by Courtney Love to Kurt Cobain during the early days of their relationship, the initial lyrics read that the narrator was "buried" in the box (as opposed to "locked"), with the "Heart Shaped Coffin" title.

23. "ALL APOLOGIES" ORIGINALLY SOUNDED LIKE A BEATLES SONG.

The group wrote one third of 1993's In Utero in 1990. During an informal recording session on New Year's Day 1991, Cobain, Novoselic, and Grohl put down an early, jangly version of "All Apologies." Some of the verses didn't have words yet, but the refrain "Married/Buried" was more or less set, a little over one year before Cobain's wedding to Love.

24. DAVE GROHL WROTE THE RIFF TO "SCENTLESS APPRENTICE."

Grohl had been writing songs on his own since he joined Nirvana, even releasing a cassette album of his work in 1992 called Pocketwatch, under the pseudonym Late! It was understood that Cobain was the lone songwriter of Nirvana, but Grohl couldn't help himself and presented the group with the guitar riff and drum parts of what would turn out to be "Scentless Apprentice." Cobain said in an interview that he initially thought Grohl's riff wasn't very good but tried it out to not hurt his feelings (which of course was a nice thing to do until he revealed his thought to a reporter for Grohl to later read). Aside from "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Scentless Apprentice" was the only song from a Nirvana album that was given a "Cobain/Novoselic/Grohl" writing credit instead of Cobain receiving sole recognition.

Possibly as a reward, "Color Pictures of a Marigold," one of the songs from Pocketwatch, was recorded by Grohl and Novoselic toward the end of the In Utero sessions, and was released as "Marigold," a B-side to the "Heart Shaped Box" single. It would end up being the only Nirvana song that had no input from Cobain.

25. COBAIN EMBELLISHED THE LEADBELLY GUITAR STORY BY ABOUT $445,000.

Before his classic cover of Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" on MTV Unplugged, Cobain was provoked by Novoselic to talk about Leadbelly's guitar. "This guy representing the Leadbelly estate wants to sell me Leadbelly's guitar for $500,000," Cobain said. "I even asked David Geffen personally if he would buy it for me. Wouldn't do it."

It's possible that Cobain was trying to pull a fast one on the CEO of his label, because a few months earlier he wondered to a New York Times reporter if buying the guitar for $55,000 was a "punk move" or an "anti-punk move." Separating $445,000 from David Geffen would of course be both.

Original image
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Food
15 Fascinating Facts About Julia Child
Original image
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

Julia Child was much more than just a bestselling cookbook author and chef. Over the course of her life, she was also a breast cancer survivor, a TV trailblazer, and a government spy. It's the famed chef's spy game that will be the focus of Julia, a new series being developed by ABC Signature and created by Benjamin Brand.

The project will draw its inspiration from Child's PBS program, Cooking for the C.I.A. “I was disappointed when I learned that in this case, the C.I.A. stood for the Culinary Institute of America,” Brand told Deadline. “Cooking Secrets of the Central Intelligence Agency always seemed like a more interesting show to me. Many years later, when I read a biography of Julia Child and learned about her experiences during World War II, working for the Office of Strategic Services—the precursor to the C.I.A.—the story of Julia quickly fell into place.”

Though Julia will be a work of fiction, here are 15 facts about the beloved cook.

1. SHE MET THE INVENTOR OF THE CAESAR SALAD WHEN SHE WAS A KID.

As a preteen, Julia Child traveled to Tijuana on a family vacation. Her parents took her to dine at Caesar Cardini’s restaurant, so that they could all try his trendy “Caesar salad.” Child recalled the formative culinary experience to The New York Times: “My parents were so excited, eating this famous salad that was suddenly very chic. Caesar himself was a great big old fellow who stood right in front of us to make it. I remember the turning of the salad in the bowl was very dramatic. And egg in a salad was unheard of at that point.” Years later, when she was a famous chef in her own right, Child convinced Cardini’s daughter, Rosa, to share the authentic recipe with her.

2. THE WAVES AND WACS REJECTED HER BECAUSE SHE WAS TOO TALL.

Like so many others of her generation, Child felt the call to serve when America entered World War II. There was just one problem: her height. At a towering 6'2", Child was deemed “too tall” for both the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) and Women’s Army Corps (WAC). But she was accepted by the forerunner to the CIA, which brings us to our next point.

3. SHE WAS A SPY DURING WORLD WAR II.

Child took a position at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was basically the CIA 1.0. She began as a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division, where she worked directly for the head of the OSS, General William J. Donovan. But she moved over to the OSS Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, and then took an overseas post for the final two years of the war. First in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) and later in Kunming, China, Child served as the chief of the OSS Registry. This meant she had top-level security clearance. It also meant she was working with Paul Child, the OSS officer she would eventually marry.

4. SHE HELPED DEVELOP A SHARK REPELLENT FOR THE NAVY.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While Child was in the Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, she helped the team in its search for a suitable shark repellent. Several U.S. naval officers had been attacked by the ocean predators since the war broke out, so the OSS brought in a scientist specializing in zoology and an anthropologist to come up with a fix. Child assisted in this mission, and recalled her experience in the book, Sisterhood of Spies: “I must say we had lots of fun. We designed rescue kits and other agent paraphernalia. I understand the shark repellent we developed is being used today for downed space equipment—strapped around it so the sharks won’t attack when it lands in the ocean.”

5. SHE GOT MARRIED IN BANDAGES.

Once the war ended, Paul and Julia Child decided to take a “few months to get to know each other in civilian clothes.” They met with family members and traveled cross-country before they decided to tie the knot. The wedding took place on September 1, 1946. Julia remembered being “extremely happy, but a bit banged up from a car accident the day before.” She wasn’t kidding; she actually had to wear a bandage on the side of her face for her wedding photos. The New York Review of Books has one of those pictures.

6. SHE WAS A TERRIBLE COOK WELL INTO HER 30S.

Child did not have a natural talent for cooking. In fact, she was a self-admitted disaster in the kitchen until she began taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where she and Paul lived for several years. Prior to her marriage, Child simply fed herself frozen dinners. It was probably the safest choice; one of her earliest attempts at cooking resulted in an exploded duck and an oven fire.

7. A LUNCH IN ROUEN CHANGED HER LIFE.

Child repeatedly credited one meal with spurring her interest in fine foods: a lunch in the French city of Rouen that she and Paul enjoyed en route to their new home in Paris. The meal consisted of oysters portugaises on the half-shell, sole meunière browned in Normandy butter, a salad with baguettes, and cheese and coffee for dessert. They also “happily downed a whole bottle of Pouilly-Fumé” over the courses.

8. IT TOOK HER NINE YEARS TO WRITE AND PUBLISH HER FIRST COOKBOOK.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking revolutionized home cooking when it was published in 1961—but the revolution didn't happen overnight. Child first began work on her famous tome in 1952, when she met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. The French women were writing a cookbook aimed at teaching Americans how to make French cuisine, and brought Child onboard as a third author. Nine years of research, rewrites, and rejections ensued before the book landed a publisher at Alfred A. Knopf.

9. SHE GOT FAMOUS BY BEATING EGGS ON BOSTON PUBLIC TELEVISION.

Child’s big TV break came from an unlikely source: Boston’s local WGBH station. While promoting Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child appeared as a guest on the book review program I’ve Been Reading. But rather than sit down and discuss recipe semantics, Child started cracking eggs into a hot plate she brought with her. She made an omelette on air as she answered questions, and viewers loved it. The station received dozens of letters begging for more demonstrations, which led WGBH producer Russell Morash to offer Child a deal. She filmed three pilot episodes, which turned into her star-making show The French Chef.

10. ALL HER ESSENTIAL UTENSILS WERE KEPT IN A “SACRED BAG.”

According to a 1974 New Yorker profile, Child carried a large black canvas satchel known as the “sacred bag.” Rather than holy artifacts, it contained the cooking utensils she couldn’t live without. That included her pastry-cutting wheel, her favorite flour scoop, and her knives, among other things. She started using it when The French Chef premiered, and only entrusted certain people with its care.

11. SHE SURVIVED BREAST CANCER.

Child’s doctors ordered a mastectomy in the late 1960s after a routine biopsy came back with cancerous results. She was in a depressed mood following her 10-day hospital stay, and Paul was a wreck. But she later became vocal about her operation in hopes that it would remove the stigma for other women. She told TIME, “I would certainly not pussyfoot around having a radical [mastectomy] because it’s not worth it.”

12. HER MARRIAGE WAS WELL AHEAD OF ITS TIME.

As their meet-cute in the OSS offices would suggest, Paul and Julia Child had far from a conventional marriage (at least by 1950s standards). Once Julia’s career took off, Paul happily assisted in whatever way he could—as a taste tester, dishwasher, agent, or manager. He had retired from the Foreign Service in 1960, and immediately thrust himself into an active role in Julia’s business. The New Yorker took note of Paul’s progressive attitudes in its 1974 profile of Julia, noting that he suffered “from no apparent insecurities of male ego.” He continued to serve as Julia’s partner in every sense of the word until his death in 1994.

13. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN INDUCTED INTO THE CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA'S HALL OF FAME.

Child spent her early years working for what would become the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1993, she joined another CIA: the Culinary Institute of America. The group inducted Child into its Hall of Fame that year, making her the first woman to ever receive the honor.

14. SHE EARNED THE HIGHEST CIVILIAN HONORS FROM THE U.S. AND FRANCE.

Along with that CIA distinction, Child received top civilian awards from both her home country and the country she considered her second home. In 2000, she accepted the Legion D’Honneur from Jacques Pépin at Boston’s Le Méridien hotel. Just three years later, George W. Bush gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

15. HER KITCHEN IS IN THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 2001, Julia donated the kitchen that Paul designed in their Cambridge, Massachusetts home to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Although it’s not possible to walk directly through it, there are three viewports from which visitors can see the high counters, wall of copper pots, and gleaming stove. Framed recipes, articles, and other mementos from her career adorn the surrounding walls—and, of course, there’s a television which plays her cooking shows on loop.

Original image
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon
arrow
entertainment
15 Surprising Facts About Steve Carell
Original image
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon

From the seven seasons he spent as the star of NBC’s The Office to leading man roles in comedy classics like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Steve Carell has become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand funnymen. But he has proven his dramatic chops, too, particularly with his role as John du Pont in Foxcatcher, which earned Carell an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in 2015. Even if you’ve seen all of his movies, there’s probably a lot you don’t know about the Massachusetts native, who turns 55 years old today.

1. HE THOUGHT HE WANTED TO BE A LAWYER.

Steve Carell attended Ohio’s Denison University, where he received a history degree in 1984, and had planned to move on to law school. But when it came time to apply, he found himself stumped by the first question on the application: Why do you want to be a lawyer?

“I had never considered acting as a career choice, although I’d always enjoyed it,” Carell told NJ.com in 2011. “I enjoyed hockey and singing in the choir, and I didn’t think of them as potential careers, either … But I began to realize I really loved acting, and telling stories. Reading a book, watching a movie, going to a play, it’s transporting, and very, very exciting. And to be a part of that, creating things with your imagination, whoa."

2. HE WORKED AS A MAILMAN.

Shortly before he moved to Chicago and performed with The Second City, Carell worked as a postal carrier in the tiny town of Littleton, Massachusetts. Because the post office didn’t have its own mail vehicles, Carell had to use his own car. He kept the gig for just four months, then took off for the Windy City. “And months later, I found mail under the seat of my car,” he admitted. Carell also said it was the hardest job he has ever had.

3. HE WAS HIS WIFE’S TEACHER.

No, it’s not as risqué as it sounds. Carell met his wife, Nancy Walls, through an improv class at Second City; he was the teacher, she was one of his students. “I beat around the bush [before asking her out] and said something stupid like, ‘Well, you know, if I were to ever ask someone out, it would be someone like you,’” Carell told Details of his earliest attempts at flirting. “It’s so stupid, but it was all self-protection. She was the same way: ‘If somebody like you were to ask me out, I would definitely go out with him. If there was a person like you.’” The couple married in 1995 and have appeared in several projects together.

4. THE COUPLE HAD TO BREAK UP (ON CAMERA) ON THEIR 17TH ANNIVERSARY.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

For Lorene Scafaria’s underrated 2012 end-of-the-world dramedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Steve and Nancy played a married couple who split up when it’s announced that an asteroid heading toward Earth will obliterate the planet in three weeks. Their break-up scene happens very early on in the movie, and they ended up filming it on their 17th wedding anniversary.

“She gets to leave me right at the beginning,” Carell told Parade. “They used the take where her shoe came off in the car, and she bolted across that field with one shoe on. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her run that fast. We shot the scene on our 17th anniversary. [The director] got us a cake and the crew sang ‘Happy Anniversary’ to us. It was very sweet, a very special night."

5. HE AND HIS WIFE AUDITIONED FOR SNL TOGETHER; ONLY ONE OF THEM MADE IT.

In 1995, the same year they married, both Carell and Walls auditioned for Saturday Night Live. Walls made it but Carell didn’t, which must have made for one awkward celebratory dinner. But it all turned out well in the end; Carell went on to become a household name and has hosted the show on two occasions.

6. HE WAS ONE HALF OF “THE AMBIGUOUSLY GAY DUO.”

Though he missed out on the chance to become a regular SNL cast member, there was a silver lining: He was free to say “yes” to taking a role on The Dana Carvey Show, a sketch show that SNL alum Dana Carvey created for ABC. Though it was short-lived, the show was full of amazing comedic talent; in addition to Carvey and Carell, the show featured Stephen Colbert, Bob Odenkirk, and Robert Smigel and a writers room that included Louis C.K., Charlie Kaufman, and Robert Carlock. The show marked the debut of Smigel’s recurring animated sketch, “The Ambiguously Gay Duo,” which followed the adventures of Gary and Ace, who were voiced by Carell and Colbert, respectively. After the show was cancelled, Smigel brought the “Duo” over to Saturday Night Live.

7. HE OWNS A GENERAL STORE IN MASSACHUSETTS.

While many A-list stars run side businesses—restaurants, wine companies, clothing lines, etc.—the Carells' second gig is a little less glamorous. In 2009, they bought the Marshfield Hills General Store in Marshfield, Massachusetts—where they spend their summers—in order to preserve it as a local landmark. 

“The main impetus to keep it going is that not many of those places exist and I wanted this one to stay afloat,” Carell told The Patriot Ledger. “Just generally speaking, there are not that many local sort of communal places as there used to be ... I think it’s nice for people to actually go and talk and have a cup of coffee and communicate with one another."

8. HE PLAYS THE FIFE.

Yes, Carell has got some musical talent and can actually play the fife. It’s a skill he acquired early in life, and shares with several of his family members. And it came in handy when he joined a reenactment group that portrayed the 10th (North Lincoln) Regiment of Foot, a line infantry regiment with the British Army.

9. HE WAS NOT THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MICHAEL SCOTT IN THE OFFICE.

Though Michael Scott, the clueless manager of paper company Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton, Pennsylvania branch in The Office, is still probably Carell's best-known role, he wasn’t the first choice for the part. Paul Giamatti was reportedly the first choice, but he declined. Hank Azaria and Martin Short were also in the running. Bob Odenkirk was actually cast in the role because Carell was committed to another series, Come to Papa. But when that show was cancelled after just a few episodes, the role of Michael Scott was recast with Carell. (Odenkirk appeared in one of the series’s later episodes, playing a boss who was eerily similar to Carell’s Scott.)

10. WHEN CARELL LEFT THE OFFICE, THE CAST AND CREW “RETIRED” HIS NUMBER ON THE CALL SHEET.

NBC Universal, Inc.

When Carell left The Office after seven seasons to focus on his film career, the cast and crew continued one tradition in his honor. “Steve was No. 1 on the call sheet because he was the lead of the show,” co-star Jenna Fischer told TV Guide. “And when he left, we retired his number. No one, ever since he left, was allowed to be No. 1."

11. HE WAS IN TALKS TO PLAY RON DONALD ON PARTY DOWN.

Before Party Down made its premiere on Starz with Adam Scott playing failed actor Henry Pollard, it was supposed to be an HBO series with Paul Rudd in the lead. And Rudd was pushing for Carell to play bumbling catering manager Ron Donald, as The Office didn’t get off to a great start and looked to be in danger of getting cancelled. Ultimately, HBO ended up abandoning the project, which Starz scooped up—with Scott as Pollard and Ken Marino as Ron Donald.

12. JAMES SPADER REALLY WANTED TO PLAY BRICK TAMLAND IN ANCHORMAN.

Dreamworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Though it was The 40-Year-Old Virgin that turned Carell into a leading man on the big screen, his role as oddball meteorologist Brick Tamland in Anchorman brought him a lot of attention. But if James Spader had his way, Carell would never have appeared in the role at all. In a 2013 interview with Baller Status, director Adam McKay shared that before the film was even cast:

“I get a phone call and I hear that James Spader is obsessed with Brick's character. I say ‘James Spader? That is insane, will he come in and read?’ They say, ‘No, he's not going to come in and read; he's James Spader!’ James Spader and I end up talking and he called it about the Brick character. He thought it was one of the funniest character he ever read and we weren't even sure if it was going to work. He literally said, ‘I will do anything to get this role.’ Eventually, we were just like, ‘This is James Spader; he is too good for this role.’ But, he was right about how funny it was. The movie studio even questioned us and said how bizarre Brick is, and it wouldn't work. I felt bad we didn't cast James, but Carell was so good.”

Spader proved his comedic chops in 2011, when he was cast as Robert California, Michael Scott’s replacement on The Office (who quickly manages to convince the company owner to appoint him as CEO).

13. UNIVERSAL STUDIOS' EXECUTIVES WERE CONCERNED THAT CARELL WAS COMING OFF AS A SERIAL KILLER IN THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN.

Though it turned out to be one of 2005’s biggest hits, getting the tone right on Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin proved to be a fairly difficult task. At one point, executives at Universal Studios expressed their concern to Apatow that Carell might come off as a serial killer to viewers.

"There is a fine line," producer Mary Parent told the Los Angeles Times. "Men and women alike could look at him and if he's too much of a sad sack, they will think, 'Dude, get a life.’” Apatow ended up adding several lines about the fact that Carell’s character could be a serial killer.

14. HE LEARNED MAGIC FROM DAVID COPPERFIELD.

In 2013, Carell played a magician in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. In order to get the role just right, he went straight to the top: David Copperfield. The famed illusionist taught Carell and co-star Steve Buscemi a trick called “The Hangman,” and they were both sworn to secrecy. “I actually had to sign something that I would not divulge,” Carell told The Hollywood Reporter. “So that was kind of cool.”

15. HE OFFERED PRINCETON'S 2012 CLASS SOME TIPS FOR SUCCESS.

In 2012, Carell delivered a speech to Princeton University graduates—which included his niece—during Class Day. He ended his talk by offering some tips to the grads:

“I would like to leave you with a few random thoughts. Not advice per se, but some helpful hints: Show up on time. Because to be late is to show disrespect. Remember that the words 'regime' and 'regimen' are not interchangeable. Get a dog, because cats are lame. Only use a 'That's what she said' joke if you absolutely cannot resist. Never try to explain a 'That's what she said' joke to your parents. When out to eat, tip on the entire check. Do not subtract the tax first. And every once in a while, put something positive into the world. We have become so cynical these days. And by we I mean us. So do something kind, make someone laugh, and don't take yourself too seriously.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios