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Bloodbath at Liège

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The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 138th installment in the series.

August 5-12, 1914: Bloodbath at Liège

While the most enduring images of World War I come from the long period of trench warfare, the bloodiest phases were actually the shorter “war of movement” at the beginning and end of the conflict. On the Western Front, the first clashes in August and September 1914, known as the Battle of the Frontiers, resulted in breathtaking casualties: By early September, the French Army had suffered roughly 330,000 casualties, including around 80,000 dead, while the much smaller British Expeditionary Force sustained around 30,000 casualties, nearly half its total strength. German casualties were almost as high, topping 300,000 by the end of the first week of September (including the First Battle of the Marne).

The Siege of Liège

The war of movement got off to a slow start for the German Second Army, which had the unenviable mission of capturing the Belgian fortress complex at Liège. One of Belgium’s main industrial cities, Liège controlled the major rail and road crossings over the River Meuse, and was protected by a ring of 12 forts built from 1889 to 1891; these were mostly subterranean, leaving only rotating, heavily-armored gun turrets exposed, and widely thought impervious to bombardment by contemporary artillery.

No one reckoned on the new, top-secret 42-centimeter howitzers (below), nicknamed “Big Berthas,” developed for the German Army by Krupp in the final years before the war. The Big Berthas weighed 43 tons and fired 1800-pound shells up to eight miles. When the war began the Germans also had access to two 30.5-centimeter “Skinny Emmas” manufactured by Austria’s Skoda words, which fired an 840-pound shell up to 7.5 miles.

But these huge guns were incredibly challenging to move: After being disassembled, they had to be packed on special rail flatcars for transportation to the combat zone, then pulled into position by giant tractors or scores of horses or oxen, then reassembled—a process requiring up to 200 men per gun in the case of the Big Berthas. To make things even more difficult, the Belgians dynamited a rail tunnel near at Herbesthal, so the guns had to be dragged over roads the rest of the way.

So while the Germans were waiting for the siege guns to arrive, beginning on August 5 they mounted several ill-advised frontal assaults and quickly discovered the advantage enjoyed by well-entrenched defenders (above)—the main, baleful lesson of the Great War. The Belgian garrisons, numbering around 40,000, had connected the forts with hastily dug trenches studded at intervals with machine guns (typically pulled by dogs, below), which along with massed rifle fire inflicted horrific casualties on German troops approaching in dense formation. One inhabitant of Liège, Paul Hamelius, recounted a night attack:

The German storming parties marched up in thick lines, as steadily as if on parade, in the cold moonlight. The Belgian onlookers began to be anxious lest the enemy should be allowed to come to near, when a single long report of mitrailleuses [machine guns], all firing together, sent them to the other world at a single puff. This was repeated time after time… People who went near the forts later on said they had seen the Germans lying in a heap, six and seven deep, wounded and killed mixed inextricably together, so numerous that their names and numbers could not possibly be collected… [later] Germans and Belgians were heaped up separately, often in the trenches in which they had been fighting, and covered with quicklime, over which water was poured.

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Gladys Lloyd, an Englishwoman traveling in Belgium, recorded this account from a young Belgian who’d been acting as a spy and courier: “‘This morning I have just come from Liège… The German dead were piled up each side of my path, ghastly lolling corpses, one on the top of each other.’ He puts his hand up higher than his head. ‘It was the most awful sight I have ever seen, and then the odour.’ And the poor spy is literally sick in the village street.”

Impatient with this slow progress, on August 7 Erich Ludendorff—a member of the general staff who was sent to the field because of his difficult personality, and who would go on to become one of Germany Army’s most successful commanders—staged a daring raid into Liège itself. After dashing into the city Ludendorff strode up to the gate of the citadel (an obsolete fortress in the center of town) and simply knocked on the door, demanding its surrender, which he received. The fall of the citadel gave the Germans control of the town, including the all-important bridges across the Meuse, which the Belgians probably would have dynamited before withdrawing. Ludendorff’s “single-handed” capture of the citadel quickly became a thing of legend, propelling him to the top of the short list of officers waiting for army commands.

Over the next few days, the Germans did succeed in overwhelming several forts east of the city, but these gains came at great cost and the remaining forts showed no sign of giving in. However the tide was about to turn against the Belgian defenders: on August 12 the first of the 42-centimeter siege guns finally arrived, and later that day the first shell fell on Fort Pontisse, piercing its 8-foot thick concrete roof to explode in the bowels of the structure (the shells were equipped with time-delayed fuses). The impact was spectacular, according to Irvin Cobb, an American writer working for The Saturday Evening Post, who later saw the aftermath of bombardment in a field at Maubeuge, France:

I would have said it was some planetic force, some convulsion of natural forces, and not an agency of human devisement… For where a 42-centimeter shell falls it does more than merely alter landscape; almost you might say it alters geography… Spaced very neatly at intervals apart of perhaps a hundred and fifty yards a series of craters broke the surface of the earth… We measured roughly a typical specimen.  Across the top it was between fifty and sixty feet in diameter, and it sloped down evenly for a depth of eighteen feet in the chalky soil to a pointed bottom… Of the earth which had been dispossessed from the crevasse, amounting to a great many wagonloads, no sign remained.  It was not heaped up about the lips of the funnel…  So far as we might tell it was utterly gone…

Cobb also met a German officer who described the effect on soldiers in forts that were bombarded, noting that it “rips their nerves to tatters.  Some seem numbed and dazed; others develop an acute hysteria.” After the bombardment, the officer went on,      

All of a sudden, men began to come out of the tunnel… They were crazy men – crazy for the time being, and still crazy, I expect, some of them. They came out staggering, choking, falling down and getting up again.  You see, their nerves were gone. The fumes, the gases, the shock, the fire, what they had endured and what they had escaped--all these had distracted them. They danced, sang, wept, laughed, shouted in a sort of maudlin frenzy, spun about deliriously until they dropped.  They were deafened, and some of them could not see but had to grope their way. I don't care to see anything like that again – even if it is my enemies that suffer it.

After these guns arrived at Liège, it was only a matter of time.

Battle of Halen, German Atrocities

While 100,000 men from the German First Army were laying siege to Liège, German Uhlans (cavalry) pressed ahead into northern and central Belgium to conduct a reconnaissance in force, only to meet more Belgian resistance at the small town of Halen, where they were hoping to secure a bridge over the Rive Gete. After Belgian engineers dynamited the bridge—only partially destroying it—on August 12 the outnumbered Belgian cavaliers dismounted and greeted the Germans who managed to cross the bridge with massed rifle fire. The Germans made some progress, bringing up field artillery and forcing the Belgians back into corn fields west of the town, but eventually retreated after suffering about a thousand casualties, including 150 dead, with the Belgians losing a similar number.

Continuing Belgian resistance infuriated German soldiers, who were already on edge thanks to warnings that Belgian civilians would engage in guerrilla warfare, summoning nightmarish memories of the irregular “francs-tireurs” who tormented Prussian troops in the Franco-Prussian War. In fact there is little evidence that Belgian civilians actually mounted armed resistance, but that didn’t stop the Germans from seeing snipers everywhere, along with women, children, and even priests mutilating and killing wounded German soldiers. Walter Bloem, a captain in the German Army, described how rumors primed soldiers heading to the front to expect the worst:

We bought the morning papers at a wayside station and read, amazed, of the experiences of those of our troops already across the Belgian frontier – of priests, armed, at the head of marauding bands of Belgian civilians, committing every kind of atrocity, and putting the deeds of 1870 into the shade; of treacherous ambushes on patrols, and sentries found later with eyes pierced and tongues cut off, of poisoned wells and other horrors. Such was the first breath of war, full of venom, that, as it were, blew in our faces as we rolled on towards it.

In actuality, in at least some cases supposed francs-tireurs attacks were the result of friendly fire or Belgian regular forces firing from houses during street warfare. But whatever the truth may have been, soldiers and officers at all levels of the German Army were convinced that civilians were shooting at them and responded with a series of horrific atrocities—collective reprisals against the civilian population that permanently damaged Germany’s image around the world, including in important neutral countries such as U.S.

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According to the official Belgian history, the atrocities began on August 5 and then peaked from August 18 and 23, as German forces advanced through central Belgium. The tally includes 484 incidents that left 5,521 Belgian civilians dead and inflicted widespread destruction, extending to the razing of entire villages; hundreds if not thousands of Belgian women were raped, and some of them later murdered. One of the most notorious incidents occurred on August 25, 1914, at Leuven (Louvain), where German soldiers massacred 278 inhabitants and burned the town, destroying its famous medieval library, which contained thousands of priceless manuscripts. Elsewhere the Germans killed 156 civilians at Aarschot on August 19; 211 at Andenne on August 20, 383 at Tamines on August 21, and 674 at Dinant on August 23.

French Take Mulhouse, Abandon, Repeat

French strategy, as set forth in chief of the general staff Joseph Joffre’s Plan XVII, centered on a direct frontal attack across the German frontier to recapture the “lost provinces” of Alsace and Lorraine, annexed by Germany following its defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. Joffre designated two armies to carry out this attack, with the First Army advancing from the vicinity of Epinal and Belfort, and the Second Army advancing from south of Nancy. Facing them were the German Seventh Army in Alsace and the German Sixth Army in Lorraine.

Beginning August 7, 1914, the French First Army under General Auguste Dubail advanced along a broad front, with the southern wing heading for Mülhausen (Mulhouse in French) in Alsace and the northern wing moving in the direction of Saarburg (Sarrebourg) in Lorraine.

At first the southern attack in Alsace seemed to be going well, as the First Army’s VII Corps captured Mulhouse on August 7-8 after meeting basically no resistance. Across France people celebrated the liberation of Alsace, but the Alsatians themselves were a bit more skeptical—and rightly so. On August 9 German reinforcements arrived from Strasbourg, and the outnumbered French had to withdraw from Mulhouse. Indeed, casualties in the First Battle of Mulhouse were actually relatively low, as it really wasn’t much of a battle, with both sides retreating before superior forces in turn.

Now Joffre sacked the commander of the VII Corps, General Bonneau—the first of many French commanders to be unceremoniously dumped for lacking “élan” and “cran” (spirit and guts)—and replaced him with General Paul Pau, commanding a reinforced VII corps now operating as the newly-formed, independent Army of Alsace. After a rather inglorious beginning, the French would return to the attack in Alsace on August 14, leading to a second short-lived occupation of Mulhouse later in the month.

Behind the Lines

During the early days of August 1914, civilians living behind the lines could only hold their breath, hanging on every word of (often cryptic or misleading) official bulletins. Governments of all the belligerent nations wasted no time instituting official censorship of newspapers—supposedly in order to protect military secrets, but in reality also to control public opinion by playing up victories and minimizing defeats.

Despite government attempts to shape public opinion in favor of the war, many ordinary people retained their ability to think critically and—patriotic feeling notwithstanding—were often scathing in their views of officialdom, who they blamed for dragging them into the war. Princess Blücher, an Englishwoman married to a German aristocrat, left Britain with her husband aboard the same ship as the German ambassador, Prince Lichnowsky, and recorded the attitude of some of her fellow passengers:

They all blamed the officials in Berlin, who had, they said, grossly mismanaged the negotiations. It had been an obsession in some of the German officials’ minds for years past, that Russia meant to attack them. “Well then,” said someone of the party, “why not wait until they do it? Why commit suicide to avoid being killed?” “What chance have we,” said someone else, attacked practically on every side?” “Is no one friendly to Germany?” asked another. “Siam is friendly, I am told,” was the bitter reply.

Similarly “Piermarini,” an anonymous correspondent who visited Berlin around this time, quoted a German officer: “Our army has been a success [but]… Our diplomats seem busy making mistake after mistake; we have lost the sympathies of all countries on earth, even of those who were formerly our friends.”

Dreaming Awake

Regardless of what side they were on, a common feeling expressed by soldiers and civilians alike was the sense of unreality brought by the war, which was often described as like living in a dream (or, increasingly, nightmare). Philip Gibbs, a British war correspondent covering the war in France, reached for a narcotic metaphor:

It was a strange kind of melodrama that experience in the first two months of the war. Looking back upon it now, it has just the effect of a prolonged nightmare stimulated by hasheesh or bang—fantastic, full of confused dreams, changing kaleidoscopically from one scene to another, with vivid clear-cut pictures, intensely imagined, between gulfs of dim twilight memories, full of shadow figures, faces seen a little while and then lost, conversations begun abruptly and then ended raggedly, poignant emotions lasting for brief moments and merging into others as strong but of a different quality, gusts of laughter rising between moods of horrible depression, tears sometimes welling from the heart and then choked back by a brutal touch of farce, beauty and ugliness in sudden clashing contrasts, the sorrow of a nation, the fear of a great people, the misery of women and children, the intolerable anguish of multitudes of individuals each with a separate agony, making a dark background to this too real dream from which there was no awakening.

The dream was about to become more complicated: on August 12 the British Expeditionary Force began to land in France. Meanwhile the commander of the French Fifth Army, Charles Lanrezac, warned chief of the general staff Joffre that German troops appeared to be invading central Belgium, which meant they were heading much further west than expected, indicating an attempt to envelop French forces from the rear. However Joffre brushed off Lanrezac’s request to move the Fifth Army west to meet them—the first in a series of disastrous decisions.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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MGM Home Entertainment
11 Fun Facts About A Fish Called Wanda
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MGM Home Entertainment

In 1988, the British heist comedy A Fish Called Wanda had audiences in the UK and across the pond rolling in the aisles. Thirty years later, the Oscar-winning ensemble movie about a clueless (but don’t call him stupid) weapons expert, a bumbling barrister, a quick-witted femme fatale, and a stuttering con artist remains a cult favorite. Starring John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and of course, the eponymous fish, the film is packed with smart writing, silly slapstick, and some of the strongest comic performances of its starring actors’ careers. Here are 11 facts about A Fish Called Wanda for your unreserved enjoyment (just don’t ask us to repeat the part in the middle).

1. IT WAS DIRECTOR CHARLES CRICHTON’S FIRST FILM IN TWO DECADES.

Back in the 1950s, Charles Crichton was a famous director of Ealing Comedies—a series of comedy films produced by London’s Ealing Studios—who was known for his work on films like The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953), Hue and Cry (1947), and The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). By 1988, however, he hadn’t directed a feature film in two decades (though he had worked on TV shows and documentary shorts). He came out of semi-retirement to work on what would become his final film at the behest of John Cleese.

2. CRICHTON AND JOHN CLEESE SPENT FIVE YEARS WRITING THE FILM.

A Fish Called Wanda was years, even decades, in the making. Cleese and Crichton first met and began discussing ideas for a comedy heist film, inspired by The Lavender Hill Mob, all the way back in 1969. Though they parted ways professionally, Cleese continued to look for opportunities to collaborate on a film with Crichton. More than a decade later, he finally got his chance when he found himself working with Crichton on a series of business management training videos.

Though Crichton was already in his late seventies, Cleese managed to convince the semi-retired director to brainstorm ideas for a feature film with him. For the next few years, the two met periodically to throw around ideas and work on the script. All in all, the entire scriptwriting and pre-production process took more than five years and cost $150,000 of Cleese’s own money.

3. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE EALING COMEDIES.

Unsurprisingly, A Fish Called Wanda was heavily indebted to the Ealing Comedies, especially Crichton’s own The Lavender Hill Mob, a heist comedy which starred Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway as a pair of bumbling bank robbers. Cleese, however, claimed the parallels between the Ealing Comedies and A Fish Called Wanda were unintentional, but embraced the comparison.

“I knew that my memory of all these great Ealing films was very present, although I wasn’t consciously trying to write an Ealing comedy,” Cleese explained. “But I do remember when we interviewed Johnny Jympson when we were looking for an editor, and Johnny’d read it, and he came in and sat down, and Charlie said, ‘What’d you think?’ and Johnny was almost nervous and he hemmed and hawed a little bit and then he said very uncertainly, ‘Well, it’s an Ealing comedy, isn’t it?’ and we both said, ‘Yes!’”

4. THE ACTORS HELPED SHAPE THEIR CHARACTERS.

Cleese encouraged Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, and Jamie Lee Curtis to contribute ideas and help develop their characters. Curtis, in particular, was responsible for major changes to Wanda’s personality. "She was a sexually brazen, cold-hearted manipulator, who simply wanted money,” Curtis told The New York Times. “I didn't find that real. I decided she didn't altogether know what she wanted, but finds a wonderful power in manipulating people and feels personal satisfaction in trying to fool them. She plays a slightly different role for each man, yet she enjoys being herself, and she's not cold-hearted, not vicious.''

Curtis told The New York Times she reveled in the rare opportunity to shape her own character: ''Most films, one person is in charge, and you're afraid even to raise your hand with a suggestion,'' she explained. ''That's frustrating if you're a bright person and trust your instincts. But this was totally a collaborative effort, and I'm afraid it's spoiled me.'' She was, apparently, so enthusiastic a contributor over the course of a two-week rehearsal period that Palin gave her a shirt that read, “Wait, I have an idea.”

5. KEVIN KLINE’S CHARACTER WAS INSPIRED BY A LOS ANGELES SELF-HELP GURU.

In A Fish Called Wanda, Kline’s Otto is a pseudo-intellectual who constantly misinterprets everything from the teachings of Buddhist philosophy to the writings of Nietzsche. According to Cleese, his character was inspired by the real-life self-help guru Zen Master Rama, sometimes called the “yuppie guru.”

“I got the real key to the character out of Los Angeles Magazine,” Cleese explained in an interview. “I found a double-page spread for a guru, and I’m pretty sure his name was Zen Master Rama, and he looked about 32 and very unsure of himself, and he had a funny sort of hairstyle like a dandelion at the end of September. But the key thing was the line across the top of this two page advertisement for the seminars he ran at weekends, which was ‘Buddhism gives you the competitive edge.’ And I thought this was unbelievably funny.”

6. CLEESE’S CHARACTER WAS NAMED AFTER CARY GRANT.

Cleese named his character Archie Leach after movie star Cary Grant, who was born Archibald Leach. Though Cleese’s bumbling lawyer has little in common with the famously debonair Grant, Cleese explained that he chose the name because he and Grant shared a hometown, and because it was the closest he would ever get to “being Cary Grant.”

7. THE ORIGINAL ENDING WAS MUCH DARKER.

A Fish Called Wanda started off as a much darker comedy, but test audiences in America were apparently uncomfortable with the film’s cruelty, and lack of romantic payoff, so Crichton and his cast went in for a few re-shoots. In addition to softening Palin’s character a bit, they ended up re-shooting the film’s ending three times.

“We played the whole movie with this very sort of dark intent—it was a very black comedy—and of course, when they tested the movie in America, it tested very funny, except that people didn’t like that there was no real love story,” Curtis said, further explaining:

“The original ending of the movie was much darker. The costume designer and I had a really great time costuming this character, and in a department store in London on sale, we found a pair of shark shoes, and we bought them because we just thought, ‘Well, she’s just a shark.’ And we wore them in that last scene, and literally the last shot of the movie was going down my leg and freeze framing on the shark shoe. And right then, you knew she was going to take him for everything. The minute they got off the plane, she was going to bop him on the head, take the stuff, and leave.”

8. CLEESE CUT A BIG CHUNK OF THE CATHCART TOWERS SCENE.

In addition to changing the ending, Cleese cut several minutes from the film’s penultimate scene, in which Archie tries to get the stuttering Ken (Palin) to telling him where Wanda, Otto, and the diamonds are. Ken, whose stutter gets worse under pressure, can’t seem to utter the two words “Cathcart Towers.”

Initially, the scene was a Monty Python-esque series of increasingly absurd stunts—Ken attempting to sing the words (which remains in the final film), Archie trying to feed a tissue through a typewriter, Ken writing in toothpaste on a window—but Cleese worried the scene, which arrives at the climax of the film, was overly long and dragging the plot down, and so deleted most of it.

9. ONE AUDIENCE MEMBER LAUGHED HIMSELF TO DEATH.

Ole Bentzen, a Belgian audience member, was so tickled by the scene in which Ken has French fries stuck up his nose, that he actually laughed himself to death. The scene reminded him of a similar experience at a family dinner, in which his family had shoved cauliflower up their noses to great comic effect. He began laughing so hard, his heart rate escalated dangerously, causing a fatal heart attack.

10. IT WAS NOMINATED FOR THREE OSCARS.

Comedy movies rarely fare well at the Oscars, but A Fish Called Wanda was an exception. The film was nominated for three awards: for Best Original Screenplay (for Cleese and Crichton), Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Kevin Kline, who took home the statuette.

11. IT WAS THE TOP VIDEO RENTAL OF 1989.

A Fish Called Wanda beat a number of higher-budget blockbuster movies, including Die Hard (1988) and Coming to America (1988), as well as the Oscar-winning Rain Man (1988), to become the top video rental of 1989. Its success was due, in part, to an advertising partnership with Cadbury Schweppes, which plastered grocery stores for weeks with ads for the film.

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12 EGOT Winners (and 25 Almost-EGOTS)
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Life should have been good for Miami Vice’s Philip Michael Thomas in 1985. He was the star of one of television’s biggest hits, had released his first album as part of a multimillion dollar deal with Atlantic Records, and was making a name for himself in the fashion world (or at least trying to) with his very own women’s clothing line. But Thomas still had loftier goals, both in mind and on the gold medallion he was so fond of wearing. That dream was an EGOT.

Though Thomas swore that the engraved letters E, G, O, and T on his prized necklace stood for energy, growth, opportunity, and talent, those around the then-36-year-old actor unanimously gave a different translation: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony—the four awards Thomas had intended to win over the next few years. It’s now more than 30 years later and Thomas has yet to even be nominated for any one of those accolades.

While an EGOT may seem an unlikely reality for Thomas, it’s not an impossibility for all artists. If John Legend can beat out Benedict Cumberbatch to win this year's Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie for Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, he'll become the 13th member of the EGOT winners' circle—and one of its youngest. Here are the 12 current members, a couple of SHEGOTS, plus several artists who are just one award away.

1. RICHARD RODGERS

Richard Rodgers
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Before there was even a name for it, American composer Richard Rodgers became the first person to EGOT (yes, the acronym can also be used as a verb) when he won an Emmy for the television documentary Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years. His Oscar came in 1945, when his “It Might as Well Be Spring” from State Fair was named Best Song. He earned Grammys in both 1960 and 1962, for the original cast recordings of The Sound of Music and No Strings, respectively. Between 1950 and 1962, he won six Tony Awards, three of them in that first year for South Pacific. The same year, South Pacific also earned Rodgers a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, which we guess makes him a PEGOT.

2. HELEN HAYES

Helen Hayes
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In 1977, 15 years after Rodgers inaugurated the honor, actress Helen Hayes joined him as the first female EGOT—an honor that took her 45 years to achieve, the longest of any of her EGOT peers. Her road began in 1932, when she won the Oscar for The Sin of Madelon Claudet (she won a second Oscar for 1970’s Airport). Her first Tony came in 1947, for Happy Birthday, followed by another in 1958 for Time Remembered. And she won a Best Actress Emmy in 1953 for an episode of Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. But it would take more than two decades for her to nab that elusive second letter, which she did for Best Spoken Word Recording for Great American Documents.

3. RITA MORENO

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Seven months after Hayes earned her EGOT, actress Rita Moreno did the same when she won her first of two consecutive Emmys for a guest spot on The Muppet Show in 1977 (the following year she won one for an appearance on The Rockford Files). But Moreno did it in about a third the time of Hayes, 16 years, which was an EGOT record until Lopez smashed it last night. Her Oscar came in 1961 as Best Supporting Actress in West Side Story, followed by a Best Recording for Children Grammy in 1972, for The Electric Company. In 1975, Moreno nabbed a Tony playing Googie Gomez in Terrence McNally’s The Ritz, a role she reprised in the 1976 big-screen version.

4. JOHN GIELGUD

John Gielgud
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Unlike his three predecessors, the Oscar wasn’t the first award John Gielgud won to earn his EGOT. Instead it was the Tony, which he first won in 1948 for The Importance of Being Earnest. He won a second Tony in 1961, as the director of Big Fish, Little Fish. Next came the Grammy, in 1979, for his dramatic recording of Ages of Man. In 1981, Gielgud took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his iconic role as Dudley Moore’s butler/sidekick in Arthur. And when he won the Emmy in 1991, for Outstanding Lead Actor in Summer’s Lease, he was 87 years old, making him the oldest EGOT-getter.

5. AUDREY HEPBURN

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Unfortunately, Audrey Hepburn didn’t live long enough to enjoy her EGOT. Two of her awards—her 1994 Grammy for the children’s album Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales and her 1993 Emmy for the informational Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn—were awarded after her passing on January 20, 1993, which made her the first posthumous EGOT recipient. She did, however, have the chance to bask in the glow of her 1953 Oscar for Roman Holiday, and a Tony for Ondine one year later.

6. MARVIN HAMLISCH

Marvin Hamlisch
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There’s a distinctively heavy emphasis on the “O” in composer Marvin Hamlisch’s EGOT, as he is the most Academy Award-winning of the bunch, with a total of three. All of them were awarded in 1973—two for The Way We Were and one for his score for The Sting. It was “The Way We Were” that earned him his first of four Grammys, too, in 1974. His collaboration with Barbra Streisand continued, and earned him two Emmys in 1995, for Barbra: The Concert. Hamlisch’s Tony came in 1976 for A Chorus Line, the musical that also got him a Pulitzer Prize, making him the only other PEGOT on this list.

7. JONATHAN TUNICK

Jonathan Tunick
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Composer/conductor Jonathan Tunick’s path to EGOT glory was a straight shot over the course of 20 years: In 1977 he won an Oscar for A Little Night Music, followed by an Emmy for Music Direction in 1982 for Night of 100 Stars, a 1988 Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement for Cleo Laine’s “No One is Alone,” and, finally, a 1997 Tony for Best Orchestrations for Titanic.

8. MEL BROOKS

Mel Brooks
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Yes, Mel Brooks can do it all. In June of 2001 he became the world’s eighth EGOT winner, just a few weeks shy of his 75th birthday, when he earned three Tony Awards—for Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Book of a Musical—for The Producers. It was The Producers that brought Brooks his Oscar as well, for Best Original Screenplay (albeit 33 years earlier). Brooks’s first award came in 1967, when he won the Emmy for writing The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special. Beginning in 1997, he won three consecutive Emmys, this time as a guest actor on the sitcom Mad About You. It was during that same period that he also won his first of three Grammys, in 1998 for Best Spoken Comedy Album for The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000. In a 2013 NPR interview, Brooks mentioned this crowning achievement, saying, “I'm an EGOT, so I don't need any more [awards].”

9. MIKE NICHOLS

Mike Nichols
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Mike Nichols earned his EGOT in the same year as Mel Brooks, though it took him a full 40 years to get there (versus Brooks’s 34). The late comedian-turned-director’s path began with a 1961 Best Comedy Performance Grammy for An Evening With Mike Nichols And Elaine May. In 1964, he won his first of nine Tony Awards for Barefoot in the Park (his second came a year later for The Odd Couple). In 1967 he was named Best Director at the Oscars for The Graduate. And in 2001 he won his first two of four Emmys—for Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Made for Television Movie—for Wit.

10. WHOOPI GOLDBERG

Whoopi Goldberg
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If Philip Michael Thomas invented the idea of the EGOT, Tracy Morgan—as Tracy Jordan—brought the phrase back into popular use on 30 Rock, when he set the same goal and even wore the necklace. And they even got real-life EGOT winner Whoopi Goldberg to play along and poke fun at the debate over whether she should truly be included as her Emmy is a Daytime one. (“It still counts,” she told Tracy. “Girl’s gotta eat!”) Goldberg's first award was a 1985 Grammy for Best Comedy Recording of Whoopi Goldberg—Original Broadway Show Recording. Next came a 1990 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Ghost. In 2002 she got her E and T: an Emmy for hosting Beyond Tara: The Extraordinary Life of Hattie McDaniel and a Tony as co-producer of Thoroughly Modern Millie, which won Best Musical.

11. SCOTT RUDIN

Scott Rudin
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Scott Rudin is the first producer to EGOT. He earned his gold medallion in 2012 when The Book of Mormon: Original Broadway Cast Recording earned a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album (an award Rudin shares with fellow EGOT Robert Lopez). Rudin’s first award—an Emmy—came in 1984, for the kid’s show He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’. He earned his first of 15 Tony Awards in 1994 for Passion, and his most recent in 2017 for Hello, Dolly!. While Rudin is probably best known as a film producer, he’s only got one Oscar to his credit, a 2007 Best Picture statue for the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men.

12. ROBERT LOPEZ

Robert Lopez
Getty Images

In 2014, songwriter Robert Lopez became the newest EGOT when he and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, took home the Oscar for Best Original Song for Frozen’s “Let It Go.” (The pair won a second statuette earlier this year for the song "Remember Me" from Coco.) In addition to being the newest member of the EGOT winners' circle, he is also the youngest member of the club (he's 43 years old now, but had just turned 39 when he was "inducted.") Lopez is also the fastest artist to achieve the honor, taking just 10 years to earn all four awards, beginning with a 2004 Tony Award for Best Score for Avenue Q, followed by two Daytime Emmys in 2008 and 2010 for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition for Wonder Pets. In 2012, Lopez and Rudin shared the Grammy for The Book of Mormon, making them the first pair of EGOTs to have a shared award get them into the circle.

(SH)EGOTS

Though the official number of EGOT winners is 12, it’s worth noting that there are a handful of other rather famous faces who have also earned all four awards ... but because at least one of them is a special or honorary award only—not a competitive one—their inclusion in the official club is questionable. Let’s call them SHEGOTs?

1. BARBRA STREISAND


Terry Fincher, Express/Getty Images

Amazingly, the only Tony Award that Barbra Steisand has on her mantel is a non-competitive one; in 1970, she was named Star of the Decade.

2. LIZA MINNELLI

Performer Liza Minnelli
Getty Images

Liza Minnelli may have been handed a Grammy Legend Award in 1990—but this legend has no competitive Grammy to speak (or sing) of.

3. JAMES EARL JONES

James Earl Jones accepts the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre onstage during the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 11, 2017 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Though he's been a Hollywood icon for decades, James Earl Jones's only Oscar win was an honorary one in 2012. He did receive a Best Actor nomination in 1971 for The Great White Hope, but lost out to George C. Scott for Patton. (It's worth noting that Scott had alerted the Academy ahead of time that he refused the nomination, so it was hardly surprising that he wasn't there to accept the actual award.)

4. ALAN MENKEN

Johnny Mercer Award Honoree Alan Menken performs onstage at the Songwriters Hall Of Fame 48th Annual Induction and Awards at New York Marriott Marquis Hotel on June 15, 2017 in New York City
Larry Busacca, Getty Images for Songwriters Hall Of Fame

Composer/songwriter Alan Menken won the Tony for Best Original Score for the Broadway version of Newsies in 2012, but his 1990 Emmy for his contribution to "Wonderful Ways to Say No," an anti-drug cartoon special, was an honorary one—leaving him one official award short of an EGOT.

5. HARRY BELAFONTE

Harry Belafonte attends the 2016 Library Lions Gala at New York Public Library - Stephen A Schwartzman Building on November 7, 2016 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images

In 2014, Harry Belafonte was awarded the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award—putting him in the elite class of a half-dozen (SH)EGOTs.

6. QUINCY JONES

Music producer Quincy Jones attends Spotify's Inaugural Secret Genius Awards hosted by Lizzo at Vibiana on November 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California
Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images for Spotify

Music producer Quincy Jones may be one of the world's most award-winning artists, but a competitive Oscar has so far eluded him. Like Belafonte, the only Academy Award he has won is the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (which he received in 1994). Beyond that, he is a seven-time Oscar nominee.

ALMOST EGOTS

While there are are a number of artists who came close to EGOT'ing during their lifetimes—including Robin Williams (who was short a Tony), Jessica Tandy (she was missing a Grammy), Henry Fonda (who was minus an Emmy), and Leonard Bernstein (who never won an Oscar)—the EGOT dream is still alive for dozens of artists.

1. JOHN LEGEND

If John Legend wins an Emmy this year, he'll become the 13th official member of the EGOT winners' circle.

2. JULIE ANDREWS

It's hard to believe that Julie Andrews has yet to win a Tony Award (though she's been nominated for three). If and when she does, she can add EGOT to her resume.

3. AND 4. ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER AND TIM RICE

Like Legend, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are just an Emmy short of an EGOT—which could change this year.

5. LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA

The Hamilton creator came so close to EGOT'ing last year. But something tells us it won't be long before he's inducted into this elite group of artists.

6. MARTIN SCORSESE

He may be one of the world's most acclaimed filmmakers, but it took him more than a quarter-century to earn his first (and so far only) Oscar. Hopefully a Tony will be next.

7. FRANCES MCDORMAND

Just below the EGOT, there's what is known as the Triple Crown of Acting: a performer who has won an Oscar, Emmy, and a Tony (but is missing a Grammy). Frances McDormand is among that group.

8. VIOLA DAVIS

Like McDormand, Viola Davis is part of the Triple Crown club.

9. RANDY NEWMAN

It took 20 years and 16 nominations, but Randy Newman finally became an Oscar winner in 2002 when he won the award for Best Original Song for "If I Didn't Have You" from Monsters, Inc. He still needs a Tony though.

10. AL PACINO

He's one of the most celebrated actors alive, but Al Pacino is no Grammy winner.

11. JOHN WILLIAMS

The iconic composer may hold the record for the most Oscar nominations for a living person, but John Williams has yet to receive a single Tony Award nomination.

12. CHER

The iconic singer is one Tony Award short of an EGOT.

13. ELTON JOHN

The "Rocket Man" singer is one Emmy Award away from an EGOT.

14. MAGGIE SMITH

Dame Maggie Smith may not have a Grammy Award, but she's a Triple Crown-winning actor who has earned the right to be addressed as "Dame."

15. COMMON

Rapper/poet/singer/producer Common only needs a Tony Award to complete his EGOT.

16. AND 17. RON HOWARD AND BRIAN GRAZER

Longtime producing partners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have seemingly conquered every medium, but neither one has yet to win a Tony (though Grazer has come closer; he was nominated in 2008).

18. AND 19. TREY PARKER AND MATT STONE

The South Park creators are just an Oscar short of the EGOT goalpost.

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