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“The War to End All Wars”

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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 139th installment in the series.

August 14 - 19, 1914: “The War to End All Wars”

“We have not sought this reckoning, we have done our utmost to avoid it; but now that it has been forced upon us it is imperative that it should be a thorough reckoning,” the British futurist writer H.G. Wells wrote in an article titled “The War That Will End War,” published in The Daily News on August 14, 1914. Commonly cited as “the war to end all wars” or a similar variant, the phrase was quickly adopted as a slogan to explain British and later American participation in the war, as set forth by Wells in his essay:

This is already the vastest war in history. It is a war not of nations, but of mankind. It is a war to exorcise a world-madness and end an age… For this is now a war for peace. It aims straight at disarmament. It aims at a settlement that shall stop this sort of thing for ever. Every soldier who fights against Germany now is a crusader against war. This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war—it is the last war!

In fact, pundits welcomed the war for a whole variety of reasons, coincidentally reflecting their own agendas. Some predicted it would lead to a “rebirth” of society in a “purified” form, which could mean anything from the end of class distinctions, to a return of chivalrous ideals, to the purging of “foreign” racial elements. Others, like Wells, hoped it would result in the overthrow of tyranny and triumph of democracy. Colonial subjects believed the war might force white Europeans to grant them more rights, or even independence.

But for many ordinary young men who volunteered to fight in the early days of the conflict, it simply seemed to offer an opportunity for adventure and (ironically) freedom. Jack O’Brien, a Canadian volunteer, recalled telling his friend, “I can't get it out of my head. There is going to be the devil of a scrap over there—and say, boy! I've got to get into it!” The German novelist Carl Zuckmayer later recalled that for young middle class men volunteering meant

Liberation from middle-class narrowness and fussiness… from the doubts about choosing a profession and from all the things that we perceived—consciously or unconsciously—as the saturation, closeness, and rigidity of our world… It had become serious… and at the same time a huge exhilarating adventure... We shouted out “freedom” while we were jumping into the strait-jacket of the Prussian uniform. It sounds absurd. But we had become men with a single blow.

In Britain, 299,000 men enlisted in August (the scene in Whitehall, above), followed by another 463,000 in September, while 350,000 Frenchmen volunteered in the first week of August alone, and comparable numbers flooded recruiting centers in Germany. Everything around them seemed to confirm they were making the right decision. Across Europe, young men enlisted and went off to war in a festive atmosphere, amid cheering throngs who smothered them with candy, flowers, alcohol, cigarettes and—in a memorable departure from propriety for some young women—kisses.

French and British troops in Belgium and British troops in France received similarly delirious welcomes. Hugh Gibson, the secretary at the American embassy in Brussels, described the arrival of French scouts in Brussels:

The people in the crowd had bought out the near-by shops of cigars and cigarettes and chocolate and small flasks of brandy, and as each man rode by he was loaded up with as much as he could carry… All the cafes around the Porte Louise sent out waiters and waitresses with trays of beer to meet the troops… Each man would snatch a glass of beer, swallow it as he rode along, and hand it back to others… The French and British troops can have anything they want in this country.

Philip Gibbs, a British war correspondent, recalled: “In every market square where the regiments halted for a rest there was free wine for any thirsty throat, and soldier boys from Scotland or England had their brown hands kissed by girls who were eager for hero worship and had fallen in love with these clean-shaven lads and their smiling grey eyes.”

Hidden Fears

But these public scenes didn’t tell the whole truth, as many people kept their fears private— especially women who, finding themselves suddenly alone, still tried their best to put on a brave face. Princess Blücher, an Englishwoman married to a German aristocrat who was living in Berlin, wrote in mid-August:

… a lady has just been in to see me who came straight from parting from her only son, a boy of 21. She described how heartrending were his excitement and delight at going off with the rest, and how she could hardly hide her grief when beaming with pride he showed her the little metal disc with his name on it, which every soldier wears for identification in case of being killed… In fact this seemingly unfeeling heroism often puzzles me. There is hardly any thought of life and love and relations in the young men going away, but a sort of reckless joy in the certainty of the near death awaiting them… One can do nothing as a woman but remain passive and look on, although on a perfect rack of torment.

Everywhere, the public displays of enthusiasm coexisted with anxiety about the future. Many people hoped the war would be “over by Christmas,” but Lord Kitchener, the hero of Sudan who was hastily appointed Secretary of State for War on August 6, shocked the British public with his prediction that the war would last at least three years and require millions of men. Equally sobering were the first contacts with refugees. On August 14, Piete Kuhr, a 12-year-old girl living in eastern Germany, wrote: “You suddenly get the feeling that the enemy is quite near. People are becoming uneasy. Fresh refugees have arrived from East Prussia… One woman with noisy children kept crying out, ‘Where can we go? Where can we go?’ She said, ‘A girl like you can have no idea what it’s like, can you?’ and tears ran down her chubby red cheeks.”

The Enigma of War

This widespread anxiety was heightened by a general sense of helpless ignorance; indeed, one of the most remarkable aspects of the Great War was how little most people, civilians and soldiers alike, actually knew about what was going on. This was the inevitable (and probably intended) result of wartime censorship, instituted by emergency decrees and legislation like Britain’s Defense of the Realm Act, which left an information vacuum to be filled by rumor and official propaganda.

Soldiers were often stunningly misinformed. On August 9, Hugh Gibson, the secretary at the American embassy in Brussels, heard about German prisoners of war who “did not know what they were attacking and thought they were in France.” Around the same time Gladys Lloyd, an Englishwoman traveling in Belgium, had a friendly encounter with German Uhlans (cavalry) who occupied the village she was staying in: “Many honestly believe, and have probably been told so by their officers, that Belgium wantonly declared war on Germany.”

On the other side many people believed that the United States was joining the war on one side or the other. Gibson, the secretary at the U.S. embassy in Brussels, recalled: “They were pathetic in their confidence that the United States was coming to save them… Nearly every group we talked to asked hopefully when our troops were coming…” Irvin Cobb, a writer for the Saturday Evening Post, was asked by a Belgian innkeeper: “Messieurs… do you think it can be true, as my neighbors tell me, that the United States President has ordered the Germans to get out of our country?” A few days later, Cobb met a German private who asked him if the U.S. was going to join the war on Germany’s side.

Even people supposed to be “in the know” were anything but. On August 9, the French General Joseph Gallieni, sitting in a Paris café in civilian attire, overhead a newspaper editor at a neighboring table assuring his friend that he, Gallieni, had just entered Colmar, 230 miles to the east of Paris, at the head of a victorious French army. Amused, Gallieni whispered to his friend, “That is how history is written.”

Foreigners were sometimes better informed than natives, if they had access to outside information. On August 23 Eric Fisher Wood, the U.S. military attaché in Paris, wrote:

Here in Paris, extraordinary as it may seem, we have had no real news of the progress of the war. The Official Communiques carry to a fine point the art of saying nothing of any importance. The newspapers are so strictly censored that they are permitted to publish little except these communiques or editorials based upon them. Letters and papers from America really give us the first accounts of events which are happening at our very gates.

Americans Caught In the War Zone

Wood’s colleagues at the U.S. embassy had their work cut out for them. Among the Great War’s more marginal victims were thousands of Americans who’d been enjoying a lovely summer on the continent only to find themselves suddenly caught in a war zone. They were a cross section of American society, from wealthy tourists to middle class college students, bohemian artists, professional musicians, and everyone in between, but they all had one thing in common: they wanted out—now.

This was a challenge, as railroads were taken over by each nation’s military, berths on ships leaving Europe quickly sold out, and the international banking system froze up, making checks drawn on American banks useless. The latter was an especially trying circumstance for American millionaires who now found themselves literally penniless and adrift in a foreign country. Meanwhile anyone with the misfortune to be caught in Germany had an extra layer of logistics to deal with, since the only way out was through the neutral Netherlands, Switzerland, or Scandinavian countries.

Charles Inman Barnard described meeting some American tourists recently arrived in Paris from Germany via Zurich, including one

family… lucky enough to catch the last train conveying [German] troops westward. They traveled for two days without food or water, one of the ladies fainting from exhaustion, and after the train reached its destination they had to walk several miles across the frontier, where they were taken on board a French troop train. They lost all their baggage. Eight other Americans reported a similar experience. They had a tramp of ten miles into France, and one of their number, a lady partly paralyzed, had to be carried. They could procure no food until they reached France.

The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, Henry van Dyke, recalled:

I never had any idea, before the war broke out, how many of our countrymen and countrywomen there are roaming about Europe every summer, and with what a cheerful trust in Providence and utter dis­regard of needful papers and precautions some of them roam! There were old men so feeble that one’s first thought on seeing them was: “How did you get away from your nurse?”… There were col­lege boys who had worked their way over and couldn't find a chance to work it back. There were art-students and music-students whose resources had given out. There was a very rich woman, plastered with diamonds, who demanded the free use of my garage for the storage of her auto­mobile. When I explained that, to my pro­found regret, it was impossible… she flounced out of the room in high dudgeon.

Now, not for the first or last time, the U.S. government set about the task of extricating its hapless citizens from a very complex and unpleasant situation overseas. Congress allocated $1.5 million in gold to provide credit (or grants) to stranded Americans and on August 6 the battleship U.S.S. Tennessee departed for from New York for Europe carrying this money, as well as $3 million in private bankers’ gold, and Assistant Secretary of War Henry Breckinridge to oversee the relief and evacuation efforts.

After the Tennessee arrived in Britain on August 16, the United States Relief Commission set up its headquarters London, where thousands of Americans from across the continent had already washed up. Meanwhile Breckinridge proceeded to tour U.S. embassies and consulates across the continent, stopping in the Hague, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Geneva, and Paris, with funds to help indigent Americans get as far as London, where the relief commission would take over.

Spy Scares

Ambient feelings of ignorance and insecurity helped fuel a wave of paranoia that swept Europe in the first weeks of the Great War, fixating on spies. Although both sides doubtless employed spies to keep tabs on enemy troops movements and public opinion, it’s also very likely that thousands of innocent people were accused—and in some cases executed without trial—for totally imagined offenses.

In Germany there were rumors of Russian agents driving cars full of French gold back to Russia, leading peasants to stop anyone in a car at gunpoint—and on occasion shoot first and ask questions later. In Berlin Princess Blücher lamented the “extraordinary spy-fever prevailing here as everywhere. People are being arrested all over the country, and the most harmless individuals are accused of being spies if they look the least different from their neighbours. Continual mistakes are being made, which often lead to fatal results for the victims.”

Belgium, treacherously invaded by a much larger neighbor, suffered some of the worst spy mania. According to Wilson McNair, Belgian boy scouts led the persecution:

One newspaper… had an article telling how a boy scout tracked a German spy and caught him while in the act of setting up a wireless installation on a housetop. From that hour every boy scout in Brussels became a spy-hunter… The thing became a plague within twenty-four hours… They followed the most innocent people and spread terror wherever they went… Spies were everywhere, and every man began to feel himself unsafe.

Suspicion soon crossed into the realm of the absurd, according to Paul Hamelius, who fled Liège before invading German forces, along with some other unfortunates: “A pathetic site was a group of three Chinese students from the University of Liège, youths of the Mandarin caste, with small hands and polite manners. They told us, in their harsh accent, and with the humble Oriental smile, how they, of all men, had been taken for German spies.”

Germans March Through Belgium

Hamelius and his new friends left Liège in the nick of time, as one fort after another fell under the methodical, merciless bombardment of the German Army’s huge 42-centimeter siege guns. Fort Pontisse, the first victim of the “Big Berthas,” fell on August 12; on August 13, it was the turn of Embourg and Chaudfontaine; and by August 14 all the forts east of Liège had fallen, with the surrender of Boncelles, Liers, and Fléron. Finally, on August 16, the last holdout, Fort Loncin, was completely destroyed when a lucky shot hit the magazine (below). A German officer related the heroic, last-ditch resistance of Belgian troops led by General Gerard Leman:

By this time our heaviest guns were in position, and a well-placed shell tore through the cracked and battered masonry and exploded in the main magazine.  With a thunderous crash the mighty walls of the fort fell.  Pieces of stone and concrete twenty-five cubic meters in size were hurled into the air… All the men in the fort were wounded, and most were unconscious.  A corporal with one arm shattered valiantly tried to drive us back by firing his rifle. Buried in the debris and pinned beneath a massive beam was General Leman… We thought him dead, but he recovered consciousness, and, looking around, said, “It is as it is.  The men fought valiantly,” and then, turning to us, added: “Put in your dispatches that I was unconscious.”

 

The fall of Liège cleared the way for the German First and Second Armies to advance into northern and central Belgium in force (top, German troops advance in Flanders) while the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Armies advanced through Luxembourg into the Ardennes Forest region of southeastern Belgium. On the other side, in the first half of August chief of the French general staff Joseph Joffre sent the Third Army under Pierre Ruffey and the Fourth Army under General Fernand de Langle de Cary to the eastern Belgian frontier to await the Germans, while the Fifth Army under General Charles Lanrezac advanced to a position near Mézières and Sedan.

Joffre’s Plan XVII anticipated an advance by the German right wing through the Ardennes—but as Lanrezac predicted several months before, the German right wing, consisting of the First and Second Armies, was actually advancing through central Belgium some 50 miles further north, suggesting a sweeping envelopment of the French armies from the rear, which was indeed the essence of the Schlieffen Plan (see map below).

In an age before spy satellites, it was difficult to gather reliable intelligence about the enemy’s position, as analysts tried to piece together disparate, sometimes contradictory information from spies, scouts on horseback, and pilots who attempted to estimate troop concentrations and movements with the naked eye. Nonetheless, in the first half of August a stream of alarming reports seemed to confirm Lanrezac’s suspicions: on August 7 German cavalry reached the River Meuse at Huy, just ten miles east of the key fortress city of Namur, and seemed to be preparing to cross west of the river into central Belgium. But on August 10 Joffre, busy with First Army’s short-lived invasion of Alsace, dismissed Lanrezac’s warning. Then on August 12, as German Uhlans skirmished with Belgian forces at Halen, Joffre again refused to allow Lanrezac to move Fifth Army north to Namur—although he grudgingly agreed to move a single corps (out of five in Fifth Army) to Dinant, barely across the Belgian border. He repeated the refusal on August 14.

Meanwhile Lanrezac wasn’t the only one getting nervous. On August 11, Field Marshal Sir John French, the field commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), was briefed with intelligence revealing a large number of reserve divisions in the German front line – a surprising development, suggesting that the Germans were staking everything on a huge blow through Belgium. The following day Lord Kitchener, the new Secretary of War, predicted a German invasion west of the River Meuse and argued that the BEF should form further back, at Amiens, but was overruled by the French and British general staffs: The British divisions would concentrate near Maubeuge, close to the Belgian border, as originally planned.

French Advance Into Lorraine

Joffre, the architect of the Allied strategy, remained convinced that the main German thrust would come across the Franco-German frontier to the south, and acted accordingly. Following the embarrassing withdrawal of the First Army’s VII Corps from Mulhouse on August 10, on August 14 he ordered a new attack by the French First and Second Armies into the “lost province” of Lorraine, while the reinforced VII Corps, now acting as the independent Army of Alsace, mounted another attack into Alsace. In short, it was to be an all-out attack across the length of the frontier.

Once again, the French offensive seemed to begin easily, as the First and Second Armies attacked towards Sarrebourg and into the Vosges Mountains, as well as northeast towards Morhange, and forward elements of the German Sixth and Seventh Armies withdrew before them. However, German resistance stiffened in the evening of August 14, with machine guns and heavy artillery inflicting heavy casualties, and the following day Second Army’s advance slowed as French troops encountered massed rifle fire. The French brought up artillery support and continued advancing doggedly, suffering more casualties as the Germans used long-range artillery to blunt the French offensive.

Despite heavy opposition, on August 18 the First Army under Auguste Dubail occupied Sarrebourg in Lorraine, while the Second Army under Édouard de Castelnau was closing in on Morhange, about 20 miles to the northwest, and to the south the Army of Alsace under Paul Pau captured Mulhouse (for the second time) on August 19. However the tide was about to turn against the French. As they pursued Joffre’s ambitious goals a gap had opened between the French First and Second Armies, leaving the flank of the Second Army vulnerable. On August 16 the commander of the German Sixth and Seventh Armies, Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, asked for permission to mount a counteroffensive, and (after several days of waffling by chief of the general staff Moltke) received tentative approval on August 18.

Of course this was a major departure from the strategy outlined in the Schlieffen Plan, which called for the German Sixth and Seventh Armies to mount a fighting withdrawal intended to lure French forces into Alsace-Lorraine, leaving the job of envelopment to the German right wing, swinging down through Belgium and northern France to attack the French forces from the rear. Instead Moltke now began to consider attempting a “double envelopment,” with the German left wing attacking at the same time as the right wing to speedily encircle French forces and achieve a decisive victory early on. As early as August 14, in fact, Moltke had begun shifting forces from the right wing to the left wing—a move that fatally weakened the all-important northern offensive, critics later alleged.

Joffre Begins to Move Fifth Army

While French forces seemed to be making progress in Alsace-Lorraine, the French high command was finally beginning to see signs of serious trouble to the north. On August 15 Lanrezac’s sole army corps at Dinant came under attack by German advance forces trying to cross the River Meuse, which the French managed to repel in heavy fighting, and news also arrived that the Germans were approaching the fortress city of Namur.

Thus, on the evening of August 15, Joffre ordered Lanrezac to send reinforcements from Fifth Army north towards Dinant—but he still refused to move the French Fourth Army under Langle de Cary further west at the same time, meaning Lanrezac’s Fifth Army was stuck guarding a larger area with the same number of troops.

Joffre wanted the Fourth Army to stay where it was for his planned invasion of the Ardennes, set to begin August 21. Towards that end he also split the French Third Army, creating a new Army of Lorraine to guard the right flank while the remainder of the Third Army attacked northeast towards Luxembourg.

By August 19, the stage was set for two major clashes—one in Lorraine and another in the Ardennes region of southeast Belgium. Joffre’s Plan XVII was about to meet reality.

Belgians Withdraw to Antwerp

Belgium’s King Albert was already staring some unpleasant facts in the face. After the fall of Liège, the vastly outnumbered Belgian Army had no hope of holding off the advancing Germans by itself. Disappointed by the failure of the French and British to send sizeable forces to Belgium’s aid, and alarmed by the approach of Von Kluck’s First Army to the River Gete just 20 miles east of Brussels, on Tuesday, August 18, Albert ordered the government and Belgian Army to withdraw from the defenseless capital and head north to the fortified city of Antwerp, now dubbed the “National Redoubt.” Here they would be able to hold out for at least a few more months, and hopefully receive Allied reinforcements via Britain’s Royal Navy.

A Stunning Serbian Victory

While everyone expected Austria-Hungary to crush Serbia quickly at the beginning of the war, against all odds the Serbs delivered a humiliating defeat to Hapsburg forces in August 1914, foreshadowing a whole series of military disasters in store for the Dual Monarchy.

At the beginning of the war the Serbian commander, Marshal Putnik, mobilized his three small armies in central Serbia, leaving the capital Belgrade undefended, in order to gain time and space to organize his forces and assess Austrian intentions. At first Hapsburg advance forces under Bosnia’s military governor Oskar Potiorek struggled to establish bridgeheads across the river Sava, which marked the northwestern border of Serbia, but by August 12 they had crossed the river and occupied the town of Šabac on the south shore. This cleared the way for the Austro-Hungarian Second, Fifth, and Sixth Armies to invade Serbia in force.

The main battle began on August 15, when Austro-Hungarian forces met Serbian forces on the slopes of Cer Mountain, about 15 miles southwest of Šabac. After heavy losses on both sides, the Hapsburg forces began to fall back on August 16, and the following day the Serbs mounted an unsuccessful attack on Austro-Hungarian forces in Šabac. The Austrians in turn attempted to push the Serbs back on August 18, but this also failed as the Serbs brought up artillery and cavalry reinforcements. A series of skirmishes through the night culminated in a major victory on August 19, as the morale of the Hapsburg forces collapsed and they began to retreat in total disorder. By August 24, they had withdrawn from Serbia completely.

Meanwhile, the Austro-Hungarian chief of the general staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf, was alarmed by the rapid advance of Russian forces invading the empire’s northeastern province of Galicia (see map, below); he was also facing urgent requests from the German chief of the general staff, Moltke, to transfer more troops to the Russian front in order to take pressure off the German Eighth Army, guarding East Prussia against the advancing Russian First and Second Armies. Thus Conrad reluctantly put his plan to “punish” Serbia on hold and began transferring the Second Army from the Balkan front to Galicia.

Russians Invade East Prussia

Like the Austrians, the Germans were surprised by the speed with which the Russians were able to take the offensive: instead of six weeks, as expected, the first Russian forces crossed the border into East Prussia just two weeks after the beginning of mobilization. The Russians had rushed their forces into action before mobilization was complete, thus fulfilling their promise to France to attack within 15 days of mobilization, in the hopes of forcing the Germans to withdraw forces from the Western Front.

Two Russian armies, the First Army under Paul Rennenkampf and the Second Army under Alexander Samsonov, were supposed to converge on the German Eighth Army under Maximilian von Prittwitz, guarding the old Prussian capital of Königsberg as well as the bridges across the River Vistula. However Russian communications and logistics were extremely poor, and the armies were separated by East Prussia’s patchwork of lakes, which presented an additional obstacle to a coordinated attack; it probably didn’t help that Rennenkampf and Samsonov apparently despised each other.

On August 17, Rennenkampf’s First Army was held up briefly by a minor German victory at the Battle of Stallupönen, but this border skirmish had little effect beyond inflating the ego of the German corps commander, Hermann von François, who flagrantly disobeyed Prittwitz’s order to retreat (this would be a recurring theme wherever François was involved). The First Army continued to advance, and two days later the Samsonov’s Second Army crossed the German border to the south. The arms of the Russian pincer were closing, and the German Eighth Army was surrounded – or so it seemed.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers Movies
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Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. John Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’s 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS' WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating, “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Ethan Coen, Frances McDormand and Joel Coen at the Oscars
Ethan Coen, Frances McDormand, and Joel Coen celebrate their Oscar wins in 1997.
KIM KULISH/AFP/Getty Images

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

Billy Bob Thornton in the Coen brothers' 'The Man Who Wasn't There' (2001)
© 2001 - USA Films

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that features a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

A still from the Coen Brothers' 'The Ladykillers.'
Melinda Sue Gordon, SMPSP - © 2004 - Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination).

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

A photo of Oscar Isaac in the Coen brothers' 'Inside Llewyn Davis' (2013).
© 2013 - CBS Films

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. “The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, ‘Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that.”

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen brothers are plenty fond of The Dude; after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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27 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Unsolved Mysteries
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NBC

Join me. Perhaps you will learn some things you didn't know about the wonderfully spooky Unsolved Mysteries, a show that aired is finale 15 years ago, but still creeps people out to this day.

1. IT STARTED AS A SERIES OF SPECIALS.

An Unsolved Mysteries reenactment
NBC

The three specials, called Missing… Have You Seen This Person?, were hosted by David Birney and his wife Meredith Baxter and aired on NBC in April 1986. The specials were so successful that producers Terry Dunn Meurer and John Cosgrove decided to broaden the scope of the show to include all kinds of mysteries.

2. IT WASN’T ALWAYS HOSTED BY ROBERT STACK.

When what would become the pilot episode of Unsolved Mysteries (but was then just a special) debuted on January 20, 1987, it was hosted by Raymond Burr. Karl Malden helmed the next two specials, and then Stack took over hosting duties, narrating the next few specials and the weekly episodes until the show went off the air in 2002. Later, when the show was revived, Dennis Farina took over hosting duties. (Stack had passed away in 2003.)

3. IN EARLY EPISODES, THE SHOW DIDN'T USE ACTORS IN THE REENACTMENTS.

According to director David Vassar, who directed 100 segments of the show, "In the early episodes, if there were any reenactments, we actually had the real people play themselves." That's why, he said in DVD commentary, "the acting of these first seasons when we were just getting our feet wet was not up to snuff. As we went through the seasons we were able to pay top dollar and get good people, so it just got better and better."

4. AND THERE'S AN EASY WAY TO TELL IF THE ACTORS WERE BAD.

"This is an Unsolved Mysteries hallmark, and it’s a secret," Vassar said in DVD commentary, "but if the narrator talks a lot, and the actors don’t talk at all, it means the acting is really pretty bad, and the narrator is going to cover everything up. If there’s everything out in the clear between the actors, it means the actors were usually pretty good. So the game was, how many seconds of the sync sound takes could you get to play in the open? The more sync you got to play in the open, the better the scene. Pretty simple."

5. THE REENACTMENTS WEREN'T THE SHOW'S MOST IMPORTANT COMPONENT, THOUGH.

"The interviews were so important to the way Unsolved Mysteries was produced," Cosgrove said. "People would think that the most important thing was the recreations, but really, having articulate people who can summon up the emotions of what it felt like [was key]."

"You trusted the interviews," added director Keva Rosenfeld. "If you didn’t have that, you didn’t have a good episode."

6. THE SHOW'S DIRECTORS CAME FROM DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING.

A still from season four of Unsolved Mysteries
NBC

"We were all used to real life," Vassar said, "and in the first couple of seasons, it shows. Only occasionally had we worked with actors, and if we did, we worked with actors as hosts because they were hosting a documentary we were making." In the beginning seasons, the show shot with a small crew, too: "On the first season, it was basically director, a director of photography, an assistant photographer, a sound man, a producer, and lighting or grip guy," Vassar said. "There were five or six of us, trying to make these little movies. It was like silent films in the 1900s. We did everything ourselves."

7. IT WAS CHEAP TO MAKE.

In the early ‘90s, an hourlong scripted drama cost about $1.5 million per episode. Cosgrove told the Baltimore Sun that Unsolved Mysteries could be made for 25 to 40 percent of that cost. “If you're the president of NBC Entertainment, which show are you going to buy?” the Sun asked. “The one that costs $375,000 to make and finishes 11th in overall ratings or the one that costs $1.5 million to make and finishes 40th?”

8. STACK COMPARED UNSOLVED MYSTERIES TO THEATER.

"We're balancing two needs here," Stack told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. "We're trying to produce theater and we're trying to do a public service."

Stack’s stage comparisons didn’t end there: He saw his duty as host, according to Cosgrove, as akin to the stage manager of Our Town. The three-act play, written by Thornton Wilder, takes place in the small town of Grover’s Corners and features stories from a period between the years of 1901 and 1913. The stage manager served as the narrator.

9. THE SHOW’S FOUR-SEGMENT FORMAT WAS A DESIGN TO GET VIEWERS.

The show’s segments covered a number of themes, including Murder, Missing Persons, Wanted Fugitives, UFOs, Ghosts, The Unexplained (Paranormal), Missing Heirs, Amnesia, Fraud, and more. Each show consisted of four segments, plus an update on an older case. "Almost every show has an unexplained death in it, and almost every show has a lost love story," Meurer told the Los Angeles Times. "Then we'll mix and match in there a legend or a gold mine, or we'll put in one of our UFO stories."

“The idea,” Cosgrove said in DVD commentary, “was to have four different segments in four different areas so people would find something that they liked.” 

10. THE SPOOKY THEME MUSIC WAS COMPOSED BY GARY MALKIN.

Unsolved Mysteries’ original goosebump-inducing theme was written by Gary Malkin, who also served as the show’s main composer. “One of the things that really worked was the music,” Cosgrove said. “I had a lot of friends whose kids would run out the room because the music scared them so much.” Producer Raymond Bridgers agreed: “The music was so distinctive that you didn’t even have to be in the room to know that Unsolved Mysteries was on,” he said. The theme was updated four times (you can hear the 1995 version here), and when the show was revived in 2008, it came back with a new theme (and new logo) altogether.

11. IT PULLED IN GREAT RATINGS.

In 1990, the show ranked #11 for all TV series that year. “Once a sleeper, the reality series hosted by Robert Stack, former star of The Untouchables, now is just a flat-out smash,” the Los Angeles Times wrote two years later. “In the last four weeks, for instance, the unshowy but rock-solid series has demonstrated its clout—ranking 3rd, 16th, 8th and 10th in the ratings.”

12. IT WAS NOMINATED FOR SIX EMMYS.

The category was the Outstanding Informational Series, and Unsolved Mysteries was nominated in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1995. Unfortunately, the show didn’t win, losing out to PBS’s Nature (1989), Smithsonian World (1990), The Civil War (1991), TNT’s MGM: When the Lion Roars (1992), PBS’s Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers (1993), and PBS’s Baseball and NBC’s TV Nation (1995).

13. PRODUCERS HAVE SOME IDEAS ABOUT WHY THE SHOW WAS SO SUCCESSFUL.

Robert Stack hosts the first season of Unsolved Mysteries
NBC

Number one, of course, was Robert Stack, whose poker-faced delivery could send chills up anyone’s spine. “Bob’s contributions were immense, really impossible to calculate,” Cosgrove said in a tribute to the actor after Stack’s death in 2003. “His fame and charisma helped attract an audience.” Said Bridges: “No one could deliver a spooky line like Robert Stack.”

Number two: Curiosity. "People are fascinated by the idea that they might be living next door to one of these people, and might be able to help find them," Meurer told the LA Times in 1990.

And number three: “One of the things that attracted people to the show,” Cosgrove said, was that “they wanted to be scared.”

14. THANKS TO JACK THE RIPPER, THERE WAS AN UNSOLVED MYSTERIES HALLOWEEN SPECIAL.

In its first year on the air, Unsolved Mysteries had a Halloween special—an entire hour devoted to ghosts. "Bob was pretty skeptical at this point about doing an entire hour about ghosts," Cosgrove said on DVD commentary. "He definitely, I don’t think, thought it was a great idea for us to change the formula of having four segments of different categories for this Halloween special. It was a little risky doing an hour on one topic."

NBC had asked the producers to create a one hour special, Cosgrove said, because the network "had gotten wind that there was going to be a Jack the Ripper special in syndication, one of those live event specials, that revealed the secret identity of Jack the Ripper at the end of the show. And they said, 'We want you to come up with a stunt program on Halloween.' But we said, 'Wait, we’re the people producing the Jack the Ripper special—we don't want to do that!' And they said 'We don’t care!' So we came up with this, which clobbered the Jack the Ripper special."

After this, though, the show would occasionally do single-topic episodes.

15. THE SHOW ONCE BLEW UP A CHURCH.

The segment "Lucky Choir" tells the story of a choir that met to practice every Wednesday night at 7:25 p.m. Except one night, when every choir member was late—and, as a result, avoided an explosion at 7:27 p.m. that surely would have killed them. The producers chose a church in Unadilla, Nebraska, that was slated for demolition, and planned an explosion. They flew a special effects expert to the site and surrounded the church with five cameras framed by plywood boxes that would protect the gear and the cameramen. "We were supposed to cave in the roof, and we framed [the shot] slightly above the roof," Rosenfeld, who directed the segment, recalled. "[The special effects guy] blew it up way bigger than we expected. A fireball went into the air, probably a quarter mile. We were all scared."

Shrapnel speared the plywood boxes around the cameras and their operators, and debris rained down for 20 minutes. "The cameraman walked up to the macho special effects guy, pretty angry, and said 'What did you put in there?' And this macho guy goes, 'Ninety-five sticks of dynamite and three 10 gallon tubs of gasoline,'" Rosenfeld remembers. "We immediately rushed the site to film the scene because we couldn’t recreate that. We knew we weren't doing that again."

16. A NUMBER OF STARS GOT THEIR BREAKS ON UNSOLVED MYSTERIES.

Matthew McConaughey in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries
CBS

In his first professional acting gig, Matthew McConaughey appeared as a (shirtless, of course) murder victim in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. "They got the guy," the Academy Award winner told Entertainment Weekly in 2014. "They found him around Bryan, Texas, about two weeks after that show." Virginia Madsen also co-hosted the show with Stack in 1999. Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Cheryl Hines, MADtv’s Stephnie Weir, Saw’s Ned Bellamy, and Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim also appeared in episodes.

17. ONE OF THE SHOW'S MOST POPULAR SEGMENTS WAS ALSO TOUGH TO SHOOT.

It was called "Mystery Hum," about the Taos Hum, so named because the low-frequency sound began to be reported in Taos, New Mexico, in 1992. (In other parts of the world, it's called the Bristol Hum, the Bondi Hum, or just "The Hum.") Director Bob Wise said the segment was particularly difficult to film because there weren't many visual elements for the audience—and the hum's low frequencies didn't come through televisions well. Still, he said, "we got a lot of response to this, because a lot of people around the country and the world are hearing this same thing, and there’s a whole network of people who hear this thing."

18. THE SHOW USED A VISUAL EFFECTS COMPANY CALLED AREA 51.

That company was tasked with creating the show’s effects, from sparking clocks to creepy ghosts to, appropriately, aliens. In fact, the “Allagash Abduction” segment featured some of Cosgrove’s favorite effects created by Area 51. “We had such detailed paintings and drawings from [the abductees], and we based our special effects session on their drawings and paintings, not just from the descriptions,” Bridgers said.

19. BUT SOMETIMES, THEY DID EFFECTS THE OLD FASHIONED WAY.

In Unsolved Mysteries's early years, visual effects weren't very advanced and the show didn't have a huge budget for them, either. "When you’re shooting ghost stories, it gets kind of tricky if you want to do it without special effects," director Bob Wise said in DVD commentary. The crew was forced to get creative: For the episode "Gordy's Ghosts," Wise chose to give the ghosts an overblown white look. "We put a lot of light on [the actor's] face," Wise said. "The poor little girl could barely keep her eyes open."

For another sequence that showed a ghost lying down next to the little girl on the bed, the crew took off the mattress and had the actor lie on boxes, and pulled on springs underneath to achieve the effect. Ghostly effects in other episodes were created in camera using double exposure and projection.

20. ROBERT STACK—AND THE PRODUCERS—WERE PRETTY SKEPTICAL OF THE PARANORMAL STUFF.

DVD cover of Unsolved Mysteries: UFOs
Alchemy

Though Stack was, in Cosgrove’s words, “terribly proud of our contributions to catching bad guys,” he was pretty skeptical of the show’s paranormal and extraterrestrial segments. “In some of those narration sessions, he’d be like, 'Come on, Raymond!'” Bridgers recalled. But even Stack found some stories—like the “Allagash Abductions” segment—pretty compelling. “[That] one even nailed Bob,” Cosgrove said. “[It] got under his skin. These guys were so normal and credible and stood to gain nothing by making up a story.”

As many as 80 percent of the supernatural cases were dismissed outright, according to Bridgers. But, like Stack, the producers found themselves swayed by certain stories. “When we pick a ghost story, we’re always mindful of those stories where there seems to be a historical reason for there to be a haunting,” Cosgrove said in the DVD commentary for “Black Hope Curse.” “I don’t think any of us, when we started Unsolved Mysteries, really believed in ghosts ... we’ve all had to take a second look at our preconceived notions after the experiences that we’ve had. Initially we’d be very skeptical of stories, but when you find that there is a story, that there are facts and history and accounts from the past that match up to what people see ... it takes your breath away, and makes the stories a lot more credible.”

21. NOT EVERYONE WANTED THEIR MYSTERY ON UNSOLVED MYSTERIES.

In the early days of Unsolved Mysteries, it could be tough to get people who'd had supernatural experiences to appear on the show—they were afraid, Cosgrove said, of exposing themselves to potential ridicule. "Back then, people didn’t want to come out of the woodwork to say that they’d seen ghosts," he said. "It was really tough to get people to agree to do the interviews." Still, there seemed to be some therapeutic value in it for the interviewees. "Having us talk to them and pay such close attention to them and help them explain it to the public seems to help them," Cosgrove said.

22. THEY FILMED MANY OF STACK’S SEGMENTS AT A MASONIC TEMPLE.

The temple was located in Pasadena, California. “We liked it as a set because it evoked ghostly spirits and things like that,” Cosgrove said.

23. UNSOLVED MYSTERIES RAN ON FOUR NETWORKS.

The show spent 10 seasons on NBC before moving to CBS, where it aired for two seasons before being cancelled. It later ran on Lifetime and on Spike TV.

24. THE REALITY SHOW SPAWNED TV MOVIES.

Victim of Love: The Shannon Mohr Story, which aired in September 1993, was based on an Unsolved Mysteries segment from November 1987. In the movie, Mohr (Sally Murphy) marries Dave Davis (Dwight Schultz) in a quickie Vegas ceremony. She soon discovers that he’s a pathological liar who neglected to tell her about his first wife. When Mohr dies of what appears to be a horse riding accident, her parents become suspicious. John J. O’Connor, who reviewed the movie for the New York Times, wrote,

The parents embark on a 10-year campaign to seek justice. A journalist and a detective prove most helpful. Confronted with mounting evidence against him, Dave flees the country, finally ending up in American Samoa. How can he be found? There's one possibility left, says the detective: "Unsolved Mysteries." And so we find the actors in this movie recreating the interview the real parents gave on the "Unsolved Mysteries" broadcast. The repackaging turns out to be an ingenious plug for the series itself. … Actually, Dave wasn't captured for more than two years after the original telecast. Credit, it seems, must go to the reruns. Marketing comes full circle.

Other TV movies followed: Escape From Terror: The Teresa Stamper Story (1995), Voice from the Grave (1996), and The Sleepwalker Killing (1997).

25. IT HAD A DRAMATIZED SPIN-OFF.

It was called Final Appeal: From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries. According to a synopsis from the New York Times, the show was “a reality-based series based on the NBC series, Unsolved Mysteries. [It] examines real-life cases of potential injustice involving convicted persons who, according to impartial observers, may be innocent.” Stack hosted. Final Appeal premiered in September 1992 and was cancelled shortly after.

26. MANY OF THE MYSTERIES ACTUALLY GOT SOLVED.

“Join me. Perhaps you may be able to help solve a mystery,” Stack said at the beginning of each episode. The show asked its viewers to call police or a tipline if they had any information on a crime, missing person, or lost loved one—and boy, did they. The LA Times wrote about one case that appeared on Unsolved Mysteries in 1988:

It was no mystery to Jerry Strickland and Melissa K. Munday when police showed up at their door in Moses Lake, Wash. Hours earlier they had been watching television as the show "Unsolved Mysteries" mentioned them in connection with the unsolved robbery and slaying of a gas station worker near Pontiac, Mich. Police got about 15 calls from area residents after the program aired, and Officer John Mays and Sgt. Dennis Duke arrived to find the couple waiting for them, Mays said.

Unsolved Mysteries covered more than one thousand cases, and according to its website, more than half of the episodes featuring wanted fugitives have been solved. Over 100 separated families have been reunited—including LeeAnn Robinson, who ran away from her father’s home when she was 16 and found her brother and sister years later through the show. "I was standing there in the studio (after the program ran) and this guy came over and said, 'I have your sister on the phone,'" Robinson said. "I just started to cry. I cried for a week."

27. AND YOU CAN STILL HELP SOLVE A MYSTERY.

Though the show isn’t currently in production, visitors can submit information that might pertain to an unsolved crime on the show’s website. But just because it isn't currently in production doesn't mean it won't be back: in April, the show's creators participated in a Reddit AMA where they said that they were actively "in the process of reaching out to networks to see if there is interest in ordering new shows. Let's keep our fingers crossed!”

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