10 Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Facts About Song of the South

YouTube
YouTube

You’ve probably never seen Song of the South, but you’ve likely had its most famous song lodged firmly in your brain at one point or another. Let's take a closer look at what is arguably Disney’s most controversial production ever.

1. THE STORIES WERE WRITTEN BY TEDDY ROOSEVELT'S UNCLE.

Though Disney borrowed the Br’er Rabbit tales from author Joel Chandler Harris, the stories were originally published in Harper’s magazine as written by Robert Roosevelt, Teddy’s uncle. In his autobiography, Teddy wrote that Robert took the stories down from his Aunt Anna’s dictation, then sent them to Harper’s, where they “fell flat.” It wasn’t until Harris created the Uncle Remus stories that Br’er Rabbit and his pals became “immortal,” in Teddy’s words.

2. DISNEY’S DECISION TO MAKE SONG OF THE SOUTH RAISED EYEBROWS RIGHT FROM THE GET-GO.

The NAACP released a statement that said that while the artistic and technical aspects of the film were truly impressive, “the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery ... [the film] unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts.” However, other reviewers thought that the issue was handled well. Even the actors defended their parts. Hattie McDaniel told The Criterion, "If I had for one moment considered any part of the picture degrading or harmful to my people I would not have appeared therein." Star James Baskett agreed, saying, "I believe that certain groups are doing my race more harm in seeking to create dissension than can ever possibly come out of the Song of the South."

3. IT’S BEEN RUMORED THAT JAMES BASKETT DIDN’T ATTEND THE PREMIERE BECAUSE NO HOTEL WOULD ALLOW HIM TO STAY.

It’s been a long-standing rumor that Baskett himself was unable to attend the movie’s Atlanta premiere because no hotel in town would accept the black cast members. This is unlikely, as MousePlanet points out, because there were several black-owned hotels in the city at the time, including the Savoy. What is true is that Atlanta was still under segregation laws at the time, so the cast would have been separated at the premiere anyway. To bring Baskett to the city but stop him from attending events, one newspaper article from 1946 noted, “would cause him many embarrassments, for his feelings are the same as any man’s.”

4. THE FILM WAS A SUCCESS, BUT NOT BY A WIDE MARGIN.

The original release netted the studio just $226,000.

5. WALT DISNEY HIMSELF CAMPAIGNED FOR BASKETT TO WIN AN ACADEMY AWARD FOR HIS PERFORMANCE.

Walt Disney told Jean Hersholt, then the president of the Motion Picture Academy, that Baskett’s performance was his own creation, “almost wholly without direction.” Disney’s efforts worked: Baskett received an honorary Oscar in 1948. Sadly, he died just three months later at the age of 44.

6. BASKETT’S HONORARY ACADEMY AWARD ISN’T THE ONLY ONE SONG OF THE SOUTH WON.

“Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” also won the Oscar for Best Original Song.

7. BASKETT PLAYED TWO MAJOR PARTS.

Baskett not only played Uncle Remus, he also voiced Br’er Fox.

8. THE MOVIE HAS NEVER OFFICIALLY BEEN RELEASED ON HOME VIDEO.

Though the film has been reissued several times, including a “re-premiere” that was held in Atlanta for the 40th anniversary in 1986, it has never been released on home video in the United States. Whether there are future plans for a release remains to be seen. While Disney CEO Robert Iger has called the movie “antiquated” and “fairly offensive,” fans have been rallying for years to get it released. Enterprising consumers can find copies that were released in Japan and Europe. You can also see part of it right here:

9. DISNEY CREATED A COMIC STRIP AS A PROMOTIONAL TOOL.

The Disney Company created a newspaper comic strip about Br’er Rabbit to help promote the movie. It actually ended up with a longer shelf life than the movie itself: the strip ran from 1945 through 1972.

10. CONTEMPORARY VERSIONS OF BR’ER RABBIT AND BR’ER FOX ARE VOICED BY JESS HARNELL.

These days, Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox are voiced by Jess Harnell, also known for providing the voices for Wakko on Animaniacs and Cedric on Sofia the First, among other things. Though Br’ers Fox and Rabbit don’t get used much, they have popped up in video games, amusement park rides, and the occasional cartoon where Disney characters mingle.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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