15 Schoolhouse Rock Facts

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

On the morning of Saturday January 6, 1973, Schoolhouse Rock premiered with a set of three-minute shorts that played between regularly scheduled cartoons: "My Hero, Zero," "Elementary, My Dear," "Three is a Magic Number," and "The Four-Legged Zoo." Over the next 13 years, those and other episodes of Multiplication Rock, Grammar Rock, Science Rock, and America Rock made things like a beleaguered bill awaiting ratification a cultural touchstone for a certain generation.

Schoolhouse Rock returned to the air with both old and new episodes for a stint in the '90s, a set of additional episodes were included in a direct-to-video release in 2009, and, starting in 1996, Schoolhouse Rock Live! took the show on the road. Let's look back on the original run of catchy tunes that are still worth watching.

1. The series was originally called Scholastic Rock, but the name had to be modified when the publishing company Scholastic, Inc. hired a lawyer who insisted they change it. The publishing company that produced the clips retained the name Scholastic Rock Inc.

2. All of the songs were vetted by an educational consultant from Bank Street School of Education.

3. The show was a success from the start, ultimately winning four Emmys. Meanwhile, as creators Tom Yohe and George Newall wrote in their official guide to the show, "various governmental and lobbyist groups requested cassettes of ‘I’m Just a Bill’ to use in their training programs for staffers. The University of Michigan Medical School and Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons called to ask for ‘Telegraph Line’ to help introduce the nervous system to first-year medical students."

4. The idea for the show first occurred to David B. McCall, then president of McCaffrey and McCall Advertising, while he was on vacation with his family at a dude ranch in Wyoming. His son was struggling with learning the multiplication tables but, as McCall noticed, had no trouble at all memorizing Rolling Stones lyrics. Upon returning to the office, he called on jazz pianist Bob Dorough to compose a jingle about mathematics. Dorough wrote “Three is a Magic Number” and the team, along with Yohe, who drew the storyboards, presented the idea to Michael Eisner, then Vice President for Children’s Programming at ABC. Eisner bought the cartoon right then and there.

5. Dorough, who wrote the music and lyrics and performed many of the songs during the series run, received a Grammy nomination for Multiplication Rock, which was released as a record in 1973 by Capitol Records featuring songs about the multiplication tables 2-12.

6. In the song “Lucky Seven Sampson,” the titular rabbit skips past a graffiti-filled wall. If you look closely, what’s written are all references to people who worked on the cartoon. “Phunky Phil,” for example, is animation director Phil Kimmelman. Similarly, in “The Preamble,” all the names in the voting booth are people who worked on the song. Animator Sal Faillace had ultimate control over whom the cartoon characters voted for. Naturally, they voted for him and director George Cannata. One of these instances of not-so-hidden names ended up on a much larger screen. The factory smokestack in "The Great American Melting Pot" is labeled "Yohe" in honor of the co-creator. When that scene, along with others from America Rock, ended up as part of the backdrop for the Rockettes' "America Spectacular" show, Yohe's name got introduced to a whole new audience.

Youtube user, EnemyMindControl

7. Similarly, in “The Good Eleven,” cartoon versions of many of the creators appear in the video. George Newall is biking in blue and Tom Yohe appears at the end in a red bowtie.

8. When Dorough first wrote the music for “Figure Eight,” his wife thought it was too good to be used for Schoolhouse Rock, but none of the subsequent tunes were met with much enthusiasm so he returned to the originally charming melody.

9. Before settling on “Verb, That’s What’s Happening,” the original idea for a verb song was, “A World Without Verbs,” a gloomy look at how nothing would ever happen in a world without action words.

10. In “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here,” all three generations of adverb merchants are voiced by Dorough, and his vocals were sped up to achieve the higher pitches.

11. Family members of the producers were an obvious choice to voice the various kid characters that appear on different songs. “Interjections!” features Yohe’s son, Tom Jr., as Reginald, and his six-year-old daughter added the adorable “Darn, that’s the end!” to close the song. Yohe himself is the cackling King George on “No More Kings.”

12. The show was made for kids but, in at least one instance, the cartoons got a little risqué. At the end of “The Shot Heard Round the World,” a group of diverse cartoon Americans gather into the shape of the country but at least one, a lady in Southern California, is totally nude.

Youtube user, Disney Educational Productions

13. The airing of “Three Ring Government” was delayed for several years because executives at ABC were concerned that the FCC and Congress would resent being compared to a circus and threaten their broadcast license renewal.

14. Lynn Ahrens, who wrote and sang some of Schoolhouse Rock’s most recognizable tunes, had a rather fortuitous, unconventional start. McCaffrey and McCall hired her as a secretary when she was just 22, right out of college. Bored with her daily typing tasks, Aherns often brought a guitar to the office to play during down time. One day, producer George Newall heard her strumming and asked her to try writing a song for the series. “The Preamble” was a hit that launched her career, which eventually included award-winning work on Broadway and for movies.

15. The original series run lasted from 1973 to 1985, and then in 1987, Golden Book Video released Schoolhouse Rock on tape. The format had been changed to accommodate the different structure and, according to some of the original creators, these changes were not an improvement. Each segment was introduced by actress Cloris Leachman sort-of-singing to a group of kids. "She's just hideous. She is the antithesis of what we wanted to do,” Yohe said of Leachman in 1994. "The quality is poor and there is also some new, inappropriate and inferior material not written by me,” Dorough added.

Additional Source: "Schoolhouse Rock!: The Official Guide" By Tom Yohe and George Newall

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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.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

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