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

tv

11 Easy Ways to Be Greener on Earth Day

iStock/yacobchuk
iStock/yacobchuk

Kermit got it all wrong: It is easy being green. Committing to go green doesn’t have to mean a 10-mile walk to work or abiding by "if it’s yellow, let it mellow"—you can make a difference by making small adjustments that add up to big change. Here are 11 ideas to get you started for Earth Day.

1. Use your dishwasher to go green.

It may seem counterintuitive, but your dishwasher is way more energy- and water-efficient at washing dishes than you are, as long as you’re running a full dishwasher. According to one German study, dishwashers use half of the energy and a sixth of the water, not to mention less soap. So, don’t feel guilty about skipping the sink of sudsy water, or about not pre-rinsing before loading up the machine—you’re actually doing the environment a favor by firing up your dishwasher.

2. Switch to online bill paying and use less paper.

Not only is it convenient to pay all of your bills with a click or two, it’s also an easy way to go green. One study found that the average U.S. household receives 19 bills and statements from credit card companies, banks, and utilities every month. By switching to online statements and online bill pay, each American household could save 6.6 pounds of paper per year, save 0.08 trees, and not produce 171 pounds of greenhouse gases. Not bad for simply clicking a few "receive online statements" boxes.

3. Opt out of junk mail and catalogs.

While you’re paring down the amount of stuff that arrives daily in your mailbox, visit Catalog Choice to opt out of various mailers you don’t want to receive. So far, the nonprofit organization says they have saved more than 500,000 trees, over 1 billion pounds of greenhouse gas, more than 400 million pounds of solid waste, and approximately 3.5 billion gallons of water.

4. Plant a tree so Earth Day is Every Day.

Planting trees is obviously great for the environment, but if you’re strategic about it, it can help you reduce your energy costs and use less fossil fuel. According to ArborDay.org, planting large deciduous trees on the east, west, and northwest sides of your house can shade and cool your home during the warmer months, even slashing your air conditioning costs by up to 35 percent.

5. Turn off the tap while you're standing at the sink.

If you leave the tap running while you tend to your pearly whites, you’re wasting approximately 200 gallons of water a month. Just turn the tap on when you need to wet your brush or rinse, instead of letting H20 pour uselessly down the drain. The same goes for anyone who shaves with the water running.

6. Go thrifting for clothes and housewares.

Take some advice from your old pal Macklemore and hit up some thrift shops—and that goes for whether you’re getting rid of clutter or adding more to your home. Buying and donating to thrift stores and second-hand shops means you’re recycling, supporting your local economy, and saving money. In fact, by some estimates, every item of clothing donated reduces 27 pounds of carbon emissions.

7. Get a houseplant to clear the air.

And grab a little guy for your desk at work, too. House plants and desk plants have been proven to improve your mood and raise productivity, but they also purify the air by removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in homes and offices. They also absorb carbon dioxide and increase the humidity. Low-maintenance plants include pothos, spider plants, jade, various succulents, and peace lilies.

8. Get scrappy with Art and crafts.

Cut up paper that has only been used on one side and use it to scribble reminders, notes, grocery lists, etc. Or flip it over for any kids you know to color on. (You can color on it, too, if you want.)

9. Put your caffeine fix to work for the Earth.

Your coffee likely traveled thousands of miles to arrive in your pantry, so get good use out of it. Use your grounds to mulch plants that love acidic soil, like roses, evergreens, and rhododendrons. If your garden problems tend to be less about the dirt and more about the things that live in it, certain garden denizens hate coffee—namely ants, slugs, and snails. Sprinkle grounds in problem areas to deter them.

10. Enlighten yourself to Energy Savings.

Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs—the spiral light bulbs) may cost more upfront, but they’ll save up to $57 over the life of the bulb. More importantly, they use 70 percent less energy than traditional bulbs and installing them is as easy as screwing in a light bulb. (Insert joke here.)

11. Make tracks instead of short car trips.

You don't have to cut out your daily driving entirely, but when you only have a few blocks, or perhaps just a mile or two to travel and don't need to transport anything bulky, consider walking or hopping on your bike. Walking on those short trips generates less than a quarter of the greenhouse gasses that are emitted by driving the same distance.

20 Black-and-White Facts About Penguins

iStock/fieldwork
iStock/fieldwork

Who is a penguin's favorite family member? Aunt Arctica! 

We kid! But seven of the 17 species of penguins can be found on the southernmost continent. Here are 20 more fun facts about these adorable tuxedoed birds. 

1. All 17 species of penguins are found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere.

A group of penguins on an iceberg.
iStock/axily

2. Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest is the Little Blue Penguin, which is only about 16 inches.

Three emperor penguins
iStock/Fabiano_Teixeira

3. The fastest species is the Gentoo Penguin, which can reach swimming speeds up to 22 mph.

A gentoo penguin swimming underwater
iStock/chameleonseye

4. A penguin's striking coloring is a matter of camouflage; from above, its black back blends into the murky depths of the ocean. From below, its white belly is hidden against the bright surface.

Penguins swimming in the ocean
iStock/USO

5. Fossils place the earliest penguin relative at some 60 million years ago, meaning an ancestor of the birds we see today survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

Emperor penguins with chicks
iStock/vladsilver

6. Penguins ingest a lot of seawater while hunting for fish, but a special gland behind their eyes—the supraorbital gland—filters out the saltwater from their blood stream. Penguins excrete it through their beaks, or by sneezing.

Penguin swimming in the ocean
iStock/Musat

7. Unlike most birds—which lose and replace a few feathers at a time—penguins molt all at once, spending two or three weeks land-bound as they undergo what is called the catastrophic molt.

Gentoo penguin chick molting
iStock/ChristianWilkinson

8. All but two species of penguins breed in large colonies of up to one thousand birds.

A colony of king penguins
iStock/DurkTalsma

9. It varies by species, but many penguins will mate with the same member of the opposite sex season after season.

Two chinstrap penguins
iStock/Legacy-Images

10. Similarly, most species are also loyal to their exact nesting site, often returning to the same rookery in which they were born.

Magellanic penguin nesting in the ground
iStock/JeremyRichards

11. Some species create nests for their eggs out of pebbles and loose feathers. Emperor Penguins are an exception: They incubate a single egg each breeding season on the top of their feet. Under a loose fold of skin is a featherless area with a concentration of blood vessels that keeps the egg warm.

Penguin eggs
iStock/Buenaventuramariano

12. In some species, it is the male penguin which incubates the eggs while females leave to hunt for weeks at a time. Because of this, pudgy males—with enough fat storage to survive weeks without eating—are most desirable.

A group of emperor penguins and chick
iStock/vladsilver

13. Penguin parents—both male and female—care for their young for several months until the chicks are strong enough to hunt for food on their own.

Penguin chick and parent on a nest
iStock/golnyk

14. If a female Emperor Penguin's baby dies, she will often "kidnap" an unrelated chick.

Three emperor penguin chicks
iStock/AntAntarctic

15. Despite their lack of visible ears, penguins have excellent hearing and rely on distinct calls to identify their mates when returning to the crowded breeding grounds.

Gentoo penguins
iStock/Goddard_Photography

16. The first published account of penguins comes from Antonio Pigafetta, who was aboard Ferdinand Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe in 1520. They spotted the animals near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina. (He called them "strange geese.")

A group of magellanic penguins on the seacoast
iStock/encrier

17. An earlier, anonymous diary entry from Vasco da Gama's 1497 voyage around the Cape of Good Hope makes mention of flightless birds as large as ducks.

A cape penguin in South Africa
iStock/ziggy_mars

18. Because they aren't used to danger from animals on solid ground, wild penguins exhibit no particular fear of human tourists.

Man videotaping a penguin in Antarctica
iStock/Bkamprath

19. Unlike most sea mammals—which rely on blubber to stay warm—penguins survive because their feathers trap a layer of warm air next to the skin that serves as insulation, especially when they start generating muscular heat by swimming around.

Penguin swimming in the ocean
iStock/Musat

20. In the 16th century, the word penguin actually referred to great auks (scientific name: Pinguinus impennis), a now-extinct species that inhabited the seas around eastern Canada. When explorers traveled to the Southern Hemisphere, they saw black and white birds that resembled auks, and called them penguins.

This story was first published in 2017.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER