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Christopher Polk/Getty Images for PCA

6 Movies That Almost Starred Robert Downey Jr.

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for PCA
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for PCA

Given the Midas touch he has with movies nowadays, it’s easy to forget that Robert Downey Jr. used to be one of Hollywood’s biggest liabilities. Though he has always been a formidable talent, a series of drug-related arrests and failed attempts at rehabilitation made him a tough sell to studios, particularly in the mid-1990s. (Even in the case of Iron Man, the filmmakers had to aggressively sell Downey for the role after the studio rejected the idea. Twice.) In honor of Downey’s 50th birthday, we’re recounting six films that might have featured him on the movie poster had life gone differently.

1. PRETTY IN PINK (1986)

Imagine if Duckie had gotten the girl at the end of Pretty in Pink? That was, in fact, how the movie was intended to end. But the script changed after Jon Cryer landed the part, despite Molly Ringwald pushing for Robert Downey, Jr., who was competing with Cryer for the role. In the book You Couldn’t Ignore More if You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation, Ringwald explained that the changed ending made more sense to her once Cryer came on board, as she just wasn’t feeling the romantic vibe. As Ringwald put it, “I mean, if they remade the movie now, [Duckie] would be, like, the gay friend who comes out at the end. … I feel bad saying that I really fought for Robert Downey, Jr., because it sort of seems like I don’t appreciate Jon’s performance, which I totally do—it’s just, it really did affect the movie.”

Cryer addressed Ringwald’s comments in the DVD commentary on Pretty in Pink: Everything’s Duckie Edition, saying that, "Molly dropped the bomb that she would’ve been fine with the original ending if Robert Downey Jr., had played Duckie … But since it was me, she just couldn’t see it. It was like, wow, so I’m that unattractive? Thanks, Mol!”

2. SAY ANYTHING… (1989)

Had Downey been cast as Lloyd Dobler in Cameron Crowe’s beloved high school romance, he probably would have owned the role. But today, it’s hard to imagine anyone but a lovestruck John Cusack hoisting that boombox up over his head, Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” blasting. Though Crowe wrote the role specifically with Cusack in mind, he wasn’t sure that Cusack (who was 23 years old when the film was released) would be interested in playing another high school student. So he went against his gut and auditioned other actors for the role, including Kirk Cameron! The role was actually offered to Downey, who turned it down—prompting Crowe to go back to his original idea and offer it to Cusack, who signed on immediately.

3. BACKDRAFT (1991)

Truthfully, we’re not exactly sure how high up on Ron Howard’s list Downey was to play firefighter extraordinaire Brian McCaffrey. But Downey’s consideration for the part is particularly amusing considering that you can actually watch his audition tape (right here), and that he got beat out for it by William Baldwin. In Downey’s defense, Brad Pitt also unsuccessfully auditioned for the part.

4. WILD THINGS (1998)

Much like Showgirls, there are two schools of thought when it comes to this strange erotic-teen movie hybrid: love it or hate it. Which is something that Kevin Bacon, who both starred in and executive produced the movie, understands. “When I first picked up the script, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is the trashiest piece of crap I’ve ever read,’” Bacon told Entertainment Weekly. “But every few pages, I kept discovering that it wasn’t what it seemed. Every few pages, there was another surprise.” One surprise was having to replace Downey, who had been cast as Sam Lombardo, with Matt Dillon. “It was during his rehab, and he’d just been on Diane Sawyer’s show,” the movie’s director, John McNaughton, told Entertainment Weekly. “And to the people in Hollywood, that was a great career move. That made him hot.” But that didn’t matter to movie’s insurance bonders, who were reluctant to cover Downey. “There were just too many lawyers and insurance people and bond-company people involved,” said producer Rodney Liber.

5. AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS (2001)

In 2000, after spending a year incarcerated, Downey’s career seemed to be on the upswing. After landing a regular role on Ally McBeal, he was being touted as the next great comeback story … until he was arrested again in November. The show’s producers stuck by him, but the question mark hanging over his availability and fitness to film led producers on America’s Sweethearts to rethink his casting as Eddie Thomas, and eventually replace him with John Cusack. (When Downey was arrested again just a few months later, he was fired from Ally McBeal, too.)

6. MELINDA AND MELINDA (2004)

Woody Allen faced double trouble when it came down to the paperwork on his 2004 dramedy, Melinda and Melinda. “We were originally going to work with Winona Ryder and Robert Downey Jr. and I couldn’t get insurance on them,” Allen said in Conversations with Woody Allen. “The insurance companies are very prissy and sticky and gave us a hard time. We were heartbroken because I had worked with Winona before [on Celebrity] and I thought she was perfect for this … And I had always wanted to work with Bob Downey and always thought he was a huge talent.” Ryder and Downey were replaced with Radha Mitchell and Will Ferrell.

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16 Fun Facts About The Carol Burnett Show
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CBS

After a short stint in the New York theater world, comedienne Carol Burnett landed a job as a regular on The Garry Moore Show in 1959. She caught the attention of CBS executives, who offered her her own series in 1967. With her husband Joe Hamilton at the helm, Burnett broke new ground as the first female host of a TV variety show. The Carol Burnett Show ran for 11 seasons and earned a handful of Emmy Awards in the process. To celebrate the legendary comedienne's 85th birthday, here are some fun facts about the show and the folks who made it so side-splittingly hilarious.

1. CAROL BURNETT’S MOTHER WANTED HER TO BE A WRITER.

As Carol Burnett painfully recalled later in life, whenever she’d expressed an interest in a career in the theater as a teen, her mother would always dissuade her and recommend that she would have better luck studying to become a writer. “You can always write, no matter what you look like,” she would add.

2. A TOTAL STRANGER HELPED TO LAUNCH BURNETT’S CAREER.

As she was nearing graduation from UCLA, Burnett and several fellow drama students were invited to a departing professor’s house to perform at his bon voyage party. She performed a scene from the musical Annie Get Your Gun and later that evening, while she was standing in the buffet line, a man she’d never seen before approached her and complimented her performance. He then inquired what she planned to do with her life. She confessed that she dreamed of going to New York one day for a career on the stage, but seeing that she barely had enough gas money to drive back to Los Angeles that evening, it would be a very long time before she’d make it to Broadway. The man told her he’d be happy to lend her $1000 to get her started, with three conditions: that she repay him without interest in five years, that she was never to reveal his identity, and that once she was successful she must pass a similar kindness along to another person in need. (After pondering the offer over the weekend and consulting her mother and grandmother—who advised her to steer clear of the strange man who was probably involved in human trafficking or something worse—she took a chance and accepted his check.)

3. VICKI LAWRENCE CAUGHT BURNETT’S ATTENTION BY WRITING HER A FAN LETTER.


CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Vicki Lawrence cut her hair in a short “pixie” cut as a high school senior, many of her classmates commented on her resemblance to Carol Burnett. Lawrence’s somewhat overbearing stage mother encouraged her to write Burnett a letter, which she did, enclosing a photo and a newspaper article that mentioned her upcoming appearance in the Inglewood, California Miss Fireball Contest. To her surprise, a seven-months-pregnant Burnett showed up at the pageant to cheer her on. When Burnett had her baby, Lawrence took some flowers to the hospital, thinking she’d just drop them off. But when the nurse on duty saw her, she immediately mistook her for Burnett’s real-life half-sister Chrissie and exclaimed, “Wait until you see the baby!” and ushered her into Carol’s room.

4. LAWRENCE ENDED UP PLAYING BURNETT’S SISTER ON THE SHOW.

When they were casting The Carol Burnett Show, the star remembered the teen and hired her despite her lack of experience. At first her only role was in the recurring “Carol and Sis” sketch, in which Lawrence played “Chrissie,” Burnett’s younger sister. Lawrence recalled in her 1995 autobiography that Burnett was very nurturing to all her co-stars, making sure everyone got their share of the best jokes, but it was Harvey Korman who took her under his wing in the beginning and taught her about timing, dialects, and working with props.

5. THE Q&A AT THE BEGINNING WAS BURNETT’S HUSBAND’S IDEA.


By CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Joe Hamilton was not only Carol Burnett’s husband, he was also the show’s executive producer. It was traditional at the time (and still is, in some cases) to have a stand-up comic step onstage before a show to tell some jokes and “warm up” the audience. Hamilton was wary of going that route, however; as Burnett later recalled, “He worried, ‘What if the guy is funnier than the rest of you?’” He thought it would be a good ice-breaker if Burnett herself went out front before the proceedings to welcome the audience and answer a couple of questions. Over the next 11 seasons, the question that she was asked the most was “Can you do your Tarzan yell?”

6. BURNETT ONCE USED HER TARZAN YELL AS A FORM OF IDENTIFICATION.

While shopping for nylon stockings at New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman one day, the saleswoman recognized Burnett and asked for her autograph for her grandchildren. When it came time to check out, Burnett realized that she didn’t have her credit card or driver’s license in her wallet. She inquired if she could write a check. “I’ll have to see some ID,” replied the woman who’d requested an autograph just moments before. The floor manager intervened and told Burnett that she’d accept her check if Burnett would do her Tarzan yell. Burnett complied, prompting a security guard to kick open a nearby door, burst in and point his gun at her.

7. LYLE WAGONNER WAS THE FIRST CENTERFOLD IN PLAYGIRL MAGAZINE.

Joe Hamilton was looking for a handsome, “Rock Hudson-type” when casting the announcer for his wife’s show. Former encyclopedia salesman Lyle Waggoner landed the job not only due to his devastating good looks, but also because he had a good sense of humor about how pretty he was. He was even good-natured about the teasing he got from his castmates after posing for the centerfold of Playgirl magazine’s premiere issue in 1973.

8. HARVEY KORMAN WAS THE FIRST CAST MEMBER HIRED.

The producers wanted a “Harvey Korman-type” for Burnett’s second banana, but didn’t bother to actually ask Korman if he was interested in the job because he was already a regular on The Danny Kaye Show, and most likely he wouldn’t leave a steady job for an unproven new show. Burnett herself spotted Korman in the CBS parking lot one day and “practically threw him over the hood of a car” begging him to join her show. Unbeknownst to her, Kaye’s show was about to get the axe after a four-year run, so Korman cheerfully accepted her offer shortly after that first meeting.

9. TIM CONWAY RARELY FOLLOWED HIS SCRIPT.

Conway had been a frequent guest star on the show, and when Lyle Waggoner decided to leave the show in 1974 (he felt that he was being “underused”), Conway was hired to replace him the following year. Conway was legendary for veering off-script and ad-libbing for lengthy stretches, to the amusement of some of his co-stars (Korman) and annoyance of others (Lawrence, who sometimes resented Conway’s disruptions and spotlight-hogging). Lawrence finally slipped her own ad-lib in on one memorable occasion, as Conway rambled on and on about an elephant during a “Family” sketch. Her NSFW remark brought the rest of the cast to their knees and was said to be Dick Clark’s favorite all-time outtake on his Bloopers and Practical Jokes TV show.

10. MRS. WIGGINS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AS AN ELDERLY WOMAN.

Conway created the Mr. Tudball/Mrs. Wiggins characters and wrote (or ad-libbed) many of their sketches. His original concept had Mrs. Wiggins being ancient, slow, and forgetful. But costume designer Bob Mackie decided that Burnett had played too many “old lady” characters on the show and designed a very voluptuous look for her instead. He explained at the time that he had certain “ditzy” CBS secretaries in mind when he stitched the curvy costume together.

11. THE SHOW THAT BECAME MAMA’S FAMILY STARTED OUT AS A MUCH DARKER ONE-OFF SKETCH.

A sketch called “The Reunion,” which originally aired in March of 1974, featured the characters that eventually became known as “The Family.” In this initial installment, Roddy McDowall played Phillip Harper, the successful younger brother of Eunice, returning home for a visit after winning a Pulitzer Prize. The family members were far crankier and more argumentative (and perhaps more representative of actual family life as they talked over one another and changed topics as soon as a thought occurred to them) than the cartoonish characters they eventually came to be on the syndicated series Mama’s Family. The piece proved to be so popular that 30 more “Family” sketches appeared over the next four seasons, with such guest stars as Alan Alda and Betty White turning up as members of the extended Harper family.

12. IT WAS BURNETT’S IDEA TO MAKE EUNICE AND HER FAMILY SOUTHERN.

The creators of "The Family" sketch were The Carol Burnett Show staff writers Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair. McMahon hailed from Kansas City, Missouri, and envisioned the Harpers to be of typical Midwestern stock, but as Burnett read the initial script she heard her own Texan and Arkansan family members speaking. She started speaking the lines with a pronounced Southern drawl, and Vicki Lawrence soon followed suit.

13. DICK VAN DYKE WAS A REGULAR FOR A SHORT TIME.

Harvey Korman left The Carol Burnett Show at the end of season 10 to star in his own sitcom on ABC.  (The Harvey Korman Show was cancelled after five episodes.) Dick Van Dyke was brought in as a replacement, but he was never a very good fit. As Burnett commented after the fact, “When Harvey put on a wig and a dress, he became a woman; when Dick Van Dyke did it, he was Dick Van Dyke in a wig and a dress.” Van Dyke wasn’t overjoyed with the job, either; he lived in Arizona at the time and the monthly 4000-mile commute was exhausting. He was released from his contract in November 1977.

14. BURNETT’S “WENT WITH THE WIND” CURTAIN ROD DRESS WAS BOB MACKIE’S BRAINSTORM.

Burnett’s Gone with the Wind parody has made many “funniest shows of all time” lists over the years, and one of the defining moments of the sketch was when Carol (as "Starlett O’Hara”) descends the stairs at Tara wearing the green velvet drapes with the curtain rod still in them and admits, “I saw it in a window and I couldn’t resist.” The original script called for Burnett to have the curtains tossed haphazardly over her shoulders, but Mackie decided that it would be funnier to create an actual dress and leave the hanger intact across her shoulders. He is slightly bitter all these years later that of all his magnificent creations, that “joke” dress has become his signature piece; of all the memorable glamorous gowns he’s created for celebrities over the decades, that curtain rod dress is the one that hangs in the Smithsonian.

15. CONWAY’S FAMOUS “DENTIST” SKIT WAS BASED ON AN ACTUAL INCIDENT.

When Conway was in the Army having some work done on his teeth, the dentist accidentally injected his own thumb with Novocain. Conway exaggerated the experience to hilarious effect in a classic skit that left Harvey Korman struggling to contain his laughter. During a 2013 interview, Conway told Conan O’Brien that Korman actually wet himself from laughing so hard.

16. THERE WAS ONLY ONE CELEBRITY GUEST THAT BURNETT WAS NEVER ABLE TO BOOK.

Over the 11 seasons the show ran, a veritable “Who’s Who” of the entertainment industry did a guest turn, from Steve Martin to Julie Andrews to then-governor Ronald Reagan to Robin Williams to Ethel Merman. The only guest who Burnett dearly wanted to have but never did get was Bette Davis. Davis was willing to appear but demanded more money that the show had budgeted. Joe Hamilton advised his wife that if they gave in to Davis’s demand, it would set an unpleasant precedent.

Additional Sources:
Vicki!: The True-Life Adventures of Miss Fireball, by Vicki Lawrence
This Time Together, by Carol Burnett
Let’s Bump Up the Lights (The Carol Burnett Show DVD extra)

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14 Wild Facts About Double Dare
Nickelodeon
Nickelodeon

Some game shows will reward you with cars and cash prizes for being smart and intuitive. Nickelodeon’s Double Dare, which ran from 1986 to 1993 and taped more than 500 episodes, gave its kid contestants bicycles or boom boxes in exchange for fetching giant balls of snot from oversized noses.

To celebrate Double Dare's return—Nickelodeon just announced that it has ordered 40 more episodes of the gross game show—we thought we’d drop some facts on the show’s history, the comedian originally set to host, and how one kid wound up snapping a bone in half on the perpetually hazardous course.

1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY MOUSE TRAP.

While kicking around ideas for a kid-oriented game show, Nickelodeon executive—and Double Dare co-creator—Geoffrey Darby recalled that a staffer brought up the classic board game Mouse Trap, which invited players to lure a (fake) mouse into a custom-built holding pen. Darby picked up on the thread, pitching the series as a Rube Goldberg machine that used people instead of balls.

2. DANA CARVEY WAS OFFERED THE HOSTING GIG.

Before settling on onetime magician Marc Summers, Double Dare looked at hundreds of host candidates. Soupy Sales, a comedian who had a popular kids’ show in the 1950s, was considered; so was Dana Carvey, who was reportedly offered the job on the same day he was invited to join Saturday Night Live. He opted for the sketch show, leaving the slot open for Summers.

3. THE VERY FIRST OBSTACLE COURSE WAS A DISASTER.

For the uninitiated, Double Dare typically pitted two teams against one another in a series of increasingly difficult—and disgusting—challenges, culminating with a run through a slime- and cream-covered obstacle course. When the show taped its first episode in September 1986, producers directed the contestants to find a flag hidden in a giant bag of feathers. Unfortunately, no one had bothered to hide the flag. On take two, the contestant was so rough with the feathers they didn’t see the flag had been gently placed within easy view. On the third take, a cameraman fell into the frame. They got it on the fourth try.

4. THE SET HAD ITS OWN SEWAGE SYSTEM.


Nickelodeon

Although Double Dare began on a studio set at a Philadelphia television station, it eventually moved to Nickelodeon’s home base in Orlando, Florida. The stage—which was usually filled with tourists visiting Universal Studios Orlando—was built specifically to accommodate the overflow of disgusting waste material created by the production. A sewage system allowed crew members to mop the glop off the floor and directly into grates. The “clean team” went through between 600 and 1000 towels per taping to erase any residual signs of slime.

5. THE STAGE WAS A TOTAL SLIPPING HAZARD.

No matter how much the crew steam-cleaned, vacuumed, or mopped, the bathroom-like tile of the stage floor maintained its essential sheen of foot-slipping gloss. The crew eventually grew accustomed to sliding across the set in tiny shuffle steps, similar to how you’d navigate a frozen-over driveway.  

6. THERE WAS ONE GRUESOME INJURY.

Despite a space that would never pass OSHA standards, surprisingly few participants were ever actually harmed during taping of Double Dare—with one exception. During one obstacle, a child running across the floor slipped, braced himself, and snapped his arm so severely the bone poked through the skin. Summers would later recall that the kid had lied on his application and may have had a preexisting health condition that made his bones more brittle. Because he wanted to appear on the show so badly, he didn’t mention it.

7. “GAK” WAS A SLANG TERM FOR HEROIN—AND SLIME.

It was inevitable that Double Dare would spawn a series of tie-in products, including board games and apparel. The show also helped licensees create GAK, a rubbery, goopy substance meant to mimic the slime seen on the series. The name came from crew members who worked on the show as a kind of homage to the street term for heroin, a factoid that went over most parents' heads.

8. THEY USED A THREE-TRIES RULE FOR NEW CHALLENGES.


Nickelodeon

After designing a new obstacle, producers would invite kids from the Philadelphia area on non-shoot days to give it a shot. If a child couldn’t get through it in three tries, the idea would be scrapped.

9. IT USED TONS OF FOOD.

In 1987, The New York Times convinced a show staffer to tabulate the gross amount of food material used during a typical taping of the show. Their tally: 50 gallons of whipped cream, 30 gallons of slime, dozens of eggs, and 100 cubic feet of popcorn. To offset concerns over food waste, the production used as much post-dated canned material or other past-due goods as they could.

10. PEOPLE WENT BONKERS OVER THE SHOW.

While kids were delighted to have a game show that rewarded sloppiness, they weren’t the only ones watching. After just nine months on the air, Double Dare fan clubs popped up at Cornell and Ohio State University; the production received more than 10,000 letters every month, with a portion coming from parents griping that they had to postpone dinner because their kids insisted on viewing the messy show precisely at 5:30 p.m.

11. SUMMERS HAS HOSTED BOOTLEG VERSIONS.

 With Nickelodeon wary of producing a full-blown revival of the series—the Summers-less Double Dare 2000 was not fondly received—the host has taken to emceeing unlicensed versions of the show for locally organized events. Every year, Summers hosts Dunkel Dare, a beer-themed challenge attraction that takes place during Philadelphia’s Beer Week.

12. SUMMERS WAS BELOVED BY SOME MOMS.


Nickelodeon

For years, Summers and Double Dare toured the country, doing live shows for crowds who were eager to try out the obstacles but couldn’t get to Orlando. After the live show, Summers would typically meet with fans to sign autographs. “There were all the mothers who would hand me their telephone numbers during the meet-and-greet after the show and tell me to call them when their husbands weren’t home,” he told People. “There was all sorts of nutty stuff going on.”

13. THEY DIDN’T ENDORSE JUST ANYTHING.

As alien a concept as it may seem today, Nickelodeon didn’t want to slap the Double Dare brand on anything that came along. The show turned down $1 million offered by watchmaker Casio to be the “official” time clock of the series; according to Summers, the network also refused another $1 million to license a Double Dare cereal.

14. THEY DID OFFER A CAR—ONCE.

With a tight budget, the original Double Dare generally kept the threshold for prizes low. In 1987, producers awarded a miniature automobile to a winning team strictly for their own amusement. Said executive producer Geoffrey Darby: “We wanted to be able to hear a kid scream, ‘It’s a new car!’”

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