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FX Network

10 Cold War Terms Used in The Americans

FX Network
FX Network

The latest season of The Americans is wrapping up tonight, so it's time to make like deep-cover 1980s Soviet agents Philip and Elizabeth Jenkins, put on a wig, and take surveillance of these 10 spy and Cold War terms.

1. COLD WAR

Cold war originated as a general term for “a state of political tension and military rivalry between nations that stops short of full-scale war.” The first to use the phrase in print was George Orwell in 1945.

The Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union began sometime around the end of World War II (historians debate this point). During the Reagan and Carter eras, U.S.–Soviet relations deteriorated even further with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; mutual Olympic boycotts (in 1980 and 1984); the development of the Strategic Defense Initiative, derisively known as Star Wars; and the downing of Korean Airlines flight 007.  The Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

2. ARPANET

Initially funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA (later known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, birthplace of creepy robots), the ARPANET was one of the technical foundations of the Internet. In The Americans, Philip bugs the ARPANET to get information about America’s stealth technology.

3. EST

Like the Cold War, est was the epitome of the early 1980s. Standing for Erhard Seminars Training, est was founded in 1971 by “critical thinker” Werner Erhard. The seminars ran until 1984 and were a combination of Zen, Scientology, and Erhard’s contributions that was designed as a “human potential movement.”

Sandra, the wife of CIA agent Stan Beeman, is an est-devotee and eventually leaves her husband for an “est man.” Stan tries to become an est man himself, although without much success. It's not the first time est was on TV: A 1979 Mork & Mindy episode, “Mork Goes Erk,” parodies est with a pre-Late Night David Letterman as Ellsworth, an Erhard-like character.

4. ILLEGALS PROGRAM

The Illegals Program consisted of a ring of sleeper agents who were placed in the U.S. by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. In June 2010, 11 such agents were arrested.

As in The Americans, these spies were living in plain sight: They assumed American identities and did things like enroll in colleges, get jobs, and have kids, all with the goal of infiltrating policy making circles, according to The New York Times; the federal complaint about the spies' activities "read like an old-fashioned cold war thriller":

Spies swapping identical orange bags as they brushed past one another in a train station stairway. An identity borrowed from a dead Canadian, forged passports, messages sent by shortwave burst transmission or in invisible ink. A money cache buried for years in a field in upstate New York. ... [The illegals] also used cyber-age technology ... They embedded coded texts in ordinary-looking images posted on the Internet, and they communicated by having two agents with laptops containing special software pass casually as messages flashed between them.

The show’s creators have said these 2010 arrests were the inspiration for the show. Of course there are some major differences: The Americans takes place during the Cold War, while the real-life arrests were made during a “peaceful” time between the U.S. and Russia. Also, Philip and Elizabeth are much more active than real sleeper agents would ever be.

And in case you were wondering, the term sleeper for an agent originated in the mid-1950s in reference to Communist agents in the west.

5. KGB

KGB stands for Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti, or the "Committee for State Security." The KGB was the Soviet Union’s main security agency from 1954 until 1991, and is often thought of as the Soviet counterpart to America's Central Intelligence Agency. However, the KGB was much bigger than the CIA, encompassing the equivalent of the CIA, the NSA, the Secret Service, parts of the FBI, and more.

6. RE-DOUBLED AGENT

If you think being a double agent is hard, try being a re-doubled agent. A double agent is a spy who’s actually spying for the other side. Nina Krilova, a KGB officer, is forced into being a double agent for CIA agent Beeman. After she confesses to spying for the Americans, she becomes a re-doubled agent—she spies on Beeman for the KGB while Beeman thinks she’s continuing to spy for him.

7. REFUSENIK

A refusenik was someone, especially a Jew, who was refused permission to emigrate from the Soviet Union. Jews faced a long history of persecution in Russia and the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, just requesting an exit visa was grounds for termination from jobs. One Jewish mathematician, Yosef Begun, applied to live in Israel, was fired from his job, convicted of being a “parasite” (the term for able-bodied people who didn’t work), and was sent to Siberia. Some refuseniks became defectors, like scientist Anton Baklanov on the show.

The word refusenik translates from the Russian otkaznik, originally meaning a “Jew who was refused permission to emigrate." In English by the early 1980s, a refusenik was someone who refused to do something as a form of protest.

The suffix -nik first appeared in English around 1945 and comes from the Yiddish and Russian -nik, meaning "person or thing associated with or involved in.” In English, -nik “rocketed to popularity,” as the Online Etymology Dictionary drolly puts it, with sputnik in the 1950s.

8. REZIDENTURA

Rezidentura is Russian lingo for the base of operations for resident spies. A resident spy is an agent operating in a foreign country for long stretches of time, and can be legal or illegal.

A legal resident spy might be an official KGB officer assigned “to supervise Soviet espionage in the States,” according to ThinkProgress, and because they have diplomatic immunity, would simply be expelled from the country if caught. A caught illegal resident would suffer a much harsher fate.

9. STEALTH TECHNOLOGY

Although militaries have been trying to hide themselves from the enemy since the dawn of time, modern stealth technology dates to the development of radar. Early attempts include when the U2 spy plane was coated in a special paint for secret missions over the Soviet Union. But it wasn’t referred to as “stealth” until more recently.

An archaic meaning of the word stealth is “to steal,” while the sense of “secret action” developed in the 14th century. The popularity of the word was in a steady decline from the early 1800s until the early 1980s when it jumped with the advent of the stealth fighter and stealth bomber.

10. VLADIMIR LENIN ALL-UNION PIONEER ORGANIZATION

The Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization was a kind of Soviet Girl and Boy Scouts of America.  Running from 1922 to 1991, it was in theory an honor for the best students, but almost all 10-15 year olds were members. They also had to take an oath that said:

I (name), joining the ranks of the All-Union Pioneer Organization named after Vladimir Ilich Lenin, solemnly swear before my comrades to love my Motherland dearly, live, study, and struggle in a manner bequeathed by the great Lenin and taught by the Communist Party, and to hold sacred the Laws of the Pioneers of the Soviet Union.

Nina fondly recalls her summers in Pioneer camp, especially her nifty Lenin-head pin.

BONUS: SECOND GENERATION ILLEGALS

“Last year the Centre started a program,” handler Claudia tells the Jenkins, “to develop offices they’re calling second generation illegals.”

Such illegal resident spies would be the American-born children of illegals, who with “legitimate” American identities would be able to infiltrate such government offices as the CIA and FBI.

While the Illegals Program was certainly real, could a second generation illegals program exist in real life? Probably not, Harvey Klehr, a professor at Emory and KGB expert, told ThinkProgress.

The KGB has twice tried to recruit the children of their agents—but those agents were legals—and once the son of American KGB couriers. However, soon after he was sent to Harvard on the KGB’s dime, another courier defected and gave up dozens of agents, including Harvard boy’s parents.

As for the children of illegals, the KGB expert says that kids in general can’t be trusted with “the kind of intel they’d need to know in order to be recruited in the first place,” and that they’d inevitably, if inadvertently, give up their parents.

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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Walt Disney Pictures
10 Facts About Hocus Pocus
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Bette Midler said she'd be interested in doing a Hocus Pocus sequel. "You have to go to send in your cards to the Walt Disney company," she said. "The ball's in their court." While you get those cards ready, here are some facts about the original, which arrived in theaters 25 years ago today.

1. THE STORY ORIGINATED AS A BEDTIME STORY.

The story for Hocus Pocus came about after writer David Kirschner invented a bedtime story for his kids. He later wrote the story up and submitted it to Muppet Magazine (why does this not still exist?), where it gained recognition.

2. THE WRITERS USED PROPS TO PITCH IT TO STUDIO EXECUTIVES.

Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
Walt Disney Pictures

To pitch the story to Disney, the writers had execs enter a dark room with broomsticks and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling. They also scattered 15 pounds of candy corn throughout the room in an effort to invoke Halloween nostalgia. It obviously worked!

3. IT WAS NOT AN IMMEDIATE HIT.

Though it’s a cult classic now, Hocus Pocus didn’t do that well when it first came out in 1993, perhaps because it was released in July instead of September or October. Though it didn’t have a terrible opening—$8,125,471, putting it in fourth place at the box office that weekend—it fell to $2,017,688 a few weeks later, and bad reviews from the critics didn’t help matters.

Entertainment Weekly was particularly put off by the movie, calling it a “piece of corny slapstick trash” and saying that “It’s acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they’re Bette Midler fans. In which case it’s depressing as hell.”

4. BETTE MIDLER LOVES IT.

Bette Midler, by the way, has said that Hocus Pocus is her favorite film out of all of the films she’s ever done. (At least as of 2008.) Thora Birch agreed, recently saying, “The most fun I ever had on a film was Hocus Pocus.”

5. KATHY NAJIMY LOVES IT, TOO.

Midler isn't the only star of the film who isn't immune to its allure: Kathy Najimy has said she watches the movie with her family every year on August 15.

6. IT COULD HAVE STARRED LEONARDO DICAPRIO.

The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. He turned it down to do What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

7. SARAH JESSICA PARKER IS RELATED TO A WOMAN FAMOUSLY ACCUSED OF BEING A WITCH.

Had Sarah Jessica Parker known then what she knows now, she might have approached the role of Sarah Sanderson a little differently. When the actress went on the show Who Do You Think You Are to trace her family history, Parker discovered that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, one of the women accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. After a young girl said she saw Esther’s “spectre” strangling neighbor Mary Fitch, Elwell was arrested, but escaped going to trial.

8. THORA BIRCH REVISITED THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN AMERICAN BEAUTY.

While the kids are prematurely celebrating victory against the Sanderson sisters after locking them in the kiln, they’re shown talking in front of a house as they walk to a park. The house was later used as the house Thora Birch’s character lived in for American Beauty.

9. THE KIDS WEREN'T HUGE FANS OF THE CATS.

The kids all hated working with the cats. Many different cats were used to represent Binx, and each one served a different purpose—one was good at cuddling with the kids, one would jump on command, etc. Every time a new cat was used, the children would have to coerce the kitty to trust them by using treats and a clicker. They got sick of it.

10. MUCH OF THE ORIGINAL CAST REUNITED FOR A 20TH REUNION.

Most of the cast participated in a 20th anniversary event for D23 (the Disney fan club) members. Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler were not in attendance, but pretty much everyone else was, including Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Omri Katz (Max), Thora Birch (Dani), and Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson). You can watch some of that reunion above.

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