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WWI Centennial: Gallipoli

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 179th installment in the series. 

April 25, 1915: Gallipoli, Armenian Genocide Begins 

One of the bloodiest fights of the Great War, the Battle of Gallipoli began with amphibious landings conducted by British, Australian, and New Zealand troops in the face of ferocious Turkish resistance on April 25, 1915. Over the next eight months, as they tried and failed to conquer the peninsula in hopes of capturing the Ottoman capital at Constantinople, the British and colonial troops (later reinforced by French units) would suffer an incredible 252,000 casualties, while the Turks lost a roughly equivalent number. Within these figures, 45,000 Allied troops and 86,000 Turkish troops were killed. 

This tragedy, in which the colonial troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) suffered disproportionate losses under British command, would become one of the defining moments in the formation of distinct national identities for those Dominions, setting the stage for their eventual independence from the mother country. On the other side Gallipoli played an equally important role in the formation of a new Turkish identity, as ordinary soldiers sacrificed their lives in droves to protect the Turkish homeland; one of the heroes of Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal, would go on to found the modern Republic of Turkey on the ruins of the old Ottoman Empire, winning the honorific “Atatürk” (“Father of the Turks”) from a reverent Turkish parliament (below, Kemal at Gallipoli). 

“We Shall Get a Very Bad Knock” 

The disaster at Gallipoli resulted from a series of bad decisions (and indecision) on the part of the British government, including Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, Secretary of War Lord Kitchener, and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, as well as First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher, the overall commander of the Royal Navy. Beginning in the winter of 1915, the British leaders committed themselves to an ill-conceived plan to force the Turkish straits and capture Constantinople with naval power alone. However when repeated attempts failed at significant cost, instead of throwing in the towel they doubled down, sending a force 70,000 ground troops to mount a multipart amphibious invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula, in order to clear the Turkish coastal defenses on the straits from landward. 

The problem was that over two months elapsed between the first naval bombardment on February 19, 1915, and the amphibious invasion on April 25, 1915 – giving the Turks plenty of time to prepare formidable defenses at Gallipoli. They were aided by their German allies, as Otto Liman von Sanders, the head of the pre-war German military mission to Turkey, took command of the Turkish Fifth Army, and German engineers directed the construction of defensive works. 

Many Allied officers predicted that the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force under General Sir Ian Hamilton would run into trouble. On April 16 a British officer, Aubrey Herbert, went to lunch with his colleagues at the Allied base on the Greek island of Mudros and later wrote in his diary: “The talk was, of course, about the landing. A friend of mine said: ‘This is a terrible business; entire Staffs will be wiped out.’” Five days later Herbet confided: “The general impression is that we shall get a very bad knock, and that it may well set the war back a year…” In the same vein another British officer, Oswin Creighton, wrote on April 22: 

It seems a perfectly desperate undertaking. I can hardly expect to see many of my men alive again. My present feeling is that the whole thing has been bungled. The Navy should never have started the bombardment without the Army. Now there has been no bombardment for some weeks. Meanwhile the Turks, under German direction, have perfected their defences. The aerial reconnaissance reports acres of barbed wire, labyrinths of trenches, concealed guns, maxims and howitzers everywhere. The ground is mined. In fact, every conceivable thing has been done. Our men have to be towed in little open boats to land in the face of all this… Slaughter seems to be inevitable. 

This prophecy proved all too accurate.

Blood on the Beach 

In the early morning of April 25, 1915, the first wave of around 35,000 British and colonial troops in the 29th Division and ANZAC force marshaled on the decks of their troop transports and then climbed down rope ladders into smaller landing craft that were tied together in long lines, bow to stern. 

Beginning at 5am small steamboats towed the lines of landing craft towards a number of landing spots (designated S Beach, V Beach, W Beach, X Beach, and Y Beach) on Cape Hellas at the tip of the Gallipoli peninsula, as well as on the west side of the peninsula at Kabatepe, the intended site of the ANZAC landing. The landing at V Beach also included an armored steamer, the River Clyde, carrying around 2,000 troops who were supposed to exit via pontoon gangways laid on small boats. 

Although the Allies succeeded in landing unopposed at Y Beach (where the landing party found itself facing sheer cliffs, and was later withdrawn) the other landings ran into a hail of fire from the Turkish artillery, machine guns, and rifles on shore, and naval bombardment by the Allied fleet proved unable to silence the Turkish defenses as hoped. 

In many places the Turks waited until the last minute before opening fire, then laid down a devastating fusillade against the helpless troops, still trapped on the boats and encumbered with heavy packs. Some naval officers in charge of landing the boats reached the beach and turned around to help the troops disembark, only to find everyone already dead. William Ewing, a British medical officer who witnessed the landing at V Beach, recalled: 

Not a shot was fired by the enemy until the River Clyde grounded and the tows touched the shore. The shells from the ships had left the defences practically unimpaired, save for the big guns in the forts. A tempest of lead burst from the slopes and trenches, lashing the water round the boats to the whiteness of foam. The sea quickly changed to a more awful hue. 

By 9 am, Ewing estimated, “Of the 1000 men who up till now had left the ship about 500 were either killed or wounded.” Meanwhile the boats carrying the ANZAC troops drifted about a mile north of their intended landing spot at Kabatepe, and achieved a landing against sporadic but fierce resistance. An anonymous soldier who took part in the ANZAC landing later wrote in his diary:

Over the sides of the boats dived and rolled those splendid infantrymen, their bayonets already fixed… In sixes and sevens, in tens and twenties, in platoons, in half-companies – just as they tumbled out of the boats – those great-hearted fellows dashed up the beach and into that sickening inferno. They didn’t fire a shot; they didn’t waste a single second. They just flung their heavy packs form their shoulders, bent their heads to the storm, and with every inch of pace at their command they charged the Turkish trenches, some fifty yards distant. 

The ANZAC troops managed to push the first Turkish lines back and then pursued them inland, advancing toward their main objective for the day. In fact, if they had succeeded in capturing two key ridges, called Chunuk Bahr and Sari Bahr, they would be in a position to dominate the peninsula and clinch an Allied victory. But now Mustafa Kemal, commanding the 19th Division in reserve on the other side of the peninsula, mounted an immediate counterattack without waiting for orders. Kemal’s orders to his troops were simple, grim, and dramatic: “I am not ordering you to fight, I am ordering you to die. In the time it takes us to die, other troops and commanders can come and take our places.” In desperate fighting, the Turks forced the ANZAC troops back to the shore, where they dug in and held on desperately. The same anonymous ANZAC soldier wrote in his diary: 

No man who took part in that retirement will ever forget it. Overhead burst the shells, underfoot the dust rose and the twigs snapped as the unending rain of rifle, machine-gun, and shrapnel bullets zipped! and spattered around. Men fell fast, killed and wounded; every temporary stand we made was marked by little groups of grotesquely postured khaki-clad forms still with the stillness of death… Time after time we tried to dig ourselves in. In vain! The line had to be shortened, else we should be outflanked by the enormously superior forces opposed to us. 

The situation wasn’t much better at the Cape Hellas landing sites (with the exception of Y Beach, where the troops in the landing party were kicking their heels with no idea what was going on elsewhere). Herbert recalled: 

We were being shot at from three sides. All that morning we kept moving. There were lines of men clinging like cockroaches under the cliffs or moving silent as the guns on the right and left enfiladed us. The only thing to be done was to dig in as soon as possible, but a good many men were shot while doing this... I believe that, had it been possible, we should have re-embarked that night, but the sacrifices involved would have been too great. 

Allies Attack, Turks Counterattack 

On the following day, April 26, the ANZAC troops continued digging in, while the British troops fought their way forward from the beaches on Cape Hellas and finally joined forces on the tip of the peninsula. Meanwhile the next wave of roughly 35,000 troops was landing, along with a French force which had briefly occupied the town of Kumkale on the other side of the Dardanelles.

On April 28 Hamilton ordered a renewed attack on the Turkish positions at Krithia, a small village on the slopes above Cape Hellas. Once again the casualties were appalling on both sides, with the wounded often left to suffer stoically for hours or even days before they could be evacuated. Arthur Ruhl, an American correspondent who was observing the battle from the Turkish side, recalled the mute suffering of ordinary Turkish soldiers (below): 

During the early fighting on the peninsula the wounded came up to Constantinople, after days on the way, in wagons, perhaps, over horrible roads, in commandeered ferry-boats and freighters, yet one scarcely heard a sound, a murmur of complaint.  Gray and gaunt, with the mud of the trenches still on them, they would be helped into ambulances and driven off to the hospitals, silent themselves and through crowds as silent as those which had watched them march away a few weeks before. 

On May 1 Turkish War Minister Enver Pasha order a major counterattack, with both sides suffering huge casualties as the Turks tried to push the invading force into the sea. The anonymous ANZAC soldier wrote in his diary:

Men fought that day stripped to the waist; fought till their rifles jammed, picked up another – and went on fighting. Men with broken legs refused to leave the trench, cursing those who would have assisted them – went on firing until a second bullet crippled their rifle arm. Yet still they clung on, handing up clips of cartridges to their mates… Thus it went on from before dawn till towards evening. Charge and counter-charge, till men reeled from sheer exhaustion, and their blood-clotted weapons slipped from hands sticky with the same red paint. 

The same soldier recorded a shocking scene in the ANZAC trenches: 

We were also so clogged up with dead in our trenches that to make room for the living we had to throw the bodies out over the back. In many cases where our line was cut on the edge of the ridge these bodies rolled right down to the foot of the cliff… In one place quite a little stack of bodies had been huddled together on one side of the track; there might have been eighteen or twenty in the lot. Owing to the water running down this stack began to move, and kept on moving till it blocked the track up altogether… eventually a fatigue party had to be told off to build up the bodies as you would build sheaves on a wagon. 

The French division which had landed on the eastern end of Cape Hellas found itself plunged into the hellish fighting as well. One French officer, Joseph Vassal, later recorded his impressions in a letter to his English wife: “Artillery cases, dead men, dead horses, police, doctors, above all guns which thundered and deafened us… During the night from 2nd to 3rd May one regiment alone spent 40,000 cartridges… I went to the beach, where shells were still falling continually. Fountains of earth, fountains of water. Nine horses killed, two men.” 

But the attacks and counterattacks failed to make much of an impact either way, and by mid-May the situation at Gallipoli was already settling into a deadly stalemate. Hamilton and Sanders both called for reinforcements, which they duly received, promising even more grinding attrition in the months to come. The nightmare at Gallipoli was only beginning.

Armenian Genocide Begins 

As the Allies prepared their invasion of Gallipoli, the government of the Young Turks was already setting in motion their plan to wipe out the Armenians, whom they suspected of aiding the Russian advance in the Caucasus region. Mounting persecution in early April foreshadowed much worse violence to come. Four years later, the former American ambassador to Constantinople, Henry Morgenthau, would recall the beginning of the purge in eastern Anatolia during the spring of 1915: 

On April 15th, about 500 young Armenian men of Akantz were mustered to hear an order of the Sultan; at sunset they were marched outside the town and every man shot in cold blood. The procedure was repeated in about eighty Armenian villages in the district north of Lake Van, and in three days 24,000 Armenians were murdered in this atrocious fashion. 

Although mass murders were already taking place, many historians date the genocide to April 24, 1915, when the Turkish secret police rounded up around 250 leading Armenian public figures in Constantinople, including intellectuals, writers and journalists – the leaders of the Armenian community – placing them under arrest and detaining them without cause or on trumped up charges. Over the next few weeks they were joined by around another 2,000 Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople and elsewhere. All the detained individuals were then deported to detention centers near Ankara in central Anatolia. Almost all of them were later killed. 

This was just the first blow in a wider campaign against the entire Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. Although the process varied from place to place across the empire, typically local Turkish officials would first disarm Armenian men and arrest their local leaders, who were often tortured and killed. Then the officials and ordinary citizens would confiscate Armenian property and homes, and the Armenians would be “deported,” supposedly to other destinations in central Anatolia and later the Syrian desert. 

However the deportations were in effect death marches. Sometimes groups of Armenians would simply be marched into the countryside and shot by the Turkish secret service, the Teşkilât-ı Mahsusa or “Special Organization.” On other occasions columns of deportees would be set upon in the countryside by Turkish or Kurdish bandits. Older, sick, or disabled people who couldn’t keep up were often the first to be killed, as “stragglers.” An American missionary, Henry H. Riggs, was returning to his mission from a visit to Diyarbekir in May 1915 when he encountered a column of refugees: 

They were under guard… As I passed, one man, looking at me quickly, lifted four fingers. That was all, and for a time I could not imagine what his signal was intended to convey. I sound found out, however. In a few minutes I came to a spot where the dust had hardly absorbed a pool of fresh blood. A trail through the dust from the scene of the tragedy to the edge of the bluff beside the road showed plainly enough where the body had been dragged from the road and dropped into the river which flowed just under the bluff. A little further on… [t]here lay the bodies of two elderly Armenians… A little further on yet, we passed the fourth ghastly trophy of that march of exiles. 

Other methods of mass killing included herding groups of victims off cliffs, forcing them to dig their own graves and then burying them alive, and drowning in rivers or lakes. The British diplomat and historian Arnold Toynbee quoted a report written by a German missionary about a mass drowning in May 1915: 

Between the 10th and 30th May, 1,200 of the most prominent Armenians and other Christians, without distinction of confession, were arrested in the Vilayets of Diyarbekir and Mamouret-ul-Aziz… On the 30th May, 674 of them were embarked on thirteen Tigris barges, under the pretext that they were to be taken to Mosul… A short time after the start the prisoners were stripped of all their money… and then of their clothes; after that they were thrown in the river. The gendarmes on the bank were ordered to let none of them escape.

The same report went on: 

For a whole month corpses were observed floating down the River Euphrates nearly every day, often in batches of from two to six corpses bound together. The male corpses are in many cases hideously mutilated (sexual organs cut off, and so on), the female corpses are ripped open… The corpses stranded on the bank are devoured by dogs and vultures. To this fact there are many German eyewitnesses.

See the previous installment, next installment, or all entries.

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11 Magical Facts About Willow
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Five years after the release of Return of the Jedi (1983) and four years after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), George Lucas gave audiences the story for another film about an unlikely hero on an epic journey, but this time he had three Magic Acorns and a taller friend instead of a whip and gun to help him along. Willow (1988) was directed by Ron Howard and starred former Ewok and future Leprechaun, Warwick Davis.

Over the past few decades, Willow—which was released 30 years ago today—has become a cult classic that's been passed down from generation to generation. Before you sit down to explore that world again (or for the first time), here are 11 things you might not have know about Willow.

1. IT WAS WRITTEN FOR WARWICK DAVIS.

In an interview with The A.V. Club, Warwick Davis revealed that George Lucas first mentioned the idea for the film to Davis’s mother during the filming of one of the Ewok TV specials in 1983, in which he was reprising his role as Wicket. Lucas had been developing the idea for more than a decade at that point, but working with Davis on Return of the Jedi helped him realize the vision. “George just simply said that he had this idea, and he was writing this story, with me in mind,” Davis said. “He didn't say at that time that it was going to be called Willow. He said, 'It's not for quite yet; it's for a few years ahead, when Warwick is a bit older.'" The role was Davis’s first time not wearing a mask or costume on screen.

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED MUNCHKINS.

Five years after he mentioned the idea, Lucas was ready to make his film with Ron Howard directing and a then-17-year-old Davis as the lead. The original title was presumably inspired by the characters from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the subsequent Victor Fleming film.

3. IT WAS CRITICIZED FOR BEING A COPY OF STAR WARS.

Having thought of the two worlds simultaneously, Lucas may have cribbed some of his own work and other well-known stories a little too much for Willow, and some critics noticed. “Without anything like [Star Wars’s] eager, enthusiastic tone, and indeed with an understandable weariness, Willow recapitulates images from Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, Gulliver's Travels, Mad Max, Peter Pan, Star Wars itself, The Hobbit saga, Japanese monster films of the 1950s, the Bible, and a million fairy tales," wrote Janet Maslin of The New York Times. "One tiny figure combines the best attributes of Tinkerbell, the Good Witch Glinda, and the White Rock Girl.”

Later in her review, Maslin continued to point out the similarities between the two films: “When the sorcerer tells Willow to follow his heart, he becomes the Obi-Wan Kenobi of a film that also has its Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3P0 and Princess Leia stand-ins. Much energy has gone into the creation of their names, some of which (General Kael) have recognizable sources and others (Burglekutt, Cherlindrea, Airk) have only tongue-twisting in mind. Not even the names have anything like Star Wars-level staying power.”

4. IT WAS THE LARGEST CASTING CALL FOR LITTLE PEOPLE IN MOVIE HISTORY.

Lucas has previously cast several little people for roles in Return of the Jedi, and there were more than 100 actors hired to portray Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. But, according to Davis, the casting call for Willow was the largest ever at the time with between 225 and 240 actors hired for the film.

5. THE DEATH DOGS WERE REAL DOGS IN COSTUME.

The big bad in the film, Bavmorda, has demon dogs that terrorize Willow’s village. The dogs are more boar-like than canine, but they were portrayed by Rottweilers. The prop team outfitted the dogs with rubber masks and used animatronic heads for close-up scenes.

6. IT WAS THE FIRST USE OF MORPHING IN A FILM.

While trying to use magic to turn an animal back into a human, Willow fails several times before eventually getting it right, but he does succeed in turning the animal into another animal, which is shown in stages. To achieve this, the visual effects teamed used a technique known as "morphing."

The film’s visual effects supervisor, Dennis Muren of Industrial Light & Magic, explained the technique to The Telegraph:

The way things had been up till that time, if a character had to change at some way from a dog into a person or something like that it could be done with a series of mechanical props. You would have to cut away to a person watching it, and then cut back to another prop which is pushing the ears out, for example, so it didn't look fake ... we shot five different pieces of film, of a goat, an ostrich, a tiger, a tortoise, and a woman and had one actually change into the shape of the other one without having to cut away. The technique is much more realistic because the cuts are done for dramatic reasons, rather than to stop it from looking bad.”

7. THE STORY WAS CONTINUED IN SEVERAL NOVELS.

Willow has yet to receive a sequel, but fans of the story can return to the world in a trilogy of books that author Chris Claremont wrote in collaboration with Lucas between 1995 and 2000. According to the Amazon synopsis of Shadow Moon, the first book picks up 13 years after the events of the film, and baby Elora Danan’s friendless upbringing has turned her into a “spoiled brat who seemingly takes joy in making miserable the lives around her. The fate of the Great Realms rests in her hands, and she couldn't care less. Only a stranger can lead her to her destiny.”

8. THERE IS A MISSING SCENE CONCERNING THE MAGIC ACORNS.

Hardcore fans of the film have noticed that there is a continuity error that involves the Magic Acorns Willow was given by the High Aldwin. During an interview with The Empire Podcast, Davis explained that in a scene near the end of the film, he throws a second acorn and is inexplicably out after having only used two of the three Magic Acorns he had been given earlier in the film. Included in the Blu-ray release is the cut scene, in which Willow uses an acorn (his second) in a boat during a storm and accidentally turns the boat to stone. Davis says that his hair is wet in the next scene that did make it into the original version of the film, but the acorn is never referenced.

9. JOHN CUSACK AUDITIONED FOR THE PART OF MADMARTIGAN.

Val Kilmer in 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Val Kilmer famously played the role of the reluctant hero two years after played Iceman in Top Gun (1986), but he was not the only big name to audition for the role. Davis revealed in a commentary track that he once read with John Cusack, who in 1987 had already starred in Sixteen Candles (1984), Stand by Me (1986), and Hot Pursuit (1987).

10. THERE IS A NOD TO SISKEL AND EBERT.

During a battle scene later in the film, Willow and his compatriots have to fight a two-headed beast outside of the castle. The name of the stop motion beast is the Eborsisk, which is a combination of the names of famed film critics, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.

11. THE BABY NEVER ACTED AGAIN.

A scene from 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

As is the case with most shows and films, the role of the baby Elora was played by twins, in this case Kate and Ruth Greenfield. The IMDb pages for both actresses only has the one credit. In 2007, Davis shared a picture of him posing with a woman named Laura Hopkirk, who said that she played the baby for the scenes shot in New Zealand, but she is not credited online.

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30 Things You Might Not Know About Cheers
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On May 20, 1993—25 years ago today—television audiences said farewell to Sam Malone, the fictional Red Sox pitcher-turned-proprietor of Cheers. Though it's the Boston bar where everybody knows your name, there’s plenty you probably don’t know about the classic sitcom, which spent 11 seasons on the air.

1. CHEERS ALMOST DIDN’T MAKE IT THROUGH SEASON ONE.

Like many of television’s greatest success stories (e.g. Seinfeld), Cheers was not an immediate hit. It premiered on September 30, 1982 to dismal ratings—77th place out of 100 shows that week, according to Nielsen. It was NBC’s entertainment president at the time, Brandon Tartikoff, who saved the show from cancellation during its first season.

2. THE BULL & FINCH PUB, ON WHICH CHEERS IS MODELED, IS NOW CALLED CHEERS

Talk about life imitating art. After it was decided that the series would be set in a bar instead of a hotel, co-creators Glen and Les Charles decided the locale should be moved to New England. “Boston was chosen partially because only five short-lived television shows claimed the city and the East Coast pubs were real neighborhood hangouts,” wrote Dennis A. Bjorklund in his book, Toasting Cheers.

As the show’s popularity rose, it didn’t take long for word to spread that the Beacon Hill tavern was the “real” Cheers (though only the exterior shots were filmed there), turning the neighborhood hangout into a tourist attraction. To satisfy the masses, a second location—this one was actually called "Cheers" and featuring a replica of the bar viewers were used to—was opened in nearby Faneuil Hall in 2001. One year later, the Bull & Finch officially changed its name to Cheers.

3. SAM MALONE WAS ORIGINALLY A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER.

In the script’s earliest incarnations, Sam Malone was an ex-football player, which made sense considering that Fred Dryer—the former NFL defensive end who would go on to star in Hunter—was a top choice to play the role of Sam (opposite Julia Duffy as Diane; William Devane was also a strong contender). Ultimately, it was the chemistry between Ted Danson and Shelley Long that led to them getting the gigs. Once the casting was finalized, the creators swapped out football for baseball, based on Danson’s body type.

4. TED DANSON ATTENDED BARTENDING SCHOOL.

Danson spent two weeks at a bartending school in Burbank, California as part of his training to play Sam.

5. NORM AND CLIFF WEREN’T INTENDED TO BE REGULAR CHARACTERS.

Both George Wendt and John Ratzenberger auditioned for the same role in the pilot, a minor character named George who had a single line: “Beer!” The character’s name was changed to Norm Peterson when Wendt was cast. But Ratzenberger wasn’t about to give up so easily. “As I was leaving the office after the audition, I turned around and asked them, ‘Do you have a bar know-it-all?,’” the Bridgeport, Connecticut-born Ratzenberger recalled to Ability Magazine. “None of the creators was from New England. They were all Hollywood-centered. And I said, ‘Well, every local bar in New England has got a know-it-all—someone who pretends to have the knowledge of all mankind between his ears and is not shy about sharing it.’” Thus, Cliff Clavin was born.

6. NORM PETERSON IS BASED ON A REAL GUY.

In 2012, co-creator Les Charles told GQ that Norm was based on a real person. “I worked at a bar after college, and we had a guy who came in every night. He wasn't named Norm, [but he] was always going to have just one beer, and then he'd say, ‘Maybe I'll just have one more.’ We had to help him out of the bar every night. His wife would call, and he'd always say, ‘Tell her I'm not here.’”

7. NORM’S NEVER-SEEN WIFE VERA IS VOICED BY GEORGE WENDT’S REAL WIFE.

Though she’s only credited in one episode, George Wendt’s wife, Bernadette Birkett, provided the voice for Norm’s wife, Vera. Birkett did make one appearance on the show—as a love interest of Cliff’s—in season three.

8. JOHN RATZENBERGER IMPROVISED MANY OF CLIFF’S FUN FACTS.

Many of the random (and untrue) facts that Cliff Clavin offers up were ad libbed by Ratzenberger. “After a couple of years on the show they realized they could trust me not to mess it up,” Ratzenberger told Deseret News in 1993. “So little by little they've let me just sort of run off. Because I know when to stop … It's easy to improvise comedy. It really is. But the art is knowing when to shut up and let other people talk. That's a hard thing to learn.”

9. SOME OF THE DIALOGUE CAME FROM REAL BAR CONVERSATIONS.

In order to nail the bar talk aspect of the series, the creators regularly visited bars in the Los Angeles area to eavesdrop on patrons’ conversations. In the series premiere, there’s an argument about the sweatiest movie ever made, which was lifted from one of these overheard conversations.

10. CHEERS WASN’T AFRAID TO TACKLE SOCIAL ISSUES.

Cheers’ writers never shied away from taboo topics such as alcoholism or homosexuality, through they always had a sense of humor about them. The season one episode “The Boys in the Bar,” in which one of Sam’s former teammates announces that he is gay, earned writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs a GLAAD Media Award.

11. PLANS FOR AN HIV SCARE FOR SAM HAD TO BE ABANDONED.

In 1988, the Writers Guild of America went on strike, which meant that several planned episodes of the series were never filmed. Among them was a season six cliffhanger in which Sam learns that a former girlfriend is HIV positive.

12. RHEA WASN’T THE ONLY PERLMAN ON THE SET.

Rhea Perlman wasn’t the only member of her family to grace the set of Cheers. Her younger sister, Heide, produced more than two dozen episodes between 1985 and 1986 and wrote several episodes throughout the show’s run. Perlman’s father, Phil, played one of the bar regulars (named Phil).

13. JAY THOMAS MURDERED EDDIE LEBEC.


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When character actor Jay Thomas wasn’t portraying Carla’s Bruin-turned-ice-show-performer husband Eddie LeBec, he was the host of a popular morning radio show in Los Angeles. Which is exactly what led to his character being killed off rather prematurely by way of Zamboni. “A few episodes of recurring bliss and then one day on Jay’s radio show, a caller asked him what it was like to be on Cheers,” recounted writer Ken Levine. “He said something to the effect of, ‘It’s brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman.’ Well, guess who happened to be listening ... Jay Thomas was never seen on Cheers again.”

14. A CHEERS MINI-EPISODE WAS PRODUCED FOR THE U.S. TREASURY.

Early in Cheers’ run, its creators were contracted by the U.S. Treasury to create a special mini-episode to promote the purchase of U.S. savings bonds. Titled “Uncle Sam Malone,” the episode never aired on television nor is it included on any of the DVDs; it was intended to be screened for promotional purposes at savings bond drives only.

15. A “LOST” SCENE ALSO AIRED AS PART OF THE 1983 SUPER BOWL XVII PREGAME SHOW.

Back in early 1983, writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs wrote a special one-off scene to air before Super Bowl XVII in which Sam, Diane, Carla, Norm, Cliff, and NBC announcer Pete Axthelm bet on who will win the big game. “They ran it just before game time and it was seen by 80,000,000 people,” Levine recalled of the spot on his blog. “Nothing we've ever written before or since has been seen by that many eyeballs at one time. But the scene was never repeated. It never appeared on any DVDs. It just disappeared.” (Until now: You can watch it at the link above.)

16. TED DANSON WORE A HAIRPIECE TO PLAY HAIR-OBSESSED SAM


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A fact that became apparent when he accepted the Emmy—sans hairpiece—in 1990. In the 1993 episode “It’s Lonely on the Top,” Sam shares his follicular challenge with Carla.

17. VIEWERS FREQUENTLY COMPLAINED ABOUT THE VOLUME OF THE LAUGH TRACK, EVEN THOUGH THERE WAS NO LAUGH TRACK.

In 1983, a quick disclaimer—spoken by one of the regular cast members—was added to the beginning of each episode: “Cheers was filmed before a live studio audience.” This was a direct response to viewer complaints that the “laugh track” was too loud.

18. THE PART OF FRASIER WAS WRITTEN FOR JOHN LITHGOW.


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After recent roles in All That Jazz, Blow Out, and The World According to Garp (for which he received his first of two consecutive Oscar nominations), Lithgow was not interested in working on the small screen. “I just said, 'No,’” Lithgow recalled to The Hollywood Reporter. “I barely even remembered that … It was like swatting away a fly … I just wasn’t going to do a series.”

19. KELSEY GRAMMER PLAYED FRASIER CRANE FOR 20 YEARS.

Grammer made his Cheers debut in the third season premiere in 1984. Though he was intended to be a short-lived character, Crane’s popularity with audiences led to him becoming a series regular. Four months after Cheers ended in May of 1993, Frasier made its debut (on the redesigned Cheers stage, no less) and ran for its own 11 seasons. Grammer’s two-decade run as the pretentious psychiatrist is a record-breaking one for an American comedy actor.

20. TONY SOPRANO'S MOM PLAYED FRASIER'S MOM, TOO.


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Nancy Marchand's character threatened to kill Diane. The role of Frasier's mom was played by Tom Hanks' wife Rita Wilson in a 2001 Frasier flashback.

21. KIRSTIE ALLEY IS THE ONLY MAIN CHARACTER WHO DIDN’T MAKE A GUEST APPEARANCE ON FRASIER.

Throughout Frasier’s 11-season run, Kirstie Alley was the only one of Cheers’ main actors to not make an appearance on the popular spinoff, possibly because the psychiatric profession conflicts with her beliefs as a Scientologist. “Kirstie once said ... she'd never do a show about a psychiatrist,” Kelsey Grammer told Entertainment Weekly in 2002.

22. FRASIER’S DAD WAS MAGICALLY RESURRECTED FOR THE SPINOFF.

When Frasier talked about his family on Cheers, he noted that his father—also a well-respected psychiatrist—had passed away. Yet his ex-cop dad, played by John Mahoney, is a main character in Frasier. Incidentally, Mahoney made a one-off appearance in Cheers’ eleventh season, as a fast-talking jingle writer named Sy Flembeck:

23. NORM’S FIRST NAME IS HILLARY.

His full name is Hillary Norman Peterson.

24. THAT WOODY PLAYED WOODY WAS A TOTAL COINCIDENCE.

Though many of the non-regular bar patrons’ real names were used in filming, that Woody Harrelson ended up playing Woody Boyd is by sheer coincidence. The character’s name was written into the script long before any actors had auditioned for the role.

25. NORM DRANK “NEAR BEER.”

The bar on the set may have been fully functional, but that doesn’t mean the cast got to spend the day throwing back cold ones. Norm may have had it the worst. As the bar’s resident lush, he’s rarely seen without a sudsy glass of beer in his hand. But what’s really in that glass is “near beer,” a weakened strain of ale mixed with a bit of salt to keep a perfect head on the glass at all times. Which Wendt unfortunately had to consume on more than one occasion.

26. THE SHOW HELPED PROMOTE THE IDEA OF A DESIGNATED DRIVER.

It was important to the producers of Cheers that no tipsy bar patron ever drove him or herself home, so there are frequent references to calling cabs and designated drivers. The Harvard Alcohol Project had a hand in spreading this message.

27. SAM AND DIANE DID GET MARRIED AT THE END OF SEASON FIVE.

Because Cheers was filmed in front of a live studio audience, the producers had to occasionally trick the audience so that show developments weren’t leaked. In order to keep Shelley Long’s departure from the series a secret, the live audience saw Sam and Diane get married at the end of season five. The real ending—which sees Diane leaving for six months to finish her book, only to return for a guest appearance in the final season—was filmed on a closed set.

28. CHEERS HABLA ESPAÑOL.

In September 2011, a Spanish version of the series—also called Cheers—made its debut. It starred Alberto San Juan as a former soccer player turned Irish pub owner and ran for just one season.

29. THE END OF THE SHOW IS ALL TED DANSON’S FAULT.

Though understandably so. When Danson announced that he’d be leaving the series at the end of the 1992-1993 season, producers decided that Woody could take over the bar. But Woody Harrelson wasn’t interested in continuing the show without Danson, and so its series finale was set.

30. THE CAST AND CREW GOT REALLY, REALLY DRUNK FOR THEIR SENDOFF.

NBC made a major event of the series finale, with cast and crew celebrating at Boston’s Bull & Finch Pub, where thousands of fans gathered outside to watch the show on two Jumbotrons. Then the drinks started flowing … and flowing … and flowing. “The show ended at eleven,” Ken Levine wrote in a 2013 remembrance of the evening for Vulture. “The next half-hour was an emotional tsunami. Everyone was hugging and crying and doing a lot of drinking. We were all completely wrecked.”

Then it was time for the cast to make an appearance on The Tonight Show. “The cast, in no condition to face anybody, much less 40 million people, dutifully trooped downstairs to do the live show,” Levine continued. “Us non-celeb types stayed back and watched on TV … in horror. They were so drunk they needed designated walkers. They giggled like schoolgirls over nothing, fired spitballs into each other’s mouths, squirted water guns, Woody Harrelson implied he gave oral sex to both Ted Danson and Oliver Stone, and Kirstie Alley sang a song where the only lyric was ‘dick, dick, dick.’”

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