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15 Things You Might Not Know About The Green Mile

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Remembered for its long runtime, for launching Michael Clarke Duncan into stardom, and for being one of the few adaptations of his writing that Stephen King actually enjoyed, the 1999 film The Green Mile has certainly left its mark on contemporary cinema. Here are a few things you may not have known about the heartwarming and occasionally bone-chilling fantasy film. 

1. TWO CENTRAL CHARACTERS ALMOST WENT TO DIFFERENT ACTORS. 

Although director Frank Darabont cast Tom Hanks in the lead role of Warden Paul Edgecomb (a choice that delighted author Stephen King) fairly early in production, the director reportedly offered the part to John Travolta, who turned Darabont down. Additionally, the supporting role of Wild Bill Wharton, the rambunctious psychopath played by Sam Rockwell, was shopped to Josh Brolin at one point.

2. BRUCE WILLIS HELPED CAST A STARRING ROLE. 

The character John Coffey’s unique blend of imposing stature and gentle demeanor made casting the part a tricky task. Luckily, Bruce Willis had the right man for the job. Upon hearing of the casting search for the character, Willis was sure his friend and Armageddon costar Michael Clarke Duncan was a perfect fit for the role. Willis used his A-list pull to contact Darabont and suggest his greenhorn friend for the film. 

3. TOM HANKS NEARLY PLAYED HIS “OLDER SELF.”

The story of Hanks’s character Paul’s experiences as a death row warden in 1935 is bookended by two sequences set in 1999 in which a much older Paul introduces and concludes the narrative. Eighty-two-year-old Dabbs Greer played the older incarnation of the character in his final big screen role. Before the casting of Greer, however, the plan was for Hanks to play the “Old Paul Edgecomb” part himself. But the makeup team couldn't manage to transform Hanks into a believable centenarian, so Greer was wrangled for the position. 

4. THERE WAS MORE THAN ONE MR. JINGLES. 

Between 15 and 30 trained mice were used to portray the clever ward mascot Mr. Jingles, in addition to animatronics and CGI effects. (Thankfully, the latter techniques were utilized in the scene when Mr. Jingles suffers the wrath of the malicious Percy Wetmore.) The mice were coaxed to their marks with small dishes of food. 

5. DUNCAN’S STAND-IN SNUCK ONTO SET TO GET THE JOB. 

While Duncan had little trouble landing his Green Mile gig after Willis’s endorsement, one particular crewmember had to jump through a few hoops … or stow away in the back of a few trucks. Rodney Barnes, an aspiring producer and writer who had been working as a production assistant and set security guard, hoped that by playing stand-in for Duncan he would be able to meet his hero, Stephen King. Barnes recalls hiding out in the back of a prop police vehicle to sneak onto the film's set, a caper that impressed Darabont enough to land him the gig.

6. DARABONT ALLEGEDLY THREW A DOGHOUSE ON SET. 

Production concluded approximately one month behind schedule, which would frustrate any director. A rumor about Darabont’s growing irritation alleged that the director threw a tantrum on set, lifting and hurling a prop doghouse in a fit of rage. Darabont actually addressed this story during the movie’s audio commentary featurette available on the movie’s Blu-ray release; he denied chucking the pooch’s house and attributed the urban legend to Entertainment Weekly

7. DUNCAN WASN’T ACTUALLY THAT TALL. 

At 6 feet 5 inches tall, Duncan was a large man by anyone’s measure. However, he was practically average height on the set of The Green Mile, alongside costars David Morse (6 feet 4 inches) and James Cromwell (6 feet 6 inches). Blocking tactics gave Duncan the appearance of towering over his costars. 

8. MANY OF THE ACTORS “LET THEMSELVES GO” DURING PRODUCTION. 

To achieve era-appropriate body types, several stars’ preparations included neglecting their usual dietary and exercise regimens. The doughier ranks included Hanks, who opted for the look of a slightly chubby everyman; Duncan, who stopped lifting weights in order to avoid an anachronistic level of fitness; and Bonnie Hunt, who gained 15 pounds to play Hanks’ screen wife. 

9. THERE WAS A FUNNY NAMING COINCIDENCE ON THE CAST SHEET. 

Two of Hanks’s fellow officers, played respectively by actors Jeffrey DeMunn and Barry Pepper, are named Harry and Dean Stanton. The film also includes a crass but cooperative inmate played by character actor Harry Dean Stanton. It was apparently a coincidence—the names came directly from King’s source material. 

10. THE FILM IS MARKED BY TWO MAJOR ANACHRONISMS.

When Darabont shifted the setting of King’s story from 1932 to 1935 in order to include reference to the 1935 Fred Astaire/Ginger Roberts musical comedy Top Hat, he overlooked two remaining elements that proved incongruous with the year in question. The first involves the uniforms worn by the lawmen in the film; uniforms weren’t standard for death row corrections officers in the 1930s. The second, and substantially larger, error is the use of the electric chair itself. Louisiana didn’t replace the gallows with the chair as its means for capital punishment until the early 1940s. 

11. HANKS DEFENDED THE MOVIE’S RUNTIME AGAINST COMPLAINING CRITICS. 

At 188 minutes, The Green Mile takes up a healthy chunk of your day. Upon the film’s release critics voiced frustration with the growing trend of three-hour movies, much to affirmed cinephile Hanks’ chagrin. The actor publicly said, “Hey, it's more movie for your dollar! It's like an extra inning. Wow! Now you can get a whole evening of entertainment!” 

12. SPIKE LEE WAS A VOCAL CRITIC OF THE JOHN COFFEY CHARACTER. 

Always outspoken about the depiction of African American men and women in Hollywood productions, Spike Lee took The Green Mile to task for what he and some film critics saw as the relegation of Duncan to the detested trope of “magic Negro,” a term for an enchanted black character who exists purely to better the lives of his white compatriots. 

13. THE GREEN MILE WAS THE HIGHEST GROSSING STEPHEN KING MOVIE. 

While The Shining claims the longstanding cult esteem and The Shawshank Redemption might top the lot in basic cable omnipresence, the somewhat less heralded The Green Mile that managed to hit an impressive $136.8 million in domestic ticket sales and $286.8 million worldwide. 

14. THERE IS A REDDIT THREAD DEVOTED TO DETERMINING HOW LONG PAUL EDGECOMB WILL LIVE.

The movie leaves off with the 108-year-old Paul, infected by unnatural life as a result of John Coffey’s power (deeming it his punishment for destroying a saintly miracle) wondering aloud just how long he has left on Earth. In 2013, one Reddit user opened discussion to determine the answer to Paul’s question, hoping to calculate a sum based on the estimated lifespan of the likewise infected mouse Mr. Jingles. Answers vary from 200 to 10 quadrillion years. 

15. THE GREEN MILE SHARES A NUMBER OF CAST AND CREW MEMBERS WITH THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

Writer/director Darabont’s 1994 film, also an adaptation of a Stephen King story set in a penitentiary, shares with The Green Mile actors Jeffrey DeMunn, William Sadler, Mack Miles, and Brian Libby, composer Thomas Newman, editor Richard Francis-Bruce, and set decorator Michael Seirton.

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Mill Creek Entertainment
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Hey, Vern: It's the Ernest P. Worrell Story
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Mill Creek Entertainment

In her review of the 1991 children’s comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, The Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley described the titular character, the dim-witted but well-meaning Ernest P. Worrell, as “the global village idiot.” As portrayed by Kentucky native Jim Varney, Ernest was in the middle of a 10-film franchise that would see him mistakenly incarcerated (Ernest Goes to Jail), enlisting in the military (Ernest in the Army), substituting for an injured Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), and returning to formal education in order to receive his high school diploma (Ernest Goes to School).

Unlike slapstick contemporaries Yahoo Serious and Pauly Shore, Varney took a far more unusual route to film stardom. With advertising executive John Cherry III, Varney originated the Ernest character in a series of regional television commercials. By one estimate, Ernest appeared in over 6000 spots, hawking everything from ice cream to used cars. They grew so popular that the pitchman had a 20,000-member fan club before his first movie, 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, was even released.

Varney and Ernest became synonymous, so much so that the actor would dread going on dates for fear Ernest fans would approach him; he sometimes wore disguises to discourage recognition. Though he could recite Shakespeare on a whim, Varney was rarely afforded the opportunity to expand his resume beyond the denim-jacketed character. It was for this reason that Varney, though grateful for Ernest’s popularity, would sometimes describe his notoriety as a “mixed blessing,” one that would come to a poignant end foreshadowed by one of his earliest commercials.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, Varney spent his youth being reprimanded by teachers who thought his interest in theater shouldn’t replace attention paid to math or science. Varney disagreed, leaving high school just two weeks shy of graduation (he returned in the fall for his diploma) to head for New York with $65 in cash and a plan to perform.

The off-Broadway plays Varney appeared in were not lucrative, and he began to bounce back and forth between Kentucky and California, driving a truck when times were lean and appearing in TV shows like Petticoat Junction when his luck improved. During one of his sabbaticals from Hollywood, he met Cherry, who cast him as an aggressive military instructor named Sergeant Glory in an ad for a car dealer in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1981, Varney was asked back to film a new spot for Cherry, this one for a dilapidated amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Cherry considered so unimpressive he didn’t want to show it on camera. Instead, he created the character of Ernest P. Worrell, a fast-talking, often imbecilic local who is constantly harassing his neighbor Vern. (“Know what I mean, Vern?” became Ernest’s catchphrase.)

The spot was a hit, and soon Varney and Cherry were being asked to film spots for Purity Dairies, pizza parlors, convenience stores, and other local businesses. In the spots, Ernest would usually look into the camera—the audience shared Vern’s point of view—and endorse whatever business had enlisted his services, usually stopping only when Vern devised a way to get him out of sight.

Although the Purity commercials initially drew complaints—the wide-angle lens created a looming Ernest that scared some children—his fame grew, and Varney became a rarity in the ad business: a mascot without a permanent corporate home. He and Cherry would film up to 26 spots in a day, all targeted for a specific region of the country. In some areas, people would call television stations asking when the next Ernest spot was due to air. A Fairfax, Virginia Toyota dealership saw a 50 percent spike in sales after Varney began appearing in ads.

Logging thousands of spots in hundreds of markets, Varney once said that if they had all been national, he and Cherry would have been wealthy beyond belief. But local spots had local budgets, and the occasions where Ernest was recruited for a major campaign were sometimes prohibited by exclusivity contracts: He and Cherry had to turn down Chevrolet due to agreements with local, competing car dealers.

Still, Varney made enough to buy a 10-acre home in Kentucky, expressing satisfaction with the reception of the Ernest character and happily agreeing to a four-picture deal with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a series of Ernest features. Released on a near-constant basis between 1987 and 1998, the films were modest hits (Ernest Goes to Camp made $28 million) before Cherry—who directed several of them—and Varney decided to strike out on their own, settling into a direct-to-video distribution model.

“It's like Oz, and the Wizard ain't home," Varney told the Sun Sentinel in 1985, anticipating his desire for autonomy. “Hollywood is a place where everything begins but nothing originates. It's this big bunch of egos slamming into each other.”

Varney was sometimes reticent to admit he had ambitions beyond Ernest, believing his love of Shakespeare and desire to perform Hamlet would be perceived as the cliched story of a clown longing to be serious. He appeared in 1994’s The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in 1995’s Toy Story. But Ernest would continue to be his trademark.

The movies continued through 1998, at which point Varney noticed a nagging cough. It turned out to be lung cancer. As Ernest, Varney had filmed an anti-smoking public service announcement in the 1980s. In his private life, he was a chain smoker. He succumbed to cancer in 2000 at the age of 50, halting a series of planned Ernest projects that included Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse.

Varney may never have gotten an opportunity to perform in a wider variety of roles, but he did receive some acknowledgment for the one he had mastered. In 1989, Varney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a children’s series, a CBS Saturday morning show titled Hey, Vern: It’s Ernest!

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “because it's as hard to escape from it as it is to get into it.''

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Ape Meets Girl
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Pop Culture
Epic Gremlins Poster Contains More Than 80 References to Classic Movies
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Ape Meets Girl

It’s easy to see why Gremlins (1984) appeals to movie nerds. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus, the film has horror, humor, and awesome 1980s special effects that strike a balance between campy and creepy. Perhaps it’s the movie’s status as a pop culture treasure that inspired artist Kevin Wilson to make it the center of his epic hidden-image puzzle of movie references.

According to io9, Wilson, who works under the pseudonym Ape Meets Girl, has hidden 84 nods to different movies in this Gremlins poster. The scene is taken from the movie’s opening, when Randall enters a shop in Chinatown looking for a gift for his son and leaves with a mysterious creature. Like in the film, Mr. Wing’s shop in the poster is filled with mysterious artifacts, but look closely and you’ll find some objects that look familiar. Tucked onto the bottom shelf is a Chucky doll from Child’s Play (1988); above Randall’s head is a plank of wood from the Orca ship made famous by Jaws (1975); behind Mr. Wing’s counter, which is draped with a rug from The Shining’s (1980) Overlook Hotel, is the painting of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters II (1989). The poster was released by the Hero Complex Gallery at New York Comic Con earlier this month.

“Early on, myself and HCG had talked about having a few '80s Easter Eggs, but as we started making a list it got longer and longer,” Wilson told Mental Floss. “It soon expanded from '80s to any prop or McGuffin that would fit the curio shop setting. I had to stop somewhere so I stopped at 84, the year Gremlins was released. Since then I’ve thought of dozens more I wish I’d included.”

The ambitious artwork has already sold out, but fortunately cinema buffs can take as much time as they like scouring the poster from their computers. Once you think you’ve found all the references you can possibly find, you can check out Wilson’s key below to see what you missed (and yes, he already knows No. 1 should be Clash of the Titans [1981], not Jason and the Argonauts [1963]). For more pop culture-inspired art, follow Ape Meets Girl on Facebook and Instagram.

Key for hidden image puzzle.
Ape Meets Girl

[h/t io9]

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