17 Amazing Facts About He-Man (Powered by Grayskull)

DreamWorksTV
DreamWorksTV

In 1982, toy stores began to receive stock for a peculiar new line of action figures. With a hyper-muscular frame nearly as wide as he was tall and crouched in an attack stance, He-Man was a radical departure from the long and lean heroes of G.I. Joe or the puny dimensions of Luke Skywalker. Here was a burly swordsman whose story—defending Castle Grayskull from the demonic Skeletor—blended classic myth with spring-loaded punches that could knock other figures senseless.

He-Man made a respectable $38 million for Mattel in its first year. By 1984, it had earned over a billion. Though He-Mania was not engineered to last, it remains one of the biggest toy success stories of all time. If you’ve ever hoisted a sword (or a spatula) in the air and called upon the Power of Grayskull, you need to check out these 17 facts. Do it for Eternia.

1. He-Man Was a Result of Mattel Passing on Star Wars.

When George Lucas’ space opera went shopping for licensing partners, Mattel was one of several companies that passed on the rights to make action figures. The industry watched as Kenner turned Star Wars into a toy supernova, leaving Mattel to pick up the plastic pieces and eager to develop their own hit.

2. Mattel Had to Choose Between Three Very Different He-Men.

Mattel preliminary designer Roger Sweet and in-house illustrator Mark Taylor—who designed packaging for Barbie—both had ideas about a chiseled warrior who wielded swords in the Frank Frazetta mold. While Taylor’s sketches (some of which dated back to his childhood) were fantasy-based, Sweet envisioned a character who could be placed in any number of eras or genres. For a presentation to Mattel executives, Sweet applied clay muscles to an existing line of boy’s action figures. Each represented the character, which he named He-Man, in military, fantasy, and space settings. Despite the story possibilities of a time-traveling hero, Mattel's marketing research pointed to the guy with the pawn on his head. With Taylor’s sketches and ideas for supporting characters, a barbarian was born.   

3. He Was Originally a Viking.

The Power and the Honor Foundation

Based on sketches from Mark Taylor, sculptor Tony Guerrero initially fashioned He-Man as a stern-looking individual. But his scowling expression and horned helmet were deemed too menacing: he looked too angry to be played with. Before being softened up with a blonde haircut, the prototype was used in market research testing, and one kid was so enamored with the brute that he tried to stuff him in his winter coat. The would-be thief was caught, but not before Mattel realized they were on to something.

4. The Animated Series Was a Result of a Bad Meeting with Toys ‘R' Us.

Confident in their He-Man line-up, Mattel marketing director Mark Ellis showed their concept to buyers at Toys 'R’ Us. To help flesh out the back story and clarify who was good and bad, Mattel had commissioned a series of mini-comics to insert into product packaging. But TRU executives were not impressed, arguing that young children may not be willing or able to read. Improvising, Ellis said they had a one-hour cartoon special in the works. How hard could it be to get one made?

5. Everyone Turned Down the Cartoon.

After being rejected by Hanna-Barbera for the special, Mattel turned to a company that had produced an animated commercial for them: Filmation. The company behind Fat Albert was economical but savvy: After being turned down by CBS, NBC, and ABC for a Saturday morning slot, Filmation president Lou Scheimer suggested they produce a 65-episode first season they could syndicate for stations to run five days a week. The model was so successful that at the height of its popularity in 1984, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was seen by more than nine million viewers every afternoon.

6. Castle Grayskull Was Built by a Giant.

Mentioned in reference documents but never explained onscreen, He-Man’s palatial turf was built by Tytus, a giant who fought in a massive battle centuries before the events of the cartoon series. Mattel later issued an action figure of the character that stood 12 inches tall.

7. When One Station Stopped Airing It, Kids Rioted.

KTXS-TV found out the hard way what happens when you deprive He-Man fans of their fix: anarchy. The Abilene, Texas station took the series off-air in the fall of 1985 owing to cooling ratings. When fans complained, the channel resumed airing it and tried to appease viewers by arranging for an appearance by a Mattel-endorsed actor. After 8000 rowdy kids engulfed him, organizers had to cut the event short. “He-Man left early because we became very concerned about the safety of the children,” KTXS owner S.M. Moore told the Lethbridge Herald.

8. Filmation Used Bodybuilders for Character References.

Models pose with Filmation employees. Image courtesy of Andy Mangels.

In order to animate He-Man’s impossibly-developed musculature, Filmation director Hal Sutherland scouted gyms and assembled a crew of bodybuilders so they could be filmed performing stunts as a reference. The photo above is most likely the only time you’ll see any version of the character sporting a mustache.   

9. The Slime Pit Really Upset Parents.

Despite never actually being seen in He-Man (though it did pop up in sister series She-Ra, Princess of Power), the Slime Pit was a popular toy torture chamber: unfortunate figures would get doused with some proprietary goop that was first marketed back in the 1970s. But as parents soon learned, the Slime packaged with the toy eventually ran out—and the only way to get more was to buy two more action figures. Consumers cried foul; retailers didn't help the situation, selling cans of free promotional Slime for $3 to $10 each.

10. There Was One Toy Filmation Refused to Animate.

Despite criticism that they were simply producing a half-hour toy commercial, Filmation retained the right to ignore suggestions from Mattel. When the toy company pitched Lou Scheimer on a prototype for an attack vehicle with a sphere that could pummel opponents, he flat-out refused. Filmation, he insisted, would never animate anything named the Ball Buster. Common sense prevailed and the toy was re-named the Bashasaurus.

11. There Was a Comic Strip.

Running from 1986 to 1991, a He-Man strip was syndicated so Mattel had a way of keeping the franchise visible after the cartoon (which ran for 130 episodes) wrapped production in 1985. Unfortunately, it only ran in 10 newspapers.

12. Dolph Lundgren Dubbed Himself.

The 1987 film Masters of the Universe was partially funded by Mattel after they realized they could co-finance a movie for only a portion of their advertising budget. Football star Howie Long was rumored to be in the running for the role, but producers ultimately went with a post-Rocky IV Dolph Lundgren. The actor was physically imposing, but his heavy Swedish accent made his lines hard to understand. Before he could be dubbed by another performer, Lundgren’s contract specified he could try re-recording up to three times. Eventually, his voice became intelligible—but it didn’t do the movie much good. With He-Man hysteria dying down, it made only $17 million in theaters.

13. Prince Adam Wasn’t Part of the Movie—or the Original Toys.

Though he existed in Mark Taylor's sketch art, He-Man’s royal alter ego wasn’t introduced into the canon until writer Michael Halperin brought the concept to the comics and cartoon story guide. (Instead of transforming into He-Man using his sword, he'd duck into a cave, Eternia's version of a phone booth.) Prior to that, the DC mini-comics portrayed the character as more of a tribal warrior without the need for a secret identity. He also failed to appear in the live-action film, though director Gary Goddard said a sequel might have introduced the prince.  

14. There Was Nearly a He-Ro, Son of He-Man Series.

See that radical dude surfing an alligator? That’s He-Ro, star of a proposed 1996 animated spin-off series. Prince Adam is a king and married to Teela; the couple adopts an orphan named Dare. After hoisting the Power Sword, the boy is transformed into a hero almost as buff as his dad. Though Mattel has updated the series twice, it never went forward with the He-Ro concept.        

15. There’s a Non-Profit Foundation to Preserve He-Man’s Legacy.

Toy packaging painting by artist Rudy Obrero. Image courtesy of The Power and the Honor Foundation.

Founded in 2010, the Power and the Honor Foundation is dedicated to preserving the work of artists who helped define the He-Man franchise. Original illustrations, toys, and documents from Mattel and Filmation are digitally scanned and stored for safekeeping. Want to make a donation? As a federally recognized charity, it would be tax-deductible.

16. In 1987, Sales Fell Off a Cliff ...

Theories abound as to why He-Man’s fortunes disintegrated, going from $350 million in 1985 to bottoming out by 1987. Competition from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, and video games was heating up; Mattel had also flooded the market with second-tier character inventory that retailers couldn’t move fast enough.  

17. … But That Was After He Made Two Billion Dollars.

Roger Sweet once estimated that when sales of all He-Man products—toys, clothing, electric toothbrushes, sleeping bags—were tallied, the franchise brought in over $2 billion before the bubble burst. Not bad for a plastic guy who started out in a bad mood.    

Additional Sources: Mastering the Universe; The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe; He-Man.org.

Disney's Most Magical Destinations Have Been Reimagined as Vintage Travel Posters

UpgradedPoints.com
UpgradedPoints.com

Many of the iconic settings of animated Disney movies were modeled after real places around the world. Ussé Castle in France’s Loire Valley, for example, is widely rumored to have been the inspiration behind the original Sleeping Beauty story. (Although the castle in the movie more closely resembles Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle.) Likewise, the fictional island in Moana was made to look like Samoa, and the Sultan’s palace in Aladdin shares some similarities with India's Taj Mahal.

If you’ve ever dreamed of exploring Agrabah or Neverland, then you’ll probably enjoy getting lost in these Disney-inspired travel posters from the designers at UpgradedPoints.com, an online resource that helps individuals maximize their credit card travel rewards. Only one of the posters features a real destination ("Beautiful France"), but these illustrations let you get one step closer to scaling Pride Rock or plumbing the depths of Atlantica.

All of the images are rendered in a vintage style with enticing slogans attached—much like the exotic travel posters that were prevalent in the 1930s.

“A few of our designers wanted to capture that longing to experience the true locations of these fantastic films, and the inner child in all of us couldn’t resist seeing how they interpreted the locations of their favorite films,” UpgradedPoints.com writes. “The results are breathtaking and make us wish we could fall into our favorite Disney movies.”

Keep scrolling to see the posters, and for more travel inspiration, read up on eight real-life locations that inspired Disney places (plus one that didn't).

A Disney-inspired poster of France
UpgradedPoints.com

An Atlantica travel poster
UpgradedPoints.com

A Disney-inspired poster
UpgradedPoints.com

A Disney-inspired poster
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A Lion King travel poster
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A Neverland travel poster
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11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

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