15 Huge Facts About Big

Big is hardly the only age-changing movie that has ever been made. But even today, it remains one of the sub-genre's most enduring entries. Tom Hanks and director Penny Marshall were the two main reasons for the film's success, even though they only became involved in the project after other, bigger names (in 1988 anyway) backed out. Isn't that always the way?

1. HARRISON FORD WAS GOING TO STAR AS JOSH BASKIN, AND STEVEN SPIELBERG WAS GOING TO DIRECT.

Anne Spielberg, Steven’s sister, wrote the Big script with Gary Ross with the idea that Ford would star and the elder Spielberg would direct. When they dropped out, producer James L. Brooks presented the script to Penny Marshall.

2. THERE WERE A LOT OF MAJOR STARS BEING CONSIDERED FOR THE LEAD.

Tom Hanks was the first choice, but he was busy with other projects at the time. Marshall asked Kevin Costner, Warren Beatty, and Dennis Quaid, who all said no. Albert Brooks gave her the same answer, saying he didn’t want to play a kid. John Travolta really wanted to do it, but the studio didn't want Travolta ("at the time he was box office poison," Marshall wrote in her memoir). Sean Penn was deemed too young by Marshall. Gary Busey auditioned, but Marshall didn’t think he could pull off playing an adult.

3. ROBERT DE NIRO AGREED TO PLAY JOSH.

Wanting to make a family-friendly commercial film, De Niro at first accepted Marshall’s offer. De Niro and Jared Rushton, who played Josh’s childhood friend Billy, even hung out in Marshall’s driveway skateboarding and shooting hoops. However, De Niro’s $6 million price tag was ultimately too expensive, and after declining Marshall’s offer to pay him with her own salary, De Niro dropped out. But his short-lived attachment helped to raise the project's profile in Hollywood, so when approached about starring for a second time, Hanks said yes.

4. DEBRA WINGER TRIED TO CONVINCE MARSHALL TO CHANGE JOSH INTO A WOMAN.

The actress kept asking her director friend if the gender could be switched for the protagonist, but Marshall explained to Winger that she couldn’t see a way to make a 35-year-old man in a relationship with a 12-year-old girl not be “something from Penthouse or Hustler.”

5. IT WAS THE FIFTH AGE-CHANGE COMEDY TO COME OUT WITHIN ONE YEAR.

On October 2, 1987, the trend started with Like Father Like Son, the movie that swapped Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron’s personalities. On December 23 in Italy, Da grande told the story of a nine-year-old boy having his wish to become an adult overnight come true (so that he could romance his teacher). On March 11, 1988, Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage unwittingly had their minds switched in Vice Versa. Three weeks later, 81-year-old George Burns’ age was inversed after a car crash in 18 Again! (A veteran producer said it was all a big coincidence.) Marshall didn’t know when she took the directing assignment that Big was not going to be an original idea on its June 3, 1988 release. She admitted that she read the scripts for Like Father Like Son and Vice Versa, and determined that their tones were different than Big’s.

6. HANKS AND ELIZABETH PERKINS HAD DOUBTS ABOUT THE MOVIE.

Because of the glut of similar movies that were beating them to the punch while they were shooting the movie, Perkins said that she and Hanks “looked at each other at one point like, ugh—this is going straight to video.”

7. YOU CAN FIND A ZOLTAR MACHINE AT RYE PLAYLAND. BUT NOT THAT ZOLTAR.

The scene at the end of the movie, where Josh finds the Zoltar machine again, was filmed at New York’s Rye Playland, but the machine was just a movie prop. In fact, if you went to the very spot where the machine was in the film today, you would find an Aquafina vending machine. But the park does have a Zoltar machine, albeit one that is notably different from the movie version—and located in a hut by the Dragon Coaster.

8. HANKS AND ROBERT LOGGIA DID THEIR OWN PIANO DANCING.

Robert Loggia portrayed MacMillan, who was modeled after then-FAO Schwarz CEO Peter L. Harris. After Loggia and Hanks spent months at home practicing the routine on huge cardboard piano keys, the two showed up for shooting and noticed dancers on standby. Motivated by the perceived slight, Loggia remembered telling the stunt men to “take a hike,” and performing the sequence with Hanks in “just about one take.”

9. THE CREATOR OF THE "WALKING PIANO" BUILT A BIGGER VERSION OF IT JUST FOR THE MOVIE.

Remo Saraceni built a 16-foot long, full three-octave piano so that Josh and MacMillan could play “Heart and Soul,” something that the six-and-a-half-foot long, one-octave "Walking Piano" on display at FAO Schwarz couldn’t accommodate. After the movie's success, Saraceni began selling the 16-foot version—for $15,000.

10. HANKS GOT TO SEE HOW A KID WOULD ACTUALLY BEHAVE IN HIS SCENES.

Penny Marshall videotaped David Moscow, the actor who played kid Josh, acting out all of the adult Josh scenes so that Hanks could study his mannerisms in each situation.

11. HANKS AND MOSCOW BOTH HAD TO CHANGE THEMSELVES IN ORDER TO PLAY THE SAME PERSON.

Moscow dyed his hair black and wore green contact lenses to look like a younger version of Hanks. Because his feet were growing at a rapid pace and he consequently wore ill-fitting shoes, Moscow had a weird duck-like gait, which led Hanks to ask for oversized shoes so that he could mimic Moscow's walk.

12. YOUNG JOSH HAD THE TIME OF HIS LIFE ON SET.

David Moscow got to stay up all night for the first time in his life when they shot the carnival scenes. He was able to ride all of the rides and eat a lot of cotton candy. Later, after shooting, Moscow and Jared Rushton became buddies in Los Angeles, surprising many L.A. onlookers who saw the two Big child stars hanging out together in real life.

13. JON LOVITZ GOT SICK DURING FILMING.

Lovitz, who played Josh's co-worker Scotty Brennen, came down with the flu in the midst of production. After a week of convalescence, Lovitz considered calling Marshall to say he was good to come back and finish filming before deciding that it was a “nothing” role. Once Big became a big hit, he felt like an “idiot.”

14. IN THE SCRIPT, SUSAN KISSES JOSH GOODBYE ON THE LIPS.

Since it was at the end of the film, after Susan discovers Josh’s real age, Marshall insisted that Elizabeth Perkins kiss him on the forehead instead.

15. PENNY MARSHALL MADE MOVIE HISTORY.

In her second movie directing assignment, Marshall became the first female director to ever direct a film that made more than $100 million at the box office.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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