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8 Women Who Changed Comedy Forever

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Today’s entertainment world is packed with brilliant female comedic minds. But it wasn’t always so easy for women to make their mark in the boys’ club of comedy. Comediennes of today stand on the shoulders of many hilarious women that came before them. Here’s a look at just a few of the ladies who made an indelible mark on the American comedic landscape.

1. Fanny Brice

It’s fair to say that without Fanny Brice there might very well never have been a Lucille Ball or Carol Burnett. Born in 1891, Brice left school at an early age to become a burlesque performer, which is how she was eventually discovered by legendary entertainment impresario Florenz Ziegfeld. After skyrocketing to stardom in his Ziegfeld Follies, Brice went on to star on Broadway and in numerous motion pictures. She has been referred to as “America’s first female comedy superstar.” Years after her 1951 death, Brice was portrayed in the Broadway and film productions of Funny Girl, the latter of which won Barbra Streisand a Best Actress Oscar in 1969.

2. Lucille Ball

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Lucille Ball (along with her then-husband Desi Arnaz) deserves much of the credit for the television sitcom as we know it today. No television program before I Love Lucy, which ran from 1951 to 1957, had ever used a three-camera setup or filmed in front of a live studio audience. So those crowd reactions during iconic moments like the candy conveyor belt or grape-squashing scenes? Those are actual human audience members screaming out in laughter for one of the first times in television history. I Love Lucy was also one of the first TV shows ever to be sold into syndication, which is why you can still regularly catch reruns of the iconic sitcom today, over 60 years after its premiere. Back in 2012 it was reported that CBS was still making around $20 million annually from I Love Lucy syndication deals.

3. Phyllis Diller

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Long before Roseanne ever made the jump from housewife to comedy superstar, Phyllis Diller did the exact same thing—and blazed a trail for every female comedian who followed. Often cited as the very first female standup celebrity, Diller was widely known for her trademark wild hairstyle and off-the-wall outfits. But when it came to her material, Diller was serious business. Rather than performing song-and-dance routines or other flashy gimmicks like many other female performers of the day, Diller simply told jokes. And she told them so well that Guinness once recognized her comedic volume by conferring on her the world record for most laughs per minute. Countless fellow comedians, like fellow icon Joan Rivers, list Diller as an influence, which explains why she’s often referred to as the “Queen of Comedy.”

4., 5., and 6. Marilyn Suzanne Miller, Anne Beatts, and Rosie Shuster 

Marilyn Suzanne Miller, Anne Beatts, and Rosie Shuster’s names may not ring an immediate bell, but their work certainly does: They were the lone three female writers during the first season of Saturday Night Live, helping to shape the formative first year of what would become a comedy institution.

In addition to SNL, Miller also wrote for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the award-winning Lily Tomlin television special, Lily. On Saturday Night Live she helped created the Festrunk Brothers (a.k.a. “two wild and crazy guys”) and some of Gilda Radner’s most popular characters. Beatts also spent time writing for National Lampoon magazine, one of the most revered publications in the history of American humor. Miller, Beatts, and Shuster helped pave the way for later SNL scribes like Tina Fey, who in 1999 would become the show’s first female head writer.

7. Whoopi Goldberg

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Don’t let The View be the thing that springs to mind when you hear the name Whoopi Goldberg. She began as a masterful live stage performer, using character-based monologues to simultaneously generate laughter and introspection about modern society. After starring on Broadway she was recruited into the world of motion pictures by none other than Steven Spielberg to star in his 1985 film adaptation of The Color Purple, and earned an Oscar nomination for her work in the film. In 1991, Goldberg became the first African American woman in more than half a century to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, for her role in Ghost. That award serves as just one component of her lifetime honors; she is one of only 12 people to ever “EGOT” (a.k.a. to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award) and she was the first woman ever presented with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

8. Mitzi Shore

By The Comedy Store [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Though she isn’t a performer, Mitzi Shore has helped launch the careers of some of the most famous comedians of the last 50 years. As the co-founder and operator of the Los Angeles standup club The Comedy Store, Shore has helped introduce the world to the likes of Richard Pryor, David Letterman, Jim Carrey, Jay Leno, Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Garry Shandling, Sam Kinison, and dozens of other A-list names. She also worked to break the comedy glass ceiling by creating a special standup venue that only allowed female comics on stage, and launched comedy nights designed specifically for LGBT performers.

After the club’s frequent acts banded together to go on strike requesting to be compensated for their performances, Shore began paying performers $25 per show. The decision had a nationwide impact on the standup comedy profession. An article in TIME noted that:

The strike's impact was far-reaching. Comedy clubs in New York City began paying their comics as well. Clubs that were springing up around the country were then forced to boost their fees too, to lure more top comics out on the road—launching the comedy club boom of the 1980s.

As of a few years ago, Tom Hanks’s film production company was working on a film based on Shore and her famous Comedy Store. (Yes, she is also Pauly Shore’s mom.)

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35 Fabulous Facts About Frank Sinatra
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You know that Frank Sinatra was as talented a singer as he was an actor. That he had a collection of nicknames, from The Voice to Ol’ Blue Eyes. And that he liked to do things “My Way.” In honor of what would have been the legendary crooner’s 102nd birthday, here are 35 things you might not have known about Frank Sinatra.

1. HIS BIRTH WAS A TRAUMATIC ONE.

Born on December 12, 1915, in an apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, Francis Albert Sinatra was blue and not breathing when he was yanked out of his mother with forceps. Thought to be dead, the infant was laid on the kitchen counter while the doctor attended to his mother. His grandmother picked up the newborn, stuck him under some cold water, and little Frank wailed out his first song.

2. THOSE FORCEPS CAUSED SOME DAMAGE.

Those forceps left their mark on the left side of Sinatra's face, in the shape of a scar that ran from the corner of his mouth to his jaw line and a cauliflower ear. As a teenager, he was nicknamed “Scarface.” He also suffered a bad case of adolescent acne, which left his cheeks pitted. Self-conscious about his looks as an adult, Sinatra often applied makeup to hide the scars. Even with that, he hated to be photographed on his left side. The physical insecurities didn't end there: Sinatra also wore elevator shoes to boost his five-foot-seven stature.

3. HE WAS A BIG BABY.


By Family photo. - Sinatra.com, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The future crooner weighed a whopping 13.5 pounds.

4. HE CARRIED HIS OWN P.A. SYSTEM.

When Sinatra was just starting out as a singer, he came prepared: he carried his own P.A. system to the dives in which he typically performed.

5. HIS BAD BOY IMAGE WAS REAL.

Sinatra's bad boy image began with his infamous 1938 mug shot. The charge? The most Frank reason possible: “seduction.” The charge was reduced to “adultery,” then later dropped.

6. HE WAS ONE OF AMERICA’S FIRST TEEN IDOLS.


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In the 1940s, Frank—or Frankie, as he was then known—became one of America's first teen idols. “The sound that greeted me was absolutely deafening,” Sinatra later recalled of a series of shows he performed in 1942 at New York City’s Paramount Theater. “I was scared stiff. I couldn't move a muscle.”

7. SOME OF THOSE SCREAMING FANS WERE PAID TO BE SCREAMING FANS.

Not to take anything away from his amazing voice and his ability to excite the female throngs, but the bobbysoxer craze Sinatra incited (so called because the coed fans wore Catholic school-style bobby socks, rolled down to their ankles) had a little help. George Evans, Sinatra’s publicist, auditioned girls for how loud they could scream, then paid them five bucks and placed them strategically in the audience to help whip up excitement.

8. A SHORT FILM GOT HIM TAGGED AS A COMMUNIST SYMPATHIZER.

In 1945, Sinatra made a short film, The House I Live In, that spoke out against anti-Semitism and racial intolerance. Ironically, a decade later, its liberal slant got him tagged as a Communist sympathizer during the McCarthy trials. (Sinatra never testified.)

9. THE FBI HAD A FILE ON HIM.


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Sinatra’s FBI file had been started by J. Edgar Hoover after a radio listener wrote to the Bureau, saying, "The other day I turned on a Frank Sinatra program and I thought how easy it would be for certain-minded manufacturers to create another Hitler here in America through the influence of mass hysteria." Sinatra had also been investigated by the FBI for reportedly paying doctors $40,000 to declare him unfit to serve in the armed services.

10. HE HELPED INTRODUCE THE CONCEPT ALBUM AND BOX SET.

In 1946, Sinatra's debut release, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, helped introduce both the concept album and the box set. At a time when long-playing records were still novel, Sinatra issued a set of 78 rpm records with eight songs, all with a theme of lost love. It sold for a hefty $2.50 (the equivalent of about $30 today). But the price didn't prevent it from topping the charts for seven weeks. Two years later, it became one of the first-ever pop music vinyl 10" LPs.

11. HE ATTEMPTED SUICIDE SEVERAL TIMES.

Sinatra's star fell hard in the early 1950s. He was so low that he even attempted suicide. Walking through Times Square, he saw mobs of girls waiting to get into a concert by new singing sensation Eddie Fisher. Feeling washed up, Sinatra went back to his apartment, put his head on the stove, and turned on the gas. Luckily, his manager found him in time, lying on the floor, sobbing. Sinatra made three other suicide attempts, all of them in the throes of his volatile relationship with actress Ava Gardner.

12. THE RAT PACK DIDN’T CALL THEMSELVES THAT.


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With his pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford, Sinatra led the Vegas clique known as the Rat Pack. The name was coined by actress Lauren Bacall years earlier, to describe a Hollywood drinking circle that included her then-husband Humphrey Bogart and Sinatra. The guys in the Rat Pack actually referred to themselves by a different name—The Summit—playing on a 1960 summit meeting in Paris between top world leaders.

13. HE REUNITED JERRY LEWIS AND DEAN MARTIN.

In 1976, Sinatra appeared on Jerry Lewis’ annual Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon and surprised the host when he brought out Dean Martin, Lewis’s former comedy partner, from whom he’d been estranged for 20 years.

14. IN HOLLYWOOD, HE WAS KNOWN AS “ONE-TAKE CHARLIE.”

Sinatra’s preference for approaching film roles in a spontaneous, rather than over-rehearsed, way earned him the nickname of “One-Take Charlie” in Hollywood.

15. HE THREATENED TO HAVE WOODY ALLEN’S LEGS BROKEN.

Sinatra was married to Mia Farrow from 1966 to 1968, and the two remained close friends. In Farrow’s autobiography, What Falls Away, she shared that when Sinatra learned of Woody Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi Previn, he offered to have the filmmaker’s legs broken.

16. A MAGAZINE CLAIMED THAT HE GOT HIS STAMINA FROM WHEATIES.


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In 1956, Confidential magazine disclosed how Sinatra managed to satisfy so many Hollywood starlets—Wheaties! The article stated, "Where other Casanovas wilt under the pressure of a torrid romance, Frankie boy just pours himself a big bowl of crispy, crackly Wheaties and comes back rarin' to go.” General Mills kept quiet as the tabloids talked up Wheaties' power to fuel Sinatra's exploits, and it wasn't long before teenage boys were stampeding the cereal aisles.

17. HE HAD TWO HITS CALLED “NEW YORK, NEW YORK.”

Sinatra actually had two hits called "New York, New York." The first was in 1949, from the film On the Town, and was written by Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green, and Betty Comden. Thirty years later, Sinatra cut "(Theme From) New York, New York," by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Originally from Martin Scorsese's 1977 bomb New York, New York, Sinatra turned it into his signature song and onstage closer. He also angered the lyricist, Ebb, by customizing the words (Sinatra had done this to a few songwriters, most famously Cole Porter), adding the climactic phrase "A-number-one." In 1993, Sinatra recorded the song again, this time as a duet with Tony Bennett.

18. HE HATED BEING CALLED “CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD.”

It’s a nickname he acquired while president at Reprise Records. According to his fourth (and final) wife, Barbara, Sinatra hated it. 

19. HE WASN’T A FAN OF “MY WAY” OR “STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT.”

Barbara also maintains “My Way,” one of Frank’s most loved songs, did absolutely nothing for him. But that was a kind assessment compared to “Strangers in the Night,” which Frank called “a piece of sh*t” and “the worst f**king song I’ve ever heard.”

20. “MY WAY” HAS BEEN COVERED BY MORE THAN 60 PEOPLE.

Sinatra may not have loved it, but “My Way” has been covered by more than 60 artists, including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, and Sid Vicious. It has also been recorded in various languages.

21. SEVERAL PEOPLE HAVE DIED AFTER PERFORMING “MY WAY.”

Since 2000, at least half a dozen people have been murdered after (or while) performing the Sinatra classic. Dubbed the “‘My Way’ Killings,” the strange phenomenon has gotten so bad that some bar owners have removed it from the selection list entirely.

22. HE INADVERTENTLY HELPED NAME SCOOBY-DOO.

At least according to former CBS exec Fred Silverman, who found inspiration in Frank’s signature “Scoo-Be-Do-Be-Do.”

23. HE DIRECTED THE FIRST JAPANESE/AMERICAN CO-PRODUCTION.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1965, Sinatra stepped behind the camera to make his directorial debut with None But the Brave, which was produced with Toho Studios. It was the first Japanese/American co-production filmed in the United States.

24. HE HAS A SPECIAL PLACE IN NEW YORK YANKEES HISTORY.

“New York, New York” has closed out every one of the Yankees’ home games since 1980.

25. HE HAD HIS OWN PASTA SAUCES.

The year 1990 was a post-Paul Newman, pre-Marky Ramone time in celebrity spaghetti sauce, and leave it to Frank to fill the zesty void. But despite being inspired by his mother’s very own recipe, the sauce flopped. Thankfully, you can now find Mama Sinatra’s recipe online.

26. HE GOT FIRST DIBS ON PLAYING JOHN MCCLANE IN DIE HARD.

Think some action-loving Hollywood scribe came up with the concept for Die Hard? Think again. The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 crime novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective. Because Sinatra had starred in the big-screen adaptation of The Detective, he had to be offered the role in its sequel. At the age of 73, he smartly turned it down.

27. SINATRA DIDN’T LIKE MARLON BRANDO, AND BRANDO DIDN’T LIKE SINATRA.


MGM

Sinatra was always known as one of Hollywood’s most likeable stars, but Marlon Brando apparently didn’t agree. The two didn’t hit it off when they starred in 1955’s Guys and Dolls. Sinatra, who allegedly wanted Brando’s role in the film, referred to his co-star as “Mr. Mumbles,” while Brando nicknamed Sinatra “Mr. Baldy.”

28. HE BRIEFLY RETIRED.

In 1971. Thankfully for you “Send in the Clowns” fans, his self-imposed exile from the entertainment industry lasted less than two years, before he returned for good with his comeback “Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back.”

29. THERE'S AN ASTEROID NAMED AFTER HIM.

The rock, called 7934 Sinatra, was discovered on September 26, 1989 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory. 

30. HE SANG ONE HALF OF THE ONLY FATHER-DAUGHTER TUNE TO EVER TOP THE CHARTS.


By CBS Television, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sinatra has a unique distinction in Billboard history: He’s the “father” half of the only father-daughter duet to ever hit number one—thanks to “Something Stupid,” which he sang with Nancy. 

31. HE WAS AN HONORARY TRIBAL CHIEF.

Specifically, the “Order of the Leopard,” the highest honor in Bophuthatswana, a quasi-nation state in apartheid-era South Africa. The honor was a show of gratitude from president Lucas Mangope for Sinatra’s performances at the maligned—and later boycotted—Sun City casino.

32.  THE BEATLES’S “SOMETHING” WAS ONE OF SINATRA’S FAVORITE SONGS.

Frank may not have loved (okay, he hated) rock and roll, but he was a big fan of the George Harrison-penned “Something.” The song became a sample in Sinatra’s live set toward the end of his career.

33. THE LAST SONG FRANK EVER PERFORMED LIVE IS “THE BEST IS YET TO COME.”

On February 25, 1995, Sinatra sang the song for a group of 1200 people on the last night of a golf tournament named for him. The words "The Best is Yet to Come" are also on his tombstone.

34. HE WAS A TOOTSIE ROLL FAN.

According to dead-celebrity expert Alan Petrucelli, Ol’ Blue Eyes was buried with some Tootsie Rolls, along with a few other choice effects, including cigarettes, a lighter, and a bottle of Jack Daniels.

35. A PROVISION IN HIS WILL HELPED TO ENSURE IT WOULDN’T BE CONTESTED.

In order to ensure that his passing wouldn’t lead to any legal battles, Sinatra’s will included a “no-contest” clause, which essentially says that anyone who contested it would be disinherited completely.

This article originally ran in 2015.

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The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

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