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15 Heartfelt Facts About Sleepless in Seattle

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Sleepless in Seattle was a meta-rom-com that managed to comment—both humorously and seriously—on the unrealistic expectations of love that the grand romantic movies of the past have bestowed on their audiences, while being one of the most popular romantic movies ever filmed. Here are 15 facts about the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan classic that will help you sleep better at night.

1. IT WAS NORA EPHRON’S FIRST MAJOR DIRECTORIAL JOB.

She was behind the camera for 1992’s This Is My Life first, but Sleepless in Seattle proved to be her first big hit as director. Ephron also co-wrote the Oscar nominated screenplay with Jeff Arch and David S. Ward. (Nora’s sister, author-screenwriter-playwright Delia Ephron, did an uncredited “punch up” to make the movie funnier.)

2. SHE HAD A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH THE MOVIE THAT SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE REFERENCES.

There is a lot of talk of—and intentional plot points taken from—the 1957 Cary Grant movie An Affair to Remember. When the film came out, Ephron’s mother took her teenage daughter to see it. After the happy ending concluded, and while Eprhon was still in tears, her mother introduced her to the star of the movie.

3. JULIA ROBERTS TURNED DOWN THE LEAD.

In a 2014 interview with InStyle, the Oscar-winning actress shared that she had been "offered Sleepless in Seattle but couldn't do it," adding that, "[Meg Ryan] and Tom Hanks are just such a jewel of a fit in that. I guess what they did for that moment in time is sort of what Richard [Gere] and I were doing across town (in the 1990 film Pretty Woman), you know?"

4. TOM HANKS ALSO TURNED IT DOWN.

Before Ephron took a pass at rewriting the script, Hanks was offered the lead and said no, as he didn’t think he was right for the part.

5. JASON SCHWARTZMAN AUDITIONED TO PLAY HANKS' SON, JONAH.

They went with Ross Malinger instead. Malinger retired from acting in 2006 to manage a car shop in Malibu.

6. PARKER POSEY WAS CUT OUT OF HER FEATURE DEBUT.

If the actress's scene hadn’t been cut, Sleepless in Seattle would have been Posey's first acting role in a Hollywood movie. Ephron kindly sent her a note to say that it wasn’t her fault that her scene was taken out. In 1998, Posey reunited with Ephron, Hanks, and Ryan for You've Got Mail.

7. SAM AND ANNIE LIVED IN CHICAGO AT THE SAME TIME (BEFORE THE EDITOR GOT A HOLD OF IT).

A first act scene was shot which revealed that Annie (Ryan) had at some point lived in Chicago at the same time as Sam (Hanks). Editor Robert Reitano cut it.

8. EPHRON ATTEMPTED TO RE-CREATE A NEW YORKER COVER IN THE OPENING SCENE.

The Chicago skyline is well showcased at the funeral. It was meant to evoke Saul Steinberg’s 1976 New Yorker cover, View of the World From 9th Avenue, that shows Manhattan as the center of the world.

9. EPHRON WAS THE VOICE OF A DEPRESSED PERSON.

The director voiced one of the radio callers, "Disappointed in Denver.”

10. ANNIE WALKED OUT OF THE SAME DOOR IN BALTIMORE THAT SAM DID IN SEATTLE.

The door was actually shipped almost 3000 miles to help connect the two main actors.

11. THE SOUP NAZI WAS REFERENCED IN THE FILM, TWO YEARS BEFORE SEINFELD DID.

When a writer in Annie’s office was pitching a story and talked of a man that “sells the greatest soup you have ever eaten” while simultaneously doubling as “the meanest man in America,” he was talking about Ali “Al” Yeganeh, the proprietor of Soup Kitchen International. For what it’s worth, Yeganeh is from Iran, not Germany.

12. TOM HANKS ARGUED THAT HIS CHARACTER WOULD TRY HARDER TO GET LAID.

In the script, Sam opts out of spending the night with Victoria because Jonah gets upset. Hanks argued to Ephron that it was “horseshit." After not getting some for four years, Sam would leave Jonah to cry with the babysitter and go be with his girlfriend. The solution was to have Sam determined to leave for the night until Jonah snuck off to get on a plane to New York.

13. BILL PULLMAN WAS TOLD HE WOULD HAVE A BIGGER ROLE.

According to the actor who played Annie’s allergy-afflicted boyfriend Walter, the movie was described to him as more of a The Philadelphia Story situation: a love triangle where he would play the Jimmy Stewart to Hanks’s Cary Grant (there’s that name again) and Ryan’s Katharine Hepburn.

14. THEY FILMED IN SEATTLE DURING A DROUGHT.

Water trucks had to be brought in to make some rain. The waste of water angered the city.

15. TRISTAR GOT 25 TO 30 PHONE CALLS A DAY FROM PEOPLE WANTING TO KNOW WHAT TIRAMISU WAS.

Since Rob Reiner’s character Jay only used tiramisu as a word for a sexual act, without mentioning that it was also an Italian dessert, some moviegoers resorted to calling the distributor of the film for answers. (It was the pre-mental_floss or Google days of 1993, after all.) Reiner has gone on record to say that he finds tiramisu "overrated."

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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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