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10 Star-Spangled Facts About the Musical 1776

The winner of three Tony Awards (including Best Musical), 1776 might be the most improbable hit in Broadway history. Between Woodstock, the Stonewall riots, and a massive anti-Vietnam march, 1969 was a turbulent year. With all that going on, who would have guessed that the Great White Way’s biggest smash would be a show in which Ben Franklin sings about the Declaration of Independence? 

1. It Was Conceived by a Former High School History Teacher.

Born in 1919, Sherman Edwards went on to become a history major at NYU and Cornell. He was also a prolific songwriter who worked with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Johnny Mathis during the course of his enviable music career. After turning 40, Edwards quit teaching to spend the next six years penning the score for 1776, an ambitious project that merged these twin passions.  

2. Edwards Played “Sit Down, John” to Win Over the Show’s Dialogue Man.

Edwards wanted Peter Stone to write the book for 1776, and approached the writer with the concept several times. “1776 sounded like maybe the worst idea that had ever been proposed for a musical,” Stone said.

In the end, it was 1776’s opening number that sealed the deal. Having convinced Stone to meet him at producer Stuart Ostrow’s office one day, Edwards made a beeline for the piano. “[In] a rotten singing voice,” Stone recalled, Sherman “sang ‘Sit Down, John.’ And the minute I heard that, I knew I wanted to do it. Because in that song is the entire fabric and level of the show: You are involved with people whom we’d never dealt with before, except as cardboard figures. This room had flies, it was hot, and these men were not perfect. There’s more information about the Continental Congress in that opening song than I learned in all my years at school.”

3. Some of the Lines Were Taken Directly From the Founding Fathers’ Pens.

Halfway through “Is Anybody There?” an impassioned John Adams sings “Through all the gloom, I see the rays of ravishing light and glory!” Here, Edwards quoted (almost verbatim) a letter that Adams actually wrote to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776.

4. 1776 Holds the Broadway Record for the Longest Break Between Musical Numbers.

Once “The Lees of Old Virginia” concludes early in Act I, audiences have to wait for over 20 minutes until the next song (“But, Mister Adams”).

5. Jefferson’s Wife Never Really Visited While He Was Working on the Declaration.

At Adams’ invitation, she arrives in Philadelphia to help rid her husband of some nagging writer’s block—or that’s how it goes down on stage, anyway. In reality, Martha Jefferson was gravely ill at the time and suffered a miscarriage during the summer of ’76. So, understandably, she never made the trip. Her theatrical counterpart does get one thing right, though: During Martha’s one and only song, she raves about Mr. Jefferson’s masterful violin-playing. This future president really did take up the instrument, which he practiced every day.

6. “The Egg” Was Inspired by the Show’s Original Poster.

According to Marc Kirkeby’s booklet essay for the 1776 original Broadway cast recording, this lighthearted number was a last-minute addition. Late in the editing process, it was decided that Act II—which includes songs about slavery and death on the battlefield—really needed some comic relief. At that point, 1776’s official poster (pictured above) had already been drawn. When Edwards racked his brain for ideas, the image of an American eaglet hatching from a British egg leapt out at him. Inspired, he started writing a new tune in which Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson try to choose a national bird for their emerging country.

7. Despite Playing the Lead Role, William Daniels’s Tony Nomination Was for Best Featured Actor.

Back then, you couldn’t call yourself a leading man unless your name was printed above the show’s title on promotional materials. Unfortunately, Daniels’s wasn’t. That minor technicality disqualified him from the Best Actor category, though he strongly felt that his character (John Adams) was, in fact, the lead. So when Daniels earned a Best Featured Actor nomination, he declined it.

8. Previously, Howard Da Silva (the Original Ben Franklin) Had Been Blacklisted.

An appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee didn’t go well for Da Silva. When he refused to answer any of their questions, Da Silva was placed on black list in 1951.

9. Richard Nixon Lobbied to Have “Cool, Considerate Men” Cut From the Film’s Theatrical Release.

After edging out Hair and Promises, Promises for a Best Musical Tony, the cast received a White House invitation. Shortly thereafter, trouble started brewing. “All of a sudden,” said director Peter H. Hunt, “they… asked if we would make some cuts to the show.” Apparently, Tricky Dick really didn’t care for “Cool, Considerate Men”—a piece in which wealthy loyalists smugly call themselves “cool, cool, conservative men” and start waltzing “to the right, ever to the right.” His people wanted it axed from the show.

That request fell on deaf ears, but when the 1776 movie came along, Nixon got his way. The president was friends with Jack Warner, a longtime campaign supporter. Warner produced the picture and when its editing process began, he not only deleted this scene but tried to have the footage destroyed. Luckily,the negatives were discovered hidden away in storage when Sony put together its laserdisc release. “Cool, Considerate Men” has since been restored.

10. Boy Meets World Features a Probable 1776 Tribute.

William Daniels stars as the kindly Mister Feeny, a teacher (and later principal) who just so happens to teach at John Adams High School. Coincidence? Many fans think not, although this hunch hasn’t been verified. Daniels also played Dr. Marc Craig on the NBC medical drama St. Elsewhere. While visiting the City of Brotherly Love in one episode, he drops by Independence Hall and appears to reference 1776: “I don’t know what it is about this place,” he says, “[but] every time I’m here, I feel like singing and dancing.”

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6 Times There Were Ties at the Oscars
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Only six ties have ever occurred during the Academy Awards' near-90-year history. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) members vote for nominees in their corresponding categories; here are the six times they have come to a split decision.

1. BEST ACTOR // 1932

Back in 1932, at the fifth annual Oscars ceremony, the voting rules were different than they are today. If a nominee received an achievement that came within three votes of the winner, then that achievement (or person) would also receive an award. Actor Fredric March had one more vote than competitor Wallace Beery, but because the votes were so close, the Academy honored both of them. (They beat the category’s only other nominee, Alfred Lunt.) March won for his performance in horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (female writer Frances Marion won Best Screenplay for the film), and Beery won for The Champ, which was remade in 1979 with Ricky Schroder and Jon Voight. Both Beery and March were previous nominees: Beery was nominated for The Big House and March for The Royal Family of Broadway. March won another Oscar in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives, also a Best Picture winner. Fun fact: March was the first actor to win an Oscar for a horror film.

2. BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT // 1950

By 1950, the above rule had been changed, but there was still a tie at that year's Oscars. A Chance to Live, an 18-minute movie directed by James L. Shute, tied with animated film So Much for So Little. Shute’s film was a part of Time Inc.’s "The March of Time" newsreel series and chronicles Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing putting together a Boys’ Home in Italy. Directed by Bugs Bunny’s Chuck Jones, So Much for So Little was a 10-minute animated film about America’s troubling healthcare situation. The films were up against two other movies: a French film named 1848—about the French Revolution of 1848—and a Canadian film entitled The Rising Tide.

3. BEST ACTRESS // 1969

Probably the best-known Oscars tie, this was the second and last time an acting award was split. When presenter Ingrid Bergman opened up the envelope, she discovered a tie between newcomer Barbra Streisand and two-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn—both received 3030 votes. Streisand, who was 26 years old, tied with the 61-year-old The Lion in Winter star, who had already been nominated 10 times in her lengthy career, and won the Best Actress Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn was not in attendance, so all eyes fell on Funny Girl winner Streisand, who wore a revealing, sequined bell-bottomed-pantsuit and gave an inspired speech. “Hello, gorgeous,” she famously said to the statuette, echoing her first line in Funny Girl.

A few years earlier, Babs had received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, but didn’t win. At this point in her career, she was a Grammy-winning singer, but Funny Girl was her movie debut (and what a debut it was). In 1974, Streisand was nominated again for The Way We Were, and won again in 1977 for her and Paul Williams’s song “Evergreen,” from A Star is Born. Four-time Oscar winner Hepburn won her final Oscar in 1982 for On Golden Pond.

4. BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE // 1987

The March 30, 1987 telecast made history with yet another documentary tie, this time for Documentary Feature. Oprah presented the awards to Brigitte Berman’s film about clarinetist Artie Shaw, Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, and to Down and Out in America, a film about widespread American poverty in the ‘80s. Former Oscar winner Lee Grant (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1976 for Shampoo) directed Down and Out and won the award for producers Joseph Feury and Milton Justice. “This is for the people who are still down and out in America,” Grant said in her acceptance speech.

5. BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) // 1995

More than 20 years ago—the same year Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump—the Short Film (Live Action) category saw a tie between two disparate films: the 23-minute British comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and the LGBTQ youth film Trevor. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi wrote and directed the former, which stars Richard E. Grant (Girls, Withnail & I) as Kafka. The BBC Scotland film envisions Kafka stumbling through writing The Metamorphosis.

Trevor is a dramatic film about a gay 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide. Written by James Lecesne and directed by Peggy Rajski, the film inspired the creation of The Trevor Project to help gay youths in crisis. “We made our film for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider,” Rajski said in her acceptance speech, which came after Capaldi's. “It celebrates all those who make it through difficult times and mourns those who didn’t.” It was yet another short film ahead of its time.

6. BEST SOUND EDITING // 2013

The latest Oscar tie happened only three years ago, when Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall beat Argo, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi in sound editing. Mark Wahlberg and his animated co-star Ted presented the award to Zero Dark Thirty’s Paul N.J. Ottosson and Skyfall’s Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. “No B.S., we have a tie,” Wahlberg said to the crowd, assuring them he wasn’t kidding. Ottosson was announced first and gave his speech before Hallberg and Baker Landers found out that they were the other victors.

It wasn’t any of the winners' first trip to the rodeo: Ottosson won two in 2010 for his previous collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing); Hallberg previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing for Braveheart in 1996, and in 2008 both Hallberg and Baker Landers won Best Achievement in Sound Editing for The Bourne Ultimatum.

Ottosson told The Hollywood Reporter he possibly predicted his win: “Just before our category came up another fellow nominee sat next to me and I said, ‘What if there’s a tie, what would they do?’ and then we got a tie,” Ottosson said. Hallberg also commented to the Reporter on his win. “Any time that you get involved in some kind of history making, that would be good.”

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11 Haunting Facts About Beloved

Toni Morrison—who was born on February 18, 1931—made a name for herself with The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon, but it wasn’t until 1987’s Beloved, about a runaway slave haunted by the death of her infant daughter, that her legacy was secured. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and was a key factor in the decision to award Morrison the Nobel Prize in 1993. All the awards aside, Beloved is a testament to the horrors of slavery, with its narrative of suffering and repressed memory and its dedication to the more than 60 million who died in bondage. Here are some notable facts about Morrison’s process and the novel’s legacy.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

While compiling research for 1974's The Black Book, Morrison came across the story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave from Kentucky who escaped with her husband and four children to Ohio in 1856. A posse caught up with Garner, who killed her youngest daughter and attempted to do the same to her other children rather than let them return to bondage. Once apprehended, her trial transfixed the nation. "She was very calm; she said, 'I’d do it again,'" Morrison told The Paris Review. "That was more than enough to fire my imagination."

2. MORRISON CAME UP WITH THE CHARACTER BELOVED AFTER SHE STARTED WRITING.

The book was originally going to be about the haunting of Sethe by her infant daughter, who she killed (just as Garner did) rather than allow her to return to slavery. A third of the way through writing, though, Morrison realized she needed a flesh-and-blood character who could judge Sethe’s decision. She needed the daughter to come back to life in another form (some interpret it as a grief-driven case of mistaken identity). As she told the National Endowment for the Arts’ NEA Magazine: "I thought the only person who was legitimate, who could decide whether [the killing] was a good thing or not, was the dead girl."

3. SHE WROTE THE ENDING EARLY IN THE WRITING PROCESS.

Morrison has said she likes to know the ending of her books early on, and to write them down once she does. With Beloved, she wrote the ending about a quarter of the way in. "You are forced into having a certain kind of language that will keep the reader asking questions," she told author Carolyn Denard in Toni Morrison: Conversations.

4. MORRISON BECAME FASCINATED WITH SMALL HISTORICAL DETAILS.

To help readers understand the particulars of slavery, Morrison carefully researched historical documents and artifacts. One particular item she became fascinated with: the "bit" that masters would put in slaves' mouths as punishment. She couldn’t find much in the way of pictures or descriptions, but she found enough to imagine the shame slaves would feel. In Beloved, Paul D. tells Sethe that a rooster smiled at him while he wore the bit, indicating that he felt lower than a barnyard animal.

5. SHE ONLY RECENTLY READ THE BOOK HERSELF.

In an appearance on The Colbert Report last year, Morrison said she finally got around to reading Beloved after almost 30 years. Her verdict: "It’s really good!"

6. THE BOOK INSPIRED READERS TO BUILD BENCHES.

When accepting an award from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1988, Morrison observed that there is no suitable memorial to slavery, "no small bench by the road." Inspired by this line, the Toni Morrison Society started the Bench by the Road Project to remedy the issue. Since 2006, the project has placed 15 benches in locations significant to the history of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, including Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, which served as the point of entry for 40% of slaves brought to America.

7. WHEN BELOVED DIDN’T WIN THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN 1987, FELLOW WRITERS PROTESTED.

After the snub, 48 African-American writers, including Maya Angelou, John Edgar Wideman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., signed a letter that appeared in the New York Times Book Review. "For all of America, for all of American letters," the letter addressing Morrison read, "you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people."

8. IT’S ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY CHALLENGED BOOKS.

Between 2000 and 2009, Beloved ranked 26th on the American Library Association’s list of most banned/challenged books. A recent challenge in Fairfax County, Virginia, cited the novel as too intense for teenage readers, while another challenge in Michigan said the book was, incredibly, overly simplistic and pornographic. Thankfully, both challenges were denied.

9. MORRISON ALSO WROTE AN OPERA BASED ON GARNER’S LIFE.

Ten years ago, Morrison collaborated with Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour on Margaret Garner, an opera about the real-life inspiration behind Beloved. It opened in Detroit in 2005, and played in Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York before closing in 2008.

10. MORRISON DID NOT WANT IT MADE INTO A MOVIE.

Although she publicly claims otherwise, according to a New York magazine story, Morrison told friends she didn’t want Beloved made into a movie. And she didn’t want Oprah Winfrey (who bought the film rights in 1988) to be in it. Nevertheless, the film came out in 1998 and was a total flop.

11. THERE'S AN ILLUSTRATED VERSION.

The Folio Society, a London-based company that creates fancy special editions of classic books, released the first-ever illustrated Beloved in 2015. Artist Joe Morse had to be personally approved by Morrison for the project. Check out a few of his hauntingly beautiful illustrations here.

This article originally appeared in 2015.

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