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15 Fascinating Facts About The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal was a Jim Henson production that received a lukewarm reaction from viewers and critics alike when it was released in 1982—in large part because Henson fans, who were used to seeing lovable Muppets, instead witnessed something truly unique.  Now a cult classic, the live-action fantasy adventure centers around Jen and Kira, the last two members of the Gelfling tribe, who are trying to stop the evil Skeksis from conquering the world. Here are some facts about the film that was advertised as the first movie to not have a single human actor.

1. ILLUSTRATOR BRIAN FROUD WAS DISCOVERED BY JIM HENSON SIX YEARS BEFORE THE DARK CRYSTAL WAS RELEASED.

Henson saw some art from the British illustrator in a book called Once Upon a Time, and soon asked him to collaborate. The movie was a combination of imagery from the minds of both Henson and Froud. Henson credited Froud with developing The Dark Crystal’s “symbolic structure.”

2. FROUD GOT HIS DESIGN IDEAS FROM EATING LOBSTER DINNERS.

After enjoying his meals he would glue the shells together for design inspiration.

3. BRIAN FROUD MET HIS WIFE ON THE SET.

Brian Froud met his future wife, puppet designer Wendy Midener, while in production on The Dark Crystal when she was hired to sculpt 3-D versions of Brian’s Gelfling designs for the movie. She later sculpted and helped puppeteer Yoda for The Empire Strikes Back.

4. HENSON WROTE THE MOVIE'S ORIGINAL OUTLINE WHILE SNOWED IN AT A HOTEL.

On February 6, 1978, Henson and his daughter Cheryl were forced to spend the night at a Howard Johnson’s at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City in the midst of a blizzard. With little else to do, Henson hand-wrote multiple pages of the movie’s outline for screenwriter David Odell to work with.

5. HENSON MADE A MANDATORY BOOK RECOMMENDATION.

Both Brian Froud and The Dark Crystal screenwriter David Odell were told by Henson to read Jane Roberts’s 1972 book Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul, based on Roberts’s experiences channeling a multi-dimensional being that existed outside of time and space. Odell claimed Aughra’s line “He could be anywhere then” was influenced by Roberts’s book.

6. THE ORIGINAL GRIMM’S FAIRY TALES WERE ALSO AN INFLUENCE.

Frank Oz recalled that Henson wasn’t afraid to possibly scare the children who were his fans from the Muppet movies and his puppets from Sesame Street. He wanted to “get back to the darkness” of the original stories by the Brothers Grimm.

7. IT WAS FRANK OZ’S FIRST DIRECTING JOB.

In addition to the famous puppeteer performing as Aughra and Chamberlain in the film, Oz accepted Henson’s request to co-direct the film. Oz estimated that Henson helmed “70 percent” of the movie. Having two directors was so confusing and slowed things down for the crew so much that an assistant director was tasked with informing Henson and Oz that everybody wanted Henson to direct himself. He denied the request.

8. SIX PERFORMERS WERE OPERATING EACH CREATURE SIMULTANEOUSLY.

It took six people to work the animatronic Skeksis creatures: two were stuffed in the bird-like body while four worked on a platform underneath the surface. One group of performers worked for at least six months before shooting even began.

9. THEY SHOT THE MOST COMPLICATED SCENES FIRST.

Shooting began on April 15, 1981. One of the first scenes shot was the big showdown between Jen and Kira and the Skeksis in the Crystal Chamber.

10. HENSON MODELED THE SKEKSIS ON THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS.

That would be wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. (Since there were more than seven of them, some of the sins were repeated.) Froud described them as parts reptile, predatory bird, and dragon.

11. IT WAS ALL SHOT WITH A FAINT COLOR TINT TO RESEMBLE FROUD’S CONCEPTUAL DESIGNS.

This was done with a “light flex” by Oscar-winning cinematographer Oswald Morris, who retired after his work on The Dark Crystal.

12. THE SKEKSIS AND MYSTICS ORIGINALLY HAD AN INDO-EUROPEAN ROOTED LANGUAGE.

David Odell wrote in the original script for the Skeksis and the Mystics to share a similar language, with the Skeksis using a “cruder, uglier” version of it. However, the actors were too busy trying to work on their movements to learn new words, so they mostly spoke gibberish. Until ...

13. THE FIRST PREVIEW AUDIENCE HATED THE MOVIE.

On March 19, 1982, a Washington D.C. crowd was one of the first groups of people to ever witness the original cut—and they didn't like it. Mostly because they were confused and unhappy with not understanding what the Skeksis were saying. Henson asked Odell to add some voiceovers as well as some new dialogue so that the Skeksis could be re-recorded into English.

14. HENSON PAID $15 MILLION OF HIS OWN MONEY TO BUY THE FILM FROM ITS STUDIO.

ITC Entertainment had new leadership in the form of Robert Holmes à Court, who gave the film little advertising after its bad first screening. Worried his baby wasn’t going to get the chance it deserved, Henson spent all of the money he had available to buy his movie from Court. The movie came in third on its opening weekend (losing to Tootsie and The Toy), but the movie that was made on a $15 million budget eventually ended up making $40 million at the box office.

15. A SEQUEL HAS BEEN IN THE WORKS FOR A WHILE.

It has been reported that Jim Henson’s children and some of the original creative term have been working on Power of the Dark Crystal, a sequel, for many years now. Director Shane Abbess left the project because executives wouldn't allow him to follow through on Henson’s handwritten notes on what he wanted the sequel to be.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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