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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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10 Things to Remember About Memorial Day
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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Memorial Day is much more than just a three-day weekend and a chance to get the year's first sunburn. Here's a handy 10-pack of facts to give the holiday some perspective.

1. IT STARTED WITH THE CIVIL WAR.

Memorial Day was a response to the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War, in which some 620,000 soldiers on both sides died. The loss of life and its effect on communities throughout the country led to spontaneous commemorations of the dead:

• In 1864, women from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, put flowers on the graves of their dead from the just-fought Battle of Gettysburg. The next year, a group of women decorated the graves of soldiers buried in a Vicksburg, Mississippi, cemetery.

• In April 1866, women from Columbus, Mississippi, laid flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. In the same month, in Carbondale, Illinois, 219 Civil War veterans marched through town in memory of the fallen to Woodlawn Cemetery, where Union hero Major General John A. Logan delivered the principal address. The ceremony gave Carbondale its claim to the first organized, community-wide Memorial Day observance.

• Waterloo, New York began holding an annual community service on May 5, 1866. Although many towns claimed the title, it was Waterloo that won congressional recognition as the "birthplace of Memorial Day."

2. MAJOR GENERAL JOHN A. LOGAN MADE IT OFFICIAL.

General Logan, the speaker at the Carbondale gathering, also was commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans. On May 5, 1868, he issued General Orders No. 11, which set aside May 30, 1868 "for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion."

The orders expressed hope that the observance would be "kept up from year to year while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades."

3. IT WAS FIRST KNOWN AS DECORATION DAY.

The holiday was long known as Decoration Day for the practice of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths, and flags. The name Memorial Day goes back to 1882, but the older name didn't disappear until after World War II. Federal law declared "Memorial Day" the official name in 1967.

4. THE HOLIDAY IS A FRANCHISE.

Calling Memorial Day a "national holiday" is a bit of a misnomer. While there are 10 federal holidays created by Congress—including Memorial Day—they apply only to Federal employees and the District of Columbia. Federal Memorial Day, established in 1888, allowed Civil War veterans, many of whom were drawing a government paycheck, to honor their fallen comrades without being docked a day's pay.

For the rest of us, our holidays were enacted state by state. New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day a legal holiday, in 1873. Most Northern states had followed suit by the 1890s. The states of the former Confederacy were unenthusiastic about a holiday memorializing those who, in General Logan's words, "united to suppress the late rebellion." The South didn't adopt the May 30 Memorial Day until after World War I, by which time its purpose had been broadened to include those who died in all the country's wars.

In 1971, the Monday Holiday Law shifted Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday of the month.

5. IT WAS JAMES GARFIELD'S FINEST HOUR—OR MAYBE HOUR-AND-A-HALF.

James Garfield
Edward Gooch, Getty Images

On May 30, 1868, President Ulysses S. Grant presided over the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery—which, until 1864, was Confederate General Robert E. Lee's plantation.

Some 5000 people attended on a spring day which, The New York Times reported, was "somewhat too warm for comfort." The principal speaker was James A. Garfield, a Civil War general, Republican congressman from Ohio and future president.

"I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion," Garfield began, and then continued to utter them. "If silence is ever golden, it must be beside the graves of fifteen-thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem the music of which can never be sung." It went on like that for pages and pages.

As the songs, speeches and sermons ended, the participants helped to decorate the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.

6. NOT EVEN THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER CAN AVOID MEDIA SCRUTINY THESE DAYS.

"Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God." That is the inscription on the Tomb of the Unknowns, established at Arlington National Cemetery to inter the remains of the first Unknown Soldier, a World War I fighter, on November 11, 1921. Unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean War subsequently were interred in the tomb on Memorial Day 1958.

An emotional President Ronald Reagan presided over the interment of six bones, the remains of an unidentified Vietnam War soldier, on November 28, 1984. Fourteen years later, those remains were disinterred, no longer unknown. Spurred by an investigation by CBS News, the defense department removed the remains from the Tomb of the Unknowns for DNA testing.

The once-unknown fighter was Air Force pilot Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie, whose jet crashed in South Vietnam in 1972. "The CBS investigation suggested that the military review board that had changed the designation on Lt. Blassie's remains to 'unknown' did so under pressure from veterans' groups to honor a casualty from the Vietnam War," The New York Times reported in 1998.

Lieutenant Blassie was reburied near his hometown of St. Louis. His crypt at Arlington remains permanently empty.

7. VIETNAM VETS GO WHOLE HOG.

Rolling Thunder members and motocyclists wait for the 'Blessing of the Bikes' to start at at the Washington National Cathedral, May 26, 2017 in Washington, DC
ANGELA WEISS, AFP/Getty Images

On Memorial Day weekend in 1988, 2500 motorcyclists rode into Washington, D.C. for the first Rolling Thunder rally to draw attention to Vietnam War soldiers still missing in action or prisoners of war. By 2002, the ride had swelled to 300,000 bikers, many of them veterans. There may have been a half-million participants in 2005, in what organizers bluntly call "a demonstration—not a parade."

A national veterans rights group, Rolling Thunder takes its name from the B-52 carpet-bombing runs during the war in Vietnam.

8. MEMORIAL DAY HAS ITS CUSTOMS.

General Orders No. 11 stated that "in this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed," but over time several customs and symbols became associated with the holiday.

• It is customary on Memorial Day to fly the flag at half staff until noon, and then raise it to the top of the staff until sunset.

• Taps, the 24-note bugle call, is played at all military funerals and memorial services. It originated in 1862 when Union General Dan Butterfield "grew tired of the 'lights out' call sounded at the end of each day," according to The Washington Post. Together with the brigade bugler, Butterfield made some changes to the tune.

Not long after, the melody was used at a burial for the first time when a battery commander ordered it played in lieu of the customary three rifle volleys over the grave. The battery was so close to enemy lines, and the commander was worried the shots would spark renewed fighting.

• The World War I poem "In Flanders Fields," by John McCrea, inspired the Memorial Day custom of wearing red artificial poppies. In 1915, a Georgia teacher and volunteer war worker named Moina Michael began a campaign to make the poppy a symbol of tribute to veterans and for "keeping the faith with all who died." The sale of poppies has supported the work of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

9. THERE STILL IS A GRAY MEMORIAL DAY.

Several Southern states continue to set aside a day for honoring the Confederate dead, which is usually called Confederate Memorial Day. It's on the fourth Monday in April in Alabama, April 26 in Georgia, June 3 in Louisiana and Tennessee, the last Monday in April in Mississippi, May 10 in North and South Carolina, January 19 in Texas, and the last Monday in May in Virginia.

10. EACH MEMORIAL DAY IS A LITTLE DIFFERENT.

Ricky Parada sits at the grave of his little brother Cpl. Nicolas D. Paradarodriguez who was killed in Afghanistan, at Section 60 on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery on May 28, 2012 in Arlington, Virginia
Mark Wilson, Getty Images

No question that Memorial Day is a solemn event. Still, don't feel too guilty about doing something frivolous (like having barbecue) over the weekend. After all, you weren't the one who instituted the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1911. That credit goes to Indianapolis businessman Carl Fisher. The winning driver that day was Ray Harroun, who averaged 74.6 mph and completed the race in 6 hours and 42 minutes.

Gravitas returned on May 30, 1922, when the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated. Supreme Court Chief Justice (and former president) William Howard Taft dedicated the monument before a crowd of 50,000 people, segregated by race, and which included a row of Union and Confederate veterans. Also attending was Lincoln's surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln.

In 2000, Congress established a National Moment of Remembrance, which asks Americans to pause for one minute at 3 p.m. in an act of national unity. The time was chosen because 3 p.m. "is the time when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday."

This post originally appeared in 2008.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Henry Kissinger
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You probably know Henry Kissinger as a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Let’s take a look at five things you might not know about the German-born political scientist and diplomat.

1. MAO ZEDONG TRIED TO GIVE HIM "10 MILLION" WOMEN.

In 1973, Henry Kissinger was engaged in a discussion of trade with Mao Zedong when the chairman abruptly changed the subject by saying, “We [China] don't have much. What we have in excess is women. So if you want them we can give a few of those to you, some tens of thousands.”

Kissinger sidestepped this bizarre offer and changed the subject, but Mao later returned to the subject by jokingly asking, “Do you want our Chinese women? We can give you 10 million.”

This time Kissinger diplomatically replied, “It is such a novel proposition. We will have to study it.”

Other Chinese officials in the room pointed out that Mao’s attitudes toward women would cause quite a stir if the press got their hands on these quotes, so Mao apologized to his female interpreter and talked Kissinger into having the comments removed from the records of the meeting.

2. NO, HE'S NOT THE INSPIRATION FOR DR. STRANGELOVE.

Here’s a riddle that’s been bugging film buffs for decades: who was the basis for the title character in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove? For years many observers thought that Kissinger might have inspired Peter Sellers’s memorable performance. Blame it on the accent and the glasses. Even though Kissinger was still a relatively obscure Harvard professor when the film premiered in 1964, the rumor that Kubrick modeled the character on him just wouldn't die.

Kubrick did what he could to dispel this notion before his death, saying, “I think this is slightly unfair to Kissinger ... It was unintentional. Neither Peter nor I had ever seen Kissinger before the film was shot.” Most observers now think that Dr. Strangelove was actually a distorted version of Herman Kahn, an eccentric nuclear strategist for the RAND Corporation.

3. HE WAS QUITE THE LADIES MAN.

Even in his youth, Kissinger didn’t quite fit the bill of a matinee idol, but he has always been a hit with the ladies. A 1972 poll of Playboy bunnies selected Kissinger as the man with whom Hef’s ladies would most like to go out on a date. He also had a string of celebrity girlfriends in his younger days, including Diane Sawyer, Candice Bergen, Jill St. John, Shirley Maclaine, and Liv Ullman, who called Kissinger, “the most interesting man I have ever met.”

Kissinger’s swinging bachelor days are long gone, though. He was married to Ann Fleischer from 1949 to 1964 then married philanthropist Nancy Maginnes in 1974—a union that at one point seemed so improbable that just a year before they tied the knot, Maginnes had called speculation that she and Kissinger would marry “outrageous.”

4. PROTECTING HIM ISN'T ALWAYS EASY.

In 1985 former Secret Service agent Dennis McCarthy released the memoir Protecting the President—The Inside Story of a Secret Service Agent, in which he described being on Kissinger’s security detail as “a real pain.” McCarthy shared a funny anecdote about a 1977 trip to Acapulco with Kissinger and his wife. There were signs warning of sharks in the water, but Nancy wanted to go for a swim. Kissinger then told his security detail to get in the water to guard for sharks.

Personal protection is one thing, but McCarthy and his fellow agents drew the line at fighting off sharks. Instead, they made the reasonable point that if the Kissingers were afraid of sharks, they shouldn’t go swimming. Agent McCarthy did, however, offer a compromise; he told Kissinger, “If the sharks come up on this beach, my agents will fight them.”

5. THE STATE DEPARTMENT NIXED HIS OFFICIAL PORTRAIT.

Official portraits of government luminaries don’t usually become big news, but in 1978 the painting of Kissinger commissioned by the State Department for its gallery made headlines. Boston artist Gardner Cox had previously painted Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and Dean Rusk, so he got the $12,000 commission to paint Kissinger. The finished product didn’t earn rave reviews, though.

Some viewers at the State Department thought the painting lacked Kissinger’s dynamism and made him look “somewhat a dwarf.” Others felt the portrait was “a rogues' gallery thing." The State Department offered to let Cox fix the painting, but he said he didn’t see anything that need changing. He lost the commission but got $700 for his expenses.

Kissinger took the whole episode in stride, though. When Houston artist J. Anthony Wills painted a replacement, Kissinger declared it to be, “an excellent likeness, swelled head and all,” and called the unveiling "one of my most fulfilling moments. Until they do Mount Rushmore."

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