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Jeremy Brooks via Flickr
Jeremy Brooks via Flickr

11 Things You Might Not Know About Jack In The Box

Jeremy Brooks via Flickr
Jeremy Brooks via Flickr

It's a burger joint known for its tacos and irreverent mascot, but Jack in the Box has a lot more snacks and hijinks where that comes from.

1. ITS FOUNDER PIONEERED THE DRIVE-THRU.

Robert O. Peterson opened the first Jack in the Box restaurant in San Diego, Calif. in 1951 by converting one location of his Oscar’s restaurant chain into a new animal altogether: a drive-thru hamburger stand. Having bought the rights to an intercom-based drive-thru setup from another restaurateur, Peterson started expanding this new model, mounting the intercom inside a plastic clown. Today, the company operates over 2200 restaurants (mostly on the West Coast), though the clown-tercoms have long since been replaced with regular speaker setups.

2. BY 1980, THE COMPANY WAS SICK OF CLOWNS, SO IT BLEW THEM UP.

In the late '70s, Jack in the Box decided to shed its circus-like interiors, lose the clowns atop its restaurants and in its drive-thrus, and evolve into something that’d appeal more to adults than children. So, in 1980, the chain kicked off a decade or so of ‘premium fare’-aimed marketing with a commercial in which a group of employees blow up the mascot while a drive-thru customer gives the order to "Waste him!” Later commercials, including one from 1981, continued to echo the idea of explosive changes going on at the restaurants.

3. BUT IN 1994, JACK CAME BACK AND RETURNED THE FAVOR.

The mid-’90s “Jack’s Back” campaign reestablished the mascot (“thanks to the miracle of plastic surgery”) and was meant to help reinvent the company after a major E. coli contamination crisis in 1993, which resulted in several deaths and left the chain near bankruptcy. The campaign’s TV commercials quickly established that the new-and-improved character—now named Jack Box—was indeed back in town, but the use of a remote detonator bomb in the ad drew criticism in the wake of domestic terror attacks along the East Coast.

4. THE NEW JACK STARTED TAKING DOWN HIS HATERS, TOO.

A later commercial, from 1997, shows Mr. Box sparking a violent confrontation with a man who’s been calling the chain “junk in the box.” Jack shows up on his doorstep unannounced and chases the man through his house and into his back yard (with the cameraperson running along behind, Cops-style). He force-feeds the naysayer Jack in the Box fare while pinning him to the ground. “Tasty!” the man declares while a menacing Jack asks, “You’re not just saying that 'cause I could snap your arm like a twig?” The ad was only shown after 10 p.m., and it won an award at an international advertising festival the following year.

5. SINCE THEN, JACK HAS RUN FOR PRESIDENT AND BEEN HIT BY A BUS, AMONG OTHER THINGS.

For a fast food mascot, Jack Box is an extremely developed character—one who, according to the company, may look “a bit like a clown, due to a genetically inherited large white head” (a trait only affecting Box family males) but is nevertheless “a serious businessman.”

Over the course of more than 2200 English- and Spanish-language commercials, we’ve learned that Jack has a wife named Cricket, a son named Jack Jr., and mullet-sporting cousins in Philly. The chain’s "Jack Facts" page also mentions that he is 6'8" (without his hat), was born on May 16, and speaks Mandarin. As a 1996 presidential candidate, Jack reportedly also “beat out Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in a national independent virtual poll.” In 2009, however, the company decided to test his popularity and relevancy, so Jack got hit by a bus. This took him out of commission until an “unprecedented” outcry from fans in the form of thousands of emails and letters convinced the company to keep him on as spokesperson.

6. THE MAN BEHIND “JACK BOX” IS A TOTAL CHARACTER, TOO.

Actor and ad man Richard “Dick” Sittig lends his voice to Jack Box’s big white head, but he has also been nurturing and shaping the character and masterminding Jack commercials since 1995. After pioneering the “Jack’s Back” era with a larger ad firm for two years, Sittig split off and formed his own agency, Secret Weapon Marketing, which since been handling Jack in the Box ads since.

Commercials featuring Jack Box have accounted for huge growth in the company, and have developed a cult following thanks to an “irreverent humor” that especially tickles younger men, the LA Times reflects. Sittig told the paper, "If our target was a 75-year-old woman, we'd be a Hallmark card." As to who Mr. Box really is, Sittig painted an image for Adweek that is part adventurer, part tycoon: “[Being] intimidating is part of Jack's persona—a Trump-ian, or actually a Branson kind of thing. He's a larger-than-life celebrity CEO.”

7. THE COMPANY’S MADE ENOUGH JACK ORNAMENTS FOR 11% OF ALL U.S. CARS.

Since “reigniting the antenna ball craze in 1995 with [the] Classic Jack antenna ball,” Jack in the Box has reportedly sold or given away over 28 million antenna balls—or enough to adorn around 11% of the 253 million cars in the United States—plus “more than 5 million other premiums bearing Jack’s likeness,” such as collectible Pez dispensers.

Jack swag has also included occasional movie promos, like a 1995 line of posters and cups celebrating the release of Star Trek: Generations—the promotion invited customers to “Galaxy-Size” their meals and/or “beam up to bigger fries” for only 39 cents extra.

8. JACK IN THE BOX’S TACOS HAVEN’T CHANGED IN 50 YEARS, BASICALLY.

Are Tacos tax deductible? Because if they are I’m getting quite a big refund. #TaxDay

A photo posted by Jack in the Box (@jackinthebox) on

Undeniably alluring as they are, Jack in the Box’s 2-for-99-cents tacos don't necessarily have a lot in common with the typical fast-food taco. Nevertheless, the chain sells about 400 million of them per year, all without having changed its basic recipe—seasoned meat lump, two triangles of American cheese, some shredded iceberg lettuce, and a little sauce—in around 50 years. The main difference is that today's Jack in the Box taco meat mixture now has some textured vegetable-based proteins in there, too.

9. IN 2004, JACK IN THE BOX TRIED TO GET SIT-DOWN CLASSY WITH “JBX GRILL”...

In recent years, a number of new and established restaurant chains have been trying to cash in on the "fast-casual dining" craze that’s put businesses like Chipotle at the top of the lunch break heap. While McDonald’s, for one, has only recently experimented with “build-a-burger” sit-down restaurants in the past year or so, Jack in the Box was ahead of the trend with its JBX Grill locations—opened on a trial basis in 2004, and featuring cozier chairs, fancier toppings, and even a few fireplaces—though perhaps too much so; sadly, they were scrapped just two years later.

10. ...BUT LATELY, IT’S (PROBABLY) BEEN TARGETING HUNGRY STONERS.

Coming from a born-and-raised California chain, it’s possible that Jack in the Box’s recent ad campaign “featuring vacant, half-baked millennials” was responding to recent legislative and cultural shifts that have made marijuana a lot more accessible to Golden State residents.

Explained in one ad spot, the promotional $6 Munchie Meal is a “boxful of crunchy crave-ables,” appropriate for that window between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. when “things get weird” and containing items that an experimental snacker might concoct (and get really excited about): a grilled cheese sandwich grafted to a burger, a chicken bacon melt with a hashbrown patty wedged in, and so on. In another 2014 commercial, a young woman and a puppet version of Mr. Box, chilling out in bean-bag chairs, discuss the pros and cons of having spoons for hands before Puppet Jack suggests a late-night food run.

The Week reported, however, that the fast food company insists it’s not deliberately targeting pot smokers but rather “folks looking for indulgent treats,” such as “late-night shift workers and millennials who get the munchies at odd hours.” So...stoners, yes?

11. IN ADDITION TO CHEAP MUNCHABLES, IT HOLDS THE GUINNESS WORLD RECORD FOR LARGEST COUPON.

As Guinness notes, the restaurant was awarded the honor this past March for constructing an “eight-story-high voucher measuring an incredible 185.81 m² (2,000 ft²), highlighting a Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF) offer on ‘Buttery Jack,’ a quarter-pound burger with garlic herb butter melted on top.” Customers were allowed to ‘redeem’ the coupon by displaying a picture they’d taken of it at checkout.

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


Getty Images

By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


Getty Images

Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
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Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

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