CLOSE
Original image
YouTube

12 Nosy Facts About Chinatown

Original image
YouTube

Despite the advice given in its last line of dialogue, the one thing you can't do with Chinatown is forget it. Regarded by nearly everyone—from the American Film Institute to IMDb users—as one of the best movies ever made, Roman Polanski's masterpiece is a modern film noir with a labyrinthine plot and deeply sinister undertones, with top-of-their-game performances by Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, and, well, just about everyone in it. (Don't forget Rance Howard as Irate Farmer!) Here are a dozen facts about Chinatown, all as plain as the sliced nose on Jake's face. 

1. IT WOULDN'T EXIST IF ROBERT TOWNE HADN'T BEEN FRIENDS WITH JACK NICHOLSON. 

The screenwriter and the actor were good friends, even roommates at one point, and they'd studied acting together. Towne has said repeatedly that he wrote the lead role specifically for Nicholson: "I could not have written that character without knowing Jack." Furthermore, it was while visiting Nicholson in Oregon, where he was directing Drive, He Said, that Towne started reading Raymond Chandler detective novels and a book about the history of California water rights, all of which led to Chinatown

2. THE SCREENPLAY DIDN'T HAVE ANY SCENES ACTUALLY SET IN CHINATOWN.

Chinatown is a symbol in Towne's screenplay, representing "the futility of good intentions" (as he said in a DVD interview). And in his original screenplay, it was just a metaphor, with none of the action taking place there. Director Roman Polanski suggested it would be more satisfying if the film's climax took us to the very place J.J. Gittes never wanted to return to, literally as well as symbolically. 

3. POLANSKI CONVINCED TOWNE TO CHANGE THE ENDING, TOO.

In the original version, Evelyn Mulwray fatally shoots her father, but since she refuses to explain her reasons, she's destined for life in prison. "Not a happy ending," Towne said, "but a more complex ending." Polanski wanted to go even darker: Evelyn takes a shot at Dad but only wounds him, while she herself ends up dead, leaving poor Katherine in the hands of the nasty old man. Towne thought that was too melodramatic but ultimately ceded the battle to Polanski. He eventually acknowledged that Polanski's version was better. 

4. ROBERT TOWNE TURNED DOWN $175,000 TO ADAPT THE GREAT GATSBY AND TOOK $25,000 TO WRITE CHINATOWN INSTEAD.

Uber-producer and Hollywood playboy Robert Evans liked the (mostly uncredited) script doctoring Towne had done on Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather, and offered him what was then a very large sum of money to adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Towne declined for an understandable reason: "I didn't want to be the unknown Hollywood writer who f***** up a literary classic." (That honor eventually went to Francis Ford Coppola.) Instead, Towne said, he wanted to develop his Chinatown idea. For this Evans offered him $25,000. (Don't worry about Towne, though. When the film actually went into production, he got another $250,000, plus five percent of the gross.) 

5. POLANSKI ALMOST DIDN'T DO HIS CAMEO BECAUSE HE DIDN'T WANT TO CUT HIS HAIR. 

YouTube

The director cast himself in the role of the bow-tied thug who slices Gittes' nose. But Polanski had long hair at the time, which was wrong for the character, and he was reluctant to cut it—reluctant almost to the point of backing out and casting someone else. Finally he relented, but he got the haircut at the last possible minute, right there on the set before shooting the scene. 

6. NOAH CROSS CONSISTENTLY MISPRONOUNCING GITTES' NAME WAS A MISTAKE, NOT A CHOICE.

It certainly suits the character of a rich, evil man not to care whether he gets some dumb detective's name right. But in truth, the reason Cross keeps calling him "Gits" instead of "Git-is" is that the actor, John Huston, couldn't get it right. Polanski had Nicholson add a line trying to correct him, and after that just let it go. 

7. IT WAS INTENDED AS THE FIRST PART IN A TRILOGY—BUT NO, THE ABORTED THIRD PART DID NOT BECOME WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT.

Part two was The Two Jakes, which Towne wrote and Nicholson directed in 1990. Part three, which never did get written, was to have been called Gittes vs. Gittes (not Cloverleaf, as the legend goes), about the detective's divorce, and would have involved corruption relating to L.A.'s land ownership and transportation system. An urban legend has sprung up that this third plot was the basis for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which does involve a private detective in 1940s L.A. uncovering a scheme to dismantle public transportation and buy up land for a freeway system. But Roger Rabbit came out in 1988, two years before the failure of The Two Jakes meant Gittes vs. Gittes wasn't going to happen. Moreover, Roger Rabbit was adapted, albeit loosely, from a 1981 novel (Who Censored Roger Rabbit, in which they were comic strip characters, not cartoons). Who Framed Roger Rabbit was clearly inspired by Chinatown, as were many crime films set in old-timey L.A., and it bore some coincidental similarities to Towne's unproduced idea. But there was no official connection. 

8. THE MUSICAL SCORE WAS A LAST-MINUTE REPLACEMENT, WRITTEN IN NINE DAYS.

Polanski's go-to composer, Krzysztof Komeda, had died a few years earlier, so Polanski ended up hiring a man named Phillip Lambro to do the honors for Chinatown. After a test screening, however, Polanski's friend Bronislaw Kaper—an old-school Hollywood guy and a composer in his own right—told him: "Great movie, but you have to change the music." (Producer Robert Evans was already leaning in that direction.) Jerry Goldsmith was hired to write a new score, and did it in nine days. His rush job was rewarded with an Oscar nomination, one of seven he received in the 1970s alone. (Some of Lambro's score survives in the Chinatown trailer.)

9. WE DON'T KNOW ANYTHING THAT J.J. GITTES DOESN'T KNOW. 

This is the sort of detail that's either "well, duh" obvious, or that blows your mind a little when you realize it. The film is entirely from Gittes' point of view: he's in every scene, and there's no information that we learn before he does. When he gets a phone call, we hear the voice but don’t see the person at the other end. When he gets knocked unconscious in the orange grove, the movie fades with him, fading back in when he wakes up. To emphasize the point that we're seeing everything from Gittes' perspective, Polanski often put the camera behind Nicholson, so we see his back and shoulders. Watch for it.  

10. TOWNE'S ACCLAIMED SCREENPLAY OWES A LOT TO POLANSKI.

Towne won an Oscar for his screenplay, the only one of 11 nominations that came through for Chinatown. (It was the year of The Godfather: Part II.) The script is used in screenwriting courses and is often held up as an example of a perfect screenplay. But Towne's first version was 180 pages long (which would have made a three-hour movie), and hopelessly complicated. "It would have been a mess" if they'd filmed that version, Towne later said. It was when Polanski came to L.A. in the spring of 1973 and spent eight weeks painstakingly rewriting the script with Towne that it really came together. They worked on it every day and, by both men's admission, fought every day, about everything. Polanski crafted the story structure, and Towne would write the dialogue. Towne's ex-wife (who admittedly had an ax to grind) later told a biographer, "Roman could have easily asked for a [writing] credit on Chinatown and he would have gotten it. It wasn't just the ending. Roman simply took it over, structured the whole piece." 

11. THE CUCKOLDED HUSBAND WE MEET IN THE FIRST SCENE USED TO HAVE MORE SINISTER PLANS.

YouTube

Poor Curly, played by Burt Young (soon to be Paulie in Rocky), has hired Gittes to find out if his wife is cheating on him, which she is. A view of the scandalous photos is the first thing we see after the opening credits. Originally, the scene had an exchange where Curly tells Gittes he's going to kill the unfaithful woman, and Gittes tells him he's not rich enough to get away with murder. (That's why they're talking about Curly paying his bill as they come out of the office, and why Gittes says, "I only brought it up"—Curly's financial situation—"to illustrate a point.") Towne later regretted removing this part of the scene. "That exchange I miss probably as much as any in the movie," he said in 1999. "Because it really foreshadows [the] 'You've got to be rich to kill somebody and get away with it' [theme]. He's really foreshadowing the whole movie." 

12. THERE'S A RECURRING VISUAL MOTIF THAT SHOWS UP OVER AND OVER—AND IT'S THERE ACCIDENTALLY.

Chinatown frequently shows us images of two things that are identical, except that one is flawed: Two pocket watches side by side, one broken. A pair of eyeglasses, one lens cracked. Gittes' nostrils, one sliced. Gittes smashes one taillight on Evelyn's car. He loses one shoe in the reservoir. Evelyn has a flaw in one of her irises. Katherine looks like a duplicate of Evelyn, but is the product of incest. The list goes on. But when Towne is asked about this on the DVD commentary, he says it was totally unintentional; he and Polanski never discussed using such images as a recurring theme. Whatever meaning we may ascribe to the symbolism, the filmmakers didn't put it there on purpose. 

Additional Sources:
DVD/Blu-ray commentary and special features
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, by Peter Biskind
American Film Institute

Original image
Central Press/Getty Images
arrow
Lists
Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
Original image
Central Press/Getty Images

Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 118th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."

Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."

Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."

By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

Original image
arrow
Lists
35 Things You Might Not Know About Mister Rogers
Original image

In this episode of our YouTube series, John Green brings you a whole pile of things you should know about everybody's favorite neighbor. Here's a transcript, courtesy of Nerdfighteria:

Hi, I'm John Green, welcome to my neighborhood. This is mental_floss, and today we're going to talk about Mr. Rogers, with whom I have a lot in common. By the way, thanks to copyright laws, that's the only picture of Mr. Rogers we can afford, so you'll be seeing a lot of it today. But yes, Fred Rogers and I have many similarities:

1. We both considered becoming ministers (he actually did).

2. Both happily married to women named Sara(h).

And we both make stuff for young people... although I don't think that his work has been banned from several dozen high schools in Tennessee.

[intro music]

3. Mr. Rogers was an Ivy League dropout. He completed his freshman year at Dartmouth, and then transferred to Rollins College so he could get a degree in music.

4. And he was an excellent piano player; not only did he graduate from Rollins "Magna cum laude," but he wrote all of the songs on the show, as well as more than 200 other songs, and several kids' operas including one called "All in the Laundry."

5. Mr. Rogers decided to get into television, because when he saw it for the first time he, "hated it so." When he turned on a set, all he saw was angry people throwing pies in each others' faces, and he vowed to use the medium to make the world a better place.

6. Over the years, he talked to kids about their feelings, covering topics as varied as why kids shouldn't be afraid of haircuts, or the bathroom drain (because you won't fit), to bigger issues like divorce and war.

7. In the opening sequence of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, the stoplight is always on yellow. That's a reminder to kids and parents to slow down a little.

8. Also, Mr. Rogers wasn't afraid of dead air time, unlike me: Once he invited a marine biologist and explorer onto his program to put a microphone into his fish tank, because he wanted to show the kids at home that fish make sounds when they eat. However, while taping the segment, the fish weren't hungry so the marine biologist started trying to egg the fish on, saying "C'mon," "It's Chowtime," "Dinnerbell." But Mr. Rogers just waited quietly. The crew thought he'd want to re-tape it, but Mr. Rogers just kept it... to show kids the importance of being patient.

9. Fred Rogers was a perfectionist, and so he disliked ad-libbing. He felt that he owed it to children to make sure that every word on his show was thought out. But here at mental_floss, we love ad libbing because it's much less work.

10. In a Yale psychology study, when Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood went "head to head," kids who watched Mr. Rogers not only remembered more of the story lines, but their, "Tolerance of delay," a fancy term for their ability to wait for promised treats or adult attention, was considerably higher.

11. Mr. Rogers was also beloved by Koko the Gorilla, you know Koko the Stanford educated Gorilla who can speak about 1000 words in American Sign Language; she watched The Neighborhood, and when Mr. Rogers made a trip to meet her, she not only embraced him but she did what she'd always see him do on screen: She proceeded to take his shoes off.

12. Those shoes were store bought, by the way, but every one of the cardigans Mr. Rogers wore on his show was knit by his mother.

13. Today one of them resides in the Smithsonian - a red one. Mr. Rogers chose to donate that sweater, because the cameras at his studio didn't pick up the color very well.

14. Mr. Rogers could start to feel anxious and overwhelmed, and when he did, he liked to play the chords to the show's theme song on the piano on set in order to calm himself.

15. The other way you could tell he was exasperated? If he said the word, "mercy." Mostly, he said it when he got to his desk in the morning, and the mountains of fan mail were a little bit too tall. But, "mercy" was about the strongest word in his vocabulary.

16. And yes, Mr. Rogers responded to every single piece of fan mail. He had the same routine every morning: wake up at 5:00AM. Pray for a few hours for all of his friends and family, study, write, make calls, reach out to every single fan who took the time to write him, go for a morning swim, get on a scale, then start the day. My morning routine is a bit less ambitious than that; Mr. Rogers, I thought you were supposed to make me feel good about myself! You just made me feel terrible!

17. But speaking of that daily weigh-in, Mr. Rogers watched his weight very closely. And he'd like to weigh exactly 143 lbs (65 kg). By the way, he didn't drink, smoke, or eat the flesh of any animal. NATCH.

18. Why did Mr. Rogers like the number 1-4-3 so much? Because it takes 1 letter to say "I", 4 letters to say "love," and 3 letters to say, "you" (Jean --Luc Picard).

19. Now it starts to get a little weird. So, journalists had a tough time covering Mr. Rogers because he'd often, like befriend them, ask them tons of questions, take pictures of them, compile an album for them at the end of their time together, and then call them afterwards to check in on them and hear about their families. He genuinely loved hearing the life stories of other people.

20. And it wasn't just reporters. Like once, on a fancy trip up to a PBS executive's house, he heard the limo driver was gonna have to wait outside for two hours, so Mr. Rogers insisted that the driver come in and join them. And then, on the way back, Rogers sat up front, and when he learned that they were passing the driver's house on the way, he asked if they could stop in to meet the family. And according to the driver, it was one of the best nights of his life. The house lit up when Rogers arrived, and he played jazz piano and bantered with them late into the night.

21. Okay, so thieves, Smithsonian curators, reporters, limo drivers, kids, all these people loved Mr. Rogers, but someone has to hate him, right? Well, LSU professor Don Chance certainly doesn't love his legacy: He believes that Mr. Rogers created a, "culture of excessive doting" which resulted in generations of lazy, entitled college students... and that makes sense, because generally the deterioration of culture can be traced back to a single public television program.

22. Other curious theories about Mr. Rogers that are all over the Internet: That he served in the army and was a sniper in Vietnam;

23. That he served in the army and was a sniper in Korea;

24. That he only wore sweaters to cover up the tattoos on his arms. These are all untrue. He was never in the army; he never shot anyone; he had no tattoos.

25. One other rumor we'd like to quash? That he used to chase kids off his porch on Halloween. That's crazy! In fact, his house was known for being one of those generous homes that give out full-size candy bars... because of course it was!

26. In fact, for all the myths that people want to create about him, Mr. Rogers seems to have been almost exactly the same person "off screen," as he was, "onscreen." As an ordained Presbyterian minister and a man of tremendous faith, Mr. Rogers preached tolerance first. He never engaged in the culture wars; all he would ever say is, "God loves you just the way you are."

27. He was also kind of a superhero, like when the government wanted to cut public television funds in 1969, the then relatively unknown Mr. Rogers went to Washington and almost like straight out of a Capra film, his testimony on how TV had the potential to give kids hope and create more productive citizens was so passionate and convincing, that even the most gruff politicians were charmed... and instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV jumped from $9M to $22M.

28. Years later, Mr. Rogers also swayed the Supreme Court to allow VCR's to record TV shows from home. It was a cantankerous debate at the time, but his argument was that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Plus, it allowed him to watch Captain Stubing on The Love Boat anytime he wanted, without having to stay up till 8:30PM.

29. He was also heavily parodied, but most of the people who made fun of him, loved him. Like Johnny Carson hoped his send up of The Neighborhood would make Mr. Rogers more famous.

30. And the first time Eddie Murphy met Mr. Rogers, he couldn't stop himself from giving the guy a big hug.

All right, we're running out of time, so let's speed this up.

31. Mr. Rogers was color-blind. I mean that figuratively, like his parents took in African-American foster children, and he loved people of all backgrounds equally, but also literally.

32. Michael Keaton got his start on the show: He was a puppeteer and worked the trolley.

33. Mr. Rogers once made a guest appearance on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman as a pastor's mentor.

34. And many of the characters on his show took their names from his family. Like, McFeely was his grandfather's name, Queen Sara is named for his wife.

35. And lastly, we return to the Salon so I can tell you probably my favorite story about Mr. Rogers: that he could make a whole New York City subway car full of strangers sing. He was rushing to a meeting and there were no cabs available so Mr. Rogers jumped on the subway. The car was full of people, Rogers assumed that he wouldn't be noticed, but he quickly was, of course, and then people burst into song, chanting, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood."

Thanks for watching mental_floss, which is made with the help of all of these lovely people and remember that you make every day special just by being you.

See Also...

20 Gentle Quotes from Mister Rogers
*
Mister Rogers on the Set of The Incredible Hulk
*
11 Scenes from the Mister Rogers Christmas Special

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios