CLOSE
YouTube
YouTube

17 Wonderful (and Not-So-Wonderful) Facts About The Wizard of Oz

YouTube
YouTube

It was the quintessential Golden Age of Hollywood film: Lovable characters (yes, even the bad guys), catchy song-and-dance numbers, and a story that still makes audiences cry more than 75 years later after its initial release. The Wizard of Oz is an often-imitated but never-duplicated cinematic treasure (in this age of the multiple remake, that’s saying something) that remains an integral part of childhood seven decades after it first enchanted audiences in theaters.

Based on L. Frank Baum's wildly popular 1900 children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the iconic MGM film from 1939 is still a gift that keeps on giving with its innumerable catchphrases (“There’s no place like home,” “It’s a twistah! It’s a twistah!” “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!”), and timeless songs like “Over the Rainbow” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”

Many movies have tried to top that magical, life-changing moment when farm girl Dorothy Gale (a 16-year-old Judy Garland) opens the door to Munchkinland and trades her drab, sepia-toned Kansas life for one of boundless Oz Technicolor—and as of 2015 they still haven’t succeeded. But as with any other classic movie, The Wizard of Oz has its share of triumphs, tragedies, and trivia. Read on for some of our insights into this venerated Hollywood masterpiece.

1. YOU CAN THANK THE POWER OF TECHNICOLOR FOR DOROTHY’S RUBY SLIPPERS.

More so than the braids, the toy Toto, or even the blue-and-white gingham dress, those sparkly ruby-red shoes are the key to any Dorothy Gale costume. But one of the most important images of the enduring Wizard of Oz mythos did not come from the mind of author L. Frank Baum, but instead from Oz screenwriter Noel Langley. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book series, Dorothy’s shoes were made of silver. However, Langley recommended the slippers be changed to ruby for the film due to the fact that the bright red hue would show up much better against the Technicolor yellow brick road.

The silver shoes did make a comeback nearly 40 years later, when The Wiz was adapted for the big screen and Diana Ross’s Dorothy kicked it old-school for her Oz footwear.

2. GETTING DOROTHY HOME TO KANSAS WAS AN EASIER FEAT THAN MAINTAINING A DIRECTOR FOR THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Victor Fleming may be the one officially credited onscreen, but The Wizard of Oz can boast four directors. The first, Richard Thorpe, was fired after less than two weeks. George Cukor was brought in next, but he was summoned away to go work on—of all projects!—Gone With the Wind. Then Fleming stepped in, until he too was called over to assist with Gone With the Wind, and King Vidor was hired to complete the movie.

3. RAY BOLGER, FOREVER IMMORTALIZED AS THE SCARECROW, WAS INITIALLY CAST AS THE TIN MAN.

And he wasn’t too happy about it. Ray Bolger felt his signature, loose-limbed dancing style would be stifled as the rusted-stiff Tin Man (“I’m not a tin performer. I’m fluid,” said Bolger of the part). So he managed to convince the actor cast as the Scarecrow, Buddy Ebsen, to switch roles. Considering Ebsen was so easygoing about the change, it seemed like this was all meant to be. Or not ...

4. ORIGINAL TIN MAN BUDDY EBSEN SUFFERED A SEVERE ALLERGIC REACTION TO THE ALUMINUM-POWDER MAKEUP, AND HAD TO BE REPLACED.

Nine days into production on The Wizard of Oz, Ebsen found himself in the hospital, unable to breathe from the aluminum-powder makeup he wore as the Tin Man (cue the “Nice going, Bolger,” here). “My lungs were coated with that aluminum dust they had been powdering on my face,” Ebsen explained in the book The Making of The Wizard of Oz. The actor, who would go on to star in The Beverly Hillbillies TV show in the 1960s, was subsequently replaced by Jack Haley (whose Tin Man makeup was tweaked from a powder to a paste).

Ebsen wasn’t the only one who had a near-fatal experience with his Oz cosmetics. Actress Margaret Hamilton, who played the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West, suffered a second-degree burn on her face and a third-degree burn on her hand while filming her character’s dramatic, fiery exit from Munchkinland. Hamilton learned after the fact that her makeup was copper-based (read: toxic), and that if it hadn’t been removed immediately, she may not have lived to tell the tale.

5. JUDY GARLAND’S ORIGINAL DOROTHY LOOK WAS MUCH MORE HOLLYWOOD GLAMOUR GIRL.

Judy Garland’s Dorothy will always be remembered for her simple farm-girl look (and the subtle Emerald City makeover later in the movie), but when production first began on Oz, Garland was given the traditional Hollywood treatment. That meant a bouncy, blonde wig and tons of makeup. Fortunately, for the film’s legacy, Glam Dorothy didn’t last long. It was interim director George Cukor who did away with the wig and cosmetics, turning Dorothy back into what she was all along: A girl from the Kansas prairie.

6. FRANK MORGAN PLAYED NOT ONE, NOT TWO, BUT FIVE CHARACTERS IN OZ.

Most of the main actors in The Wizard of Oz played two roles: A Kansas character and his or her Oz counterpart. This meant Ray Bolger (Scarecrow), Jack Haley (Tin Man), and Bert Lahr (Cowardly Lion) doubled as farmhands, and Margaret Hamilton got wicked in both Kansas (Miss Gulch) and Oz (the Witch). But Frank Morgan, who portrayed the shady Professor Marvel in the Kansas scenes (and was only billed for that role in the credits), not only showed up in Oz as the Wizard, but also as the uppity Doorman to the Emerald City, the Horse-of-a-Different-Color-owning Cabbie, and the snippy (later, sobbing) Wizard’s Guard.

7. MARGARET HAMILTON ONCE APPEARED ON MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD TO TALK ABOUT HER MOST FAMOUS ROLE.

In 1975, former kindergarten teacher Margaret Hamilton was a guest on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. On this episode, Hamilton spoke with Fred Rogers at length about her celebrated—albeit frightening—role, as a way to help children watching at home understand that her playing the Wicked Witch, in the words of a familiar Neighborhood term, was all “make-believe.”

Hamilton discussed how kids could better sympathize with the Witch’s perspective by explaining her misunderstood nature: “She’s what we refer to as ‘frustrated.’ She’s very unhappy because she never gets what she wants.” (A prescient Hamilton was also hitting on the concept for the novel—and subsequent musical—Wicked here, 20 years before its publication.) The actress then ended her visit with Mr. Rogers in the coolest way possible: Dressing up in a Wicked Witch of the West costume (sans green makeup) and briefly slipping into her mischievous cackle.

8. THE CLASSIC 1939 MGM FILM WAS NOT THE FIRST CINEMATIC ADAPTATION OF L. FRANK BAUM’S NOVEL.

Back in 1910, a 13-minute silent film called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was produced. By today’s standards, it’s delightfully creepy, but 105 years ago, it was probably a revelation for audiences. The movie also took a lot of liberties with Baum’s original story, which can be discombobulating for modern viewers. In this version, Dorothy and the Scarecrow are already pals by the time they’re both swept up in the (very primitive-looking) cyclone for their journey to Oz. The movie also ends with Dorothy ditching Kansas and opting instead to stick around this far more exciting magical land. “There’s no place like–Oz?”

Another silent film, also called The Wizard of Oz, was released in 1925 and featured a young Oliver Hardy in the role of the Tin Woodsman. It, too, deviated significantly from the book.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

9. AT ONE TIME, DOROTHY, THE SCARECROW, THE TIN MAN, AND THE COWARDLY LION WERE DOING THE LATEST DANCE CRAZE OF 1939: THE JITTERBUG.

But you never got to see it, because the entire sequence was cut from Oz for time (plus there’s the theory that producers felt inserting an up-to-the-minute dance craze would date the film). Right before the Wicked Witch’s Flying Monkeys descend upon Dorothy and her friends in the Haunted Forest, the group was supposed to be attacked by an insect (“The Jitterbug”) that would make them dance uncontrollably. In fact, at the start of the clip above, you can still hear the Witch comment to one of her monkeys, “I’ve sent a little insect on ahead to take the fight out of them” (continuity be damned).

Full audio of the “Jitterbug” song still exists, as well as some very raw footage, both of which are available in the above clip. The “Jitterbug” song-and-dance number has also been reinstated in some stage versions of The Wizard of Oz (including a 1995 high school production that featured the writer of this piece).

10. TOTO THE DOG MADE MORE THAN THE MUNCHKIN ACTORS.

Margaret Pellegrini, who portrayed one of the Munchkins in the film, said that she was paid $50 a week to work on Oz. In 1939, that was a decent wage for a working actor. Trouble was, Dorothy’s canine companion was pulling in a whopping $125 a week. That had to make things awkward on set.

11. AN IOWA NEWSPAPER ARTICLE SPUN THE WIZARD OF OZ AS A CURE FOR "WAR NERVES."

One day after Germany invaded Poland (thus beginning the Second World War), Iowa’s Mason City Globe Gazette ran an article heralding The Wizard of Oz’s run at the local movie house. As a way to both increase morale and ticket sales, Oz was billed as the perfect escapist fantasy for those worried about the events overseas. The actual headline read: “War Nerves? See The Wizard of Oz for a Genuine Rest.” Glinda the Good Witch and her cohorts may not have been able to solve the problem of encroaching Nazism, but at least they provided a couple hours’ worth of comfort away from the horrors of the real world.

12. MOVIE-MUSICAL VIRTUOSO BUSBY BERKELEY CHOREOGRAPHED AN EXTENDED (AND DELETED) VERSION OF "IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN."

Another casualty of the cutting room floor, this extended “If I Only Had a Brain” sequence showcased Ray Bolger’s deft control over his seemingly elastic body. It is also extremely trippy and gave the Scarecrow the inexplicable ability to fly—which wasn’t going to gel with the rest of the movie (if the Scarecrow could fly, then why didn’t he go one-on-one with the Wicked Witch?). Luckily for Berkeley, the decision to delete this part of the scene in no way hurt the legendary director-choreographer’s place in the annals of movie musical history.

13. MARGARET HAMILTON USED TO SNEAK INTO BILLIE BURKE’S FIT-FOR-A-QUEEN (OR A GOOD WITCH) DRESSING ROOM.

It’s not easy being green, as Margaret Hamilton can attest. The Wicked Witch actress’ sorry excuse for a dressing room was a canvas tent that, in Hamilton’s words, was “simply awful.” But Billie Burke, who portrayed Glinda the Good Witch, had her own thin slice of pink-and-blue-hued heaven on the MGM lot that was probably decorated by Glinda herself (in reality, Burke was the widow of vaudeville impresario Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. and knew a thing or two about glamorous living). “She had a pink and blue dressing room,” said Hamilton in The Making of The Wizard of Oz. “With pink and blue powder puffs and pink and blue bottles filled with powder and baby oil. And pink and blue peppermints.” So on days Burke wasn’t on set, Hamilton admitted to eating her lunch in her co-star’s palace-like inner sanctum.

14. AMERICA’S SWEETHEART AT THE TIME, SHIRLEY TEMPLE, WAS CONSIDERED FOR THE ROLE OF DOROTHY.

At 10 years old, Shirley Temple fit the little-girl profile of Dorothy Gale much more than the teenaged Judy Garland. She was also a box office sensation who could guarantee packed movie houses. So it made good business sense that some of The Wizard of Oz's producers were considering the child star for the role. But the official reason for why Temple ultimately didn’t end up as Dorothy remains a part of Hollywood lore: it could have been because 20th Century Fox wouldn’t loan her to MGM for the film, or because Temple was supposedly part of an inter-studio trade with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow that fell through upon Harlow’s death in 1937. Also, while Temple may have charmed movie audiences with her cherubic renditions of “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” she didn’t stand a chance when going up against a vocal powerhouse like Garland.

15. VICTOR FLEMING SLAPPED JUDY GARLAND IN ORDER TO FINISH A SHOT.

Today, it would be considered abuse and grounds for immediate dismissal. But 76 years ago, slapping your star across the face was not only condoned, it actually produced results. When Judy Garland couldn’t get her giggles under control when Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion made his big entrance, director Victor Fleming didn’t have time to play games. He took Garland aside, whacked her on the cheek, and then ordered her to “Go in there and work.”

16. JELL-O WAS THE SECRET INGREDIENT BEHIND THE HORSE OF A DIFFERENT COLOR.

When Dorothy and her friends arrive in the Emerald City, they take a scenic tour around the fun-filled town courtesy of a cabbie and his Horse of a Different Color. In order to achieve the horse’s purple, then red, then yellow hue, the production team created a Jell-O-based tint that wouldn’t be harmful to the animals on set (yep, the ASPCA was involved). The gelatin powder worked wonders, except for the fact that the horses couldn’t stop licking its sugary sweetness off their coats!

17. THE WIZARD OF OZ HAS SEVERAL CONNECTIONS TO WALT DISNEY’S SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS.

After Disney’s first-ever feature-length animated movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, did gangbusters at the box office following its 1937 release, MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer was determined to follow in Uncle Walt’s fairy-tale-to-screen footsteps. And once Mayer was in production on The Wizard of Oz, the Snow White influences were hard to avoid. Actress Gale Sondergaard was tested as the Wicked Witch of the West, with the intention that the character would be a sultry villainess à la Snow White’s Evil Queen. But even though producers ultimately decided that “Bad witches are ugly”—and Sondergaard lost out on the part—Snow White still literally managed to sneak into the picture unseen: Adriana Caselotti, who voiced Snow White in the Disney movie, sang the line “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” during the Tin Man’s lament, “If I Only Had a Heart.”

Additional Sources:
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 50 Years of Magic documentary
The Making of The Wizard of Oz, by Aljean Harmetz
A Brief Guide to Oz: 75 Years Going Over the Rainbow, by Paul Simpson
Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master, by Michael Sragow
The Wizard of Oz FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Life According to Oz, by David J. Hogan

nextArticle.image_alt|e
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
arrow
entertainment
11 Magical Facts About Willow
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Five years after the release of Return of the Jedi (1983) and four years after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), George Lucas gave audiences the story for another film about an unlikely hero on an epic journey, but this time he had three Magic Acorns and a taller friend instead of a whip and gun to help him along. Willow (1988) was directed by Ron Howard and starred former Ewok and future Leprechaun, Warwick Davis.

Over the past few decades, Willow—which was released 30 years ago today—has become a cult classic that's been passed down from generation to generation. Before you sit down to explore that world again (or for the first time), here are 11 things you might not have know about Willow.

1. IT WAS WRITTEN FOR WARWICK DAVIS.

In an interview with The A.V. Club, Warwick Davis revealed that George Lucas first mentioned the idea for the film to Davis’s mother during the filming of one of the Ewok TV specials in 1983, in which he was reprising his role as Wicket. Lucas had been developing the idea for more than a decade at that point, but working with Davis on Return of the Jedi helped him realize the vision. “George just simply said that he had this idea, and he was writing this story, with me in mind,” Davis said. “He didn't say at that time that it was going to be called Willow. He said, 'It's not for quite yet; it's for a few years ahead, when Warwick is a bit older.'" The role was Davis’s first time not wearing a mask or costume on screen.

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED MUNCHKINS.

Five years after he mentioned the idea, Lucas was ready to make his film with Ron Howard directing and a then-17-year-old Davis as the lead. The original title was presumably inspired by the characters from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the subsequent Victor Fleming film.

3. IT WAS CRITICIZED FOR BEING A COPY OF STAR WARS.

Having thought of the two worlds simultaneously, Lucas may have cribbed some of his own work and other well-known stories a little too much for Willow, and some critics noticed. “Without anything like [Star Wars’s] eager, enthusiastic tone, and indeed with an understandable weariness, Willow recapitulates images from Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, Gulliver's Travels, Mad Max, Peter Pan, Star Wars itself, The Hobbit saga, Japanese monster films of the 1950s, the Bible, and a million fairy tales," wrote Janet Maslin of The New York Times. "One tiny figure combines the best attributes of Tinkerbell, the Good Witch Glinda, and the White Rock Girl.”

Later in her review, Maslin continued to point out the similarities between the two films: “When the sorcerer tells Willow to follow his heart, he becomes the Obi-Wan Kenobi of a film that also has its Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3P0 and Princess Leia stand-ins. Much energy has gone into the creation of their names, some of which (General Kael) have recognizable sources and others (Burglekutt, Cherlindrea, Airk) have only tongue-twisting in mind. Not even the names have anything like Star Wars-level staying power.”

4. IT WAS THE LARGEST CASTING CALL FOR LITTLE PEOPLE IN MOVIE HISTORY.

Lucas has previously cast several little people for roles in Return of the Jedi, and there were more than 100 actors hired to portray Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. But, according to Davis, the casting call for Willow was the largest ever at the time with between 225 and 240 actors hired for the film.

5. THE DEATH DOGS WERE REAL DOGS IN COSTUME.

The big bad in the film, Bavmorda, has demon dogs that terrorize Willow’s village. The dogs are more boar-like than canine, but they were portrayed by Rottweilers. The prop team outfitted the dogs with rubber masks and used animatronic heads for close-up scenes.

6. IT WAS THE FIRST USE OF MORPHING IN A FILM.

While trying to use magic to turn an animal back into a human, Willow fails several times before eventually getting it right, but he does succeed in turning the animal into another animal, which is shown in stages. To achieve this, the visual effects teamed used a technique known as "morphing."

The film’s visual effects supervisor, Dennis Muren of Industrial Light & Magic, explained the technique to The Telegraph:

The way things had been up till that time, if a character had to change at some way from a dog into a person or something like that it could be done with a series of mechanical props. You would have to cut away to a person watching it, and then cut back to another prop which is pushing the ears out, for example, so it didn't look fake ... we shot five different pieces of film, of a goat, an ostrich, a tiger, a tortoise, and a woman and had one actually change into the shape of the other one without having to cut away. The technique is much more realistic because the cuts are done for dramatic reasons, rather than to stop it from looking bad.”

7. THE STORY WAS CONTINUED IN SEVERAL NOVELS.

Willow has yet to receive a sequel, but fans of the story can return to the world in a trilogy of books that author Chris Claremont wrote in collaboration with Lucas between 1995 and 2000. According to the Amazon synopsis of Shadow Moon, the first book picks up 13 years after the events of the film, and baby Elora Danan’s friendless upbringing has turned her into a “spoiled brat who seemingly takes joy in making miserable the lives around her. The fate of the Great Realms rests in her hands, and she couldn't care less. Only a stranger can lead her to her destiny.”

8. THERE IS A MISSING SCENE CONCERNING THE MAGIC ACORNS.

Hardcore fans of the film have noticed that there is a continuity error that involves the Magic Acorns Willow was given by the High Aldwin. During an interview with The Empire Podcast, Davis explained that in a scene near the end of the film, he throws a second acorn and is inexplicably out after having only used two of the three Magic Acorns he had been given earlier in the film. Included in the Blu-ray release is the cut scene, in which Willow uses an acorn (his second) in a boat during a storm and accidentally turns the boat to stone. Davis says that his hair is wet in the next scene that did make it into the original version of the film, but the acorn is never referenced.

9. JOHN CUSACK AUDITIONED FOR THE PART OF MADMARTIGAN.

Val Kilmer in 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Val Kilmer famously played the role of the reluctant hero two years after played Iceman in Top Gun (1986), but he was not the only big name to audition for the role. Davis revealed in a commentary track that he once read with John Cusack, who in 1987 had already starred in Sixteen Candles (1984), Stand by Me (1986), and Hot Pursuit (1987).

10. THERE IS A NOD TO SISKEL AND EBERT.

During a battle scene later in the film, Willow and his compatriots have to fight a two-headed beast outside of the castle. The name of the stop motion beast is the Eborsisk, which is a combination of the names of famed film critics, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.

11. THE BABY NEVER ACTED AGAIN.

A scene from 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

As is the case with most shows and films, the role of the baby Elora was played by twins, in this case Kate and Ruth Greenfield. The IMDb pages for both actresses only has the one credit. In 2007, Davis shared a picture of him posing with a woman named Laura Hopkirk, who said that she played the baby for the scenes shot in New Zealand, but she is not credited online.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
NBC
arrow
entertainment
30 Things You Might Not Know About Cheers
NBC
NBC

On May 20, 1993—25 years ago today—television audiences said farewell to Sam Malone, the fictional Red Sox pitcher-turned-proprietor of Cheers. Though it's the Boston bar where everybody knows your name, there’s plenty you probably don’t know about the classic sitcom, which spent 11 seasons on the air.

1. CHEERS ALMOST DIDN’T MAKE IT THROUGH SEASON ONE.

Like many of television’s greatest success stories (e.g. Seinfeld), Cheers was not an immediate hit. It premiered on September 30, 1982 to dismal ratings—77th place out of 100 shows that week, according to Nielsen. It was NBC’s entertainment president at the time, Brandon Tartikoff, who saved the show from cancellation during its first season.

2. THE BULL & FINCH PUB, ON WHICH CHEERS IS MODELED, IS NOW CALLED CHEERS

Talk about life imitating art. After it was decided that the series would be set in a bar instead of a hotel, co-creators Glen and Les Charles decided the locale should be moved to New England. “Boston was chosen partially because only five short-lived television shows claimed the city and the East Coast pubs were real neighborhood hangouts,” wrote Dennis A. Bjorklund in his book, Toasting Cheers.

As the show’s popularity rose, it didn’t take long for word to spread that the Beacon Hill tavern was the “real” Cheers (though only the exterior shots were filmed there), turning the neighborhood hangout into a tourist attraction. To satisfy the masses, a second location—this one was actually called "Cheers" and featuring a replica of the bar viewers were used to—was opened in nearby Faneuil Hall in 2001. One year later, the Bull & Finch officially changed its name to Cheers.

3. SAM MALONE WAS ORIGINALLY A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER.

In the script’s earliest incarnations, Sam Malone was an ex-football player, which made sense considering that Fred Dryer—the former NFL defensive end who would go on to star in Hunter—was a top choice to play the role of Sam (opposite Julia Duffy as Diane; William Devane was also a strong contender). Ultimately, it was the chemistry between Ted Danson and Shelley Long that led to them getting the gigs. Once the casting was finalized, the creators swapped out football for baseball, based on Danson’s body type.

4. TED DANSON ATTENDED BARTENDING SCHOOL.

Danson spent two weeks at a bartending school in Burbank, California as part of his training to play Sam.

5. NORM AND CLIFF WEREN’T INTENDED TO BE REGULAR CHARACTERS.

Both George Wendt and John Ratzenberger auditioned for the same role in the pilot, a minor character named George who had a single line: “Beer!” The character’s name was changed to Norm Peterson when Wendt was cast. But Ratzenberger wasn’t about to give up so easily. “As I was leaving the office after the audition, I turned around and asked them, ‘Do you have a bar know-it-all?,’” the Bridgeport, Connecticut-born Ratzenberger recalled to Ability Magazine. “None of the creators was from New England. They were all Hollywood-centered. And I said, ‘Well, every local bar in New England has got a know-it-all—someone who pretends to have the knowledge of all mankind between his ears and is not shy about sharing it.’” Thus, Cliff Clavin was born.

6. NORM PETERSON IS BASED ON A REAL GUY.

In 2012, co-creator Les Charles told GQ that Norm was based on a real person. “I worked at a bar after college, and we had a guy who came in every night. He wasn't named Norm, [but he] was always going to have just one beer, and then he'd say, ‘Maybe I'll just have one more.’ We had to help him out of the bar every night. His wife would call, and he'd always say, ‘Tell her I'm not here.’”

7. NORM’S NEVER-SEEN WIFE VERA IS VOICED BY GEORGE WENDT’S REAL WIFE.

Though she’s only credited in one episode, George Wendt’s wife, Bernadette Birkett, provided the voice for Norm’s wife, Vera. Birkett did make one appearance on the show—as a love interest of Cliff’s—in season three.

8. JOHN RATZENBERGER IMPROVISED MANY OF CLIFF’S FUN FACTS.

Many of the random (and untrue) facts that Cliff Clavin offers up were ad libbed by Ratzenberger. “After a couple of years on the show they realized they could trust me not to mess it up,” Ratzenberger told Deseret News in 1993. “So little by little they've let me just sort of run off. Because I know when to stop … It's easy to improvise comedy. It really is. But the art is knowing when to shut up and let other people talk. That's a hard thing to learn.”

9. SOME OF THE DIALOGUE CAME FROM REAL BAR CONVERSATIONS.

In order to nail the bar talk aspect of the series, the creators regularly visited bars in the Los Angeles area to eavesdrop on patrons’ conversations. In the series premiere, there’s an argument about the sweatiest movie ever made, which was lifted from one of these overheard conversations.

10. CHEERS WASN’T AFRAID TO TACKLE SOCIAL ISSUES.

Cheers’ writers never shied away from taboo topics such as alcoholism or homosexuality, through they always had a sense of humor about them. The season one episode “The Boys in the Bar,” in which one of Sam’s former teammates announces that he is gay, earned writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs a GLAAD Media Award.

11. PLANS FOR AN HIV SCARE FOR SAM HAD TO BE ABANDONED.

In 1988, the Writers Guild of America went on strike, which meant that several planned episodes of the series were never filmed. Among them was a season six cliffhanger in which Sam learns that a former girlfriend is HIV positive.

12. RHEA WASN’T THE ONLY PERLMAN ON THE SET.

Rhea Perlman wasn’t the only member of her family to grace the set of Cheers. Her younger sister, Heide, produced more than two dozen episodes between 1985 and 1986 and wrote several episodes throughout the show’s run. Perlman’s father, Phil, played one of the bar regulars (named Phil).

13. JAY THOMAS MURDERED EDDIE LEBEC.


Getty Images

When character actor Jay Thomas wasn’t portraying Carla’s Bruin-turned-ice-show-performer husband Eddie LeBec, he was the host of a popular morning radio show in Los Angeles. Which is exactly what led to his character being killed off rather prematurely by way of Zamboni. “A few episodes of recurring bliss and then one day on Jay’s radio show, a caller asked him what it was like to be on Cheers,” recounted writer Ken Levine. “He said something to the effect of, ‘It’s brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman.’ Well, guess who happened to be listening ... Jay Thomas was never seen on Cheers again.”

14. A CHEERS MINI-EPISODE WAS PRODUCED FOR THE U.S. TREASURY.

Early in Cheers’ run, its creators were contracted by the U.S. Treasury to create a special mini-episode to promote the purchase of U.S. savings bonds. Titled “Uncle Sam Malone,” the episode never aired on television nor is it included on any of the DVDs; it was intended to be screened for promotional purposes at savings bond drives only.

15. A “LOST” SCENE ALSO AIRED AS PART OF THE 1983 SUPER BOWL XVII PREGAME SHOW.

Back in early 1983, writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs wrote a special one-off scene to air before Super Bowl XVII in which Sam, Diane, Carla, Norm, Cliff, and NBC announcer Pete Axthelm bet on who will win the big game. “They ran it just before game time and it was seen by 80,000,000 people,” Levine recalled of the spot on his blog. “Nothing we've ever written before or since has been seen by that many eyeballs at one time. But the scene was never repeated. It never appeared on any DVDs. It just disappeared.” (Until now: You can watch it at the link above.)

16. TED DANSON WORE A HAIRPIECE TO PLAY HAIR-OBSESSED SAM


Getty Images

A fact that became apparent when he accepted the Emmy—sans hairpiece—in 1990. In the 1993 episode “It’s Lonely on the Top,” Sam shares his follicular challenge with Carla.

17. VIEWERS FREQUENTLY COMPLAINED ABOUT THE VOLUME OF THE LAUGH TRACK, EVEN THOUGH THERE WAS NO LAUGH TRACK.

In 1983, a quick disclaimer—spoken by one of the regular cast members—was added to the beginning of each episode: “Cheers was filmed before a live studio audience.” This was a direct response to viewer complaints that the “laugh track” was too loud.

18. THE PART OF FRASIER WAS WRITTEN FOR JOHN LITHGOW.


Getty Images

After recent roles in All That Jazz, Blow Out, and The World According to Garp (for which he received his first of two consecutive Oscar nominations), Lithgow was not interested in working on the small screen. “I just said, 'No,’” Lithgow recalled to The Hollywood Reporter. “I barely even remembered that … It was like swatting away a fly … I just wasn’t going to do a series.”

19. KELSEY GRAMMER PLAYED FRASIER CRANE FOR 20 YEARS.

Grammer made his Cheers debut in the third season premiere in 1984. Though he was intended to be a short-lived character, Crane’s popularity with audiences led to him becoming a series regular. Four months after Cheers ended in May of 1993, Frasier made its debut (on the redesigned Cheers stage, no less) and ran for its own 11 seasons. Grammer’s two-decade run as the pretentious psychiatrist is a record-breaking one for an American comedy actor.

20. TONY SOPRANO'S MOM PLAYED FRASIER'S MOM, TOO.


CBS Television Distribution

Nancy Marchand's character threatened to kill Diane. The role of Frasier's mom was played by Tom Hanks' wife Rita Wilson in a 2001 Frasier flashback.

21. KIRSTIE ALLEY IS THE ONLY MAIN CHARACTER WHO DIDN’T MAKE A GUEST APPEARANCE ON FRASIER.

Throughout Frasier’s 11-season run, Kirstie Alley was the only one of Cheers’ main actors to not make an appearance on the popular spinoff, possibly because the psychiatric profession conflicts with her beliefs as a Scientologist. “Kirstie once said ... she'd never do a show about a psychiatrist,” Kelsey Grammer told Entertainment Weekly in 2002.

22. FRASIER’S DAD WAS MAGICALLY RESURRECTED FOR THE SPINOFF.

When Frasier talked about his family on Cheers, he noted that his father—also a well-respected psychiatrist—had passed away. Yet his ex-cop dad, played by John Mahoney, is a main character in Frasier. Incidentally, Mahoney made a one-off appearance in Cheers’ eleventh season, as a fast-talking jingle writer named Sy Flembeck:

23. NORM’S FIRST NAME IS HILLARY.

His full name is Hillary Norman Peterson.

24. THAT WOODY PLAYED WOODY WAS A TOTAL COINCIDENCE.

Though many of the non-regular bar patrons’ real names were used in filming, that Woody Harrelson ended up playing Woody Boyd is by sheer coincidence. The character’s name was written into the script long before any actors had auditioned for the role.

25. NORM DRANK “NEAR BEER.”

The bar on the set may have been fully functional, but that doesn’t mean the cast got to spend the day throwing back cold ones. Norm may have had it the worst. As the bar’s resident lush, he’s rarely seen without a sudsy glass of beer in his hand. But what’s really in that glass is “near beer,” a weakened strain of ale mixed with a bit of salt to keep a perfect head on the glass at all times. Which Wendt unfortunately had to consume on more than one occasion.

26. THE SHOW HELPED PROMOTE THE IDEA OF A DESIGNATED DRIVER.

It was important to the producers of Cheers that no tipsy bar patron ever drove him or herself home, so there are frequent references to calling cabs and designated drivers. The Harvard Alcohol Project had a hand in spreading this message.

27. SAM AND DIANE DID GET MARRIED AT THE END OF SEASON FIVE.

Because Cheers was filmed in front of a live studio audience, the producers had to occasionally trick the audience so that show developments weren’t leaked. In order to keep Shelley Long’s departure from the series a secret, the live audience saw Sam and Diane get married at the end of season five. The real ending—which sees Diane leaving for six months to finish her book, only to return for a guest appearance in the final season—was filmed on a closed set.

28. CHEERS HABLA ESPAÑOL.

In September 2011, a Spanish version of the series—also called Cheers—made its debut. It starred Alberto San Juan as a former soccer player turned Irish pub owner and ran for just one season.

29. THE END OF THE SHOW IS ALL TED DANSON’S FAULT.

Though understandably so. When Danson announced that he’d be leaving the series at the end of the 1992-1993 season, producers decided that Woody could take over the bar. But Woody Harrelson wasn’t interested in continuing the show without Danson, and so its series finale was set.

30. THE CAST AND CREW GOT REALLY, REALLY DRUNK FOR THEIR SENDOFF.

NBC made a major event of the series finale, with cast and crew celebrating at Boston’s Bull & Finch Pub, where thousands of fans gathered outside to watch the show on two Jumbotrons. Then the drinks started flowing … and flowing … and flowing. “The show ended at eleven,” Ken Levine wrote in a 2013 remembrance of the evening for Vulture. “The next half-hour was an emotional tsunami. Everyone was hugging and crying and doing a lot of drinking. We were all completely wrecked.”

Then it was time for the cast to make an appearance on The Tonight Show. “The cast, in no condition to face anybody, much less 40 million people, dutifully trooped downstairs to do the live show,” Levine continued. “Us non-celeb types stayed back and watched on TV … in horror. They were so drunk they needed designated walkers. They giggled like schoolgirls over nothing, fired spitballs into each other’s mouths, squirted water guns, Woody Harrelson implied he gave oral sex to both Ted Danson and Oliver Stone, and Kirstie Alley sang a song where the only lyric was ‘dick, dick, dick.’”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios