London Bombed, Lenin Calls for Revolution

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 200th installment in the series.  

September 8, 1915: London Bombed, Lenin Calls for Revolution 

Compared to the carnage on the Western Front, where the British body count was already approaching 100,000 by the beginning of September 1915, the German bombing campaign against England was a pinprick: over the course of the whole war Zeppelins carried out 52 raids, killing 577 people, and in the later part of the war German planes including the giant Gotha bombers carried out another 52 raids, killing 836, for a total death toll of 1,413. 

But the raids had a disproportionate psychological impact, as most of the dead and injured were civilians; above all, they violated the British public’s longstanding sense of security, rooted in their collective identity as an island nation insulated from the turmoil on the Continent, even when Britain was at war. 

The most successful Zeppelin raid of the war (in terms of economic damage) was the fourth, which took place on the night of September 8-9, 1915. Four giant airships – L9, L11, L13, and L14 – set out to bomb targets across England, but L11 and L14 were forced to turn back by engine trouble, so only L9 and L13 made it to their targets. As it happened only L13 (below), piloted by the legendary Heinrich Mathy, managed to get its bombs on target – a direct hit on central London (top, London lit up by searchlights on the evening of September 8). 

Flying at an altitude of 11,000 feet, with its crewmembers bundled up in thick leather uniforms and wool long underwear against temperatures as low as -22°F in their non-insulated cabin, L13 dropped 15 high explosive bombs and 55 incendiary bombs on the Aldersgate area of London, setting fire to textile warehouses and hitting several buses, resulting in major casualties. Altogether L13’s raid killed 22 people, all civilians, and caused over £500,000 in damage – more than all the other Zeppelin raids over the course of the war combined.

Together with the three previous raids, the attack of September 8-9, 1915 provoked harsh criticism of the British Admiralty, which was at this time responsible for air defense through the Royal Naval Air Service, and spurred calls for stronger defenses, including more antiaircraft guns on the ground and new weapons for fighter planes to combat them in the air. Immediately following the September 8-9 raid, the Admiralty responded by appointing Admiral Sir Percy Scott to coordinate all these measures. However continued attacks resulted in all air defense responsibilities being transferred to the British Army’s Royal Flying Corps in February 1916. 

The attacks brought the war home to British civilians in a way newspaper reports and stories from wounded soldiers and men on home leave simply couldn’t. This included British children, who in addition to losing fathers and older brothers now found themselves exposed to the nighttime menace of the strange silver shapes hovering in the darkness, even if the chances of actually being hit were quite slim (below, British children wounded in a Zeppelin raid in 1915).

Even when not directly affected, children still witnessed traumatic events and tried to understand their importance, if only by observing adult reactions. One girl, J. Marriage, described the raid on September 8-9 in a report for school: 

On Wednesday night at quarter to eleven I was woke up by my mother who said, ‘Dont be frightened, the Germans are here’. I jumped out of bed (and my brother fell out) and ran into the front room where my mother was dressing. She said to me go and get your clothes on, but as I was a big light like lighting rose before my eyes and before I knew where I was a mighty explosion and a huge flame lept in front of me. As I expected this I ran into the street and saw many people pointing towards the sky. I ran to see what was the matter and in the sky there was a silvery coloured thing in the shape of a cigar. Two powerful searchlights shone on it from end to end. It stood there for about five minutes dropping bombs and going in a circle for about two times and suddenly disapeared into the air. The searchlights looked for it but in vain it could not be found… A fireman named Green saved seventeen people. He went up again but there were no more people left and was cut off from retreat. The poor man was at the top of the house. To save himself from being burnt to death he jumped to the ground and died a few days afterwards… In Leather Lane there were a wife and two childen killed of a policeman and he has gone silly.

A boy, J. Littenstein, recalled the surprising interruption of his family’s Jewish New Year’s Eve celebration: 

Baa-ang! There was another crash. “Bomb’s and zeppelins” said my aunt. She was cool but the other women were panic-stricken. They gave vent to shrieks and screams that would have done credit to a hyena. I was shivering like a jelly but I soon got over it… My aunt had snatched the baby from the bed in a blanket and had put all the lights but one. “The basement” she said putting out the last light, and we all ran downstairs… Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang! The incessant ringing of the fire bell came to my ears and a moment later the fire engine came clattering along… Although it was midnight it was as light as day. There were a great many searchlights flitting about now.

Children At War 

As these accounts demonstrate, British children were hardly insulated from the war – and their peers on the Continent were even more exposed, especially when they lived in or near the combat zones. Indeed, children who lived near the front witnessed death so regularly it became familiar and unremarkable. Edward Lyell Fox, an American war correspondent with the German armies on the Eastern Front, recalled seeing boys playing in a village after the Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes in February 1915: 

They seemed to be playing a game. A little fellow, whose round fur hat and brown pea jacket was typical of his chums, was poking at something with a stick. Greatly excited, he called the boys, who seemed to be looking for something across the road in the snow… And we saw that the youngster was poking the snow away from a big bearded man in a sheepskin coat. The game the boys of Suwalki were playing was hunting the dead. 

Other observers recounted similar scenes on the Western Front, sometimes with an additional ghoulish detail, the search for souvenirs. Another American journalist, Albert Rhys Williamsm described encountering a gang of entrepreneurial Belgian boys: 

Three boys who had somehow managed to crawl across the bridge were prodding about in the canals with bamboo poles. “What are you doing?” we inquired. “Fishing,” they responded. “What for?” we asked. “Dead Germans,” they replied. “What do you do with them--bury them?” “No!” they shouted derisively. “We just strip them of what they’ve got and shove ‘em back in.” Their search for these hapless victims was not motivated by any sentimental reasons, but simply by their business interest as local dealers in helmets, buttons and other German mementos. 

Although French and Belgian authorities evacuated civilians from the frontlines and strongly encouraged others living nearby to leave voluntarily, with customary stubbornness many peasants refused to abandon their property and possessions, and kept their children with them too (below, a French family equipped with gas masks). As the war dragged on this resulted in some alarming juxtapositions, like the scenes described by J.A. Currie in northern France in February 1915: “It is wonderful how careless of danger people become… The German high explosive shells, or ‘Hiex’ as they were called there, were falling five or six hundred yards off, still the children were playing in the street and a bunch of little girls were skipping with a rope.” 

The war also exposed children to large numbers of foreigners, especially in the German-occupied areas of northern France and Russia, and along the British sector of the Western Front, where the British Expeditionary Force was a de facto occupation army (although a friendly one). In the latter case most French children seemed to like the foreign troops, if only because they were sources of food, candy, toys, and money. James Hall, an American soldier who joined the British Army, recalled some of the children’s strategies for extracting gifts from them: 

Tommy was a great favorite with the French children. They climbed on his lap and rifled his pockets; and they delighted him by talking in his own vernacular, for they were quick to pick up English words and phrases. They sang “Tipperary” and “Rule Britannia,” and “God Save the King,” so quaintly and prettily that the men kept them at it for hours at a time. 

But the children’s acquisitive impulses weren’t limited to sweets and knickknacks. Several foreign observers recorded their shock on discovering that working class children in France started smoking at a very young age. Thus Sarah Macnaughtan, a British nurse, noted in her diary in March 1915 that, “every child begs for cigarettes, and they begin smoking at five years old.” A Canadian soldier, Jack O’Brien, confirmed this habit in a letter home: “While we were at breakfast a lot of little French kids crowded around, and we were all amused at the little beggars. Their speech, half French and half English, was very funny.  But say, you should have seen them smoke!  Little kids hardly able to walk were smoking just like old men.” 

The situation could be quite different – and dangerous – when children came into contact with unwelcome occupiers, for example when enemy troops were billeted with their families. Laura Blackwell de Gozdawa Turczynowicz, an American married to a Polish aristocrat, described her young son’s response to a German officer who celebrated a recent Russian defeat by shouting “Russki kaput!” (though it would be hard to say which was behaving more childishly): 

I tried to teach the children something I did not myself believe, but a childish mind is not easily convinced. I told them they must be polite to the Germans or else Mammy would get shot too… but Wladek could not be made to feel the necessity of hiding his feelings… Wladek could at last stand it no longer. He went right up to the officer with his brother and sister by the hand, saying, “Nein, nein – German kaput!” The officer started after him furiously. Wladek tried to run still calling out, “German kaput.” 

Children absorbed the resentment and hatred for the enemy expressed by adults, and drew their own conclusions based on personal observations of enemy soldiers. Yves Congar, a French boy living in occupied Sedan, vented his violent dislike of the Germans in a diary entry in December 1914: “Another poster has been put up: anyone caught trying to get food or other supplies from Belgium will be fined 1,200 marks or 1,500 francs. Very well, if they want to starve us then they’ll see when, in the next war, the next generation goes to Germany and starves them… I have never hated them so much.” 

Even far away from the front, children found their daily lives turned upside down. In some places school was canceled or shortened when teachers were drafted or school buildings taken over for military uses; other times regular classes were canceled so children could help out with various war-related activities like agriculture, preserving food, collecting scrap metal and other materials, or raising funds for charitable causes like hospitals or groups sending soldiers extra food and clothes (below, British schoolgirls gardening).

In their zeal to help the war effort children sometimes clashed with their elders, whose patriotism was moderated by practical considerations. In March 1915, 12-year-old Piete Kuhr wrote in her diary about her efforts to help with her school’s metal collection: “I turned the whole house over from top to bottom. Grandma cried, ‘The wench will bankrupt me! Why don’t you give them your lead soldiers instead of cleaning me out!’ So my little army had to meet their deaths.” 

Although children suffered from the same woes as civilian adults throughout Europe, including shortages of food, clothing, and fuel, life was particularly hard for tens of thousands of orphans who were left to the care of the state or private charities – never a pleasant existence, and even less so during a time of upheaval, when helpless children were low on the list of official priorities. Mary Waddington, a British woman living in France, recorded one situation related to her by friends in July 17, 1915: “They had been to see a colony of French and Belgian children, orphans. It seems there are thirty or forty babies of two years of whom no one – not even the two Belgian nuns who brought them – knows anything – neither their names nor parents” (below, French orphans and refugee children receiving chocolate in 1918). 

Some orphans lost their parents to fighting, while in the Ottoman Empire huge numbers of children were orphaned by the Armenian Genocide, many of whom were later adopted as raised as Muslims by Turkish families (often at a young age and without their knowledge). Others were orphaned by starvation or diseases like typhus, which killed millions of people in the Balkans and Russia during the First World War and Russian Civil War; according to one account Serbia alone had 200,000 orphans by the end of the war (below, Serbian orphans in 1919). 

Lenin Calls for Revolution 

As real war raged across Europe, a war of words was being waged on neutral ground. From September 5-8, 1915, dozens of European anti-war socialists (as opposed to mainstream socialists, who ended up supporting the war in 1914) met at the International Socialist Conference in Zimmerwald, Switzerland, where they debated the meaning of the war for their movement and the appropriate response. One of the most radical speakers was a Russian Marxist named Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known by his nom de guerre Lenin, who advocated revolution by the European working classes to end the war and overthrow the bourgeois order as soon as possible.

This put Lenin at odds with moderate socialists who wanted the peoples of Europe to bring domestic political pressure on their own governments to make peace. The moderates were skeptical whether the revolutionary movement could overcome the nationalist hatreds then dividing Europe: would the ordinary soldiers really abandon patriotism to rise out of their trenches and fraternize with their former enemies? Would civilians really welcome massive strikes that paralyzed the war effort at home? Wouldn’t they just be trading war on the borders for civil war at home? 

Lenin shrugged off these concerns – the soldiers and civilians would come around when the time was right. As for civil war, there was no question that the revolution would be violent; the only question was whether the circumstances were favorable for it. An opportunist first and last, he advocated watchful waiting and readiness to move: “For the present it is our task to jointly propagandize the correct tactics and leave it to events to indicate the tempo of the movement…” He also urged the assembled delegates to combat rival ideologies that threatened to undermine socialist efforts to organize workers, especially anarchism. 

As the leader of the militant Bolsheviks, Lenin was eager to overthrow the Tsarist regime in the hope that it would spark the wider revolution across Europe – even though the Russian proletariat (industrial working class) remained small and Russia still didn’t have a liberal bourgeois government, two factors Marx had identified as preconditions for a communist revolution. To overcome these obstacles, Lenin theorized the need for a “vanguard party” that could, through its grasp of historical forces, lead Russia from a backwards, feudal society into the utopian future in one giant leap. 

Lenin’s call for immediate revolution and his advocacy of a vanguard party also put the Bolsheviks at odds with Julius Martov’s Mensheviks, a rival socialist outfit which had split with the Bolsheviks in 1903 over the role of the party in organizing revolution. Now Lenin’s willingness to overthrow the Russian government without necessarily waiting for revolution in other countries brought him to the attention of German spies. 

In September 1915 an Estonian revolutionary named Alexander Kesküla (codenamed “Kiwi”) met with the German consul in Berne, Count von Romberg, and urged German intelligence to shift their support from the Mensheviks to Lenin’s Bolsheviks. Romberg passed along Kesküla’s advice to Berlin, and in the meantime gave him 10,000 marks to pass along discreetly. 

Separately another socialist secretly working for German, Alexander Helphand (“Parvus”), who met Lenin in Berne in May 1915, was also encouraging Berlin to support the Bolsheviks covertly. Although he doesn’t appear to have supported the revolutionaries directly at this time, Helphand was accused of funneling German money to Lenin during the later part of the war. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

17 Funny Facts About Schitt's Creek

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Schitt’s Creek is a classic fish-out-of-water story: After they lose their entire video store fortune to the government because their business manager hasn't been paying their taxes, the Rose family—parents Johnny (Eugene Levy) and Moira (Catherine O'Hara) and their adult children David (Daniel Levy) and Alexis (Annie Murphy)—head to the only asset the government has allowed them to keep: the town of Schitt’s Creek. The cosmopolitan Roses, who had purchased the town as a joke, move in to the local motel, where they share two adjoining rooms; they stick out like sore thumbs in their new home.

But at its heart, Schitt’s Creek is a show about family. “We’ve used a fish out of water scenario to help dramatize that story,” co-creator and star Daniel Levy told Assignment X, “forcing them into a motel room and ... examining what it means to be a family and what relationships are and having the time to concentrate and focus on who they are to each other and what they mean to each other.” Here are a few things you might not have known about the series.

1. Reality TV inspired some elements of Schitt's Creek.

Annie Murphy as Alexis Rose and Jennifer Robertson as Jocelyn Schitt in Schitt's Creek.
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Daniel told Out in 2015 that “It really just started with me being in Los Angeles, knowing that I wanted to write. I had been watching some reality TV at the time and was concentrating on what would happen if one of these wealthy families would lose everything. Would the Kardashians still be the Kardashians without their money?”

Annie Murphy recounted at 92Y Talks in 2018 that she looked to the Kardashians for inspiration for her character. “I watched a bunch of clips—YouTube clips, because I couldn’t bring myself to watch entire shows—of, you know, Kardashians and that kind of thing” for some of Alexis’s tone and mannerisms, including the particular way she holds her hands, she explained. “When they hold their handbags, they hold their purses [on their arms] with their broken wrist this way,” Murphy said, pantomiming someone holding a bag with their hand hanging limply, palm up. For Alexis, she flipped her wrist so that her hand was hanging palm down (you can see it in action here).

2. Schitt's Creek is a family affair.

To flesh out his idea, Levy turned to his dad, frequent Christopher Guest collaborator (and American Pie star) Eugene. The two had never worked together before; in fact, pre-Schitt’s, Daniel had been adamant about doing his own thing. “People are so quick to judge children of people in entertainment,” he told Assignment X. “I just thought, if nobody knows the association and I’m able to build something for myself, then I can introduce my dad—when people actually respect me for what I’ve done, as opposed to snap-judge why I got the job or what I was doing.”

Why go to him for Schitt’s? As Daniel explained to NPR, he had seen the family-loses-it-all idea “played out on mainstream television and sitcoms, but I'd never really seen it explored through the lens of a certain style of realist comedy that my dad does so well. So I came to him and pitched the idea and asked him if he would be interested at all in just fleshing it out and seeing if there was anything there. And fortunately, there was some interest and we started talking.”

Eugene told The New York Times that he was thrilled to have the chance to collaborate with his son: “My heart was actually palpitating. You could see it over my shirt.”

(Eugene and Daniel aren't the only Levys on the show, either: Sarah Levy, daughter of Eugene and sister of Daniel, also appears on Schitt’s Creek as Twyla Sands, the lone waitress at the town’s most happening diner, Cafe Tropical.)

3. Eugene Levy came up with the title Schitt's Creek.

“It was actually just out of coincidence really," Daniel told Out. "He was having a dinner conversation a few weeks prior, about this theoretical town of Schitt's Creek: You would have Schitt Hardware and Schitt Grocers." When they were researching ways that people had lost their fortunes, they came across stories of people who had bought towns for various reasons and later ended up bankrupt. “We thought, well, what if this family, as a joke for the son's 16th birthday, found this town called Schitt's Creek, bought it as a joke because of the name and then ended up having to live there?” Daniel said.

The show’s name can make promotional tours interesting: Not all TV or radio outlets can say it, for fear of being fined for using profanity. On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, for example, the name of the show has to appear on screen every time it’s spoken aloud.

4. Annie Murphy also auditioned for the role of Stevie Budd.

At a 92Y Talks discussion in 2016, Murphy revealed that she auditioned for both Stevie Budd—the deadpan concierge at the Schitt’s Creek motel where the Roses make their home—and Alexis, the self-centered socialite character she would eventually play. “I’ve never worked so hard at an audition in my life,” she said. “I made my husband rehearse it with me just into the ground.”

In the presentation pilot—which is meant to secure a season order and not destined to air on TV—Alexis had been played by Abby Elliott, who couldn’t continue on the show because of another project. So auditions were held in Los Angeles, where Daniel said they saw “hundreds” of people for the role.

“There had to be some kind of intrinsic likeability to this family, otherwise there’s really no reason to watch—because on paper they’re not very likeable,” he said. “I had been sitting through two days of auditions, and you see these girls come in and they’re dressed like Paris Hilton and they’re playing that part, which was essentially the part that was written on paper. But what I was looking for was what Annie brought in, which was this wonderfully natural likeability to this girl who is so unlikeable, who is so, like, horrifyingly self-involved … It all kind of fell into place, and I called my dad and said ‘I found Alexis, thank god.’”

But Eugene’s immediate response, according to Daniel, was that Murphy had brown hair, unlike the blonde vision of Alexis he had in his head from the pilot. So they had Murphy read for Stevie, because, Daniel said, “I’m not not having her on the show.” When Murphy landed the role of Alexis, she dyed her hair blonde, and Emily Hampshire was cast as Stevie (who had been played by Lindsay Sloane in the pilot).

5. Emily Hampshire doesn't remember anything about her audition.

Emily Hampshire as Stevie Budd in Schitt's Creek.
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When she got the audition for Schitt's Creek, Hampshire was living in L.A. and going through a rough time. "I literally had $800 in my bank account, hadn't worked in a year, was getting a divorce," she tells Mental Floss.

To make matters worse, she was also breaking out into hives when she went out on auditions. So when her agent called about Schitt's, Hampshire said she absolutely couldn't go read in person; what she could do instead was put herself on tape. But at her agent’s insistence, Hampshire went in to audition in front of Daniel and a casting director—and it was a memorable experience for everyone involved but her: Hampshire says she doesn't remember any of it.

Thankfully, Levy does. “Emily came in and immediately said, ‘I’m sorry, this is going to be terrible,’” he recalled at 92Y Talks in 2018. “She did it, and it was great, and I remember saying … ‘Why don’t we just try it where she gets a little more kick out of these people. She’s not just judging them, she’s like, enjoying them, too.’ So she did it again, and you can tell when it clicks … and I remember saying, ‘Great, we’re good,’ and she was like, ‘no, it was—oh god, it was terrible, it was so bad.’” Then, she covered her head with her shirt to hide. Hampshire doesn’t remember that part, either, but, said Levy, “I remember it fondly.”

6. Stevie is the audience's stand-in.

“The character of Stevie has always acted as the eyes of the audience," Daniel said during a 92Y Talks in 2018. "She is the person who is going to say the things that the audience is probably saying to each other while watching it. And I think it’s always important to have that one character on the show that you can trust.”

That was something that resonated with Hampshire. "I think what I connected to in Stevie is that she really stands in for the audience in a way," Hampshire says, "and I felt like I just had to watch these people around me and take them in in an honest way and it would be funny."

In the character breakdown she received when she auditioned, Hampshire says that Stevie was described as "being from a small town, and she's very deadpan." But over the course of four seasons, Stevie has evolved. In season one, Hampshire says, "I don’t think she had any attachment to the motel or to anyone—on purpose. To not be attached or kind of be emotionally invested in anything is a much safer place to be. Over four seasons, she has opened up. I think Stevie grows up a lot this season and really learns to take responsibility for things that I don't think she ever wanted to take responsibility for."

In the fourth season, viewers will see how deep Stevie and David's friendship is, and her partnership with Johnny in running the motel gives her "a new support system that allows her to bloom into whatever kind of special thing she's going to become," Hampshire says.

7. Catherine O'Hara brought something special to the character of Moira Rose.

It was Eugene who suggested O’Hara—his frequent collaborator in Guest’s mockumentaries—for the part of Moira Rose. “I was not going to say, ‘No, that’s not a good idea,’” Daniel told The New York Times. “When he offers up Catherine O’Hara, you take it and run with it.”

And Moira’s eccentricities are all O’Hara’s doing. “We always knew Moira was an actress, an ex-soap star, who became a socialite, chairing major charity events around the world,” Eugene told The Hollywood Reporter. “But Catherine, who always brings something so creative to the table, added a very extreme affectation to her actress character that made Moira so much funnier than we had imagined her.”

O’Hara told Awards Daily that her character’s voice is “kind of a mix of people I’ve met. There’s one woman who’s very feminine and lovely. She just has a unique way of putting sentences together.” Inspiration can come from other sources, too: In the Season 3 episode “New Car,” O’Hara at one point had to use a British accent. “There’s a woman on Sirius radio who claims to be a dog whisperer or pet psychic. Have you heard this woman?” she asked Awards Daily. “That’s basically the accent I’m doing.”

8. Moira's aesthetic is based on Daphne Guinness.

Eugene Levy as Johnny Rose and Catherine O'Hara as Moira Rose in Schitt's Creek.
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“Catherine came in with a reference, when we first started exploring what the aesthetic of this strange woman would be, and she brought in a picture of Daphne Guinness, who is the heir to the Guinness fortune,” Daniel said at 92Y Talks in 2018. “And she was a McQueen muse, and I looked at it, and I said ‘How do we translate this to television?’ And we thought if we kept it in black and whites and went just far enough, I think we can sort of rein it in.”

Moira’s over-the-top looks (which include a number of wigs that, according to Hampshire, have names) are created by Dan and Debra Hanson. “They shop all year because these characters have to have extremely high-end, designer wardrobes, but [the Roses] don’t have that money anymore,” O’Hara told Awards Daily. “I’ve never enjoyed wardrobe fittings in my life until now!”

9. The wardrobe on Schitt's Creek tells a story.

“Dan plays a big hand in the costuming, along with the costume designer Debra Hanson, who is amazing,” Murphy told Build. “Catherine and I do hours and hours of fittings before we start shooting. And I’ll come out of the room and Dan will be like, ‘Mm mm,’ and send me back in.”

After joking that that “makes me sound crazy,” Daniel said that “the mandate, from a creative standpoint … was that the wardrobe on this show is able to tell a story that we don’t have to write … we’re constantly reminded of who these people are and where they came from.”

Because the show is on a tight budget, lots of the wardrobe, he said, comes from eBay and thrift stores. Levy told Vulture in 2019 that all the clothes have to come from around the time when the Roses lost their money—and that the most he'll pay for any item is $200.

10. The location of Schitt's Creek is purposefully ambiguous.

Schitt’s Creek is a Canadian production, and the Rose family had a place in New York, but when people ask him where the town of Schitt’s Creek is located, Eugene says that he tells them it’s wherever they think it should be. “We didn’t set Schitt’s Creek in any location or any country, it’s just Schitt’s Creek,” he said at 92Y Talks in 2016. “We honestly wanted the focus of the show to be on this town, and if you put it in a country with real states or put it in a country with real provinces, then things become tangible … it kind of diffuses the focus to me.”

11. There's not a lot of improv on the Schitt's Creek set.

That fact might surprise fans of Eugene and O'Hara’s work on Guest films like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, where the cast works from an outline of the action with no dialogue rather than a traditional script. “[Schitt’s] is completely a scripted show, but we do an awful lot of playing around with the lines when we get to the set,” Eugene told The Hollywood Reporter. “What looked good on paper doesn’t always play when you hear the words out loud. So, we do change things until they end up sounding right.”

“When we get the script, I kind of work on it on my own and play with it then,” O’Hara told Awards Daily. “The Levy gentlemen give me respect, and I respect them and email them with possibilities. I don’t feel the need to improvise because our scripts are great.”

Which is not to say that everything is shot as written: Levy said at 92Y Talks in 2018 that Murphy’s “you get murdered first!” from the pilot episode was improvised.

12. The baseball team in the town where Schitt's Creek films changed its name to honor the show.

Schitt’s Creek films in Canada, in Goodwood, Ontario. “We did dingy up the town tremendously,” Daniel told NPR. “It is a lovely town that we had turned into the town of ‘Schitt's Creek.’”

All of the show's interiors are shot at a studio, but the buildings are actual structures in Goodwood, dressed to look like Schitt's Creek. According to Hampshire, many of the buildings are on a single intersection. "There’s Bob’s Garage, which is a garage, but we put a sign up, and then the café and the apothecary are stores," Hampshire says. "When we shoot there, we make them into our stores." The motel was, at one point, actually a motel. "It’s been since turned into this basketball boys club sleeping quarters camp thing," she says. "When we go in, it really smells like a locker room."

In the first season, locals set up lawn chairs to watch filming and wandered through shots; by the second season, Eugene told 92Y Talks in 2016, they were “proud citizens of Schitt’s Creek.” The town seems to have embraced its alter ego, as evidenced by the actions of its minor league baseball team. “They had a minor league kind of baseball team there that actually changed their name from the Goodwood Bears to the Schitt's Creek Bears for an entire month,” Eugene told NPR.

13. When it comes to Schitt's Creek, Daniel Levy leaves no detail unconsidered.

And that includes the wear and tear on the carpets in the mote. “In my head it’s like, ‘We should all know that they don’t vacuum their carpets all the time,’” Levy told GQ in 2019. "These are lived-in carpets. We’re in a motel. If we’re going to vacuum the carpets, which I know has to be done, we also need to scuff them up a bit after." He does all the scuffing himself: "It’s in the details for me, and when the details aren’t executed perfectly, I get a bit … ornery," he said. (But Daniel doesn't bring that energy to set: "It’s crazy how comfortable he is doing this, how calm and confident he is running the show," O'Hara told GQ.)

14. Chris Elliot makes Eugene break constantly.

Eugene Levy as Johnny Rose and Chris Elliott as Roland Schitt in Schitt's Creek.
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According to Murphy, Eugene “giggles like a schoolboy” in scenes with Chris Elliot, who plays Schitt’s Creek Mayor Roland Schitt. “He’s got my number,” Levy said in an interview with Build. “He’s constantly making me laugh on set … He does it intentionally, of course, and he actually succeeds.”

One scene in the show’s third season was particularly tough to get through and resulted in hours of outtakes: “[Chris] gets in kind of behind me, trying to show me how to hold a [golf] club properly,” Levy recalled. “That’s one of the times I think I laughed the hardest in the three seasons, was trying to get through that scene.” He couldn’t stop laughing and was eventually admonished by the director. (They did eventually get the shot.)

15. Cafe Tropical's menu is Murphy's favorite prop.

Jennifer Robinson as Jocelyn Schitt and Catherine O'Hara as Moira Rose in Schitt's Creek.
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Cafe Tropical’s huge menu is often played for laughs on Schitt’s Creek, and it’s Murphy’s favorite prop on the show. “I wish everyone could see the inside of the menu because it’s very detailed and there’s literally every dish you could possibly imagine,” Murphy said at 92Y Talks in 2018. “There are literally 150 things you could order on this menu, and they’re all described.” The props department couldn’t find a big enough real-life menu, so they ended up creating massive ones in a custom size.

16. Hampshire regularly borrows Stevie's clothes.

With her Chucks, flannels, and overalls, Stevie easily has the most comfortable wardrobe on Schitt's Creek. It's so comfortable, in fact, that Hampshire often borrows items to wear on her time off. "I always take this one pair of Stevie’s jeans that I love—they’re like the perfect baggy boyfriend roll-up jeans," Hampshire says. "I take hoodies. I actually take Stevie’s Converse because they’re better than my exact Converse for some reason. I always take her stuff, which Dan doesn't understand at all. He’s like, 'What is there to take? Like, why would you ever borrow this stuff?' But for some reason, the wardrobe women, they just find the perfect hoodie or the perfect jean—so I take those."

17. Season 6 of Schitt's Creek will be its last.

Daniel announced the news on Twitter in a letter written by himself and Eugene. "We are so grateful to have been given the time and creative freedom to tell this story in its totality, concluding with a final chapter that we had envisioned from the very beginning," they wrote. "It’s not lost on us what a rare privilege it is in this industry to get to decide when your show should take its final bow. We could never have dreamed that our fans would grow to love and care about these characters in the ways that you have.” The final season, which will consist of 14 episodes, will air on the CBC and Pop in 2020.

This piece was updated in 2019.

Batmania: When Batman Ruled the Summer of 1989

JD Hancock, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
JD Hancock, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

“Flop” is how marketing research group Marketing Evaluation Inc. assessed the box office potential of the 1989 Warner Bros. film Batman. The big-budget production, directed by Tim Burton and co-starring Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, was expected to be one of the rare times a major Hollywood studio took a comic book adaptation seriously. But according to the marketing data, the character of Batman was not as popular as the Incredible Hulk, who was then appearing in a slate of made-for-television movies. And he was only a quarter as appealing as the California Raisins, the claymation stars of advertising.

That prediction was made in 1988. The film was released on June 23, 1989, and went on to gross $253.4 million, making it the fifth most successful motion picture up to that point.

While Marketing Evaluation may have miscalculated the movie’s potential, they did hedge their bet. By the time profits from the movie’s merchandising—hats, shirts, posters, toys, bed sheets, etc.—were tallied, the company said, Warner Bros. could be looking at a sizable haul.

When the cash registers stopped ringing, the studio had sold $500 million in tie-in products, which was double the gross of the film itself.

In 1989, people didn’t merely want to see Batman—they wanted to wear the shirts, eat the cereal, and contemplate, if only for a moment, putting down $499.95 for a black denim jacket studded with rhinestones.

Batmania was in full swing. Which made it even more unusual when the studio later claimed the film had failed to turn a profit.

 

The merchandising blitz of Star Wars in 1977 gave studios hope that ambitious science-fiction and adventure movies would forever be intertwined with elaborate licensing strategies. George Lucas's space opera had driven audiences into a frenzy, leading retailers to stock up on everything from R2-D2 coffee mugs to plastic lightsabers. It was expected that other “toyetic” properties would follow suit.

They didn’t. Aside from 1982’s E.T., there was no direct correlation between a film’s success and demand for ancillary product. In 1984 alone, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were smash hits. None of them motivated people to flock to stores and buy Gizmo plush animals or toy proton packs. (Ghostbusters toys eventually caught on, but only after an animated series helped nudge kids in their direction.)

Warner Bros. saw Batman differently. When the script was being developed, producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber were urging writers to make sure scenes were aligned with planned merchandising. They scribbled notes insisting that no onscreen harm come to the Batmobile: It should remain pristine so that kids would want to grab the toy version. As Batman, millionaire Bruce Wayne had a collection of vehicles and gadgets at his disposal—all props that could be replicated in plastic. Batman's comic book origins gave him a unique iconography that lent itself to flashy graphic apparel.

In March 1989, just three months before the film's release, Warner Bros. announced that it was merging with Time Inc. to create the mega-conglomerate Time-Warner, which would allow the film studio to capitalize on a deep bench of talent to help drive the “event” feel of the film.

Prince was signed to Warner's record label and agreed to compose an album of concept music that was tied to the characters; “Batdance" was among the songs and became a #1 hit. Their licensing arm, Licensing Corporation of America, contracted with 300 licensees to create more than 100 products, some of which were featured in an expansive brochure that resembled a bat-eared Neiman Marcus catalog. The sheer glut of product became a story, as evidenced by this Entertainment Tonight segment on the film's licensing push:

In addition to the rhinestone jacket, fans could opt for the Batman watch ($34.95), a baseball cap ($7.95), bicycle shorts ($26.95), a matching top ($24.95), a model Batwing ($29.95), action figures ($5.95), and a satin jacket modeled by Batman co-creator Bob Kane ($49.95).

The Batman logo became a way of communicating anticipation for the film. The virtually textless teaser poster, which had only the June 23 opening date printed on it, was snapped up and taped to walls. (Roughly 1200 of the posters sized for bus stops and subways were stolen, a crude but effective form of market research.) In barber shops, people began asking to have the logo sheared into the sides of their heads. The Batman symbol was omnipresent. If you had forgotten about the movie for even five minutes, someone would eventually walk by sporting a pair of Batman earrings to remind you.

At Golden Apple Comics in Los Angeles, 7000 packs of Batman trading cards flew out the door. Management hired additional staff and a security guard to handle the crowds. The store carried 36 different kinds of Batman T-shirts. Observers compared the hysteria to the hula hoop craze of the 1950s.

One retailer made a more contemporary comparison. “There’s no question Batman is the hottest thing this year,” Marie Strong, manager of It’s a Small World at a mall in La Crosse, Wisconsin, told the La Crosse Tribune. “[It’s] the hottest [thing] since Spuds McKenzie toward the end of last year.”

 

By the time Batman was in theaters and breaking records—it became the first film to make $100 million in just 10 days, alerting studios to the idea of short-term profits—the merchandising had become an avalanche. Stores that didn’t normally carry licensed goods, like Macy’s, set up displays.

Not everyone opted for officially-licensed apparel: U.S. marshals conducted raids across the country, seizing more than 40,000 counterfeit Batman shirts and other bogus items.

Collectively, Warner raked in $500 million from legitimate products. In 1991, the Los Angeles Times reported that the studio claimed only $2.9 million in profit had been realized from merchandising and that the movie itself was in a $35.8 million financial hole owing to excessive promotional and production costs. It was a tale typical of creative studio accounting, long a method for avoiding payouts to net profit participants. (Nicholson, whose contract stipulated a cut of all profits, earned $50 million.)

Whatever financial sleight-of-hand was implemented, Warner clearly counted on Batman to be a money-printing operation. Merchandising plans for the sequel, 1992’s Batman Returns, were even more strategic, including a tie-in agreement with McDonald’s for Happy Meals. In a meta moment, one deleted script passage even had Batman’s enemies attacking a toy store in Gotham full of Batman merchandise. The set was built but the scene never made it onscreen.

The studio was willing to give Burton more control over the film, which was decidedly darker and more sexualized than the original. Batman Returns was hardly a failure, but merchandising was no longer as hot as it was in the summer of 1989. Instead of selling out of shirts, stores ended up marking down excess inventory. McDonald’s, unhappy with the content of the film, enacted a policy of screening movies they planned to partner with before making any agreements. By the time Warner released 1995’s Batman Forever, the franchise was essentially a feature-length toy commercial.

It paid off. Licensing for the film topped $1 billion. Today, given the choice between a film with Oscar-level prestige or one with the potential to have its logo emblazoned on a rhinestone jacket that people would actually want to buy, studios would probably choose the latter. In that sense, the Batmania of 1989 endures.

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