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15 Golden Facts About Almost Famous

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Fifteen years ago, Almost Famous—Cameron Crowe’s poignant, semi-autobiographical film about going on tour with rock stars in the 1970s and writing about it for Rolling Stone—was released in theaters. The film launched Kate Hudson’s career and won Crowe his (so far) only Oscar. Here are some rockin’ facts about the classic rock-driven movie.

1. THE ORIGINAL ENDING INVOLVED NEIL YOUNG.

In 2015, Cameron Crowe told Vanity Fair that he intended for the film to end on Elaine Miller (Frances McDormand) playing the family Neil Young’s “On the Way Home.” “In the end, we decided not to hear that song or her dialogue, and to let the sequence live in a montage as the Stillwater tour bus drives away to the sound of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Tangerine.’ That song was more eloquent in its summary of the movie than any spoken words,” Crowe said.

2. KATE HUDSON RESEARCHED GROUPIES AND ROCK STARS’ WIVES FOR HER ROLE AS PENNY LANE.

In a 2000 interview with The Morning Call, Kate Hudson said she prepared for the role of Penny Lane by listening to a lot of classic rock music, reading former groupie Pamela Des Barres’ book I’m With the Band, and interviewing the wives of rock stars. “You look in their eyes and you see a sadness,” Hudson said. “You can tell how much they lived, and how jaded it gets in that world. But, at the same time, they knew what they were getting themselves into.”

3. CAMERON CROWE’S MOM LIKES THE FILM, EXCEPT FOR THE BAREFOOT PART.

Frances McDormand’s character, Elaine Miller, is based on Crowe’s own mother, Alice, who has appeared in most of his movies (including Almost Famous). Before production began, Alice read the script and liked that the mother wasn’t too “shrill.” But it bothered her that Elaine walked around the house without shoes and socks. “She’s troubled by the fact that people will think she went barefoot,” Crowe told Amazon UK. “Which is kind of like saying, ‘Well, the murder is fine, but you had me commit the murder in a red dress, and I never wear red.’”

4. CROWE AND NANCY WILSON WROTE A LOT OF THE FILM’S SONGS ON THEIR HONEYMOON.

Crowe told Film Comment that while honeymooning in 1986 with his then-wife, Nancy Wilson of the band Heart, they holed up in a cabin in Oregon and created a fake band and wrote songs, “knowing sort of one day we might do a movie where we could use the stuff,” he said. “Almost 15 years later, those songs became a reality.

5. DESPITE BEING NOMINATED FOR FOUR OSCARS (AND WINNING ONE FOR BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY), THE MOVIE FAILED TO BREAK EVEN AT THE BOX OFFICE.

DreamWorks decided on a slow rollout, so the film debuted in a paltry 131 theaters the weekend of September 15, 2000, but grossed a robust $2.3 million. One week later, when it was released on an additional 1000 screens, it grossed less than $7 million. The overall U.S. tally was $32.5 million. Add that in with the foreign take of $14.8 million, and it didn’t match its budget of a $60 million, nor did it come close to Jerry Maguire’s $273.5 million worldwide haul.

In 2001, Crowe told Entertainment Weekly why Almost Famous failed to capture a bigger box office: “Our movie about 1973 got its ass kicked by a movie from 1973,” he said, referring to the re-release of The Exorcist. With the release of two different DVDs in 2001, including Untitled: The Bootleg Cut, Almost Famous managed to find an audience.

6. GLENN FREY TAUGHT CROWE HOW TO CRAFT A PROPER BUZZ.

Russell Hammond, Billy Crudup’s character, was loosely based on Glenn Frey of the Eagles, and in real life Frey actually uttered the “Look, just make us look cool” line to Crowe. Frey also contributed a lesson on how to hold a drinking buzz, which Crowe scribbled down. “If you want to craft a buzz correctly, you walk into a party, you drink two beers quickly,” Crowe shared with Rolling Stone. “Then you drink a beer every hour and 15 minutes after that. You’ll always have a buzz and you’ll never get too embarrassing.” After their 1970s encounters, Crowe and Frey worked together again in 1996, when Crowe cast Frey as Dennis Wilburn in Jerry Maguire

7. CROWE WROTE A PART FOR DAVID BOWIE, BUT IT DIDN’T MAKE IT INTO THE FINAL SCRIPT.

A publicist named Russell DeMay, who was based on The Beatles’s publicist Derek Taylor, showed up in earlier drafts of the script. “I wanted David Bowie to play that part,” Crowe told Film Comment. “I just thought it would be the greatest thing, rumpled white suit, and that was an important character that I'm sorry is not in there, because the publicist used to not be the buffer, the publicist used to be one of the band.”

8. PATRICK FUGIT HAD TO BE SCHOOLED IN CLASSIC ROCK.

Crowe and the production team received hundreds of audition tapes for the part of William Miller, but Fugit’s tape surprised Crowe. “Patrick was funny and kind of awkward and not jaded in the slightest. He was just a raw talent,” Crowe told The Washington Post. Crowe flew the Salt Lake City-based Fugit—who was born nine years after the movie takes place—to Los Angeles. Fugit thought Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull were solo artists, not bands, and at the time the only music he owned was a Chumbawamba CD. To educate Fugit, Crowe made him listen to classic rock. “He gave me all these albums from Led Zeppelin, The Who, Neil Young, David Bowie, Peter Frampton … He told me, ‘I want this stuff coming out of your pores,’” Fugit said.

9. CROWE THINKS THE MOVIE IS A LOVE LETTER TO MUSIC, NOT TO ROCK STAR DECADENCE.

Critics berated the film for its lack of sex and drugs, but in 2005 Crowe told Paste magazine that his rock star friends understood the film. “And it was those guys that were the biggest fans of Almost Famous that said, ‘Yeah, sex and drugs and stuff are a part of rock ’n’ roll, but a true musician never picks up the guitar at first because they just want sex and drugs.’ It’s usually because a record blew their head off, and they never could go back to whatever they wanted to be before. And that’s what I think Almost Famous is about—it’s about getting your head blown off by a piece of music, and everything else is secondary.”

10. THE FILM’S TITLE DERIVES FROM BEING ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF CELEBRITY.

Before Crowe produced the movie, the original title was Untitled and then The Uncool, but the studio told him he had to rename it. “I used to go to concerts and I would see Mick Jagger, then off to the side are these people standing by the amplifiers,” Crowe explained. “You look at them, and you think, who are they? Are they groupies? Are they friends of the promoter? Are they married to the bass player? Because they’re almost famous.”

11. THE CHARACTER OF PENNY LANE IS PARTLY BASED ON LIV TYLER’S MOM.

Bebe Buell dated a lot of rock stars back in the day, including Todd Rundgren and Steven Tyler (Liv’s dad). During an interview between Buell and Crowe in Talk magazine, Buell told Crowe about how in real life she twirled in concert debris just like Penny Lane does in movie. “I once did that in Madison Square Garden,” Buell recalled. “I couldn’t believe how small it looked without anybody in it. It looked like a basketball court. These rooms just come to life and look so huge and vibrant when they’re filled with people!”

“In the screenplay version, there’s a longer speech that Kate Hudson gave that I must say is a tribute to Bebe,” Crowe said. “It’s about how she first went to a concert and almost got crushed but was saved and pulled up on stage. The idea was Kate was saved and pulled backstage. They gave her a Coke and a lemon, and she never went home.” Crowe also revealed Jason Lee’s character, Jeff Bebe—who is based on Paul Rodgers of Bad Company and Free—was named after Buell.

12. ALMOST FAMOUS PURPOSELY CAPTURES A MORE INNOCENT TIME IN ROCK MUSIC.

When Crowe set out to make the film, he thought movies set in the early 1970s were missing a certain quaintness that existed at the time. “Mick Ronson, David Bowie's guitarist, died before we made the movie, and somebody got a deathbed interview with him and asked, ‘How did it feel to be at the ground zero of decadence in rock?’ And he said, ‘It was a very loving time and a very naive time, or at least it was to me.’ And I just thought that was profound,” Crowe told Film Comment. “But the whole global change in rock, cool being a mass concept, was still around the corner, so it was still a little more personal, and all I can say is passionately naive. And I really wanted to catch that.”

13. THE MOVIE REUNITED CROWE’S MOM AND SISTER.

In 2000 Crowe revealed to Rolling Stone that he and his sister, Cindy (Zooey Deschanel’s Anita in the movie), had a falling out after their dad died in 1989 and that his sister and mom had been estranged since then. “After my dad died, the chemistry of my family got f***ed up, and in my wildest dreams, I hope the movie helps my mom and sister communicate. They talk through me now, but three and a half weeks ago our family got together. The one fake scene in the movie—the reconciliation at the end—actually happened in its own weird way.”

14. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN WORE CROWE’S VINTAGE GUESS WHO T-SHIRT.

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Crowe admitted to keeping many souvenirs from his days as a teenage rock journalist, including a T-shirt from the group The Guess Who. When William and Lester Bangs (Hoffman) meet at Sun Cafe, Bangs is wearing Crowe’s own T-shirt. “Lester dressed in promotional T-shirts, which was funny because his message was that corporate America is just around the corner ready to seize rock with merchandising and commerciality, but he had no problem wearing rock T-shirts,” Crowe told Entertainment Weekly. “They were free, and they fit.”

15. WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: FIRST DAY OF CAMP PAYS HOMAGE TO THE FILM.

One of the most famous moments in Almost Famous is when Russell stands atop a roof, high on drugs, and screams “I am a Golden God” to the teenagers below, then jumps into a pool. Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer prequel series has Chris Pine playing a Russell Hammond-like character who stands on top of a roof and riles the campers to sing a song with him.

It’s also revealed that Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) is not a camp counselor but an undercover reporter for Rock ‘n’ Roll World magazine. In Almost Famous fashion, her editor tells her not to make friends with the campers, but she does anyway.

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12 Things You Might Not Know About MAD Magazine
Mad Magazine
Mad Magazine

As fast as popular culture could erect wholesome depictions of American life in comics, television, or movies, MAD Magazine was there to tear them all down. A near-instant success for EC Comics upon its debut in 1952, the magazine has inspired generations of comedians for its pioneering satirical attitude and tasteful booger jokes. This month, DC Entertainment is relaunching an "all new" MAD, skewering pop culture on a bimonthly basis and in full color. To fill the gaps in your knowledge, take a look at these facts about the Usual Gang of Idiots.

1. NO ONE KNOWS WHO CAME UP WITH ALFRED E. NEUMAN.


Jamie, Flickr (L) // Boston Public Library, Flickr (R) // CC BY 2.0

MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman was in the offices of a Ballantine Books editor discussing reprints for the fledging publication when he noticed a grinning, gap-toothed imbecile staring back at him from a bulletin board. The unnamed figure was ubiquitous in the early 20th century, appearing in everything from dentistry ads to depictions of diseases. A charmed Kurtzman adopted him as MAD’s mascot beginning in 1954. Neuman later become so recognizable that a letter was delivered from New Zealand to MAD’s New York offices without an address: the envelope simply had a drawing of Alfred.  

2. THEY HAD TO APOLOGIZE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

MAD was conceived during a particularly sensitive time for the comics industry, with parents and watchdog groups concerned over content. (It didn't switch to a magazine format until issue #24.) Kurtzman usually knew where the line was, but when he was laid up with acute hepatitis in 1952, publisher William Gaines and others had to step in for him. Gaines thought it would be funny to offer a fictional biography of himself that detailed his father’s Communist leanings, his past as a dope dealer “near nursery schools,” and bouts of pyromania. When wholesalers were shocked at the content and threatened to boycott all of his titles, Gaines was forced to write a letter of apology.  

3. THEY PREDICTED JOHN F. KENNEDY'S ELECTION IN 1960.

But it was a cheat. In the run-up to the 1960 Presidential election, MAD printed a cover that featured Neuman congratulating Kennedy on his victory with a caption that read, “We were with you all the way, Jack!” But the issue was shipped long before votes had been tabulated. The secret? It was a dual cover. Flip it over and Neuman is celebrating Richard Nixon’s appointment to office. Stores were told to display the “right” side of the magazine depending on the outcome.

4. ALFRED BRIEFLY HAD A GIRLFRIEND.


MAD Magazine

A character named Moxie Cowznofski was introduced in the late 1950s as a female companion for Alfred. She made only a handful of cover appearances, possibly due to the fact she looked alarmingly like her significant other.

5. THEY DIDN'T RUN ANY (REAL) ADS FOR 44 YEARS.

From the beginning, Gaines felt that printing actual advertisements next to the products they were lampooning would not only dilute their edge but seem more than a little hypocritical. After some back-and-forth, MAD cut ads starting in 1957. The decision was a costly one—most print publications survive on such revenue—but led to the magazine’s keeping a sharp knife against the throat of seductive advertising, including cigarettes. Faced with dwindling circulation in 2001, Mad finally relented and began taking ads to help pay for a switch to color printing.

6. "SPY VS. SPY" WAS CREATED BY A SUSPECTED SPY.

Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohias was disenchanted with the regime under Fidel Castro when he began working on what would become “Spy vs. Spy.” Because Prohias’ other newspaper illustrations were critical of Castro, the Cuban government suspected him of working for the CIA. He wasn’t, but the perception had him worried harm might come to his co-workers. To get out of the situation, Prohias came to America in 1960. With his daughter helping translate, he stopped by Mad’s New York offices and submitted his work: his sneaky, triangle-headed spies became regulars.

7. THERE WAS ONE FOLD-IN THEY WOULDN'T RUN.

Artist Al Jaffee, now 94, has been with Mad almost from the beginning. He created the famous Fold-In—the back cover that reveals a new picture when doubled over—in 1964 after seeing the fold-outs in magazines like National Geographic, Playboy, and Life. Jaffee has rarely missed an issue since—but editors backtracked on one of Jaffee’s works that referenced a mass shooting in 2013. Citing poor taste, they destroyed over 600,000 copies.  

8. THEIR MOVIE WAS A DISASTER.

With the exception of Fox’s successful sketch series, 1994’s MAD TV, attempts to translate the MAD brand into other media have been underwhelming: a 1974 animated special didn’t even make it on air. But a 1980 film venture, a military school spoof directed by Robert Downey, Sr. titled Mad Presents Up the Academy, was so awful William Gaines demanded to have their name taken off of it. (Renamed Up the Academy, the DVD release of the movie still features someone sporting an Alfred E. Neuman mask; Mad parodied it in a spoof titled “Throw Up the Academy.”)

9. THE APRIL 1974 COVER HAD PEOPLE FLIPPING.


MAD Magazine

MAD has never made a habit of good taste, but a depiction of a raised middle finger for one issue in the mid-’70s caused a huge stir. Many stores wouldn’t stock it for fear of offending customers, and the company ended up accepting an irregular number of returns. Gaines took to his typewriter to write a letter of apology. Again. The relaunched #1, out in April 2018, pays homage to this cover, though it's slightly more tasteful: Neuman is picking his nose with his middle finger.

10. THEY INVENTED A SPORT.

MAD writer Tom Koch was amused by the convoluted rules of sports and attempted to one-up them in 43-Man Squamish, a game he invented for the April 1965 issue. Koch and artist George Woodbridge (“MAD’s Athletic Council”) prepared a guide that was utterly incomprehensible—the field was to have five sides, positions included Deep Brooders and Dummies, “interfering with the Wicket Men” constituted a penalty—but it amused high school and college readers enough to try and mount their own games. (Short on players? Try 2-Man Squamish: “The rules are identical,” Koch wrote, “except the object of the game is to lose.”) For the less physically inclined, Mad also issued a board game in which the goal is to lose all of your money.  

11. WEIRD AL WAS A GUEST EDITOR.

In what must be some kind of fulfilled prophecy, lyrical satirist “Weird” Al Yankovic was named as a guest editor—their first—for the magazine’s May 2015 issue. Yankovic told Entertainment Weekly that MAD had put him on “the dark, twisted path to becoming who I am today … I needed to pollute my mind with that kind of stuff.” In addition to his collaborations with the staff, Yankovic enlisted Patton Oswalt, Seth Green, and Chris Hardwick to contribute.

12. FRED ASTAIRE ONCE DANCED AS ALFRED E. NEUMAN.

In a scene so surreal even MAD’s irreverent editors would have had trouble dreaming it up, Fred Astaire decided to sport an Alfred E. Neuman mask for a dance number in his 1959 television special, Another Evening with Fred Astaire. No one seems to recall why exactly Astaire would do this—he may have just wanted to include a popular cultural reference—but it was no off-the-cuff decision. Astaire hired movie make-up veteran John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) to craft a credible mask of Neuman. The result is … well, kind of disturbing. But it’s a fitting addition to a long tradition of people going completely MAD.

Additional Sources:
Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America.

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10 Tantalizing Tidbits About Star Trek: The Next Generation
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

by Kirsten Howard

When Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in September 1987, no one was quite sure what to expect. After all, this was a new Enterprise with a new crew trying to revitalize a franchise that had only lasted three seasons the last time it was on television. And while the movie series was still bringing in solid box office returns, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy would play no part in this new Trek.

The Next Generation was a gamble for Paramount, and for the first few seasons, it looked like one the studio was going to lose. But once the series got over some initial behind-the-scenes chaos, it blossomed into one of the most popular sci-fi TV shows of all time. Even as bigger and shinier installments in the franchise continue to come out, this is the definitive Star Trek for countless fans. So lean back in your captain's chair and enjoy 10 facts about Star Trek: The Next Generation.

1. THE SHOW GOT OFF TO A ROCKY START.

Things were tumultuous at best behind the scenes during the first season of the show, as writers and producers clashed with creator Gene Roddenberry over themes, characters, and ideas on a weekly basis. The in-fighting and drama became such a part of the show's legacy that William Shatner himself chronicled all of it in a 2014 documentary called Chaos on the Bridge (which is currently streaming on Netflix). In it, producers, writers, and actors recounted anecdotes about the difficulties they had dealing with Roddenberry's somewhat overbearing mandates, including his infamous rule that there never be any direct conflict between the Enterprise crew members (unless one was possessed by an alien, of course) and his habit of throwing out scripts at the last minute. This led to 30 writers leaving the show within the first season, according to story editor and program consultant David Gerrold.

As Roddenberry’s health began to deteriorate after the first season, his influence over the writers waned, freeing up ideas that were departures from the creator's original vision. He would pass away in 1991, but his presence would never completely leave the series. For years, a small bust of Roddenberry sat on executive producer Rick Berman's desk with a blindfold wrapped over its eyes. "Whenever they come up with a story I don't think Gene would like," Berman said, "I blindfold him when we discuss the story."

2. GENE RODDENBERRY REALLY DIDN’T WANT A BALD CAPTAIN.

'Star Trek' creator Gene Roddenberry
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

For years, William Shatner had cast the mold by which all future Star Trek captains would be judged. And it was that image of the confident, swashbuckling James T. Kirk that Roddenberry wanted to preserve when bringing a new captain in for The Next Generation. So when Berman wanted to cast Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the issue was clear: he was no Shatner.

Roddenberry was completely unconvinced that Stewart was right for the role, with Berman saying the Trek creator didn’t like the idea of “a bald English guy taking over.” But after countless auditions with other actors, Berman continued to bring Stewart up to Roddenberry, who eventually caved and agreed to bring him in for a final audition under one condition: he wear a wig. So Stewart had a wig Fed-Exed from London and auditioned for Roddenberry and Paramount Television head John Pike one final time. 

That audition was enough to win Roddenberry over, and Stewart was finally brought aboard as Picard with the wig cast aside. Roddenberry would eventually go on to fully embrace Picard’s follicular shortcomings, and according to Stewart, when a reporter at a press conference once asked him why there wouldn’t be a cure for baldness in the 24th century, Roddenberry responded by saying, “No, by the 24th century, no one will care."

3. ONLY ONE PERSON HAS EVER PLAYED HIMSELF IN STAR TREK HISTORY.

Stephen Hawking was visiting the Paramount lot during the video release of the film A Brief History of Time when he requested a tour of the Next Generation set. After making his way onto the iconic Enterprise bridge, he stopped and began typing into his computer. Suddenly, his voice synthesizer spoke: “Would you lift me out of my chair and put me into the captain's seat?"

Hawking asking to be removed from his chair was basically unheard of, so his wishes were granted immediately. Later, with writers having become aware that he was such a huge Trekkie, Hawking himself was written into the sixth season finale episode “Descent – Part I” by Ronald D. Moore, who would later go on to reimagine the Battlestar Galactica universe.

4. A WHOLE EPISODE WAS WRITTEN FOR ROBIN WILLIAMS.

Late actor and comedian Robin Williams was also a huge fan of the show and was desperate to appear in it, so an episode of the fifth season—"A Matter of Time"—was drawn up by Berman to allow Williams to shine at the center of a mystery about Professor Berlinghoff Rasmussen, a time-traveling historian from the future visiting the past to observe the Enterprise crew completing an historic mission.

Unfortunately, when it came time to shoot the episode, Williams found himself unavailable to appear in the episode. So Max Headroom star Matt Frewer was cast as Professor Rasmussen instead.

5. PATRICK STEWART APPROACHED BEING TORTURED ON SCREEN VERY SERIOUSLY.

In the episode “Chain of Command, Part II,” Picard has been captured by Cardassians and is subjected to a variety of torture methods by his interrogators. As a member of the human rights organization Amnesty International, Stewart did not want to shy away from the realities of torture, so he watched tapes sent to him that included statements from people who had been tortured and a long interview with a torturer explaining what it was like to be the one inflicting pain on others. Stewart also insisted on being completely nude during the first torture scene, so as not to betray the experiences of those who had undergone similar horrors.

6. THEY USED SOME PRACTICAL EFFECTS.

The transporter effect on the show may look completely computer generated, but in fact it’s all done quite organically. First, a canister is filled with water and glitter and then a light is shone through it. After stirring the liquid briskly, the resulting few seconds of swirling glitter are filmed and then superimposed over footage of the actor standing in the transporter area, with an added “streak down” effect to blur the glitter further.

7. LORE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A WOMAN.

Android Lieutenant Commander Data had many adventures during the series, on and off the Enterprise, but his evil twin brother, Lore, stands out for many fans as one of the show’s greatest antagonists. Surprisingly, Lore was originally created as a female android character for the show, but the actor who plays Data, Brent Spiner, came up with a different idea: an evil twin nemesis in the shape of a long-lost brother.

8. THERE WAS AN OPEN SUBMISSION POLICY ON SCRIPTS.

When Michael Piller took over as head writer on the show in 1989, an open submission policy was launched where absolutely anyone could submit up to two unsolicited scripts for consideration. Opening up the possibility of writing for TV to people outside of the Writers Guild of America and talent agency pool was unheard of at the time, and over 5000 spec scripts were received a year at one point. "Yesterday’s Enterprise," one of the show’s most popular episodes, was based off a spec script from the open submission policy.

9. SOME SCRIPTS WERE RECYCLED FROM THE SCRAPPED PHASE II.

A still from 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'
Paramount Pictures

A decade before The Next Generation debuted, there was a failed attempt at a revival called Star Trek: Phase II. Though a first season was mapped out, it never saw the light of day, and the movie series was produced in its place. However, the scrapped scripts and concepts lived on in various Trek projects over the years. For the second season premiere of The Next Generation, producers reclaimed the script for "The Child" as a way to get a story quickly into production during the 1988 writer's strike. The season four episode "Devil's Due" was also taken from the backlog of Phase II scripts. 

More elements from Phase II would influence Trek for years, such as the pilot being reworked into Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the now-familiar elements of the Japanese-inspired Klingon culture being introduced in the shelved episode “Kitumba.”

10. THE TRANSPORTER IS THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS.

In what was either a cost-cutting move or a sly Easter egg (or both), the ceiling of the Enterprise's transporter room in The Next Generation is actually the floor of the transporter room from the original series. That's far from the only recycling that went on between the Trek series. The orbital office complex from Star Trek: The Motion Picture was reused as the Regula I station in The Wrath of Khan, which was then itself reused as a number of different space stations on The Next Generation (plus Deep Space Nine and Voyager).

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