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10 Perfectly Paired Facts About Harold and Maude

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a true cinephile who doesn’t own a copy of Harold and Maude. The 1971 box office failure, directed by Hal Ashby and written by Colin Higgins, has become a Hollywood classic since its rocky debut. A brutally dark rom-com, Harold and Maude tells the story of a death-obsessed young boy (Bud Cort) who falls for a free-spirited 79-year-old woman (Ruth Gordon), much to the chagrin of his oblivious, blue-blooded mother (Vivian Pickles). Not only has the film found a second life at film festivals, outdoor park screenings, arthouse cinemas, and on home video, but it’s also become a must-see movie for anyone serious about filmmaking. Here are 10 things you might not know about the film that pushed the boundaries of May-December romances.

1. BUD CORT NEARLY KILLED HIMSELF WITH HIS METHOD ACTING.

On the Harold and Maude set, Bud Cort was infamous for his Method acting. In an interview with The Guardian, Cort shared that among the many scenes he improvised were his breaking of the fourth wall to give a cheeky glance at the camera and raising his middle finger at Vivian Pickles during her entire monologue after she tells him he’s joining the army. As further proof of his intensity, Cort described his commitment to the opening fake suicide scene, saying, “I was so into it that I believed I was hanging myself to death.” In Being Hal Ashby, author Nick Dawson shared more instances of Cort’s devotion to the character, writing that during Harold’s fake drowning scene, “Cort lay face down in the heavily chlorinated water of the Rosecourt swimming pool for take after take until he could no longer keep his eyes open.”

2. BUD CORT REFUSED TO DO PUBLICITY IF THE STUDIO DIDN’T GIVE HAL ASHBY CREATIVE CONTROL OVER THE EDIT.

During post-production, Paramount Pictures stripped Ashby of his power to edit the film. Thus, in solidarity with his director, Cort told the film’s PR team that he wouldn’t do any publicity for the film unless Ashby got his movie back. According to The Guardian, control over the footage was handed back to Ashby—save for a kissing scene between Harold and Maude that Paramount head honcho Robert Evans despised.

3. ACTRESS ALI MACGRAW, ROBERT EVANS’ THEN-WIFE, WANTED THE LOVE SCENE BETWEEN HAROLD AND MAUDE TO BE CUT.

Of course, her Paramount boss husband tried to oblige. Ashby furiously objected, saying, “That’s sort of what the whole movie is about, a boy falling in love with an old woman; the sexual aspect doesn’t have to be distasteful.” About the less-than-explicit scene, Being Hal Ashby author Nick Dawson wrote, “Ashby wanted to show the beauty of young and old flesh together, something that he knew the younger generation, the hippies, the heads, the open-minded masses would dig, but Evans said it would repulse most audiences, so it had to go.” In the end, Ashby won by sneaking the footage into the film’s trailer.

4. VIVIAN PICKLES BROUGHT HER OWN CLOTHES FOR MRS. CHASEN’S WARDROBE.

Pickles, who played Harold’s detached, socialite mother, flew in her own costumes for the character. “I had brought some of my own clothes over from England, which we had altered, and, in the week before shooting began, I shopped endlessly for the rest with the costume designer, Bill Theiss,” wrote Pickles for The Criterion Collection. “He was spot-on … He kindly raided his mother’s jewelry box to borrow antique jewelry for Mrs. Chasen.”

5. HARRISON FORD WORKED FOR SCREENWRITER COLIN HIGGINS—AS A CARPENTER.

Here’s a fun fact separate from the production of the film: According to The Criterion Collection cut, Colin Higgins employed Harrison Ford, then working as a carpenter, to build a hot tub and deck for his backyard.

6. BUD CORT AND RUTH GORDON’S REAL-LIFE RELATIONSHIP ALMOST MIRRORED THAT OF THEIR CHARACTERS.

In the April 2001 issue of Vanity Fair, Cort revisited the cult classic and reminisced on his chemistry with his co-star. “During the making of the film, [Ruth] was very standoffish. Then, the day my father died, the first call I got was from Ruth, saying 'Let me tell you about the day my father died,’” he told the magazine. “And suddenly we became the characters pretty much that we were in the film. We really became friends the night my father died. Oddly enough, he died waiting for me to show up on This is Your Life, Ruth Gordon.

7. ONE OF THE FILM’S LOST SCENES INVOLVED HAROLD SERVING UP HIS OWN HEAD.

“It opened up with a shot of a large, silver-plated serving dish," Colin Higgins told Film Quarterly in 1972. "A hand comes in and removes the cover and there, on a little bed of parsley, is Harold's head. Two hands come into the frame and pick up the head, and we move back and there's Harold holding his head and looking at it. He sort of peels off the latex blood and walks over to his bedroom chair where a headless dummy sits. He puts the head on the dummy, but the head really isn't sitting right, and he goes into the closet to find something.” Of course, that scene never made it into the theatrical cut.

8. ELTON JOHN PASSED ON DOING THE SOUNDTRACK.

According to The Criterion Collection version of the film, producer Charles Mulvehill initially approached Elton John to write the music for the movie, as Ashby was a fan of the pop star. John passed—but not before suggesting his friend, Cat Stevens, for the job.

9. HAROLD AND MAUDE WAS BASED ON COLIN HIGGINS’ THESIS FILM AT UCLA.

At the time, Higgins was working as producer Edward Lewis’ pool boy. According to Being Hal Ashby, Lewis’ wife loved the script so much that she got her husband to give it to Stanley Jaffe at Paramount. At first, Higgins was going to direct the film, but screen tests proved to the studio that he wasn’t ready. Thus, Hal Ashby was brought on.

10. HAL ASHBY ALMOST WITHDREW FROM THE FILM A MONTH BEFORE SHOOTING BEGAN.

Frustrated with several issues he was having with the studio, including not being able to hire cinematographer Gordon Willis, Ashby considered leaving the picture altogether. “My creative juices have indeed finally been tapped and it would, I’m afraid, have to take its toll on the film, and Harold and Maude deserves better,” Ashby wrote to Robert Evans. “I feel like I could make the film as funny as the Vietnam War.”

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5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

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