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13 Judicious Facts About To Kill a Mockingbird

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It's a scientific fact that no matter how great your own father may be, he's not as great as Atticus Finch. (Any truly great father will readily admit this.) Millions of people fell in dad-love with Atticus through Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird, released in July 1960. And millions more fell even more deeply in love when the movie version was released on Christmas Day in 1962. The movie, directed by Robert Mulligan, was an instant classic, and it came to be one of America's most beloved and comforting films. To enhance your appreciation, here's a chifforobe full of facts about it.

1. ROCK HUDSON ALMOST PLAYED ATTICUS FINCH.

Universal Pictures offered the role to Rock Hudson when the project was first being developed, and the actor was prepared to take it. Things stalled, however, when the film's producer, Alan J. Pakula, wanted an even bigger star: Gregory Peck. Universal basically said, "Well, sure! If you can get Gregory Peck, we'll not only agree to it, we'll finance the movie!" And that's what happened. Sorry, Rock.

2. HARPER LEE ENTHUSIASTICALLY SUPPORTED THE FILM, BUT HAD NO INTEREST IN WRITING THE SCREENPLAY HERSELF.

The author would later become famous for being reclusive (and for not writing any more books until this year's Go Set a Watchman), but she was pleased as punch to visit the set when the movie was being filmed, and spoke glowingly of how well she was treated in Hollywood. But early on, when producers offered to let her write the screenplay adaptation of her own book, she politely declined. She had no experience with scripts; she was busy working on another book (which she never finished); and she didn't mind letting someone else grapple with the task of trimming her novel down to movie length. The job went to Horton Foote, a fellow Southerner, and Lee approved of the work he did.  

3. GREGORY PECK WANTED TO CHANGE THE TITLE.

He wasn't the only person who felt the phrase "to kill a mockingbird" didn't accurately reflect the content of the story. He was the most influential, though, and he pushed for a change before he'd even read the screenplay. Lee's literary agent, Annie Laurie Williams, was furious at the suggestion, and wrote to the publisher (who naturally wanted the bestselling book's title to carry over) to assure him that Peck "has been signed to play the part of Atticus, but has no right to say what the title of the picture will be." Mulligan and Pakula publicly stated that the title would remain intact, and Peck dropped the subject.

4. THEY COULDN'T SHOOT ON LOCATION BECAUSE THE REAL TOWN HAD BECOME MODERNIZED.

Lee based the novel's fiction town of Maycomb, Alabama on her own experiences growing up in Monroeville, Alabama during the Depression, with a lawyer father who had (unsuccessfully) defended two black men against rape charges. Peck, Pakula, and a small crew visited Monroeville to do some research, and to see if they could make the movie there. They found the town as charming and welcoming as they'd hoped, but it no longer bore much physical resemblance to the way it had looked 30 years earlier. That was disappointing for the filmmakers, but probably a good sign for the locals. (Imagine how sad it would be for a town in 1961 to look like it was still in the midst of the Depression.)

5. THEY SAVED MONEY ON THE SET BY RECYCLING REAL HOUSES.

Once it was determined that shooting on location wasn't practical, the question became how to most economically recreate a Depression-era Alabama town on the Universal backlot. Realizing that Monroeville's old houses were similar in style to the early-20th-century clapboard cottages that were then rapidly disappearing from the Los Angeles area, the film's production designers, Henry Bumstead and Alexander Golitzen, went looking for condemned houses they could use. Sure enough, they found a dozen such homes scheduled for demolition near Chavez Ravine (where Dodger Stadium was almost finished), and for just $5000 had the frames hauled to Universal. They lined their fake street with the houses and added the appropriate porches, shutters and so forth—all for about a quarter of what it would have cost to build the sets from scratch. 

6. THE COURTROOM WAS MADE TO LOOK JUST LIKE THE ONE IN HARPER LEE'S HOMETOWN.

For an extra bit of authenticity that almost no one would ever notice, the production designers built the courtroom set as an exact duplicate of the real courtroom from Lee's childhood, based on photos and measurements they'd taken while visiting Monroeville. (Fittingly, the real Monroeville courthouse is now a museum devoted to the book and the movie.) 

7. JAMES ANDERSON, THE ACTOR WHO PLAYED MEAN OLD BOB EWELL, REALLY WAS KIND OF MEAN.

Or he behaved that way on the set, anyway, possibly due to some Method acting mentality. He didn't get along with Brock Peters (who played Tom Robinson), and wouldn't talk to Peck at all, insisting on communicating through Mulligan, their director. In the climactic fight with Jem Finch, Anderson yanked young Phillip Alford's hair so hard, he pulled him out of the shot. 

8. THERE'S A REASON THE MOVIE FOCUSES MORE ON ATTICUS THAN THE BOOK DOES, AND THAT REASON IS NAMED GREGORY PECK.

After seeing a rough cut of the film early in the summer of 1962, Peck sent a memo to his agent and to Universal execs listing 44 problems he had with it. What it boiled down to was that the children had too much screen time, Atticus not enough. "Atticus has no chance to emerge as courageous or strong," Peck wrote. He said in a later memo, "In my opinion, the picture will begin to look better as Atticus' story line emerges, and the children's scenes are cut down to proportion." Universal wanted the star to be happy, but Mulligan and Pakula's contract had stipulated they'd get final cut. Still, they made more changes to appease Peck, deleting some of the children's scenes in favor of Peck's. In the end, the trial occupies some 30 percent of the film, despite being only about 15 percent of the book. 

9. THE NARRATOR DID THE FILM AS A FAVOR TO THE SCREENWRITER.

Kim Stanley, unnamed in the credits, was a successful stage actress who had worked with screenwriter Horton Foote in the theater world. She lent the film her molasses-dripping vocals out of fondness for him. 

10. HARPER LEE WASN'T SOLD ON GREGORY PECK UNTIL SHE SAW HIM IN COSTUME.

The actor had visited Lee and her father (whom he'd be playing) in Monroeville, and both Lees thought he was a swell guy. But Harper wasn't convinced he was right for the part until they were in Hollywood and she saw his wardrobe test. "The first glimpse I had of him was when he came out of his dressing room in his Atticus suit," she said in an interview a couple years later. "It was the most amazing transformation I had ever seen. A middle-aged man came out. He looked bigger, he looked thicker through the middle. He didn't have an ounce of makeup, just a 1933-type suit with a collar and a vest and a watch and chain. The minute I saw him I knew everything was going to be all right because he was Atticus." 

Mary Badham, who played young Scout, later recalled how Peck once finished a scene and noticed that Lee, standing off to the side, had tears in her eyes. Peck went over to her, thinking she must have been touched by the performance. But it was something else: "Oh, Gregory!" she said. "You've got a little pot belly, just like my daddy!" Peck's reply: "That's just good acting, my dear." 

11. MARY BADHAM SET AN OSCAR RECORD.

Badham was 10 years and 141 days old on Oscar night, when she was up for Best Supporting Actress. At the time, she was the youngest nominee ever for that category. (Interestingly, she lost to another kid: Patty Duke, age 16, for The Miracle Worker.) Badham is still the second-youngest Best Supporting Actress nominee, after Tatum O'Neal, who was 35 days younger the night she was up (and won) for Paper Moon in 1974.

12. MARY BADHAM ALSO DELAYED THE PRODUCTION.

Badham, just nine years old at the time of filming, had never acted professionally at all, let alone in a big-time Hollywood film. Understandably, she was thrilled by the experience—so much so that she didn't want it to end. The very last scene to be shot was the one outside the jailhouse, when the children show up and interrupt the lynch mob. To keep the happy times rolling forever, Badham kept screwing up her lines on purpose, until finally her mother told her to knock it off and be a professional. 

13. GREGORY PECK'S GRANDSON IS NAMED AFTER HARPER LEE.

Though the process of turning a book into a movie often ends in bitterness and disillusionment for the author, To Kill a Mockingbird was an exception. Lee loved the screenplay, loved the film, and became lifelong friends with Peck. In 1999, Peck's daughter, Cecilia, named her son Harper, in honor of the woman who gave her dad the greatest role of his career.

Additional sources:
DVD special features
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields
Gregory Peck: A Biography, by Gary Fishgall
Interview with Harper Lee

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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers’ Movies
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Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers’s movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’ 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS'S WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that featured a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination). 

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. "The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, "Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that."

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen Brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen Brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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10 Terrific Facts About Stephen King
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As if being one of the world's most successful and prolific writers wasn't already reason enough to celebrate, Stephen King is ringing in his birthday as the toast of Hollywood. As It continues to break box office records, we're digging into the horror master's past. Here are 10 things you might not have known about Stephen King, who turns 70 years old today.

1. STEPHEN KING AND HIS WIFE, TABITHA, OWN A RADIO STATION.

Stephen and Tabitha King own Zone Radio, a company that serves to head their three radio stations in Maine. One of them, WKIT, is a classic rock station that goes by the tagline "Stephen King's Rock Station."

2. HE'S A HARDCORE RED SOX FAN.

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Not only did he write a story about the Boston Red Sox—The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (who was a former Red Sox pitcher)—he also had a cameo in the Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore movie Fever Pitch, which is about a crazed Sox fan. He plays himself and throws out the first pitch at a game.

In 2004, King and Stewart O'Nan, another novelist, chronicled their reactions to the season that finally brought the World Series title back to Beantown. It's appropriately titled Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season.

3. HE WAS HIT BY A CAR, THEN BOUGHT THE CAR THAT HIT HIM.

You probably remember that King was hit by a van not far from his summer home in Maine in 1999. The incident left King with a collapsed lung, multiple fractures to his hip and leg, and a gash to the head. Afterward, King and his lawyer bought the van for $1500 with King announcing that, "Yes, we've got the van, and I'm going to take a sledgehammer and beat it!"

4. AS A KID, HIS FRIEND WAS STRUCK AND KILLED BY A TRAIN.

King's brain seems to be able to create chilling stories at such an amazing clip, yet he's seen his fair share of horror in real life. In addition to the aforementioned car accident, when King was just a kid his friend was struck and killed by a train (a plot line that made it into his story "The Body," which was adapted into Stand By Me). While it would be easy to assume that this incident informed much of King's writing, the author claims to have no memory of the event:

"According to Mom, I had gone off to play at a neighbor’s house—a house that was near a railroad line. About an hour after I left I came back (she said), as white as a ghost. I would not speak for the rest of the day; I would not tell her why I’d not waited to be picked up or phoned that I wanted to come home; I would not tell her why my chum’s mom hadn’t walked me back but had allowed me to come alone.

"It turned out that the kid I had been playing with had been run over by a freight train while playing on or crossing the tracks (years later, my mother told me they had picked up the pieces in a wicker basket). My mom never knew if I had been near him when it happened, if it had occurred before I even arrived, or if I had wandered away after it happened. Perhaps she had her own ideas on the subject. But as I’ve said, I have no memory of the incident at all; only of having been told about it some years after the fact."

5. HE WROTE A MUSICAL WITH JOHN MELLENCAMP.

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King, John Mellencamp, and T Bone Burnett collaborated on a musical, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, which made its debut in 2012. The story is based on a house that Mellencamp bought in Indiana that came complete with a ghost story. Legend has it that three siblings were messing around in the woods and one of the brothers accidentally got shot. The surviving brother and sister jumped in the car to go get help, and in their panic, swerved off the road right into a tree and were killed instantly. Of course, the three now haunt the woods by Mellencamp's house.

6. HE PLAYED IN A BAND WITH OTHER SUCCESSFUL AUTHORS.

King played rhythm guitar for a band made up of successful writers called The Rock Bottom Remainders. From 1992 to 2012, the band "toured" about once a year. In addition to King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Barbara Kingsolver, Matt Groening and Ridley Pearson were just some of its other members.

7. HE'S A NATIVE MAINER.

A photo of Stephen King's home in Bangor, Maine.
By Julia Ess - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

King writes about Maine a lot because he knows and loves The Pine Tree State: he was born there, grew up there, and still lives there (in Bangor). Castle Rock, Derry, and Jerusalem's Lot—the fictional towns he has written about in his books—are just products of King's imagination, but he can tell you exactly where in the state they would be if they were real.

8. HE HAS BATTLED DRUG AND ALCOHOL PROBLEMS.

Throughout much of the 1980s, King struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. In discussing this time, he admitted that, "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all. I don't say that with pride or shame, only with a vague sense of sorrow and loss. I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page."

It came to a head when his family members staged an intervention and confronted him with drug paraphernalia they had collected from his trash can. It was the eye-opener King needed; he got help and has been sober ever since.

9. THERE WAS A RUMOR THAT HE WROTE A LOST TIE-IN NOVEL.

King was an avid Lost fan and sometimes wrote about the show in his Entertainment Weekly column, "The Pop of King." The admiration was mutual. Lost's writers mentioned that King was a major influence in their work. There was a lot of speculation that he was the man behind Bad Twin, a Lost tie-in mystery, but he debunked that rumor.

10. HE IS SURROUNDED BY WRITERS.

A photo of Stephen King's son, author Joe Hill
Joe Hill
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Stephen isn't the only writer in the King family: His wife, Tabitha King, has published several novels. Joe, their oldest son, followed in his dad's footsteps and is a bestselling horror writer (he writes under the pen name Joe Hill). Youngest child Owen has written a collection of short stories and one novella and he and his dad co-wrote Sleeping Beauties, which will be released later this month (Owen also married a writer). Naomi, the only King daughter, is a minister and gay activist.

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