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15 Lively Facts About Pushing Daisies

ABC Television
ABC Television

Years before Bryan Fuller created the visually stunning Hannibal, there was the equally pretty and just plain strange world of Pushing Daisies. Lee Pace starred as Ned, a pie-maker who could bring the dead back to life with a simple touch—and back to the dead again with a second touch.

After the love of his life, Chuck (Anna Friel), is murdered, Ned brings her back to life and develops a romance with her, though the two can never touch. Chi McBride played Emerson Cod, a private investigator who enlists Ned’s help in solving cases. In a touch of irony mentioned many times by now, Pushing Daisies had the misfortune of being pronounced dead by ABC in 2008, right before it became standard practice for cult shows to be resurrected. Here are some facts about the beloved series, which premiered 10 years ago today.

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO BE A SPINOFF OF DEAD LIKE ME.

Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller left his former creation, Dead Like Me, before its second season, during which he planned to introduce Ned as an adversary for George's grim reaper. Ned would have revived dead bodies before George could claim them, and a romance would have transpired.

2. ADAM BRODY TURNED DOWN PLAYING NED.

Fuller wanted Lee Pace for the role of Ned, but was told by Pace’s agents that he was only interested in movies. So he approached Adam Brody, who said he wasn’t ready to do another series so soon after The O.C. had ended. Then Pace’s manager went around his agents and got Pace the pilot script, which the actor loved.

3. CHI MCBRIDE PITCHED EMERSON’S BACKSTORY HIMSELF.

Chi McBride in 'Pushing Daisies'
ABC Television

Chi McBride suggested to Fuller that his character became a private investigator to find his daughter, who disappeared after his ex ran off with her. According to the actor, Fuller initially had a “completely different” story in mind for Emerson.

4. ANNA FRIEL HAD A LITTLE RITUAL BEFORE SHOOTING A SCENE.

Dubbed “The Anna” by director Barry Sonnenfeld, Anna Friel would pump her arms rapidly, like someone running in place, before each scene to keep her energy up. Eventually, Pace, Swoosie Kurtz, and Ellen Greene (who played her aunts) did it, too.

5. FRIEL USED AN AMERICAN ACCENT ALL DAY ON SET.

The English actresses only slipped back to her British accent when her mother called (Mrs. Friel didn’t like the American accent). Jim Dale, the show's narrator, didn’t even realize that Friel was British "until I heard her being interviewed."

until I heard her being interviewed
until I heard her being interviewed

6. LEE PACE STAYED IN CHARACTER WHENEVER FRIEL TRIED TO HUG HIM.

Anna Friel and Lee Pace in 'Pushing Daisies'
ABC Television

Since Ned and Chuck could never touch, Pace and Friel attempted to not make physical contact with one another for a week, and failed repeatedly. Friel once tried to give Pace a hug, and Pace instinctively flinched. "It's just playing Ned," Pace explained. "I shouldn't be flinching when a beautiful girl like Anna Friel gives me a hug, but I flinched! That's weird, that's odd, that's not normal."

7. THERE WAS A NOTED AMÉLIE INFLUENCE.

Cinematographer Michael Weaver said that Fuller, Barry Sonnenfeld (who directed the first two episodes of Pushing Daisies), an executive producer for the series, and he all agreed to give the show a feel “somewhere between Amélie and a Tim Burton film—something big, bright, and bigger than life.” Pushing Daisies music composer and arranger Jim Dooley described his score as “having an Amélie type of sound.”

8. BARRY SONNENFELD HAD A "NO BLUES" RULE.

Production designer Michael Wylie’s instruction from Sonnenfeld was “virtually no blues.” Friel told ITV, “there’s no blue at all. The director hated blue,” before revealing another big influence for the show was the work of Nighthawks artist Edward Hopper.

9. KRISTIN CHENOWETH MADE A VERY SPECIFIC SONG REQUEST.

Kristin Chenoweth told Fuller that she wanted to sing "Eternal Flame" on the show. Fuller granted her wish, and Chenoweth's Olive sang her heart out in the episode “Comfort Food.” Had the show continued, there would have been an all-musical episode.

10. THE VIEW OF THE TOWN FROM THE PIE HOLE WAS A 180-FOOT LONG, 18-FOOT HIGH ‘TRANSLIGHT.'

It was created from photographs of a series of matte paintings.

11. THE VISUAL EFFECTS SUPERVISOR WAS SO GOOD, SOMETIMES HIS JOB WASN’T RECOGNIZED.

Because there wasn’t enough in the budget to get permission to shoot in the classic Bradbury building, which was used for movies like Double Indemnity and Blade Runner, William Powloski was tasked with recreating it. He went to the building, took 2000 digital photos, and created a digital version of the building.

"Our crew saw the result and asked, 'When did you go shoot the Bradbury building? Because the footage cuts right in with our set,'" Powloski recalled. "I hear this from colleagues, too, 'Hey, great shot inside the Bradbury.' And you really can't see the difference between the physical set and the very specific extension of one of the city's most well-known interiors. You know what, I know where to look and I don't see the seams either. I just love that!"

12. IT HAD MORE EMMY NOMINATIONS THAN EPISODES AFTER ITS FIRST SEASON.

Because of the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, Pushing Daisies's first season was only nine episodes long. The show was nominated for 12 Emmys, and won three (including awards for Sonnenfeld and Dooley in their respective categories). In 2009, a year after Fuller had confirmed the series' cancellation, Pushing Daisies won four more Emmys, including one for Chenoweth as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.

13. FULLER NEVER WANTED TO REVEAL HOW NED GOT HIS POWERS.

Lee Pace stars in 'Pushing Daisies'
ABC Television

Fuller said that if that part of the mythology was ever revealed, “then all the fun goes out the window.”

14. HAD THE SERIES CONTINUED, THE NARRATOR WOULD HAVE APPEARED, AND THE CORONER WOULD HAVE HAD A CRUSH ON EMERSON.

Fuller intended to put Jim Dale in front of the camera. He also later revealed that Sy Richardon’s coroner character was gay, and his infatuation with Emerson would have been introduced if Daisies had not been cancelled.

15. A FUTURE MOVIE AND/OR MUSICAL ISN’T OUT OF THE QUESTION.

In 2014, Fuller claimed he had met with Sonnenfeld about finding financing for a musical, and talked to Netflix about a “lost season.” Though that was a few years ago, fans are still hoping that Pushing Daisies will rise again.

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John P. Johnson, HBO
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Charles Dickens Wrote His Own Version of Westworld in the 1830s
John P. Johnson, HBO
John P. Johnson, HBO

Charles Dickens never fully devoted himself to science fiction, but if he had, his work might have looked something like the present-day HBO series Westworld. As The Conversation reports, the author explored a very similar premise to the show in The Mudfrog Papers, a collection of sketches that originally appeared in the magazine Bentley's Miscellany between 1837 and 1838.

In the story "Full Report of the Second Meeting of the Mudfog Association for the Advancement of Everything," a scientist describes his plan for a park where rich young men can take out their aggression on "automaton figures." In Dickens's story, the opportunity to pursue those cruel urges is the park's main appeal. The theme park in Westworld may have been founded with a slightly less cynical vision, but it has a similar outcome. Guests can live out their heroic fantasies, but if they have darker impulses, they can act on those as well.

Instead of sending guests back in time, Dickens's attraction presents visitors with a place very similar to their own home. According to the scientist's pitch, the idyllic, Victorian scene contains roads, bridges, and small villages in a walled-off space at least 10 miles wide. Each feature is designed for destruction, including cheap gas lamps made of real glass. It's populated with robot cops, cab drivers, and elderly women who, when beaten, produce “groans, mingled with entreaties for mercy, thus rendering the illusion complete, and the enjoyment perfect.”

There are no consequences for harming the hosts in Westworld, but the guests at Dickens's park are at least sent to a mock trial for their crimes. However, rather than paying for their misbehavior, the hooligans always earn the mercy of an automated judge—Dickens's allegory for how the law favors the rich and privileged in the real world.

As for the Victorian-era automatons gaining sentience and overthrowing their tormenters? Dickens never got that far. But who knows where he would have taken it given a two-season HBO deal.

[h/t The Conversation]

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Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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10 Fascinating Facts About Ella Fitzgerald
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Today marks what would have been the 101st birthday of Ella Fitzgerald, the pioneering jazz singer who helped revolutionize the genre. But the iconic songstress’s foray into the music industry was almost accidental, as she had planned to show off her dancing skills when she made her stage debut. Celebrate the birthday of the artist known as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, or just plain ol’ Lady Ella with these fascinating facts.

1. SHE WAS A JAZZ FAN FROM A YOUNG AGE.

Though she attempted to launch her career as a dancer (more on that in a moment), Ella Fitzgerald was a jazz enthusiast from a very young age. She was a fan of Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, and truly idolized Connee Boswell of the Boswell Sisters. “She was tops at the time,” Fitzgerald said in 1988. “I was attracted to her immediately. My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it. I tried so hard to sound just like her.”

2. SHE DABBLED IN CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES AS A TEENAGER.

A photo of Ella Fitzgerald
Carl Van Vechten - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Fitzgerald’s childhood wasn’t an easy one. Her stepfather was reportedly abusive to her, and that abuse continued following the death of Fitzgerald’s mother in 1932. Eventually, to escape the violence, she moved to Harlem to live with her aunt. While she had been a great student when she was younger, it was following that move that her dedication to education faltered. Her grades dropped and she often skipped school. But she found other ways to fill her days, not all of them legal: According to The New York Times, she worked for a mafia numbers runner and served as a police lookout at a local brothel. Her illicit activities eventually landed her in an orphanage, followed by a state reformatory.

3. SHE MADE HER STAGE DEBUT AT THE APOLLO THEATER.

In the early 1930s, Fitzgerald was able to make a little pocket change from the tips she made from passersby while singing on the streets of Harlem. In 1934, she finally got the chance to step onto a real (and very famous) stage when she took part in an Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater on November 21, 1934. It was her stage debut.

The then-17-year-old managed to wow the crowd by channeling her inner Connee Boswell and belting out her renditions of “Judy” and “The Object of My Affection.” She won, and took home a $25 prize. Here’s the interesting part: She entered the competition as a dancer. But when she saw that she had some stiff competition in that department, she opted to sing instead. It was the first big step toward a career in music.

4. A NURSERY RHYME HELPED HER GET THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION.

Not long after her successful debut at the Apollo, Fitzgerald met bandleader Chick Webb. Though he was initially reluctant to hire her because of what The New York Times described as her “gawky and unkempt” appearance, her powerful voice won him over. "I thought my singing was pretty much hollering," she later said, "but Webb didn't."

Her first hit was a unique adaptation of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which she helped to write based on what she described as "that old drop-the-handkerchief game I played from 6 to 7 years old on up."

5. SHE WAS PAINFULLY SHY.

Though it certainly takes a lot of courage to get up and perform in front of the world, those who knew and worked with Fitzgerald said that she was extremely shy. In Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz, trumpeter Mario Bauzá—who played with Fitzgerald in Chick Webb’s orchestra—explained that “she didn't hang out much. When she got into the band, she was dedicated to her music … She was a lonely girl around New York, just kept herself to herself, for the gig."

6. SHE MADE HER FILM DEBUT IN AN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MOVIE.

As her IMDb profile attests, Fitzgerald contributed to a number of films and television series over the years, and not just to the soundtracks. She also worked as an actress on a handful of occasions (often an actress who sings), beginning with 1942’s Ride ‘Em Cowboy, a comedy-western starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

7. SHE GOT SOME HELP FROM MARILYN MONROE.

“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt,” Fitzgerald said in a 1972 interview in Ms. Magazine. “It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him—and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status—that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard … After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman—a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

Though it has often been reported that the club’s owner did not want to book Fitzgerald because she was black, it was later explained that his reluctance wasn’t due to Fitzgerald’s race; he apparently didn’t believe that she was “glamorous” enough for the patrons to whom he catered.

8. SHE WAS THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN TO WIN A GRAMMY.

Ella Fitzgerald
William P. Gottlieb - LOC, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Among her many other accomplishments, in 1958 Fitzgerald became the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award. Actually, she won two awards that night: one for Best Jazz Performance, Soloist for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook, and another for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook.

9. HER FINAL PERFORMANCE WAS AT CARNEGIE HALL.

On June 27, 1991, Fitzgerald—who had, at that point, recorded more than 200 albums—performed at Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she had performed at the venue, and it ended up being her final performance.

10. SHE LOST BOTH OF HER LEGS TO DIABETES.

In her later years, Fitzgerald suffered from a number of health problems. She was hospitalized a handful of times during the 1980s for everything from respiratory problems to exhaustion. She also suffered from diabetes, which took much of her eyesight and led to her having to have both of her legs amputated below the knee in 1993. She never fully recovered from the surgery and never performed again. She passed away at her home in Beverly Hills on June 15, 1996.

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