22 Fun Facts About Scrooged

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Since the publication of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in 1843, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge has become familiar fodder for adaptations of all sorts—from ballets to operas to a mime performance by Marcel Marceau. But Richard Donner’s film adaptation, Scrooged, has one thing that sets it apart: comedy.

Since its release on November 23, 1988, the holiday comedy starring Bill Murray as a ruthless television executive tasked with pulling off a live Christmas Eve broadcast of A Christmas Carol (starring Buddy Hackett, Jamie Farr, the Solid Gold Dancers and Mary-Lou Retton as Tiny Tim!) has become a contemporary classic. Here are 22 things you might not know about the movie on its 30th anniversary.

1. THE FILM MARKED BILL MURRAY’S RETURN TO THE BIG SCREEN.

Though it’s easy to remember the 1980s as a decade packed with Bill Murray comedies, Scrooged marked a reemergence of sorts of the in-demand comedian. Though he had a brief cameo in Frank Oz’s 1986 remake of Little Shop of Horrors (playing a pain-seeking patient of Orin Scrivello, Steve Martin’s demented dentist character), Scrooged was Murray’s first major role following a self-imposed, four-year exile from Hollywood.

2. MURRAY REFERENCES LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS IN THE MOVIE’S CLOSING SONG.

Scrooged concludes with the cast and crew singing “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” For his part, Murray went a bit off-script, adding in lines like “Feed me Seymour,” a direct reference to Little Shop of Horrors.

3. MANY MORE OF MURRAY’S LINES WERE AD LIBBED.

In a 1988 interview with Philadelphia Daily News, Richard Donner discussed Murray’s penchant for improvisation and described the experience of directing Murray as follows: “It's like standing on 42nd Street and Broadway, and the lights are out, and you're the traffic cop.”

4. MURRAY HAD ORIGINALLY BEEN APPROACHED ABOUT THE MOVIE TWO YEARS EARLIER.

At that point, he wasn’t ready to jump back into the moviemaking fold just yet. “But when I wanted to work, the scripts were just not good,” Murray told Starlog Magazine in a 1989 interview.

5. BEFORE HE SIGNED ON FOR SCROOGED, MURRAY REQUIRED THAT THE SCRIPT BE REWORKED.


Paramount Pictures

"We tore up the script so badly that we had parts all over the lawn," Murray told Starlog. “There was a lot I didn't like. To remake the story, we took the romantic element [Frank's relationship with his former girlfriend, Claire, played by Karen Allen] and built that up a little more. It existed in the script’s original version, but we had to make more out of it. The family scenes were kind of off, so we worked on that.”

6. THE MOVIE WAS A SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE REUNION OF SORTS.

The script for Scrooged was written by Mitch Glazer and Michael O'Donoghue, whom Murray had worked with in the early days of Saturday Night Live.

7. EVEN PAUL SHAFFER WAS THERE.

Before he rose to fame as David Letterman’s musical director, Paul Shaffer was a member of the SNL house band from 1975 to 1980 and appeared in a number of sketches, most notably as the piano player to Murray’s Nick the Lounge Singer character. He makes a cameo in Scrooged as a street musician, where he plays alongside fellow musical legends Miles Davis, David Sanborn, and Larry Carlton.

8. A LOT OF FOOTAGE ENDED UP ON THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR.

“We shot a big, long sloppy movie, so there's a great deal of material that didn't even end up in the film,” Murray told Starlog. “It just didn't work. You tend to forget what was wrong. It's hard. I just figured that anyone who's good could step into this part and have a lot of fun with it. It's sort of a wicked character. The idea of making a funny Scrooge was an inspired touch. That's what was appealing to me about it.”

9. RICHARD DONNER HAD HIS RESERVATIONS ABOUT TURNING A CHRISTMAS CAROL INTO A COMEDY.

“It’s a thin line,” director Richard Donner told the Texas Archive of the Moving Image about getting the right tone for the film. “But you have two of the most irreverent writers in the world. You have the most irreverent humorist since W.C. Fields. And you say, ‘Let’s go!’ There’s a thin line you walk, but the line is broken—hopefully—in the end of the picture when you see a man evolve out of a situation.”

10. DONNER CALLS IT THE MOVIE WHERE MURRAY BECAME “AN ACTOR.”

Though Scrooged is mainly a comedy, it concludes with Murray’s character being a changed man, who has to deliver a rather dramatic speech in order to make his character’s transformation clear. But Donner told Philadelphia Daily News that what they witnessed in that pivotal scene was something much greater: “On the last take I saw something happen to Billy. I saw Billy Murray become an actor.”

11. DONNER SAVED THAT DRAMATIC SCENE FOR THE VERY END OF THE SHOOT.

“I always had my car parked facing the gate,” Donner joked to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image about how the film’s ultimate success hinged on that final scene. Which is why he saved it for the end. “When Bill Murray played off that last scene in the way that he did, I felt confident—and slightly insecure—but I felt confident that we had accomplished what we wanted,” said Donner.

12. FOR MURRAY, THE BIGGER CHALLENGE WAS CARRYING A MOVIE ON HIS OWN.


Paramount Pictures

Murray was a bona fide movie star by the time Scrooged hit theaters, but up until that point—in movies like Caddyshack, Stripes, and Ghostbusters—he had always been part of an ensemble cast. “Scrooged was harder [than Ghostbusters] because I was by myself, really,” Murray told Starlog. “Even though there are a number of people in the movie, they only had cameos. They would stroll in for a day or two and split. I was there every day, and it was like flunking grade school again and again.”

13. ROBERT MITCHUM’S CAMEO WOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED WITHOUT MURRAY.

In one of the film’s many aforementioned cameos, Robert Mitchum plays Murray’s boss, Preston Rhinelander. But such a small role for such a major star wasn’t an easy sell, so Donner invited Mitchum to meet with Murray. “Mitchum was not going to play that small a part, but we said, ‘Well come in and meet Bill. Let’s rap, let’s talk,’” Donner told the Texas Archive of the Moving Image. “He came in and we never got a word in edgewise. He’s so wonderful with stories and we didn’t want to talk … The minute you get around Bill, you’re swooning. Everybody is.”

14. SCROOGED IS A MURRAY FAMILY AFFAIR.

Though seeing one of Bill Murray’s brothers in one of his films is nothing new, Scrooged features all three of them—John, Joel, and Brian Doyle-Murray.

15. IT TOOK 23 YEARS FOR THE FILM’S SOUNDTRACK TO BE RELEASED.


Paramount Pictures

It wasn’t until 2011 that Danny Elfman’s score for Scrooged was released. The album, which was limited to just 3000 copies, contained a total of 34 tracks, not all of which were included in the film. The final track is a bonus track that was actually created for Trading Places.

16. KEITH HARING'S WORK MAKES A COUPLE OF CAMEOS.

Look at the background throughout the film and you’ll likely spot Keith Haring’s “Free South Africa” poster on a few occasions. The same poster is seen in Lethal Weapon 2, also directed by Richard Donner, which was released the following year.

17. SAM KINISON WAS SUPPOSED TO PLAY THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST.

The part eventually went to David Johansen, and rumor has it that that happened because of Murray’s close friendship with the actor-musician. If Johansen’s face looks familiar to you, but not his name, that’s because he often went by a different name at the time: Buster Poindexter. Yes, the very same guy who sang “Hot Hot Hot.”

18. CAROL KANE DIDN’T HAVE MUCH FUN AS THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT.


Paramount Pictures

Though it’s a running gag throughout the film that Carol Kane, as The Ghost of Christmas Present, be rather abusive toward Murray whenever they meet, the task began to take a toll on the actress. Both Donner and Murray told Starlog that Kane would often break down on the set, and spend 20 minutes or so simply crying.

19. KANE’S SCENES WEREN’T MUCH FUN FOR MURRAY EITHER.

In one scene, Kane is supposed to grab Murray’s lip. Which she did—a little too well. “There's a piece of skin that connects your lip with your gums and it was really pulled away,” Murray explained of the scene to Starlog. “She really hurt me, but it was my idea to be physical and it was her idea just to hit me as opposed to pulling the punches.” Filming had to cease temporarily while Murray healed from the incident.

20. JOHN HOUSEMAN PASSED AWAY LESS THAN A MONTH BEFORE SCROOGED PREMIERED.

John Houseman is yet another one of the preeminent actors who made a brief appearance in Scrooged. Unfortunately, he passed away on October 31, 1988, less than a month before the film made its debut on November 23, 1988.

21. IT WAS THE LAST PERFORMANCE BY THE SOLID GOLD DANCERS.

In the telecast within the movie, one of A Christmas Carol’s selling points is that it will feature the Solid Gold Dancers as The Scroogettes. The movie would mark the small-screen dance group’s final aired performance, as Solid Gold the television series had been canceled back in July.

22. THE STUDIO PLAYED UP GHOSTBUSTERS’S SUCCESS TO PROMOTE SCROOGED.

In an attempt to recapture the attention of Ghostbusters fans, the studio referenced the movie in Scrooged’s marketing materials, most notably with its tagline: “Bill Murray is back among the ghosts, only this time, it’s three against one.” The tactic probably didn’t get the studio the exact results it was looking for; while Ghostbusters was the second highest-grossing film of 1984 with $229,242,989 in box office totals, Scrooged made about a quarter of that ($60,328,558 to be exact) and was only the 13th highest grossing film of 1988.

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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