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14 Things You Might Not Know About The Muppet Christmas Carol

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'Tis the season to be jolly, joyous, and watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. Maybe you know every word to this charming Muppet musical. Perhaps you count it as your favorite Charles Dickens adaptation. But do you know all the secrets behind this holiday classic's creation?

1. IT WAS THE FIRST MUPPET MOVIE MADE WITHOUT JIM HENSON.

A photo of Jim Henson
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The man behind the Muppets passed away on May 16, 1990 at the age of 53. The Muppet Christmas Carol debuted on December 11, 1992 with Steve Whitmire taking over Kermit the Frog for Henson. The film is dedicated to Henson and his recently deceased collaborator Richard Hunt, who'd long performed Scooter, Beaker, Janice, Statler, and Sweetums.

2. IT WAS BRIAN HENSON'S FEATURE DIRECTORIAL DEBUT.


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As the son of Jim Henson, Brian Henson's earliest credits date back to a childhood spent in front of the camera on Sesame Street. He began performing as a Muppeteer on 1981's The Great Muppet Caper, and went on to direct Muppet Treasure Island in 1996. Today, Brian and his sister Lisa run The Jim Henson Company.

3. THE SHOOTING STAR IS IN MEMORY OF JIM HENSON.


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The song "One More Sleep 'Til Christmas" ends with Kermit staring wistfully at the sky as a shooting star streaks by. In the DVD's audio commentary, Brian Henson said this was a nod to The Muppet Movie, wherein a shooting star flies over Kermit. It has since become a recurring element to frame Kermit with a shooting star, as seen in Muppet Treasure Island, Kermit's Swamp Years, It's A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, and The Muppets.

4. STEVE WHITMIRE GOT HENSON'S BLESSING IN A DREAM.


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Talking to Muppet Central, Steve Whitmire spoke of a dream he had the night before shooting his first scene as Kermit. In it, he found Henson in a gleaming white hotel lobby and confessed his anxiety about taking on the character so identified with its creator. "He stopped, and there was a thoughtful gesture Jim would do where he would take both of his index fingers and put them under his chin, and he did that and thought and he said, 'It will pass,'" Whitmire recalled. "Which is exactly what Jim would have said. You would have to really know Jim to know this, but that’s exactly what he would have said. Then he turned and he said, 'I’ve really got to run …' and he took off out the door. I woke up and I felt great. I remembered this dream and I went in the next day, I did the work, and it was smooth, it worked fine, and I felt great. Just that little bit of encouragement. I really think he showed up for me."

5. GEORGE CARLIN WAS CONSIDERED FOR THE ROLE OF EBENEZER SCROOGE.


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Best known for his searing stand-up act, by the time The Muppet Christmas Carol came around, George Carlin had made memorable big-screen appearances in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, and The Prince of Tides, but he didn't land the role. Aside from the curmudgeonly American comedian, English actors David Hemmings, Ron Moody, and David Warner were also eyed for the part. Ultimately, it went to Michael Caine.

6. THERE'S A SUBTLE NOD TO MICHAEL CAINE'S NAME.


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Two-time Academy Award winner and English acting legend Michael Caine brought a considerable amount of prestige to the production, which was the first Muppet movie to focus on its human characters. Perhaps as a sign of thanks, The Muppet Christmas Carol's production design team added a nod to Caine's given name, Maurice Micklewhite, to Scrooge's 19th-century London. In the film's finale, keep your eyes peeled for a shop named Micklewhite's.

7. CAINE HAD TO WATCH HIS STEP.


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The Muppet Christmas Carol's sets were specially built to accommodate the Muppeteers, meaning they were elevated to leave room for them to walk around below the "London" streets. Planks and platforms were put in place for Caine and his human co-stars to walk on. In a promotional behind-the-scenes video, you can see how crucial careful foot placement was as the Muppets swarmed him singing the opening song "Scrooge." Despite this trickiness, Caine called it "very fun."

8. SCOOTER WAS BOOTED FROM A MAJOR ROLE.

The long-time gofer for The Muppet Show was originally supposed to appear as the Ghost of Christmas Past in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Similarly, Miss Piggy and Gonzo were considered for the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Yet To Come. However, this idea was scrapped in favor of new Muppet creations that could better underline the ominous nature of the story. Piggy was recast as Mrs. Cratchit, and Gonzo as Charles Dickens. But Scooter was cut completely.

9. GONZO WAS RECAST AS A DEVICE TO BRING IN DICKENS'S PROSE.


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Though it added in plenty of zany Muppets and split the role of Jacob Marley for Statler and Waldorf, The Muppet Christmas Carol remains pretty true to its source material. Screenwriter Jerry Juhl wanted to make use of Charles Dickens's graceful narration, so Gonzo was cast as the beloved author. Rizzo the Rat was added to infuse some humor and serve as a Greek chorus of sorts.

10. THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST'S MOVEMENTS WERE AQUATIC.

The girl spirit that guides Scrooge into his childhood has an eerie, floating physicality. To achieve this look, puppeteers were submerged with the Muppet in a tank of baby oil backed by a green screen to record the performance. However, the cost of a tank of baby oil soon stacked up, pushing the filmmakers to switch to water. Though the rod puppet's glues and paints interacted poorly with the water, they got the shots they needed.

11. KERMIT'S FULL-BODIED STROLL WAS A BIG PRODUCTION.

To achieve the "Tis The Season" shot of Kermit walking down a snow-covered street with nephew Robin (playing Tiny Tim) on his shoulder, Brian Henson had to employ 10 puppeteers. A rotating drum covered in fake snow was positioned beneath Kermit's feet, to allow for a natural gait. If you pay close attention, you can see it in action. Behind that was a blue screen and various puppeteers working the characters' limbs and mouths. These were swapped for lit-up London homes in post-production.

12.  "WHEN LOVE IS GONE" WAS CUT FROM THE THEATRICAL RELEASE.

The song sung to a young Ebenezer by his heartbroken Belle (Meredith Braun) was cut from the film's theatrical version because it was considered a bit too slow (and too Muppet-free) to keep the interest of children in test audiences. However, the tune was included in some home entertainment releases and several TV airings of The Muppet Christmas Carol. ABC Family's preferred cut excludes this melancholy melody.

13. BUNSEN, BEAKER, AND SAM THE EAGLE HAD SONGS CUT.

In The Muppet Christmas Carol, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his loyal assistant Beaker pop in on Scrooge seeking donations for the poor. Early on, their plea included a song called "Room in Your Heart." Similarly Sam Eagle, playing a young Scrooge's headmaster, had a ditty called "Chairman of the Board." Both songs were recorded but cut from the script before their performances were shot, as neither added much to the story's exposition. They do, however, show up on the film's soundtrack.

14. FRED SCROOGE DID NOT LOSE HIS WIFE.


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In the final Christmas feast scene, sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed that Scrooge's nephew Fred is present, but his wife Clara is not. In the DVD commentary, Henson shared that he received letters demanding to know what happened to Fred's better half. The simple answer is that the actress playing her (Robin Weaver) wasn't available to shoot that day. It's not meant as some hint that he's on the same rocky, loveless road his uncle once trod.

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14 Deep Facts About Valley of the Dolls
The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

Based on Jacqueline Susann's best-selling 1966 novel (which sold more than 30 million copies), Valley of the Dolls was a critically maligned film that somehow managed to gross $50 million when it was released 50 years ago, on December 15, 1967. Both the film and the novel focus on three young women—Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke), Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), and Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins)—who navigate the entertainment industry in both New York City and L.A., but end up getting addicted to barbiturates, a.k.a. “dolls.”

Years after its original release, the film became a so-bad-it’s-good classic about the perils of fame. John Williams received his first of 50 Oscar nominations for composing the score. Mark Robson directed it, and he notoriously fired the booze- and drug-addled Judy Garland, who was cast to play aging actress Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward took over), who was supposedly based on Garland. (Garland died on June 22, 1969 from a barbituate overdose.) Two months after Garland’s sudden demise, the Manson Family murdered the very pregnant Tate in August 1969.

Despite all of the glamour depicted in the movie and novel, Susann said, “Valley of the Dolls showed that a woman in a ranch house with three kids had a better life than what happened up there at the top.” A loose sequel, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls—which was written by Roger Ebert—was released in 1970, but it had little to do with the original. In 1981, a TV movie updated the Dolls. Here are 14 deep facts about the iconic guilty pleasure.

1. JACQUELINE SUSANN DIDN'T LIKE THE MOVIE.

To promote the film, the studio hosted a month-long premiere party on a luxury liner. At a screening in Venice, Susann said the film “appalled” her, according to Parkins. She also thought Hollywood “had ruined her book,” and Susann asked to be taken off the boat. At one point she reportedly told Robson directly that she thought the film was “a piece of sh*t.”

2. BARBARA PARKINS WAS “NERVOUS” TO WORK WITH JUDY GARLAND.

Barbara Parkins had only been working with Judy Garland for two days when the legendary actress was fired for not coming out of her dressing room (and possibly being drunk). “I called up Jackie Susann, who I had become close to—I didn’t call up the director strangely enough—and I said, ‘What do I do? I’m nervous about going on the set with Judy Garland and I might get lost in this scene because she knows how to chew up the screen,’” Parkins told Windy City Times. “She said, ‘Honey, just go in there and enjoy her.’ So I went onto the set and Judy came up to me and wrapped her arms around me and said, ‘Oh, baby, let’s just do this scene,’ and she was wonderful.”

3. WILLIAM TRAVILLA BASED THE FILM'S COSTUMES ON THE WOMEN’S LIKES.

Costume designer William Travilla had to assemble 134 outfits for the four leading actresses. “I didn't have a script so I read the book and then the script once I got one,” he explained of his approach to the film. “I met with the director and producer and asked how they felt about each character and then I met with the girls and asked them what they liked and didn’t like and how they were feeling. Then I sat down with my feelings and captured their feelings, too.”

4. SUSANN THOUGHT GARLAND “GOT RATTLED.”

In an interview with Roger Ebert, Susann offered her thoughts on why Garland was let go. “Everybody keeps asking me why she was fired from the movie, as if it was my fault or something,” she said. “You know what I think went wrong? Here she was, raised in the great tradition of the studio stars, where they make 30 takes of every scene to get it right, and the other girls in the picture were all raised as television actresses. So they’re used to doing it right the first time. Judy just got rattled, that’s all.”

5. PATTY DUKE PARTIALLY BLAMES THE DIRECTOR’S BEHAVIOR FOR GARLAND’S EXIT.

During an event at the Castro Theatre, Duke discussed working with Garland. “The director, who was the meanest son of a bitch I ever met in my life ... the director, he kept this icon, this sparrow, waiting and waiting,” Duke said. “She had to come in at 6:30 in the morning and he wouldn’t even plan to get to her until four in the afternoon. She was very down to earth, so she didn’t mind waiting. The director decided that some guy from some delicatessen on 33rd Street should talk to her, and she crumbled. And she was fired. She shouldn’t have been hired in the first place, in my opinion.”

6. DUKE DIDN’T SING NEELY’S SONGS.

All of Neely’s songs in the movie were dubbed, which disappointed Duke. “I knew I couldn’t sing like a trained singer,” she said. “But I thought it was important for Neely maybe to be pretty good in the beginning but the deterioration should be that raw, nerve-ending kind of the thing. And I couldn’t convince the director. They wanted to do a blanket dubbing. It just doesn’t have the passion I wanted it to have.”

7. GARLAND STOLE ONE OF THE MOVIE'S COSTUMES.

Garland got revenge in “taking” the beaded pantsuit she was supposed to wear in the movie, and she was unabashed about it. “Well, about six months later, Judy’s going to open at the Palace,” Duke said. “I went to opening night at the Palace and out she came in her suit from Valley of the Dolls.”

8. A SNEAK PREVIEW OF THE FILM HID THE TITLE.

Fox held a preview screening of the film at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, but the marquee only read “The Biggest Book of the Year.” “And the film was so campy, everyone roared with laughter,” producer David Brown told Vanity Fair. “One patron was so irate he poured his Coke all over Fox president Dick Zanuck in the lobby. And we knew we had a hit. Why? Because of the size of the audience—the book would bring them in.”

9. IT MARKED RICHARD DREYFUSS'S FILM DEBUT.


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Richard Dreyfuss made his big-screen debut near the end of Valley of the Dolls, playing an assistant stage manager who knocks on Neely’s door to find her intoxicated. After appearing on several TV shows, this was his first role in a movie, but it was uncredited. That same year, he also had a small role in The Graduate. Dreyfuss told The A.V. Club he was in the best film of 1967 (The Graduate) and the worst (Valley of the Dolls). “But then one day I realized that I had never actually seen Valley of the Dolls all the way through, so I finally did it,” he said. “And I realized that I was in the last 45 seconds of the worst film ever made. And I watched from the beginning with a growing sense of horror. And then I finally heard my line. And I thought, ‘I’ll never work again.’ But I used to make money by betting people about being in the best and worst films of 1967: No one would ever come up with the answer, so I’d make 20 bucks!”

10. THE DIRECTOR DIDN’T DIG TOO DEEP.

In the 2006 documentary Gotta Get Off This Merry Go Round: Sex, Dolls & Showtunes, Barbara Parkins scolded the director for keeping the film’s pill addiction on the surface. “The director never took us aside and said, look this is the effect,” she said. “We didn’t go into depth about it. Now, if you would’ve had a Martin Scorsese come in and direct this film, he would’ve sat you down, he would’ve put you through the whole emotional, physical, mental feeling of what that drug was doing to you. This would’ve been a whole different film. He took us to one, maybe two levels of what it’s like to take pills. The whole thing was to show the bottle and to show the jelly beans kinda going back. That was the important thing for him, not the emotional part.”

11. A STAGE ADAPTATION MADE IT TO OFF-BROADWAY.

In 1995, Los Angeles theater troupe Theatre-A-Go-Go! adapted the movie into a stage play. Kate Flannery, who’d go on to play Meredith Palmer on The Office, portrayed Neely. “Best thing about Valley of the Dolls to make fun of it is to actually just do it,” Flannery said in the Dolls doc. “You don’t need to change anything.” Parkins came to a production and approved of it. Eventually, the play headed to New York in an Off-Broadway version, with Illeana Douglas playing the Jackie Susann reporter role.

12. JACKIE SUSANN BARELY ESCAPED THE MANSON FAMILY.


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The night the Manson Family murdered Tate, the actress had invited Susann to her home for a dinner party. According to Vanity Fair, Rex Reed came by The Beverly Hills Hotel, where Susann was staying, and they decided to stay in instead of going to Tate’s. The next day Susann heard about the murder, and cried by the pool. A few years later, when Susann was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, she joked her death would’ve been quicker if she had gone to Tate’s that night.

13. PATTY DUKE LEARNED TO EMBRACE THE FILM.

Of all of the characters in the movie, Duke’s Neely is the most over-the-top. “I used to be embarrassed by it," Duke said in a 2003 interview. "I used to say very unkind things about it, and through the years there are so many people who have come to me, or written me, or emailed who love it so, that I figured they all can’t be wrong." She eventually appreciated the camp factor. “I can have fun with that,” she said. “And sometimes when I’m on location, there will be a few people who bring it up, and then we order pizza and rent a VCR and have a Valley night, and it is fabulous.”

14. LEE GRANT DOESN’T THINK IT’S THE WORST MOVIE EVER MADE.

In 2000, Grant, Duke, and Parkins reunited on The View. “It’s the best, funniest, worst movie ever made,” Grant stated. She then mentioned how she and Duke made a movie about killer bees called The Swarm. “Valley of the Dolls was like genius compared to it,” Grant said.

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How to Perform the Star Wars Theme—On Calculators
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The iconic Star Wars theme has been recreated with glass harps, theremins, and even cat meows. Now, Laughing Squid reports that the team over at YouTube channel It’s a small world have created a version that can be played on calculators.

The channel’s math-related music videos feature covers of popular songs like Luis Fonsi’s "Despacito," Ed Sheeran’s "Shape of You," and the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, all of which are performed on two or more calculators. The Star Wars theme, though, is played across five devices, positioned together into a makeshift keyboard of sorts.

The video begins with a math-musician who transcribes number combinations into notes. Then, they break into an elaborate practice chord sequence on two, and then four, calculators. Once they’re all warmed up, they begin playing the epic opening song we all know and love, which you can hear for yourself in all its electronic glory below.

[h/t Laughing Squid]

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