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12 Things You Might Not Know About The Wiz

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Two years ago, NBC treated us to a live rendition of The Sound of Music. Last December, 9.21 million viewers caught their take on Peter Pan. Tonight at 8 p.m. ET, the network will air The Wiz Live!, a brand new production of the 1975 smash that descended on Broadway like a Kansas twister. Here’s a quick introduction to the musical and its Oz-sized legacy.

1. IT WAS CONCEIVED AS A TV SPECIAL.

NBC is about to come closer to realizing late producer Ken Harper’s original vision than anyone ever has. During the early 1970s, Harper hatched the idea of dramatizing L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz with an all-black cast. At first, he wanted to put this concept not on Broadway, but on network TV. Harper pictured a big-budget televised extravaganza starring Melba Moore as Dorothy, Flip Wilson as the Scarecrow, Godfrey Cambridge as the Lion, and Bill Cosby as the Tin Man, but the idea went nowhere. After mulling over the prospect of turning the premise into a feature film, Harper set his sights on the Great White Way.

2. THE MAIDEN RUN’S COSTUME DESIGNER WAS A FORMER JAMES BOND VILLAIN.

For his work on The Wiz, Geoffrey Holder won a Tony for Best Costume Design. It was one of several that the show would bring home (keep reading). At the time, this son of Trinidadian immigrants was also a director and an up-and-coming actor who had appeared in such movies as Doctor Dolittle (1967) and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972). Film buffs will always associate him first and foremost with the 007 thriller Live and Let Die (1973), in which he portrayed a bombastic fiend known as Baron Samedi.

3. FINISHING THE SCORE TOOK THREE YEARS.

“I’d start to work at 11:30 at night, when everyone else went to bed,” lead composer Charlie Smalls told The Los Angeles Times. The musician went on to claim that The Wiz’s signature style could be described as “sophisticated funk.” Smalls also helped to write some new songs for the movie version before dying of cardiac arrest in 1987, when he was just 43 years old.

4. “EVERYBODY REJOICE” WAS WRITTEN BY LUTHER VANDROSS.

Though the score was mostly written by Smalls, he couldn’t take credit for every single number. One of the show’s most popular songs, “Everybody Rejoice” (a.k.a. “A Brand New Day”) was penned by Luther Vandross, the vocalist who later wrote such Billboard hits as “Don’t Want to Be a Fool,” “Power of Love/Love Power,” and “Here and Now.”  

5. STEPHANIE MILLS (THE ORIGINAL DOROTHY) DIDN’T EVEN WANT TO AUDITION.

Mills was 16 years old when she found out about The Wiz. She hadn't yet had much theatrical success, and, according to the actress, she didn't even want to audition for the show. “I had gone out for so many things and did not get them,” she told ChicagoPride.com. Eventually, Mills’s mother persuaded her to try out anyway—and “that experience ended up changing my life,” Mills said. The Wiz kicked off Mills’s career as a musician and Broadway star. For a long time thereafter, Dorothy’s solo “Home” was her signature song. In The Wiz Live!, Mills will return to her roots to play Aunt Em.

6. THE WIZ’S FIRST DIRECTOR WAS FIRED BEFORE THE SHOW REACHED NEW YORK.

The Wiz had its world premiere in Baltimore on October 21, 1974. Prior to the curtain’s rise that night, director Gilbert Moses III addressed his audience, confessing that one actor was sick, another had been replaced, and that there hadn’t been time for a single technical rehearsal. Moses was dismissed shortly thereafter.

Holder then took over and started making significant changes. He cut an Act I song titled “Which Where, Which What, Which Why?” The costume designer also removed a number of puns and a character known as the “Queen of the Field Mice.” The revised musical came to Broadway’s Majestic Theatre on January 5, 1975.

7. THE WIZ WAS ONLY THE SECOND BROADWAY SHOW TO EMBRACE TV ADVERTISING.

Before 1972’s Pippin, no Broadway musical had ever mounted a TV ad blitz. After a few weeks’ worth of poorly-attended performances, The Wiz followed suit to make up for lost time; 101 television commercial spots were purchased at a cost of $120,000.

Harper and 20th Century Fox (which helped finance The Wiz) had a strong disagreement about what these ads would look like. “They wanted to use part of the lion in the poppy field scene,” Harper said, “but I said no. We were aiming for families, so I thought the ‘Ease on Down the Road’ segment was more appropriate.” Harper won out and, thanks largely to those memorable advertisements, The Wiz finally found its audience.

8. SOME EARLY REVIEWS WERE NOT FAVORABLE.

By and large, the reviews were unkind to this bold new interpretation of The Wizard of Oz. “The quickest way to start a race riot, other than bombing the White House, is for someone to tamper with an American classic like The Wizard of Oz,” wrote critic Rex Reed. Walter Kerr of The New York Times called it “feeble at every turn.” His colleague, Clive Barnes, more or less concurred, writing, “There are many things to enjoy in The Wiz, but, with apologies, this critic noticed them without actually enjoying them.” Still, a combination of effective advertising and word-of-mouth buzz sent The Wiz onto a four-year, 1672-performance run.

9. IT WON SEVEN TONY AWARDS.

The critics really ate their words when The Wiz claimed seven Tonys, including awards for Best Musical, Best Choreography, and Best Original Score. Holder’s efforts were rewarded with not one but two Tonys: Best Costume Design (Play or Musical) and Best Direction of a Musical. Finally, Dee Dee Bridgewater (Glinda) and Ted Ross (the Lion) were respectively named Best Featured Actress and Actor.

10. PHYLICIA RASHAD WAS IN THE ORIGINAL ENSEMBLE.

Long before she became TV’s Clair Huxtable, Rashad brought her talents to The Wiz, playing a Munchkin.

11. AT THE TIME, ITS 1978 FILM ADAPTATION WAS THE MOST EXPENSIVE MOVIE MUSICAL EVER MADE.

The film, which cost $24 million, bombed at the box office.

12. MICHAEL JACKSON’S SCARECROW MAKEUP TOOK FOUR HOURS TO APPLY.

The Wiz marked Jackson's film debut, and while most critics panned the movie, his performance was widely praised. “It’s good that the Scarecrow is the first traveling companion [Dorothy] meets,” Roger Ebert wrote. “Michael Jackson fills the role with humor and warmth.”

Legendary special effects artist Stan Winston (one of the geniuses behind The Terminator and Aliens) oversaw Jackson’s makeup. Every morning, this required four hours to put on and, sometimes, the singer wouldn’t bother removing it before going to bed after a long day’s shoot.

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25 Things You Might Not Know About Home Alone
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On November 16, 1990, what appeared to be a fun-filled little family yarn about a kid left to his own devices at Christmastime and forced to fend off a couple of bungling burglars became an instant classic. Today, no holiday movie marathon is complete without a viewing of Home Alone, the movie that turned Macaulay Culkin into one of the biggest kid stars of all time. And while you may be able to recite its dialogue line for line, here are 25 things you might not know about the John Hughes-penned picture. So settle in and enjoy, ya filthy animals. 

1. WITHOUT UNCLE BUCK, THERE’D BE NO HOME ALONE.

The idea for Home Alone occurred to John Hughes during the making of Uncle Buck, which also starred Macaulay Culkin. Always game to play the precocious one, there’s a scene in which Culkin’s character interrogates a potential babysitter through a mail slot. In Home Alone, Culkin has a similar confrontation with Daniel Stern, this time via a doggie door.

2. THE ROLE OF KEVIN WAS WRITTEN SPECIFICALLY FOR MACAULAY CULKIN.

But that didn't stop director Chris Columbus from auditioning more than 100 other rascally pre-teens for the part. Which really was all for naught, as Culkin nailed the role.

3. MACAULAY WASN’T THE ONLY CULKIN TO APPEAR IN THE FILM.


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Macaulay's younger brother Kieran also landed a part, as Kevin’s bed-wetting cousin, Fuller. Though the film marked Kieran’s acting debut, he has since gone on to build an impressive career for himself in movies like The Cider House Rules, Igby Goes Down, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

4. CASTING CULKIN TAUGHT CHRIS COLUMBUS A VERY IMPORTANT LESSON.

Since Home Alone, Columbus (who also wrote the scripts for Gremlins and The Goonies) has gone on to become one of Hollywood’s premier family-friendly moviemakers as the director of Home Alone 2, Mrs. Doubtfire, and two movies in the Harry Potter franchise. But one lesson he learned from Home Alone is that when you agree to work with a kid actor, you’re also agreeing to work with his or her family.

“I was much younger and I was really too naive to think about the family environment as well,” Columbus told The Guardian in 2013. “We didn't know that much about the family at the beginning; as we were shooting, we learned a little more. The stories are hair-raising. I was casting a kid who truly had a troubled family life.” In 1995, Culkin’s parents, who were never married, engaged in a very public—and nasty—legal battle over his fortune. 

5. THE FILM IS A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER.

In its opening weekend, Home Alone topped the box office, making $17,081,997 in 1202 theaters. The movie maintained its number one spot for a full 12 weeks and remained in the top 10 until June of the following year. It became the highest grossing film of 1990 and earned a Guinness World Record as the highest-grossing live-action comedy ever domestically.

6. THE MOVIE’S UNPRECEDENTED SUCCESS LED TO ITS TITLE BECOMING A VERB.


20th Century Fox

In his book The Big Picture: Who Killed Hollywood? And Other Essays, two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman admitted that the unexpected success of Home Alone contributed a new phrase to the Hollywood lexicon: to be Home Aloned, meaning that other films suffered at the box office because of Home Alone’s long and successful run. “More than one executive said to me, ‘My picture did 40, but it would have done 50 if it hadn’t been Home Aloned,’” wrote Goldman.

7. IT SPAWNED MORE THAN A SEQUEL.

While all of the main, original cast members reprised their roles for Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (with Columbus again directing a script by Hughes), the success of the original led to a full-on franchise, complete with four sequels, three video games, two board games, a novelization, and other kid-friendly merchandise (including the Talkboy). 

8. POLAND LOVES THE MCCALLISTERS.

Showings of Home Alone have become a Christmas tradition in Poland, where the film has aired on national television since the early 1990s. And its popularity has only increased. In 2011 more than five million people tuned in to watch it, making it the most watched show to air during the season. 

9. THE MCCALLISTER HOME HAS BECOME A MAJOR TOURIST ATTRACTION.


A Syn via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Located at 671 Lincoln Avenue in Winnetka, Illinois, the kitchen, main staircase, and ground-floor landing seen in the film were all shot in this five-bedroom residence. (The dining room and all other first-floor rooms, with the exception of the kitchen, were shot on a soundstage.) In 2012, John and Cynthia Abendshien, who owned the home when it was used as one of the film’s locations, sold the property for $1.585 million.

10. KEVIN’S TREE HOUSE WAS NOT PART OF THE DEAL.

Kevin’s backyard tree house was not originally part of the property. It was constructed specifically for the movie and demolished once filming ended. 

11. ALL OF THE FILM WAS SHOT IN THE CHICAGO AREA.

Though the main plot point is that that McCallister family is in Paris while Kevin’s back home in Illinois, the production was shot entirely within the Chicago area. The scenes supposedly set at Paris-Orly Airport were shot at O’Hare International Airport. And those luxurious business class seats they’re taking to Paris? Those were built on the basketball court of a local high school—the same school where the scene in which Kevin is running through a flooded basement was filmed (the “basement” in question was actually the school’s swimming pool). 

12. ROBERT DE NIRO TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF HARRY LIME.


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As did Jon Lovitz. Then Joe Pesci swept in and made the part his own. Bonus fun fact: The character is a slight homage to Orson Welles. (It was the name of Welles’ character in Carol Reed’s The Third Man.) 

13. JOE PESCI GOT ALL METHOD ON MACAULAY CULKIN.

In order to get the most authentic performance possible, Joe Pesci did his best to avoid Macaulay Culkin on the set so that the young actor would indeed be afraid of him. And no one would blame the young actor for being a bit petrified, as he still bears the physical scar from one accidental altercation. “In the first Home Alone, they hung me up on a coat hook, and Pesci says, ‘I’m gonna bite all your fingers off, one at a time,’” Culkin recalled to Rule Forty Two. “And during one of the rehearsals, he bit me, and it broke the skin.” 

14. PESCI WASN’T USED TO THE WHOLE “FAMILY-FRIENDLY” THING.

Considering that Pesci’s best known for playing the heavy in movies like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino, it’s understandable that he wasn’t quite used to the whole family-friendly atmosphere on the set of Home Alone—and dropped a few f-bombs as a result of that. Columbus tried to curb Pesci’s four-letter-word tendency by suggesting he use the word “fridge” instead. 

15. DANIEL STERN HAD A FOUR-LETTER WORD SLIP-UP, TOO.


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And it wasn’t cut out of the film. He utters the word “s***” when attempting to retrieve his shoe through the doggie door (look for it at the 55:27 mark on the DVD). 

16. IN REAL LIFE, HARRY AND MARV MAY NOT HAVE SURVIVED KEVIN’S ATTACK.

BB gun shots to the forehead and groin? A steaming hot iron and can of paint to the face? A flaming blowtorch to the scalp? The Wet Bandits endure an awful lot of violence at the hands of a single eight-year-old. So much so that neither one of them should have been walking—let alone conscious—by the end of the night. In 2012, Dr. Ryan St. Clair diagnosed the likely outcome of their injuries at The Week. While a read-through of the entire article is well worth your time, here are a few of the highlights: That iron should have caused a “blowout fracture,” leading to “serious disfigurement and debilitating double vision if not repaired properly.” And the blowtorch? According to Dr. St. Clair, “The skin and bone tissue on Harry's skull will be so damaged and rotted that his skull bone is essentially dying and will likely require a transplant.” 

17. THE ORNAMENTS THAT MARV STEPS ON WOULD CAUSE THE LEAST AMOUNT OF DAMAGE.

"Walking on ornaments seems pretty insignificant compared to everything else we've seen so far,” said Dr. St. Clair. “If I was Marv, I'd be more concerned about my facial fractures.” Fortunately, the "glass" ornaments in question were actually made of candy. (But just to be on the safe side, Stern wore rubber feet for his barefoot scenes.)

18. THE TARANTULA ON STERN’S FACE? YEP, THAT WAS REAL.


20th Century Fox

At one point, Kevin places a tarantula on Marv’s face. And it was indeed a real spider (Daniel Stern agreed to let it happen—but he’d only allow for one take). What wasn’t real? That blood-curdling scream. In order to not frighten the spider, Stern had to mime the scream and have the sound dubbed in later.

19. JOHN CANDY WRAPPED IN ONE DAY.

But what a long day it was: Twenty-three hours to be exact. Candy was a regular in many of John Hughes’ movies, and Gus Polinski—the polka-playing nice guy he plays in Home Alone—was inspired by his character in Planes, Trains & Automobiles. 

20. KEVIN’S OLDER SISTER IS A JUDO CHAMP.

Two years after appearing in Home Alone, Hillary Wolf—who played Kevin’s older sister Megan—landed the lead in Joan Micklin Silver’s Big Girls Don’t Cry… They Get Even. She also appeared in Home Alone 2, but hasn’t been seen on the big screen since. But there’s a good reason for her absence: In 1996 and 2000, she was a member of the Summer Olympic Judo team for the U.S.

21. DON’T BOTHER TRYING TO FIND ANGELS WITH FILTHY SOULS.

The Jimmy Cagney-like gangster movie that Kevin channels as his inspiration throughout Home Alone? Don’t bother searching for it on eBay. It’s not real. Nor is its sequel, Angels With Even Filthier Souls, which is featured in Home Alone 2. 

22. OLD MAN MARLEY WASN'T IN THE ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY.

Kevin’s allegedly scary neighbor, who eventually teaches him the importance of family, wasn’t a character in the original script. He was added at the suggestion of Columbus, who thought the film could do with a stronger dose of sentimentality.

23. THE LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO BENEFITED FROM THE MOVIE’S SNOWFALL.

When filming of Home Alone wrapped, the production donated some of the artificial snow they had created (the stuff made from wax and plastic) to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. It has since been used in a number of their productions.

24. MARV WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE GOTTEN A SPINOFF.

Greg Beeman’s 1995 film Bushwhacked, which stars Daniel Stern as a delivery guy on the run after being framed for murder, was originally intended to be a spinoff of Home Alone. The storyline would have been essentially the same: After giving up a life of crime, Marv would have been framed for the same murder.

25. IF YOU BELIEVE THAT ELVIS IS STILL ALIVE, THEN YOU MIGHT BELIEVE THAT HE IS IN HOME ALONE.

No hit movie would be complete without a great little conspiracy theory. And in the case of Home Alone, it’s that Elvis Presley—who (allegedly?) died in 1977—makes a cameo in the film. Yes, that’s right. The King is alive and well. And making a living as a Hollywood extra.

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
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For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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