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16 Canny Facts About The Jerk

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In the rags-to-riches-back-to-rags-then-back-to-riches story of The Jerk, Steve Martin plays Navin R. Johnson, a man who one day discovers that he is both adopted and white. Johnson sets out to see the world and becomes a millionaire by inventing the Opti-Grab, a device which keeps eyeglasses from slipping down one's nose. But because it also makes people cross-eyed, he loses it all. Directed by Carl Reiner, the movie is largely considered one of the funniest movies ever made. Here are some facts about the film that you need, along with this ashtray. And this paddle game. And this remote control.

1. STEVE MARTIN BASED THE FILM OFF A LINE FROM HIS STAND-UP.

The film proposal was based on Martin’s “It wasn’t always easy for me; I was born a poor black child” routine. Navin saying he doesn’t need anything, then picking up different items he does need, is also from his act.

2. MARTIN CO-WROTE THE SCRIPT WITH THE SCREENWRITER OF JAWS.

Carl Gottlieb, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for the screenplay for Jaws, co-wrote The Jerk and also portrayed Iron Balls McGinty in the movie. Michael Elias (The Frisco Kid, Head of the Class) was the third credited writer. "Our goal was to have a laugh on every page," said Martin.

3. MIKE NICHOLS WAS INITIALLY REPORTED AS THE DIRECTOR.

The Graduate director departed the project less than a month after it was reported that he would be at the helm of The Jerk. Nearly a decade later, Nichols directed Martin and Robin Williams in a 1988 Lincoln Center production of Waiting for Godot.

4. THE ORIGINAL TITLE WAS EASY MONEY.

A few years later, that became the title of a Rodney Dangerfield movie. Money to Burn was also considered. For a while, the film's official title was The Jerk (A Wild and Crazy Movie).

5. THE JERK CAME FROM DOSTOYEVSKY.

"It needs to be something short, yet have the feeling of an epic tale," Martin said to his director, Carl Reiner, one day. "Like Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, but not that. Like The Jerk."

6. THE ROLE OF MARIE WAS WRITTEN FOR BERNADETTE PETERS.

Martin and Peters were an item by the time filming began. They met in 1977, when they were both on the Kenny Rogers celebrity softball team. A few months later, Martin asked her out after they taped an episode of Hollywood Squares together.

7. MARTIN AND REINER CARPOOLED TO WORK EVERY DAY.

This was due to the gas shortage. "Every day ... we came up with at least one or two new jokes on the way to work," said Reiner.

8. MARTIN WAS NOT THE CAT JUGGLER, OFFICIALLY.

Even though he looks a lot like Navin Johnson, the actor credited for playing the carnival performer with the unique skill was “Pig Eye Jackson.”

9. THE GAS STATION IS NO MORE.

The madman (M. Emmet Walsh) hated the cans at a gas station in Pasadena, California. It’s now a Carl’s Jr.

10. NAVIN AND MARIE WERE IN THE MANSION OF A SHEIK WHO WAS HATED BY HIS BEVERLY HILLS NEIGHBORS.

Mohammed al-Fassi annoyed the neighborhood by purchasing the mansion in 1978 and painting the 38-room, white-stucco home a shade of green, replacing the red tile roof with copper, filling the outdoor urns with plastic flowers, and having the statues painted to resemble humans, including some very specific anatomical features. He also installed a zebra skin revolving bed and a life-size macrame camel in the living room. It was referred to as “a dirty Disneyland” by the press. The mansion burned down in 1980 while al-Fassi was abroad, provoking chants of “Burn! Burn! Burn!” The exteriors were of a different mansion, the same one used in The Godfather, and later on in The Bodyguard.

11. THE LICKING WASN’T SCRIPTED.

Reiner instructed Martin to lick Peters at the last minute, to her surprise.

12. BILL MURRAY WAS CUT FROM THE FILM.

He played a “flamboyantly gay decorator” who designed the mansion, in a scene that has never seen the light of day. The day after The Jerk made its debut, Murray admitted he was cut from it during Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update segment, before joking that the movie was a “dog” and “there’s something missing.”

13. LITTLE BILLY DIDN’T GET TO KEEP HIS SHIRT.

Whenever someone found out Jon Leichter played Billy in The Jerk, people asked if he got to keep his “Bullshit” shirt. The shirt was acquired by the wardrobe department, who took it back after Leichter was done filming. Found Item Clothing gave him a replica for his 40th birthday.

14. MARTIN AND REINER MADE A BIG DEAL OUT OF SHOWING THE MOVIE’S TRAILER.

Deputy mayor Ray Remy honored Martin with a citation that decreed "two minutes of June 27 as Steve Martin Minutes in Los Angeles." The 1000 people who showed up to Westwood’s Village Theater received tiny bags of popcorn meant to last the entire trailer. Martin and Reiner spoke beforehand, with Martin saying it was the most exciting two minutes of his life, and Reiner claiming that making the trailer was one of the toughest things he had ever done, and that he went over budget.

15. MARTIN WAS DISAPPOINTED WITH HIS FANS’ REACTION TO "TONIGHT YOU BELONG TO ME."

He thought the moment was touching, and looked forward to the reaction at the premiere screening in St. Louis, Missouri. To his chagrin, much of the audience left when that scene started to go get some popcorn.

16. STANLEY KUBRICK WANTED TO WORK WITH MARTIN AFTER SEEING IT.

Kubrick invited Martin to London because he liked The Jerk. They played chess and talked about making a sex comedy film version of Arthur Schitzler’s novella Traumnovelle, a story about a doctor dealing with his wife confessing to having sexual fantasies about another man. Years later, the tone of the proposed project took a different turn and became Eyes Wide Shut.

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

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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11 Bite-Sized Facts About Cannibal! The Musical
Troma Entertainment
Troma Entertainment

Back in their film school days, the creators of South Park made a twisted tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein. Cannibal! The Musical is (very) loosely based on the life of Alfred "Alferd" Packer, an American prospector who resorted to eating his travel companions in the harsh winter of 1874. Below, you’ll find a buffet of bite-sized facts about this weirdly upbeat black comedy. Bon appétit!

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH A GAG TRAILER.

In 1992, Trey Parker was studying film at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where pretty much everyone knows all about the legend of Alfred "Alferd" Packer. Indeed, when a new restaurant opened up on campus in 1968, the student body chose to name it after this famous man-eater. The restaurant’s slogan? “Have a friend for lunch.” As a joke, Parker rounded up some of his fellow film majors and spent three days shooting a phony trailer for a nonexistent movie called Alferd Packer: The Musical. Included in the ensemble was Matt Stone, with whom Parker would go on to create South Park.

Once the Alferd Packer promo was finished, those who worked on it weren’t sure if they could turn this concept into a feature-length picture. Fortunately, the trailer was a huge hit. “People thought it was really funny,” Parker told The Denver Post, “so we went around … and said, ‘So do you want to invest?’” Thanks (for the most part) to donations from a few CU grads with wealthy parents, Parker and his co-stars amassed a $100,000 budget.

2. LIANE THE HORSE WAS NAMED AFTER TREY PARKER’S EX-FIANCÉE.

At age 21, Parker was all set to marry his high school sweetheart. “We had plane tickets, the dress was bought, the church was paid for,” Parker shared on the DVD commentary. Then, about a month before the wedding, he caught his bride-to-be with another man. Devastated, Parker broke off the engagement and came up with an unusual way to get even. “I really wrote this movie for her,” he said.

A major character in Cannibal is Liane, Packer’s beloved horse, who leaves him for another rider. The two-timing equine was named after Parker’s former fiancée. Some artistic license was taken here, as there’s no proof that the real Packer ever owned a horse named Liane—or that he ever wistfully sang about being on top of her.

3. AN AVANT-GARDE LEGEND WAS CAST IN A MINOR ROLE.

World-renowned for his experimental filmmaking, the late Stan Brakhage taught off and on at the University of Colorado, where he met Parker and Stone. The two convinced him to appear in Cannibal! as George Noon’s father, who gets about two minutes’ worth of screen time.

4. PARKER’S DAD WAS IN IT, TOO.

Just like Stan Marsh’s dad in South Park, Trey Parker’s father, Randy, is a geologist. In Cannibal! The Musical, he portrays the Breckenridge judge who sentences Packer (played by Trey) to death.

5. “SHPADOINKLE” WAS MEANT AS A FILLER WORD.

In addition to penning the Cannibal! script, Parker also wrote the film’s musical numbers. The first of these is “Shpadoinkle Day,” an offbeat tribute to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Parker knew that the first verse had to include a positive, three-syllable word, but couldn’t think of any that fit. So he used the made-up term “Shpadoinkle” to plug the gap until he could come up with an alternative. However, the creative team liked “shpadoinkle” so much that it stayed put and became one of Cannibal’s running jokes.

6. THEY SHOT IN THE COURTROOM IN WHICH PACKER WAS ACTUALLY TRIED.

On April 6, 1883, Packer was put on trial at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in Lake City, Colorado. Over the next few days, he admitted to dining on two of his dead travel companions—one of whom he supposedly killed in self-defense (the other died of natural causes). Packer was found guilty of murder, but avoided the hangman’s noose by fighting for a second trial, which took place 30 miles away in Gunnison. This time, he was charged with five counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, while Packer languished behind bars, public opinion slowly turned in the cannibal’s favor. Under near-constant pressure from The Denver Post, Governor Charles S. Thomas pardoned Packer in 1901.

More than 90 years later, Parker filmed the trial scenes of Cannibal! The Musical at the still-standing Hinsdale County Courthouse. About halfway through the movie, the judge delivers a big speech in which he sentences Packer to death. His on-screen monologue was copied word-for-word from the court transcript of that 1883 Lake City trial.

7. AS THE MINERS SING “THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING FOR,” YOU CAN SEE PARKER MOUTH THE WORD “CUT.”

It goes by fast, but you can see Parker call "cut" to end the shot at the 3:06 mark in the clip above.

8. PARKER USED A PSEUDONYM FOR THE OPENING CREDITS.

Parker billed himself as "Juan Schwartz" in the cast of Cannibal because, according to the movie's website, "Trey doesn't like seeing one person's name plastered all over a movie's credits." Since he is properly credited as writer and director, he likely felt the additional acting credit was a bit too much. Incidentally, Packer called himself “John Shwartze” while evading the law before his arrest.

9. A FEW SONGS WERE DELETED.

The original cut of Cannibal! The Musical ran for two and a half hours, but thanks to some major-league editing, the runtime was reduced to a breezy 93 minutes. “There were fights about that from the get-go, but I give credit to Trey for being the toughest critic,” producer Jason McHugh told MovieMaker Magazine. “He had the maturity to know that a musical comedy about cannibals can’t be two and a half hours long.”

In the streamlining process, two musical numbers got the axe. The first was a quick little dirge called “Don’t Be Stupid,” wherein some nameless miners tell Packer’s group to postpone their journey until springtime. The other was “I’m Shatterproof,” a rap/funk song that Packer, hardened by his recent ordeals, delivers during a bar fight. Also deleted was a reprise of “When I Was On Top of You.”

10. COMEDY CENTRAL WOULDN’T BROADCAST IT.

Cannibal! was distributed by Troma Entertainment, an independent production company best known for creating The Toxic Avenger series. When South Park began to emerge as a major player on cable TV, Troma’s co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, assumed that Comedy Central would jump at the chance to air some of Parker and Stone’s earlier work. Instead, the channel flatly refused to air Cannibal.

Kaufman was sent a rejection letter from Comedy Central, which read: “Thank you for submitting and re-submitting Cannibal! The Musical, but it is simply not up to our standards for broadcasting.” Troma forwarded a copy of this dispatch to Parker. Today, it’s prominently displayed in his office—at Comedy Central!

11. IT HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL ON MANY OCCASIONS.

Can’t get tickets to The Book of Mormon? Perhaps you can catch a live reenactment of Cannibal! The Musical instead. Since 1998, the movie has been seen more than 60 stage adaptations. There’s no “official” version of the theatrical show. As such, acting troupes that might be interested in performing Cannibal! have to write their own scripts based on the original movie. 

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