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A Second Christmas At War

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 216th installment in the series.   

December 25, 1915: A Second Christmas At War 

On Christmas Eve, 1915, John Ayscough, a Catholic chaplain with the British Expeditionary Force in France, wrote a letter to his mother which probably captured the feelings of many Europeans during the second Christmas of the war: 

By the time you get this… Christmas Day will have passed, and I confess I shall be glad. I don’t think you quite understand my feeling, and perhaps I cannot explain it very intelligently; but it comes from the contrast between the sense that Christmas should be a time of such immense joy and the unutterable suffering in which all Europe lies bleeding.

On the other side of the lines, Evelyn, Princess Blücher, an Englishwoman married to a German nobleman living in Berlin, struck a similar note in her diary, with special attention to the burden left to women who’d lost husbands and sons and were now expected to grieve in stoic silence: 

For weeks past, the town seems to have been enveloped in an impenetrable veil of sadness, grey in grey, which no golden ray of sunlight ever seems able to pierce, and which forms a fit setting for the white-faced, black-robed women who glide so sadly through the streets, some bearing their sorrow proudly as a crown to their lives, others bent and broken under a burden too heavy to be borne. But everywhere it will be the same; in Paris and London too every one will be gazing at their Christmas-trees with eyes dim with tears. 

On Christmas Eve, Blücher attended mass at a hospital which she and her husband supported as patrons, and unsurprisingly found the normally joyous ceremony a somber affair, to match the cold beauty of Nature:

… the snow had been falling unceasingly, and as we all went off together to Midnight Mass at the Convent Hospital, the silent streets and houses lay shrouded with pure white snow. The church was crowded with wounded soldiers, nurses, nuns, and pale-faced, heart-broken women, and as the solemn music slowly wound its way through the dim shadows of the pillared aisles, it seemed to me as if our fervent prayers must meet in union, and rise like a cloud up to the very feet of God – prayers for the dying and dead, for comfort for the bereaved, and for ourselves, that we might never again spend such a Christmas of anguish and suspense… 

For some people the connection between Christmas and grief was all too direct. On December 15, 1915, the British diarist Vera Brittain wrote after hearing that her fiancé Roland Leighton might not get leave in time to return for her birthday on December 29: “This is such a wretched War – so abundant in disappointments & postponements & annoyances as well as more tremendous things, – that I should scarcely be surprised to hear that everything I was looking forward to, which temporarily make life worth living, is not going to come off…” In fact Brittain was contemplating the possibility of marrying Leighton, on the spur of the moment, as she confided later in her memoirs:  “Of course it would be what the world would call – or did call before the War – a ‘foolish’ marriage. But now that the War seemed likely to be endless, and the chance of making a ‘wise’ marriage had become, for most people, so very remote, the world was growing more tolerant.” On December 27, 1915 Brittain found out that Leighton had been wounded on December 22 and died of his wounds a day later. 

But in the midst of inescapable tragedy, ordinary people still managed to observe the holiday with undaunted cheer. Wherever possible troops ate Christmas dinner or at least received extra rations (top, German soldiers with a small Christmas tree in the trenches; above, British children prepare for the holiday; below, British sailors enjoy a Christmas feast) and many received gifts from home, however modest – sometimes from perfect strangers. Jack Tarrant, an Australian soldier recently evacuated from Gallipoli, recalled a primitive Christmas on the Greek island of Lemnos, brightened by a present from Australia: 

It was a lousy looking place – a dirt road, and one pump… We got to know the people a bit and they had a little shop and you could buy a few biscuits… And we enjoyed our Christmas dinner there. Someone had a tin of pudding, someone had a piece of cake in tins, and there was a billy can with a handle for each man… My billy can came from Kapunga from a little girl called Ruth – I wrote back to her and thanked her for the billy; her mother answered and said Ruth was only six years of age. 

Another Christmas Truce 

Better still, although the practice wasn’t nearly as widespread as the first Christmas Truce in 1914, in many places soldiers in the trenches disobeyed orders forbidding fraternization and once again observed an unofficial ceasefire, allowing both sides to spend the day in peace. One British soldier, E.M. Roberts, wrote home: 

We wished one another all the good things of the season and we even included the Huns, who were about seventy-five yards away. They had hoisted up a placard over the parapet on which were inscribed the words Merry Christmas. It was a sight that touched the hearts of many of us and one that we will not forget in a hurry. 

In some places they even socialized with their foes as they had a year before, exchanging Christmas greetings and presents.  Henry Jones, a British subaltern, noted a few days later:  “We had a very jolly Christmas… In that part of the line there was a truce for a quarter of an hour on Christmas Day, and a number of Englishmen and Germans jumped out and started talking together. A German gave one of our men a Christmas tree about two feet high as a souvenir.”

One of the most complete descriptions of the 1915 Christmas Day truce was left by Llewellyn Wyn Griffith, a Welsh soldier stationed near Mametz Wood in Picardy, France, who recounted camaraderie fueled by alcohol, followed by the exchange of gifts as soldiers from both sides traded for necessities, and finally the predictably furious reaction of their superiors: 

The battalion on our right was shouting to the enemy, and he was responding. Gradually the shouts became more deliberate, and we could hear “Merry Christmas, Tommy” and “Merry Christmas, Fritz.” As soon as it became light, we saw hands and bottles being waved at us, with encouraging shouts that we could neither understand nor misunderstand. A drunken German stumbled over his parapet and advanced through the barbed wire, followed by several others, and in a few moments there was a rush of men from both sides, carrying tins of meat, biscuits, and other odd commodities for barter. This was the first time I had seen No Man’s Land, and now it was Every Man’s Land, or so it seemed. Some of our men would not go, they gave terse and bitter reasons for their refusal. The officers called our men back to the line, and in a few minutes No Man’s Land was once again empty and desolate. There had been a feverish exchange of “souvenirs”, a suggestion for peace all day, and a football match in the afternoon, and a promise of no rifle-fire at night. All this came to naught. An irate Brigadier came spluttering up the line, thundering hard, throwing a “court martial” into every other sentence… We had evidently jeopardised the safety of the Allied cause. 

As always, one of the most important orders of business during a truce was burying the dead, both out of respect for fallen comrades and to make the environment less putrid for those still alive. Of course, among irreverent frontline soldiers there was always room for sheer absurdity. Another British soldier, A. Locket, wrote home:  

I am pleased to say that I quite enjoyed myself on Christmas Day. We were having quite a spree with the Germans. We had an informal truce. Both sides met half-way between each other’s trenches. One of their officers asked one of our officers if they could come out and bury their dead, and our officer agreed, and then we went out to help them. I wish you could have seen the sight, there were hundreds of them lying dead. When they had finished their work a chum of mine fetched his mouth organ out, and you should have seen our fellows, we quite made the Germans stare. One of our chaps went across to the German trenches dressed in women’s clothes… They said that they were very sorry that they had to fight the English. 

Non-Christmas Truces 

While it’s tempting to look back on these fleeting moments of humanity as testimony to the holiday’s special power over men’s hearts, the unsentimental truth is that informal ceasefires were a fairly common occurrence throughout the war (though by no means regular or officially acknowledged). This was especially true in “quiet” parts of the line, for example on the southern portion of the Western Front, where the hilly, forested terrain impeded hostilities, and also when both sides found themselves suffering at the hands of a third adversary – Mother Nature. Thus one German soldier, Hermann Baur wrote on December 11, 1915: 

The position collapses partly, due to persistent rainfall. Our men have reached an agreement with the French to cease fire. They bring us bread, wine, sardines etc., we bring them Schnapps. When we clean up the trench, everybody is standing on the edges, as otherwise it is not any longer possible. The infantry does not shoot any more, just the crazy artillery… The masters make war, they have a quarrel, and the workers, the little men… have to stand there fighting against each other. Is that not a great stupidity. 

A French soldier, Louis Barthas, left a record of what may have been the same encounter, viewed from the other side: 

We spent the rest of the night battling the floodwaters. The next day, December 10, at many places along the front line, the soldiers had to come out of their trenches so as not to drown. The Germans had to do the same. We therefore had the singular spectacle of two enemy armies facing each other without firing a shot. Our common sufferings brought our hearts together, melted the hatreds, nurtured sympathy between strangers and adversaries… Frenchmen and Germans looked at each other, and saw that they were all men, no different from one another. They smiled, exchanged comments; hands reached out and grasped; we shared tobacco, a canteen of jus [coffee] or pinard…. One day, a huge devil of a German stood up on a mound and gave a speech, which only the Germans could understand word for word, but everyone knew what it meant, because he smashed his rifle on a tree stump, breaking it into two in a gesture of anger… 


As noted above, informal truces were also called throughout the year to allow burial parties to venture into No Man’s Land. Maximilian Reiter, an Austrian officer serving on the Italian front, wrote in the fall of 1915: 

After the unsuccessful action into which we had been drawn on an occasion towards the end of the year, the hill slope… which stretched away ahead of us, reaching a height of some 200 feet, was strewn with the bodies of our casualties… Eventually, the nauseous stench from the whole area, whenever the breeze turned in our direction, grew too much for all of us. I organized a burial party from some very reluctant volunteers, and seeing that a heavy mist had enveloped the whole front, I sent them out with picks and shovels, under orders to get as many corpses buried as they could, no matter how shallow the graves. The party had been working away for two or three hours when, as suddenly as it had arrived, the mist dispersed, leaving our men totally exposed, trapped in the open in full view of the enemy… From the safety of our dugouts, we all held our breath in an agony of anticipation. But the expected hail of fire never materialized. Instead, to our great astonishment, and not a little relief, shadowy figures carrying spades and shovels emerged from the Italian positions beyond the slope and moved cautiously down to join our men… We watched in astonishment as the Italians set up a huge cross made out of the branches of trees: then they set about digging the graves, moving among our men, shaking hands and offering copious amounts of wine from the large flasks which they all seemed to be carrying… By first light, however, the war had resumed, chiefly on the instructions of outraged Commanders on both sides. But for some long time after this strange episode, there were probably many on both sides who pondered the senseless waste and despair of battle, and longed to cast down their weapons and return to their homes and families. 

No Truce with Nature 

As some of these letters and diary entries indicate, soldiers once again faced miserable conditions in the trenches during the fall of 1915, as they had a year before, and things were only going to get worse with the arrival of winter, heralded by cold rain giving way to snow. One of the most common complaints on the Western Front, and especially in the low-lying areas of Flanders, was the ubiquitous mud, which was often described as unusually sticky, with a consistency “like glue.” On December 4, 1915, a British officer, Lionel Crouch, was forced to begin a message to his father with an apology for the state of the letter: 

Please forgive the filth, but I am writing in the trenches and hands – everything – is mud… We have had nothing but rain, rain, rain. Some parts of the trenches are well over the knee in jammy mud. It is literally true that last night we had to dig one of my chaps out of the parapet and his thigh boot is still there. We can’t get that out. All the dug-outs are falling in… Of course they get no rest; they have to work all day and all night in order to keep the water down. The sides of the trench fall in and with the water form this awful yellow jam… There is one awful place nearly up to one’s waist… One can hardly see uniforms now for the mud. I’m caked all over – hands, face, and clothes. 

Another British soldier, Stanley Spencer, recalled one particularly muddy evening in the sodden fall of 1915: 

I spent the night partly standing on the slippery sandbags of the fire step, partly digging mud from the bottom of the trench and partly helping to remake the parapet a little further along where it had been blown in by a shell. The trench was about nine feet deep without revetment or flooring. The mud at the bottom was very thick and it was impossible to walk about in the ordinary way as we sank in a foot or eighteen inches at every step and we had the greatest difficulty in dragging our boots out again. During the night we had attempted to dig some out with spades but it clung fast and it was impossible to throw it clear. We soon gave up that method in favour of picking up large handfuls and slinging it over the parados like that. The result of this was that about a week later all my fingernails dropped off and it was several weeks before new ones grew and got hard again. 

As the season wore on, the plunging temperature was an especially grueling trial for colonial troops who hailed from warm tropical climates. A Senegalese soldier named Ndiaga Niang, who served in the French expeditionary force in Salonika in northern Greece, recalled almost losing his feet to the brutal cold:

I was walking, but my hands began to get paralyzed because of the cold. I had my rifle in my hand, but I couldn’t let go of it because my fingers were completely bent. But I was still walking. After a while my toes began to be[come] paralyzed too, and I realized that I had frostbite and I fell down… I was taken to the infirmary to get healed. The next day I was taken to the hospital in Salonique, where all of the soldiers had their feet frozen. When the sun [became] hot enough, our feet were hurting so badly that everybody was shouting and crying in the hospital. And the doctor came and told me that he had to cut [off] my feet. [But]… when he arrived he found that I was sitting [up in bed]. So he told me “you are very lucky… you are going to get better.” 

Adding to these natural miseries was the detritus of war, including unburied bodies but also all manner of more prosaic refuse, from empty food containers and feces casually tossed over the side of the trenches to huge mounds of broken or abandoned equipment, which no one could dispose of safely due to enemy fire. J.H.M. Staniforth, an officer in the 16th Irish Division, painted a disgusting picture of their surroundings in a letter home written December 29, 1915:

Imagine a garbage-heap covered with all the refuse of six months: rags, tins, bottles, bits of paper, all sifted over with the indescribable greyish ashen squalor of filthy humanity. It is peopled with gaunt, hollow-eyed tattered creatures who crawl and swarm about upon it and eye you suspiciously as you pass; men whose nerves are absolutely gone; unshaven, half-human things moving about in a stench of corruption – oh I can’t describe it… Because there’s no romance in it, oh, no; just squalor and sordid beastliness past all describing. However, I mustn’t say this, lest is should “prejudice recruiting” – good Lord! 

Turning his gaze inwards, in the same letter Staniforth went on to describe the psychological impact from constant exposure to random incidents of horrifying violence, which inevitably gave rise to a strange indifference: 

Well, I had my share of experiences. The Boche lobbed over a trench-mortar shell beautifully, which fell just a traverse away from where I was standing. One poor fellow was sponged out quite, we couldn’t find enough of him even to bury, and another had his head blown off. Do you know, although I was standing not half-a-dozen yards away, and of course I’d never seen anything like it before, I have absolutely no emotions of any sort to record. It just seemed part of the life there. That’s curious, isn’t it?

This emotional atrophy was complemented by a whole range of physical ailments – including typhus, transmitted by omnipresent lice; cholera and dysentery, spread by contaminated water, which could often prove fatal; tetanus; bronchitis; jaundice; scurvy and other nutritional deficiencies; “trench foot,” resulting from standing in cold water for extended periods of time; “trench fever,” a bacterial disease spread by lice first reported in July 1915; “trench nephritis,” an inflammation of the kidneys, sometimes attributed to hantavirus; and frostbite. 

Lice proved to be the bane of soldiers’ existence in the trenches, as they were almost impossible to get rid of until the soldiers went on leave, when they were required to bathe with medicated soap. Barthas wrote in November 1915: 

Each of us carried thousands of them. They found a home in the smallest crease, along seams, in the linings of our clothing. There were white ones, black ones, gray ones with crosses on their backs like crusaders, tiny ones and others as big as a grain of wheat, and all this variety swarmed and multiplied to the detriment of our skins… To get rid of them, some rubbed themselves all over with gasoline, every night… others… powdered themselves with insecticide; nothing did any good. You’d kill ten of them, and a hundred more would appear. 

With tens of thousands of soldiers going on leave every month, controlling lice became an industrial operation. An Alsatian soldier in the German Army, Dominik Richert, recounted visiting a delousing station on the Eastern Front in late 1915:

This was as big as a small village. Every day thousands of soldiers were freed from their lice there. We first of all came into a large heated room where he had to undress. We were all in our birthday suits; most of the soldiers were so thin that they looked like a frame of bones… We moved on to the shower room. Warm water sprayed down on us in more than two hundred jets. Each of us positioned himself under a shower head. How good it felt as the warm water trickled down your body. There was enough soap, so we were soon all white from the lather. Once more under the shower, then we went into the dressing room. We were each given a new shirt, underwear and socks. In the meantime our uniforms had been collected into large iron tubes which were heated to ninety degrees [Celsius]. The heat killed the lice and nits in the clothes. 

Killing lice wasn’t just a matter of comfort; as vectors for typhus they threatened to undermine the war effort by spreading disease in the civilian population behind the front, incapacitating factory and agricultural workers. They were also a constant threat in prisoner of war camps. Hereward Price, a Briton who became a naturalized German citizen, fought in the army and was eventually taken prisoner on the Eastern Front, recalled the terrifying spread of typhus in a Russian prison camp: 

Men died where they lay, and it was hours before anybody came to remove them, meanwhile the living had to get used to the sight of their dead comrades. We were told how the disease started at one end of the barracks, and you watched it gradually approaching you, man by man in the line being struck down, and only a few left here and there. You would wonder how long it would take to come to you, and see it creeping nearer day by day… There were over eight thousand prisoners at Stretensk when the disease broke out, and to combat it there were two Austrian doctors. They had at their disposal a room capable of holding fifteen beds, and for medicine a quantity of iodine and castor oil. 

While vaccines were available for some diseases, the pain involved with primitive mass inoculation methods could seem even worse than the disease itself. An Irish soldier in the British Army, Edward Roe, recalled receiving an anti-tetanus shot after getting wounded in May 1915: 

On arrival all men who have been wounded file into a room wherein presides a gentleman in a white smock. He is armed with a syringe as big as a football pump. He is very businesslike and wields it as an expert clubswinger wields a club. “Open your jackets and shirts – First man.” “Oh! Oh!” He recharges the syringe. “Next!” I felt myself going white… I managed not to faint like some. The contents of the syringe raised a lump on my left breast as big as a toy balloon.

Finally, there were other, less serious conditions which nonetheless resulted in numerous hospital visits, reducing the effective manpower of all the combatants. Although there are few mentions of it in letters or diaries for obvious reasons, sexually transmitted disease was commonplace, with 112,259 British soldiers treated for various ailments including syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea in 1915-1916 alone, and around one million cases of gonorrhea and syphilis in the French Army up the end of 1917. Meanwhile the German Army recorded a total of 296,503 cases of syphilis over the course of the war. 

Private Robert Lord Crawford, a nobleman who volunteered as a medical orderly on the Western Front, lamented the spread of another seemingly minor affliction with major consequences – scabies. Though easily cured, he noted that it was often left untreated: “It is a damnable infliction tickling one to merriment, then irritating to the point of torture and finally, if unchecked, scabies will prevent sleep, injure digestion, destroy temper and finally land the victim in a lunatic asylum. Madness indeed is the ultimate outcome of this disease.”

See the previous installment or all entries.

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11 Magical Facts About Willow
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
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Five years after the release of Return of the Jedi (1983) and four years after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), George Lucas gave audiences the story for another film about an unlikely hero on an epic journey, but this time he had three Magic Acorns and a taller friend instead of a whip and gun to help him along. Willow (1988) was directed by Ron Howard and starred former Ewok and future Leprechaun, Warwick Davis.

Over the past few decades, Willow—which was released 30 years ago today—has become a cult classic that's been passed down from generation to generation. Before you sit down to explore that world again (or for the first time), here are 11 things you might not have know about Willow.

1. IT WAS WRITTEN FOR WARWICK DAVIS.

In an interview with The A.V. Club, Warwick Davis revealed that George Lucas first mentioned the idea for the film to Davis’s mother during the filming of one of the Ewok TV specials in 1983, in which he was reprising his role as Wicket. Lucas had been developing the idea for more than a decade at that point, but working with Davis on Return of the Jedi helped him realize the vision. “George just simply said that he had this idea, and he was writing this story, with me in mind,” Davis said. “He didn't say at that time that it was going to be called Willow. He said, 'It's not for quite yet; it's for a few years ahead, when Warwick is a bit older.'" The role was Davis’s first time not wearing a mask or costume on screen.

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED MUNCHKINS.

Five years after he mentioned the idea, Lucas was ready to make his film with Ron Howard directing and a then-17-year-old Davis as the lead. The original title was presumably inspired by the characters from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the subsequent Victor Fleming film.

3. IT WAS CRITICIZED FOR BEING A COPY OF STAR WARS.

Having thought of the two worlds simultaneously, Lucas may have cribbed some of his own work and other well-known stories a little too much for Willow, and some critics noticed. “Without anything like [Star Wars’s] eager, enthusiastic tone, and indeed with an understandable weariness, Willow recapitulates images from Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, Gulliver's Travels, Mad Max, Peter Pan, Star Wars itself, The Hobbit saga, Japanese monster films of the 1950s, the Bible, and a million fairy tales," wrote Janet Maslin of The New York Times. "One tiny figure combines the best attributes of Tinkerbell, the Good Witch Glinda, and the White Rock Girl.”

Later in her review, Maslin continued to point out the similarities between the two films: “When the sorcerer tells Willow to follow his heart, he becomes the Obi-Wan Kenobi of a film that also has its Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3P0 and Princess Leia stand-ins. Much energy has gone into the creation of their names, some of which (General Kael) have recognizable sources and others (Burglekutt, Cherlindrea, Airk) have only tongue-twisting in mind. Not even the names have anything like Star Wars-level staying power.”

4. IT WAS THE LARGEST CASTING CALL FOR LITTLE PEOPLE IN MOVIE HISTORY.

Lucas has previously cast several little people for roles in Return of the Jedi, and there were more than 100 actors hired to portray Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. But, according to Davis, the casting call for Willow was the largest ever at the time with between 225 and 240 actors hired for the film.

5. THE DEATH DOGS WERE REAL DOGS IN COSTUME.

The big bad in the film, Bavmorda, has demon dogs that terrorize Willow’s village. The dogs are more boar-like than canine, but they were portrayed by Rottweilers. The prop team outfitted the dogs with rubber masks and used animatronic heads for close-up scenes.

6. IT WAS THE FIRST USE OF MORPHING IN A FILM.

While trying to use magic to turn an animal back into a human, Willow fails several times before eventually getting it right, but he does succeed in turning the animal into another animal, which is shown in stages. To achieve this, the visual effects teamed used a technique known as "morphing."

The film’s visual effects supervisor, Dennis Muren of Industrial Light & Magic, explained the technique to The Telegraph:

The way things had been up till that time, if a character had to change at some way from a dog into a person or something like that it could be done with a series of mechanical props. You would have to cut away to a person watching it, and then cut back to another prop which is pushing the ears out, for example, so it didn't look fake ... we shot five different pieces of film, of a goat, an ostrich, a tiger, a tortoise, and a woman and had one actually change into the shape of the other one without having to cut away. The technique is much more realistic because the cuts are done for dramatic reasons, rather than to stop it from looking bad.”

7. THE STORY WAS CONTINUED IN SEVERAL NOVELS.

Willow has yet to receive a sequel, but fans of the story can return to the world in a trilogy of books that author Chris Claremont wrote in collaboration with Lucas between 1995 and 2000. According to the Amazon synopsis of Shadow Moon, the first book picks up 13 years after the events of the film, and baby Elora Danan’s friendless upbringing has turned her into a “spoiled brat who seemingly takes joy in making miserable the lives around her. The fate of the Great Realms rests in her hands, and she couldn't care less. Only a stranger can lead her to her destiny.”

8. THERE IS A MISSING SCENE CONCERNING THE MAGIC ACORNS.

Hardcore fans of the film have noticed that there is a continuity error that involves the Magic Acorns Willow was given by the High Aldwin. During an interview with The Empire Podcast, Davis explained that in a scene near the end of the film, he throws a second acorn and is inexplicably out after having only used two of the three Magic Acorns he had been given earlier in the film. Included in the Blu-ray release is the cut scene, in which Willow uses an acorn (his second) in a boat during a storm and accidentally turns the boat to stone. Davis says that his hair is wet in the next scene that did make it into the original version of the film, but the acorn is never referenced.

9. JOHN CUSACK AUDITIONED FOR THE PART OF MADMARTIGAN.

Val Kilmer in 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Val Kilmer famously played the role of the reluctant hero two years after played Iceman in Top Gun (1986), but he was not the only big name to audition for the role. Davis revealed in a commentary track that he once read with John Cusack, who in 1987 had already starred in Sixteen Candles (1984), Stand by Me (1986), and Hot Pursuit (1987).

10. THERE IS A NOD TO SISKEL AND EBERT.

During a battle scene later in the film, Willow and his compatriots have to fight a two-headed beast outside of the castle. The name of the stop motion beast is the Eborsisk, which is a combination of the names of famed film critics, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.

11. THE BABY NEVER ACTED AGAIN.

A scene from 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

As is the case with most shows and films, the role of the baby Elora was played by twins, in this case Kate and Ruth Greenfield. The IMDb pages for both actresses only has the one credit. In 2007, Davis shared a picture of him posing with a woman named Laura Hopkirk, who said that she played the baby for the scenes shot in New Zealand, but she is not credited online.

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30 Things You Might Not Know About Cheers
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On May 20, 1993—25 years ago today—television audiences said farewell to Sam Malone, the fictional Red Sox pitcher-turned-proprietor of Cheers. Though it's the Boston bar where everybody knows your name, there’s plenty you probably don’t know about the classic sitcom, which spent 11 seasons on the air.

1. CHEERS ALMOST DIDN’T MAKE IT THROUGH SEASON ONE.

Like many of television’s greatest success stories (e.g. Seinfeld), Cheers was not an immediate hit. It premiered on September 30, 1982 to dismal ratings—77th place out of 100 shows that week, according to Nielsen. It was NBC’s entertainment president at the time, Brandon Tartikoff, who saved the show from cancellation during its first season.

2. THE BULL & FINCH PUB, ON WHICH CHEERS IS MODELED, IS NOW CALLED CHEERS

Talk about life imitating art. After it was decided that the series would be set in a bar instead of a hotel, co-creators Glen and Les Charles decided the locale should be moved to New England. “Boston was chosen partially because only five short-lived television shows claimed the city and the East Coast pubs were real neighborhood hangouts,” wrote Dennis A. Bjorklund in his book, Toasting Cheers.

As the show’s popularity rose, it didn’t take long for word to spread that the Beacon Hill tavern was the “real” Cheers (though only the exterior shots were filmed there), turning the neighborhood hangout into a tourist attraction. To satisfy the masses, a second location—this one was actually called "Cheers" and featuring a replica of the bar viewers were used to—was opened in nearby Faneuil Hall in 2001. One year later, the Bull & Finch officially changed its name to Cheers.

3. SAM MALONE WAS ORIGINALLY A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER.

In the script’s earliest incarnations, Sam Malone was an ex-football player, which made sense considering that Fred Dryer—the former NFL defensive end who would go on to star in Hunter—was a top choice to play the role of Sam (opposite Julia Duffy as Diane; William Devane was also a strong contender). Ultimately, it was the chemistry between Ted Danson and Shelley Long that led to them getting the gigs. Once the casting was finalized, the creators swapped out football for baseball, based on Danson’s body type.

4. TED DANSON ATTENDED BARTENDING SCHOOL.

Danson spent two weeks at a bartending school in Burbank, California as part of his training to play Sam.

5. NORM AND CLIFF WEREN’T INTENDED TO BE REGULAR CHARACTERS.

Both George Wendt and John Ratzenberger auditioned for the same role in the pilot, a minor character named George who had a single line: “Beer!” The character’s name was changed to Norm Peterson when Wendt was cast. But Ratzenberger wasn’t about to give up so easily. “As I was leaving the office after the audition, I turned around and asked them, ‘Do you have a bar know-it-all?,’” the Bridgeport, Connecticut-born Ratzenberger recalled to Ability Magazine. “None of the creators was from New England. They were all Hollywood-centered. And I said, ‘Well, every local bar in New England has got a know-it-all—someone who pretends to have the knowledge of all mankind between his ears and is not shy about sharing it.’” Thus, Cliff Clavin was born.

6. NORM PETERSON IS BASED ON A REAL GUY.

In 2012, co-creator Les Charles told GQ that Norm was based on a real person. “I worked at a bar after college, and we had a guy who came in every night. He wasn't named Norm, [but he] was always going to have just one beer, and then he'd say, ‘Maybe I'll just have one more.’ We had to help him out of the bar every night. His wife would call, and he'd always say, ‘Tell her I'm not here.’”

7. NORM’S NEVER-SEEN WIFE VERA IS VOICED BY GEORGE WENDT’S REAL WIFE.

Though she’s only credited in one episode, George Wendt’s wife, Bernadette Birkett, provided the voice for Norm’s wife, Vera. Birkett did make one appearance on the show—as a love interest of Cliff’s—in season three.

8. JOHN RATZENBERGER IMPROVISED MANY OF CLIFF’S FUN FACTS.

Many of the random (and untrue) facts that Cliff Clavin offers up were ad libbed by Ratzenberger. “After a couple of years on the show they realized they could trust me not to mess it up,” Ratzenberger told Deseret News in 1993. “So little by little they've let me just sort of run off. Because I know when to stop … It's easy to improvise comedy. It really is. But the art is knowing when to shut up and let other people talk. That's a hard thing to learn.”

9. SOME OF THE DIALOGUE CAME FROM REAL BAR CONVERSATIONS.

In order to nail the bar talk aspect of the series, the creators regularly visited bars in the Los Angeles area to eavesdrop on patrons’ conversations. In the series premiere, there’s an argument about the sweatiest movie ever made, which was lifted from one of these overheard conversations.

10. CHEERS WASN’T AFRAID TO TACKLE SOCIAL ISSUES.

Cheers’ writers never shied away from taboo topics such as alcoholism or homosexuality, through they always had a sense of humor about them. The season one episode “The Boys in the Bar,” in which one of Sam’s former teammates announces that he is gay, earned writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs a GLAAD Media Award.

11. PLANS FOR AN HIV SCARE FOR SAM HAD TO BE ABANDONED.

In 1988, the Writers Guild of America went on strike, which meant that several planned episodes of the series were never filmed. Among them was a season six cliffhanger in which Sam learns that a former girlfriend is HIV positive.

12. RHEA WASN’T THE ONLY PERLMAN ON THE SET.

Rhea Perlman wasn’t the only member of her family to grace the set of Cheers. Her younger sister, Heide, produced more than two dozen episodes between 1985 and 1986 and wrote several episodes throughout the show’s run. Perlman’s father, Phil, played one of the bar regulars (named Phil).

13. JAY THOMAS MURDERED EDDIE LEBEC.


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When character actor Jay Thomas wasn’t portraying Carla’s Bruin-turned-ice-show-performer husband Eddie LeBec, he was the host of a popular morning radio show in Los Angeles. Which is exactly what led to his character being killed off rather prematurely by way of Zamboni. “A few episodes of recurring bliss and then one day on Jay’s radio show, a caller asked him what it was like to be on Cheers,” recounted writer Ken Levine. “He said something to the effect of, ‘It’s brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman.’ Well, guess who happened to be listening ... Jay Thomas was never seen on Cheers again.”

14. A CHEERS MINI-EPISODE WAS PRODUCED FOR THE U.S. TREASURY.

Early in Cheers’ run, its creators were contracted by the U.S. Treasury to create a special mini-episode to promote the purchase of U.S. savings bonds. Titled “Uncle Sam Malone,” the episode never aired on television nor is it included on any of the DVDs; it was intended to be screened for promotional purposes at savings bond drives only.

15. A “LOST” SCENE ALSO AIRED AS PART OF THE 1983 SUPER BOWL XVII PREGAME SHOW.

Back in early 1983, writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs wrote a special one-off scene to air before Super Bowl XVII in which Sam, Diane, Carla, Norm, Cliff, and NBC announcer Pete Axthelm bet on who will win the big game. “They ran it just before game time and it was seen by 80,000,000 people,” Levine recalled of the spot on his blog. “Nothing we've ever written before or since has been seen by that many eyeballs at one time. But the scene was never repeated. It never appeared on any DVDs. It just disappeared.” (Until now: You can watch it at the link above.)

16. TED DANSON WORE A HAIRPIECE TO PLAY HAIR-OBSESSED SAM


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A fact that became apparent when he accepted the Emmy—sans hairpiece—in 1990. In the 1993 episode “It’s Lonely on the Top,” Sam shares his follicular challenge with Carla.

17. VIEWERS FREQUENTLY COMPLAINED ABOUT THE VOLUME OF THE LAUGH TRACK, EVEN THOUGH THERE WAS NO LAUGH TRACK.

In 1983, a quick disclaimer—spoken by one of the regular cast members—was added to the beginning of each episode: “Cheers was filmed before a live studio audience.” This was a direct response to viewer complaints that the “laugh track” was too loud.

18. THE PART OF FRASIER WAS WRITTEN FOR JOHN LITHGOW.


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After recent roles in All That Jazz, Blow Out, and The World According to Garp (for which he received his first of two consecutive Oscar nominations), Lithgow was not interested in working on the small screen. “I just said, 'No,’” Lithgow recalled to The Hollywood Reporter. “I barely even remembered that … It was like swatting away a fly … I just wasn’t going to do a series.”

19. KELSEY GRAMMER PLAYED FRASIER CRANE FOR 20 YEARS.

Grammer made his Cheers debut in the third season premiere in 1984. Though he was intended to be a short-lived character, Crane’s popularity with audiences led to him becoming a series regular. Four months after Cheers ended in May of 1993, Frasier made its debut (on the redesigned Cheers stage, no less) and ran for its own 11 seasons. Grammer’s two-decade run as the pretentious psychiatrist is a record-breaking one for an American comedy actor.

20. TONY SOPRANO'S MOM PLAYED FRASIER'S MOM, TOO.


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Nancy Marchand's character threatened to kill Diane. The role of Frasier's mom was played by Tom Hanks' wife Rita Wilson in a 2001 Frasier flashback.

21. KIRSTIE ALLEY IS THE ONLY MAIN CHARACTER WHO DIDN’T MAKE A GUEST APPEARANCE ON FRASIER.

Throughout Frasier’s 11-season run, Kirstie Alley was the only one of Cheers’ main actors to not make an appearance on the popular spinoff, possibly because the psychiatric profession conflicts with her beliefs as a Scientologist. “Kirstie once said ... she'd never do a show about a psychiatrist,” Kelsey Grammer told Entertainment Weekly in 2002.

22. FRASIER’S DAD WAS MAGICALLY RESURRECTED FOR THE SPINOFF.

When Frasier talked about his family on Cheers, he noted that his father—also a well-respected psychiatrist—had passed away. Yet his ex-cop dad, played by John Mahoney, is a main character in Frasier. Incidentally, Mahoney made a one-off appearance in Cheers’ eleventh season, as a fast-talking jingle writer named Sy Flembeck:

23. NORM’S FIRST NAME IS HILLARY.

His full name is Hillary Norman Peterson.

24. THAT WOODY PLAYED WOODY WAS A TOTAL COINCIDENCE.

Though many of the non-regular bar patrons’ real names were used in filming, that Woody Harrelson ended up playing Woody Boyd is by sheer coincidence. The character’s name was written into the script long before any actors had auditioned for the role.

25. NORM DRANK “NEAR BEER.”

The bar on the set may have been fully functional, but that doesn’t mean the cast got to spend the day throwing back cold ones. Norm may have had it the worst. As the bar’s resident lush, he’s rarely seen without a sudsy glass of beer in his hand. But what’s really in that glass is “near beer,” a weakened strain of ale mixed with a bit of salt to keep a perfect head on the glass at all times. Which Wendt unfortunately had to consume on more than one occasion.

26. THE SHOW HELPED PROMOTE THE IDEA OF A DESIGNATED DRIVER.

It was important to the producers of Cheers that no tipsy bar patron ever drove him or herself home, so there are frequent references to calling cabs and designated drivers. The Harvard Alcohol Project had a hand in spreading this message.

27. SAM AND DIANE DID GET MARRIED AT THE END OF SEASON FIVE.

Because Cheers was filmed in front of a live studio audience, the producers had to occasionally trick the audience so that show developments weren’t leaked. In order to keep Shelley Long’s departure from the series a secret, the live audience saw Sam and Diane get married at the end of season five. The real ending—which sees Diane leaving for six months to finish her book, only to return for a guest appearance in the final season—was filmed on a closed set.

28. CHEERS HABLA ESPAÑOL.

In September 2011, a Spanish version of the series—also called Cheers—made its debut. It starred Alberto San Juan as a former soccer player turned Irish pub owner and ran for just one season.

29. THE END OF THE SHOW IS ALL TED DANSON’S FAULT.

Though understandably so. When Danson announced that he’d be leaving the series at the end of the 1992-1993 season, producers decided that Woody could take over the bar. But Woody Harrelson wasn’t interested in continuing the show without Danson, and so its series finale was set.

30. THE CAST AND CREW GOT REALLY, REALLY DRUNK FOR THEIR SENDOFF.

NBC made a major event of the series finale, with cast and crew celebrating at Boston’s Bull & Finch Pub, where thousands of fans gathered outside to watch the show on two Jumbotrons. Then the drinks started flowing … and flowing … and flowing. “The show ended at eleven,” Ken Levine wrote in a 2013 remembrance of the evening for Vulture. “The next half-hour was an emotional tsunami. Everyone was hugging and crying and doing a lot of drinking. We were all completely wrecked.”

Then it was time for the cast to make an appearance on The Tonight Show. “The cast, in no condition to face anybody, much less 40 million people, dutifully trooped downstairs to do the live show,” Levine continued. “Us non-celeb types stayed back and watched on TV … in horror. They were so drunk they needed designated walkers. They giggled like schoolgirls over nothing, fired spitballs into each other’s mouths, squirted water guns, Woody Harrelson implied he gave oral sex to both Ted Danson and Oliver Stone, and Kirstie Alley sang a song where the only lyric was ‘dick, dick, dick.’”

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