15 Prized Facts About Best in Show

YouTube
YouTube

Based on a thin outline written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, Best in Show was an improvised mockumentary about five entrants in the fictitious Mayflower Dog Show. Featuring the likes of Guest, Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Fred Willard, and Jane Lynch, the movie was the second in the streak of Guest-directed improvisational comedies considered to be the standard of the genre, after Waiting for Guffman (1996) and prior to A Mighty Wind (2003) and For Your Consideration (2006). Here are some facts about Best in Show, once you stop naming nuts.

1. EUGENE LEVY DIDN’T THINK IT COULD BE DONE.

Guest—portrayer of Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and Count Tyrone Rugen of The Princess Bride (1987)—and his wife, actress Jamie Lee Curtis, had two dogs, leading the writer/director to make frequent trips to the local dog park. "There were people there with purebred dogs, with mutts and so on, and as I mingled with them I started thinking that this might be an interesting idea to explore in a movie," Guest said in the film’s official production notes. In mid-1998, Guest called Levy with the idea and was told no. Levy was nervous about the third act, not knowing how to make a dog show funny.

2. GUEST AND COMPANY DID THEIR HOMEWORK.

Along with Levy and producer Karen Murphy, Guest spent months attending and researching dog shows. He attended the annual Westminster Dog Show, on which he based the movie's fictional Mayflower Dog Show. The principal cast all had classes with their respective dogs and Earlene Luke, an all-breed professional handler. The usual eight-week course of Luke’s was compressed into five intensive days.

3. THEY HAD TO MAKE THEIR OWN DOG SHOW.

No actual dog show would allow them to film on site, so they had to create their own.

4. SHERRI ANN’S ORIGINAL POODLE WAS FIRED.

On account of “misbehaving,” a new poodle was hired to portray Jennifer Coolidge's beloved pooch. Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock)  initially had a pointer dog, but this was changed to a Weimaraner. When their characters had a pointer, Posey and Hitchcock decided their characters shopped at J.Crew. When they got the Weimaraner, they shopped at Banana Republic. Posey shopped for beige and tan clothes, “because Weimaraners just look so delusional and lost."

5. POSEY AND HITCHCOCK PREPARED AT STARBUCKS.

Since their characters met at a Starbucks (two different ones, technically), the actors would hang out there figuring out their characters. Guest allowed Posey and Hitchcock to work with the set designer and go through the Sharper Image and Frontgate catalogs to work on the Swans’ home.

6. HAMILTON WANTED CHANDLER BING’S HAIR.

Hitchcock figured that Hamilton Swan would think he looked like Friends' Matthew Perry, so told the hairstylists to make his hair look like Perry’s hair during the then-current season of the hit NBC sitcom.

7. JENNIFER COOLIDGE USED A REAL-LIFE ACQUAINTANCE TO HELP DEVELOP THE CHARACTER OF SHERRI ANN.

When Coolidge first got to Los Angeles, she was employed as a babysitter in Beverly Hills for a Sherri Ann type, described by the actress as a “very feminine, very phony” woman. She considered portraying someone like her old employer as “kind of revenge.”

8. JIM PIDDOCK HAD TO SOUND KNOWLEDGEABLE AS TREVOR BECKWITH.

Guest gave Piddock a book called The American Kennel Club, which he had to read for an hour every night while working on a BBC show he co-created called Too Much Sun. He described the book as “not interesting reading.”

9. FRED WILLARD WAS ONLY THERE FOR TWO DAYS.

Willard and Piddock reviewed all of the footage of the dogs for four hours one day, then shot their hosting sequence from dawn to dusk the next, so Piddock could return to England. Murphy said she never saw Guest laugh as hard as he did when watching Willard perform as Buck Laughlin.

10. BUCK LAUGHLIN WAS BASED ON JOE GARAGIOLA.

Guest sent Willard tapes from past Westminster Dog Shows and asked him to notice the musings of former professional baseball player and broadcaster Joe Garagiola, who had hosted the most prestigious dog show of them all from 1994-2002, despite, as Guest pointed out to Willard, taking “no effort” in learning about dogs. Garagiola himself said he had seen Best in Show in an interview with CNN. “I think he used some lines I wouldn't use, but he's a funny guy and, hey, we all have our tastes. I didn't particularly like the show. I thought the satire went over the top.”

11. IT WAS SHOT ON SUPER 16MM FILM.

Mostly with handheld cameras. It was later blown up to 35mm for theaters.

12. THE NARRATIVE OUTLINE FOR THE FILM WAS ONLY 15 PAGES LONG.

Levy explained the outline and the major improvisation it left room for: "Our outline gives a very solid blueprint to the actors so they know how to get from point A to point B, but how they do it is largely up to them.”

13. 60 HOURS OF FOOTAGE WERE FILMED.

It took Guest eight months to edit it all down to 89 minutes. A lot of the used takes were first takes.

14. MEG’S PILL-TAKING AND POT-SMOKING WAS CUT OUT OF THE FILM.

Because the drug use might have earned them an R or PG-13 rating, it was taken out; Hitchcock claimed he played Hamilton as uptight partially due to his character not liking Meg’s smoking. Also cut was Harlan Pepper (Guest)’s obsession with beach balls.

15. IT CHANGED JANE LYNCH’S LIFE.

The comedic actress met Guest when she did a Frosted Flakes commercial with him. Months later, she was asked to join the Best in Show cast as Christy Cummings. “It opened up a bunch of doors for me,” she told The A.V. Club. “I felt like I fell into a way of working that really suits me. That was another one of those happy accidents that I could’ve never planned for, and it changed my life, really.”

'143,' Fred Rogers's Code for "I Love You," Gets Its Own Holiday in Pennsylvania

Family Communications Inc./Getty Images
Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

"It takes one letter to say I and four letters to say love and three letters to say you. One hundred and forty-three."

That quote from Fred Rogers has become a symbol of the children's entertainer's legacy. The number 143, his special code for "I love you," is used by a charity inspired by Rogers, and it was spotlighted in the recent documentary movie Won't You Be My Neighbor? Now, Mister Rogers's favorite number has its own holiday in Pennsylvania.

As Philly Voice reports, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf declared May 23 to be 143 Day in the state. Rogers was born in Westmoreland County near Pittsburgh and he spent his whole life in the area. By honoring the famous Pennsylvanian with his own holiday, the organizers behind the statewide 143 Day campaign hope to inspire residents to be kind to their neighbors on May 23 and every day of the year.

The initiative encourages schools, businesses, and citizens to share their acts of kindness on social media with the hashtag #143DayinPA. A "kindness tracker" on the campaign's website keeps how many time the hashtag has been used, and so far, over a 6000 acts of kindness have been shared online. And if someone has trouble thinking of ways to honor the spirit of Mister Rogers, the campaign's "kindness generator" can come up with a suggestion for them.

One hundred and forty-three was more than just a fun saying for Fred Rogers: It was a lucky number he made part of his lifestyle. The television personality even went so far as to go swimming every day to maintain his weight at the number.

[h/t Philly Voice]

10 Bizarre Documentaries That Are Stranger Than Fiction

A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
Top Knot Films

Documentaries have grown considerably more ambitious since Fred Ott’s Sneeze, an 1894 clip that documents the irritated sinus cavities of its subject in just five seconds. They can inspire, as in the case of 2019’s Academy Award-winning Free Solo, about bold mountain climber Alex Honnold. They can shine a light on cultural overachievers like Fred Rogers, the subject of 2018’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? And they can parse political history, with films like 2003's The Fog of War shedding light on decisions that shaped the world.

Other documentaries set out to chronicle true stories that, were they presented as a fictitious, might be hard for people to believe. We’ve profiled such films in previous lists, which you can find here, here, and here. If you’ve already made your way through those tales of cannibals, tragic love affairs, and twist-laden true crime, here are 10 more that will have you staring at your television in disbelief.  

1. Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)

When Idaho native Jan Broberg was 12 years old in 1974, her neighbor began to take an unseemly and inappropriate interest in her. What begins as a disturbing portrait of predation quickly spirals into an unbelievable and audacious attempt to manipulate Jan’s entire family. Director Skye Borgman’s portrait of seemingly reasonable people who become ensnared in a monstrous plot to separate them from their daughter has drawn some shocking reactions since it began streaming on Netflix earlier this year.

2. The Wolfpack (2015)

Confined to their apartment in a Manhattan housing project for years by parents wary of the world outside their door, the seven Angulo siblings developed an understanding about life through movies. The Wolfpack depicts their attempts to cope with reality after finally emerging from their involuntary exile. Hulu subscribers can watch it now.

3. Three Identical Strangers (2018)

The highly marketable conceit of director Tim Wardle’s documentary is that triplets born in 1961 then separated spent the first 18 years of their lives totally ignorant of their siblings. When they reconnect, it’s a joy. But the movie quickly switches gears to explore the question of why they were separated at birth to begin with. It’s that investigation—and the chilling answer—that lends Three Identical Strangers its bittersweet, haunting atmosphere. It’s currently on Hulu.

4. Tickled (2016)

A ball of yarn bouncing down a flight of stairs is the best metaphor we can summon for the narrative of Tickled, which follows New Zealand journalist David Farrier on what appears at first glance to be a silly story about the world of “competitive endurance tickling.” In the course of reporting on this unusual subculture, Farrier crosses paths with people who would prefer their hobbies remain discreet. When he refuses to let the story go, things grow increasingly tense and dangerous. HBO subscribers can see the film, and it’s also available as a $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime.

5. Billboard Boys (2018)

In 1982, an Allentown, Pennsylvania radio station sponsored a contest in which three men agreed to live underneath a billboard. The last man remaining would win a brand-new motor home, a considerable incentive in the economically-struggling area. Three contestants went up, but things didn't go as planned. It's available for free to Amazon Prime members.

6. Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary (1997)

How far would you be willing to go for a new pick-up truck? That’s the deceptively simple premise for this documentary chronicling an endurance contest in Longview, Texas, where participants agree to keep one hand on the vehicle at all times: The last person standing wins. What begins as a group seeking a prize evolves into a battle of attrition, with all the psychological games and mental fortitude that comes with it. The film can be hard to find, but you can watch the first nine minutes on YouTube for free (above) and then catch the rest for $9.99 on iTunes.

7. My Kid Could Paint That (2007)

At the age of 4, upstate New York resident Marla Olmstead began painting sprawling abstract art that her parents sold for premium prices. Later on, a 60 Minutes report called into question whether Marla had some assistance with her work. Was she a child prodigy, or simply a creative girl who had a little help? And if she did, should it matter? My Kid Could Paint That investigates Marla’s process, but it also sheds light on the world of abstract art and the question of who gets to decide whether a creative impulse is valid. You can rent the film for $3.99 on Amazon.

8. Beware the Slenderman (2016)

In 2014, two Wisconsin girls came to a disturbing decision: In order to appease the “Slenderman,” an internet-sourced boogeyman, they would attempt to murder a classmate. The victim survived, but three lives have been altered forever. Beware the Slenderman explores the intersection where mental illness, social media, and urban mythology collide to result in a horrific crime. It’s available to HBO viewers or as a rental on Amazon for $3.99.

9. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer (1992)

For years, Richard Kuklinski satisfied his homicidal urges by taking on contract killings for organized crime families in New York and New Jersey. Following his arrest and conviction, he agreed to sit down and elaborate on his unusual methodologies for disposing of victims and how he balanced his violent tendencies with a seemingly normal domestic life that included marriage and children. (You can see an example of Kuklinski's chilling disposition in the clip above.) In addition to The Iceman Tapes, which originally aired on HBO, Kuklinski participated in two follow-ups: The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman in 2001 and The Iceman and the Psychiatrist in 2003. See them on HBO or watch the original and both follow-ups for free on Amazon Prime.

10. Tabloid (2010)

Filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War) details the unusual love affair between beauty queen Joyce McKinney and Kirk Anderson, who alleged McKinney kidnapped and assaulted him after believing he had been brainwashed by the Mormon church. That’s only the beginning of this twisty—and twisted—story, which illustrates how people can perceive the same event in completely different ways. It’s currently streaming on Hulu.

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