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14 Deductive Facts About Bill Nye, the Science Guy

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Consider the following: Through careful observation, you may have learned a number of things about William Sanford "Bill" Nye over the years—that he’s a famously funny scientist, educator, and author, perhaps, or that his 2013 stint on Dancing With The Stars ended with injury and a final performance to “Get Lucky” that left judges lukewarm. His public appearances and the show Bill Nye the Science Guy are just the tip of the iceberg, though. Here are a few facts that even the most Nye-hard fans might not know.

1. HIS MOTHER WAS A WORLD WAR II CODEBREAKER AND A SCIENCE WHIZ.

Jacqueline Jenkins-Nye was finishing up her psychology degree at Goucher College in 1942 when she and several other young women were called to the dean’s office for a hush-hush meeting. The U.S. Secretary of War was scouring women’s colleges “seeking their best and brightest for a project so secret that none of the participants was allowed to know its purpose,” according to The Baltimore Sun. After graduation, Jenkins joined an elite group of people whose work as cryptanalysts, or codebreakers, helped finally crack the Japanese and German militaries’ very crafty communication codes.

Science, education, and dedication were major themes throughout her long life and career—ones that had an “infinite, immeasurable” influence on her son, Nye told The Baltimore Sun:

"She taught me how to cook—and how to make the famous family salad dressing that her grandmother taught her to make, which was pure chemistry. She taught me how to sew, even. To this day, I still own a sewing machine. And to this day, I can still hear her chanting in my ear: 'Sit up straight! Shoulders back! Now train, train, train! Do it till you get it right!'"

2. HE WENT TO SIDWELL FRIENDS SCHOOL IN HIS HOMETOWN OF WASHINGTON, D.C.

In an opinion essay he wrote for the Huffington Post in 2009, Nye said that he attended D.C.’s Sidwell Friends School—a private Quaker institution where Chelsea Clinton, Sasha and Malia Obama, and many other politicians' kids have studied—for middle and high school. Nye attended Sidwell thanks to a partial scholarship and his parents’ determination, which helped him transfer from a public school where classrooms were packed, spitballs flew freely, and bullies harassed bussed-in students from nearby schools that “were really not separate, and most especially not equal,” Nye wrote.

3. HE TOOK A CLASS WITH CARL SAGAN ...

While at Cornell University, Nye took an Astronomy class taught by Carl Sagan, and the older man’s enthusiasm and penchant for innovation helped ignite Nye’s lifelong charge to achieve the same. At a reunion years later, Nye also mentioned his TV plans to Sagan, and received good, matter-of-fact advice from his former professor that would help make Bill Nye the Science Guy such a success: "Focus on pure science. Kids resonate to pure science."

4. ... AND FOLLOWED IN HIS FOOTSTEPS.

Nye became a member of The Planetary Society, an organization dedicated to extraterrestrial exploration that was co-founded by Sagan in 1980. After taking on other roles in the organization following Sagan’s death, as Nye explained to NOVA, "There was a dinner party, there was wine, or something, and now I'm the CEO, I'm the head guy of the Planetary Association, so Carl Sagan is deep within me. I am part of his legacy.”

5. HE APPLIED REPEATEDLY TO BE AN ASTRONAUT.

Nye applied four times for NASA’s astronaut training program, but he was always rejected, which he blamed on his lack of a Ph.D. (Nye has a degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell.) Or, maybe, he joked to AOL last year, “it could be because I was completely unqualified.”

6. HE'S MADE HIS MARK ON MARS, THOUGH.

Nye was part of a team that designed the MarsDial, a tool installed on the Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers that helps calibrate color in photos taken of the planet from inside its thinner, different-colored atmosphere.

7. NYE HAS A NEED FOR SPEED.

"I really like to go fast,” Nye told the St. Petersburg Times, “but you know how many speeding tickets I have? That's right. Zero. A car is a weapon. If you have a loaded gun you have to treat it with respect. The same is true of a car, and I'm not saying that I won't get a speeding ticket this afternoon, I'm not saying that I'm some kind of driving genius, but I do respect it and understand how fabulously dangerous it is."

Aside from his love of speed, Nye is a huge proponent of electric vehicles, and has even called for NASCAR to get on Team Green and use electric whips instead of gas-guzzlers.

8. HIS HIT TV SHOW WAS BASED ON A COMEDY SKETCH.

PaRts15 // Youtube

Prior to making a splash with Bill Nye the Science Guy in 1993, Nye was doing his quirky-yet-educational experiments on the comedy show Almost Live, which aired on Seattle NBC affiliate KING-TV from 1984 to 1999. In one 1990 Almost Alive episode (above), he uses the studio’s less-than-professional-grade equipment (or, as Nye puts it, its “Mickey-Mouse Science Guy” setup) to tease chemistry lessons out of glasses of Coca Cola for the benefit of the show’s live audience and the scene’s less-than-impressed host. In addition to being the show’s go-to science expert, he also filled out the heroic role of “Speed Walker” on the program.

9. THE RENOWNED SCIENTIST IS “KOOKY” FOR STEVE MARTIN.

In addition to his shenanigans on TV, Nye’s comedic resume includes a decade of performing stand-up, and he’s quick to cite his “hero” Steve Martin as a major influence. "I'm kooky for Steve," he told the St. Petersburg Times in 1999. "I hope to meet him someday. I wrote him a note, but I never heard back from him: ‘Dear Steve, I'm Bill Nye. I owe my career to you. I'd like to buy you lunch sometime. Your friend, Bill.' … I'm sure he's like, ‘This guy's insane. He's a stalker.'" Before he became famous as the Science Guy, Nye even won a Steve Martin lookalike contest.

10. HE MADE A BACK TO THE FUTURE TV SHOW WITH CHRISTOPHER LLOYD ...

From 1991 to 1992, Nye helped organize live-action science experiments on Back to the Future: The Animated Series as Christopher Lloyd’s (nonspeaking) onscreen assistant.

11. ... AND HAD A HAND IN BATTLEBOTS, NUMB3RS, AND STARGATE: ATLANTIS.

Given his range of talents, it might not be too surprising that Nye has played a number of roles in bringing science-friendly programming to the small screen. From 2000 to 2002, he served as the technical expert on the robot fighting show BattleBots, while a math education lecture he gave helped inspire the detective show Numb3rs and led to his recurring cameos on it. In his free time, he also produced Solving for X, an algebra-teaching series of DVDs, and even showed up in an episode of Stargate: Atlantis to give one character a little nerd-style bullying with the help of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

12. HE’S BEEN CAMPAIGNING FOR BETTER EDUCATION FOR DECADES.

Nye promotes education shape-ups and the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning any chance he gets—and he makes sure there are plenty. In addition to speaking and writing widely on the topics, he’s a frequent speaker at conferences of the National Science Teachers Association. In 2000, shortly after a study ranking the world's schools was released, Nye told audiences that "If the U.S. was ranked 17th in the world in track and field or in Olympic swimming [instead of science and math abilities among eighth-graders], there would be a tremendous outcry ... Imagine the money that would be spent to fix that."

13. HE AND ED BEGLEY JR. ONCE ENGAGED IN A BATTLE TO HAVE THE GREENEST HOUSE.

Nye has put a lot of time and thought into making his house as eco-friendly as possible, and when they lived next door to each other, he and actor/environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr. enjoyed some friendly competition where minimized footprints were concerned. In 2008, Nye was winning: Solar panels and various home upgrades meant his house put more energy back into his local power grid than it took out. Then, in late 2015, Begley moved. It’s difficult to determine who ultimately won their green-off contest, but when he moved, Begley had nine kilowatts of solar panels on his roof to Nye’s four, because, as Nye told National Geographic, “a different neighbor’s house blocked the sun at certain times of the day. I’ve thought about cutting that part of her house down,” he said, laughing, "but it probably wouldn’t be the most neighborly thing."

14. HIS COMFORT FOOD IS ONE SLICE OF BACON.

Last but not least, you might be wondering what kind of snack the famous science fan, who the Seattle Times once described as always “[spinning] like a dynamo, power source unseen,” enjoys when he finally unwinds. The answer, he told The New York Times, is a “single slice of organically raised bacon, from the froufrou hippie grocery down the street. Fry that with a few leaves of my homegrown chard. That’s living. You get the bitter with the fat and the salt.”

All photos courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise noted.

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Shout! Factory
10 Surprising Facts About Mr. Mom
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

John Hughes penned the script for 1983's Mr. Mom, a comedy about a family man named Jack Butler (Micheal Keaton) who loses his job. To ensure their three kids are taken care of, his wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), goes back to work—leaving Jack to fight off a vacuum cleaner and learn why it's never a good idea to feed chili to a baby.

In 1982, Keaton turned in a star-making role in Ron Howard’s Night Shift, but Mr. Mom marked the first time he headlined a movie, and it launched his career. Hughes had written National Lampoon's Vacation, which—oddly enough—was released in theaters the weekend after Mr. Mom. But Hughes himself was still a relative unknown, as it would be another year before he entered the teen flick phase of his career, which would make him iconic.

In the meantime, Mr. Mom hit home for a lot of viewers, as the economy was on the downturn and more and more women were entering (or reentering) the workforce. But some people think that the movie's ending—which sees the couple revert to traditional gender roles—sidelined the movie's message. Still, on the 35th anniversary of its release, Mr. Mom remains an ahead-of-its-time comedy classic.

1. IT'S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Mr. Mom producer Lauren Shuler Donner came across a funny article John Hughes had written for National Lampoon. Based on that, she contacted him and the two became friends. “One day, he was telling me that his wife had gone down to Arizona and he was in charge of the two boys and he didn’t know what he was doing,” Donner told IGN. “It was hilarious! I was on the floor laughing. He said, ‘Do you think this would make a good movie?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, this is really funny.’ So he said, ‘Well, I have about 80 pages in a drawer. Would you look at it?’ So I looked at it and I said, ‘This is great! Let’s do it!’ We kind of developed it ourselves.” In the book Movie Moguls Speak, Donner mentioned how Hughes “had never been to a grocery store, he had never operated a vacuum cleaner. John was so ignorant, that in his ignorance, he was hilarious.”

The players involved with the movie told Donner and Hughes they thought it should be a TV movie. Hughes had a TV deal with Aaron Spelling, who came aboard to executive produce. “Then the players involved were upset because John was writing out of Chicago instead of L.A.,” Donner said in Movie Moguls Speak. “They fired John and brought in a group of TV writers. In the end, John and I were muscled out. It was a good movie, but if you ever read John’s original script for Mr. Mom, it’s far better.”

2. JOHN HUGHES REJECTED THE IDEA OF DIRECTING MR. MOM.

Stan Dragoti ended up directing the film, but only after Hughes turned it down, because he preferred to make his movies in Chicago, not Hollywood. “I don’t like being around the people in the movie business,” Hughes told Roger Ebert. “In Hollywood, you spend all of your time having lunch and making deals. Everybody is trying to shoot you down. I like to get my actors out here where we can make our movies in privacy.” Hughes remained in Chicago and filmed his directorial debut, Sixteen Candles, there.

3. MICHAEL KEATON GOT THE ROLE BECAUSE OF NIGHT SHIFT.

In 1982’s Night Shift, Keaton’s character works at a morgue and starts a prostitution ring with co-worker Henry Winkler. Donner had an agent friend, Laurie Perlman, who represented the not-yet-famous actor. She contacted Donner and pitched Keaton to her. “’Look, I represent this guy who is really funny. Would you meet with him?’" Donner recalled of the conversation. "So I met with him. Usually I don’t like to do this unless we’re casting, but I met with him because she was my friend. And then she said, ‘You have to see this movie Night Shift that he’s in.’ So I went to see Night Shift, and midway through I couldn’t wait to get out of that theater to give Mr. Mom to Michael Keaton. Fortunately, he liked it."

Keaton told Grantland that he turned down one of the main roles in Splash to play Jack Butler. “I just remember at the time thinking I wanted to get away from what I’d just done on Night Shift,” he said. “I thought if I do it again, I might get myself stuck. So then Mr. Mom came along. So I said no [to Splash] so I could set up this framework right away where I could do different things.”

4. THE FILM BROKE NEW GROUND.

Teri Garr, Michael Keaton, Taliesin Jaffe, Frederick Koehler, and Martin Mull in Mr. Mom (1983)
Shout! Factory

In 1983, more women stayed at home than worked, so it was a novelty for a man to be a stay-at-home dad. Today, an estimated 1.4 million men are stay-at-home dads, and 7 million men are their children's primary caregiver. “Mr. Mom became part of the vernacular,” Donner told Newsweek. “Mr. Mom represented a segment of men who were at home dealing with the kids who, up until then, really hadn’t been heard from. That’s what really told me about the power of film, because it spoke for a lot of men. It also helped women, because I think that women sometimes, if you’re a housewife, you’re not really appreciated for what you do. This sort of made women feel better about what they did because they knew that men were understanding it.”

5. TODAY, “MR. MOM” IS CONSIDERED A PEJORATIVE TERM.

More than 30 years after the film’s release, stay-at-home dads feel the term “Mr. Mom” should die. The National At-Home Dad Network launched a campaign to terminate the phrase and instead have people refer to men as “Dad.” In 2014 Lake Superior State University voted to banish “Mr. Mom” from the lexicon.

“At least, the pop-culture image of the inept dad who wouldn’t know a diaper genie from a garbage disposal has begun to fade,” wrote The Wall Street Journal, after declaring “Mr. Mom is dead.”

6. TERI GARR DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS A MESSAGE MOVIE.

The movie redefined gender roles, but when the producers pitched the premise to Garr, they hid the plot reversal. “They just told me it was about a guy who does the work that a woman does, because it’s so easy,” she told The A.V. Club. “And I went, ‘Oh, yeah. Ha ha.’ It’s so easy. All the women I know who stay home and take care of their kids, they go, ‘Oh yeah, this is easy.’ Hmm.”

7. MARTIN MULL IMPROVISED THE “220, 221” LINE.

The quote everyone remembers from the movie comes from Jack, holding a chainsaw, standing next to Ron Richardson (Martin Mull) and discussing what kind of wiring Jack will use in renovating the house: “220, 221, whatever it takes,” Jack says.

“We’re doing the scene and it was okay,” Keaton told Esquire. “And I remember saying to the prop guy, ‘Go find me a chainsaw.’ When he comes back with it, he says, ‘You wanna wear these?’ And he holds up some goggles. I go, ‘Yeah.’ You know, they make me look crazy. And when Martin shows up, I know I should look under control, I’m not sweating it. I’m a dude. So we’re standing there, Martin pulls me aside and says, ‘You know what you ought to say? When I ask about the wiring, you oughta just deadpan: ‘220, 221.’ I died. It was perfect. I may have added ‘whatever it takes.’ But it was his.”

“That was a little ad-lib that we just threw in, but every carpenter or construction person I’ve ever worked with, they’re always quoting that line from Mr. Mom,” Mull told The A.V. Club.

8. MR. MOM OUTGROSSED HUGHES’S OTHER 1983 SUMMER MOVIE—VACATION.

Mr. Mom only opened on 126 screens on July 22, 1983, but managed to gross $947,197 during its opening weekend. Once the film went wide a month later to 1235 screens, it hit number one at the box office and spent five weeks at the top. By the end of its run, the film had grossed just shy of $65 million, making it the ninth highest-grossing film of 1983 (just between Staying Alive and Risky Business). National Lampoon’s Vacation, Hughes’s other film that summer, came out July 29 and ended its theatrical run with $61,399,552 (at its height, it showed on 1248 screens). Vacation finished the year in 11th place.

9. THE MOVIE LED TO HUGHES BEING CALLED “A PURVEYOR OF HORNY SEX COMEDIES.”

During a 1986 interview with Seventeen magazine, Molly Ringwald asked the writer-director why he never showed teen sex in Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club. “In Sixteen Candles, I figured it would only be gratuitous to show Samantha and Jake in anything more than a kiss,” he said. “The kiss is the most beautiful moment. I was really amused when someone once called me a ‘purveyor of horny sex comedies.’ He listed The Breakfast Club and Mr. Mom in parentheses. I thought, ‘What kind of sex?’ Yes, in Mr. Mom there’s a baby in a bathtub and you see its bare butt.”

10. MR. MOM WAS MADE INTO A TV MOVIE AFTER ALL.

In the beginning, producers wanted Mr. Mom to be a TV movie, not a feature film. But a year after the film came out in theaters, ABC produced a TV movie called Mr. Mom, with the same characters and premise. Barry Van Dyke played Jack and Rebecca York played Caroline. A People magazine review of the movie stated: “They and their three kids are immediately likable … But it goes downhill from there as the script lobotomizes all its characters. Here’s a textbook case in how TV takes a cute idea—and a script that does have some good lines—and leeches the wit out of it.”

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The Star Trek Theme Song Has Lyrics
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Star Trek theme song is familiar to pretty much anyone who lived in the free world (and probably elsewhere, too) in the late 20th century. The tune is played during the show's opening credits; a slightly longer version is played, accompanied by stills from various episodes, during the closing credits. The opening song is preceded by William Shatner (as Captain Kirk) doing his now-legendary monologue recitation, which begins: "Space, the final frontier ..."

The show's familiar melody was written by respected film and TV composer Alexander Courage, who said the Star Trek theme's main inspiration was the Richard Whiting song "Beyond the Blue Horizon." In Courage's contract it was stipulated that, as the composer, he would receive royalties every time the show was aired and the theme song played. If, somehow, Star Trek made it into syndication—which, of course, it ultimately did—Courage stood to make a lot of money. And so did the person who wrote the lyrics.

WAIT... THERE WERE LYRICS?

Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator, wrote lyrics to the theme song.

"Beyond the rim of the star-light,
my love is wand'ring in star-flight!"

Why would Roddenberry even bother?

The lyrics were never even meant to be heard on the show, but not because the network (NBC) nixed them. Roddenberry nixed them himself. Roddenberry wanted a piece of the composing profits, so he wrote the hokey lyrics solely to receive a "co-writer" credit.

"I know he'll find in star-clustered reaches
Love, strange love a star woman teaches."

As one of the composers, Roddenberry received 50 percent of the royalties ... cutting Alexander Courage's share in half. Not surprisingly, Courage was furious about the deal. Though it was legal, he admitted, it was unethical because Roddenberry had contributed nothing to why the music was successful.

Roddenberry was unapologetic. According to Snopes, he once declared, "I have to get some money somewhere. I'm sure not gonna get it out of the profits of Star Trek."

In 1969, after Star Trek officially got the ax, no one (Courage and Roddenberry included) could possibly have imagined the show's great popularity and staying power.

Courage, who only worked on two shows in Star Trek's opening season because he was busy working on the 1967 Dr. Doolittle movie, vowed he would never return to Star Trek.

He never did.

THE WORDS

If you're looking for an offbeat karaoke number, here are Roddenberry's lyrics, as provided by Snopes:

Beyond
The rim of the star-light
My love
Is wand'ring in star-flight
I know
He'll find in star-clustered reaches
Love,
Strange love a star woman teaches.
I know
His journey ends never
His star trek
Will go on forever.
But tell him
While he wanders his starry sea
Remember, remember me.

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