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15 Grounded Facts About The Aviator

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The Aviator—the second collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio—was the long-awaited (and, according to some, unfilmable) biopic of the enigmatic Howard Hughes. Set largely between the late 1920s, when Hughes was a film producer, and the late 1940s, when he was a rich aviation pioneer losing control due to his OCD, the 2004 film featured an all-star cast including DiCaprio as Hughes, plus Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, and Alan Alda. Here are some facts about The Aviator that may or may not be the way of the future.

1. WARREN BEATTY, STEVEN SPIELBERG, JIM CARREY, AND CHRISTOPHER NOLAN ALL TOYED WITH THE IDEA OF MAKING A MOVIE ABOUT HOWARD HUGHES.

Throughout the 1980s, Steven Spielberg expressed an interest in directing Warren Beatty in a "Citizen Kane-like" biopic of Hughes, calling Hughes a "very interesting subject" in 1990. After directing Insomnia (2002), Christopher Nolan was set to direct Jim Carrey as Hughes before Scorsese got started on The Aviator. Word spread that Nolan was planning to go ahead with his interpretation in 2012 anyway, but that he would use different source material than The Aviator. Nolan later changed his mind.

2. KEVIN SPACEY WAS ORIGINALLY ATTACHED TO DIRECT.

Producer Charles Evans Jr., nephew of the legendary studio executive Robert Evans, had been developing a film based on Charles Higham's book, Howard Hughes: The Secret Life, since 1993. In 1997, he spoke with Spacey about directing the film. Spacey was attached as director until Evans convinced DiCaprio to play Hughes in 1998; the star's reps insisted that DiCaprio would never be involved with a director he himself had not selected. So DiCaprio chose Michael Mann. When Mann made a deal with a different studio to do a Hughes project, Evans Jr. sued him, his agent, and New Line Cinema. Mann, too, would ultimately abandon the director's chair on the film, but did serve as one of its producers—as did Evans Jr., after the suit was settled.

3. NICOLE KIDMAN WAS MARTIN SCORSESE'S SECOND CHOICE FOR KATHARINE HEPBURN.

Cate Blanchett was Scorsese's first choice for the role, but she had a prior commitment; so Scorsese turned to Kidman. Rumors circulated that made it unclear as to whether Kidman was ever officially offered the role and/or turned it down, but Scorsese insisted that Blanchett was always his first choice. When production on The Aviator was delayed, Blanchett was able to play the role of the iconic actress after all.

4. CATE BLANCHETT DID HER HOMEWORK.

At Scorsese's request, Blanchett watched all of Hepburn's first 15 movies. Blanchett also screened epburn's 1973 interview with Dick Cavett, read a memoir about her, took golf and tennis lessons, and took cold baths just like Hepburn. On June 29, 2003—the same day that Blanchett arrived on set for the first time—Hepburn passed away. "I picked up the paper thinking, 'Isn't it odd that Katharine Hepburn's on the cover?'" Blanchett recalled. "She had such a remarkable life, and then with her death, she was even more present in everyone's mind."

5. GWYNETH PALTROW WAS ORIGINALLY SIGNED TO PLAY AVA GARDNER.

The part went to Kate Beckinsale instead, for unknown reasons. Beckinsale gained 20 pounds to play Gardner—mainly by eating chocolates.

6. MARTIN SCORSESE WANTED TO CAST GWEN STEFANI AFTER SEEING HER PICTURE ON THE SIDE OF A BUS SHELTER.

The Marilyn Monroe-inspired pictures, taken by Herb Ritts for a Teen Vogue cover, caught Scorsese's eye. Stefani told MTV the story, as she heard it from DiCaprio. “Martin Scorsese’s driving in New York City and he sees my Teen Vogue cover on the side of a bus stop shelter. And he’s like, ’Who’s that girl? Let’s get her!’ I had Leonardo DiCaprio tell me the whole story in Martin Scorsese’s voice, so it was pretty bizarre.” Stefani portrayed Jean Harlow; it was her first film role.

7. SCREENWRITER JOHN LOGAN WROTE 15 DRAFTS OF THE SCRIPT OVER FIVE YEARS.

Screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator, Skyfall) came up with an original script of 225 pages, to the then "joyous" Mann. DiCaprio read each draft and talked with Logan about history and read Senate transcripts of the Hughes trials. Logan, DiCaprio, and Scorsese went through the scripts page by page, with DiCaprio reading Hughes' part and Logan reading all of the others.

8. LEONARDO DICAPRIO LEARNED TO FLY.

According to the official production notes, the Titanic star learned how to fly Hughes' "daredevil" aerial maneuvers. He also read several books about Hughes, listened to tape recordings of him, watched his old movies, and talked about Hughes with Jane Russell (star of Hughes' The Outlaw) and Terry Moore (Hughes' alleged wife), in addition to working with Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz of UCLA, a leading physician on obsessive compulsive disorder.

9. THERE WAS NO PROFESSOR FITZ.

Logan had to make characters out of conflations of some real people in Hughes' orbit, and in one case had to create a whole new person in Professor Fitz, played by Ian Holm.

10. THE COLOR PALETTE CHANGED AS TIME PROGRESSED.

Scorsese decided he wanted the Technicolor two-strip red and blue-green look for the first act, which took place up to 1936, to approximate as much as possible the color film technology available during that time, and then the bright cyan-magenta-yellow three-strip Technicolor look in the scenes portraying the 1940s and '50s.

11. IT WAS FILMED IN MONTREAL AND LOS ANGELES.

The front and forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre was recreated in Montreal—and made one foot larger than the original—to recreate the 1930 premiere of Hell's Angels. The Cocoanut Grove was recreated on a Montreal soundstage as well.

12. MODEL AIRPLANES WERE USED.

The Huntington Beach, California based Aero Telemetry constructed 11 model airplanes. The "Spruce Goose" they made featured a 25-foot wingspan, weighed 375 pounds, and flew with electric motors.

13. JOHN C. REILLY DEFIED SCORSESE.

Despite the director asking everyone on the set of Gangs of New York (2002) to call him "Marty," Reilly—Happy Jack Mulraney in Gangs of New York and Noah Dietrich in The Aviator—kept calling him "Mr. Scorsese," believing it to be disrespectful to do otherwise. Reilly believed it drove the director "mad." By the end of filming for The Aviator, Reilly finally started referring to his director as "Marty."

14. THE FILM WENT $500,000 OVER BUDGET.

Scorsese personally paid the $500,000 out of his own pocket to cover the overage.

15. JANE LYNCH PLAYED AMELIA EARHART.

If you're wondering why you don't remember seeing Jane Lynch in the film, it is because her scenes were cut out entirely.

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
Disney/Marvel
Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain
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9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
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Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
iStock

Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
iStock

In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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