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11 Far Out Facts About Howard the Duck

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The first Marvel character to ever star in a feature-length film wasn’t Thor or Spider-Man, but a jaded, cigar-loving space duck named Howard. Who would think to put such a weird character onto the silver screen? None other than sci-fi visionary George Lucas. Released in 1986, Howard the Duck was roasted by critics and, domestically, didn’t even make half of its budget back. Since then, though, B-movie fans have flocked to the picture, and turned it into a genuine cult classic.   

1. JOHN LANDIS COULD’VE DIRECTED IT.

Howard the Duck began life as a surrealist comic book. Conceived by Marvel writer Steve Gerber, Howard made his debut in a 1973 issue of the Adventure into Fear series—and he came with a wild back story: Born in another dimension, the anthropomorphic bird ended up getting stranded on Earth, where he didn't exactly blend in. Throughout the 1970s, this odd duck would appear in many other comics—which is how he caught the eye of George Lucas, who decided to produce a movie about him.

Originally, Lucas wanted his friend John Landis in the director’s chair. A great comedic filmmaker, Landis had helmed Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, and Trading Places, but Landis turned down this particular project. “My greatest regret in my career is that John [Landis] was unable to direct Howard the Duck,” Lucas later said. “I feel the movie would have been far more successful and saved me the years of hardship following its release.”

2. GEORGE LUCAS WANTED THE FILM TO BE ANIMATED.

After Landis said no, Willard Huyck—who co-wrote the script with his wife, Gloria Katz—was tapped as the film's director. Production began in the mid-1980s. At first, Lucas and his screenwriters envisioned Howard the Duck as an animated movie. However, Universal Studios had other ideas. “We really wanted to animate it,” Katz said on the DVD’s making-of documentary, “but Universal needed a picture for [the summer of 1986].” Animation is, of course, a lengthy process and a hand-drawn film couldn’t have been made that quickly. “So, George said, ‘Well, we can build a duck. We can do it with the technology that we have,’” Katz recalled. 

3. MARTIN SHORT AND ROBIN WILLIAMS AUDITIONED FOR THE VOICE OF HOWARD.

John Cusack also tried out. Ultimately though, it was Broadway star Chip Zien (an original Into the Woods cast member) who delivered Howard’s lines. 

4. LEA THOMPSON TOOK GUITAR LESSONS DURING PRODUCTION. 

Both the movie and the comics gave Howard a human girlfriend. In the former, his non-avian love interest was played by Back to the Future’s Lea Thompson. Since her character, Beverly, leads a rock band, the actress had to brush up on her musical skills. “I had to learn how to play guitar,” she told Decider. “We shot the movie for six months and I never had a day off. I was always rehearsing, or recording, or doing something. I was so exhausted by the end.”

5. TIM ROBBINS THOUGHT THEY GOT THE DUCK ALL WRONG.

It's worth noting that Howard the Duck marked one of the earliest film appearances by future Oscar-winner Tim Robbins. Earlier this year, when asked if he looked back on the project with any fondness, Robbins replied, "Well, I look back at it and I realize that one of the things I think about was, at the time, I got this big job that was paying a really decent salary and it was for George Lucas, who had just come off three Star Wars films. So it was a huge deal at the time. And then it wound up going over its shooting schedule and I wound up getting paid twice for that movie because of all the overtime. So I think more about that than about the quality of the movie. [Laughs.] I think more about that allowing me [the] opportunity to do a movie like Five Corners and to produce great plays with The Actor’s Gang, because of the money I was able to take in on that movie."

But Robbins also contended that the movie could have been better—if the duck had been better. "I think one of the things that we realized at the time was—at least I did from the very first day—was that the duck was kind of miscast," he said. "We got the wrong duck to be in the movie. And I don’t mean the people that were inside the suit, I mean kind of the design and concept of who the character was. In the comic book it was this cigar-chomping, rude, skirt-chasing duck, and it got kind of cute-ified in the movie and when I saw that on the set ... I was worried. I was worried at the start."

6. THE HOWARD SUIT WAS INCREDIBLY COMPLEX.

Unlike most high-tech creature suits that had been built in the past, all of Howard’s wires, motors, and batteries were fully contained within his “body.” A four-puppeteer team was in charge of regulating facial expressions via remote control. Apparently, their individual jobs were quite specific. “One person was only concerned about the eyes … somebody would be doing the mouth and so forth,” Huyck explained. “It was a nightmare of coordination.”

7. THE DARK OVERLORD MONSTER WAS CREATED BY JURASSIC PARK’S “DINOSAUR SUPERVISOR.”

An accomplished stop-motion artist, Phil Tippett designed, constructed, and animated the grotesque final form of Howard the Duck’s main villain. (To see his beast in action, check out the clip above from the film’s climax.) Tippett also provided stop-motion monsters for the original RoboCop and Return of the Jedi. Years later, he played a huge role in bringing Jurassic Park’s massive digital creatures to life. Watch the end credits and you’ll see that Tippett is listed as a “Dinosaur Supervisor”—much to the Internet’s amusement.

8. UNIVERSAL SET UP A HOWARD THE DUCK HOTLINE.

In 1986, you could’ve called 1-900-410-DUCK and heard Zien promote the movie in character as Howard. Several pre-recorded messages were made—most of which involved rather terse conversations between the web-footed lead and his human co-stars. Sadly, that hotline no longer works (we checked), but the recordings have found their way to YouTube.

9. THE FILM LANDED ONE ACTOR A ROLE IN SPACEBALLS.

Chip Zien was the voice of Howard, but who was in the duck suit? Most of the time, it was actor Ed Gale. Initially hired as a stunt double, Gale was later asked to take over the role in almost every scene. On set, he became well acquainted with first assistant director Dan Kolsrud. After Howard waddled into theaters, the two reunited at a social function. There, Kolsrud introduced Gale to another associate of his: Spaceballs director Mel Brooks. On a DVD bonus feature, Gale says that “Mel was looking at him and looking at me and [asked] ‘How’d you two meet?’” When Kolsrud answered Brooks, the funnyman “stood up and said ‘Anybody who was in Howard the Duck can be in my movie.’” Just like that, Gale was cast as one of the Dinks in Spaceballs.  

10. AFTER THE MOVIE TANKED, THERE WAS A SHAKE-UP AT UNIVERSAL.

Howard the Duck grossed $16.2 million in the U.S. against a $37 million budget. Wave after wave of bad reviews certainly didn’t help. Critics widely panned the movie, which went on to make Siskel & Ebert’s “Worst of 1986” list. Then came Howard the Duck’s four Razzie Award wins, including a tie with Prince’s Under the Cherry Moon for “Worst Picture.” Needless to say, Universal wasn’t happy. Following Howard the Duck’s release, Frank Price—who chaired the studio motion picture group—resigned. When Variety covered this story, they ran the immortal headline “‘Duck’ Cooks Price’s Goose.”

11. IF HOWARD THE DUCK HAD BEEN A HIT, PIXAR MIGHT NOT EXIST.

For George Lucas, the utter failure of Howard the Duck couldn’t have come at a worse time. In 1986, he was still reeling from an expensive divorce and had plunged deeply into debt by building Skywalker Ranch, a scenic retreat with a $50 million price tag. He’d hoped that profits from Howard the Duck would improve his financial situation. Instead, its horrible box office performance forced Lucas to sell off some assets. At the time, he owned an up-and-coming computer animation division. With the aid of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, several employees in that department created a spinout corporation—together, they paid Lucas $10 million in the process. Nowadays, we know the resultant company as Pixar Animation Studios.

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16 Geeky Coasters to Keep Your Coffee Table Safe
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Avoid unsightly ring stains on your coffee table with this delightful selection of coasters:

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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15 Educational Facts About Old School
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Old School starred Luke Wilson as Mitch Martin, an attorney who—after catching his girlfriend cheating, and through some real estate and bitter dean-related circumstances—becomes the leader of a not-quite-official college fraternity. Along with his fellow thirtysomething friends Bernard (Vince Vaughn) and newlywed Frank (Will Ferrell), they end up having to fight for their right to maintain their status as a party-loving frat on campus.

The film, which was released 15 years ago today, marked Vaughn’s return to major comedies and Ferrell’s first major starring role after seven years on Saturday Night Live. Here are some facts about the movie for everyone, but particularly for my boy, Blue.

1. THE IDEA ORIGINATED WITH AN AD GUY.

Writer-director Todd Phillips was talking to a friend of his from the advertising industry named Court Crandall one day. Crandall had seen and enjoyed Phillips's movie Frat House (1998) and told his director buddy, “You know what would be funny is a movie about older guys who start a fraternity of their own.” After being told by Phillips to write it, he presented Phillips with a “loose version” of the finished product.

2. SOME OF THE FRAT SHENANIGANS WERE REAL.

While Crandall received the story credit for Old School, Phillips and Scot Armstrong received the credit for writing the script. Armstrong put his own college fraternity experiences into the script. “We were in Peoria, Illinois, so it was up to us to entertain ourselves," Armstrong shared in the movie's official production notes. "A lot of ideas for Old School came from things that really happened. When it was cold, everyone would go stir crazy and it inspired some moments of brilliance. Of course, my definition of ‘brilliance' might be different from other people's.”

3. IVAN REITMAN HELPED OUT.

Ivan Reitman, director of Stripes and Ghostbusters, was an executive producer on the film. Phillips and Armstrong wrote and rewrote every day for two months at Reitman’s house, an experience Phillips described as comedy writing “boot camp.”

4. THE STUDIO DIDN’T WANT VINCE VAUGHN.

Vince Vaughn in 'Old School' (2003)
DreamWorks

It didn’t seem to make a difference to DreamWorks that Phillips and Armstrong had written the role of Bernard with Vince Vaughn in mind—the studio didn't want him. After his breakout success in Swingers, Vaughn had taken roles in dramas like the 1998 remake of Psycho. “So when Todd Phillips wanted me for Old School, the studio didn’t want me,” Vaughn told Variety in 2015. “They didn’t think I could do comedy! They said, ‘He’s a dramatic actor from smaller films.’ Todd really had to push for me.”

5. RECYCLED SHOTS OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY WERE USED.

The film was mainly shot on the Westwood campus of UCLA. The aerial shots of the fictitious Harrison University, however, were of Harvard; they had been shot for Road Trip (2000).

6. VINCE VAUGHN FANS MIGHT RECOGNIZE THE CHURCH.

In the film, Frank gets married at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena, California. Vaughn and Owen Wilson were in that same church two years later for Wedding Crashers (2005).

7. WILL FERRELL SCARED MEMBERS OF A 24-HOUR GYM.

Frank’s streaking scene was shot on a city street. As Ferrell remembered it, one of the storefronts was a 24-hour gym with Stairmasters and treadmills in the window. “I was rehearsing in a robe, and all these people are in the gym, watching me. I asked one of the production assistants, ‘Shouldn’t we tell them I’m going to be naked?’ Sure enough, I dropped my robe and there were shrieks of pure horror. After the first take, nobody was at the window anymore. I took that as a sign of approval.”

8. FERRELL REALLY WAS NAKED.

Ferrell justified it by saying it showed his character falling off the wagon. “The fact that it made sense was the reason I was really into doing it, and why I was able to commit on that level," Ferrell told the BBC. "If it was just for the sake of doing a crazy shot, then I don't think it makes sense.” Still, Ferrell needed some liquid courage, and was intimidated by the presence of Snoop Dogg.

9. ROB CORDDRY WAS NOT NAKED, BUT HE STILL HAD TO SIGN AWAY HIS NUDITY RIGHTS.

Old School marked the first major film role for Rob Corddry, who at the time was best known as a correspondent for The Daily Show. He had a jewel bag around his private parts for his nude scene, but his butt made it into the final cut. He had to sign a nudity clause, which gave the film the right to use his naked image “in any part of the universe, in any form, even that which is not devised.”

10. SNOOP DOGG AGREED TO CAMEO SO HE COULD PLAY HUGGY BEAR IN STARSKY & HUTCH.

Phillips admitted to essentially bribing the hip-hop artist/actor, using Snoop Dogg’s desire to play the street informant in the modern movie adaptation of the classic TV show (which Phillips was also directing) to his advantage. “So when I went to him I said, 'I want you to do Huggy Bear,' he was really excited. And I said, 'Oh yeah, also will you do this little thing for me in Old School a little cameo?' So he kind of had to do it I think."

11. SNOOP WANTED TO HANG OUT WITH VINCE VAUGHN ON SET, BUT NOT LUKE WILSON.

Snoop Dogg in 'Old School' (2003)
Richard Foreman, Dreamworks

Vaughn and his friends accepted an invitation to hang out in Snoop Dogg’s trailer to play video games on the last day of shooting. Vaughn recalled seeing Luke Wilson later watching the news alone in his trailer; he had not been informed of the get-together.

12. WILSON WAS TEASED BY HIS CO-STARS.

Vaughn, Wilson, and Ferrell dubbed themselves “The Wolfpack”—years before Phillips directed The Hangover—because they would always make fun of each other. A particularly stinging exchange had Ferrell refer to Legally Blonde (which Wilson had starred in) as Legally Bland. Wilson said it didn’t make him feel great. Wilson retorted by telling Ferrell that "the transition from TV to the movies isn't a very easy one, so you might just want to keep one foot back in TV just in case this whole movie thing falls through!"

13. TERRY O’QUINN SCARED HIS SONS INTO THINKING THEY WERE TRIPPING.

Terry O’Quinn (who went on to play John Locke on Lost the following year) agreed to play Goldberg, uncredited, in what was a two-day job for him. He neglected to inform his sons he was in the movie, and when they saw it, one of them called their father. “I got a call from my sons one night, and they said, ‘What were you doing in Old School? We didn’t even know you were in it!’ They said, ‘We’re sitting there, and the first time we see you, it’s, like, in a reflection in a window. And when we saw it, and we both thought we were, like, tripping or something!’”

14. THE EARMUFFS WERE IMPROVISED.

Before filming, Vaughn worked with Ferrell to figure out their characters' backstories and how they knew each other; he credited that with helping him figure out who Bernard was, which led to several ad-libbed moments. “The earmuff scene where he swears in front of the kids, and then I tell the kid to earmuff, that all is off the cuff. But that stuff is a lot easier to do when you know who you are and your circumstances, and who your characters are,” Vaughn explained.

15. FERRELL AND VAUGHN DIDN’T LOVE A SCRIPT FOR A SEQUEL.

Armstrong had written Old School Dos in 2006, which saw the frat going to Spring Break. Ferrell said that he and Vaughn read the script but felt like they would just be “kind of doing the same thing again.” Wilson, on the other hand, was excited over the new script.

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