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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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10 Biting Facts About Snapping Turtles
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Here in the Americas, lake monster legends are a dime a dozen. More than a few of them were probably inspired by these ancient-looking creatures. In honor of World Turtle Day, here are 10 things you might not have known about snapping turtles.

1. THE COMMON SNAPPING TURTLE IS NEW YORK'S OFFICIAL STATE REPTILE.

Elementary school students voted to appoint Chelydra serpentina in a 2006 statewide election. Weighing as much as 75 pounds in the wild (and 86 in captivity), this hefty omnivore’s natural range stretches from Saskatchewan to Florida.

2. ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES CAN BE LARGE. (VERY LARGE.)

An alligator snapping turtle
NorbertNagel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Utterly dwarfing their more abundant cousin, alligator snappers (genus: Macrochelys) are the western hemisphere’s biggest freshwater turtles. The largest one on record, a longtime occupant of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, weighed 249 pounds.  

A monstrous 403-pounder was reported in Kansas during the Great Depression, though this claim was never confirmed.  

3. COMMON SNAPPERS HAVE LONGER NECKS AND SPIKIER TAILS.

Alligator snappers also display proportionately bigger heads and noses plus a trio of tall ridges atop their shells. Geographically, alligator snapping turtles are somewhat restricted compared to their common relatives, and are limited mainly to the southeast and Great Plains.

4. BOTH VARIETIES AVOID CONTACT WITH PEOPLE.

If given the choice between fight and flight, snapping turtles almost always distance themselves from humans. The animals spend the bulk of their lives underwater, steering clear of nearby Homo sapiens. However, problems can arise on dry land, where the reptiles are especially vulnerable. Females haul themselves ashore during nesting season (late spring to early summer). In these delicate months, people tend to prod and handle them, making bites inevitable.

5. YOU REALLY DON'T WANT TO GET BITTEN BY ONE. 

Snapping turtle jaw strength—while nothing to sneeze at—is somewhat overrated. Common snapping turtles can clamp down with up to 656.81 newtons (N) of force, though typical bites register an average of 209 N. Their alligator-like cousins usually exert 158 N. You, on the other hand, can apply 1300 N between your second molars.

Still, power isn’t everything, and neither type of snapper could latch onto something with the crushing force of a crocodile’s mighty jaws. Yet their sharp beaks are well-designed for major-league shearing. An alligator snapping turtle’s beak is capable of slicing fingers clean off and (as the above video proves) obliterating pineapples.

Not impressed yet? Consider the following. It’s often said that an adult Macrochelys can bite a wooden broom handle in half. Intrigued by this claim, biologist Peter Pritchard decided to play MythBuster. In 1989, he prodded a 165-pound individual with a brand new broomstick. Chomp number one went deep, but didn’t quite break through the wood. The second bite, though, finished the job.

6. SCIENTISTS RECENTLY DISCOVERED THAT THERE ARE THREE SPECIES OF ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES.

A 2014 study trisected the Macrochelys genus. For over a century, naturalists thought that there was just a single species, Macrochelys temminckii. Closer analysis proved otherwise, as strong physical and genetic differences exist between various populations. The newly-christened M. suwanniensis and M. apalachicolae are named after their respective homes—namely, the Suwannee and Apalachicola rivers. Further west, good old M. temminckii swims through the Mobile and the Mississippi.

7. THANKS TO A 19TH CENTURY POLITICAL CARTOON, COMMON SNAPPING TURTLES ARE ALSO KNOWN AS "OGRABMES." 

Snapping turtle cartoon
Urban~commonswiki via Wiki Commons // CC BY PD-US

Drawn by Alexander Anderson, this piece skewers Thomas Jefferson’s signing of the unpopular Embargo Act. At the president’s command, we see a snapping turtle bite some poor merchant’s hind end. Agitated, the victim calls his attacker “ograbme”—“embargo” spelled backwards.

8. ALLIGATOR SNAPPERS ATTRACT FISH WITH AN ORAL LURE …

You can’t beat live bait. Anchored to the Macrochelys tongue is a pinkish, worm-like appendage that fish find irresistible. Preferring to let food come to them, alligator snappers open their mouths and lie in wait at the bottoms of rivers and lakes. Cue the lure. When this protrusion wriggles, hungry fish swim right into the gaping maw and themselves become meals.

9.  … AND THEY FREQUENTLY EAT OTHER TURTLES. 


Complex01, WikimediaCommons

Alligator snappers are anything but picky. Between fishy meals, aquatic plants also factor into their diet, as do frogs, snakes, snails, crayfish, and even relatively large mammals like raccoons and armadillos. Other shelled reptiles are fair game, too: In one Louisiana study, 79.82% of surveyed alligator snappers had turtle remains in their stomachs.

10. YOU SHOULD NEVER PICK A SNAPPER UP BY THE TAIL.

Ideally, you should leave the handling of these guys to trained professionals. But what if you see a big one crossing a busy road and feel like helping it out? Before doing anything else, take a few moments to identify the turtle. If it’s an alligator snapper, you’ll want to grasp the lip of the upper shell (or “carapace”) in two places: right behind the head and right above the tail.

Common snappers demand a bit more finesse (we wouldn’t want one to reach back and nip you with that long, serpentine neck). Slide both hands under the hind end of the shell, letting your turtle’s tail dangle between them. Afterwards, clamp down on the carapace with both thumbs.

Please note that lifting any turtle by the tail can permanently dislocate its vertebrae. Additionally, remember to move the reptile in the same direction that it’s already facing. Otherwise, your rescue will probably turn right back around and try to cross the road again later. 

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Tina Fey
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Tina Fey has transformed modern comedy more than just about anyone else. From the main stage of Second City to the writer’s room of SNL to extremely fetch comedy blockbusters, Elizabeth Stamatina Fey has built a national stage with a dry, eye-popping sarcasm and political satire where no one is safe. She has a slew of Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG, PGA, and WGA awards to prove it—plus a recent Tony nomination (her first). But, more importantly, she’s the closest thing we have to a national comic laureate.

Here are 10 facts about a fantastically blorft American icon.

1. SHE DID A BOOK REPORT ON COMEDY WHEN SHE WAS 11.

Fey got a very early start in comedy, watching a lot of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart, and Norman Lear shows as a kid. Her father and mother sneaked her in to see Young Frankenstein and would let her stay up late to watch The Honeymooners. So it’s no surprise that she chose comedy as the subject of a middle school project. The only book she could get her hands on was Joe Franklin’s Encyclopedia of Comedians, but at least she made a friend. "I remember me and one other girl in my 8th grade class got to do an independent study because we finished the regular material early, and she chose to do hers on communism, and I chose to do mine on comedy," Fey told The A.V. Club. "We kept bumping into each other at the card catalog."

2. THE SCAR ON HER FACE CAME FROM A BIZARRE ATTACK THAT OCCURRED WHEN SHE WAS A CHILD.

Fey’s facial scar had been recognizable but unexplained for years until a profile in Vanity Fair revealed that the mark on her left cheek came from being slashed by a strange man when she was five years old. “She just thought somebody marked her with a pen,” her husband Jeff Richmond said. Fey wrote in Bossypants that it happened in an alleyway behind her Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, home when she was in kindergarten.

3. HER FIRST TV APPEARANCE WAS IN A BANK COMMERCIAL.

Saturday Night Live hired Fey as a writer in 1997. In 1995 she had the slightly more glamorous job of pitching Mutual Savings Bank with a radical floral applique vest and a handful of puns on the word “Hi.” In a bit of life imitating art, just as Liz Lemon’s 1-900-OKFACE commercial was unearthed and mocked on 30 Rock, the internet discovered Fey’s stint awkwardly cheering on high interest rates a few years ago and had a lot to say about her '90s hair.

4. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO BE NAMED HEAD WRITER OF SNL.

Four years after that commercial and two after she joined Saturday Night Live’s writing staff, Fey earned a promotion to head writer. Up until that point, the head writers were named Michael, Herb, Bob, Jim, Steve. You get the picture. She acted as head writer for six seasons until moving on to write and executive produce 30 Rock. Since her departure, two more women (Paula Pell and Sara Schneider) have been head writers for the iconic show.

5. SHE’S THE YOUNGEST MARK TWAIN PRIZE WINNER.

Established in 1998, the Kennedy Center’s hilarious honor has mostly been awarded to funny people in the twilight of their careers. Richard Pryor was the first recipient, and comedians who made their marks decades prior like Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, and George Carlin followed. Fey earned the award in 2010 when she was 40 years old, and the age of her successors (Carol Burnett, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, David Letterman ...) signals that she may hold the title of youngest recipient for some time.

6. SHE WROTE SATIRE FOR HER HIGH SCHOOL NEWSPAPER.

Fey was an outstanding student who was involved in choir, drama, and tennis, and co-edited the school’s newspaper, The Acorn. She also wrote a satirical column addressing “school policy and teachers” under the pun-tastic pseudonym “The Colonel.” Fey also recalled getting in trouble because she tried to make a pun on the phrase “annals of history.” Cheeky.

7. SHE MADE HER RAP DEBUT WITH CHILDISH GAMBINO ON "REAL ESTATE."

Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) first gained notice as a member of Derrick Comedy in college, and Fey hired him at the age of 23 to write for 30 Rock. Before jumping from that show to Community, Glover put out his first mixtape under his stage name. After releasing his debut album, Camp, in 2011, Gambino dropped a sixth mixtape called Royalty that featured Fey rapping on a song called “Real Estate.” “My president is black, and my Prius is blue!"

8. SHE VOICED PRINCESSES IN A BELOVED PINBALL GAME.

Between the bank commercial and Saturday Night Live, Fey has an intriguing credit on her resume: the arcade pinball machine “Medieval Madness.” Most of the game’s Arthurian dialogue was written by Second City members Scott Adsit (Pete Hornberger on 30 Rock) and Kevin Dorff, who pulled in fellow Second City castmate Fey to voice for an “Opera Singer” princess, Cockney-speaking princesses, and a character with a southern drawl. (You can hear some of the outtakes here.)

9. SHE USED MEAN GIRLS TO PUSH BACK AGAINST STEREOTYPES OF WOMEN IN MATH.

Tina Fey and Lindsay Lohan in 'Mean Girls' (2004)
Paramount Home Entertainment

There’s a ton of interesting trivia about Mean Girls, Fey’s first foray into feature film screenwriting. She bid on the rights to Rosalind Wiseman’s book that inspired the movie without realizing it didn’t have a plot. She initially wrote a large part for herself but kept whittling it down to focus on the teenagers, and her first draft was “for sure R-rated.” Fey also chose to play a math teacher to fight prejudice. “It was an attempt on my part to counteract the stereotype that girls can’t do math. Even though I did not understand a word I was saying.” Fey used a friend’s calculus teacher boyfriend’s lesson plans in the script.

10. SHE SET UP A SCHOLARSHIP IN HER FATHER’S NAME TO HELP VETERANS.

Fey’s father Donald was a Korean War veteran who also studied journalism at Temple University. When he died in 2015, Fey and her brother Peter founded a memorial scholarship in his name that seeks to aid veterans who want to study journalism at Temple.

"He was really inspiring," Fey said. "A lot of kids grow up with dreams of doing those things and their parents are fearful and want them to get a law degree and have things to fall back on, but he and our mom always encouraged us to pursue whatever truly interested us." Fey also supports Autism Speaks, Mercy Corps, Love Our Children USA, and other charities.

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