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15 Surprising Facts About Death Wish

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

When Brian Garfield wrote the 1972 novel Death Wish, about a New York City accountant-turned-vigilante named Paul Benjamin, he had no idea that it would spawn one of Hollywood's longest-running film series, with five movies released over 20 years. The first film, 1974's Death Wish, was so controversial that Garfield openly wished it would not air on television after it allegedly inspired some real-life copycat killings.

While Charles Bronson will forever be linked to the lead role (who changed from Paul Benjamin to Paul Kersey for the film, and became an architect), Bruce Willis is getting ready to give the iconic character a go with Eli Roth's update of the film, which hits theaters this weekend. In the meantime, here are 15 things you might not know about Death Wish.

1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY A COUPLE OF REAL-LIFE CRIMES (THAT WERE MUCH LESS VIOLENT).

Author Brian Garfield was inspired to write Death Wish after he grew very angry when, in separate incidents, his wife's purse was stolen and his car was vandalized. “I knew the vandal had done us no real harm ... Yet my first response to the discovery of this mindless violence was swift and stark," Garfield later wrote. "My boundaries had been violated, my property trespassed upon. He had no right. 'I'll kill the son of a bitch.'" While Garfield's flash of anger eventually dissipated, the idea of writing a novel about a man who never got over crimes committed against his immediate family didn't fade away so easily.

2. ORIGINALLY SIDNEY LUMET WAS SET TO DIRECT, WITH JACK LEMMON STARRING.

The adapted screenplay by Wendell Mayes (Anatomy of a Murder, The Poseidon Adventure) was written with the idea that Sidney Lumet would be behind the camera and Jack Lemmon would be starring as Paul. Lumet supposedly wanted to shoot it in black and white. When Dino De Laurentiis came on as producer, Lumet dropped out. With Lumet out, Lemmon lost interest.

3. HENRY FONDA AND GEORGE C. SCOTT BOTH TURNED DOWN THE LEAD ROLE.

Henry Fonda declined the part because he said the script was "repulsive." George C. Scott said no because of all its violence.

4. CHARLES BRONSON AND HIS AGENT DISAGREED ON THE FILM'S MESSAGE.

While Charles Bronson was immediately interested in the role, his agent wasn't so sure. "It's the only time Paul Kohner, my agent, ever disagreed with me about a film," Bronson said in 1974. "Paul felt very strongly that it was a dangerous picture—that it might make people think it's right to take the law into their own hands. This is what the hero of the picture does when he wants a one-man vigilante squad to kill muggers, after three of them have murdered his wife and raped his daughter. I told Paul I thought the message was the same there that runs through a lot of my pictures: That violence is senseless because it only begets more violence."

5. BRIAN GARFIELD THOUGHT BRONSON WAS ALL WRONG FOR THE PART.

Garfield didn't like the fact that as soon as Bronson appeared on screen, "you knew he was going to start blowing people away." Director Michael Winner dismissed the author's criticisms, calling him "an idiot."

6. BRONSON THOUGHT DUSTIN HOFFMAN SHOULD HAVE PLAYED HIS PART.

Even though he liked the message, Bronson wasn't originally convinced that he would be the best actor for the job. "The way the part was written, it was about a meek little New York-born accountant," Bronson said. "I thought it was a much better picture for Dustin Hoffman." Eventually, it was Winner who convinced Bronson to take the role anyway. "He said we could change the part to a more active and virile architect, and we'd all make a potful of money."

7. JEFF GOLDBLUM MADE HIS FILM DEBUT IN THE MOVIE.

When discussing his feature debut, Jeff Goldblum admitted, "I stick out like a sore thumb." Goldblum played one of the "Freaks" who killed Paul's wife and raped his daughter. Back in 1983, Goldblum told New York Magazine that a job was a job. "Did it bother me it was such a brutal part? No. It was the first movie I'd gone up for, and I got it." Winner remembered Goldblum as being "loose and brilliant" in his audition.

8. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS HAD A SMALL ROLE, BUT DOESN'T LOOK BACK ON THE FILM FONDLY.

Olympia Dukakis was uncredited, but paid, for playing one of the cops at the precinct. It wasn't a particularly positive experience for the future Oscar winner. "Yeah, they sent me over, and the director [Michael Winner] was, uh, not necessarily liked by the actors," Dukakis told The A.V. Club in 2015. "I mean, he made me turn around, and he wanted to see me, and … he treated me like a piece of meat during the audition. But it was, like, one day, so I could take the money and go home and say, 'F**k you and the horse you rode in on.'"

9. THERE WAS CONCERN ABOUT USING THE WORD "DEATH" IN THE TITLE.

Posters with the title Sidewalk Vigilante were printed because De Laurentiis worried about having the word "death" in the title. "The fact that it had the word death made me a little uneasy, a little perplexed," the producer admitted. "Then I realized it might bring in an additional audience—horror flick fans—so I left it the way it was." For his part, Winner thought Sidewalk Vigilante was a "ghastly" title.

10. HERBIE HANCOCK WROTE THE SCORE, AT THE SUGGESTION OF MICHAEL WINNER'S GIRLFRIEND.

"It was the first film score by Herbie Hancock, the brilliant jazz musician," Winner wrote in his memoir, Michael Winner: Winner Takes All: A Life of Sorts. "I chose him because Dino wanted a cheap band and at the time I was having an affair with one of the actresses in the movie who was very into jazz music. She said, 'Herbie Hancock is a new genius.' I listened to his record Head Hunters, thought it absolutely brilliant, and persuaded Dino to take him."

11. GARFIELD THOUGHT THE MOVIE AND HIS BOOK SENT DIFFERENT MESSAGES.

Charles Bronson stars in the original 'Death Wish' (1974)
Paramount Pictures

"The point of the novel Death Wish is that vigilantism is an attractive fantasy but it only makes things worse in reality," the author said in 2008. "By the end of the novel, the character (Paul) is gunning down unarmed teenagers because he doesn’t like their looks. The story is about an ordinary guy who descends into madness. Oddly enough Mayes’s script honored that thought, and the only significant change in it during shooting was the wordless ending, but that ending changed the story entirely." The ending had Bronson smirking at some Chicago hoodlums while cocking a finger gun.

12. THE MOVIE GOT SOME HARSH REVIEWS.

Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that “it's a despicable movie, one that raises complex questions in order to offer bigoted, frivolous, oversimplified answers" and found it to be "a bird-brained movie to cheer the hearts of the far-right wing." Variety's review opened by claiming Death Wish is "awkwardly hung" on the "vulgar exploitation hook" of "poisonous incitement to do-it-yourself law enforcement."

13. AUDIENCES LOVED IT SO MUCH THAT PARAMOUNT PICTURES CHARGED THEM MORE MONEY TO SEE IT.

Prices were raised from $3.50 to $4 per ticket. At that point, only The Godfather (1972) and The Great Gatsby (1974) had been as expensive. Death Wish ultimately made $22 million at the box office.

14. CHICAGO AND SAN FRANCISCO REFUSED TO AIR IT ON TV.

When it came time to air the movie on network television, Washington D.C. delayed the start time from 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Chicago and San Francisco opted not to air it. But every other major CBS affiliate around the country aired an edited version of the film during prime time on November 10, 1976, despite Garfield's protests. "I think it is a dangerous film," he said. "And the proof is that several people have already committed vigilante crimes inspired by the film, and said so." Garfield said this despite potentially losing $50,000 if Death Wish didn't run.

15. SYLVESTER STALLONE WANTED TO REMAKE IT.

Sylvester Stallone was set to direct and star in a Death Wish remake for MGM back in 2008. When that project, uh, died, it opened the door for Eli Roth and Bruce Willis to step in.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Hägar the Horrible
King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

For 45 years, the anachronistic adventures of a Scandinavian Viking named Hägar have populated the funny papers. Created by cartoonist Dik Browne, Hagar the Horrible is less about raiding and pillaging and more about Hägar’s domestic squabbles with wife Helga. If you’re a fan of this red-bearded savage with a surprisingly gentle demeanor, check out some facts about the strip’s history, Hägar’s status as a soda pitchman, and his stint as a college football mascot.

1. HÄGAR IS NAMED AFTER HIS CREATOR.

Richard Arthur “Dik” Browne got his start drawing courtroom sketches for New York newspapers; he debuted a military strip, Ginny Jeep, for servicemen after entering the Army in 1942. Following an advertising stint where he created the Chiquita Banana logo, he was asked to tackle art duties on the 1954 Beetle Bailey spinoff strip Hi and Lois. When he felt an urge to create his own strip in 1973, Browne thought back to how his children called him “Hägar the Horrible” when he would playfully chase them around the house. “Immediately, I thought Viking,” he told People in 1978. Hägar was soon the fastest-growing strip in history, appearing over 1000 papers.

2. HE COULD HAVE BEEN BULBAR THE BARBARIAN.

A Hägar the Horrible comic strip
King Features Syndicate

Working on Hi and Lois with cartoonist Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey) gave Browne an opportunity to solicit advice on Hägar from his more experienced colleague. As Walker recalled, he thought “Hägar” would be too hard for people to pronounce or spell and suggested Browne go with “Bulbar the Barbarian” instead. Browne brushed off the suggestion, preferring his own alliterative title.

3. A HEART ATTACK COULD HAVE CHANGED HÄGAR’S FATE.

When Browne came up with Hägar, he sent it along to a syndicate editor he knew from his work on Hi and Lois. According to Chris Browne, Dik’s son and the eventual artist for Hägar after his father passed away in 1989, the man originally promised to look at it after he got back from his vacation. He changed his mind at the last minute, reviewing and accepting the strip before leaving. Just days later, while on his ski vacation, the editor had a heart attack and died. If he hadn’t approved the strip prior to his passing, Browne said, Hägar may never have seen print.

4. THE STRIP HELPED BROWNE AVOID VANDALS.

A Hägar the Horrible comic strip
King Features Syndicate

Chris Browne recalled that Halloween in his Connecticut neighborhood was a time for kids to show their appreciation for his father’s work. While trick-or-treaters were busy covering nearby houses in toilet paper or spray paint, they spared the Browne residence. The only evidence of their vandalism was a spray-painted sign that read, “Mr. Browne, We Love Hägar.”

5. BROWNE’S DAUGHTER TALKED HIM OUT OF KIDNAPPING PLOTS.

Vikings were not known for being advocates for human rights. Hägar, despite his relatively genteel persona, still exhibited some barbaric traits, such as running off with “maidens” after a plundering session. Speaking with the Associated Press in 1983, Browne admitted he toned down the more lecherous side of Hägar after getting complaints from his daughter. “Running off with a maiden isn’t funny,” she told him. “It’s a crime.”

6. HÄGAR ENDORSED SODA.

A soda can featuring Hägar the Horrible
Amazon

Despite his preference for alcohol, Hägar apparently had a bit of a sweet tooth as well. In the 1970s, King Features licensed out a line of soda cans featuring some of their most popular comic strip characters, including Popeye, Blondie, and Hägar. The Viking also shilled for Mug Root Beer in the 1990s.

7. HE WAS A COLLEGE MASCOT.

In 1965, Cleveland State University students voted in the name “Vikings” for their collegiate basketball team. After using a mascot dubbed Viktorious Vike, the school adopted Hägar in the 1980s. Both Hägar and wife Helga appeared at several of the school’s sporting events before being replaced by an original character named Vike.

8. HE EVENTUALLY SOBERED UP.

A Hägar the Horrible comic strip
King Features Syndicate

When Dik Browne was working on Hägar, the Viking was prone to bouts of excessive drinking. When Chris Browne took over the strip, he made a deliberate decision to minimize Hägar’s imbibing. "When my father was doing the strip, he did an awful lot of gags about Hägar falling down drunk and coming home in a wheelbarrow, and as times go on that doesn't strike me as that funny anymore,” Brown told the Chicago Tribune in 1993. “Just about everybody I know has had somebody hurt by alcoholism or substance abuse.”

9. HE HAD HIS OWN HANNA-BARBERA CARTOON.

It took some time, but Hägar was finally honored with the animated special treatment in 1989. Cartoon powerhouse Hanna-Barbera created the 30-minute special, Hägar the Horrible: Hägar Knows Best, and cast the Viking as being out of his element after returning home for the first time in years. The voice of Optimus Prime, Peter Cullen, performed the title character. It was later released on DVD as part of a comic strip cartoon collection.

10. HE SAILED INTO THE WIZARD OF ID.

A Wizard of Id comic strip
King Features Syndicate

In 2014, Hägar made an appearance in the late Johnny Hart’s Wizard of Id comic strip, with the two characters looking confused at the idea they’ve run into one another at sea. Hägar also made a cameo in Blondie to celebrate that character’s 75th birthday in 2005.

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13 Great Jack Nicholson Quotes
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

Jack Nicholson turns 81 today. Let's celebrate with some of the actor's wit and wisdom.

1. ON ADVICE

"I hate advice unless I'm giving it. I hate giving advice, because people won't take it."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

2. ON REGRETS

"Not that I can think of. I’m sure there are some, but my mind doesn’t go there. When you look at life retrospectively you rarely regret anything that you did, but you might regret things that you didn’t do."

From an interview with The Talks

3. ON DEATH

"I'm Irish. I think about death all the time. Back in the days when I thought of myself as a serious academic writer, I used to think that the only real theme was a fear of death, and that all the other themes were just that same fear, translated into fear of closeness, fear of loneliness, fear of dissolving values. Then I heard old John Huston talking about death. Somebody was quizzing him about the subject, you know, and here he is with the open-heart surgery a few years ago, and the emphysema, but he's bounced back fit as a fiddle, and he's talking about theories of death, and the other fella says, 'Well, great, John, that's great ... but how am I supposed to feel about it when you pass on?' And John says, 'Just treat it as your own.' As for me, I like that line I wrote that, we used in The Border, where I said, 'I just want to do something good before I die.' Isn't that what we all want?"

From an interview with Roger Ebert

4. ON NERVES

''There's a period of time just before you start a movie when you start thinking, I don't know what in the world I'm going to do. It's free-floating anxiety. In my case, though, this is over by lunch the first day of shooting.''

From an interview with The New York Times

5. ON ACTING

"Almost anyone can give a good representative performance when you're unknown. It's just easier. The real pro game of acting is after you're known—to 'un-Jack' that character, in my case, and get the audience to reinvest in a new and specific, fictional person."

From an interview with The Age

6. ON MARRIAGE

"I never had a policy about marriage. I got married very young in life and I always think in all relationships, I've always thought that it's counterproductive to have a theory on that. It's hard enough to get to know yourself and as most of you have probably found, once you get to know two people in tandem it's even more difficult. If it's going to be successful, it's going to have to be very specific and real and immediate so the more ideas you have about it before you start, it seems to me the less likely you are to be successful."

From an interview with About.com

7. ON LYING

“You only lie to two people in your life: your girlfriend and the police. Everybody else you tell the truth to.”

From a 1994 interview with Vanity Fair

8. ON HIS SUNGLASSES

"They're prescription. That's why I wear them. A long time ago, the Middle American in me may have thought it was a bit affected maybe. But the light is very strong in southern California. And once you've experienced negative territory in public life, you begin to accept the notion of shields. I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can't look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can't emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armor."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

9. ON MISCONCEPTIONS

"I think people think I'm more physical than I am, I suppose. I'm not really confrontational. Of course, I have a temper, but that's sort of blown out of proportion."

From an interview with ESPN

10. ON DIRECTING

"I'm a different person when suddenly it's my responsibility. I'm not very inhibited in that way. I would show up [on the set of The Two Jakes] one day, and we'd scouted an orange grove and it had been cut down. You're out in the middle of nowhere and they forget to cast an actor. These are the sort of things I kind of like about directing. Of course, at the time you blow your stack a little bit. ... I'm a Roger Corman baby. Just keep rolling, baby. You've got to get something on there. Maybe it's right. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe you can fix it later. Maybe you can't. You can't imagine the things that come up when you're making a movie where you've got to adjust on the spot."

From an interview with MTV

11. ON ROGER CORMAN

"There's nobody in there, that he didn't, in the most important way support. He was my life blood to whatever I thought I was going to be as a person. And I hope he knows that this is not all hot air. I'm going to cry now."

From the documentary Corman's World

12. ON PLAYING THE JOKER

"This would be the character, whose core—while totally determinate of the part—was the least limiting of any I would ever encounter. This is a more literary way of approaching than I might have had as a kid reading the comics, but you have to get specific. ... He's not wired up the same way. This guy has survived nuclear waste immersion here. Even in my own life, people have said, 'There's nothing sacred to you in the area of humor, Jack. Sometimes, Jack, relax with the humor.' This does not apply to the Joker, in fact, just the opposite. Things even the wildest comics might be afraid to find funny: burning somebody's face into oblivion, destroying a masterpiece in a museum—a subject as an art person even made me a little scared. Not this character. And I love that."

From The Making of Batman

13. ON BASKETBALL

"I've always thought basketball was the best sport, although it wasn't the sport I was best at. It was just the most fun to watch. ... Even as a kid it appealed to me. The basketball players were out at night. They had great overcoats. There was this certain nighttime juvenile-delinquent thing about it that got your blood going."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

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