10 Fun Facts About Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

An abducted St. Nick spreads holiday cheer all over the Red Planet in this weird sci-fi comedy from 1964. Here’s an earthling’s guide to Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

1. IT HAS AN ODD CONNECTION TO CHARLES LINDBERGH.

Everything started out innocently enough. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was the brainchild of producer Paul L. Jacobson. Incidentally, this was the first—and only—movie that he ever produced. In the 1950s, Jacobson had worked as a unit manager on NBC’s iconic puppet show Howdy Doody. This experience gave him an insider’s look at the children’s entertainment industry. Confident that he could make a hit kiddie film, Jacobson started developing what he referred to as an original “Yuletide science fiction fantasy.”

Once he raised $200,000, production on the movie began in earnest. Shooting took place at Michael Myerberg Studios on Long Island—an abandoned aircraft hangar that had been repurposed as a film studio in 1964. Thirty-seven years earlier, Charles Lindbergh stored The Spirit of St. Louis here on the night before his epic, transatlantic flight.

2. IT WAS THE FILM DEBUT OF PIA ZADORA.

Long before making it big as a professional singer, Pia Zadora entered the world of film in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Here, her character is Girmar, a typical red planet girl who likes watching “Earth programs” with her brother on the family television set. This was just the beginning of Zadora’s cult movie career, as she’d also turn up in John Waters's Hairspray (1988) and Naked Gun 33⅓ (1994). In 1982, she starred in Butterfly, an R-rated incest drama. Though critics trashed the flick, Zadora’s performance did win her a Golden Globe—albeit, an extremely controversial one.

3. THE ALIEN STUN GUNS WERE NAME BRAND TOYS.

Halfway through the movie, a troop of unitard-wearing spacemen break into Santa’s workshop. Once there, the invaders freeze some innocent elves (and poor Mrs. Claus) in their tracks with special guns. Any kid growing up in the 1960s would have easily recognized these weapons as plastic “ray guns” that Marx Toy Co. mass produced throughout the decade.

4. A TONIGHT SHOW BAND LEADER WROTE THE CATCHY THEME SONG.

It’s tough to get the very catchy “Hooray for Santy Claus!” out of your head within four hours of watching this movie. A joyous, jazzy number, it was penned by the late composer Milton Delugg. In 1963, NBC hired him as the music director for their annual telecasts of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Delugg would retain this high-profile gig until he stepped down in 2013. On the same network, Delugg led The Tonight Show orchestra for a year and a half during Johnny Carson’s early tenure. The musician passed away in his Los Angeles home last year at the age of 96.

5. SANTA WAS PLUCKED FROM A HIT BROADWAY MUSICAL.

During the original 1963 to 1964 run of Oliver!, John Call played the eccentric Dr. Grimwig. Born in 1908, he enjoyed a long career on "The Great White Way," joining such productions as Bloomer Girl (1944-1947) and Pickwick (1965). Immediately after leaving Oliver!, Call took on the role that he’s best remembered for today—namely, Kris Kringle in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

By the way, he isn’t the only Broadway veteran in the cast of this sci-fi comedy. Earth kids Betty and Billy are portrayed by Donna Conforti and Victor Stiles, respectively. Both might’ve looked a little familiar to theatergoers at the time: Stiles had previously acted in Oliver! as a pickpocket, while Conforti was a bit player in 1963’s Here’s Love—a musical adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street (1947).

6. THAT GUY IN THE POLAR BEAR SUIT LATER APPEARED IN ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.

“We weren’t about to get a real bear!” director Nicholas Webster said in retrospect. En route to warning Santa about the Martians, Billy and Betty encounter a huge polar bear, who briefly corners them. You needn’t be a genius to deduce that the beast is really a man in a cheap costume. Watch this clip closely and you may also notice that the person inside is crawling around on his knees—hardly ursine behavior. Anyway, the Arctic predator was played by stage actor Gene Lindsey. Years later, Lindsey joined the cast of All the President’s Men as Alfred D. Baldwin, a participant in the Watergate Scandal.

7. IT WAS THE FIRST MOTION PICTURE TO EVER DEPICT MRS. CLAUS.

The Mrs. Claus character has been around for a while: James Rees’s 1849 story A Christmas Legend features the earliest known reference to St. Nick’s wife. Mrs. Claus would go on to become a household name after the poem Goody Santa on a Sleigh Ride came along in 1889. But despite this newfound publicity, her husband beat her to the silver screen by more than six decades. Old Kris Kringle has been starring in films and shorts since the late 1890s, whereas the missus wouldn’t make her cinematic debut until Doris Rich played her in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

8. IT SHARES A BIT OF FOOTAGE WITH DR. STRANGELOVE.

As the opening credits roll in Stanley Kubrick’s biting cold war comedy, we’re treated to some military stock footage of a plane refueling in midair. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians incorporates this exact same snippet at the 24:40 mark.

9. THERE’S A SPELLING ERROR IN THE OPENING CREDITS.

Ramsey Mostoller is listed as the picture’s “Custume Designer.” Naturally, this little typo did not go unnoticed when Santa Claus Conquers the Martians got the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment in 1991.

10. MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 WASN’T THE FIRST TV SHOW TO LAMPOON THE MOVIE.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians will always be associated with MST3K thanks to a 1991 Christmas special in which Joel Hodgson and his puppet pals used it as heckling fodder. But before Mystery Science Theater 3000, there was The Canned Film Festival. A one-season wonder, it takes place at a run-down cinema that tries to draw in new customers by screening some of the strangest films ever made. Our leading lady is Laraine, an usherette played by SNL alumnus Laraine Newman. Along with a handful of regular patrons, she watches and pokes fun at such masterpieces as Robot Monster (1953) and They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1968). The show ran on CBS for just 13 episodes in the summer of 1986 before it was ultimately replaced with M*A*S*H reruns. Still, at least it managed to feature/make fun of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians before going under.

7 Fast Facts About RollerCoaster Tycoon

Amazon
Amazon

For Windows gamers, 1999 was dominated by RollerCoaster Tycoon, a now-classic strategy and building game that tasked users with erecting an amusement park and gauging the popularity of rides while maintaining a profit margin and keeping patrons from barfing all over the landscape. For the game’s 20th anniversary, check out some facts about its origins, its association with pizza, and how it became a pinball machine.

1. The first RollerCoaster Tycoon sold 4 million copies.

RollerCoaster Tycoon was the brainchild of Scottish programmer Chris Sawyer, who had enjoyed success with his line of Transport Tycoon games in the 1990s that allowed players to build and operate their own railroad, truck, and ship lines. Sawyer decided to marry that concept with his love of roller coasters. An independent effort—Sawyer enlisted only two collaborators, artist Simon Foster and musician Allister Brimble—the first Tycoon game that was released in 1999 sold a staggering 4 million copies.

2. RollerCoaster Tycoon came free with frozen pizza.

In the early 2000s, packaged food companies offered products that came with promotional offers for CD-ROMs. In 2003, Pillsbury offered a free copy of RollerCoaster Tycoon to anyone who sent in proof of purchase barcodes from specially-marked boxes of Totino’s Pizza Rolls or Pillsbury Toaster Strudel.

3. There’s a RollerCoaster Tycoon pinball machine.

A pinball machine released to coincide with 2002’s RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 took the spiraling coasters of the game and put them under glass. Players could try and direct the pinball—a substitute for the park guest—around and through coasters like The Flying Ghost and The Rocket.

4. RollerCoaster Tycoon helped inspire Minecraft.

If you or a loved one has spent countless hours absorbed in the popular world-building game Minecraft, you have RollerCoaster Tycoon to thank. Minecraft creator Markus Persson was a fan of Tycoon for the way it allowed players to construct elaborate designs. He also enjoyed Dungeon Keeper, which had a fantasy element. Together, the two games encouraged him to develop Minecraft. The game debuted in 2009 and went on to become one of the biggest interactive success stories of all time.

5. RollerCoaster Tycoon inspired real roller coaster designers.

The laborious construction undertaken by players of RollerCoaster Tycoon weaned a number of players on the excitement of the amusement industry. Park designers hoping to break into the industry have used screen shots from the game as examples of their design prowess at trade shows.

6. You can get a spooky update of RollerCoaster Tycoon in time for Halloween.

Atari distributes an Android and iOS version of RollerCoaster Tycoon for mobile phone users. For 2019, the company is offering a Six Flags Fright Fest update to the game that adds a Halloween component. Players can add Skull Mountain, an actual Six Flags coaster, as well as a Demon Rock statue.

7. A RollerCoaster Tycoon fan spent 10 years building a park.

In 2017, a Reddit user declared he was finished building out his own custom park on RollerCoaster Tycoon 2. The 34 coasters and 255 attractions were all minutely detailed, offering a sprawling virtual park with themed areas covering everything from Egyptian attractions to a forest. In comparison, it took only four years to build the actual Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

10 Wild Scooby-Doo Fan Theories

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

For 50 years, the hard-working teens (and dog) of Mystery, Inc. have been investigating the paranormal. What began as a single Hanna-Barbera cartoon series—Scooby Doo, Where Are You!—in the 1960s quickly morphed into a franchise with multiple spin-off shows, comic books, and a few questionable movies. That adds up to a lot of spooky stories, which have inspired fans to come up with their own creepy (or just plain crazed) tales about Scooby and the gang. Here are some of their best theories, including one that somehow connects to Patrick Stewart.

1. Scooby is a Soviet space dog.

For all the cases that Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy solved, they never got to the bottom of the show’s most enduring mystery: How and why does Scooby Doo talk? Some fans think he can’t really speak—that it’s just something his buddy Shaggy imagines while he’s high. But one Redditor has a much more complicated and compelling theory based on the show’s 1960s setting. At that time, America and the USSR were locked in the so-called “Space Race,” competing to see who could claim the first achievements in spaceflight. The Russians famously shot Yuri Gagarin into the stratosphere in 1961, but he wasn’t the first Soviet in space. Canine cosmonauts like Laika beat him by several years, and if the USSR was willing to put a dog in a rocket, who’s to say they didn’t experiment on him first?

According to this fan theory, Scooby is a runaway from the Soviets’ classified space dog program, designed to breed pups capable of operating satellites and understanding radio commands. Scooby was the best of the bunch, the rare test subject who could understand and imitate human speech. Naturally, one of the scientists got attached and defected with Scooby to the USA. When that scientist died, Scooby found a new family with a group of friendly teenagers. But the CIA never stopped searching for this Soviet wunderpup, which is why Mystery, Inc. is constantly traveling by van—and why the original show is called Scooby Doo, Where Are You!

2. The show takes place during an economic depression.

A still from 'Scooby Doo, Where Are You!'
Warner Home Video

A classic Scooby-Doo mystery might take place at a theme park, museum, or mine—so long as it’s grimy and deserted. That’s a weird coincidence when you think about it: why are all these places so rundown? Well, that tends to happen when you’re weathering a financial collapse, and many clues indicate that’s just what’s happening in the world of Scooby-Doo. The towns he and his friends visit never seem to be doing well. No one has any money: Not the many scientists posing as monsters for cash, not the operators of every haunted attraction the gang investigates, and certainly not Shaggy and Scooby, who gorge on dog treats and lose their minds whenever they so much as smell a burger.

3. Mystery, Inc. is actually a cult.

Let’s break down the core members of the gang: You have Fred, the handsome and friendly frontman of the group. Then there’s Daphne, the fashionable and pretty one who mostly follows Fred around. Velma has the brains and Shaggy has full-blown conversations with a dog. When you really think about, doesn’t this all sound a bit like a cult? Fred would obviously be the cult leader, who recruits groupies like Daphne to obey his every command. Velma’s intelligence makes her a useful addition, and she could also be seeking acceptance from the “cool” kids. As for Shaggy, well, men who claim dogs can talk to them have a famously disturbing history—much like cult members.

4. They’re all draft dodgers.

Scooby Doo, Where Are You! premiered in 1969. Also happening that year? The Vietnam War. As able-bodied men (seemingly) over 18, Fred and Shaggy would both be eligible for the draft, which begs the obvious question: is Mystery, Inc. just a bunch of draft dodgers? The boys could be driving that van straight to Canada to avoid deployment, along with Fred’s fiancée Daphne and their antiwar activist friend Velma. Scooby’s stance on the war remains unclear, but he’s along for the ride.

5. Scooby Snacks alter your genes.

What if Scooby’s preferred treat is really a steroid capable of editing genetic code? It would explain why Scooby—and other members of his canine family, like Scrappy-Doo and Scooby-Dum—can talk, as well as their ability to perform “completely ridiculous stunts.” (Also, if Scrappy-Doo is on steroids, it would explain why he’s always trying to fight.) But what about its effect on humans? As far as we know, Shaggy is the only person who eats Scooby Snacks, and he seems to have a freakishly high metabolism, considering the mile-high sandwiches he eats and his super skinny frame.

6. Fred drives the Mystery Machine because the real owner is too high.

Whenever the gang piles into the Mystery Machine, there’s only one person behind the wheel: Fred. Mystery, Inc.’s de facto leader is constantly driving his friends from one haunted house to the next, which would imply that the Mystery Machine is his car. But why would a clean-shaven, preppy kid like Fred own a lime green van with flowers plastered over the doors? That car obviously belongs to a hippie, and in this group, that’s Shaggy. His hippie lifestyle, however, may be the reason Shaggy never drives. He’s either lost his license from driving under the influence, or Fred is worried he will, so someone else serves as his designated driver.

7. Shaggy is Captain America’s son.

This theory starts with small coincidences, like the fact that Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and Steve Rogers share a last name. Then it builds to something bigger when you factor in a detail from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While out on a morning run, Sam Wilson (a.k.a. Falcon) claims that Steve can run 13 miles in half an hour, a rate that breaks down to 26 mph. Shaggy, meanwhile, frequently keeps pace with Scooby, a Great Dane. Those dogs run up to 30 mph. Ergo, Shaggy is Steve’s son.

8. Monsters really do exist in the Scooby-Doo universe.

A still from 'Scooby Doo, Where Are You!'
Warner Home Video

Each time the gang catches a new “monster,” it always turns out to be a human in disguise, grumbling about how they “would’ve gotten away with it, if it weren’t for you meddling kids.” Monsters, the show tells us over and over again, are not real. But this Reddit theory poses an important question: If monsters don’t exist, why is there a business dedicated to catching the fake ones? The fact that Mystery, Inc. keeps getting calls implies that “supernatural fraud” is an entire category of crime, one that wouldn’t make sense or work if people didn’t believe in monsters. Everyone in the Scooby-Doo universe also seems to accept monsters as a normal and everyday occurrence, suggesting that monsters are real—the gang has just never caught one.

9. Shaggy and Scooby are actors.

When danger calls, Shaggy and Scooby tend to run the other way. But what if the group’s most cowardly members were actually actors pretending to be scared of ghosts, monsters, and other paranormal entities? According to this fan theory, Shaggy and Scooby are faking their over-the-top fear in order to draw the monsters out. By posing as easy targets, they know they’ll get spooked first, and thus make it easier for Mystery, Inc. to trap the ghost/witch/pirate. That’s why Fred always pairs Shaggy with Scooby when they split up to investigate, and it’s why after many years of investigating the supernatural, the two of them still don’t seem remotely used to it.

10. Green Room is just a gritty Scooby-Doo reboot.

The 2015 horror movie Green Room is about a band with a van that squares off against an evil old Nazi. The Scooby-Doo franchise is about a team (that was supposed to be a band) with a van that squares off against evil old men (who could also, theoretically, be Nazis). You do the math.

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