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13 Fun Facts About The Muppet Movie

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When The Muppets made their feature film debut in The Muppet Movie in 1979, the result was pure magic. The dreamy songs, innovative special effects, and bubbly characters all catapulted the flick to box office gold and widespread critical acclaim. (It also kicked off a beloved movie franchise that’s still chugging along today.) Here are some facts about how Jim Henson and director Jim Frawley made it all happen, and the famous faces you missed behind those puppets.

1. THE SET WAS SURPRISINGLY UNHAPPY.

The set of The Muppet Movie wasn't quite as sunny and cheerful as its lead characters, at least according to some who were there. Actor Austin Pendleton, who played Max, told The A.V. Club, “That was a very unhappy set, because Jim [Frawley] was very unhappy directing that movie. And I noticed that was the only time the Muppet people used an outside person to direct a Muppet movie. They never did that again. After that, it was either Jim Henson or Frank Oz. And I would have liked to have been in one of those, because those sets were very harmonious. But this was not.”

2. “THE RAINBOW CONNECTION” REQUIRED A DIVING BELL.

For the movie’s adored opening song, Henson had to find a way to operate Kermit while completely hiding himself in a swamp set. His solution was to fold himself into a custom-made diving bell placed in a water tank. And you should take the folding part quite literally. Because the tank was only four feet deep, the diving bell was correspondingly short; Henson, who was 6’3”, had to contort himself into the bell with his monitor. Then, he would stick his arm through a rubber tube to control Kermit. The whole scenario was so strange that it scared Henson’s 13-year-old son John when he visited the set.

3. FOUR PUPPETEERS AND A LITTLE PERSON DROVE THE STUDEBAKER.

The sequences where Fozzie, Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the gang cruise around in that old Studebaker seem effortless, but they were a logistical nightmare. Kermit and Piggy each required a puppeteer, Fozzie required two, they all needed monitors, and none of them could appear in the shot. So four men squeezed underneath the dashboard of the car with their video monitors to accomplish this movie magic—but the engineering didn’t stop there. Frawley told SF Gate that they also “had a little person in the back of the car, steering and driving. We had a video camera on the nose of the car so he could see where he was going.”

4. THAT STUDEBAKER IS NOW IN THE STUDEBAKER NATIONAL MUSEUM.

The 1951 Bullet Nose Studebaker Commander now belongs to the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana. The museum opened in 2005, but South Bend has curated Studebakers for much longer than that. Since the cars were manufactured in the city, the Studebaker Corporation donated its entire collection and archives to South Bend in 1966 after its final car was assembled. That’s how the museum wound up with 120-plus cars in its collection, including the prized Commander.

5. ORSON WELLES’S CHARACTER IS NAMED FOR THE PRODUCER.

Orson Welles appears briefly in the movie as producer Lew Lord, and that moniker was no accident. It was a nod to British producer Lew Grade, who got The Muppet Show on the air when all the American networks passed and executive produced The Muppet Movie. Also, he was an actual lord.

6. THE CREW HAD TO BUILD A 60-FOOT ANIMAL.

When Animal accidentally eats Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s Insta-Grow pills, he memorably balloons through the roof. Henson refused to use a normal puppet on a miniature set to accomplish this effect, so his crew had to construct a gigantic Animal head that measured 60 feet.

7. THE SHOOTING STAR WAS REALLY A CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHT.

For the scene where Kermit has a desert revelation, Frawley wanted to include a shooting star in the night sky. So the crew attached a Christmas tree light to a wire on the sound stage and when they got the signal, shot it across the set.

8. DOC HOPPER WAS SUPPOSED TO EARN REDEMPTION.

Frank Oz and Jim Henson had a pretty harmonious working relationship, but they did disagree on one part of The Muppet Movie: the fate of villain/ Colonel Sanders caricature Doc Hopper (played by Charles Durning). Henson believed they should redeem Hopper in the end, proving that he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. But Oz didn’t share that idealistic view. As Brian Jay Jones recounted in Jim Henson: The Biography, Oz dismissed this as “bullsh*t.” And clearly, he won.

9. JIM HENSON AND FRANK OZ APPEARED AS TWO OF HOPPER’S MEN.

Henson and Oz voiced several Muppets in the movie, but they also played two of Doc Hopper’s nameless gunslingers in the western showdown scene. (They're simply billed as “Doc Hopper’s Men” in the credits.) See if you can spot them in the clip above.

10. THE FINALE FEATURED 250 PUPPETS.

Henson had a vision for the musical finale of The Muppet Movie, and that vision involved 250 puppets. He wasn’t content to fill the screen with placeholders, either; Henson wanted every single puppet actively participating in the number. To accomplish this feat, the production had to hire almost 150 extra performers through the Los Angeles Guild of Puppeteers of America. On the day of filming, everyone took their marks on the floor of an enormous pit and when Frawley shouted, “Muppets up!,” each person raised their Muppet(s) for the ambitious final number.

11. THOSE PUPPETEERS INCLUDED JOHN LANDIS AND TIM BURTON.

In an interview with The New York Times, director John Landis revealed that he was one of the many extras involved in the closing song. Frank Oz, who was busy handling Miss Piggy, asked him to fill in for Grover. But he wasn’t the only famous director in the pit. As Landis recalled, “Thirty years later, I was in a restaurant in Beverly Hills and got introduced to Tim Burton. Tim said: ‘We met before. I used to be in the animator/puppeteers union, and I’m in the pit on The Muppet Movie. And everyone was saying, That’s the guy that made Animal House!’”

12. THE MOVIE WAS DEDICATED TO HENSON’S HERO, EDGAR BERGEN.

As a kid, Henson was enamored with Edgar Bergen, the ventriloquist who appeared on The Chase and Sanborn Hour with his dummy Charlie McCarthy. Bergen made a huge impression on Henson, as well as many of the puppeteers who would dominate his Muppets crew. Bergen appeared on the second season of The Muppet Show and also had a cameo in The Muppet Movie with Charlie McCarthy, much to Henson’s delight. But he sadly passed away before the film’s release. Henson dedicated the film to his memory, and vowed to continue his legacy. (The Bergen family clearly saw Henson as Edgar’s heir; his widow Frances and daughter Candice gave Henson a framed photo of Bergen and Charlie with the engraving, “Dear Jim—Keep the Magic Alive.”)

13. “I’M GOING TO GO BACK THERE SOMEDAY” WAS SUNG AT HENSON’S MEMORIAL.

After Henson passed away on May 16, 1990, his friends and family prepared a medley of his favorite Muppet songs for his memorial at St. John’s Cathedral in New York City. Gonzo’s poignant Muppet Movie ballad, “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” was one of the selections, and Gonzo himself (or at least his voice actor, Dave Goelz) performed it.

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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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