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14 Fun Facts About Hairspray

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In 1988, Pope of Trash John Waters surprised fans by releasing his tamest cult movie to date. Hairspray told the story of Tracy Turnblad, a “pleasantly plump” teenager in 1962 Baltimore who dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins Show. But she soon aims for the nobler goal of integration after befriending a group of black students and their matriarch, Motormouth Maybelle.

Waters drew on his own memories of Baltimore in the 1960s to make the movie, which featured his perennial star Divine as well as famous musicians like Debbie Harry and Ruth Brown and future daytime talk show host Ricki Lake. (Plus a pop star you might’ve missed.) Here are a few facts on the film, the sequel to which is still sitting on some Hollywood exec’s desk as we speak.

1. IT WAS JOHN WATERS’ FIRST (AND ONLY) PG MOVIE.

John Waters has proudly been a thorn in the MPAA’s side for his entire career. Most of his movies have been slapped with R ratings at best, NC-17 or X at worst, and they’ve forced the board to issue some rather creative warnings. But Hairspray earned the director his first and last PG rating, much to his surprise and mock horror. “I made a family movie. It was PG—a shock,” he told The Baltimore Sun. “I remember when it got [that] rating, I wanted to commit suicide.”

2. STOCKARD CHANNING TURNED DOWN A ROLE.

In a 1994 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Waters recalled the actresses who had declined parts in his movies. At the top of his list? “Stockard Channing for Hairspray.” Waters also revealed that Lisa Marie Presley and Mamie Van Doren, who “said she deserved better than Divine,” turned down offers for non-specified movies.

3. IT WAS SHOT AT PERRY HALL HIGH SCHOOL IN BALTIMORE.

For Tracy’s high school, Waters used an actual Baltimore public school: Perry Hall High. Although it opened in 1963, a year after the events in Hairspray take place, Perry Hall was an historically savvy pick. Integration was still a new concept when the first graduating class received its diplomas, as former students recounted to The Baltimore Sun.

4. THE CORNY COLLINS SHOW WAS BASED ON THE BUDDY DEANE SHOW.

While growing up in Baltimore, Waters was obsessed with The Buddy Deane Show, an American Bandstand knock-off that featured local teenagers demonstrating all the latest dance crazes. Sound familiar? The Corny Collins Show is a very obvious ode to this WJZ-TV series, which ran from 1957 to 1964, except The Buddy Deane Show didn’t end in a multiracial dance party. The people running the show actually did want to integrate it, but experienced pushback from the market—or, more specifically, from the dancers’ parents. Deane himself explained in an AP interview that when the station ran the idea by each of the dancers, or “Committee Members,” the response was unanimous: they were fine with it, their “folks” weren’t. The show was thus canceled, but Deane stepped behind the camera again for a Hairspray cameo, as a reporter covering the protests at the governor’s mansion.

5. RUBY BRIDGES INSPIRED LITTLE INEZ.

In the movie, Tracy’s fight for integration is ignited by an afternoon she spends with record shop owner Motormouth Maybelle and Maybelle’s kids, Seaweed and Little Inez. According to The Village Voice, Inez was based on another determined young girl: Ruby Bridges. Bridges was the first black child to attend New Orleans’ all-white William Frantz Elementary School in 1960 and the subject of Norman Rockwell’s painting, The Problem We All Live With.

6. TILTED ACRES WAS BASED ON A REAL, RACIALLY-FRAUGHT AMUSEMENT PARK.

Toward the end of the movie, riots break out at Tilted Acres, the segregated amusement park owned by Tracy’s nemeses, the Von Tussles. Waters shot this sequence at Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, but he based Tilted Acres on Gwynn Oak Park. The Baltimore amusement park was the site of demonstrations in July of 1963. Members from CORE (Congress for Racial Equality), CIG (Civic Interest Group), NCC (National Council of Churches), and the NAACP first gathered to protest the park’s segregation policy on July 4. About 300 people were arrested, but the group showed up again on July 7, and this time, national outlets like TIME were there to cover it. Facing enormous public scrutiny, the owners of Gwynn Oak integrated the next month. The amusement park no longer exists, but you can still ride the carousel on the National Mall.

7. DEBBIE HARRY SLYLY DID A VERSE ON THE SONG “HAIRSPRAY.”

Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry has a starring role as Velma Von Tussle, but she had to be careful about her involvement with the film. As Waters explained to CMJ, “Debbie—because of her recording contract—we couldn’t really say it was her. I mean, we could say it was her, but we couldn’t put out an album or single.” This is why she only sneakily popped up in Rachel Sweet’s title track on the Hairspray album. Sweet opens the song by asking, “Hey girl, what you doing over there?” Harry responds, “Can’t you see? I’m spraying my hair.” Those are her only two lines in the song, but she does appear in the music video. Watch closely—you might miss Harry under that giant brunette beehive.

8. VITAMIN C PLAYED AMBER.

The part of Amber Von Tussle is billed to Colleen Fitzpatrick, but you probably know her by her stage name—Vitamin C. Fitzpatrick was just 16 years old when she filmed Hairspray. After graduating college, she decided to pursue a career in music, not acting. Her first gig was lead singer for the band Eve’s Plum, but after the group broke up, she dubbed herself Vitamin C and released her platinum-selling, self-titled debut album. It included this inescapable graduation party anthem, “Graduation (Friends Forever).”

9. THE VON TUSSLES QUOTE GEORGE WALLACE.

When Franklin and Velma Von Tussle are interviewed by a news crew outside Tilted Acres, they rail against integration, saying, “Segregation today! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” The chant is an almost verbatim quote from the 1963 inaugural address of Alabama governor George Wallace.

10. RIC OCASEK AND JOHN WATERS HAD CAMEOS.

Baltimore-bred musician Ric Ocasek (who you probably know from The Cars) nabbed a minor role as a bizarre Beatnik painter that Tracy, Penny, Link, and Seaweed visit. Not to be outdone, Waters gave himself a quick cameo as Dr. Fredrickson, the quack psychiatrist Penny’s parents hire to make her break up with Seaweed.

11. JOSH CHARLES MADE HIS FILM DEBUT AS A DANCER.

Ocasek and Waters weren’t the only Baltimore natives with cameo roles. Actor Josh Charles also appeared as one of the dancers on The Corny Collins Show. At the time, Charles was a student at the Baltimore School for the Arts and had never acted in a movie. But soon after his debut in Hairspray he nabbed roles in movies like Dead Poets Society and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.

12. IT WAS DIVINE’S FINAL FILM.

Mere weeks after Hairspray hit theaters, Divine was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room. The actor, whose real name was Harris Glenn Milstead, had suffered a heart attack. At the time of his death, Divine was earning excellent reviews for Hairspray and had just nabbed a role on Married… With Children. “I’ve never seen him happier,” his manager Bernard Jay told People. “His career was taking off. He was actually going to play a very good character role on a network television show. That’s what he wanted. To show them that he didn’t have to play women, that he was respected as an actor, that he was not regarded as a freak. But he didn’t make it.”

13. THE REMAKE INCLUDED SEVERAL ORIGINAL CAST MEMBERS.

Hairspray was turned into a smash-hit Broadway musical in 2002, which led to a 2007 movie remake. While stars like John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer received top billing, many of the original film’s cast members appeared in the reboot. Jerry Stiller, the original Wilbur Turnblad, plays Mr. Pinky of Mr. Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway. Ricki Lake cameos as a talent scout. And John Waters nabs the best part of them all, as the “flasher who lives next door” in the opening number, “Good Morning Baltimore.”

14. THERE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A SEQUEL.

After the remake of Hairspray earned nearly $120 million at the box office, Waters wrote a wild treatment for a sequel titled Hairspray 2: White Lipstick. The script moved the characters into the late 1960s and called for, among other things, Link (Zac Efron) to take acid. Director Adam Shankman was enthusiastically on board in early 2009, but apparently the deal fell through. In June 2010, Shankman confirmed that New Line Cinema had dropped the sequel.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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