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11 Deep Facts About The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

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In 1953, horror fans watched with glee as a giant, city-stomping reptile arose from the depths of the ocean. And no, its name wasn’t “Godzilla.” This particular brute was called the Rhedosaurus, and it was introduced to the world in one of the most influential science fiction films ever made: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

The film was a monster at the box office, too, ushering in the “creature feature” craze that gripped the 1950s. Furthermore, the film heralded the arrival of special effects visionary Ray Harryhausen, whose mesmerizing handiwork changed an entire industry forever. Grab your scuba gear and let’s pay tribute to the colossal classic.

1. THE MOVIE WAS PARTLY BASED ON A RAY BRADBURY STORY.

It all started with a roar. One night, while he was living near Santa Monica Bay, legendary sci-fi author Ray Bradbury was awakened from his sleep by a blaring foghorn. Moved by the mournful bellow, he quickly got to work on a short story about a lovelorn sea monster. Called The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (later retitled The Foghorn), it was published in The Saturday Evening Post on June 23, 1951.

At roughly the same time, Mutual Films was developing a script for a new action-packed monster movie. The finished product would ultimately bear more than a slight resemblance to a certain Saturday Evening Post story. For instance, both of them feature a scene in which a prehistoric titan lays waste to a lighthouse. According to some sources, Mutual had already started working on its marine creature flick when studio co-founder Jack Dietz happened upon Bradbury’s yarn in the Post. Supposedly, he contacted the author without delay and bought the rights to this tale.

But Bradbury’s account of what happened behind the scenes is totally different. The other co-founder of Mutual was one Hal Chester. Late in life, Bradbury claimed that when a preliminary script for what became Beast had been drafted, Chester asked him to read it over. “I pointed out the similarities between it and my short story,” Bradbury said. “Chester’s face paled and his jaw dropped when I told him his monster was my monster. He seemed stunned at my recognition of the fact. He had the look of one caught with his hand in the till.”

In any event, Bradbury received a $2000 check and a shout-out in the movie’s opening credits.

2. JACK DIETZ THOUGHT ABOUT CASTING A LIVE REPTILE.

Coincidentally, the man who handled Beast’s creature effects had been close friends with Bradbury since their teen years. A stop-motion animator by trade, Ray Harryhausen spent most of his early career working on shorts and cartoons. His first taste of feature-length filmmaking came in 1949, when he joined forces with Willis O’Brien—the technical mastermind behind the original King Kong—to animate the simian hero of RKO Pictures’s Mighty Joe Young.

In 1952, Harryhausen caught a life-changing break. Upon learning of Mutual’s plans to release a new sea monster flick, he immediately offered his services to Jack Dietz. Previously, Dietz had thought about using either a man in a costume or a live alligator to portray the creature in Beast. An eager Harryhausen sold him on a different strategy. “I… enthused about the advantages of stop-motion model animation, telling him that anything and everything he wanted could be done in the process,” the effects artist wrote in his autobiography, Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life. Impressed, Dietz gave him the tremendous job of putting that titular beast from 20,000 fathoms onto the silver screen.

3. THE BEAST ITSELF WENT THROUGH SEVERAL DIFFERENT DESIGNS.

“I had to create a mythical dinosaur,” Harryhausen recalled. In his early concept art, he fitted the reptile with pointy ears, a sharp beak, and webbed, human-like hands. Another design sported what Harryhausen described as “sort of a round head.” Unhappy with this particular noggin, he replaced it with a new skull modeled after that of a Tyrannosaurus rex. The monster was then given a distinctive, four-legged stance to prevent it from looking like a “typical” carnivorous dinosaur.

By the way, there’s a long-standing fan theory about this fictitious animal. In the film, our villain is dubbed the “Rhedosaurus.” You may notice that the first two letters in its name spell out the animator’s initials. Was this a deliberate homage? Harryhausen thought not. “I don’t know where his name came from,” he told Empire in 2012. “People say it’s based on my initials, but I don’t think it is.”

4. STOCK FOOTAGE FROM SHE (1935) WAS USED DURING THE AVALANCHE SCENE.

The movie opens with an H-Bomb test conducted above the Arctic circle. This experiment has the unfortunate side effect of releasing the Rhedosaurus from a glacier in which it’s been entombed for millions of years. After the blast, the newly awakened beast manages to trigger an avalanche while wandering around in the snow. A few clips from this sequence can be viewed in the trailer posted above. These shots were lifted directly from She, a classic, cold-weather fantasy produced by Merian C. Cooper, the creator of King Kong. An avid fan of the film, Harryhausen later included subtle She references in a pair of his own movies: First Men in the Moon (1964) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977).

5. THE CRUMBLING BUILDINGS WERE HARD TO ANIMATE.

Like its literary counterpart, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms features a lighthouse destruction scene, but Dietz’s movie later abandons its source material by having the monster terrorize New York City. Perhaps the highlight of that sequence comes when our Rhedosaurus plows straight through a tower in lower Manhattan. Both of these buildings were miniature models constructed by Harryhausen, and each one was composed of jigsaw-like pieces connected to wires. While animating their destruction, Harryhausen slowly moved every individual chunk of debris down its wire and towards the ground.

6. THE LEADING LADY WAS RELATED TO ONE OF BRADBURY’S ASSOCIATES.

Paula Raymond stars as Lee Hunter, a paleontologist who falls in love with our main hero, nuclear physicist Tom Nesbitt (played by Paul Christian). Interestingly, Raymond was the niece of Farnsworth Wright. A significant figure in the history of modern science fiction and fantasy, he’s best remembered for having spent 15 years editing the popular short story magazine Weird Tales. During his tenure, pieces written by such greats as H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith often graced the publication. Shortly before Wright’s retirement in 1940, Bradbury had approached him with some ideas for new yarns. Although the editor respectfully turned these pitches down, his successor, Dorothy McIlwraith, would help Bradbury become one of Weird Tales’s regular contributors.

7. RAY HARRYHAUSEN DEVISED THE FILM’S CLIMAX.

In the grand finale, the Rhedosaurus starts attacking a roller coaster on Coney Island. Armed with a special gun capable of firing dangerous radioactive isotopes, Professor Nesbitt ascends to the top of this ride. Accompanying him is a brave NYPD officer played by The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’s Lee van Cleef. Using their weapon, the duo slays the beast, which dies as the amusement park goes up in a blazing inferno. While the film was still in pre-production, it was Harryhausen who came up with this spectacular ending. He then helped flesh out the scene along with director Eugene Lourie and the screenwriters. “Eugene… said that I always made my monsters die like a tenor in an opera,” Harryhausen remarks in The Rhedosaurus and the Rollercoaster, a 2003 DVD documentary. “Hollywood is noted for glamourizing the actors and I tried to glamourize the dinosaur as well.”

8. THE ORIGINAL SCORE WAS DELETED.


Warner Home Video

Warner Bros. bought Beast from Mutual for the competitive sum of $400,000. Before releasing it, though, the big studio decided to overhaul the film’s musical accompaniment. The original soundtrack was penned by veteran composer Michael Michelet, who used what Harryhausen described as “light classical music” throughout the movie. Feeling that this wouldn’t do, Warner Bros. scrapped his material entirely. David Buttolph, who’d later write the catchy Lone Ranger theme, was hired to create 39 minutes of replacement music. Using a 50-piece orchestra, Buttolph conjured up a brassier and more bombastic score that garnered widespread critical praise, although Harryhausen himself preferred Michelet’s offering. In the animator’s view, Buttolph’s work, while passable, “slowed the picture down.”

9. NO PART OF ANY OCEAN IS 20,000 FATHOMS DEEP IN REAL LIFE.

The deepest locale on the surface of planet Earth is known as the Challenger Deep. Located inside the Pacific Mariana Trench, this spot sits an incredible 6033 fathoms (or 36,201 feet) beneath the waves. Incidentally, Harryhausen’s breakout movie was originally going to be called The Monster From Beneath the Sea, but when Warner Bros. purchased the film, it was renamed The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms after Bradbury’s original story.

10. THE DIRECTOR’S KID ABSOLUTELY HATED THE ENDING.

Released on June 13, 1953, Beast grossed more than $5 million, enough to make it one of the year’s biggest hits. However, the surprise smash was not without its critics. One day, Lourie took his 6-year-old daughter to a matinee screening. To his shock, she broke down in tears after they left the theater. “You are bad, Daddy!” she sobbed. “You killed the big nice Beast!” Little did the girl know that her feelings would have a big impact on one of Lourie’s future projects. In the wake left by The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, the filmmaker was pigeonholed into directing more monster movies. Beast, he once lamented, became “an albatross around my neck.” Lourie’s next picture, 1959’s The Giant Behemoth, more or less recycled the same plot.

Subsequently, producers Frank and Maurice King asked if he could create another sea monster film. Along with Daniel Hyatt, Lourie wrote a script that became 1961’s Gorgo. Set in the British Isles, it tells the story of a big-eared leviathan who’s captured near Ireland and taken to a London circus. Unlike Beast or Behemoth, however, this movie came with a happy ending in which the creature is rescued by its 200-foot mother and escorted back into the sea. Lourie’s daughter must’ve been delighted

11. IT INSPIRED THE GODZILLA SERIES.

Japan’s saurian superstar made his cinematic debut one year after The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms hit the silver screen. On November 3, 1954, Toho Studios unleashed Gojira, a dark, gritty picture that serves as an allegory about the horrors of nuclear warfare. Later called Godzilla in the U.S., the movie did surprisingly well and ended up giving birth to some 29 sequels (so far). The original Godzilla film was produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka, who was heavily influenced by a certain Ray Harryhausen movie. In fact, for a time, the picture’s working title was Big Monster From 20,000 Miles Beneath The Sea. Moreover, one scene that was conceived but never filmed would’ve called for Godzilla attacking … wait for it … a lighthouse

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10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
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Winning an Oscar is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you’re Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are, Colin Firth.

1. ANGELINA JOLIE

After Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world wrinkle their noses, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage with the rest of Marcheline’s belongings when she died in 2007, but it hasn’t yet surfaced. “I didn’t actually lose it,” Jolie said, “but nobody knows where it is at the moment.”

2. WHOOPI GOLDBERG

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said.

3. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS

When Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. “For $78,” they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. MARLON BRANDO

“I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.” He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. “The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don’t know where it is now.”

5. JEFF BRIDGES

Jeff Bridges had just won his Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the next year’s ceremony, where he was up for another one. He lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. “It’s been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now,” the actor admitted. “I’m hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven’t won a spare! But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better.” Which brings us to ...

6. COLIN FIRTH

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed the British actor as he said those words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. MATT DAMON

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn’t sure where his award went. “I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it,” Damon said in 2007.

8. MARGARET O'BRIEN

In 1945, seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O’Briens' maid took the award home to polish, as she had done before, but never came back to work. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O’Brien’s mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O’Brien. “I’ll never give it to anyone to polish again,” she said.

9. BING CROSBY

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school’s library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a three-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. “I wanted to make people laugh,” the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. HATTIE MCDANIEL

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2013.

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"Weird Al" Yankovic Is Getting the Funko Treatment
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Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Though the New York Toy Fair—the largest trade show for playthings in the western hemisphere—won't officially kick off until Saturday, February 17, kids and kids-at-heart are already finding much to get excited about as the world's biggest toy companies ready to unleash their newest wares on the world. One item that has gotten us—and fans of fine parody songs everywhere—excited is "Weird Al" Yankovic's induction into the Funko Pop! family. The accordion-loving songwriter behind hits like "Eat It," "White & Nerdy," "Amish Paradise," and "Smells Like Nirvana" shared the news via Twitter, and included what we can only hope is a final rendering of his miniaturized, blockheaded vinyl likeness:

In late December, Funko announced that a Weird Al toy would be coming in 2018 as part of the beloved brand's Pop Rocks series. Though we know he'll be joined by Alice Cooper, Kurt Cobain, Elton John, and the members of Mötley Crüe, there's no word yet on exactly when you’ll be able to get your hands on Pop! Al. But knowing that he's coming is enough … for now.

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