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13 Focused Facts About Election

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Filmed at Nebraska's Papillion-La Vista High School, 1999's Election featured budding star Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, a compulsive overachiever running for class president at George Washington Carver High School. She wages a campaign against Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) and his sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell), but her real enemy is teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who tries to sabotage the election in favor of the doltish Paul.

Alexander Payne co-wrote and directed the R-rated high-school comedy, based on Tom Perrotta’s titular novel. Paramount/MTV Films released the film in the spring of 1999, but the film grossed just $14,902,041, despite overwhelmingly positive reviews. The filmmakers surmised that Paramount didn’t know how to market the movie, which catered more to adults than teens. But the film garnered Witherspoon her first Golden Globe nomination (she'd go on to win one in 2006, the same year she won the Oscar) plus a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination for writers Payne and Jim Taylor. Here are some facts about the satire, which President Obama has (twice) called his favorite political film.

1. THE 1992 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION INFLUENCED THE BOOK.

Tom Perrotta told The Huffington Post that the inspiration for the novel, which was published in 1998, came during from 1992 election, when Ross Perot, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush vied to become the most powerful person in the world. “I was unemployed and got caught up in that race,” Perrotta said. “When it was over, I just felt a little bit bereft. I thought I wanted to write a political novel, but I don’t know anything about politics that anybody else doesn’t know.”

2. ALEXANDER PAYNE DIDN’T WANT TO WRITE OR DIRECT A HIGH SCHOOL MOVIE—UNTIL HE READ ELECTION.

Though Election wasn't published until 1998, producers Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger gave Payne a copy of the manuscript in 1996. “I didn’t read it for a long time, because there were a lot of high school movies at the time,” Payne told The Huffington Post. “I couldn’t be less interested in making a high school movie. And then finally I read it and I liked it. It was set in a high school, but it wasn’t a high school story, per se. Also what attracted me was the formal exercise of doing a movie with multiple points of view and multiple voice-overs.”

3. REESE WITHERSPOON WAS TORN BETWEEN TRACY AND TAMMY.

At one point in the film, Tammy, Tracy, and Paul each deliver speeches to the school laying out their presidential platform. Tammy's contribution is, “Who cares about this stupid election?” “That speech alone made me want to play Tammy!” Witherspoon told the Los Angeles Times. “So I was terribly conflicted—I didn’t know if I wanted to play Tammy or Tracy!”

4. TOM HANKS AND TOM CRUISE WERE CONSIDERED FOR MR. MCALLISTER.

Payne told The Huffington Post that Paramount wanted him to cast one of the Toms for the teacher role: Hanks or Cruise. “The one actor we all could agree upon ultimately was Matthew Broderick,” Payne said. “I met with him and he was only too happy to do the part, and I’m so glad he did. I never thought Tom Cruise would have been right for the part. Tom Hanks is a wonderful actor, but I knew at the time there was no way in hell he would take the part. It just felt right that we eventually got to Matthew Broderick.”

5. CHRIS KLEIN HAD NEVER ACTED IN A MOVIE.

Chris Klein—who went on to star in American Pie—was a senior in high school in Omaha, Nebraska, when Payne discovered him. “Alexander Payne was scouting our high school as a location for Election,” Klein told The Huffington Post. “[Principal] Dr. Rick Kolowski made sure that he introduced this Hollywood director to the resident theater guy, and I had made quite a name for myself from all the high school plays and then in the community theater. So he made that introduction, and a couple weeks later Alexander Payne called me up at my folks’ house and brought me in to audition for the movie.”

Klein read the script but turned it down because of a certain scene that he thought would upset his grandmother. “‘I can’t have my grandma see me getting a blow job,’” Klein told Payne. “And Alexander Payne laughed and said, ‘Okay, kid, listen. We’ll take care of it. Just come and do the movie. Just trust me.’”

6. THE OMAHA PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT WAS HORRIFIED BY THE SCRIPT.

In the movie, Papillion La-Vista High School stands in for George Washington Carver, but Payne had a difficult time finding a school that would allow him to film. “I toured almost every high school in Omaha and selected one high school and was forbidden to shoot there because the superintendent of Omaha public schools asked to read the script and was horrified by it,” Payne told The Huffington Post. “So he forbade my using any high school in the Omaha public school system because he said we would never have a student and a teacher having an affair and some of the immoral behavior he didn’t want associated.” Payne went outside the school district to Papillion, Nebraska.

7. PAYNE SIGNED ON TO DIRECT ELECTION BECAUSE OF ONE SCENE.

When asked about what attracted him to the project, Payne admitted that there was a single shot that won him over. “It has this one shot, and that shot so cracked me up that I wanted to have a whole film just for it,” Payne said of the scene in which Mr. McAllister is supposed to meet Linda in a cheap motel. “He puts some champagne in the sink with ice from the ice machine and he puts out Russell Stover chocolates. And then there’s the shot where he gets into the bathtub and he washes his ass and his balls and his d*ck. He’s squatted over in the bathtub washing himself. The whole film was pretty much just for that shot.”

8. TOM PERROTTA THINKS PAYNE’S PORTRAYAL OF TRACY WAS BETTER THAN HIS.

In The Huffington Post’s oral history of the movie, the novelist explained that in the book versus the movie, “My Tracy is a little bit more of a sexual manipulator, and Reese’s Tracy is more of a go-getter who’s a little bit over her head when it comes to sexual matters. It ultimately was a good change for the movie.”

9. PARAMOUNT WAS SKEPTICAL ABOUT AN R-RATED HIGH SCHOOL MOVIE.

“It was not an easy movie to get made in a major studio system,” Van Toffler, a former MTV executive and executive producer of the film, said. “Let me just say that I remember being called and lectured at home on a weekend about what I was thinking trying to make what [Paramount Pictures] viewed as a hard R movie based in a high school, where pages were read to me like I’m a crazy man. Why would I think of making a R-rated movie in a high school? It wasn’t a typical Freddie Prinze-like high school movie, as you can tell. At that point, if you were going to make a high school movie, it should be PG-13, not R.”

Also in 1999, another R-rated high school movie came out: American Pie.

10. ELECTION INSPIRED GLEE.

“To me the inspiration and Brad [Falchuk's] inspiration and Ian [Brennan's] inspiration was always Election, which had a really strong student and teacher story, which was a satire about ambition,” Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy told Deadline.com. “Our version was a little bit more heartfelt about teachers and the arts. But that’s how it started off.” 

11. TRACY FLICK BECAME THE QUINTESSENTIAL MODEL FOR FEMALE POLITICIANS.

“A lot of the women I’ve met in politics say, ‘Everyone always compares me to Tracy Flick,’" Witherspoon told The Huffington Post. "And I think, well, isn’t that wonderful in some regards? And then in other regards, why is there only one female political archetype? It was 15 years ago and we have no other really notable women. I guess now we have Veep, which is exciting and which I love.”

When Witherspoon met Hillary Clinton, the presidential candidate told her, “Everybody talks to me about Tracy Flick in Election.”

Because of Witherspoon’s convincing portrayal of the ambitious Flick, the actress told The Washington Post that she “couldn’t get jobs for a year after that because people thought I was that crazy and angry and controlling and strange. But yeah, um, I’m not.”

12. BRODERICK ALMOST GOT IN TROUBLE WITH THE WHITE HOUSE.

In the film's final scene, Broderick slams a drink into Tracy’s limo, then runs away. “One time we did it and I ran into this park that was across the street from the White House,” Broderick told The Huffington Post. “And Alexander says, ‘Just keep running! I’ll film it, and maybe that would be a funny ending, just to have this guy running into a park scared. But just run as far as you can.’” Broderick kept running but found himself near the White House. “I start to notice homeless guys and dog walkers starting to take notice of me and come toward me because there’s lots of Secret Service in this park who did not like this man running full throttle toward the White House. I think they thought I was going to throw myself at the building.”

13. THERE WAS AN ALTERNATE ENDING.

The original ending filmed saw Tracy and Mr. McAllister reunite at his car dealership job. He says to her, “Seems like I’m the last person in the world you’d want to see before going off to college. Are you trying to humiliate me?” She drives him to her place, he apologizes, and he signs her yearbook. This was a much softer ending than the one where Mr. McAllister, in a fit of jealous rage, throws a drink at Tracy’s limo in Washington D.C. Test audiences didn’t connect with the drama-free ending.

“The movie mined [the novel] for more outrageous and subversive humor,” Payne told The Huffington Post. “I think the audience felt—and we the filmmakers, too—that the rather melancholy ending did not seem totally in keeping with the very funny, subversive movie which preceded it.” Payne and Taylor rewrote the ending and filmed it in December of 1998, a few months before the film was released.

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
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Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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iStock
The Annual Festivals That Draw the Most People in Every State
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iStock

Every state has that one big event each year that draws residents from across the region or even across the nation. Louisiana has Mardi Gras. Kentucky has the Kentucky Derby. South Dakota has Sturgis. Genfare, a company that provides fare collection technology for transit companies, recently tracked down the biggest event in each state, creating a rundown of the can't-miss events across the country.

As the graphic below explores, some states' biggest public events are national music and entertainment festivals, like Bonnaroo in Tennessee, SXSW in Texas, and Summerfest in Wisconsin—which holds the world record for largest music festival.

Others are standard public festival fare. Minnesota hosts 2 million people a year at the Minnesota State Fair (pictured above), the largest of its kind in the U.S. by attendance. Mardi Gras celebrations dominate the events calendar in Missouri, Alabama, and, of course, Louisiana. Oktoberfest and other beer festivals serve as the biggest gatherings in Ohio (home to the nation's largest Oktoberfest event), Oregon, Colorado, and Utah.

In some states, though, the largest annual gatherings are a bit more unique. Some 50,000 people each year head to Brattleboro, Vermont for the Strolling of the Heifers, a more docile spin on the Spanish Running of the Bulls. Montana's biggest event is Evel Knievel Days, an extreme sports festival in honor of the famous daredevil. And Washington's biggest event is Hoopfest, Spokane's annual three-on-three basketball tournament.

Mark your calendar. Next year could be the year you attend them all.

A graphic list with the 50 states pictured next to information about their biggest events
Genfare

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