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15 Star-Studded Facts About The Emmy Awards

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Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Anything can happen at the Emmys: Impromptu make-outs. Presenter fraud. Near-death experiences for Bob Newhart. Before the 2017 broadcast begins on Sunday, September 17, read up on the weirdest and most fascinating facts from the award ceremony’s near-70-year history. Sure, host Stephen Colbert is likely to bring the comedy heat (with a side of politics), but can he match the insanity of the 1974 Super Emmys?

1. THE WORD “EMMY” COMES FROM A CAMERA TUBE.

When the Television Academy was brainstorming a name for its new awards back in late 1940s, founder Syd Cassyd first suggested “Ike,” a.k.a. the nickname for a television iconoscope tube. But the other members worried that term was too closely linked to World War II hero (and future POTUS) Dwight Eisenhower, and therefore might seem too political. So instead, Henry Lubcke (who would go on to become the Academy's third president) floated “Immy.” It would reference another piece of TV tech, the image-orthicon tube. The rest of the team decided to feminize it into “Emmy,” so that it matched the statuette they had selected. That statuette, which resembles the one you know today, included a winged woman holding an atom. And it was based on a real person. (Keep reading ...)

2. DOROTHY MCMANUS WAS THE MODEL FOR THE STATUETTE.

Cassyd and his friends considered 47 design proposals for their award statuette, and promptly rejected all of them. But the 48th time was the charm. Television engineer Louis McManus’s design of a woman with wings (representing the arts) holding an atom (representing science) was the last one the team reviewed, but it turned out to be the winning pitch. McManus had modeled the woman on his wife, Dorothy—leading at least one art curator to wonder why the awards weren’t called “Dorothies.”

3. ONLY SIX AWARDS WERE HANDED OUT AT THE FIRST CEREMONY, AND ONE WENT TO A VENTRILOQUIST.

The very first Emmy Awards ceremony was held on January 25, 1949 at the Hollywood Athletic Club. Unlike the current iteration, it was a fairly cheap affair (tickets cost just $5) and the run time was a lot shorter. Only six awards were handed out that evening. The first one, for Most Outstanding Television Personality, went to 20-year-old Shirley Dinsdale and her puppet, Judy Splinters, for The Judy Splinters Show. Other winners included a program called Pantomime Quiz and Louis McManus, who got a special Emmy for designing the thing.

4. “BEST CONTINUING PERFORMANCE IN A SERIES BY A PERSON WHO ESSENTIALLY PLAYS HERSELF” USED TO BE A CATEGORY.

In the early years of the awards, the Emmys tested out a number of categories, some of them more logical than others. By far the most nonsensical pair came in 1958, when the Television Academy decided to honor the “Best Continuing Performance in a Series by a Comedienne, Singer, Hostess, Dancer, M.C., Announcer, Narrator, Panelist, or Any Person Who Essentially Plays Herself” along with an identical male category. Rumor has it the categories were mostly designed to honor Lucille Ball for I Love Lucy, but if that was the intention, it failed miserably. Dinah Shore won instead for The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, while Jack Benny took the male category for The Jack Benny Show. These categories were seemingly axed by 1959, much to the relief of tongue-tied presenters.

5. JACKIE KENNEDY IS THE ONLY FIRST LADY TO WIN AN EMMY.

To date, only one First Lady of the United States has won an Emmy. That distinction goes to Jackie Kennedy, who received a special Trustees Award for her famous televised tour of The White House in 1962. (Lady Bird Johnson accepted the statuette on Kennedy's behalf.) No First Lady has matched her Emmy count since, although Michelle Obama came somewhat close: She received Emmy attention when her Billy on the Street segment earned a 2015 nomination. Alas, it lost to Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.

6. THE “SUPER EMMYS” WERE A HUGE FLOP.

In 1974, the Emmys decided to get experimental with a so-called “Super Emmy” ceremony. The show pitted the winning performers from the drama and comedy categories against each other—think Best Lead Actor in a Drama vs. Best Lead Actor in a Comedy, Best Supporting Actress in a Drama vs. Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy, etc. The ultimate champions would be crowned the actor or actress “of the year” in their respective categories, and the big winners included Alan Alda, Mary Tyler Moore, and Cecily Tyson. The next day, The New York Times wrote that the broadcast was "more confusing than ever" and that "the new 'super awards' are pointless"; things went back to normal for the next year's ceremony.

7. ALAN ALDA CARTWHEELED DOWN THE AISLE FOR HIS 1979 WIN.

Speaking of Alan Alda: He made a bigger splash at the Emmys just five years later. During the 1979 ceremony, he picked up a prize for his writing on M*A*S*H. Although he’d previously won acting and directing awards for the show, he’d never been recognized for his writing before—and he was excited. So he cartwheeled down the aisle in what is now an iconic Emmy moment.

“The writing one meant so much," Alda later told Variety. "I wanted to be a writer and a good writer since I was eight years old. To get an Emmy for writing meant so much that that was really spontaneous when I did the cartwheel on the way to the stage … I’m 80 now, but a couple of months after my 80th birthday, I was on the beach in the Virgin Islands and I said, ‘I’m gonna see if I can still do a cartwheel.'"

8. SOMEONE NEARLY STOLE BETTY THOMAS’S EMMY—ON STAGE.

When Betty Thomas won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Hill Street Blues in 1985, a man came up to accept the Emmy on her behalf. This was strange for two reasons: Thomas was actually in the audience, and she had no idea who this guy was. The mystery man turned out to be Barry Bremen, a.k.a. “The Great Imposter.” He was known to pull similar pranks at large sporting events, including the Super Bowl. The Emmys were just his latest target, and it cost him; he walked away from that stunt with a $175 fine and six months' probation.

9. CABLE SHOWS WEREN’T ELIGIBLE FOR EMMY AWARDS UNTIL 1988.

Up until the late 1980s, only network shows were eligible for Emmy consideration. Cable series competed for prizes at their own awards show, the CableACE Awards. But the Emmys modified their rules in 1988 to allow cable programming in. The last CableACE Awards ceremony took place in 1997.

10. LORNE MICHAELS IS THE MOST EMMY-NOMINATED PERSON OF ALL TIME.


Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for TheWrap

The most Emmy-nominated individual of all time is Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, with a whopping total of 78 nominations. He'll compete this year for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series for SNL.

But when it comes to actual wins, HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins has got Michaels beat; she has collected a total of 30 Emmy Awards over the years (compared to Michaels's 14 wins). She could up that total this year; she's nominated for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking for Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

11. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE IS THE MOST CELEBRATED SERIES.

Over its 42-year history, Saturday Night Live has racked up a total of 231 nominations and 52 wins. That makes it the most nominated show in Emmy history.

12. THE TELEVISION ACADEMY REALLY LOVES COPS.

If you’re serious about winning that statuette, it’s best to pick up a badge and gun. In 2015, Rolling Stone crunched the numbers and discovered that characters in law enforcement receive the most Emmy love. It adds up when you look at past acting winners: Dennis Franz picked up four for his run on NYPD Blue, Tony Shalhoub won three for Monk, and Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless collectively earned six as the stars of Cagney & Lacey.

13. SOME WINNERS HAVE TO PAY FOR THEIR STATUETTES.

No, Julia Louis-Dreyfus doesn’t have to fork over cash for her Emmy backstage. But for categories where the winners can include 15 to 20 people (think writing teams), the Television Academy imposes some fees. In the interview above, Mo Rocca recounted how he paid for his own Emmy as part of The Daily Show writing staff.

14. IT COSTS $400 AND TAKES OVER FIVE HOURS TO MAKE ONE EMMY.

Charging winners to collect their prize might seem outrageous, but then again, an Emmy isn’t cheap. Each statuette costs about $400 and requires five-and-a-half hours of labor to create. They’re all made at Chicago's R.S. Owens, where employees mold and then coat the figures in copper, nickel, silver, and gold. Watch them in action above.

15. THE EMMYS OVERCAME A DIVERSITY HURDLE IN 2015.

When Isabel Sanford won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for The Jeffersons in 1981, she was the first black woman to receive that honor. The corresponding drama category remained all-white for over six decades, until 2015. Two years ago, Viola Davis won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for How to Get Away With Murder. She used her acceptance speech to talk about race and opportunity, provoking tears from several audience members and wild applause from her fellow nominee, Taraji P. Henson. (Davis is nominated again this year for Lead Actress in a Drama Series.)

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15 Educational Facts About Old School
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DreamWorks

Old School starred Luke Wilson as Mitch Martin, an attorney who—after catching his girlfriend cheating, and through some real estate and bitter dean-related circumstances—becomes the leader of a not-quite-official college fraternity. Along with his fellow thirtysomething friends Bernard (Vince Vaughn) and newlywed Frank (Will Ferrell), they end up having to fight for their right to maintain their status as a party-loving frat on campus.

The film, which was released 15 years ago today, marked Vaughn’s return to major comedies and Ferrell’s first major starring role after seven years on Saturday Night Live. Here are some facts about the movie for everyone, but particularly for my boy, Blue.

1. THE IDEA ORIGINATED WITH AN AD GUY.

Writer-director Todd Phillips was talking to a friend of his from the advertising industry named Court Crandall one day. Crandall had seen and enjoyed Phillips's movie Frat House (1998) and told his director buddy, “You know what would be funny is a movie about older guys who start a fraternity of their own.” After being told by Phillips to write it, he presented Phillips with a “loose version” of the finished product.

2. SOME OF THE FRAT SHENANIGANS WERE REAL.

While Crandall received the story credit for Old School, Phillips and Scot Armstrong received the credit for writing the script. Armstrong put his own college fraternity experiences into the script. “We were in Peoria, Illinois, so it was up to us to entertain ourselves," Armstrong shared in the movie's official production notes. "A lot of ideas for Old School came from things that really happened. When it was cold, everyone would go stir crazy and it inspired some moments of brilliance. Of course, my definition of ‘brilliance' might be different from other people's.”

3. IVAN REITMAN HELPED OUT.

Ivan Reitman, director of Stripes and Ghostbusters, was an executive producer on the film. Phillips and Armstrong wrote and rewrote every day for two months at Reitman’s house, an experience Phillips described as comedy writing “boot camp.”

4. THE STUDIO DIDN’T WANT VINCE VAUGHN.

Vince Vaughn in 'Old School' (2003)
DreamWorks

It didn’t seem to make a difference to DreamWorks that Phillips and Armstrong had written the role of Bernard with Vince Vaughn in mind—the studio didn't want him. After his breakout success in Swingers, Vaughn had taken roles in dramas like the 1998 remake of Psycho. “So when Todd Phillips wanted me for Old School, the studio didn’t want me,” Vaughn told Variety in 2015. “They didn’t think I could do comedy! They said, ‘He’s a dramatic actor from smaller films.’ Todd really had to push for me.”

5. RECYCLED SHOTS OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY WERE USED.

The film was mainly shot on the Westwood campus of UCLA. The aerial shots of the fictitious Harrison University, however, were of Harvard; they had been shot for Road Trip (2000).

6. VINCE VAUGHN FANS MIGHT RECOGNIZE THE CHURCH.

In the film, Frank gets married at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena, California. Vaughn and Owen Wilson were in that same church two years later for Wedding Crashers (2005).

7. WILL FERRELL SCARED MEMBERS OF A 24-HOUR GYM.

Frank’s streaking scene was shot on a city street. As Ferrell remembered it, one of the storefronts was a 24-hour gym with Stairmasters and treadmills in the window. “I was rehearsing in a robe, and all these people are in the gym, watching me. I asked one of the production assistants, ‘Shouldn’t we tell them I’m going to be naked?’ Sure enough, I dropped my robe and there were shrieks of pure horror. After the first take, nobody was at the window anymore. I took that as a sign of approval.”

8. FERRELL REALLY WAS NAKED.

Ferrell justified it by saying it showed his character falling off the wagon. “The fact that it made sense was the reason I was really into doing it, and why I was able to commit on that level," Ferrell told the BBC. "If it was just for the sake of doing a crazy shot, then I don't think it makes sense.” Still, Ferrell needed some liquid courage, and was intimidated by the presence of Snoop Dogg.

9. ROB CORDDRY WAS NOT NAKED, BUT HE STILL HAD TO SIGN AWAY HIS NUDITY RIGHTS.

Old School marked the first major film role for Rob Corddry, who at the time was best known as a correspondent for The Daily Show. He had a jewel bag around his private parts for his nude scene, but his butt made it into the final cut. He had to sign a nudity clause, which gave the film the right to use his naked image “in any part of the universe, in any form, even that which is not devised.”

10. SNOOP DOGG AGREED TO CAMEO SO HE COULD PLAY HUGGY BEAR IN STARSKY & HUTCH.

Phillips admitted to essentially bribing the hip-hop artist/actor, using Snoop Dogg’s desire to play the street informant in the modern movie adaptation of the classic TV show (which Phillips was also directing) to his advantage. “So when I went to him I said, 'I want you to do Huggy Bear,' he was really excited. And I said, 'Oh yeah, also will you do this little thing for me in Old School a little cameo?' So he kind of had to do it I think."

11. SNOOP WANTED TO HANG OUT WITH VINCE VAUGHN ON SET, BUT NOT LUKE WILSON.

Snoop Dogg in 'Old School' (2003)
Richard Foreman, Dreamworks

Vaughn and his friends accepted an invitation to hang out in Snoop Dogg’s trailer to play video games on the last day of shooting. Vaughn recalled seeing Luke Wilson later watching the news alone in his trailer; he had not been informed of the get-together.

12. WILSON WAS TEASED BY HIS CO-STARS.

Vaughn, Wilson, and Ferrell dubbed themselves “The Wolfpack”—years before Phillips directed The Hangover—because they would always make fun of each other. A particularly stinging exchange had Ferrell refer to Legally Blonde (which Wilson had starred in) as Legally Bland. Wilson said it didn’t make him feel great. Wilson retorted by telling Ferrell that "the transition from TV to the movies isn't a very easy one, so you might just want to keep one foot back in TV just in case this whole movie thing falls through!"

13. TERRY O’QUINN SCARED HIS SONS INTO THINKING THEY WERE TRIPPING.

Terry O’Quinn (who went on to play John Locke on Lost the following year) agreed to play Goldberg, uncredited, in what was a two-day job for him. He neglected to inform his sons he was in the movie, and when they saw it, one of them called their father. “I got a call from my sons one night, and they said, ‘What were you doing in Old School? We didn’t even know you were in it!’ They said, ‘We’re sitting there, and the first time we see you, it’s, like, in a reflection in a window. And when we saw it, and we both thought we were, like, tripping or something!’”

14. THE EARMUFFS WERE IMPROVISED.

Before filming, Vaughn worked with Ferrell to figure out their characters' backstories and how they knew each other; he credited that with helping him figure out who Bernard was, which led to several ad-libbed moments. “The earmuff scene where he swears in front of the kids, and then I tell the kid to earmuff, that all is off the cuff. But that stuff is a lot easier to do when you know who you are and your circumstances, and who your characters are,” Vaughn explained.

15. FERRELL AND VAUGHN DIDN’T LOVE A SCRIPT FOR A SEQUEL.

Armstrong had written Old School Dos in 2006, which saw the frat going to Spring Break. Ferrell said that he and Vaughn read the script but felt like they would just be “kind of doing the same thing again.” Wilson, on the other hand, was excited over the new script.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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