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15 Chatty Facts About The Oprah Winfrey Show

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In early 1984, a little-known television personality named Oprah Winfrey began hosting A.M. Chicago, a struggling morning talk show on WLS-TV. Within a month, the show rose in the rankings to become the highest-rated local talk show (before Oprah arrived, it was in last place). Within a year, the half-hour show was extended to an hour—and renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. One year later, on September 8, 1986, Oprah went national. On the 30th anniversary of The Oprah Winfrey Show’s debut, here are 15 facts about the daytime gabfest.

1. BY THE TIME THE SHOW MADE ITS NATIONAL DEBUT, OPRAH WAS ALREADY AN OSCAR NOMINEE.

Though The Oprah Winfrey Show didn’t make its national debut until the fall of 1986, American audiences were already familiar with the would-be daytime queen, though they knew her as an actress—and an Oscar-nominated one at that. Six months before she popped up on television, Oprah was in contention for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple (she lost to Anjelica Huston for Prizzi’s Honor).

2. IT WAS ROGER EBERT WHO CONVINCED WINFREY TO SAY YES TO THE SYNDICATED DEAL—WHILE THEY WERE ON A DATE.

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For the show’s 20th anniversary, Winfrey admitted that she had trepidations about signing a syndication deal for The Oprah Winfrey Show, and that it was Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert who convinced her to say yes. The two were on a date (their first) when Winfrey told Ebert about the offer to take her show national. According to Oprah.com, “Roger grabbed a Hamburger Hamlet napkin and started jotting down some numbers. First, he took his annual salary multiplied by two (because his co-critic at the time, Gene Siskel, made the same salary). Then, he multiplied that number by five since Oprah's show would be on five days a week. Finally, he doubled that number to reflect the hour timeframe, and then doubled it one last time because he was sure her show would be a huge hit!” He slid the napkin across the table to Winfrey, to show her what she stood to make by saying yes, to which she replied: “Done deal!”

Alas, the romance was not to be. The two did go on a second date—Ebert recalled that they went to see the Count Basie Orchestra, but that Winfrey left early as she had to be up at 5 a.m. for the show. Still, the two remained friends and Ebert made several appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

3. IT COULD HAVE BEEN JUST ANOTHER SERIES OF CELEBRITY Q&AS, HAD DON JOHNSON AGREED TO BE THE FIRST GUEST.

For her very first national show, Winfrey wanted to go big—and there were few bigger stars at the time than Miami Vice’s Don Johnson. But Johnson wasn’t into it, even after Winfrey sent him a very stylish (and very expensive) pair of rhinestone sunglasses to try and persuade him. The experience led Winfrey to make the momentous decision that her show should be about everyday people, not celebrities (well, at least not all the time). “So what we came up with was a show called ‘How to Marry the Man of Your Choice,’” Winfrey explained.

In 2010, during the premiere episode of the show’s final season, Johnson finally showed up—to return those rhinestone glasses to Winfrey. "They were all the rage and they cost a fortune," the host said.

"I know it has taken me about 24 years to get these back to you,” Johnson explained. “For clarity, I was shooting 18 to 20 hours a day at the time and it's not that I didn't wanna come, they [producers] wouldn't let me come. But I understand things have been going OK for you.”

4. WHEELING OUT THAT WAGON OF FAT IS ONE OF WINFREY’S BIGGEST REGRETS.

One of Winfrey’s most memorable moments is also one of her biggest regrets. On November 15, 1988, the hostess wheeled out a wagon full of 67 pounds of animal fat to illustrate just how much weight she had lost following a recent—and highly publicized—diet. Years later, she described that moment as a “Big, big, big, big, big, big, big mistake!,” telling Entertainment Tonight that, “When I look at that show, I think it was one of the biggest ego trips of my life.”

5. ELIZABETH TAYLOR WAS HER WORST INTERVIEW.

Like any good talk show host, Winfrey hasn’t been shy about her best and worst moments. When asked about her worst interview, Winfrey points to a sit-down with Elizabeth Taylor during the show’s second season.

“It's still painful to watch," Winfrey said, "For many reasons—including my bad hair." Just before the interview, Taylor told Winfrey that she didn’t want to talk about any of her romantic relationships. "That's kind of hard to do when you're Elizabeth Taylor and you've been married seven times," Oprah said. Taylor later apologized to Winfrey for the incident, and admitted that she was experiencing serious hip and back pain at the time, which didn’t help the interview.

6. HER INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL JACKSON IS THE MOST WATCHED INTERVIEW IN TELEVISION HISTORY.

On February 10, 1993, Oprah’s interview with Michael Jackson—which was broadcast live from the musician’s Neverland Ranch—became the most watched interview in television history (and remains as such), with 90 million people tuning in. Her closest competitors are Barbara Walters, who scored 74 million viewers with her 1999 interview with Monica Lewinsky, and David Frost, who got 45 million people to tune in to his legendary tête-à-tête with Richard Nixon. Toward the end of Jackson's interview, Elizabeth Taylor showed up!

7. ELLEN DEGENERES COMING OUT ON THE SHOW LED TO A TON OF HATE MAIL.

In 1997, comedian (and future talk show host) Ellen DeGeneres chose The Oprah Winfrey Show as the place to come out publicly as a lesbian, just before her character on Ellen did the same to her therapist, who was played by Winfrey. Both shows got a ton of publicity, and not all of it was positive. Years later, Winfrey revealed that "I played the therapist on that [episode of Ellen] ... and got the most and worst hate mail of my entire career after doing it, like 'Go back to Africa' hate mail."

8. WINFREY HAS LEFT A LOT OF MONEY ON THE TABLE.

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Though she’s worth a reported $2.9 billion, Winfrey once told Fortune that “I don’t think of myself as a businesswoman,” and she has proven that refusing to sell out can be a profitable business in and of itself. While most celebrities would see having a mega-hit talk show as a great money-making opportunity, Winfrey—who is regularly cited as one of the world’s most generous celebrities—wasn’t about that. Throughout the show’s run, she refused to let the promise of big bucks sway her. The show didn’t enter into licensing deals or paid endorsements, even though she had plenty of companies banging at her door to become one of her “Favorite Things” or to see their latest releases as part of her Book Club. But Winfrey’s recommendations were all her own.

9. “THE OPRAH EFFECT” WAS HUGE.

Though Winfrey’s affections for a product or service couldn’t be bought, when she did tell her audience about something she liked, they listened—and spent. Known as “The Oprah Effect,” her Book Club had the power to turn an author from an unknown to a bestseller, and even a brief mention of a beloved product by Winfrey could see that item’s sales go into overdrive. When Winfrey mentioned that she owned a LightWedge book light, the company saw its sales increase from $3700 per day to $90,000 in a single afternoon.

10. SHE WAS SUED BY A GROUP OF TEXAS CATTLEMEN.

Just as Winfrey had the power to boost any business, a bad review could take it away. During a 1996 episode about mad cow disease, Winfrey admitted that a conversation with a vegetarian activist who told her about the dangers of a mad cow disease outbreak in America had stopped her “cold from eating another burger." A group of Texas cattlemen were not pleased with Winfrey’s comment, and filed a defamation suit, claiming her remark led to $11 million in losses. In 1998, the court sided with Winfrey, who declared that "Free speech not only lives, it rocks." (She also confirmed that she was “still off hamburgers.”)

11. THAT FAMOUS CAR GIVEAWAY COST $8 MILLION.

In 2004, Winfrey surprised her audience in a big way when she gave all 276 members of her studio audience a brand-new Pontiac G6. Winfrey wasn’t lying when she famously (and meme-worthily) exclaimed, "You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!" The total cost of those cars? Just under $8 million. (Earlier this year, John Oliver trumped that total by paying off $15 million of medical debt.)

12. YES, EVERYONE WHO GOT A CAR HAD TO PAY TAXES ON IT.

While winning a brand-new car on television might seem like the ultimate high, it does come with some strings (as winners on The Price is Right can certainly attest). And for some members in the studio audience that day, the tax bill for that new car was as much as $6000. “That responsible part of me stepped forward and wondered 'where am I going to get the money to pay the taxes?,'" said William Toebe, who was at the show with his wife—which meant two cars and two tax bills. But it turned out well for them: they took the cars, sold them immediately, and made enough of a profit to pay off some other bills.

13. SHE STOPPED SUBMITTING THE SHOW FOR EMMY CONSIDERATION.

In 2000, after winning 47 Daytime Emmy Awards—including a Lifetime Achievement Award—Winfrey refrained from submitting her show for any further Emmy consideration. She reportedly wanted to make more room for others in the daytime arena to be nominated, and win.

14. IT’S THE LONGEST-RUNNING DAYTIME TALK SHOW.

When The Oprah Winfrey Show aired its final episode on May 25, 2011, it had been on the air for just shy of 25 years, making it the longest-running daytime talk show.

15. HER BOOK CLUB IS STILL ACTIVE.

Though not as regular, Oprah’s Book Club was reintroduced in 2012. Now known as Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, her recommendations are doled out via OWN and O: The Oprah Winfrey Magazine. So far, she has only recommended a handful of books—the most recent one being Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, which was released last month.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
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Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which premiered on this day in 1975, won critical acclaim, box office success, and a shelf full of Oscars. But even if you love the complex exploration of life inside a 1960s psychiatric hospital, there are a few things you may not know about its behind-the-scenes story. 

1. CUSTOMS NEARLY DOOMED THE PROJECT. 

Despite the middling success of the 1963 stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel starring Kirk Douglas, Hollywood legend Douglas was dead set on adapting the story for the screen. Douglas contacted Czech director Miloš Forman about the project, promising to send Forman a copy of the book for his perusal. 

Douglas mailed Forman the novel, but the package was confiscated by Czechoslovakian customs and never reached the director. Unaware of the parcel’s fate, the filmmaker resented Douglas’ broken promise, and Douglas thought Forman rude for never bothering to confirm receipt of the novel. It took a decade to sort the mess out, and things only cleared up when Kirk’s son Michael Douglas took another crack at production and contacted Forman once more. 

2. ONE STUDIO WANTED TO CHANGE THE ENDING.

When producers were shopping the picture to studios, 20th Century Fox was interested, but with a catch. Fox would distribute the film, but only if the filmmakers would agree to rewrite the ending; the studio wanted McMurphy to live. Producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas wisely considered this a deal breaker, and United Artists eventually distributed the film.

3. JACK NICHOLSON AND LOUISE FLETCHER WERE NOT THE FIRST CHOICES FOR THEIR CHARACTERS. 


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When Kirk Douglas spearheaded the first attempt to bring One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to life on the big screen in the 1960s, he had intended to play the Randle Patrick McMurphy role himself, just as he had on stage. When production began in earnest 10 years later, Douglas was too old for the part, leaving director Forman to consider and contact the likes of Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, and (his personal favorite) Burt Reynolds before finally settling on Jack Nicholson.

A number of different actresses were considered for the role of Nurse Ratched, the film’s central antagonist, as well: Anne Bancroft, Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, and Angela Lansbury were all in the running, before Louise Fletcher ultimately got the part. 

4. LOUISE FLETCHER CHANGED FORMAN’S VIEW ON THE CHARACTER. 

Forman’s original view of Nurse Ratched was as “the personification of evil,” a characterization that made Louise Fletcher a bad fit for the part in the filmmaker’s mind. As Fletcher pressed for the role, Forman’s perspective of Ratched evolved: “I slowly started to realize that it would be much more powerful if it’s not this visible evil,” he said. “That she’s only an instrument of evil. She doesn’t know that she’s evil. She, as a matter of fact, believes that she’s helping people.” This new take on the character paved the way for the official casting of Fletcher. 

5. SEVERAL OF THE FILM’S STARS WERE NOT ACTORS. 

Following the production team’s decision to use Oregon State Hospital as its shooting location, the producers hit on the idea of casting facility superintendent Dr. Dean Brooks as Dr. John Spivey, the doctor charged with assessing R. P. McMurphy’s psychological health. Brooks agreed to play what turned out to be a sizable role, though it would be the only acting job he would ever take. He also helped secure employment for many of his hospital’s patients as extras and crew members during production. 

Mel Lambert, another non-actor, was wrangled to play the harbormaster who protested McMurphy’s ad hoc fishing trip. What’s more, Lambert—a respected area businessman who had a strong relationship with the local Native American community—introduced the production team to Will Sampson, the 6-foot-5-inch-tall Muscogee painter who would make his acting debut as the major character Chief Bromden. 

6. THE STARS LIVED ON THE WARD DURING PRODUCTION. 


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All of the actors who played patients actually lived on the Oregon State Hospital psychiatric ward throughout production. The men personalized their sleeping quarters, spent their days on campus “get[ting] a sense of what it was to be hospitalized” (as actor Vincent Schiavelli put it), and interacting with real psychiatric patients. 

7. MANY SCENES WERE SHOT WITHOUT THE ACTORS’ KNOWLEDGE. 

To complete this realistic immersion, Forman led his performers in unscripted group therapy sessions in which he directed the actors to develop their characters’ psychological maladies organically. He would often capture footage of the actors, both in and out of character, without explicitly mentioning that the cameras were rolling. The film’s final cut includes a shot of a visibly irritated Fletcher reacting to a piece of direction fed to her by Forman. 

8. FORMAN AND NICHOLSON HAD A TREMENDOUS SPAT OVER THE FILM’S PLOT. 

While the intensity of the turmoil varies from rumor to rumor, reports from the set were consistent on one fact: The star refused to speak with Forman for a large chunk of the production process. Nicholson took issue with Forman’s suggestion that the hospital inmates would be an unruly bunch upon the initial arrival of McMurphy. Instead, the actor insisted that such disavowal of the medical staff’s authority should only begin after the introduction of McMurphy into their lives and routines. 

Although the version of the story that we see in the film today is more closely associated with Nicholson’s alleged reading, suggesting that Forman ultimately took his advice, Nicholson refused to interact with his director from that point forward. When the star and Forman needed to communicate with one another, they used cinematographer Bill Butler as a middleman. 

9. DANNY DEVITO CREATED AN IMAGINARY FRIEND DURING PRODUCTION. 


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Emotionally strained by a demanding shooting schedule that kept him 3000 miles from his future wife, Rhea Perlman, DeVito developed the coping mechanism of an imaginary friend with whom he would have nightly chats. Concerned that his own sanity might be slipping away, DeVito sought the advice of Dr. Brooks, who assured him that there was no reason to worry as long as DeVito could still identify the character as fictional. 

10. THE CREW WAS WORRIED ABOUT THE SANITY OF ONE CAST MEMBER.

While Dr. Brooks had no concerns about DeVito, he echoed the rest of the cast and crew’s apprehensions about the psychological state of Sydney Lassick, who played Charlie Cheswick. Lassick exhibited increasingly unpredictable and emotionally erratic behavior during his time in character, a pattern that culminated in a tearful outburst during his observation of the final scene between Nicholson and Sampson. Lassick became so overwhelmed during the scene that he had to be removed from set. 

11. FLETCHER TOOK OFF HER CLOTHES IN ORDER TO GET FRIENDLIER WITH HER CO-STARS.

Envious of the camaraderie her male costars had forged, and hoping to dispel any associations with her tyrannical character, Fletcher surprised the cast one evening by ripping off her dress on the crowded ward. Years later, the actress laughed about the display, saying, “‘I’ll show them I’m a real woman under here, you know.’ I think that must have been what I was thinking.” 

12. THE FISHING TRIP SCENE BARELY MADE IT INTO THE FILM. 

Initially, Forman was vocally opposed to including a scene that took place beyond the grounds of the hospital out of concerns that a temporary liberation would undercut the dramatic force of the film’s ending. In the end, Zaentz convinced Forman to shoot the fishing trip sequence. It was the final scene filmed and the only piece shot out of chronological order. 

One thing to look for in the fishing scene: A very subtle Anjelica Huston cameo. Huston, who was dating Nicholson during production, has a nonspeaking role as one of the spectators on the dock as McMurphy and his fellow patients steer the stolen boat back to shore. 


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13. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST WAS THE FIRST FILM TO WIN ALL “BIG FIVE” ACADEMY AWARDS IN 41 YEARS.

Not since 1934's It Happened One Night swept the Oscars had a film walked away with awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest took home the lot, with Nicholson and Fletcher winning the top acting awards. The feat would not be matched again for another 16 years, with Silence of the Lambs becoming the next (and last to date) movie to earn the distinction. 

14. THE FILM ENJOYED ONE OF THE LONGEST THEATRICAL RUNS IN MOVIE HISTORY. 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was revered worldwide, but Swedish viewers developed an especially soft spot for the film. Cuckoo’s Nest remained a regular option for Swedish moviegoers through 1987—11 years after its initial release. 

15. KESEY REFUSED TO SEE THE FILM (BUT MAY HAVE BY ACCIDENT). 

The poster child for the “the book was better” movement, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Kesey disapproved of a big screen adaptation of his novel as soon as he found out that the filmmakers had abandoned the use of Chief Bromden as the story’s narrator. Kesey never intended to see the movie, but one story says he inadvertently caught a few moments during a bout of channel surfing one evening. Once Kesey realized what he was watching, he promptly changed stations.

According to fellow novelist Chuck Palahniuk (who has famously praised director David Fincher’s adaptation of his novel Fight Club, plot changes and all), Kesey once stated privately that he did not care for the material.

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The Origins of 10 Thanksgiving Traditions
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There's a lot more to Thanksgiving than just the turkey and the Pilgrims. And though most celebrations will break out the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, there are a number of other customs that you might be less aware of (and some that are becoming too ubiquitous to miss).

1. THE TURKEY TROT FOOTRACE

Many towns host brisk morning runs to lessen the guilt about the impending feast (distances and times vary from race to race, but the feel-good endorphins are universal). The oldest known Turkey Trot footrace took place in Buffalo, New York, and has been happening every year since 1896. Nearly 13,000 runners participated in the 4.97 mile race last year.

2. THE GREAT GOBBLER GALLOP IN CUERO, TEXAS

During their annual TurkeyFest in November, they gather a bunch of turkeys and have the "Great Gobbler Gallop," a turkey race. It started in 1908 when a turkey dressing house opened in town. Early in November, farmers would herd their turkeys down the road toward the dressing house so the birds could be prepared for Thanksgiving. As you can imagine, this was quite a spectacle—as many as 20,000 turkeys have been part of this "march". People gathered to watch, and eventually the first official festival was formed around the event in 1912. The final event of the celebration is the Great Gobbler Gallop, a race between the Cuero turkey champ and the champ from Worthington, Minnesota (they have a TurkeyFest as well). Each town holds a heat and the best time between the towns wins. The prize is a four-foot trophy called "The Traveling Turkey Trophy of Tumultuous Triumph."

3. FRANKSGIVING

From 1939 to 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up by a week. In '39, Thanksgiving, traditionally held on the last Thursday of November, fell on the 30th. Since enough people would wait until after Thanksgiving to start their Christmas shopping, Roosevelt was concerned that having the holiday so late in the month would mess up retail sales at a time when he was trying hard to pull Americans out of the Great Depression. It didn't entirely go over well though—some states observed FDR's change, and others celebrated what was being called the "Republican" Thanksgiving on the traditional, last-Thursday date. Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas all considered both Thanksgivings to be holidays. Today, we've basically split the difference—Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November, regardless of whether that's the last Thursday of the month or not.

4. THE PRESIDENTIAL TURKEY PARDON

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The story goes that since at least Harry Truman, it has been tradition for the President of the U.S. to save a couple of birds from becoming someone's feast. Records only go back to George H.W. Bush doing it, though some say the tradition goes all the way back to Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey. (Lincoln is also the President who originally declared that the holiday be held on the last Thursday of November.) In recent years, the public has gotten to name the turkeys in online polls; the paired turkeys (the one you see in pictures and a backup) have gotten creative names such as Stars and Stripes, Biscuit and Gravy, Marshmallow and Yam, Flyer and Fryer, Apple and Cider, and Honest and Abe last year.

5. THANKSGIVING PARADES

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Everyone knows about the Macy's Parade, but for a more historically accurate parade, check out America's Hometown Thanksgiving Parade in Plymouth. The parade starts with a military flyover and continues with floats and costumed people taking the parade-goers from the 17th century to the present time. There are nationally recognized Drum and Bugle Corps, re-enactment units from every period of American history, and military marching units. And military bands play music honoring the men and women who serve in each branch: the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard.

6. BLACK FRIDAY

Black Friday, of course, is the day-after sales extravaganza that major (and minor) retailers participate in. Most people think that the term comes from the day of the year when retail stores make their profits go from red to black, but other sources have it originating from police officers in Philadelphia. They referred to the day as Black Friday because of the heavy traffic and higher propensity for accidents. Also, just because you hear that it's "the busiest shopping day of the season" on the news, don't believe it. It's one of the busiest days, but typically, it's hardly ever the busiest, though it typically ranks somewhere in the top 10. The busiest shopping day of the year is usually the Saturday before Christmas.

7. CYBER MONDAY

Black Friday is quickly being rivaled in popularity by Cyber Monday. It's a fairly recent phenomenon—it didn't even have a name until 2005. But there's truth to it—77 percent of online retailers at the time reported an increase in sales on that particular day, and as online shopping has continued to grow and become more convenient, retailers have scheduled their promotions to follow suit.

8. BUY NOTHING DAY

And in retaliation for Black Friday, there's Buy Nothing Day. To protest consumerism, many people informally celebrate BND. It was first "celebrated" in 1992, but didn't settle on its day-after-Thanksgiving date until 1997, where it has been ever since. It's also observed internationally, but outside of North America the day of observance is the Saturday after our Thanksgiving.

9. FOOTBALL

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It's a common sight across the U.S.: parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles passed out on the couch watching football after dinner. Well, we have the first Detroit Lions owner, G.A. Richards, to thank for the tradition of Thanksgiving football. He saw it as a way to get people to his games. CBS was the first on the bandwagon when they televised their first Thanksgiving game in 1956. The first color broadcast was in 1965—the Lions vs. the Baltimore Colts. Since the 1960s, the Dallas Cowboys have joined the Lions in hosting Thanksgiving Day games, and the NFL Network now airs a third game on that night.

10. NATIONAL DOG SHOW

Of course, if football isn't your thing, there's always the National Dog Show. It's aired after the Macy's Parade on NBC every year. Good luck telling your dad that he'll be enjoying Springer Spaniels instead of the Lions or Cowboys, though.

A version of this story originally published in 2008.

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