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15 Royal Facts About The Fisher King

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The Fisher King (1991), Terry Gilliam's first attempt at directing a movie he had no part in writing, starred Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges in two of their most underrated performances. Williams portrays Parry, a former professor turned delusional homeless man following the murder of his wife. He is helped by Bridges's shock jock character Jack Lucas, who inadvertently provoked a listener to kill Parry's wife. In honor of the Oscar-winning film's 25th anniversary, here are 15 royal facts about The Fisher King.

1. RICHARD LAGRAVENESE HAD TO START HIS SCRIPT OVER AGAIN AFTER RAIN MAN CAME OUT.

The first-time screenwriter kept the Jack and Parry characters but threw the rest of his initial draft out because it was too similar to Rain Man. In his next attempt, LaGravenese came up with a "sitcom-y" idea, where Jack has to find Lydia (Amanda Plummer) a husband in order to get his fortune.

2. JACK WASN'T A SHOCK JOCK UNTIL THE FINAL DRAFT OF THE SCRIPT.

Jack Lucas started off as a "cynical cab driver" before he became an heir to a fortune. Then LaGravenese listened to Howard Stern and figured out Bridges's character. Bridges even trained to be a DJ for research, and appeared on the air a few times as Jack Lucas.

3. THE MOVIE WAS PROMISED TO JAMES CAMERON, AND BILLY CRYSTAL WAS CONSIDERED FOR THE JACK LUCAS PART.

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Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg gave the script to Steven Spielberg and James L. Brooks, and at one point the project was "promised" to James Cameron with Billy Crystal eyed to play Jack. When the project was moved to Tri-Star, the producers continued an uphill battle to fight for Gilliam to get involved. The same movie executive who worked with Gilliam on the over-budget The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) told producer Lynda Obst that Gilliam would get the job "over my dead body."

4. DISNEY THOUGHT IT WAS TOO DARK.

Disney thought the film was too dark, and shelved it for that reason. Before they did, though, the powers-that-be made LaGravenese tone down a lot of the elements they considered to be too "dark," "odd," or "weird." Disney wanted Jack to be less mean, more like David Letterman than Howard Stern, but Gilliam told LaGravenese to change the script back. Gilliam referred to the Disney version as the "Frank Capra version."

5. MERCEDES RUEHL THOUGHT SHE BORED GILLIAM TO DEATH IN HER AUDITION.

Mercedes Ruehl (Anne Napolitano) wrote her college thesis on T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" and the legend of the Fisher King. "I talked to Terry about 'The Waste Land,' redemption, the Fisher King, vegetation rights, blah, blah, and he just watched me as a glaze fell over his eyes," Ruehl said about her hour-long initial interview. "I think he offered me the role because he needed to shut me up, something had to cork this unasked-for scholarship on Fisher King." Ruehl won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance.

6. GILLIAM DIDN'T WANT TO MESS WITH THE SCRIPT.

The writer-director of Time Bandits (1981) and Brazil (1985) had said he would never direct a movie that wasn't his own; he broke that rule for the first time with The Fisher King. The one scene he added was the Grand Central Station waltz. "A scene takes place at Grand Central Station, so I was there watching the rush hour develop, watching the swarm begin," Gilliam remembered. "It started slowly, then the tempo increased and I thought, 'My god, wouldn't it be wonderful if all these thousands of people suddenly just paired up and began to waltz?'" Gilliam and his team were granted exclusive access to Grand Central for two nights, from 11:00 p.m. until 6:10 a.m., when the first commuter trains arrived.

7. GILLIAM HAD TO BRING IN GARBAGE.

Production loved a location off of FDR Drive, which was ideal for a scene where Jack was going to try to drown himself in the river. They asked the city to keep the garbage there, but instead it was swept clean. At the production designer's estimation, a load of trash and cars and refrigerators had to be shipped in at a "major expense."

8. THEY HAD TO SWITCH MADISON AVENUE AND FIFTH AVENUE.

The Langdon Carmichael townhouse, on Fifth Avenue in the movie, was portrayed by the Armory on 94th Street and Madison Avenue. Stained glass windows and gargoyles were added to it, as well as an entryway and double staircase made in California and shipped 3000 miles to New York. Production flipped the vehicle direction on Madison, because traffic on Fifth flows the other way.

9. BOTH CITY RESIDENTS AND THE STUDIO DELAYED IT.

A bike-riding sick man named Mercury rode around production shouting for Robin Williams, holding up production on the day they were trying to shoot the Central Park nude scene for hours. When other New Yorkers got annoyed at the lights and noise from the night shoots, they reported fake fires to the fire department, which also caused delays. In March, just when the cast and crew assumed their troubles were over, Tri-Star decided to postpone the scheduled May 10, 1991 opening date to September.

10. GILLIAM WAS LOOKING FOR FAIRY TALE IMAGERY.

"In my mind I was making a fairy tale of people like Lydia imprisoned in this great stone tower working in this publishing house, and bums living under the arches of Manhattan bridge in a setting that's Dante-esque," the director said. He added that since, in the myth, the Fisher King was dying, he saw New York "as all stone and brutal buildings, with no living things like trees and birds. I put Jack Lucas, who's actually the Fisher King, up in the most minimalistic, severe, cold building I could find."

11. THE RED KNIGHT WAS MADE WITH FOAM LATEX.

Stunt coordinator Chris Howell had a fire-shooting, 16 pound flame-thrower attached to his helmet. Trained Percheron gelding circus horses named "Lightning" and "Goliath" were featured in the Knight scenes.

12. GILLIAM HAD TO STOP WILLIAMS FROM OVERDOING IT.

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Williams always wanted to do one more take, even though he had given it his all and Gilliam thought they had more than enough. One scene in particular stood out to Gilliam:

"The last shot we had to do was Robin running at the end of this scene, in this hysterical state. You can even see the light ever so slightly beginning to come on the river in the background. But Robin was so angry because it was such a crucial moment, and he felt he’d been cheated of his ability to really give this moment his all. And Robin was an incredibly strong guy: When he’d worked himself into this state of madness for the part, nobody could approach him. The first assistant, the stunt guy … nobody wanted to get near him. They were terrified. So, I had to go up there and tell him, ‘Robin, what we have here is very good. And if we look at the rushes and it isn’t, I promise you I will reshoot it.’ And I had to hug him basically, and hold him. I could feel these muscles that were so tense and so strong, they felt like they could easily rip my head off."

13. WILLIAMS HAD TO GET THE COMEDY OUT OF HIS SYSTEM.

After finishing early one night, Williams went uptown to do a set to—in his words—get the comedy "out of my system." Gilliam, Bridges, his brother Beau, and a shocked audience watched Williams do 45 minutes of improvised stand-up.

14. STEPHEN SONDHEIM GAVE PERMISSION TO REWRITE HIS LYRICS.

Production failed at getting permission, but Michael Jeter ("Homeless Cabaret Singer") was good friends with the famous composer and managed to get it. According to Gilliam, Jeter came through again later when he sang "Everything's Coming Up Roses" on pitch for every take, so they were able to cut all of his takes together.

15. ROBIN WILLIAMS HAD TOO MUCH HAIR.

This was according to Tri-Star, who, Gilliam reported in all seriousness, was worried that Williams would lose fans because his naked body had too much hair on it.

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9 Scandals that Rocked the Figure Skating World
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Don't let the ornate costumes and beautiful choreography fool you, figure skaters are no strangers to scandal. Here are nine notable ones.

1. TONYA AND NANCY.

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding
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In 1994, a little club-and-run thrust the sport of figure skating into the spotlight. The assault on reigning national champion Nancy Kerrigan (and her subsequent anguished cries) at the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit was heard round the world, as were the allegations that her main rival, Tonya Harding, may have been behind it all.

The story goes a little something like this: As America's sweetheart (Kerrigan) is preparing to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Lillehammer, Norway, she gets clubbed in the knee outside the locker room after practice. Kerrigan is forced to withdraw from competition and Harding gets the gold. Details soon emerge that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was behind the attack (he hired a hitman). Harding denies any knowledge or involvement, but tanks at the Olympics the following month. She then pleads guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly and his co-conspirators, bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and hitman Shane Stant. And then she's banned from figure skating for life.

Questions about Harding's guilt remain two decades later, and the event is still a topic of conversation today. Recently, both an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya revisited the saga, proving we can't get enough of a little figure skating scandal.

2. HAND-PICKED FOR GOLD.

Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner at the podium
Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

Usually it's the top three medalists at the U.S. Nationals that compete for America at the Winter Olympics every four years. But in 2014, gold medalist Gracie Gold (no pun intended), silver medalist Polina Edmunds, and ... "pewter" medalist Ashley Wagner were destined for Sochi.

What about the bronze medalist, you ask? Mirai Nagasu, despite out-skating Wagner by a landslide in Boston and despite being the only skater with prior Olympic experience (she placed fourth at Vancouver in 2010) had to watch it all on television. The decision by the country's governing body of figure skating (United States Figure Skating Association, or USFS) deeply divided the skating community as to whether it was the right choice to pass over Nagasu in favor of Wagner, who hadn't skated so great, and it put a global spotlight on the selection process.

In reality, the athletes that we send to the Olympics are not chosen solely on their performance at Nationals—it's one of many criteria taken into consideration, including performance in international competition over the previous year, difficulty of each skater's technical elements, and, to some degree, their marketability to a world audience. This has happened before to other skaters—most notably Michelle Kwan was relegated to being an alternate in 1994 after Nancy Kerrigan was granted a medical bye after the leg-clubbing heard round the world. Nagasu had the right to appeal the decision, and was encouraged to do so by mobs of angry skating fans, but she elected not to.

3. SALT LAKE CITY, 2002.

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia perform in the figure skating exhibition during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Objectively, this scandal rocked the skating world the hardest, because the end result was a shattering of the competitive sport's very structure. When Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier found themselves in second place after a flawless freeskate at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, something wasn't right. The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze placed first, despite a technically flawed performance.

An investigation into the result revealed that judges had conspired to fix the results of the pairs and dance events—a French judge admitted to being pressured to vote for the Russian pair in exchange for a boost for the French dance team (who won that event). In the end, both pairs teams were awarded a gold medal, and the entire system of judging figure skating competition was thrown out and rebuilt.

4. AGENT OF STYLE.

Jackson Haines was an American figure skater in the mid-1800s who had some crazy ideas about the sport. He had this absolutely ludicrous notion of skating to music (music!), waltzing on ice, as well as incorporating balletic movements, athletic jumps, and spins into competition. His brand new style of skating was in complete contrast to the rigid, traditional, and formal (read: awkward) standard of tracing figure-eights into the ice. Needless to say, it was not well received by the skating world in America, so he was forced to take his talents to the Old World.

His new “international style” did eventually catch on around the globe, and Haines is now hailed as the father of modern figure skating. He also invented the sit spin, a technical element now required in almost every level and discipline of the sport.

5. LADIES LAST.

In 1902, competitive figure skating was a gentlemen's pursuit. Ladies simply didn't compete by themselves on the world stage (though they did compete in pairs events). But a British skater named Madge Syers flouted that standard, entering the World Figure Skating Championships in 1902. She ruffled a lot of feathers, but was ultimately allowed to compete and beat the pants off every man save one, earning the silver medal.

Her actions sparked a controversy that spurred the International Skating Union to create a separate competitive world event for women in 1906. Madge went on to win that twice, and became Olympic champion at the 1908 summer games [PDF] in London—the first “winter” Olympics weren't held until 1924 in France, several years after Madge died in 1917.

6. AGENT OF STYLE, PART 2.

A picture of Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie
Keystone/Getty Images

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie was the darling of the figure skating world in the first half of the 20th century. The flirtatious blonde was a three-time Olympic champion, a movie star, and the role model of countless aspiring skaters. She brought sexy back to skating—or rather, introduced it. She was the first skater to wear scandalously short skirts and white skates. Prior to her bold fashion choices, ladies wore black skates and long, conservative skirts. During WWII, a fabric shortage hiked up the skirts even further than Henie's typical length, and the ladies of figure skating have never looked back.

7. TOO SEXY FOR HER SKATES.

Katarina Witt displaying her gold medal
DANIEL JANIN, AFP/Getty Images

A buxom young beauty from the former Democratic German Republic dominated ladies figure skating in the mid- to late 1980s. A two-time Olympic champion, and one of the most decorated female skaters in history, Katarina Witt was just too sexy for her shirt—she tended to wear scandalously revealing costumes (one of which resulted in a wardrobe malfunction during a show), and was criticized for attempting to flirt with the judges to earn higher scores.

The ISU put the kibosh on the controversial outfits soon afterward, inserting a rule that all competitive female skaters “must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport.” The outrage forced Witt to add some fabric to her competitive outfits in the late '80s. But 10 years later she took it all off, posing naked for a 1998 issue of Playboy.

8. MORE COSTUME CONTROVERSY.

For the 2010 competitive year, the ISU's annual theme for the original dance segment (since defunct and replaced by the “short dance”) was “country/folk.” That meant competitors had to create a routine that explored some aspect of it, in both music and costume as well as in maneuvers. The top Russian pair chose to emulate Aboriginal tribal dancing in their program, decked in full bodysuits adorned with their interpretation of Aboriginal body paint (and a loincloth).

Their debut performance at the European Championships drew heavy criticism from Aboriginal groups in both Australia and Canada, who were greatly offended by the inaccuracy of the costumes and the routine. The Russian pair, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, were quick to dial down the costumes and dial up the accuracy in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the judges were not impressed. They ended up with the bronze, ending decades of Russian dominance in the discipline. (With the glaring exception of 2002, of course.)

9. IN MEMORIAM.

While not a scandal, this event bears mentioning because it has rocked the figure skating world arguably more than anything else. In February of 1961, the American figure skating team boarded a flight to Belgium from New York, en route to the World Championships in Prague. The plane went down mysteriously (cause still questioned today) as it tried to land in Brussels, killing all 72 passengers. America's top skaters and coaches had been aboard, including nine-time U.S. Champion and Olympic bronze medalist-turned-coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughter Laurence Owen, a 16-year-old who had been heavily favored to win the ladies event that year.

The ISU canceled the competition upon the news of the crash and the United States lost its long-held dominance in the sport for almost a decade. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFS) soon after established a memorial fund that helped support the skating careers of competitors in need of financial assistance, including future Olympic champions like Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Chinese New Year
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Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning February 16, China will welcome the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. THE HOLIDAY WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SCARE OFF A MONSTER.

Nian at Chinese New Year
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As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A LOT OF FAMILIES USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CLEAN THE HOUSE.

woman ready to clean a home
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While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. IT WILL PROMPT BILLIONS OF TRIPS.

Man waiting for a train.
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Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SUPERSTITIONS.

Colorful pills and medications
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While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. SOME PEOPLE RENT BOYFRIENDS OR GIRLFRIENDS TO SOOTHE PARENTS.

Young Asian couple smiling
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In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. RED ENVELOPES ARE EVERYWHERE.

a person accepting a red envelope
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An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. IT CAN CREATE RECORD LEVELS OF SMOG.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
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Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. BLACK CLOTHES ARE A BAD OMEN.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
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So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. IT LEADS TO PLANES BEING STUFFED FULL OF CHERRIES.

Bowl of cherries
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Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand—last year Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. PANDA EXPRESS IS HOPING IT'LL CATCH ON IN THE STATES.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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