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15 Movies Referenced in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a love letter to the golden age of offbeat cinema, written in bright red lipstick. As any regular Frankie fan can tell you, it’s based on an offbeat stage show that sprang from the mind of Richard O’Brien. (He plays Riff Raff in the film version.) A B-movie devotee, O’Brien wove numerous cult film references into his theatrical lovechild and, by extension, its cinematic reincarnation. But The Rocky Horror Picture Show doesn’t limit itself to honoring a single genre. Seasoned movie buffs may also recognize quick nods to a French crime drama, a thriller about a murderous priest, and the weirdest project that Roger Ebert ever worked on. So before Fox’s live Rocky Horror reboot gets us all doing the time warp again, let’s go over some of the little homages that spiced up the original.

1. FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

Lightning struck twice when Universal Studios unveiled a new take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1931. Earlier that same year, the company had released its hugely successful cinematic version of Dracula. With Boris Karloff delivering an outstanding performance as the monster, Frankenstein turned into an even bigger hit and became the fourth highest-grossing film of its decade. The Rocky Horror Picture Show salutes the instant classic when Riff Raff scares off Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s monster with a candelabra. This echoes a similar henchman/creature scuffle from Universal’s Frankenstein. In the 1931 film, the doctor’s assistant is a hunchback named Fritz. (The more famous Igor character hadn’t yet been conceived.) Upon being left alone with the monster, he taunts it by shoving a flaming torch into the poor brute’s face. Spooked by the flames, it instinctively recoils, just like our friend Rocky does.

2. DOCTOR X (1932)

Let there be lips! The Rocky Horror Picture Show begins on an appropriately odd note: As the opening credits roll, a pair of disembodied crimson lips sail into view and set the mood by regaling us with a song called “Science Fiction/Double Feature.” The lyrics are gut-loaded with references to iconic B-movies, including 1932’s Doctor X. A suspenseful tale about a mad scientist and his homemade creature, it’s gone down in history as the first horror film to be shot in color, although a black-and-white version was shown at most theaters.

3. THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933)

Here’s another classic that gets a title drop in Rocky Horror’s surreal intro. Based on an H.G. Wells novel of the same name, The Invisible Man was directed by James Whale, the visionary behind Universal’s Frankenstein and its 1935 follow-up, The Bride of Frankenstein. An effective cautionary tale, the movie follows Dr. Jack Griffin, a chemist who gets drunk with power after discovering the secret of invisibility. Whale’s special effects team used every trick in the book here. For example, to execute scenes where Griffin disrobes, leading man Claude Rains wore black velvet tights under his costume and went through his blocking on an entirely black set. The resulting footage, which showed nothing but Griffin’s floating clothes, was then superimposed over a different length of film that captured the other actors and the primary sets. Other sequences called for good, old-fashioned wires, which helped various objects travel through the air, seemingly all by themselves.

4. KING KONG (1933)

In 1932, producer Merian C. Cooper promised Fay Wray “the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood.” Naturally, she figured he was talking about Cary Grant. Wray instead ended up working with the eighth wonder of the world himself. Released by RKO Pictures during one of the worst years of the Great Depression, King Kong might be the single most influential film ever made. It was the first movie to have a completely original score, the first to ever be re-released, and among the first to pit live actors against stop-motion monsters. The Rocky Horror Picture Show really has something of a fixation with this flick; not only do those disembodied red lips sing about it, but Dr. Frank-N-Furter also pines for Fay Wray’s iconic Kong dress near the finale. Furthermore, we get to see Rocky himself climbing up a model radio tower, RKO’s logo, before falling to his death. To quote the final line of King Kong, “It was beauty killed the beast.”

5. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)

Magenta rocks a zany new hairstyle for Rocky Horror’s thrilling climax. Her arresting coiffure was more or less directly lifted from The Bride of Frankenstein. In this spectacular sequel, the title character dons a streaky, upright hairdo that was modeled after a famous bust of Nefertiti, an ancient Egyptian queen. Although the monster’s mate appears to be wearing a wig in Bride, the mop we see on-screen is nothing of the sort. “[It was] my own hair,” actress Elsa Lanchester said. “I had it lifted up from my face, all the way around; then they placed a wire cage on my head and combed my own hair over that cage. Then they put the gray-streak hairpieces in afterwards.”

6. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)

“Science Fiction/Double Feature” acknowledges one of the most topical films of 1951. Once the Cold War arrived, sci-fi movies began to grow more overtly political. In The Day the Earth Stood Still, a benevolent alien named Klaatu (played by Michael Rennie) warns the human race that its increasing usage of nuclear weapons has made other planets nervous enough to consider wiping out all life on Earth in a preemptive strike. Given the controversial subject matter, Hollywood’s reigning censorship board, the Production Code Administration (PCA), went through the script with a fine-tooth comb and left its fingerprints on the finished product. At the end of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Klaatu delivers an anti-war sermon before ascending back into the heavens from whence he came. To avoid offending certain moviegoers, the PCA insisted the speech be rewritten so as to temper or omit “words that seem to be directed towards the United States.”

7. WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951)

“But when worlds collide, said George Pal to his bride, I’m gonna give you some terrible thrills,” sang the Rocky Horror lips. Pal was an animator and producer who specialized in sci-fi thrillers. It was he who brought The War of the Worlds (another H.G. Wells novel) to the silver screen for the very first time in 1953. Like that better-known movie, When Worlds Collide is a doomsday story—although this time mankind’s survival is threatened not by extraterrestrial warships, but by a rogue planet that’s about to smack right into the earth. When another, potentially habitable planet is discovered, the world’s leaders scramble to save humanity by dispatching a “space ark” filled with a select group of people to colonize this new terrain. Will the desperate plan work? Or is our species destined for extinction? See the movie and find out for yourself.

8. IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953)

Early on in “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” the lips give this game-changer a little love. In 1950, Universal Studios hired Ray Bradbury to pen an original story outline about an alien spaceship. But instead of writing the brief plot synopsis that he’d been paid for, Bradbury overzealously handed in a full-length script. The premise he came up with put a fresh spin on the alien invasion genre, as it posits that extraterrestrial visitors might not necessarily be evil. Bradbury’s plot focuses on an interstellar vessel that crash-lands in Arizona. To get home, the otherworldly crew must fix their ride without getting themselves killed by suspicious human beings. Universal liked the idea, but decided to let someone else put the finishing touches on the script. Bradbury didn’t take this well.

“With the treatment in hand,” Bradbury recalled, “they fired me and hired Harry Essex to do the final screenplay (which, he told me later, was simply putting icing on the cake).” Titled It Came From Outer Space, their finished movie had a major impact on a whole generation of budding directors.

In 1977, Bradbury attended the world premiere of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Afterwards, the author told Spielberg that he’d thoroughly enjoyed the picture. In response, the director said “Close Encounters wouldn’t have been made if I hadn’t seen It Came From Outer Space six times as a kid. Thanks.”

9. THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)

The sole directorial effort of actor Charles Laughton, The Night of the Hunter comes with an unforgettable villain. Reverend Harry Powell, masterfully portrayed by Robert Mitchum, is a serial-killing preacher who weds and murders a series of rich widows. Tattooed onto his knuckles are the words “love” and “hate,” which—as he reveals in the above clip—represent that eternal struggle between good and evil. Eddie from Rocky Horror sports an identical set of tats though, unlike Powell, he never explains their significance. (It probably has something to do with rock ‘n roll and/or hot patooties.)

10. TARANTULA (1955)

Big bug flicks were all the rage in the 1950s. The fad began with Them!, a 1954 Warner Bros. classic about giant, radioactive ants that terrorize New Mexico before going national. When this creepy, crawly picture became one of the year’s highest-grossing films, Hollywood took notice. Over the next few years, a swarm of monster arthropod movies attempted to ride the coattails of Them!, including The Deadly Mantis and The Black Scorpion (both released in 1957). But perhaps the most well-reviewed copycat is Tarantula, a film that sees Clint Eastwood take to the skies in a fighter jet to do battle with a 50-foot arachnid. Whereas Them! relied on puppetry, Tarantula mainly used footage of actual spiders for its effects sequences. As those Rocky Horror lips point out, the film’s resident scientist is played by Leo G. Carroll, whose credits include North by Northwest and five other Alfred Hitchcock pictures.

11. FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)

By Gene Roddenberry’s own admission, Star Trek owes a lot to Forbidden Planet. An epic space opera that carries the whiff of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Forbidden Planet had an abnormally high budget for a 1950s science fiction film, costing around $2 million to create. The result is a gorgeous film loaded with state-of-the-art miniatures and matte paintings.

Particular care was given to realizing the film’s primary non-human character, a lovable robot named Robby. He was brought to “life” by an actor in a suit made out of “thermo-formed” plastics. Far from being an inert costume, the outfit was given a vast array of buttons and gears that energetically spin around throughout his screen time. As if this weren’t enough, neon light tubes come on whenever he speaks. Altogether, the Robby suit cost at least $100,000 to build and contained 2600 feet of wiring. Such technical wizardry landed Forbidden Planet an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects. And, of course, it receives a well-deserved shout-out in the chorus of “Science Fiction/Double Feature.”

12. CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957)

Some references are subtler than others. That magnificent mouth never name-checks this film, but alludes to it by quipping “Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes and passing them used lots of skill.” Curse of the Demon, starring Andrews, was based on “Casting the Runes,” a 1911 short story by M.R. James. A subtle breed of monster film, it features a hellish beast that hunts down accursed human beings. In order to build suspense and uncertainty, director Jacques Tourneur planned on keeping the monster almost completely out of sight. By doing this, he hoped to make the audience question the creature’s existence. But when his producer rejected the idea, Tourneur was forced to shoot long sequences that explicitly show the monster reaching out and killing its prey. Nearly 60 years later, fans still argue about whether this was the right call or a misstep.

13. THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1962)

“And I really got hot when I say Janette Scott fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills,” go the opening song’s lyrics. What are Triffids, you ask? Fictional, man-sized plants capable of walking around on their roots. They also have toxic stingers and an appetite for human flesh. The botanical brutes first appeared in novelist John Wydnam’s 1951 thriller, The Day of the Triffids. By far his most famous book, it tells the story of a meteor shower that blinds everyone who gazes at it. With a huge proportion of humanity rendered sightless, the killer plants (of indeterminate origin) make their move. Two separate BBC miniseries have been based upon The Day of the Triffids; the story was also converted into a 1962 film starring Janette Scott and inspired Alex Garland to write the screenplay for 28 Days Later.

14. BAND OF OUTSIDERS (1964)

“Say, do any of you guys know how to Madison?” Brad Majors asks Frank-N-Furter’s eccentric guests. This wasn’t just a throwaway line; it was an homage. The preceding Rocky Horror dance number is “The Time Warp,” a bit that was inspired by a memorable dance sequence in the 1964 French crime drama Band of Outsiders. An offering from French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, it’s about three wannabe thieves who plot to execute a heist. At one point, the trio dances the Madison in a Parisian cafe.

15. BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970)

Roger Ebert—yes, that Roger Ebert—co-wrote the script for this one-of-a-kind cult classic. Nicknamed BVD by its fans, it was originally supposed to be a sequel to the critically-panned drama Valley of the Dolls (1967). Director Russ Meyer had other ideas. As Ebert put it, the auteur “wanted everything in the screenplay except the kitchen sink. The movie, he theorized, should simultaneously be a satire, a serious melodrama, a rock musical, a comedy, a violent exploitation picture, a skin flick and a moralistic expose … of what the opening crawl called ‘the oft-times nightmarish world of Show Business.’”

Ultimately, BVD evolved into a bit of a parody about an all-female rock group that tries to make it in Hollywood. Soon, the musicians do just that, but find themselves woefully unprepared for stardom’s numerous drawbacks. A downward spiral ensues, complete with drug abuse, one-night stands, and a brutal decapitation.

Ebert’s chaotic movie struck a chord with Richard O’Brien. While The Rocky Horror Picture Show stage musical was still being rehearsed in London, O’Brien brought the cast to a midnight screening of BVD because it had the campy tone that he felt their production should emulate. This style was then carried over into Rocky Horror’s subsequent film adaptation. For services rendered, the movie subtly tips its hat to a certain “moralistic expose”: When Dr. Scott is dragged through the castle, you can see a Beyond the Valley of the Dolls poster in the background.

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10 Biting Facts About Snapping Turtles
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Here in the Americas, lake monster legends are a dime a dozen. More than a few of them were probably inspired by these ancient-looking creatures. In honor of World Turtle Day, here are 10 things you might not have known about snapping turtles.

1. THE COMMON SNAPPING TURTLE IS NEW YORK'S OFFICIAL STATE REPTILE.

Elementary school students voted to appoint Chelydra serpentina in a 2006 statewide election. Weighing as much as 75 pounds in the wild (and 86 in captivity), this hefty omnivore’s natural range stretches from Saskatchewan to Florida.

2. ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES CAN BE LARGE. (VERY LARGE.)

An alligator snapping turtle
NorbertNagel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Utterly dwarfing their more abundant cousin, alligator snappers (genus: Macrochelys) are the western hemisphere’s biggest freshwater turtles. The largest one on record, a longtime occupant of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, weighed 249 pounds.  

A monstrous 403-pounder was reported in Kansas during the Great Depression, though this claim was never confirmed.  

3. COMMON SNAPPERS HAVE LONGER NECKS AND SPIKIER TAILS.

Alligator snappers also display proportionately bigger heads and noses plus a trio of tall ridges atop their shells. Geographically, alligator snapping turtles are somewhat restricted compared to their common relatives, and are limited mainly to the southeast and Great Plains.

4. BOTH VARIETIES AVOID CONTACT WITH PEOPLE.

If given the choice between fight and flight, snapping turtles almost always distance themselves from humans. The animals spend the bulk of their lives underwater, steering clear of nearby Homo sapiens. However, problems can arise on dry land, where the reptiles are especially vulnerable. Females haul themselves ashore during nesting season (late spring to early summer). In these delicate months, people tend to prod and handle them, making bites inevitable.

5. YOU REALLY DON'T WANT TO GET BITTEN BY ONE. 

Snapping turtle jaw strength—while nothing to sneeze at—is somewhat overrated. Common snapping turtles can clamp down with up to 656.81 newtons (N) of force, though typical bites register an average of 209 N. Their alligator-like cousins usually exert 158 N. You, on the other hand, can apply 1300 N between your second molars.

Still, power isn’t everything, and neither type of snapper could latch onto something with the crushing force of a crocodile’s mighty jaws. Yet their sharp beaks are well-designed for major-league shearing. An alligator snapping turtle’s beak is capable of slicing fingers clean off and (as the above video proves) obliterating pineapples.

Not impressed yet? Consider the following. It’s often said that an adult Macrochelys can bite a wooden broom handle in half. Intrigued by this claim, biologist Peter Pritchard decided to play MythBuster. In 1989, he prodded a 165-pound individual with a brand new broomstick. Chomp number one went deep, but didn’t quite break through the wood. The second bite, though, finished the job.

6. SCIENTISTS RECENTLY DISCOVERED THAT THERE ARE THREE SPECIES OF ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES.

A 2014 study trisected the Macrochelys genus. For over a century, naturalists thought that there was just a single species, Macrochelys temminckii. Closer analysis proved otherwise, as strong physical and genetic differences exist between various populations. The newly-christened M. suwanniensis and M. apalachicolae are named after their respective homes—namely, the Suwannee and Apalachicola rivers. Further west, good old M. temminckii swims through the Mobile and the Mississippi.

7. THANKS TO A 19TH CENTURY POLITICAL CARTOON, COMMON SNAPPING TURTLES ARE ALSO KNOWN AS "OGRABMES." 

Snapping turtle cartoon
Urban~commonswiki via Wiki Commons // CC BY PD-US

Drawn by Alexander Anderson, this piece skewers Thomas Jefferson’s signing of the unpopular Embargo Act. At the president’s command, we see a snapping turtle bite some poor merchant’s hind end. Agitated, the victim calls his attacker “ograbme”—“embargo” spelled backwards.

8. ALLIGATOR SNAPPERS ATTRACT FISH WITH AN ORAL LURE …

You can’t beat live bait. Anchored to the Macrochelys tongue is a pinkish, worm-like appendage that fish find irresistible. Preferring to let food come to them, alligator snappers open their mouths and lie in wait at the bottoms of rivers and lakes. Cue the lure. When this protrusion wriggles, hungry fish swim right into the gaping maw and themselves become meals.

9.  … AND THEY FREQUENTLY EAT OTHER TURTLES. 


Complex01, WikimediaCommons

Alligator snappers are anything but picky. Between fishy meals, aquatic plants also factor into their diet, as do frogs, snakes, snails, crayfish, and even relatively large mammals like raccoons and armadillos. Other shelled reptiles are fair game, too: In one Louisiana study, 79.82% of surveyed alligator snappers had turtle remains in their stomachs.

10. YOU SHOULD NEVER PICK A SNAPPER UP BY THE TAIL.

Ideally, you should leave the handling of these guys to trained professionals. But what if you see a big one crossing a busy road and feel like helping it out? Before doing anything else, take a few moments to identify the turtle. If it’s an alligator snapper, you’ll want to grasp the lip of the upper shell (or “carapace”) in two places: right behind the head and right above the tail.

Common snappers demand a bit more finesse (we wouldn’t want one to reach back and nip you with that long, serpentine neck). Slide both hands under the hind end of the shell, letting your turtle’s tail dangle between them. Afterwards, clamp down on the carapace with both thumbs.

Please note that lifting any turtle by the tail can permanently dislocate its vertebrae. Additionally, remember to move the reptile in the same direction that it’s already facing. Otherwise, your rescue will probably turn right back around and try to cross the road again later. 

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Tina Fey
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Tina Fey has transformed modern comedy more than just about anyone else. From the main stage of Second City to the writer’s room of SNL to extremely fetch comedy blockbusters, Elizabeth Stamatina Fey has built a national stage with a dry, eye-popping sarcasm and political satire where no one is safe. She has a slew of Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG, PGA, and WGA awards to prove it—plus a recent Tony nomination (her first). But, more importantly, she’s the closest thing we have to a national comic laureate.

Here are 10 facts about a fantastically blorft American icon.

1. SHE DID A BOOK REPORT ON COMEDY WHEN SHE WAS 11.

Fey got a very early start in comedy, watching a lot of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart, and Norman Lear shows as a kid. Her father and mother sneaked her in to see Young Frankenstein and would let her stay up late to watch The Honeymooners. So it’s no surprise that she chose comedy as the subject of a middle school project. The only book she could get her hands on was Joe Franklin’s Encyclopedia of Comedians, but at least she made a friend. "I remember me and one other girl in my 8th grade class got to do an independent study because we finished the regular material early, and she chose to do hers on communism, and I chose to do mine on comedy," Fey told The A.V. Club. "We kept bumping into each other at the card catalog."

2. THE SCAR ON HER FACE CAME FROM A BIZARRE ATTACK THAT OCCURRED WHEN SHE WAS A CHILD.

Fey’s facial scar had been recognizable but unexplained for years until a profile in Vanity Fair revealed that the mark on her left cheek came from being slashed by a strange man when she was five years old. “She just thought somebody marked her with a pen,” her husband Jeff Richmond said. Fey wrote in Bossypants that it happened in an alleyway behind her Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, home when she was in kindergarten.

3. HER FIRST TV APPEARANCE WAS IN A BANK COMMERCIAL.

Saturday Night Live hired Fey as a writer in 1997. In 1995 she had the slightly more glamorous job of pitching Mutual Savings Bank with a radical floral applique vest and a handful of puns on the word “Hi.” In a bit of life imitating art, just as Liz Lemon’s 1-900-OKFACE commercial was unearthed and mocked on 30 Rock, the internet discovered Fey’s stint awkwardly cheering on high interest rates a few years ago and had a lot to say about her '90s hair.

4. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO BE NAMED HEAD WRITER OF SNL.

Four years after that commercial and two after she joined Saturday Night Live’s writing staff, Fey earned a promotion to head writer. Up until that point, the head writers were named Michael, Herb, Bob, Jim, Steve. You get the picture. She acted as head writer for six seasons until moving on to write and executive produce 30 Rock. Since her departure, two more women (Paula Pell and Sara Schneider) have been head writers for the iconic show.

5. SHE’S THE YOUNGEST MARK TWAIN PRIZE WINNER.

Established in 1998, the Kennedy Center’s hilarious honor has mostly been awarded to funny people in the twilight of their careers. Richard Pryor was the first recipient, and comedians who made their marks decades prior like Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, and George Carlin followed. Fey earned the award in 2010 when she was 40 years old, and the age of her successors (Carol Burnett, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, David Letterman ...) signals that she may hold the title of youngest recipient for some time.

6. SHE WROTE SATIRE FOR HER HIGH SCHOOL NEWSPAPER.

Fey was an outstanding student who was involved in choir, drama, and tennis, and co-edited the school’s newspaper, The Acorn. She also wrote a satirical column addressing “school policy and teachers” under the pun-tastic pseudonym “The Colonel.” Fey also recalled getting in trouble because she tried to make a pun on the phrase “annals of history.” Cheeky.

7. SHE MADE HER RAP DEBUT WITH CHILDISH GAMBINO ON "REAL ESTATE."

Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) first gained notice as a member of Derrick Comedy in college, and Fey hired him at the age of 23 to write for 30 Rock. Before jumping from that show to Community, Glover put out his first mixtape under his stage name. After releasing his debut album, Camp, in 2011, Gambino dropped a sixth mixtape called Royalty that featured Fey rapping on a song called “Real Estate.” “My president is black, and my Prius is blue!"

8. SHE VOICED PRINCESSES IN A BELOVED PINBALL GAME.

Between the bank commercial and Saturday Night Live, Fey has an intriguing credit on her resume: the arcade pinball machine “Medieval Madness.” Most of the game’s Arthurian dialogue was written by Second City members Scott Adsit (Pete Hornberger on 30 Rock) and Kevin Dorff, who pulled in fellow Second City castmate Fey to voice for an “Opera Singer” princess, Cockney-speaking princesses, and a character with a southern drawl. (You can hear some of the outtakes here.)

9. SHE USED MEAN GIRLS TO PUSH BACK AGAINST STEREOTYPES OF WOMEN IN MATH.

Tina Fey and Lindsay Lohan in 'Mean Girls' (2004)
Paramount Home Entertainment

There’s a ton of interesting trivia about Mean Girls, Fey’s first foray into feature film screenwriting. She bid on the rights to Rosalind Wiseman’s book that inspired the movie without realizing it didn’t have a plot. She initially wrote a large part for herself but kept whittling it down to focus on the teenagers, and her first draft was “for sure R-rated.” Fey also chose to play a math teacher to fight prejudice. “It was an attempt on my part to counteract the stereotype that girls can’t do math. Even though I did not understand a word I was saying.” Fey used a friend’s calculus teacher boyfriend’s lesson plans in the script.

10. SHE SET UP A SCHOLARSHIP IN HER FATHER’S NAME TO HELP VETERANS.

Fey’s father Donald was a Korean War veteran who also studied journalism at Temple University. When he died in 2015, Fey and her brother Peter founded a memorial scholarship in his name that seeks to aid veterans who want to study journalism at Temple.

"He was really inspiring," Fey said. "A lot of kids grow up with dreams of doing those things and their parents are fearful and want them to get a law degree and have things to fall back on, but he and our mom always encouraged us to pursue whatever truly interested us." Fey also supports Autism Speaks, Mercy Corps, Love Our Children USA, and other charities.

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