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15 Hardboiled Facts About Cool Hand Luke

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Paul Newman starred in 1967's Cool Hand Luke as Lucas Jackson, a rebellious man who becomes a hero to his fellow prison camp members for his apparent fearlessness. Over time, he gets beaten down physically and emotionally when his numerous attempts to escape are thwarted, and he eats an insane amount of eggs.

George Kennedy—who won an Oscar for his performance—played Dragline, the chain gang leader who grows to respect Luke and eventually becomes his best friend. The film also boasted great performances from Strother Martin (Captain), Dennis Hopper (Babalugats), Wayne Rogers (Gambler), Harry Dean Stanton (Tramp), and others. Here are some facts about the anti-establishment classic.

1. IT WAS WRITTEN BY AN EX-CON.

While in the Merchant Marine, Donn Pearce was caught counterfeiting money and thrown in a French prison. He escaped, returned to the U.S., and became a safe-cracker. A waitress ratted him out and he spent two years on a prison road gang where he heard about a Luke Jackson—someone who was an excellent poker player, a banjo expert, and who had once eaten 50 boiled eggs for a bet. He wrote about him in his book Cool Hand Luke, which was published in 1965. Pearce sold the movie rights to Warner Bros. for $80,000, and got an additional $15,000 to write the screenplay.

But it was his first time trying to write a screenplay, and Frank Pierson was later hired to rework the draft. Pearce appeared in the movie as the convict Sailor and was the production's technical adviser. He punched someone out on the final day on set and was not invited to the film premiere.

2. JACK LEMMON OR TELLY SAVALAS COULD HAVE PLAYED LUKE.

Jack Lemmon's production company, Jalem Productions, produced the movie, so Lemmon had first dibs on playing the lead, but he recognized that he wasn't right for the part. Telly Savalas was then cast as Luke, but he was in Europe filming The Dirty Dozen, and since he refused to fly, the production had to look elsewhere for the starring role to get started on time.

3. PAUL NEWMAN STUDIED WEST VIRGINIANS TO GET THE ACCENT DOWN.

Newman heard about the project and asked for the part before he had even read the script. Newman, a Cleveland native, spent a weekend in Huntington, West Virginia, with businessman Andy Houvouras, on the recommendation of a mutual friend who was the director of the U.S. Office for Economic Opportunity. Houvouras drove Newman to various counties, where Newman talked to residents and recorded them. Everybody apparently knew who he was with one exception:

"He went to St. Joe High School to go pick up my sister Anne, and this nun walked up to see what the commotion was," Houvouras's son recalled decades later. "Dad said, ‘I would like you to meet Paul Newman,’ and the nun said, ‘Nice to meet you, Mr. Newman, what do you do for a living?’ She had no idea who he was.”

4. IT WAS SET IN FLORIDA, BUT FILMED IN STOCKTON, CALIFORNIA.

A crew went to Tavares Road Prison in Tavares, Florida, to take photographs and measurements so it could be rebuilt in Stockton. A dozen buildings were constructed, including barracks, a mess hall, and guard houses. Spanish moss imported from Louisiana hung from the trees. The actors stayed at the local Holiday Inn. Their mode of transportation to the set and back to their rooms were the trucks used in the movie. They rode on the backs of them.

5. NEWMAN JUDGED THE SHOOT WITH HIS NOSE.

Apparently, Newman had a good feeling about the film. “There's a good smell about this,” Newman told a visitor on the set one day. “We're gonna have a good picture.”

6. THE BOXING MATCH TOOK THREE DAYS TO SHOOT.

George Kennedy said he and Newman were both completely worn out from their boxing match—Kennedy from the fighting, Newman from the fighting and falling onto hard ground for three days in a row.

7. BETTE DAVIS WAS THE ORIGINAL CHOICE TO PLAY LUKE'S MOTHER.

Bette Davis turned down the chance to play Luke's mother, Arletta, which was a one-scene role. It went to Jo Van Fleet (East of Eden) instead, even though she was only 11 years older than Newman. For her single day of shooting, Van Fleet sat on a tree stump, 200 yards from everyone else, looking over her lines. Harry Dean Stanton recalled that Van Fleet asked him to sing to her before her take, and it made her cry.

8. THE DIRECTOR WOULDN'T ALLOW THE ACTORS' WIVES ON SET.

To get the men to feel like they were truly members of a chain gang, director Stuart Rosenberg banned women from the set. Even Joy Harmon ("Lucille") was kept away from the cast. She stayed in a hotel all alone for two days and shot her scene with just Rosenberg.

9. THE CONVICTS WERE REALLY COLD DURING THE CAR WASH SCENE.

Harmon didn't realize how suggestive the scene in which the men watch her wash her car was until she saw it in the theater.

"I just figured it was washing the car. I've always been naive and innocent," she said. "I was acting and not trying to be sexy. Maybe that's why the scene played so well. After seeing it at the premiere, I was a bit embarrassed."

When Rosenberg shot the convicts in the ditch watching Lucille, he used a stand-in: an overcoat-wearing 15-year-old girl. Despite the coat, Kennedy remembered her teeth were chattering from the cold weather. He also wrote, "Those guys shivering in a ditch did some great acting."

10. NEWMAN HAD TROUBLE LEARNING TO PLAY THE BANJO.

Originally, the scene where Newman plays "Plastic Jesus" as an ode to his mother was scheduled for the beginning of the shoot, but after Newman insisted on learning the instrument, Rosenberg delayed it a few weeks. When they tried it and the playing was unsatisfactory, it was bumped until the next to last day of production. Newman and Rosenberg had a shouting match after Newman still couldn't get it down. In what Kennedy remembered as a "tense, electrically charged, quiet" place, Newman tried again. When he finished, Rosenberg called "Print." Newman insisted he could do better. "Nobody could do it better," Rosenberg replied.

It was Stanton who taught Newman how to play "Plastic Jesus."

11. THE STUDIO DEMANDED TO SEE NEWMAN'S BLUE EYES.

Cinematographer Conrad Hall said the studio drove him "insane," and that his filming techniques were repeatedly questioned. Eventually, they explained that he wasn't showcasing Newman's famous eyeballs enough. He had to shoot a scene four times before shooting Newman "correctly."

12. FRANK PIERSON WROTE A WHOLE BACKSTORY FOR THE CAPTAIN TO EXPLAIN ONE FAMOUS LINE.

“The phrase just sort of appeared on the page," Pierson said of the film's famous "What we've got here is ... failure to communicate" line. "I looked at it and thought, ‘Now that’s interesting,' Then I thought, these words are going to be spoken by an actor (Strother Martin) who is playing a real redneck character who probably never went beyond high school, and it has a faintly academic feel to it, that line. I thought, people are going to question it.” So he wrote a backstory for the character.

According to Pierson's biography of the Captain, Strother Martin's character advanced in the prison guard ranks by taking courses in criminology, where he was "exposed to an academic atmosphere." Donn Pearce still thought it was too intelligent of a statement to be made by the Captain, but Pierson won out.

13. NO, NEWMAN DID NOT EAT 50 EGGS.

About that now-iconic hardboiled egg scene? "I never swallowed an egg," Newman admitted to a reporter.

George Kennedy got into the specifics in his book Trust Me: A Memoir. He wrote that Newman "consumed" as many as eight eggs. As soon as Rosenberg would yell "cut", Newman vomited into nearby garbage cans.

14. GEORGE KENNEDY PAID FOR HIS OWN ADVERTISING TO HELP HIM WIN THE OSCAR.

Kennedy took out $5000 in trade paper advertising to campaign for an Oscar. The ad read "George Kennedy—Supporting" over a still from the movie of Dragline carrying Luke. Even so, Kennedy was still surprised when he did take home the statue for Best Supporting Actor—so much so that he hadn't even prepared a speech.

15. DONN PEARCE DIDN'T THINK PAUL NEWMAN WAS RIGHT FOR THE PART.

Though Newman received a lot of acclaim, and a Best Actor Oscar nomination, for playing the part of Luke, Pearce wasn't impressed. “They did a lousy job and I disliked it intensely,” he said in 2011. Pearce thought Newman "was so cute looking. He was too scrawny. He wouldn’t have lasted five minutes on the road."

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5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

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