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Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for PSIFF
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for PSIFF

10 Fascinating Facts About J.K. Simmons

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for PSIFF
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for PSIFF

Some people discovered J.K. Simmons through Oz, the gritty prison drama that put HBO on the map. Others noticed him in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002), as the cigar-chomping J. Jonah Jameson. Still more discovered him only a few years ago, when he accepted an Oscar in 2015 for Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. But Simmons didn’t just materialize in the late 1990s. The 62-year-old character actor has been around for a decades—he was just delivering singing telegrams for part of that time. What else should you know about his life and career? Well for starters, here’s his real name …

1. THE “J.K.” STANDS FOR "JONATHAN KIMBLE."

J.K. Simmons was born Jonathan Kimble Simmons—“Kimble” being his mother’s maiden name. Simmons probably would’ve kept his original name, if it weren’t for some professional problems. The way he tells it, most variations of his name were already registered at the actors’ unions when he was starting his career. So he went with J.K., noting that he chose the moniker “well before Ms. Rowling had her Potter books.”

2. HIS KNEES ENDED HIS FOOTBALL CAREER.

As a teenager growing up in Ohio, Simmons played football for several years. But his knees became a problem, so he switched high school cliques. “I went from being a jock to a hippie,” he told The Guardian. “It was a very clear-cut decision. I had to be one or the other. I had to forsake that other aspect of myself. Or I thought I had to, which is regrettable. Quickly, I was back in the pine tress with the hippies, listening to my Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and turning on, tuning in, and dropping out.”

3. HE STUDIED MUSIC IN COLLEGE.

Simmons graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in music. His studies there included voice, composition, and conducting. While he ultimately moved away from music, this background served him well in his role as the sadistic conductor Terence Fletcher in Whiplash.

4. BUT HE CAN BARELY PLAY ANY INSTRUMENTS.

He might know his scales, but don’t ask Simmons to play through Beethoven’s symphonies. Apparently, he was never much of a musician. “I didn’t play anything worth a damn,” he joked to the Los Angeles Times. “I was a singer and a composer and a conductor. I played ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ on every instrument in the orchestra. Played none of them well. My kids both play piano a lot better than I do.”

5. HE ONCE SANG TELEGRAMS IN A TUTU.

Every actor takes odd jobs in the beginning, but Simmons took a job slightly odder than lifeguard or waiter. While he was living in Seattle after college, he worked for a company that provided singing telegrams. Simmons would get an address, grab a bunch of balloons, and then show up to sing the telegram … in a tutu. Simmons was one of several bearded or burly men who handled these “tutu-grams,” and you can check out his uniform in The Tonight Show clip above.

6. HE ALMOST HAD A NUDE CAMEO IN WALL STREET.

Simmons made his film debut in 1994's The Ref, seven years after losing a small role in Oliver Stone's Wall Street. Simmons was initially cast in a “featured part” in the 1987 ode to corporate greed. But he didn’t have any lines; he was just supposed to be “walking around naked or wearing a jock strap or something” in a locker room scene.

Unfortunately, Simmons never got his moment of jock strap glory. The filming schedule was pushed back repeatedly and when it finally came time to shoot, Simmons was locked into a play in Pittsburgh. He had to pass, but he did get his SAG card out of the whole fiasco.

7. HE WAS NEARLY 40 BEFORE HE LANDED HIS FIRST MOVIE ROLE.

When The Ref opened in 1994, Simmons was about 10 months shy of his 40th birthday. So where had he been for the past few decades? On the stage. Simmons was strictly a theater actor for much of his early career. After performing in regional and Off-Broadway productions, he made it onto the Great White Way in 1990 with A Change in the Heir. He continued on Broadway with revivals of Peter Pan and Guys & Dolls, plus Laughter on the 23rd Floor. But he slowly began experimenting with film and television roles, and once his two children were born, he abandoned the stage completely.

Now that his kids are preparing for college, he has hinted that he may return to his theatrical roots.

8. OZ SENT HIM TO THE ER.

Simmons’s big break came with the early HBO show Oz, where he played the villainous Vern Schillinger for six seasons. Portraying this white supremacist wasn’t just emotionally grueling—it was downright dangerous. As Simmons recalled to Esquire, “On Oz one day, I got a chunk of camera embedded in my head and I was passed out on the floor geysering blood while the set medic stood over me, freaking out … I ended up going to the ER and getting nine stitches in my head—real Frankenstein stitches. When I went back to the set, they shot me from the other side for the day.”

9. HE HAS APPEARED IN ALL OF JASON REITMAN’S MOVIES.

Beginning with his role as the screaming boss BR in Thank You for Smoking and ending with his most recent part as Allison’s dad in Men, Women & Children, Simmons has acted in all six of Jason Reitman’s feature films (though only his voice appeared in Young Adult). To date, he is the only actor to do so. “He’s my muse,” Reitman told Variety. “Hitchcock had his blondes, and I have J.K. Simmons.”

10. HE HAS VOICED THE YELLOW M&M FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS.

Even if you haven’t seen Simmons’s movies, TV shows, or Farmers Insurance commercials, you’ve probably heard him. He has lent his voice to video game characters in Portal 2 and The Legend of Korra. More importantly, he has voiced the Yellow M&M since 1996.

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Chloe Efforn
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Animals
John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady
Chloe Efforn
Chloe Efforn

John Lennon was crazy about cats, and though he owned a couple of dogs (Sally and Bernard) over the years, he was better known for getting by with a little help from his feline friends.

1. ELVIS

Growing up, Lennon's beloved mother, Julia, had a named cat after Elvis Presley, whom Julia and John were both crazy about. The Lennons later realized they had misnamed Elvis when "he" gave birth to a litter of kittens in the cupboard, but they didn't change the cat's name based on that small mistake.

2. AND 3. TICH AND SAM

He had two other cats as a boy growing up in Liverpool: Tich and Sam. Tich passed away while Lennon was away at art school (which he attended from 1957 to 1960), and Sam was named after famous British diarist Samuel Pepys

4. TIM

One day, John Lennon found a stray cat in the snow, which his Aunt Mimi allowed him to keep. (John's Aunt Mimi raised him from a young boy through his late teenage years, and he affectionately referred to her as the Cat Woman.) He named the marmalade-colored half-Persian cat Tim.

Tim remained a special favorite of John's. Every day, he would hop on his Raleigh bicycle and ride to Mr. Smith's, the local fishmonger, where he would buy a few pieces of fish for Tim and his other cats. Even after John became famous as a Beatle, he would often call and check in on how Tim was doing. Tim lived a happy life and survived to celebrate his 20th birthday.

5. AND 6. MIMI AND BABAGHI

John and his first wife, Cynthia, had a cat named Mimi who was, of course, named after his Aunt Mimi. They soon got another cat, a tabby who they dubbed Babaghi. John and Cynthia continued acquiring more cats, eventually owning around 10 of them.

7. JESUS

As a Beatle, John had a cat named Jesus. The name was most likely John's sarcastic response to his "the Beatles are bigger than Jesus" controversy of 1966. But he wasn't the only band member with a cat named Jesus: Paul McCartney once had a trio of kittens named Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

8. AND 9. MAJOR AND MINOR

In the mid-1970s, John had an affair with his secretary, May Pang. One day, the studio receptionist brought a box of kittens into the recording studio where John and May were. "No," John immediately told May, "we can't, we're traveling too much." But she picked up one of the kittens and put it over her shoulder. Then John started stroking the kitten and decided to keep it. At the end of the day, the only other kitten left was a little white one that was so loud no one else wanted it. So they adopted it as well and named the pair Major and Minor.

10. AND 11. SALT AND PEPPER

John owned a pair of black and white cats with his wife Yoko Ono. As befitting John's offbeat sense of humor, many places report he christened the white cat Pepper and the black one Salt.

12. AND 13. GERTRUDE AND ALICE

John and Yoko also had two Russian Blue cats named Gertrude and Alice, who each met tragic ends. After a series of sicknesses, Gertrude was diagnosed with a virus that could become dangerous to their young son, Sean. John later said that he held Gertrude and wept as she was euthanized. 

Later, Alice jumped out of an open window in the Lennons' high-rise apartment at the Dakota and plunged to her death. Sean was present at the time of the accident, and he remembers it as the only time he ever saw his father cry.

14., 15. AND 16. MISHA, SASHA, AND CHARO

In later years, John also owned three cats he named Misha, Sasha, and Charo. Always an artist at heart, John loved to sketch his many cats, and he used some of these pictures as illustrations in his books.

This piece originally ran in 2012.

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entertainment
7 Famous Actors Who Starred in Obscure Short Films
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

Well-known actors who can attract attention or lend prestige to film projects can often command significant salaries. Jack Nicholson, for example, reportedly made more than $50 million for portraying The Joker in 1989’s Batman after merchandising royalties were factored in. But performers don’t always opt for money—or even feature-length movies—if a filmmaker is persuasive enough. Here are several notable talents who agreed to appear in obscure short films for a variety of peculiar reasons.

1. HARRISON FORD // WATER TO WINE (2004)

Arguably one of the most successful leading men of the 20th century, Harrison Ford has always been candid about his criteria for film work. In addition to being intrigued by a role, he wants to be compensated. (“No, I got paid,” he told a talk show host who asked if he was nostalgic about returning to the Star Wars universe in 2015.) He apparently made an exception for Water to Wine, a 2004 amateur film shot by a group of snowboarders in Wyoming. Ford—who has a ranch in the state—accepted the role of “Jethro the Bus Driver” as a favor to the filmmakers, who were friends of his son, Malcolm. Ford’s sole request was that his name not appear in the credits.

2. BRYAN CRANSTON // WRITER’S BLOCK (2014)

Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston was shooting the feature film Cold Comes the Night in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy interrupted production. Rather than sit idle, the actor told the movie’s production assistants that if they wanted to try writing a short film, he’d shoot it immediately. Winner Brandon Polanco came up with Writer’s Block, a 13-minute black-and-white mood piece about an author wrestling with a lack of inspiration.

3. BILLY BOB THORNTON // THE LAST REAL COWBOYS (2000)

Billy Bob Thornton broke into Hollywood with his 1994 short film Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade that he later expanded into a full-length feature. That DIY approach may have helped director Jeff Lester entice the actor to star in The Last Real Cowboys, a short that featured Thornton as one of two main characters sitting next to a campfire. The production shot for just one day 50 miles outside of Las Vegas. 

4. OSCAR ISAAC // LIGHTNINGFACE (2016)

A year after Star Wars: The Force Awakens crossed $2 billion at the box office, Oscar Isaac (who portrayed Poe Dameron) appeared in this eccentric short by director Brian Petsos. Isaac is Basil Stitt, a man who gets hit in the face with lightning and is convinced he will soon develop supernatural abilities. Isaac and Petsos previously worked on a feature film, Ticky Tacky.

5. BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH // LITTLE FAVOUR (2013)

The BBC’s Sherlock helped make Benedict Cumberbatch a highly recognizable screen presence worldwide, which in turn helped this short film raise and exceed its $40,000 budget via the Indiegogo platform. Cumberbatch portrays a British intelligence officer active during the Iraq War who is contacted by an American spy to repay a favor. Cumberbatch, who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for The Imitation Game in 2015, also produced the film.

6. MICHAEL FASSBENDER // PITCH BLACK HEIST (2012)

Two-time Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender co-stars in this tight heist thriller about two thieves who are forced to complete a job in total darkness. (Liam Cunningham, who plays Davos Seaworth on Game of Thrones, co-starred.) Director John Maclean knew Fassbender before the actor broke out in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds and convinced him to take the gig. The two later worked on the well-received 2015 Western Slow West.

7. BILL MURRAY // A FILM ABOUT WALKING IN SLOW MOTION (2012)

The urban legends surrounding Murray’s puckish behavior are well-documented, from crashing karaoke parties to spontaneously tending bar. In 2012, Murray was filming a promotional video for a school in South Carolina attended by his son. Afterward, director David Smith asked if he could film Murray walking down a hall with crew members. He complied—and then kept walking, out of the building and into his car. 

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