20 Gonzo Facts About The Muppet Show

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

The namesake series starring Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, created by Jim Henson, debuted on American TV screens over 40 years ago. And the zany antics of Fozzy Bear, Gonzo, the Swedish Chef, and more haven’t left our pop culture consciousness since. It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights, it’s time for some facts about The Muppet Show!

1. THE MUPPET SHOW WASN’T THE FIRST MUPPET SHOW.

Jim Henson originally created the Muppets for a 1955 segment called Sam and Friends, a five-minute show that aired twice a day on NBC affiliate WRC-TV in Washington D.C. from May 1955 to December 1961.

The titular character was a humanoid muppet named Sam, with appearances by an Oscar the Grouch-type monster character named Muchmellon, and Henson’s earliest surviving puppet, Pierre the French Rat, among others. Kermit also made an appearance (he was created using an old coat that once belonged to Henson’s mother), but he wasn’t yet a frog. According to a 1982 interview he was simply known as “Kermit the thing.”

2. VIRTUALLY NONE OF THE EARLY EPISODES EXIST.

Most early local TV episodes like Sam and Friends were broadcast live, and recording them would involve using a kinescope (a specialized camera that recorded a show directly from a black and white monitor as it aired live). Some existing episodes were recorded because Henson wanted to try new puppetry techniques or review a specific performance.

The Muppets eventually made regular appearances on Today beginning in 1961, and would also appear on late-night shows like The Ed Sullivan Show and The Dick Cavett Show, and variety series like The Jimmy Dean Show, as well as on Sesame Street.

3. THEY GOT THEIR BIG TV BREAK ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, BUT IT WASN’T A GOOD FIT.

Muppets began appearing in sketches on Saturday Night Live’s debut season in 1975, most notably a recurring skit called “The Land of Gorch” which dealt with decidedly adult topics like alcohol abuse, adultery, and drugs. Only hired SNL writers, not Henson employees, were allowed to write the sketches, while puppeteers like Henson, Jerry Nelson, and Frank Oz performed them each week.

Of his experiences on SNL, Oz later said, “I think we didn't really belong on Saturday Night Live. I think our very explosive, more cartoony comedy didn't jive with the kind of Second City casual laid-back comedy, so the writers had a lot of trouble writing for us.”

4. THE MUPPET SHOW PILOT WAS ALL ABOUT "SEX AND VIOLENCE."

A Muppet pilot special, The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, aired on ABC in 1975, and was supposed to be a parody of the proliferation of sex and violence on TV. The opening of the show featured guest Jaye P. Morgan looking toward the camera and saying, “This is not gonna be just another cute puppet show,” with the episode following the adventures of characters like Sam the Eagle and Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem bassist Floyd Pepper putting on a pageant based on the seven deadly sins.

5. JIM HENSON USED VALENTINE’S DAY AS A DRY RUN.

A 1974 ABC pilot special was a bit more tame. Titled The Muppets Valentine Show, it features special guest star Mia Farrow helping a character named Wally (in his first and last appearance) with his writer’s block for sketches on the show about the true meaning of love.

6. THE MUPPETS ARE BRITISH.

Both pilots failed to garner enough support for ABC or any other American networks to pick up The Muppet Show as a regular series in 1976, so Henson looked across the pond. British network Associated TeleVision (ATV) decided to pick up the series, and gave Henson a deal to produce each episode at their studios in Elstree, England and broadcast them on ITV stations across the UK.

Once The Muppet Show garnered a strong fan base, the show was sold to the U.S. and other networks across the world in syndication deals.

7. BRITISH AUDIENCES GOT MORE MUPPETS.

Broadcasting methods in the UK caused shorter commercial breaks, which forced Henson and company to film an extra two minutes for each UK episode. Each extra sketch was normally positioned after a middle break, and regularly featured musical numbers or other basic setups without the participation of that week’s guest star.

8. ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN WAS A BIG INFLUENCE ON THE SHOW.

Henson modeled part of the whip-smart sketch framework on the show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, a comedy variety series that aired from 1967 to 1973. Henson and his Muppet Show collaborators even poached a regular Laugh-In sketch called “The Cocktail Party,” for their show called "At the Dance." In both, different colorful characters met at a party to exchange one-liners.

"At the time, we were competing with cartoons, so we kept everything very short and varied, like Laugh-In,” Sesame Street executive producer and Henson colleague Lewis Bernstein said, “which was the best show on TV then.”

9. THE OPENING NUMBER HAD A LOT OF MUPPETS ... JUST NOT ALL AT ONCE.

The extravagant opening number to The Muppet Show featured the cast of Muppets singing and dancing, culminating in each character standing in five distinctive and lighted arches on stage. What seems like a single shot is actually a bit of camera trickery.

Each row was filmed individually, with puppeteers sporting one Muppet per hand, making it roughly seven puppeteers per row. Footage of each pass was then stuck together to make it look like a single performance.

10. THE MUPPETS' THEATER HAD A NAME.

The vaudeville house where the Muppets supposedly put on each performance is identified as “The Muppet Theatre” (notice the “re” spelling of theater given its London location) as seen in posters and backstage signs throughout the series.

But in the sixth episode of the first season, which aired on September 25, 1976, Kermit reveals the name of the structure as the “Benny Vandergast Memorial Theatre.”

“We owe everything to Benny,” Kermit says, “including three months back rent!” This is the only time that the theater isn’t referred to simply as “The Muppet Theatre."

11. THE THEATER IS OWNED BY SCOOTER’S UNCLE.

According to a 1991 Muppets children’s book called The Phantom of the Muppet Theater, the theater was built by a stage actor named John Stone in 1802. But in The Muppet Show, the owner of the theater is J. P. Grosse, a character first introduced in Episode 205 and Scooter’s uncle. The character only made a few appearances on the show, but a running gag with Kermit had the frog going along with whatever demands were being made in Grosse's name due to his fear of the theater’s owner.

12. HOSTING GIGS WERE EXCLUSIVE.

Out of 120 total hosts of The Muppet Show, no celebrity was allowed to host more than once during the show’s initial six-year run. (Although John Denver appeared both on the show and in two specials, John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together and John Denver & the Muppets: Rocky Mountain Holiday.)

Rita Moreno hosted the first episode (and would win an Emmy Award for her appearance), while some celebrities were allowed to be co-hosts. Singers Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge co-hosted in 1978 and singers Roy Rogers and Dale Evans co-hosted in May 1979.

Other hosts included eclectic stars like Johnny Cash, Julie Andrews, Peter Sellers, Harry Belafonte, Bob Hope, Liza Minnelli, Vincent Price, Ethel Merman, Diana Ross, Debbie Harry, and Alice Cooper.

13. THE MUPPETS WERE HAPPY TO LET GUEST HOSTS PLAY FAVORITES.

Since the guests wouldn’t make a repeat appearance, they could make their one and only shot count. Guests were allowed to make special requests to the writers to appear in a scene with their favorite Muppet. Miss Piggy was allegedly the most requested, with Animal as a close second.

14. FOR A VERY BRIEF TIME, GUESTS HOSTS WERE MUPPET-FIED.

Hosts were originally supposed to be given a Muppet version of themselves at the end of their appearance on the show, but the would-be tradition only lasted for the first two episodes. Only actress and singer Connie Stevens and Juliet Prowse were given their Muppet counterparts. The gifts were scrapped due to the unique Muppets being too expensive to create.

15. THE MUPPET SHOW MADE THE FOUNDING FATHERS PROUD.

The Mary Washington Colonial Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) gave The Muppet Show their Television Award of Merit in 1978. It was the first non-historical series to be honored with the award (Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers Neighborhood would win in subsequent years).

According to the DAR website, they are “dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America's future through better education for children,” which begs the question: Would George Washington like Kermit?

16. DON’T LET THE THEATER SETTING FOOL YOU.

Despite the vaudeville shtick, the show was not filmed in front of a full live studio audience.

"The way the show was taped, we would block and tape, which means that each piece of material would take anywhere from half an hour to several hours to tape, so it's a long, slow process,” Henson explained in an interview. “You can't really work in front of an audience that way. I mean, when we had Raquel Welch in the studio, we had a good 150 guys from neighboring studios, but it wasn't an official audience."

17. THERE WAS A LAUGH TRACK, BUT HENSON HATED IT.

To stay with the live act premise of the show, a laugh track was included early on. Henson was reluctant, but ultimately decided to keep it.

"As I look at some of the early shows, I'm really embarrassed by them,” he later said in an interview. “It's always a difficult thing to do well and to create the reality of the audience laughing. I did one special dry—without any laugh track—looked at it, and then tried it adding a laugh track to it, and it's unfortunate, but it makes the show funnier."

But Henson still managed to include some laughs at the laugh track’s expense. In episode 104, Kermit cracks a jokes that it is "up to the laugh track" whether the show is funny or not. At the end of episode 320, Kermit signs off saying, "You've been a wonderful laugh track!"

18. "MAHNA MAHNA" ORIGINATED FROM A DECIDEDLY NON-MUPPET-APPROVED MOVIE.

Most people know the distinctive four-syllable tune from a sketch that aired during The Muppet Show’s 1976 premiere, but the song came from a 1968 Italian soft-core movie called Sweden: Heaven and Hell.

Sesame Street producer Joan Ganz Cooney allegedly heard the track on the radio and asked Henson and Oz to perform it with the Muppets on the show in 1969 before the pair rehashed the music number for The Muppet Show.

19. GONZO’S CRAZY ACTS CAME OUT OF CRAZY WRITERS' ROOM IDEAS.

The Great Gonzo is best known for his weird and wacky stunts, but he started out as a completely different Muppet altogether. Henson allegedly had an unhinged character in mind, and simply chose the actual Gonzo puppet from a previous special called “The Great Santa Claus Switch,” where the puppet was a character called Snarl, the Cigar Box Frackle.

When thinking how to make the new character of Gonzo distinct, puppeteer Dave Hoelz suggested, “He might have been forgotten about during the early meetings, except that Jack Burns—who was head writer on the first season—said, ‘Yeah! Yeah! Like he does these crazy acts like eating a tire to 'Flight of the Bumblebee!'" I guess that sentence inspired the writers, so Gonzo ate his tire in the first episode and grew from there.”

Gonzo would go on to perform 20 stunts in The Muppet Show’s 120-episode run.

20. HENSON’S IDOL APPEARED IN THE SECOND SEASON.

The guest host for episode 207 was ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy. The pair were Henson’s heroes, inspiring him at a young age to get into puppetry. Bergen and McCarthy would also appear in The Muppet Movie, which Henson dedicated to his idol after he passed away before the release of the film.

“My act and the Muppets are both sophisticated and adult, but children love them, too, because we give children a chance to use their imaginations,” Bergen said of his experience on The Muppet Show. “They complete the illusion that our characters start."

18 Facts About The Wizard of Oz for Its 80th Anniversary

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

It was the quintessential Golden Age of Hollywood film: Lovable characters (yes, even the bad guys), catchy song-and-dance numbers, and a story that still makes audiences cry 80 years after its initial release. The Wizard of Oz is an often-imitated but never-duplicated cinematic treasure (in this age of the multiple remake, that’s saying something) that remains an integral part of childhood decades after it first enchanted audiences in theaters.

Based on L. Frank Baum's wildly popular 1900 children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the iconic MGM film from 1939 is still a gift that keeps on giving with its innumerable catchphrases (“There’s no place like home,” “It’s a twistah! It’s a twistah!” “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!”), and timeless songs like “Over the Rainbow” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”

Many movies have tried to top that magical, life-changing moment when farm girl Dorothy Gale (a 16-year-old Judy Garland) opens the door to Munchkinland and trades her drab, sepia-toned Kansas life for one of boundless Oz Technicolor—and none has yet succeeded. But as with any other classic movie, The Wizard of Oz has its share of triumphs, tragedies, and trivia. Read on for some of some insights into this venerated Hollywood masterpiece.

1. You can thank the power of Technicolor for Dorothy's ruby slippers.

More so than the braids, the toy Toto, or even the blue-and-white gingham dress, those sparkly ruby-red shoes are the key to any Dorothy Gale costume. But one of the most important images of the enduring Wizard of Oz mythos did not come from the mind of author L. Frank Baum, but instead from Oz screenwriter Noel Langley. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book series, Dorothy’s shoes were made of silver. However, Langley recommended the slippers be changed to ruby for the film due to the fact that the bright red hue would show up much better against the Technicolor yellow brick road.

The silver shoes did make a comeback nearly 40 years later, when The Wiz was adapted for the big screen and Diana Ross’s Dorothy kicked it old-school for her Oz footwear.

2. Getting Dorothy home to Kansas was an easier feat than maintaining a director for The Wizard of Oz.

Victor Fleming may be the one officially credited onscreen, but The Wizard of Oz can boast four directors. The first, Richard Thorpe, was fired after less than two weeks. George Cukor was brought in next, but he was summoned away to go work on—of all projects!—Gone With the Wind. Then Fleming stepped in, until he too was called over to assist with Gone With the Wind, and King Vidor was hired to complete the movie.

3. Ray Bolger, forever immortalized as the Scarecrow, was initially cast as the Tin Man.


And he wasn’t too happy about it. Ray Bolger felt his signature, loose-limbed dancing style would be stifled as the rusted-stiff Tin Man (“I’m not a tin performer. I’m fluid,” said Bolger of the part). So he managed to convince the actor cast as the Scarecrow, Buddy Ebsen, to switch roles. Considering Ebsen was so easygoing about the change, it seemed like this was all meant to be. Or not ...

4. Buddy Ebsen, the original Tin Man, had to be replaced after suffering a severe allergic reaction to the aluminum powder makeup.

Nine days into production on The Wizard of Oz, Ebsen found himself in the hospital, unable to breathe from the aluminum-powder makeup he wore as the Tin Man (cue the “Nice going, Bolger,” here). "My lungs were coated with that aluminum dust they had been powdering on my face," Ebsen explained in the book The Making of The Wizard of Oz. The actor, who would go on to star in The Beverly Hillbillies TV show in the 1960s, was subsequently replaced by Jack Haley (whose Tin Man makeup was tweaked from a powder to a paste).

5. Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, suffered burns from her makeup.

Ebsen wasn’t the only one who had a near-fatal experience with his Oz cosmetics. Actress Margaret Hamilton, who played the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West, suffered a second-degree burn on her face and a third-degree burn on her hand while filming her character’s dramatic, fiery exit from Munchkinland. Hamilton learned after the fact that her makeup was copper-based (read: toxic), and that if it hadn’t been removed immediately, she may not have lived to tell the tale.

6. Judy Garland's original Dorothy look was much more Hollywood glamour girl.

Judy Garland’s Dorothy will always be remembered for her simple farm-girl look (and the subtle Emerald City makeover later in the movie), but when production first began on The Wizard of Oz, Garland was given the traditional Hollywood treatment. That meant a bouncy, blonde wig and tons of makeup. Fortunately, for the film’s legacy, Glam Dorothy didn’t last long. It was interim director George Cukor who did away with the wig and cosmetics, turning Dorothy back into what she was all along: A girl from the Kansas prairie.

7. Frank Morgan played not one, not two, but five characters in The Wizard of Oz.

Most of the main actors in The Wizard of Oz played two roles: A Kansas character and his or her Oz counterpart. This meant Ray Bolger (Scarecrow), Jack Haley (Tin Man), and Bert Lahr (Cowardly Lion) doubled as farmhands, and Margaret Hamilton got wicked in both Kansas (Miss Gulch) and Oz (the Witch). But Frank Morgan, who portrayed the shady Professor Marvel in the Kansas scenes (and was only billed for that role in the credits), not only showed up in Oz as the Wizard, but also as the uppity Doorman to the Emerald City, the Horse-of-a-Different-Color-owning Cabbie, and the snippy (later, sobbing) Wizard’s Guard.

8. Margaret Hamilton appeared on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood to talk about her most famous role.

In 1975, former kindergarten teacher Margaret Hamilton was a guest on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. On this episode, Hamilton spoke with Fred Rogers at length about her celebrated—albeit frightening—role, as a way to help children watching at home understand that her playing the Wicked Witch, in the words of a familiar Neighborhood term, was all “make-believe.”

Hamilton discussed how kids could better sympathize with the Witch’s perspective by explaining her misunderstood nature: “She’s what we refer to as ‘frustrated.’ She’s very unhappy because she never gets what she wants.” (A prescient Hamilton was also hitting on the concept for the novel—and subsequent musical—Wicked here, 20 years before its publication.) The actress then ended her visit with Mr. Rogers in the coolest way possible: Dressing up in a Wicked Witch of the West costume (sans green makeup) and briefly slipping into her mischievous cackle.

9. The classic 1939 MGM film was not the first cinematic adaptation of L. Frank Baum's novel.

Back in 1910, a 13-minute silent film called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was produced. By today’s standards, it’s delightfully creepy, but 105 years ago, it was probably a revelation for audiences. The movie also took a lot of liberties with Baum’s original story, which can be discombobulating for modern viewers. In this version, Dorothy and the Scarecrow are already pals by the time they’re both swept up in the (very primitive-looking) cyclone for their journey to Oz. The movie also ends with Dorothy ditching Kansas and opting instead to stick around this far more exciting magical land. “There’s no place like–Oz?”

Another silent film, also called The Wizard of Oz, was released in 1925 and featured a young Oliver Hardy in the role of the Tin Woodsman. It, too, deviated significantly from the book.

10. At one point, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion were doing a 1939 dance craze: the Jitterbug.

But you never got to see it, because the entire sequence was cut from Oz for time (plus there’s the theory that producers felt inserting an up-to-the-minute dance craze would date the film). Right before the Wicked Witch’s Flying Monkeys descend upon Dorothy and her friends in the Haunted Forest, the group was supposed to be attacked by an insect (“The Jitterbug”) that would make them dance uncontrollably. In fact, at the start of the clip above, you can still hear the Witch comment to one of her monkeys, “I’ve sent a little insect on ahead to take the fight out of them” (continuity be damned).

Full audio of the “Jitterbug” song still exists, as well as some very raw footage. The “Jitterbug” song-and-dance number has also been reinstated in some stage versions of The Wizard of Oz (including a 1995 high school production that featured the writer of this piece).

11. Toto the dog made more than the Munchkin actors.

Margaret Pellegrini, who portrayed one of the Munchkins in the film, said that she was paid $50 a week to work on Oz. In 1939, that was a decent wage for a working actor. Trouble was, Dorothy’s canine companion was pulling in a whopping $125 a week. That had to make things awkward on set.

12. An Iowa newspaper article spun The Wizard of Oz as a cure for "war nerves."

One day after Germany invaded Poland (thus beginning the Second World War), Iowa’s Mason City Globe Gazette ran an article heralding The Wizard of Oz’s run at the local movie house. As a way to both increase morale and ticket sales, Oz was billed as the perfect escapist fantasy for those worried about the events overseas. The actual headline read: “War Nerves? See The Wizard of Oz for a Genuine Rest.” Glinda the Good Witch and her cohorts may not have been able to solve the problem of encroaching Nazism, but at least they provided a couple hours’ worth of comfort away from the horrors of the real world.

13. Busby Berkeley choreographed an extended (and deleted) version of "If I Only Had a Brain."

Another casualty of the cutting room floor, this extended “If I Only Had a Brain” sequence showcased Ray Bolger’s deft control over his seemingly elastic body. It is also extremely trippy and gave the Scarecrow the inexplicable ability to fly—which wasn’t going to gel with the rest of the movie (if the Scarecrow could fly, then why didn’t he go one-on-one with the Wicked Witch?). Luckily for Berkeley, the decision to delete this part of the scene in no way hurt the legendary director-choreographer’s place in the annals of movie musical history.

14. Margaret Hamilton used to sneak into Billie Burke's dressing room.

It’s not easy being green, as Margaret Hamilton can attest. The Wicked Witch actress’ sorry excuse for a dressing room was a canvas tent that, in Hamilton’s words, was “simply awful.” But Billie Burke, who portrayed Glinda the Good Witch, had her own thin slice of pink-and-blue-hued heaven on the MGM lot that was probably decorated by Glinda herself (in reality, Burke was the widow of vaudeville impresario Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. and knew a thing or two about glamorous living). “She had a pink and blue dressing room,” said Hamilton in The Making of The Wizard of Oz. “With pink and blue powder puffs and pink and blue bottles filled with powder and baby oil. And pink and blue peppermints.” So on days Burke wasn’t on set, Hamilton admitted to eating her lunch in her co-star’s palace-like inner sanctum.

15. Shirley Temple was considered for the role of Dorothy.

At 10 years old, Shirley Temple fit the little-girl profile of Dorothy Gale much more than the teenaged Judy Garland. She was also a box office sensation who could guarantee packed movie houses. So it made good business sense that some of The Wizard of Oz's producers were considering the child star for the role. But the official reason for why Temple ultimately didn’t end up as Dorothy remains a part of Hollywood lore: it could have been because 20th Century Fox wouldn’t loan her to MGM for the film, or because Temple was supposedly part of an inter-studio trade with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow that fell through upon Harlow’s death in 1937. Also, while Temple may have charmed movie audiences with her cherubic renditions of “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” she didn’t stand a chance when going up against a vocal powerhouse like Garland.

16. Victor Fleming slapped Judy Garland in order to finish a shot.

Today, it would be considered abuse and grounds for immediate dismissal. But 76 years ago, slapping your star across the face was not only condoned, it actually produced results. When Judy Garland couldn’t get her giggles under control when Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion made his big entrance, director Victor Fleming didn’t have time to play games. He took Garland aside, whacked her on the cheek, and then ordered her to “Go in there and work.”

17. Jello-O was the secret ingredient behind the horse of a different color.

When Dorothy and her friends arrive in the Emerald City, they take a scenic tour around the fun-filled town courtesy of a cabbie and his Horse of a Different Color. In order to achieve the horse’s purple, then red, then yellow hue, the production team created a Jell-O-based tint that wouldn’t be harmful to the animals on set (yep, the ASPCA was involved). The gelatin powder worked wonders, except for the fact that the horses couldn’t stop licking its sugary sweetness off their coats!

18. The Wizard of Oz has several connections to Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

After Disney’s first-ever feature-length animated movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, did gangbusters at the box office following its 1937 release, MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer was determined to follow in Uncle Walt’s fairy-tale-to-screen footsteps. And once Mayer was in production on The Wizard of Oz, the Snow White influences were hard to avoid. Actress Gale Sondergaard was tested as the Wicked Witch of the West, with the intention that the character would be a sultry villainess à la Snow White’s Evil Queen. But even though producers ultimately decided that “Bad witches are ugly”—and Sondergaard lost out on the part—Snow White still literally managed to sneak into the picture unseen: Adriana Caselotti, who voiced Snow White in the Disney movie, sang the line “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” during the Tin Man’s lament, “If I Only Had a Heart.”

Additional Sources: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 50 Years of Magic documentary The Making of The Wizard of Oz, by Aljean Harmetz A Brief Guide to Oz: 75 Years Going Over the Rainbow, by Paul Simpson Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master, by Michael Sragow The Wizard of Oz FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Life According to Oz, by David J. Hogan

19 Facts About My So-Called Life On Its 25th Anniversary

Claire Danes and Jared Leto star in My So-Called Life (1994).
Claire Danes and Jared Leto star in My So-Called Life (1994).
ABC

On August 25, 1994, teenagers across the country were introduced to Angela Chase, Claire Danes's character in the beloved, albeit short-lived, teen drama My So-Called Life. On the 25th anniversary of the series' debut, we're taking a look back at the groundbreaking series.

1. Alicia Silverstone almost played Angela Chase.

Alicia Silverstone
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While Claire Danes ended up playing Angela Chase in My So-Called Life, then-unknown Alicia Silverstone was considered for the role. The 16-year-old Silverstone was ultimately declared "too pretty" to play such a confused character by series co-executive producer Marshall Herskovitz, and 13-year-old Danes—who better fit the awkward teenager role—was chosen instead. Silverstone would get her breakout role one year later, in the form of Clueless's Cher Horowitz.

2. A.J. Langer also auditioned for the role of Angela.

Silverstone wasn't Danes' only competition for the role of Angela Chase. A.J. Langer also auditioned for the part before Danes landed the role. Instead, Langer got the role of Rayanne Graff, a troubled teen and Angela’s new best friend.

3. Rickie Vasquez was the first openly gay teenager on American network TV.

Wilson Cruz played the character of Enrique “Rickie” Vasquez on My So-Called Life. Although there were gay characters on TV before 1994 (Billy Crystal played the 20-something gay son Jodie Dallas on Soap back in 1977), Rickie Vasquez was the first openly gay teenage character on American network TV.

4. Jared Leto almost turned down the role of Jordan Catalano.


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Jordan Catalano was only supposed to appear in the pilot episode of My So-Called Life. "But as soon as we got Jared on film, we knew he had to be a continuing character," series creator Winnie Holzman said. Leto was also very hesitant to take the role because he was less interested in acting at the time and was flirting with the idea of going to art school instead. "I remember not being positive that he wanted to do it," Holzman said. "I was a little worried that he didn’t want the part that much. He seemed to have ambivalent feelings. Maybe I am projecting.”

5. The character of tino was never seen.

During the entire series run, the character of Tino was mentioned, but never seen.

6. The SERIES WAS Filmed at a Real High School.

The Pittsburgh-based Liberty High School is fictional. My So-Called Life was shot on location at University High School in Los Angeles. Filming took place during the school year, so students, teachers, and classes had to be shifted to other parts of the school that weren’t being used for production. The school was also used in 7th Heaven, Joan of Arcadia, and Arrested Development.

7. Series Creator Winnie Holzman MADE a cameo.

She played teacher Mrs. Krzyzanowski in the episode “Father Figures.” Holzman only appeared in one episode during the series run.

8. Jared Leto's Brother Also had a Role on the Show.

Jared Leto’s older brother Shannon appeared on My So-Called Life as Jordan Catalano’s bandmate (Frozen Embryo’s drummer) Shane. A few years later, in 1998, the brothers started the real-life rock band 30 Seconds To Mars. Jared Leto is the band's lead singer/guitarist and Shannon Leto plays drums.

9. Bess Armstrong had an Interesting Nickname.

Bess Armstrong, who played Angela’s mother Patty Chase, was nicknamed “Precious Poodle” while filming My So-Called Life. Actress Mary Kay Place, who played Sharon’s mother Camille Cherski, gave her the nickname.

10. Only two episodes don't have an Angela Chase Voiceover.

Angela Chase provides the voiceover in all the episodes except two: “Weekend,” which Danielle Chase narrated, and “Life of Brian,” which Brian Krakow narrated. Todd Holland directed both episodes.

11. My So-Called Life Faced Stiff Competition.


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Though it was critically acclaimed, My So-Called Life had a difficult time finding new viewers thanks to its highly competitive time slot: The show aired on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. EST against Mad About You and Friends on NBC and Martin and Living Single on Fox.

12. It aired on MTV.

Before ABC officially canceled My So-Called Life in 1995, episodes aired during MTV’s Buzz Bin programming block—which usually featured music videos from up-and-coming alternative bands of the mid-'90s—in an attempt to build an audience for the struggling teen drama.

13. Fans Tried to Save the Show.

In 1995, Operation Life Support was a short-lived fan campaign to save My So-Called Life when it was on the verge of cancellation—the first online fan campaign undertaken to save a beloved TV show. Fans sent ABC thousands of letters that pleaded with network executives to renew the show for a second season and posted on AOL in an attempt to revive the teen drama from cancellation.

Ultimately, ABC canceled My So-Called Life after one 19-episode season due to its very low ratings and Danes’ reluctance to reprise her role as Angela Chase for another year. In 1996, she co-starred with Leonard DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.

14. CLaire Danes won a Golden Globe for the role.


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In 1994, when she was just 15, Danes won a Golden Globe for Best Actress – Television Series Drama for playing Angela Chase in My So-Called Life, beating out Jane Seymour, Heather Locklear, and Angela Lansbury. Danes would later win three more Golden Globe Awards—one in 2011 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television for Temple Grandin and two for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama (one in 2012 and one in 2013) for playing Carrie Mathison on Showtime’s Homeland.

15. claire Danes Wasn't the Only Award Winner Among the Cast.

In 1995, My So-Called Life won three Youth In Film Awards for Best New Family Television Series and Best Performance by a Youth Ensemble in a Television Series. Lisa Wilhoit, who played Danielle Chase, tied with Earth 2’s J. Madison Wright for the Best Performance by a Youth Actress in a Drama Series award. Devon Gummersall, who played Brian Krakow, was nominated for Best Performance by a Youth Actor in a Drama Series, but lost to Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman’s Shawn Toovey.

16. There was a follow-up book.

In 1999, a novelization titled My So-Called Life Goes On continued the story of Angela Chase and her friends. Author Catherine Clark wrote the book, which goes for upwards of $80 on Amazon.

17. Graham Chase Was a Great Dad—According to TIME.

Tom Irwin’s Graham Chase was named one of TV Guide’s Top 50 TV Dads of All Time. The list also included the likes of Philip Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch.

18. The Show is Referenced in Juno.

In 2007, screenwriter Diablo Cody referenced My So-Called Life in her Academy Award winning movie Juno. The character of Paulie Bleeker, played by Michael Cera, makes a comment about getting the band back together and Juno MacGuff replies, “Once Tino gets a new drumhead, we're just like ready to rock.”

19. The Ataris were influenced by the show.

Indiana Pop Punk/Emo band The Ataris wrote a song called “My So-Called Life.” The song chronicles The Ataris’ singer/songwriter Kristopher Roe’s obsession with Claire Danes.

This story has been updated for 2019.

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