15 Facts About John Carpenter’s Christine

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Start your engines for the scariest Stephen King adaptation courtesy of the master of horror, John Carpenter. While Christine isn’t the most high-profile release in either King or Carpenter’s careers, the movie about an evil 1958 Plymouth Fury that possesses its owner remains a beloved cult classic that still spins the wheels of horror fans to this day. Here are some facts about Christine, which turns 35 this year.

1. STEPHEN KING PITCHED THE MOVIE TO GET MADE.

Producer Richard Kobritz helped adapt Stephen King’s novel Salem’s Lot as a TV miniseries in 1979, and the author asked Kobritz whether he’d be up for adapting any more of his works. King initially sent the producer the manuscript for Cujo, which Kobritz didn’t like (the book would eventually be published in 1981 with a movie adaptation also in 1983). When he passed on that, King sent over the manuscript for Christine, which Kobritz optioned because he identified with how it inverted "America's obsession with the motorcar."

2. JOHN CARPENTER SIGNED ON SIMPLY BECAUSE HE WANTED A JOB.

Kobritz approached John Carpenter after the critical and financial failure of his 1982 adaptation of The Thing, which is now widely regarded as one of the filmmaker’s best.

The pair previously worked together on Carpenter’s 1978 TV movie Someone’s Watching Me! and Carpenter agreed to take on the project because he wanted to jump immediately into another movie after his first high-profile box office flop.

3. CARPENTER AND THE SCREENWRITER WERE STEPHEN KING VETERANS.

Christine wasn’t Carpenter’s first foray into adapting the twisted mind of Stephen King. He was originally supposed to direct the adaptation of Firestarter, but was fired from the project because of the poor performance of The Thing. (Firestarter was eventually released in 1984 and directed by Mark L. Lester.)

Carpenter’s screenwriter on his version of Firestarter was Bill Phillips, who jumped ship once Carpenter was let go and joined up as the screenwriter on Christine once Kobritz hired Carpenter.

4. HORROR HITS AT THE TIME FORCED CHANGES TO THE SCRIPT.

In King’s book, Christine is seemingly haunted by her former owner, Roland D. LeBay, who appears to mild-mannered nerd Arnie in the backseat of the car as a rotting corpse taunting the car’s new owner.

Phillips, looking to distinguish his script from the book—as well as preemptively cut costs for what would inevitably be an expensive corpse effect—chose to cut Roland from the movie and instead have LeBay’s younger brother George sell Christine to Arnie.

Phillips also made the cut because a talking corpse taunting a movie’s main character was also used in John Landis’s 1981 horror-comedy classic An American Werewolf in London, when Griffin Dunne haunts his best friend, David Naughton’s protagonist character, and he didn’t want to seem redundant.

5. HIT SONGS PLAYED A PART IN SCRIPT CHANGES, TOO.

Each of the chapters in King’s book begins with a corresponding 1950s rock n' roll lyric, which inspired Phillips to include rock music cues written directly into scenes in his script. But he wanted to include a more contemporary song to set the tone for the movie. He found it when he saw the music video for “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood and the Destroyers playing on MTV. (Christine ended up being the first movie to use the song, which has now been used in countless movies and TV shows since.)

Carpenter loved the song so much that he invited Thorogood to have a cameo in the film as one of the junkyard employees at the end of the movie, but he chose to cut the scene because Thorogood’s acting wasn’t good enough.

As was his normal approach, Carpenter also wrote the electronic score with collaborator Alan Howarth, which they completely improvised to the final cut of the movie. The score shares similar themes with the infamous 1982 Michael Myers-less sequel, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which Carpenter produced and also wrote the music for with Howarth.

6. THE STUDIO WANTED A HARD R RATING.

Alexandra Paul and Keith Gordon in 'Christine' (1983)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Columbia Pictures wanted to take advantage of the ratings system and King’s reputation to have Christine be a hard-R-rated movie. But Carpenter specifically joined the project to get away from the blood, guts, and splatter that defined his previous movie, The Thing. Plus, most of the car-related carnage in Christine doesn’t involve gore.

So to achieve the MPAA rating the studio wanted, Carpenter simply had Phillips expound upon King’s colorful curse words used in the book to have the high school-aged characters constantly swear.

7. CARPENTER DIDN’T WANT TO CAST MOVIE STARS.

Columbia execs wanted a star-studded cast to round out their King adaptation, and suggested that Brooke Shields—coming off the hit film The Blue Lagoonbe cast as Leigh, and Scott Baio be cast as Arnie. But Carpenter didn’t want recognizable faces in the movie as a way to stress that the titular car was the real star of the movie.

8. KEVIN BACON WAS ORIGINALLY CAST AS ARNIE.

Carpenter held auditions in California and New York, looking for the right fresh faces for the teen characters in the film, and he found the perfect newcomer for Arnie: Kevin Bacon.

The now-famous actor’s only other significant work at the time was bit parts in Animal House and Friday the 13th, and Kobritz and Carpenter thought Arnie’s transformation from dweeby hero to suave villain was a perfect fit for Bacon. But after being cast, Bacon dropped out when he was offered a starring role in Footloose.

Carpenter went back the the drawing board to cast Arnie, and eventually found actor Keith Gordon in a play in New York City. Carpenter initially took to Gordon as Arnie because of the actor’s previous appearance in Brian De Palma’s thriller Dressed to Kill.

9. CARPENTER HAD A DRIVING MISHAP ON HIS FIRST DAY.

John Stockwell and Keith Gordon in 'Christine' (1983)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The assembly-line opening of the movie was the first scene shot for Christine, but the director almost didn’t make it to the set. On the way to the massive warehouse in the San Fernando Valley where they were shooting the scene, which had been outfitted to look like a post-World War II Detroit factory, Carpenter was pulled over by the highway patrol because they thought he was drunk or speeding. Carpenter eventually made it, and was able to get the shots for the day.

Christine’s origin story sequence was the only part of the movie shot on Fuji film to give it a softer, more period-appropriate look. The rest of the movie was shot using Kodak film to make the scenes sharper and more contemporary.

10. THE PRODUCTION REUSED A KEY SET.

Darnell’s Auto Body Shop was shot at a massive warehouse space previously used as a wire factory during World War II, and located in Irwindale, California—and it was more than just a set. Production designers used half of the space to stand in as the actual garage and junkyard, but the other half was used as a body shop to assemble and fix the numerous versions of Christine used in the actual movie.

11. CARPENTER’S DIRECTING STYLE WAS INSPIRED BY HIS ROVING MOVIE MONSTER.

In his genre-defining classic Halloween, Carpenter was among the first filmmakers to use the Panaglide camera system, a predecessor to the ubiquitous Steadicam system used today that allows handheld shots to seamlessly glide anywhere the operator chooses.

Carpenter revisited the technique extensively in Christine, relying on the Panaglide and long dolly shots for the visual aesthetic of the movie with the movement of the camera representing the relentless and rolling nature of Christine.

12. THERE WAS A CAR FOR EVERYTHING.

Since there were no big expensive movie stars in the film, Carpenter allotted a large portion of the budget toward 17 different versions of Christine created for the movie.

Those 17 complete cars were reassembled from 24 different models of the 1958 Plymouth Fury the production tracked down and refurbished from across the country in pre-production. A different Christine was used depending on what happened in particular scenes. The special effects team, led by supervisor Roy Arbogast—known for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kindput together reinforced Christines for stunts; Christines with souped-up engines; spotless, camera-ready Christines and more.

All but two of the 17 Christines made for the movie were destroyed.

13. CHRISTINE’S RESURRECTION HAPPENED AFTER PRODUCTION WRAPPED.

Carpenter originally had the scene where Christine resurrects herself in front of Arnie happen offscreen, but a lack of special effects in an initial cut made Carpenter think some needed to be added. He asked Arbogast to create the pre-CGI effects of Christine going from completely trashed to totally spotless after production wrapped.

The effect was achieved by hitting carefully placed hydraulic clamps positioned inside one of the Christines, filming it upside down so the gravity would trick the eye into thinking it looked more real, and playing the footage backwards in the final film.

14. KEITH GORDON WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN CHOOSING HIS WARDROBE.

Gordon was initially given contemporary wardrobe to wear as Arnie, but after reading the script he helped develop his character’s fashion changes as he becomes more and more possessed by Christine.

Gordon suggested that as his character becomes more evil, his wardrobe should become more and more over-the-top to reflect his crazed mental state. At Gordon’s suggestion, as the movie progresses, Arnie’s clothes add more deep reds to the color scheme (just like Christine), and become a mix between a 1950s greaser and a bad guy in a western.

15. THE PRODUCTION BUILT A GAS STATION JUST TO DESTROY IT.

A scene from John Carpenter's 'Christine' (1983)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Stunt coordinator Terry Leonard, perhaps best known for doubling Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones movies, did most of the stunt driving for Christine. Most notably, Leonard supervised and was the driver for the gas station sequence where the entire building explodes and a flame-covered Christine careens out of the destruction to chase down school bully Buddy Repperton (played by then-actor William Ostrander, who is currently a Democratic candidate for District 35 of the California State Assembly).

Throughout the sequence, Leonard wore a fireproof suit equipped with limited oxygen to keep him safe for the duration of the stunt. Given the blacked out windshield and side windows of the evil Christine, Leonard had to complete the stunt without being able to see anything.

Ira Aldridge: The Black Shakespearean Actor Who Broke Theater's Color Barrier

Ira Aldridge as Othello circa 1830
Ira Aldridge as Othello circa 1830
Henry Perronet Briggs, Wikimedia // Public Domain

It's easy to forget that before the dawn of film, stage actors were power players; many of them carried just as much clout as modern Hollywood stars. In 1880, Sarah Bernhardt earned $46,000 for a month of performances on her first New York tour alone (which would be well over $1 million today). In 1895, English actor Henry Irving made enough of a name for himself to become the first actor in history to receive a British knighthood. And way back in 1849, two rival Shakespearean actors, William Macready and Edwin Forrest, caused such a stir with their competing productions of Macbeth that their fans ended up rioting in the streets of Manhattan.

But before all of them, there was Ira Aldridge. Born in New York in 1807, Aldridge made such a name for himself in the theaters of the mid-19th century that he went on to be awarded high cultural honors, and is today one of just 33 people honored with a bronze plaque on a chair at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. But what makes Aldridge’s achievements all the more extraordinary is that, at a time of widespread intolerance and racial discrimination in the U.S., he was black.

Young, Gifted, and Black

The son of a minister and his wife, Aldridge attended New York’s African Free School, which had been established by the New York Manumission Society to educate the city's black community. His first taste of the theater was probably at Manhattan’s now-defunct Park Theatre, and before long he was hooked. While still a student, Aldridge made his stage debut—at the African Grove Theatre, which had been established by free black New Yorkers around 1821—in a performance of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s adaptation of Pizarro. According to some accounts, his Shakespearean debut followed not long after, when he took on the title role in the African Grove Theatre's production of Romeo & Juliet.

These early performances were successes, as was the African Grove Theatre, which quickly proved the most renowned of the few theaters in New York staffed mainly by black actors and attended mostly by black audiences. But despite these early triumphs, both Aldridge and the Grove had their fair share of hardships.

Shortly after its opening, the Grove was forced to close by city officials, supposedly over noise complaints. The project was relocated to Bleecker Street, but this move took the theater away from its core black audience in central Manhattan and planted it closer to several larger, more upmarket theaters, with which it now had to compete. Smaller audiences, coupled with resentment and competition from its predominantly white-attended neighbors, soon led to financial difficulties. And all of these problems were compounded by near-constant harassment from the police, city officials, and intolerant local residents.

Eventually, the situation proved unsustainable: The Grove closed just two years later (and was reportedly burned to the ground in mysterious circumstances in 1826). As for Aldridge, having both witnessed and endured racist abuse and discrimination in America, he decided he'd had enough. In 1824, he left the U.S. for England.

The African Tragedian

Ira Aldridge in the role of Othello, 1854
Ira Aldridge as Othello in 1854
Houghton Library, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

By this time, the British Empire had already abolished its slave trade, and an emancipation movement was growing. Aldridge realized that Britain was a much more welcoming prospect for a young, determined black actor like himself—but what he didn’t know was that his transatlantic crossing would prove just as important as his decision to emigrate.

To cover the costs of his travel, Aldridge worked as a steward aboard the ship that took him to Britain, but during the journey he made the acquaintance of British actor and producer James Wallack. The pair had met months earlier in New York, and when they happened to meet again en route to Europe, Wallack offered Aldridge the opportunity to become his personal attendant. On their arrival in Liverpool, Aldridge quit his stewardship, entered into Wallack’s employ, and through him began to cultivate numerous useful contacts in the world of theater. In May 1825 Aldridge made his London debut, becoming the first black actor in Britain ever to play Othello

The critics—although somewhat unsure how to take a "gentleman of colour lately arrived from America"—were won over by Aldridge’s debut performance in a production of Othello at the Royalty Theatre. They praised his "fine natural feeling" and remarked that "his death was certainly one of the finest physical representations of bodily anguish we ever witnessed." Astonishingly, Aldridge was still just 17 years old.

From his London debut at the Royalty, Aldridge slowly worked his way up the city’s playbill, playing ever-more-upmarket theaters across London. His Othello transferred to the Royal Coburg Theatre later in 1825. A lead role in a stage adaptation of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko followed, as did an acclaimed supporting turn in Titus Andronicus. To prove his versatility, he took on a well-received comedic role as a bumbling butler in an 18th-century comedy, The Padlock. Aldridge’s reputation grew steadily, and before long he was receiving top billing as the “African Roscius” (a reference to the famed Ancient Roman actor Quintus Roscius Gallus) or the renowned “African Tragedian”—the first African-American actor to establish himself outside of America.

Even in the more-accepting society of abolitionist Britain, however, Aldridge still had mountains to climb. When his portrayal of Othello later moved to Covent Garden in 1833, some reviewers thought a black actor treading the boards on one of London’s most hallowed stages was simply a step too far. The critics soured, their reviews became more scathing—and the racism behind them became ever more apparent.

Campaigns were launched to have Aldridge removed from the London stage, with the local Figaro newspaper among his vilest opponents. Shortly after his Covent Garden debut, the paper openly campaigned to cause “such a chastisement as must drive [Aldridge] from the stage … and force him to find [work] in the capacity of footman or street-sweeper, that level for which his colour appears to have rendered him peculiarly qualified.” Fortunately, they weren’t successful—but the affair temporarily ruined the London stage for Aldridge.

"The Greatest of All Actors"

Portrait of Ira Aldridge by Taras Shevchenko in 1858
Portrait of Ira Aldridge in 1858
Taras Shevchenko, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Instead of accepting defeat, Aldridge took both Othello and The Padlock on a tour of Britain’s provincial theaters. The move proved to be an immense success.

During his national tour, Aldridge amassed a great many new fans, and even became manager of the Coventry Theatre in 1828, making him the first black manager of a British theater. He also earned a name for himself by passing the time between performances lecturing on the evils of slavery, and lending his increasingly weighty support to the abolitionist movement.

Next, he took his tour to Ireland, and on his arrival in Dublin became a near-instant star. With the island still locked in a tense relationship with Britain at the time, he was welcomed with open arms when Irish theatergoers heard how badly he had been treated in London. (In one flattering address in Dublin, Aldridge told the audience: “Here the sable African was free / From every bond, save those which kindness threw / Around his heart, and bound it fast to you.”)

By the 1830s, Aldridge was touring Britain and Ireland with a one-man show of his own design, mixing impeccable dramatic monologues and Shakespearean recitals with songs, tales from his life, and lectures on abolitionism. As an antidote to the blackface minstrel shows that were popular at the time, he also began donning “whiteface” to portray roles as diverse as Shylock, Macbeth, Richard III, and King Lear. When the notorious Thomas Rice arrived in England with his racist “Jump Jim Crow” minstrel routine, Aldridge skillfully and bravely weaved one of Rice’s own skits into his show: By parodying the parody, he robbed Rice’s performance of its crass impact—while simultaneously showing himself to be an expert performer in the process.

Such was his popularity that Aldridge could easily have seen out his days in England, playing to packed theaters every night for the rest of career. But by the 1850s, word of his skill as an actor had spread far. Never one to shy away from a challenge, in 1852 he assembled a troupe of actors and headed out on a tour of the continent.

Within a matter of months, Aldridge had become perhaps the most lauded actor in all Europe. Critics raved about his performances, with one German writer even suggesting that he may well be “the greatest of all actors.” A Polish reviewer noted, "Though the majority of spectators did not speak English, they did, however, understand the feelings portrayed on the artist's face, eyes, lips, in the tones of his voice, in the entire body." Celebrity fans were quick to assemble, including the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, and the renowned French poet Théophile Gautier, who was impressed by Aldridge's portrayal of King Lear in Paris. Royalty soon followed, with Friedrich-Wilhelm IV, the King of Prussia, awarding Aldridge the Prussian Gold Medal for Art and Science. In Saxe-Meiningen (now a part of Germany), he was given the title of Chevalier Baron of Saxony in 1858.

Aldridge continued his European tours for another decade, using the money he earned to buy two properties in London (including one, suitably enough, on Hamlet Road). But by then, the Civil War was over and America beckoned. Now in his late fifties—but no less eager for a challenge—Aldridge planned one last venture: a 100-date tour of the post-emancipation United States. Contracts and venues were hammered out, and the buzz for Aldridge’s eagerly-awaited homecoming tour began to circulate.

Alas, it was not meant to be. Just weeks before his planned departure, Aldridge fell ill with a lung condition while on tour in Poland. He died in Łódź in 1867, at the age of 60, and was buried in the city’s Evangelical Cemetery.

After his death, several theaters and troupes of black actors—including Philadelphia's famed Ira Aldridge Troupe—were established in Aldridge’s name, and countless black playwrights, performers, and directors since have long considered him an influence on their work and writing.

In August 2017, on the 150th anniversary of Aldridge's death, Coventry, England unveiled a blue heritage plaque in the heart of the city, commemorating Aldridge's theater there. Even this long after his death, the extraordinary life of Ira Aldridge has yet to be forgotten.

8 Enlightening Facts About Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu
Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu

For decades, sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer has used television, radio, the written word, and the internet to speak frankly on topics relating to human sexuality, turning what were once controversial topics into healthy, everyday conversations.

At age 90, Westheimer shows no signs of slowing down. As a new documentary, Ask Dr. Ruth, gears up for release on Hulu this spring, we thought we’d take a look at Westheimer’s colorful history as an advisor, author, and resistance sniper.

1. The Nazis devastated her childhood.

Dr. Ruth was born Karola Ruth Siegel on June 4, 1928 in Wiesenfeld, Germany, the only child of Julius and Irma Siegel. When Ruth was just five years old, the advancing Nazi party terrorized her neighborhood and seized her father in 1938, presumably to shuttle him to a concentration camp. One year later, Karola—who eventually began using her middle name and took on the last name Westheimer with her second marriage in 1961—was sent to a school in Switzerland for her own protection. She later learned that her parents had both been killed during the Holocaust, possibly at Auschwitz.

2. She shocked classmates with her knowledge of taboo topics.

Westheimer has never been bashful about the workings of human sexuality. While working as a maid at an all-girls school in Switzerland, she made classmates and teachers gasp with her frank talk about menstruation and other topics that were rarely spoken of in casual terms.

3. She trained as a sniper for Jewish resistance fighters in Palestine.

Following the end of World War II, Westheimer left Switzerland for Israel, and later Palestine. She became a Zionist and joined the Haganah, an underground network of Jewish resistance fighters. Westheimer carried a weapon and trained as both a scout and sniper, learning how to throw hand grenades and shoot firearms. Though she never saw direct action, the tension and skirmishes could lapse into violence, and in 1948, Westheimer suffered a serious injury to her foot owing to a bomb blast. The injury convinced her to move into the comparatively less dangerous field of academia.

4. A lecture ignited her career.

 Dr. Ruth Westheimer participates in the annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC at Cantor Fitzgerald on September 11, 2015 in New York City.
Robin Marchant, Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald

In 1950, Westheimer married an Israeli soldier and the two relocated to Paris, where she studied psychology at the Sorbonne. Though the couple divorced in 1955, Westheimer's education continued into 1959, when she graduated with a master’s degree in sociology from the New School in New York City. (She received a doctorate in education from Columbia University in 1970.) After meeting and marrying Manfred Westheimer, a Jewish refugee, in 1961, Westheimer became an American citizen.

By the late 1960s, she was working at Planned Parenthood, where she excelled at having honest conversations about uncomfortable topics. Eventually, Westheimer found herself giving a lecture to New York-area broadcasters about airing programming with information about safe sex. Radio station WYNY offered her a show, Sexually Speaking, that soon blossomed into a hit, going from 15 minutes to two hours weekly. By 1983, 250,000 people were listening to Westheimer talk about contraception and intimacy.

5. People told her to lose her accent.

Westheimer’s distinctive accent has led some to declare her “Grandma Freud.” But early on, she was given advice to take speech lessons and make an effort to lose her accent. Westheimer declined, and considers herself fortunate to have done so. “It helped me greatly, because when people turned on the radio, they knew it was me,” she told the Harvard Business Review in 2016.

6. She’s not concerned about her height, either.

In addition to her voice, Westheimer became easily recognizable due to her diminutive stature. (She’s four feet, seven inches tall.) When she was younger, Westheimer worried her height might not be appealing. Later, she realized it was an asset. “On the contrary, I was lucky to be so small, because when I was studying at the Sorbonne, there was very little space in the auditoriums and I could always find a good-looking guy to put me up on a windowsill,” she told the HBR.

7. She advises people not to take huge penises seriously.

Westheimer doesn’t frown upon pornography; in 2018, she told the Times of Israel that viewers can “learn something from it.” But she does note the importance of separating fantasy from reality. “People have to use their own judgment in knowing that in any of the sexually explicit movies, the genitalia that is shown—how should I say this? No regular person is endowed like that.”

8. She lectures on cruise ships.

Westheimer uses every available medium—radio, television, the internet, and even graphic novels—to share her thoughts and advice about human sexuality. Sometimes, that means going out to sea. The therapist books cruise ship appearances where she offers presentations to guests on how best to manage their sex lives. Westheimer often insists the crew participate and will regularly request that the captain read some of the questions.

“The last time, the captain was British, very tall, and had to say ‘orgasm’ and ‘erection,’” she told The New York Times in 2018. “Never did they think they would hear the captain talk about the things we were talking about.” Of course, that’s long been Westheimer’s objective—to make the taboo seem tame.

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