16 September 2017

A Trivial Pursuit

by John M. Floyd

Yes, I know: there are a lot of productive things I could and should be doing right now, instead of writing a trivial post about trivia. But, as I've confessed in the past, I love little-known facts about fiction and those who create or portray it.

So, for the next few minutes, I challenge you to forget about the stock market and North Korea and politics and global warming and take a look at these worthless little tidbits about movies and novels and actors and writers. Since they surprised me when I learned about them, I hope they (or at least some of them) might surprise you as well.

- Ian Fleming wrote the children's book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was adapted from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

- Jack Kerouac typed the novel On the Road on one continuous roll of paper 120 feet long.

- Dooley Wilson (Sam, in Casablanca) didn't know how to play the piano.

- Dr. Seuss wasn't a doctor, of any kind.

- Harriet Beecher Stowe lived next door to Mark Twain in Hartford, Connecticut.

- The names of the policeman and the cab driver in It's a Wonderful Life were Bert and Ernie.

- Both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were extras in Field of Dreams.

- Between 1982 and 1984, Nora Roberts wrote 23 novels.

- The announcer who replaced Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer (played by Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam) was Pat Sajak.

- Mel Brooks wrote the lyrics to the theme from Blazing Saddles.

- Steve Buscemi is a former NYC firefighter.

- The final Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King, was nominated for eleven Oscars and won all of them.

- Before writing The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown was a pop singer. One of his solo albums was called Angels and Demons.

- In Raiders of the Lost Ark, a drawing of R2D2 and C3PO appears on a column in the Well of Souls.

- The novel Catch-22 was originally titled Catch-18.

- Robert Louis Stevenson burned stories based on readers' informal responses, Leo Tolstoy's son rescued the manuscript of War and Peace from the ditch where Tolstoy had thrown it, and Tabitha King pulled the discarded manuscript of Carrie from Stephen King's wastebasket.

- James Arness (Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke) and Peter Graves (Jim Phelps of Mission: Impossible) were brothers.

- William Atherton, who played the obnoxious TV reporter in Die Hard and Die Hard 2, sang the "What'll I Do?" theme song during the opening credits of the 1974 (Robert Redford/Mia Farrow) version of The Great Gatsby.

- "Goldeneye" was Ian Fleming's name for the Jamaican beach house where he wrote all the James Bond novels. Sting later used the same desk to write the song "Every Breath You Take."

- One of the voices of E.T. was that of Debra Winger.

- Clint Eastwood composed the main theme ("Claudia's Theme") for Unforgiven.

- Tom Wolfe, who was six-foot-six, preferred to write standing up, using the top of his refrigerator for a desk.

- In The Abyss, many of the underwater scenes were actually filmed in smoky air, using fake bubbles.

- Olivia Newton-John's grandfather, Max Born, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954.

- Both Erle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie dictated their novels. (Though ESG typed his earliest work.)

- To make some of the spacecraft seem larger in the movie Alien, director Ridley Scott filmed his own two children outfitted in miniature space suits.

- Rowan Atkinson has a master's degree in Electrical Engineering.

- Singer Tex Ritter ("Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin'," from High Noon) was actor John Ritter's father.

- Actor/director Anthony Hopkins composed the music for the movie Slipstream (2007).

- Clyde Barrow once wrote a letter to Henry Ford (it's on display at the Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan) praising the V-8 Ford as a getaway car.

- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was the first book written using the typewriter.

- Clint Eastwood did all his own mountain climbing--no stuntmen--in The Eiger Sanction.

- Most of the cast and crew of The African Queen got sick from the water. Only Humphrey Bogart and director John Huston were unaffected because they drank only whiskey.

- Evelyn Waugh's first wife's name was Evelyn.

- Tom Hanks is a descendant of Abe Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln.

- The first U.S. paperback edition of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale was published with the title You Asked for It.

- Michael Myers's mask in Halloween was a two-dollar Captain Kirk mask, slightly altered and painted white.

- Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew novels, was really a pseudonym for a team of several different writers.

- Hoyt Axton (the father in The Black Stallion) wrote "Heartbreak Hotel."

- Melissa McCarthy and Jenny McCarthy are first cousins.

- The original title of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy. It was reversed when Newman decided to take the role of Butch rather than Sundance.

- The same author (Larry McMurtry) wrote Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment.

- Frank Oz was the voice of Yoda, the Cookie Monster, and Miss Piggy.

- Mickey Spillane ordered 50,000 copies of his 1952 novel Kiss Me, Deadly to be destroyed when the comma was left out of the title.

- Mia Sara (Ferris Bueller's girlfriend) has had two fathers-in-law: Sean Connery and Jim Henson.

- Director John Carpenter composed the music for most of his movies.

- Noah Webster was T. S. Eliot's great-uncle.

- Ian Fleming got the name for his fictional spy from a book he owned called Birds of the West Indies, by James Bond.

- The charcoal sketch of Kate Winslet in Titanic was actually drawn by director James Cameron.

- Tommy Lee Jones and Al Gore were roommates at Harvard.

- J. K. Rowling came up with the names for the houses at Hogwarts while on a plane. She jotted the names down on a barf bag.

- The keypad on the laboratory's door lock in Moonraker plays the five-note theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

- Author Sidney Sheldon created the TV series I Dream of Jeannie and The Patty Duke Show, and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

- When the kid in Home Alone 2 walks into the Plaza Hotel, the person he asks for directions is Donald Trump.

- Tom Clancy was part owner of the Baltimore Orioles.

- Cormac McCarthy wrote with the same typewriter for more than fifty years. When it broke, he auctioned it off for more than $250,000 (to donate to charity).

- In World War II, Roald Dahl was a fighter pilot, Donald Pleasance was a POW, Christopher Lee was an undercover agent for British Inteligence, and Charles Durning was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.

- When a hurricane hit the set during filming of Jurassic Park, the pilot who choppered the crew to safety was the man who had played Indiana Jones's pilot, Jock, in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

- The top three most-read books in the world are The Holy Bible, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, and the Harry Potter series.

- In The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, Fleming was played by Sean Connery's son Jason.

- Actor Sam Shepard wrote 44 plays; one of them won him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979.

- The roles of both John McClane in Die Hard and Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry were first offered to Frank Sinatra.

- When J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, she typed three separate copies of the manuscript because she couldn't afford copying fees.

- Samuel L. Jackson's Pulp Fiction quote from Ezekiel was originally written for Harvey Keitel's character in From Dusk to Dawn.

- Chocolate syrup was used as blood in Psycho's shower scene; it was also used as the Tin Man's oil in The Wizard of Oz.

- Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was eighteen, and it was published when she was twenty.

- Mystery writer John Sandford, a.k.a. John Camp, won a Pulitzer for Non-Deadline Feature Writing in 1986 for articles about the life of a Minnesota farming family.

- Of his 70-plus film roles, Gregory Peck played a villain only twice (I think), in Duel in the Sun and The Boys From Brazil.

- Dolph Lundgren has a master's degree in Chemical Engineering.

- In the UK, Fifty Shades of Grey is the best-selling book of all time.

- George Lucas had a dog named Indiana.

- Robert Duvall had a bit part as Steve McQueen's cab driver in the movie Bullitt.

- The Salvation (2014) was a Western filmed in South Africa, with a Danish director and actors from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, the U.S., and England.

- Haley Joe Osment, the boy who "saw dead people" in The Sixth Sense, played Forrest Gump's son five years earlier.

- Tippi Hedren (The Birds) is the mother of Melanie Griffith and the grandmother of Dakota Johnson.

- Kurt Vonnegut managed America's first Saab dealership.

- Denzel Washington and Jeff Goldblum both played thugs in 1974's Death Wish.

- As a child, Roald Dahl--the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory--was a taste-tester for Cadbury's chocolate.

- Nathaneal West's 1939 novel The Day of the Locust features a character named Homer Simpson.

- In High Plains Drifter, one of the headstones in the cemetery was inscribed with the name Sergio Leone.

- Married (at one time or another): Geena Davis/Jeff Goldblum, Rachel Weisz/Daniel Craig, Calista Flockhart/Harrison Ford, Marlo Thomas/Phil Donahue, Rita Hayworth/Orson Welles, Uma Thurman/Gary Oldman, Dyan Cannon/Cary Grant, Lorraine Bracco/Edward James Olmos, Catherine Keener/Delmot Mulroney, Mia Farrow/Frank Sinatra, Christie Brinkley/Billy Joel, Barbara Streisand/Elliott Gould, Brooke Shields/Andre Agassi, Lisa Marie Presley/Nicolas Cage, Mary Steenbergen/Malcolm McDowell, Isabella Rosselini/Martin Scorcese, Madonna/Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller/Will Arnett, Michelle Phillips/Dennis Hopper, Mimi Rogers/Tom Cruise, Helen Hunt/Hank Azaria, Drew Barrymore/Tom Green, Katherine Ross/Sam Elliott, Scarlett Johanssen/Ryan Reynolds.

-Dated (at one time or another): Helen Mirren/Liam Neeson, Anjelica Huston/Jack Nicholson. Sarah Jessica Parker/Robert Downey Jr., Courtney Cox/Michael Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg/Frank Langella, Carrie Fisher/Paul Simon, Jeanne Tripplehorn/Ben Stiller, Meryl Streep/John Cazale.

- Barbie in Toy Story 3 is voiced by Jodi Benson, who also voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

- Paranormal Activity cost $15,000 to make and has grossed $210 million; Deep Throat cost around $25,000 and grossed $600 million; John Carter cost $350 million and lost $200 million.

- Mickey Spillane was at one time the author of seven of the ten best-selling novels in history.

- Sean Connery wore a toupee in all of his James Bond movies.

And maybe the most valuable and surprising piece of trivia of all:

- Katy Perry's cat's name is Kitty Purry.

(Don't ever say I didn't give you the inside info.)

Can you think of any crazy and lesser-known movie/novel/actor/author facts? Inquiring minds want to know . . .


  1. John, you definitely gave us the inside scoop. Fun stuff. And Thomas Wolfe could have used a Varidesk. And I'd always heard that John Wayne was offered the part of Dirty Harry first, but turned it down because it didn't fit his image or something along those lines.

  2. Love trivia. Did you know all the moustaches were real in one of my all-time favorite westerns TOMBSTONE? A FISTFULL OF DOLLARS (Clint Eastwood) was partially based on Dashiell Hammett's novel RED HARVEST.

  3. Kevin Costner was the dead man in "The Big Chill", all his scenes (flashbacks) were cut out of the movie; Meryl Streep was living with John Cazale when he got lung cancer and took care of him until he died; Akiro Kurosawa's samurai films sparked a lot of Westerns: Clint Eastwood's "A Fistful of Dollars" is based on Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" and, of course, "The Magnificent Seven" is an almost take for take retelling of "The Seven Samurai".

  4. Fascinating stuff, John. The reason Sinatra was offered the starring role in Die Hard (he was in his seventies at the time) was that it was based on a novel by ROderick Thorp that featured the same character Sinatra played in The Detective. So by contract they had to offer him the role. Not surprisingly, he turned it down.

  5. John -- Love this stuff!

    Some additions: The only actor to win three oscars for best supporting actor was Walter Brennan. Marilyn Monroe was "introduced" in the last Marx Brothers movie, Love Happy. And Groucho was originally not going to be in Love Happy at all -- his scenes were added at the end of filming. Robert Duvall played Boo Randall in To Kill a Mockingbird. One scene only, at the end, yet he receives separate billing in the credits. Every episode of I Dream of Jeannie somewhere mentions Cocoa Beach, Florida.

  6. Carrie Fisher & Paul Simon were married. He's now married to Edie Brickell, who sings with Steve Martin (yeah that Steve Martin) & the Steep Canyon Rangers, in this wonderful video, "Pretty Little One":


    Steve Martin wrote the song, which is a great murder ballad. He taught himself to play banjo & funds an award every year to a promising banjo player.

    When Carrie Fisher died, Steve posted on Twitter that when he first met her, she was playing Princess Leia & he thought she was the most beautiful woman ever. Some misguided female took offense to this, said it was sexist (ha!) & he deleted the comment.

  7. Gene Kelly performed his famous rain dance in one take while suffering a fever of 105 degrees in Singin' In The Rain. In the same film, Donald O'Connor had to rest in bed for several days after his acrobatic dance "Make 'em Laugh".

    Thanks, John, for an entertaining article.

  8. Help! I'm overwhelmed. What a fun list!

  9. Oh, who cares? (Just kidding)

    A fascinating list, John. Just because I'm one of those OCD English teachers, let's clarify that the six-foot-six THOMAS Wolfe wrote Look Homeward Angel and Of Time and the River, among others, and died in 1938 and shouldn't be confused with Tom Wolfe, who is still alive and writing (Bonfire of the Vanities, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, etc., etc.,).

    Thomas Wolfe was famous (notorious?) for over-writing outrageously long MSS, which his editor (was that Maxwell Perkins?) would cut to size. I heard that one MS went to the publishers in a truck and was returned in a taxi. I don't know if it's true, but it's another cool piece of trivia, not that it outshines anything you've given us here.

  10. Hey folks -- Just returned from out of town. Thanks for all the comments.

    Paul, I've also heard John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart were the actors author Larry McMurtry wanted for Lonesome Dove. How odd would that have seemed, knowing what we know now?

    O'Neil, I didn't know that about the mustaches, but it makes sense. And yep, Fistful of Dollars was also based on (as Eve pointed out) Yojimbo, and on an 18th-century play called (I think) Servant of Two Masters. (If you recall, Eastwood was the middleman playing two ends of the town against each other.)

    Eve, I knew about Costner's almost-role in The Big Chill, but not about Streep and Cazale. Interesting!

    Dale, thanks for the lesson. Of the four or five pieces of trivia you mentioned, the only one I knew about was Duvall/Boo Radley. You always manage to surprise and educate me.

    Rob, thanks for the info on Sinatra and Die Hard. The novel was Nothing Lasts Forever, right?

    Liz, Steve Martin is a huge talent. (If you haven't read his memoir Born Standing Up, you must. It's outstanding.)

    Thanks, Herschel!! More interesting facts.

    Melodie, this kind of stuff IS fun, isn't it??

    Good point, Steve! I should've typed TW's full name. By the way, the movie Genius, about Wolfe and Perkins, should be a must-see for all writers. What a great look at those two literary figures. Wasn't it you who told me about that?

  11. Great list of trivia. I actually knew some of it, very little< so it was fun to learn new stuff. Don't thin I'm ready for Jeopardy yet but maybe if I study really hard for the next 5 or 10 years I'll feel I can try-out.

    I 'll remind you that I am a distant cousin of Clyde Barrow (not exactly sure but fourth or.fifth cousin). My maiden name is Barrow and I wrote a blog about it a couple of years ago.Did you know that the Great Heavy-weight Boxing Champ, Joe Louis had the last name of Barrow. He was also known as "The Brown Bomber,"

    I think history facts are quite interesting and family histories even more so. And my own feeling is that if you go far enough back you will find that we are all closely related to each other in one fashion or another.

  12. Great list of trivia. I actually knew some of it, very little< so it was fun to learn new stuff. Don't thin I'm ready for Jeopardy yet but maybe if I study really hard for the next 5 or 10 years I'll feel I can try-out.

    I 'll remind you that I am a distant cousin of Clyde Barrow (not exactly sure but fourth or.fifth cousin). My maiden name is Barrow and I wrote a blog about it a couple of years ago.Did you know that the Great Heavy-weight Boxing Champ, Joe Louis had the last name of Barrow. He was also known as "The Brown Bomber,"

    I think history facts are quite interesting and family histories even more so. And my own feeling is that if you go far enough back you will find that we are all closely related to each other in one fashion or another.

  13. sorry I somehow got my remarks published twice and I have no idea how to delete one.

  14. Jan, Good remarks deserve to be published twice (!).

    I do remember that blog about you and Clyde Barrow. I probably need to see if I'm distantly related to Charles (Pretty Boy) Floyd.

    As for a knowledge of trivia, I can't think of many things that are more fun and less useful. And I doubt I'm ready for Jeopardy either. Thanks for the comment!

  15. Funny thing, Jan: my wife and I are going this afternoon to a birthday party for one of our grandsons, and his name's Charlie Floyd. I doubt, though, that there are any bank robberies in his future.

  16. Interesting and fun, John. Some I knew, most I didn't. The one that was most surprising to me was the Olivia-Newton John/Max Born connection. I was a big OJ-N fan back in the Seventies, even went to see her concert in Mobile, in spite of the disapproval of some of my fellow seminary students, and I've studied physics all my life and have long known about Max Born's work, but I never knew the grandfather-granddaughter relationship. Cool.

  17. Thanks, Larry. Yep, that relationships-between-famous-people stuff is truly trivial, and most folks don't care a whit about it, but it's sometimes a lot of fun. (I remember how surprised I was to learn, years ago, that Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine were siblings. Then again, I'm easily entertained . . .)

  18. A little late here: Unused footage of Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn driving around the countryside was used as the opening credits sequence of the TV show "Newhart." (When the car turns, you can see Hepburn in a hat in the passenger seat!) Oh, and Jean Harlow's paperboy (when her family lived in Kansas City) was the young Robert A. Heinlein!

  19. Jeff, I swear, I think you like this stuff as much as I do. I feel sorry for you!!

    The Harlow/Heinlein fact is something I'd not heard about before, and I must check YouTube and see if I can find that opening-credit piece for Newhart. I never knew about that, either. Thanks!

  20. John: LOL! (Just saw Newhart, that may be Fonda in the hat!)

  21. Jeff, I still haven't found it!! Might have to contact you privately about this . . .


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