Was Shaft Nearly Played by a White Actor in the First Shaft Film?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Shaft was originally going to star a white actor.

Shaft, directed by Gordon Parks and starring Richard Roundtree as the titular private detective, was a massive box office smash upon its release in 1971 and became the face of what was later referred to as “blaxploitation” films (I’ll let you judge whether you feel it qualifies as “blaxploitation”). The film, which won an Academy Award for Best Song for its theme (written and performed by Isaac Hayes), was selected for preservation in 2000 in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

For years, though, legendary blaxploitation producer and director Melvin Van Peebles has told the story of how Shaft was originally not going to star Richard Roundtree, but the title detective was going to be played by a white actor! Here’s a New York Press blog article that sums up Van Peebles story well:

It’s been almost 40 years since the box office success of Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song (1971), the first-ever independent film to profit commercially and what Van Peebles claims, “changed everything” in the movie making industry. Sweetback boosted the cinematic black image and influenced the lead in films like Shaft, whose black protagonist was originally cast as a white character.

That’s what you’ll generally see told in regards to this story, that the unexpected sucess off Van Peebles’ independent release, Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song, about a young black man who stands up against white authority, changed the course of Shaft’s history. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is undeniably an important film. It clearly influenced a number of blaxspolitation films (although, much more so than Shaft, Van Peebles’ film is definitely not an exploitative film – the knockoffs of it, though, were) and, more importantly, it showed that you could have a hit film not only written and directed by black filmmakers (which was not necessarily in doubt at the time, as Gordon Parks had already had success as a director) but that you could have a hit film produced and financed by black people, as well. Comedian Bill Cosby loaned Van Peebles the last $50,000 he needed to make the film. So yes, Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song is an important film. However, I believe Van Peebles is overstating its influence upon the film Shaft.
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July 29th, 2016 | Posted in Movie Urban Legends Revealed | No Comments

Why Did the Writer of “Love Me Tender” Credit His Wife for Writing the Song Instead of Himself?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: The person who wrote “Love Me Tender” credited his wife for writing the song as a shot at his “co-writer,” Elvis Presley.

One of the things that Colonel Tom Parker was most famous for was that he made sure to monetize everything that his client, Elvis Presley, did. This was because, as Presley’s manager, he took a very large cut of whatever Elvis made (much larger than most managers, possibly as high as 50% of Elvis’ income towards the end of of Elvis’ career). Therefore, when Elvis made money, Parker made money. So Parker made sure that Elvis made a lot of money. One of the most common ways that Parker would do this is to make sure that any songwriter who wanted Elvis to record their song would have to have the song be published through a publishing company owned by Parker (“publishing rights” are basically half the income of a song, with 50% going to the publisher of the song and 50% going to the songwriter – the publisher then typically pays the songwriter a cut from their half, as well, depending on their contract – sometimes the songwriter publishes their own songs, but that’s rare. “Publishing” a song means the sheet music as well as getting the song played on the radio, etc.). That was normal enough, as most songwriters assign their publishing rights to a publishing company, as most songwriters don’t know how to do the work of selling a song themselves. Parker did a bit more than most people, though, as he maintained multiple publishing companies, mostly as a way to avoid having to ever actually pay people directly. He would instead just form a new publishing company and cut the person he owed money to in as an owner of the new company. Anyhow, like I said, asking a songwriter to assign their publishing rights were normal. Parker, though, also would go even further.

Parker also would try to get songwriters to assign half of their songwriting credit to Elvis Presley, as well. Normally even when you assign your publishing rights, songwriters are protected via owning the copyright on the song, so they get at least half of the income of the song no matter what. However, Parker’s theory was that the songwriter would make more money getting half of the songwriting credit of a song by Elvis Presley than they would if they owned all of the songwriting credit of a song performed by someone else. After all, when Parker was really pushing this approach during the 1950s, Elvis really was the king of Rock ‘n’ Roll. For his part, Elvis never tried to actually claim that he co-wrote these songs, he just acknowledged that it was something Parker set up for them to make more money (although, it is fair to say that Elvis would often play a major role in the arrangement of songs when it actually came time to record the song, so it wasn’t like Elvis was just showing up, singing the song and then collecting a paycheck – he did intensive work on all of the songs that he recorded).

One of the most famous songs done under this system was the 1956 classic, “Love Me Tender”…

lovemetendersingle

which debuted in the film of the same name…

lovemetenderfilm

The song was written by longtime film composer and arranger Ken Darby (who used the melody of an old Civil War song, “Aura Lee,” which had gone into the public domain). However, it was credited not to Darby, but to Elvis Presley and Vera Matson – the maiden name of Darby’s wife. Why did he not credit himself for the song? Read on to find out!
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July 29th, 2016 | Posted in Music Urban Legends Revealed | No Comments

Was Howard and Bernadette’s Pregnancy on Big Bang Theory an Accident?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: A major Big Bang Theory plot twist wasn’t originally planned for the episode in which it was revealed.

One of the things that writers and producers of television series have to always keep in mind is that they have to be willing and able to adjust plans at the last moment depending on all sorts of unforeseen situations. Like Ally McBeal having to write Robert Downey Jr. out of his own wedding episode or Alias Smith and Jones having to come up with a way to keep the show going even after one of their two leads killed himself. Those are outside influences, though. Sometimes, shows also have to adjust when the show’s writers suddenly go off in a wild and different direction than originally intended. That was the case for the hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory last season, when they revealed a major plot twist for the show – a twist that they didn’t even have in mind when they began to write the episode it was revealed in!

bigbangtheorycast

Read on to learn how it all went down (Big Bang Theory spoilers ahead!)!
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July 27th, 2016 | Posted in TV Urban Legends Revealed | 2 Comments

Comic Book Legends Revealed #585

Welcome to the five hundred and eighty-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, was The Killing Joke originally meant to be out of continuity? Was the 1991 X-Men comic first intended to be part of a single bi-weekly X-Men team? Did Wally West’s friend Chunk nearly have his own series?

Click here for an archive of the first five hundred (I actually haven’t been able to access it to update it in a while).

Click here to read this week’s legends.

Did Batman Actually Kill Anyone in The Dark Knight Returns?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Batman killed people in The Dark Knight Returns, which inspired Zack Snyder to have Batman kill in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Many times over the years, we have seen filmmakers struggle with maintaining the correct tone and aesthetic for their films. In the case of the original Toy Story, the film came very close to being canceled entirely due to its initial dark tone. The original version of E.T. the Extra-Terrestial was so dark that it was basically split into two films, the family-friendly E.T. and the darker Poltergeist. In the case of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, however, director Zack Snyder had a distinct blueprint from the beginning that he was following to maintain the tone and aesthetic he wanted in the film. That blueprint was Frank Miller’s classic 1986 comic book series, The Dark Knight Returns. Snyder has spoken about that influence a number of times, including just a few weeks ago, noting:

When I read that comic book series, you know, in ‘86 I was floored by it because I felt like it promised me something. It challenged…my fundamental notions about Batman. It sort of inspired me to reconnect with Batman the character and comic book in general.

and

I sort of wanted to homage the comic book in this movie as much as possible was to say thank you to Frank for sort of giving me back Batman in a way that I could understand as modern…Even though we don’t follow that story, necessarily, the imagery that I chose to try to emulate in the movie was a way of me saying ‘thank you Frank’ for making my aesthetic.

This influence also explains why Snyder has Batman so willing to kill in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

bvsgun1

Snyder again referenced Dark Knight Returns in regards to his version of Batman being willing to kill:

I would say that in the Frank Miller comic book that I reference, he kills all the time. There’s a scene from the graphic novel where he busts through a wall, takes the guy’s machine gun… I took that little vignette from a scene in The Dark Knight Returns, and at the end of that, he shoots the guy right between the eyes with the machine gun. One shot. Of course, I went to the gas tank, and all of the guys I work with were like, ‘You’ve gotta shoot him in the head’ because they’re all comic book dorks, and I was like, ‘I’m not gonna be the guy that does that!’”

Reader Dan M. wrote in to ask, though, is that actually true? Does Batman even kill at all in Dark Knight Returns? Lets’ take a look…
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July 21st, 2016 | Posted in Movie Urban Legends Revealed | 2 Comments

Did a Blacklisted Writer Write for Lassie Using His Wife as a Front?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV/MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: A blacklisted writer used his wife as a front to write episodes of Lassie.

Adrian Scott was a writer and producer who had a good deal of success in the late 1940s with a series of notable noir films, most famously Crossfire, with Roberts Young, Mitchum and Ryan (I couldn’t help myself, I had to phrase it that way), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1948.

Scott worked with Director Edward Dmytryk and screenwriter John Paxton frequently in those days.

Well, in late 1947, with their movie already a hit in the theaters, both Scott and Dmytryk were called to testify in front of the US Congress’ House Committee on Un-American Activities. They, along with eight other men, refused to testify.

The “Hollywood Ten” consisted of (thanks to Wikipedia for the list)…

* Alvah Bessie, screenwriter
* Herbert Biberman, screenwriter and director
* Lester Cole, screenwriter
* Edward Dmytryk, director
* Ring Lardner Jr., screenwriter
* John Howard Lawson, screenwriter
* Albert Maltz, screenwriter
* Samuel Ornitz, screenwriter
* Adrian Scott, producer and screenwriter
* Dalton Trumbo, screenwriter

Here are most of them (Dmytryk and Scott are in the back row – Dmytryk is in the middle, Scott on the right)…

They were all held in contempt by Congress and sentenced to a year in federal prison. In addition, the studios made a big public show of “banning” each of those men from ever working for the studios again. Dmytryk got off of the “blacklist” a few years later by testifying and claiming that Scott forced him to work Communist ideology into their films.

In any event, Scott’s beliefs cost him his job, his freedom (he was sent to prison for a year in 1950 – he served 10 months, getting out a few months after Dmytryk had named Scott’s name in front of Congress) and it also cost him his wife, as his wife, actress Anne Shirley, divorced him in April of 1948 (Shirley did not care that he was a Communist, but she did care that she married a rich producer and now she was married to a poor writer who couldn’t even work in the States. Her letter to Scott informing him of their separation is pretty rough, essentially saying that she couldn’t live without Beverly Hills). Reader Matthew Johnson pointed out that I had an earlier Movie Legends Revealed feature on Anne Shirley, which you can check out here. Thanks for the reminder, Matthew!

In 1955, Scott re-married, marrying fellow screenwriter (and fellow Communist) Joan LaCour and that’s where things got really interesting.
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Comic Book Legends Revealed #584

Welcome to the five hundred and eighty-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, how did Kevin Smith’s Daredevil run almost stop before it ever began? See the ending of the Ghostbusters II comic book that Columbia Pictures wouldn’t let be published! And did Stephen King use the Green Goblin in Maximum Overdrive without permission from Marvel?

Click here for an archive of the first five hundred (I actually haven’t been able to access it to update it in a while).

Click here to read this week’s legends.

Did George Barris Really Design the Ecto-1 for Ghostbusters?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: George Barris designed Ecto-1 for Ghostbusters and the Delorean for Back to the Future.

Before he passed away in November, George Barris was dubbed (by himself) the King of the Kustomizers, and really, he was most likely correct, as he was almost certainly the most famous custom car designer in the world. He worked as a custom car designer for many decades. His most famous design was likely the Batmobile for the Batman TV series.

Barris’ design company also customized cars for private sale by turning cars into replicas of famous car designs from various TV series and movies. They would do this for cars that Barris designed but also for cars that he did not design.

Perhaps due to that fact (that he and his company would routinely do customizations of cars that were not his design), Barris over the years became a bit overreaching with his claims over what cars he did designs for. Honestly, if you followed enough of his interviews, you can see his stories change as he took slightly more and more credit as the years went by.
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July 15th, 2016 | Posted in Movie Urban Legends Revealed | No Comments

Which Member of the Original Star Trek Cast Invented the First Klingon Language?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV/MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: One of the original cast members of Star Trek invented the first Klingon language.

There are some common areas where actors can influence the television shows that they appear on, with the most common being the background of the characters that they play. For instance, it is no coincidence that Fox Mulder on The X-Files likes the New York Knicks, just like the actor who plays Mulder, David Duchovny. Many of the most heartwarming early episodes of Glee involving Kurt were based on the life experiences of Kurt actor, Chris Colfer.

However, there are also less common areas where actors can influence their shows, like the case of the crewmember of the U.S.S. Enterprise who came up with the original Klingon language!

startrekoriginalseries

Read on to see which surprising regular cast member of the original Star Trek series first coined the Klingon language!
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July 13th, 2016 | Posted in TV Urban Legends Revealed | No Comments

Did Captain & Tennille Re-Record Their Entire First Album in Spanish?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: Captain & Tennille re-recorded their entire first album in Spanish.

While it might be a bit curious to hear, it has been somewhat common over the years for English-speaking singers to re-record their hit songs for release in other countries.

Connie Francis was particularly known for doing this, like this German recording of her hit song, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.”

But other artists did it, as well, from Johnny Cash to the Beatles. However, in the case of Captain and Tennille’s 1975 debut album, Love Will Keep Us Together…

captainandtennillelovewillkeepustogether

which included the smash hit by the same name, they took it one step further…
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July 12th, 2016 | Posted in Music Urban Legends Revealed | 5 Comments