Movie Urban Legends Revealed #1

This is the first in a series of examinations of movie legends and whether they are true or false.

Click here to view an archive of all the movie urban legends featured so far.

Let’s begin!

MOVIE LEGEND: Ariel from the Little Mermaid was based on the facial features of Alyssa Milano.

STATUS: Apparently True

The Little Mermaid was, in a lot of ways, a return to the past successes of Disney animated films such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.

For one, it was the first Disney fairy tale in decades and for another, it was animated with artists watching actors act out the scenes, so that the animators could see how various scenes would really look like (the way that Ariel’s hair floats underwater was supposedly based on videos of Sally Ride in outer space…

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if anyone knows otherwise regarding this Ride bit, let me know, that could be a future legend right there!).

Broadway actress Jodi Benson provided Ariel’s speaking and singing voice, but it was local comedy actress Sherri Lynn Stoner who was the basis for the animation of Ariel during the movie.

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Stoner later was the model for Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

So where does Alyssa Milano fit in?

Milano was reportedly the model for the basic look of Ariel, specifically her face.

In 1989, Milano was starring on Who’s The Boss.

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Here’s a comparison of Ariel’s face with Milano’s face….

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Works for me!

When asked about it in 1999 in Premiere magazine, Milano said “That’s true. They drew her from pictures of me.”

Milano hosted a Disney Channel special in 1989 for the Making of The Little Mermaid.

So, she was obviously on their radar, she says it is true, the resemblance (and ages of the character) is similar, I have never heard anyone say otherwise (although I could certainly believe that Milano was just one of a group of different people they based Ariel’s look on – you know, a face here, a leg there, etc.), I’m going to go with True.

In a cute callback (I presume intentionally), in the series 5 premiere of Milano’s television series, Charmed, in September of 2002, Milano’s witch character, Phoebe, was transformed into (wait for it)…a mermaid!

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Very cute move by Charmed.

Thanks to Al Weisel for the Premiere article!

MOVIE LEGEND: George Reeves had a number of scenes cut out of From Here to Eternity because test audiences were too jarred at seeing TV’s Superman in the film.

STATUS: False

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George Reeves was already appearing as Superman in The Adventures of Superman when he appeared in the 1953 film, From Here to Eternity, as the character of Sergeant Maylon Stark.

In the 1952 James Jones novel that the film was based on, depicting the various troubles of servicemen stationed in Pearl Harbor in the months leading up to the sneak attack by the Japanese in December of 1941, Stark had a fairly sizable supporting role (below is the famous scene on the beach with leads Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr).

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In the film, however, he is a very minor character.

As many people know by now, George Reeves suffered great difficulties dealing with being typecast as Superman after the show ended, ultimately leading to his alleged suicide in 1959.

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Now, a legend sprung up regarding From Here to Eternity and the relatively small role of Reeves in the picture.

In his discussion of the film on the All Movie Guide, Hal Erickson pretty concisely describes the legend…

If you’re able to take your eyes off the principals for a moment or two, keep an eye out for George Reeves; his supporting role was shaved down when, during previews, audiences yelled “There’s Superman!” and began to laugh.

So that’s been the legend over the years, even though when asked about it, most folks involved in the filming of the movie deny it, but the legend made its way into the docudrama about Reeves’s death, Hollywoodland.

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By the way, my pal, Greg Hatcher, has a nice piece up about Hollywoodland here.

In any event, film historian/actor/writer Jim Beaver has probably the most thorough debunking of this legend up here, so let’s take a look at what Jim has to say:

Actually, it’s an urban legend of sorts that George Reeves’s role in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY was cut down due to his sudden popularity as Superman. The source of this tale is Jack Larson, who starred with Reeves as Jimmy Olsen on the Superman show. He saw the film (FHTE) the day it opened and remembers audience members calling out “There’s Superman.” The next time he saw the film, he says Reeves’s role had been severely cut.

The problem with this is manifold. First, Jack’s next viewing of the film, as he told me personally, was some twenty-five years later. I’m convinced that his memory of what he’d seen in that initial viewing had “expanded” over the years, particularly in light of the impact of Superman typecasting on Reeves’s career and life. Secondly, Daniel Taradash’s first-draft screenplay, and every draft thereafter, contains exactly the scenes for Reeves’s character that are in the film as released and as now seen, and not one scene more nor less. Taradash told me personally that he did not write a single scene for Reeves’s character that was not in the final release print or in subsequent video releases. Thirdly, director Fred Zinneman told me personally that not only was not one of Reeves’s scenes cut from the film, but that not one frame of the film was cut after the first audience screenings. He was at the same viewing that Jack Larson attended and, while he allowed as that there might have been some muttered reference to Superman from audience members, he does not remember any and that in any case, there was no impact whatsoever on the film as released, nor even any discussion of the matter. He said the video release of the film is identical to the original theatrical release and that not one frame of Reeves’s scenes was cut for any such reason. Fourthly, the editor of the film and its assistant director also confirmed and concurred with the statements of Taradash and Zinneman. Fifthly, several of the cast members, including Frank Sinatra and Claude Akins, assured me they knew of no such reduction in Reeves’s screen time for any reason.

Part of the problem may stem from the fact that Sgt. Maylon Stark, Reeves’s character, is a vastly more important character in the novel of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. Scores of characters from that huge book were either trimmed or eliminated. Sgt. Stark remained, but in a smallish way, in the film. But it was a small part in the first place, long before George Reeves was cast. It was never reduced further, due to his Superman fame or for any other reason.

Beautiful and thorough work, Jim!

A great many thanks to Jim for his thorough research abilities – I hope we someday see a George Reeves’ biography from Jim. I hear he’s been working on one for time – it is kinda hard to be a working actor AND write an extensive biography, I’m sure.

MOVIE LEGEND: J. Edgar Hoover had casting say over the film The FBI Story.

STATUS: True

The FBI Story was a 1956 history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation written by Don Whitehead, the Washington DC bureau chief of the New York Herald Tribune. Whitehead was carefully picked out before the FBI would allow him to write the authorized history of the FBI, although it should be noted that Whitehead did not (officially, at least) provide the text of the book to the FBI for approval before publication. Still, just knowing that the FBI would be willing to approve his book as the “official” history of the FBI was likely incentive enough for Whitehead to keep his book complimentary of the Bureau and its famous head, J. Edgar Hoover.

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The book was a massive smash, not only becoming one of the highest-selling books of 1956, but of 1957, as well!

In 1959, a film version was made, starring Jimmy Stewart.

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This time around, the film was not just APPROVED by the FBI, it was practically contolled/sanitized by Hoover, who overaw the film personally at times, but always had at least two FBI men with director Mervyn LeRoy.

LeRoy was a friend of Hoover’s, but Hoover still had his men investigate LeRoy thoroughly before allowing him to direct the film. The same vetting process went for everyone else, right down to the carpenters and electricians working on the film (according to LeRoy).

During the film, Hoover actually had LeRoy re-shoot scenes that Hoover did not feel portrayed the FBI in the best possible light.

Hoover would even be there at casting to tell LeRoy which possible actors looked like real FBI men, so that they should be cast.

Hoover appeared briefly in the film, even, to add even more “approved by the FBI” status to the film.

The result was, as you might expect, a pretty bland, sanitized take on how the FBI are the greatest heroes known to man.

But hey, you wouldn’t want to make J. Edgar Hoover mad, would you?

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

7 Responses to “Movie Urban Legends Revealed #1”

  1. Well, great. Now whenever I watch the Little Mermaid, I’m going to be thinking of lesbian vampire porn.

  2. You have have to believe Jim Beaver. Bobby would never lie. Unless it was to a demon, and you know how shifty they are.

  3. [...] I recently used some great research Beaver did to debunk a rumor concerning Reeves on Movie Legends Revealed (as seen here). [...]

  4. Graeme Burk on May 9th, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    The question about Reeves in From Here To Eternity I’ve always had has nothing to do with whether his role got cut. I always wondered if he got the role (or considered for it) because Jack Larson was star Montgomery Clift’s friend (and boyfriend) and Larson prevailed on Clift to do his Superman co-star a favour.

    In Hollywoodland they imply that it was the Mannix’s connections that got Reeves cast but I’m always surprised that no one ever explored a simpler angle than that

    (Of course Reeves could have gotten the role based on his own talent, and he was a good actor…)

  5. According to director Fred Zinneman and casting director Max Arnow, Reeves auditioned for the role like any other actor and was selected on the basis of that audition. Zinneman said he did wonder why an actor of Reeves’s standing would have accepted such a small role. Clearly, the director thought it was Reeves who was doing the favor, not the other way around!

  6. Thanks Jim! Good to know Reeves’ got the part on his own merits!

    I can’t wait to read your biography of Reeves, by the way!

  7. This site truly has all of the information I needed about this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

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