This is the thirty-fifth in a series of examinations of legends from movies and the people who make them and whether they are true or false. Today we look at the story about how a Back to the Future lawsuit dramatically changed actors’ rights, how a hit film accidentally gave away U.S. naval secrets and how Katharine Hepburn’s temperance almost got her killed during the filming of The African Queen!
Click here to view an archive of the previous movie urban legends.
MOVIE LEGEND: Crispin Glover won a lawsuit against the studio that produced Back to the Future II that changed actors’ rights forever.
STATUS: False (but some Truth mixed in)
The above legend could alternately be stated as “Crispin Glover settled a lawsuit against the studio that produced Back to the Future II that changed actors’ rights forever,” which would be closer to true, but still mostly false.
In any event, Crispin Glover was one of the co-stars of the 1985 hit film, Back to the Future…
He played George McFly, the father of Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly, who Marty meets in 1955 when Marty accidentally travels to the past from 1985 (and the proceeds to try to get…back to the future).
The movie was such a success that they decided to make a sequel (heck, they decided to make TWO sequels! They filmed them in a row to save money).
Glover, however, was not happy with the amount of money they were offering him to appear in the second film, so he ultimately decided not to do the film (as you might imagine, Glover and the film’s producers both have differing ideas on who was being unreasonable).
In the second film, they partially explained away George’s absence by using a plot that involved an alternate timeline where George had been killed…
However, the filmmakers also re-used footage from the original film to film new scenes in the second film where it made it appear as though Glover was in the film. In addition, they used another actor, Jeffrey Weissman, and they had him wear prosthetics (including a fake chin, a fake nose, and fake cheekbones) to make him appear like Glover (and then, of course, filmed him in ways to obscure his face as much as possible).
Glover took issue with this and sued Universal Studios over what he felt was, in effect, copyright infringement. They were using his likeness without his permission.
Nowadays, you cannot do what the filmmakers in Back to the Future II did. However, while Glover’s lawsuit was certainly the inspiration for the change, I think there is a clear misunderstanding out there that Glover won the lawsuit which led to the change. That is not the case.
Glover and Universal settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed cash payment to Glover. SEPARATELY from the case, the Screen Actors Guild added clauses to their collective bargaining agreement that states that filmmakers cannot use an actors’ likeness in their film without his or her permission.
So don’t get me wrong, Glover certainly deserves credit for bringing the issue up for discussion and leading to the Screen Actor’s Guild making the change, but it was not as a direct result of a lawsuit victory by Glover, which is how I have often seen it portrayed (here’s a random site making the assertion, “Glover refused to be in Back to the Future II and III because they did not give him enough money. An actor with prosthetics was used to simulate Glover in the sequels causing Glover to sue over the use of his likeness. He won the lawsuit, but tarnished his reputation in the process. Crazy.”)
MOVIE LEGEND: The Hunt for Red October accidentally revealed secret United States submarine technology.
The Hunt for Red October was a 1990 hit film about a Russian submarine commander (Sean Connery) who tries to defect to the United States, using the highly advanced nuclear submarine under his command as essentially an offering to the U.S. to allow him to defect.
Alec Baldwin plays the CIA analyst who figures out Connery’s character’s plan to defect. The rest of the film involves the Russians trying to destroy him before he can defect while the Americans try to find the ship and carry out the defection.
In any event, at one point in the film, the crew of the USS Dallas (the U.S. submarine trying to chase down the Red October to make contact and determine if the captain of the Russian sub actually IS trying to defect and if so, to help him in his attempt) note that they have “milligal anomalies”.
A milligal is a unit of acceleration used in the science of gravimetry.
Gravimetry has to do with the study of gravitational fields. You see, in the past, the only way that submarines could navigate in the deep (dark) blue sea was to use sonar. That was all well and good, but using sonar involved sending off sonic “pings” that would reveal your location to any submarine in the near area. So a submarine that could navigate using a gravimeter (to sense one’s position using gravitational fields) would be able to, in effect, “run silent.”
At the time, the use of gravimeters on U.S. submarines (which began in the early 1970s) was still top secret and the technology behind it was quite classified. So mentioning it in the film effectively gave away that it not only existed, but that the U.S. was using it on their submarines.
Soon after the film’s release, Bell Aerospace de-classified a great deal of the information (as it was now out there, anyways) and eventually sold the technology to Bell Geospace, who still uses the technology to this day (on various oil exploration vehicles).
Thanks to the Central Intelligence Agency for the information about the reaction to the reveal at the time (it was written about in a CIA document back in 2009).
MOVIE LEGEND: Katharine Hepburn’s temperance nearly killed her during the filming of The African Queen.
The African Queen is a wonderful adventure film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, written by James Agee (adapted from the C. S. Forester novel of the same name) and directed by John Huston.
It involves a missionary (Hepburn) caught up in an adventure with a river boat captain (Bogart) in Africa during World War I.
The film was made on location in Uganda and the Congo.
During the filming, Hepburn came down with a severe case of dysentery. She ended up losing nearly 20 pounds! It got to the point where she would do a scene and then have to go vomit (or the other variety of expulsion) right afterwards. She actually ended up suffering from the disease for months AFTER the filming ended! She did a whole other movie, the romantic comedy, Pat and Mike, while still suffering from the disease!
What was particularly amazing, though, was HOW she caught it. You see, a great many people in the crew of the film ended up with dysentery, but two notable exceptions were Bogart and Huston. The men both credited the fact that they eschewed the use of water and just drank alcohol throughout the shooting of the movie.
The reason I got dysentery was my temperance! I was so busy complaining about Bogey and John drinking hard liquor I tried to shame them by drinking water in their presence at mealtimes. Well, the water was full of germs! They never got sick, and I had the Mexican trots and was in bed every day for weeks! I thought I was going to die – and in the Belgian Congo!
Later, both men marveled at Hepburn’s fortitude. Not only the fact that she never missed a day of shooting (as noted above, she would deal with her issues between takes), but the fact that she suffered the grueling schedule and environment without ever drinking like them.
The film turned out to be a huge hit, and Hepburn netted one of her 254 nominations for Best Actress at the Oscars the following year (that figure might be slightly off. Just slightly). Amusingly enough, while Hepburn didn’t win the award, Bogart DID bring home the Best Actor Oscar. Of all the nerve, he doesn’t get sick AND he wins the award!
Thanks to Charles Higham’s Kate: The Life of Katharine Hepburn for the great quote!
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 email@example.com
Tags: Alec Baldwin, Back to the Future, Back to the Future II, Back to the Future III, Central Intelligence Agency, Crispin Glover, George McFly, Humphrey Bogart, James Agee, John Huston, Katharine Hepburn, Marty McFly, Screen Actors Guild, Sean Connery, The African Queen, The Hunt for Red October, Universal Studios