Sunday, March 26, 2023

Who Almost Played The Role? Part 2 of 3

The second of my three part blog series about movies takes a look at some of Hollywood's starring role casting decisions over the years.

As we all know, casting for the lead role in a movie can be a lengthy process with many qualified candidates to sift through before making that final decision.  Sometimes there's a big difference of opinion between various factions of the decision making process.  And also obvious, the choice of actor/actress in a role can sometimes end up making the difference between a box office success and a mediocre film even though the original choice was very famous and popular.

Through the decades there have been many starring roles that were almost cast with a different lead, possibly changing the audience response to the character and the movie.  In retrospect, trying to visualize someone else in the role sometimes leaves us scratching our heads and wondering what in the world they were thinking of with their first choice. And, of course, in the days when the major studios ruled the industry, there wasn't much objection to what the studio head wanted.

Here's a sample list of films and the stars that almost didn't get the role—some of these second choices earning an Oscar for their performances.

Pirates Of The Caribbean:  the role of Capt. Jack Sparrow in that first movie was originally intended for Jim Carrey. When a scheduling conflict forced him to bow out, the role went to Johnny Depp who put his own indelible stamp on the character in a series of Pirates Of The Caribbean films.

Drive:  Hugh Jackman was originally signed for the role that ended up being Ryan Gosling's.

Lord Of The Rings:  When Sean Connery turned down the role of Gandalf in the movie, it went to Sir Ian McKellen.

American Psycho:  It was originally Leonardo DiCaprio. He was eventually replaced by Christian Bale.

Men In Black:  Chris O'Donnell was originally cast. However, due to the director's insistence, Will Smith replaced him.

Basic Instinct:  Kelly McGillis was considered before the role went to Sharon Stone.

Dirty Dancing:  Val Kilmer was considered but the role eventually went to Patrick Swayze.

The Shining:  The iconic Jack Nicholson role ("Here's Johnny!") almost went to Robin Williams.

Pretty Woman:  Molly Ringwald turned down the role that was a career maker for Julia Roberts.

Silence Of The Lambs:  Michelle Pfeiffer almost had the role that won Jodie Foster one of her Oscars.

Indiana Jones:  George Lucas was pushing for Tom Selleck but Steven Spielberg held out for Harrison Ford.

The Matrix:  Ewan McGregor was cast first. He turned down the role so he could accept the role in Star Wars Episode 1.

Gladiator:  Mel Gibson turned down the role that won an Oscar for Russell Crowe.

Titanic:  Matthew McConaughey was first choice, but the role ultimately went to Leonardo DiCaprio.

Forrest Gump:  John Travolta turned down the role that earned Tom Hanks one of his Oscars.

Chicago:  John Travolta also turned down the role of Billy Flynn with the role going to Richard Gere.

Iron Man:  Tom Cruise turned down the role due to script issues. It was then offered to Robert Downey, Jr., along with Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3.

And now let's go back several decades (about 80 years ago—yikes, that's almost a century) to some classic movies from the 1940ish time frame, a time when most stars were under contract to a specific studio rather than being independent contractors and, as such, for the most part had no say so in the roles they would play.

The Wizard Of Oz:  MGM wanted to borrow Shirley Temple from 20th Century Fox to play the role of Dorothy.  When that negotiation didn't work out, the role went to Judy Garland.

Robin Hood:  Jack L. Warner (head of Warner Bros. Studio) wanted James Cagney (a big Warner Bros. star) cast in the title role that went to Errol Flynn who seemed born to play the part.  Even though Cagney was certainly an excellent actor, I simply cannot visualize him as Robin Hood.

Gone With The Wind:  Literally, every leading actress in Hollywood was tested for the coveted role of Scarlet O'Hara, and all were rejected.  The movie had already started filming before a British actress named Vivien Leigh (married to Laurence Olivier at the time) was finally cast as Scarlet.

The Maltese Falcon:  George Raft turned down the role of Sam Spade because he felt it was 'not an important film.'  To the delight of director John Huston, the role went to Humphrey Bogart who was Huston's first choice.

Casablanca:  Ronald Reagan was first considered for the Humphrey Bogart role in one of the all time classic films. It ended up being a great film for Bogart and another win situation for movie-goers. 

Sunday, March 19, 2023


This week is part 1 of a 3-part blog series about movies and the Academy Awards. The 95th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony was last week, Sunday, March 12, 2023.

There are many people in the movie industry who are considered legends, those who received multiple nominations over the decades and deserved the Academy Award but never received that elusive prize.  Some of the names will even strike you as What? That can't be true. He/She must have won at least once.

So, in no particular order, here is a cross-section of very deserving movie legends who were often nominated but missed out on the grand prize of the movie industry's top award.

1)  Alfred Hitchcock

With a string of directorial masterpieces to his credit, he never won one of the prized statuettes for directing.  However, in 1968 he was presented an honorary Oscar® for his lifetime body of work.

2)  Cary Grant

He made it look easy which sometimes prevented people from realizing just how good he was—adept at drama and light comedy (and even slapstick, after all he started his career as a vaudeville acrobat in England which certainly equipped him with the dexterity and coordination to do physical comedy).  Considered by many to be the epitome of the romantic leading man.  However, in 1970 he was presented an honorary Oscar® for his lifetime body of work.

3)  Peter O'Toole

He holds the record for the most Best Actor nominations (8) without a win with his most famous role probably Lawrence of Arabia.  My personal favorite of Peter O'Toole's films is My Favorite Year, one of his few comedy films.  However, in 2003 he was presented an honorary Oscar® for his lifetime body of work.

4)  Deborah Kerr

With many outstanding roles, certainly From Here To Eternity and also The King And I, she was nominated six times but no wins.  However, in 1994 she was presented an honorary Oscar® for her lifetime body of work.

5)  Richard Burton

Many outstanding performances including an exceptional one in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolfe where he co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor. Six nominations, five of them for Best Actor, but no wins.

6)  Albert Finney

The British actor is probably best known for Tom Jones, one of his earlier films.  He's garnered five nominations but no wins.  My favorite Albert Finney film is the original film production of Agatha Christie's Murder On The Orient Express with his marvelous portrayal of Hercule Poirot (supported by an incredible cast including several Oscar® winners and nominees, among them multiple Oscar® winner Ingrid Bergman who won an Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress in Murder On The Orient Express).

7)  Angela Lansbury

Today she's best known for her award winning role of Jessica Fletcher, the retired school teacher turned mystery novelist and amateur sleuth in the long running television series Murder, She Wrote.  In addition to television, she has an impressive string of Tony award winning Broadway performances.  But oddly enough, even though she started her career in films and received three Oscar® nominations, it's the acting award that has remained elusive.  My favorite of her Oscar® nominations was for a riveting performance in the original film version of The Manchurian Candidate with Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey (she played Laurence Harvey's mother even though they were only a few months apart in age).

8)  Fred Astaire

Although best known for a stellar career in a long string of very successful musicals (many with his long time partner, Ginger Rogers), his one and only nomination came for a dramatic role in Towering Inferno.  I remember being pleasantly surprised when I saw his excellent performance in his first dramatic role, 1959's On The Beach—a story of nuclear war aftermath starring Gregory Peck.

9)  Charlie Chaplin

He is one of the most pivotal stars of the early days of Hollywood.  Even though he never won for either acting or directing, I wasn't sure whether to add him to this list of never won an Oscar® because he did win one for Best Original Musical Score in 1952 for Limelight.  However, in 1972 he was presented with an honorary Oscar® for his lifetime body of work and received the longest standing ovation in Academy Awards history (over twelve minutes).

There are, of course, many more nominated actors/actresses/directors who deserve but haven't yet had their name engraved on an Oscar®. 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

A New Senior Citizen Exam

With the baby boomer generation now firmly entrenched in the realm of the senior citizen, it's not surprising that a new test has been devised to determine their mental acuity.

Below are ten questions. In order to pass the test, you only need to get four of them correct. Answer the questions without scrolling down to the answers listed at the bottom of this post…and no fair asking Google to give you the answers.

Remember…you must answer four of the ten correctly to pass the test. Pencils ready?  You may begin now!

1)  How long did the Hundred Years' War last?

2)  Which country makes Panama hats?

3)  From which animal do we get cat gut?

4)  In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution?

5)  What is used to make the type of brush called camel's hair?

6)  The Canary Islands in the Pacific Ocean are named after what animal?

7)  What was King George VI's first name?

8)  What color is a purple finch?

9)  Where are Chinese gooseberries from?

10)  What is the color of the black box in a commercial airplane?

Okay…there's your list of questions. Have you finished writing down your answers for all ten questions? Great! Now you can move on to the answers.

Remember…you must have answered a minimum of four correctly to pass this test.

1)  One hundred and sixteen years

2)  Ecuador

3)  Sheep and horses

4)  November

5)  Squirrel fur

6)  Dogs

7)  Albert

8)  Crimson

9)  New Zealand

10)  Orange

So…how did you do?

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Daylight Saving Time and the Vernal Equinox

Every March we have two annual observations that are not holidays—one is man made and the other is science/nature. The first is the start of daylight saving time and the other is the beginning of Spring.

In the U.S., at 2am on the second Sunday in March we set our clocks forward one hour for the start of daylight saving time—or to put it another way, we lose one hour of sleep. This year, the second Sunday falls on March 12, 2023. And on the first Sunday in November at 2am we reverse that process by setting our clocks back one hour—we get an additional hour of sleep to make up for that hour we lost in March. In 2023, that first Sunday is November 5th.

Standard time—the creation of time zones—was instituted in the U.S. and Canada by the railroads in 1883. Due to the vast width of the two countries stretching thousands of miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, it was necessary to establish some method of standardizing train schedules. However, it was not established in U.S. law until the Act of March 19, 1918. The Act also established daylight saving time which was repealed in 1919 while standard time in time zones remained the law. Daylight saving time was re-established in World War II. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 brought standardization of start and stop dates but allowed for local exemptions from its observance. Since then, the official beginning and ending dates have changed several times, the most recent being in 2007. There are many wondering why we continue to bother with daylight saving vs. standard time as that annual change seems to have no purpose in today's society. Several states are currently considering doing away with it.

However—I read somewhere that discussions are actually underway on the Federal level to keep daylight saving time permanently. If that is successful this year, we won't need to turn our clocks back in November.

Those states that have previously opted for the exemption from daylight saving time are Arizona (except for the Navajo, who do observe daylight saving time on tribal lands), Hawaii, and the overseas territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands.

There are several states that are split between two time zones. Oregon and Idaho are split between the Mountain and Pacific time zones. Florida, Michigan, Indiana (I think I read somewhere that one of Indiana's time zones observes daylight saving time and the other time zone does not), Kentucky, and Tennessee are split between Eastern and Central time zones. Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, North and South Dakota are divided between Central and Mountain time zones.

At one time, Alaska covered four time zones. That has been changed and Alaska is now in two time zones. More than 98 percent of the state's population is in one time zone, now called Yukon time, which is one hour earlier than Pacific standard time and four hours earlier than Eastern standard time.

And then there is the other annual observance, the one dictated by science/nature—the vernal equinox.

Equinox translates literally to "equal night."

This year, on Monday, March 20, 2023, at precisely 5:24pm eastern daylight time, the sun crosses directly over the Earth's equator. The fact that it's night time in the U.S. and Canada does not change anything. That moment is known as the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere announcing the arrival of spring and the autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere announcing the arrival of fall. A second equinox will occur in September.

The fact that the Earth has distinctive seasons is due to the 23.4 degree tilt of the Earth's axis. The Earth receives more sunlight (longer daylight hours) in the summer and less sunlight (fewer daylight hours) in the winter.  The tilt of the axis makes the seasons opposite in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. At the north pole summer gives six months of daylight while at the same time the south pole is experiencing six months of darkness. The closer you are to the equator, the number of hours of daylight and darkness become more equal.

The fall and spring equinoxes are the only two times during the year when the sun rises due east and sets due west. Modern astronomy aside, people have recognized the astronomical connection to the season changes for thousands of years. The ancients of various civilizations all over the world built structures that illustrate this—temples dedicated to their various gods that modern man recognizes as observatories. Not only the spring and fall equinox days, but also the summer and winter solstice days (most and least daily hours of sunlight).

I think it's also interesting to note a connection between the spring equinox and Groundhog Day (another holiday derived from the practices and celebrations of the ancients). If the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, we have six more weeks of winter. And by "coincidence" that six weeks takes us to the spring equinox.

A little bit of equinox trivia: According to folklore, on the equinox you can stand a raw egg on its end. One spring, a few minutes before the vernal equinox, twenty-four almanac editors tested the theory. For a full work day, seventeen out of twenty-four eggs stood up on the large end. Then three days following the equinox, they tried the same test again. And guess what? The results were similar.  Perhaps the second test was still too close to the equinox?  :)

And there you have it—your science lesson for the day.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

13 Things NOT To Put In The Microwave

Microwave ovens—you will find them in almost every residence whether house, condominium, apartment or college dorm room.  They are also in many places of business, both for use by employees only and for use by the public.  Those for consumer use come in various sizes and power from the small .7 cu. ft. 700 watt dorm room size to those large enough to hold a turkey with a power rating of 1250 watts or higher.  They can be counter top models, installed under a cupboard, or above/part of the stove.

The first microwave oven was invented after World War II from radar technology developed during the war. The Radarange, as it was called, was first sold in 1946 but was prohibitively large and much too expensive for all but the largest of commercial applications.  The home-use microwave oven was introduced in 1955, but was still too large and expensive for general home use. The practical countertop home-use microwave oven was introduced in 1967. For those of us 'older' folks, we quickly adapted to their use.  The younger among us grew up with them.

This list of 13 relates to specific dangers from trying to heat certain items in your microwave.  I imagine we've all learned the hard way (no pun intended) what happens when we try to microwave bread-type products rather than heating them some other way.  That one is not dangerous, but it dries out the bread and when the items start to cool they become too hard to eat. This problem is helped by wrapping the bread item in a damp paper towel.

1)  Aluminum Foil—we all know that one, it literally catches on fire.

2)  Stainless Steel—we all know not to put our metal pots and pans in the microwave.  That also includes our stainless steel travel coffee mugs.  In addition to possible harm to the microwave, the metal blocks the waves so it won't heat your cold coffee anyway.

3)  Plastic Storage Containers—these contain chemicals that could be toxic, or at the least alter the taste of the food you are reheating. Check the product label as some type of plastic containers can be microwaved.

4)  Chinese Take-Out Cartons—the metal handles on the carton are dangerous and the cartons themselves contain plastic.

5)  Styrofoam—this is plastic, but these days there are some Styrofoam products that can be put into the microwave.

6)  Raisins—these smoke when heated in a microwave.

7)  Grapes—if raisins are bad, it follows that the fruit that gives us raisins are also a microwave no-no.  The grapes will catch fire.

8)  Plastic Bags—the type retail stores use to bag your purchases in addition to the more heavy-duty storage type.  These are toxic and can catch fire.

9)  Brown Paper Bags—these are as dangerous in the microwave as the plastic bags the stores use.

10)  Eggs—if in the shell, they will explode.

11)  Dried Hot Peppers—chemicals are released.

12)  Sauce/Soup—without a lid, it will splatter all over the inside of the oven and create a messy cleanup.

13)  Nothing—to run an empty microwave can harm the appliance as there's nothing there containing water molecules for it to absorb. 

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Antarctica’s Blood Red Waterfall

A few years ago, I saw a photograph somewhere (probably in a magazine) showing a red waterfall flowing out of an Antarctic glacier. It piqued my curiosity and I eventually looked into what it really was with the results coming as a surprise.

One of the world's most extreme deserts is probably the last place anyone would expect to find a waterfall. However, in Antarctica's McMurdo Dry Valley, a five-story waterfall pours slowly out of the Taylor Glacier into Lake Bonney. And it's not just the idea of a flowing waterfall in the frozen world of Antarctica that's strange. The waterfall is bright red, resembling blood running from a cut in the glacier.

Before you start scratching your head and wondering how that's possible—it's obviously not blood that lends Blood Falls its unique red color. Five million years ago, sea levels rose resulting in the formation of a salty lake in East Antarctica. Millions of years later, glaciers formed on top of the lake, cutting it off from the rest of the Antarctic continent, which makes the water in Blood Falls an aqueous time capsule preserved 400 meters (1300 feet) underground. As the glaciers on top of the lake began to freeze, the water below became even saltier. Today, the salt content of the subglacial lake under Blood Falls is three times saltier than seawater which makes it too salty to freeze. The subglacial lake that feeds Blood Falls is trapped beneath a quarter mile of ice.

But in addition to being cut off from the rest of the continent, the water that feeds Blood Falls is completely cut off from the atmosphere—it has never seen sunlight and is completely devoid of oxygen. It's also extremely rich in iron. And it's that iron, scraped into the water by glaciers sliding across the bedrock below the lake, that's responsible for the red color. When water from the subglacial lake seeps through a fissure in the glacier, the salty water cascades down the Taylor Glacier into Lake Bonney below. When the iron-rich water comes into contact with the air, it rusts which stains the ice a blood red color as it falls.

The color of Blood Falls isn't the only weird thing about it. What lives inside the subglacial lake interests scientists more than the waterfall's creepy color. Millions of years ago, when those glaciers covered the salt lakes, there were microbes living in the water, and those microbes haven't gone anywhere, even though the water is now an extremely salty, oxygen-free bowl of complete darkness buried 400 meters under a glacier. Much like bacteria found living near deep sea thermal vents, the microbes of Blood Falls get their energy from breaking apart sulfates which contain oxygen. After that, something eerily magical happens with the by-products—the iron in the water interacts with the microbes to restore the sulfates, basically recycling the sulfates for the microbes to break down into oxygen over and over again. Possibly a life form to be considered immortal.

If you're thinking about visiting Blood Falls, McMurdo Dry Valley and the Blood Falls can only be reached by helicopter from nearby Antarctic research stations or from cruise ships visiting the Ross Sea. 

Sunday, February 12, 2023

The History of Mardi Gras and the Tradition Of Flashing

This year Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, February 21, 2023. In the Catholic Church, it's Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday. The date for Mardi Gras depends on the date of Easter—always occurring forty-six days before Easter.

In the most literal sense, the Mardi Gras celebration is the three days prior to the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. It's the last opportunity for partying and indulgence in food and drink. In practice, Mardi Gras—or Carnival, as it is called in many countries—is usually celebrated for a full week before the start of Lent.

Celebrations take place all over the world with the most famous modern day festivities being in New Orleans, Louisiana; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Nice, France; and Cologne, Germany.

Even though Mardi Gras is a Christian festival, it dates back to the pre-Christian spring fertility rites and embodies many of the traditions of the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the early Middle Ages, after converting pagan tribes to Christianity, the Catholic Church was still unable to abolish all the ancient traditions. To combat this, the Church ended up taking many ancient feasts and festivals originally celebrated in honor of pagan gods and adapted them to Christian beliefs. An example of the pagan roots—today revelers on parade floats still dress as Bacchus, the Greek god of wine.

The first Mardi Gras celebration in the United States was near modern day New Orleans on March 3, 1699, but it was the mid 1800s before parade organizations, known as krewes, came into being. The first Mardi Gras parade was held in New Orleans on February 24, 1854, by the Krewe of Comus. They began the tradition of a parade with floats followed by a ball for the krewe and their guests. The official colors of Mardi Gras were chosen by Rex, King of Carnival, in 1892 and given their meaning—purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

But what about that popular activity that has become a seemingly integral part of the New Orleans Mardi Gras, much to the chagrin of the festival purists? Women pulling up their shirts and flashing their bare breasts to procure some worthless plastic beads?

Exactly where did this tradition come from?

Well, first of all, it's not really a tradition. It's more along the lines of what has become a traditional activity in the same vein as getting stupid drunk and passing out now seems to fall into that same 'traditional' category. Over the years more and more media attention has been directed toward the drunken revelry that occurs on Bourbon Street which has helped in defining flashing as a traditional part of the Mardi Gras celebration.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point-of-view, flashing in exchange for beads is mostly limited to the New Orleans' French Quarter. And even in the French Quarter, it's an illegal activity. Women flashing their bare breasts run the risk of being arrested.

Maybe flashing is not a true tradition, but you can't deny that it has become a custom. After all, the history of wild Mardi Gras behavior comes from celebrating the last day before Lent—Lent being a time of atonement. And this naturally lends itself to activities of excess and craziness.

Which apparently has come to include flashing.

But there is one crazy excess even more daring than the momentary baring of the female breasts known as flashing. And what, you may ask, could possibly be crazier than flashing and still be done in public? And the answer is having clothes painted on your bare skin. There are artists who specialize in this. It probably started as something simple and basic like face painting but has grown to include full body artistic renderings. At a casual glance, it appears that the person is clothed (albeit skin tight clothing). But on closer inspection, you discover that's far from the truth. Some of these examples shown below are basic and others are quite elaborate.