10 Big Facts About Big Love

HBO
HBO

On March 12, 2006, HBO debuted Big Love, a dramedy that chronicled a family of fundamentalist Mormons living in suburban Utah as polygamists. Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer created the show, which starred Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn (Barb, wife number one), Chloë Sevigny (Nicki, second wife), and Ginnifer Goodwin (Margene, third wife) as a different type of family. Paxton’s Bill Henrickson is married to all three women, who live in separate houses, and raise his children, including then-unknown Amanda Seyfried (Sarah Henrickson).

The Emmy-nominated series spurred controversy within the Mormon community, and inspired the 2010 formation of the TLC reality show Sister Wives. However, after five seasons and 53 episodes—including Bill’s tumultuous run for Senate and the family adding and then removing another sister-wife—HBO canceled the show and aired the series finale on March 20, 2011. Here are 10 surprising facts about Big Love.

1. GEORGE W. BUSH INSPIRED THE CREATION OF THE SHOW. 

Olsen and Scheffer told NPR they got the idea to explore polygamy after George W. Bush got elected for a second time, because of the “campaign-season rhetoric about what makes a family.” To them, family—especially marriage—meant different things. “Every time there’s a whiff of discord in the family, [people think] ‘they’re going to bail. This one’s going to bail,’” Olsen said. “And Will and I have never looked at it like that. We’ve never played the ‘who's going to leave the marriage’ game, because I think we have a firm belief that you stick it out—that marriage is worth sticking out.”

2. BILL HENRICKSON REPRESENTED AN “EVERYMAN.”

Olsen explained to Deadline that when they pitched the show to HBO, they described Bill as an “Everyman” who was “a good husband and father who was overwhelmed by the escalating demands of modern life ... Bill H. was a man of faith and integrity who lived with many secrets and moral uncertainties, who actively struggled with ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ and someone who was proudly, deeply ‘American.’ It didn’t take long for us to realize the part had been written for Bill Paxton.”

In casting Paxton, who passed away on February 25, 2017, the showrunners said they knew he was the right choice. “We cannot think of any actor, any man, who you’d ever want to be captain of your ship over the long and arduous journey of television making than Bill Paxton," the creators said in a statement following Paxton's death. "He was smart and collaborative and curious. He was a leader, a raconteur, a mentor.”

3. THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS WAS UNHAPPY WITH THE SHOW.

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—which has more than 15 million members—outlawed polygamy in 1890 yet between 50,000 and 100,000 Mormons (mainly the fundamentalist sector) still practice polygamous relationships. When the show premiered, the church issued a statement asking HBO to place a disclaimer at the beginning of episodes stating that the fictional family is not associated with the organization. “Those groups which continue the practice in Utah and elsewhere have no association whatever with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and most of their practitioners have never been among our members,” the LDS’s statement read. “It will be regrettable if this program, by making polygamy the subject of entertainment, minimizes the seriousness of that problem.”

HBO eventually relented and placed a disclaimer on an episode. In 2009, the show once again angered the church, this time with an endowment ceremony—something that Mormons prefer to keep secret.

4. NICKI WAS MORE THAN JUST A PERSON PEOPLE LOVED TO HATE.

HBO

Although Sevigny's Nicki at times seemed like a villain, she was the glue that held the Henricksons together. “The family had to swim through a lot of shit with Nicki, but she provided the family something unconditional,” Ginnifer Goodwin told Vulture. “Nicki reminded them all the time about what was so important about faith. The pros outweighed the cons.”

In developing Nicki, Olsen and Scheffer made her someone who didn’t fit in. “We wanted Nicki to cover her insecurities with a sense of entitlement, the sort of polygamist princess, and Chloë Sevigny gave that really well,” Olsen told the Los Angeles Times. “And she gave the ambiguity of the character real depth."

5. PAXTON DIDN’T SEE HAVING THREE WIVES AS A “MALE FANTASY.”

Paxton told the Los Angeles Times that a man married to three women wasn’t “some male fantasy thing” but a “male nightmare.” “You put a kid in the candy store and you say to the kid: eat as much candy as you want,” he said. “Go on, eat as much candy as you want. And then you ask the kid the next day, ‘Hey you want some candy?’ And the kid’s going to look at you like he never wants to see another piece of candy in his life.”

6. IT WAS A PRO-FEMALE SHOW.

“The big secret of the show is that it’s always been a feminist show,” Olsen told NPR. “And even though it was dramatizing this very patriarchal system in some ways, the opportunities that women found—particularly in this very abusive system—to support each other was what drew us to the material in the first place, and gave us reason to want to explore it. We felt that there were opportunities for women to find support in one another.”

By the series finale, it’s clear the three women will stick together and forge a new life. Paxton also shared the sentiment of Big Love inevitably being a show about the women.

“I was kind of a fiduciary character in many ways,” Paxton told The Huffington Post. “It was really, how do these women relate to each other, sharing this guy and this religion and this whole thing? And how are they going to carry on now that he’s gone probably was a more interesting dynamic.”

7. AARON PAUL WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A “POSSIBLE RECURRING” CHARACTER.

HBO

Before Breaking Bad made Aaron Paul a household name, the up-and-coming actor played Sarah’s boyfriend-turned-husband Scott Quittman, from 2007 to 2010. He told Fade In the part was listed as “possible recurring.” “It’s weird,” Paul said. “They just kept having me back.”

Despite Breaking Bad taking off in 2008, Paul found time to star in six more Big Love episodes, including the series finale. “And I thought once Breaking Bad got picked up, Big Love would be done, and so did Big Love,” he said. “They were trying to figure a way to end the relationship, and they actually did end the relationship with Scott and Sarah. But I just stayed in contact with HBO and some of the producers there. I said, ‘Breaking Bad is totally open to me coming back if you can work it out with the schedule.’ They were like, ‘Really?’ So they [raised] my character from the dead again, and brought me back, and we got back together, fell madly in love, and got married.”

8. MATT ROSS DIDN’T KNOW ALBY’S SEXUALITY UNTIL LATER.

Ross played the sinister cult leader Alby Grant, Nicki’s brother, for five seasons. In the beginning, Alby’s sexual orientation was ambiguous. “I think the first scene where I was wondering about his sexuality was when he picks up a drifter or a hustler in a convenience store and he takes him home,” Ross told NPR. “And that was just obviously a strange thing to do. I mean, well, why is he doing that? That was not clear.” Ross thought Alby just wanted to feel something other than numbness, so Alby put himself in a dangerous situation. But later on, Ross figured it out. “I read a scene where it said Alby is—I think he'd been arrested for doing something. And he was in a police station. And it said Alby is checking out all the butts of the cops that are there. And I was like, OK, well, OK, if he's checking out their butts then he’s, you know, this is his sexuality.”

9. THE SHOW ENDED WITH BILL BECOMING A HERO.

The series ends with a neighbor shooting and killing Bill—yet the sister wives decide to stay together. “We wanted to give him a Gary Cooper exit from the show, but it went much deeper than that,” Olsen said to NPR. “We didn’t want Bill to go out a loser or a failure or an unrepentant fundamentalist. And we wanted to find that thing that would render his life’s existence the most successful. We felt [that] the greatest testimony to Bill would be that he had created a family that endured.”

10. PAXTON WANTED BILL TO LIVE.

HBO

The actor told The Huffington Post that he wished Bill hadn’t been killed off in the series finale, but he understood why. “The guy was really a revolutionary like Jesus Christ was in some ways,” Paxton said. “I don’t know, I guess society can’t reward that guy, because he is really living outside of society … I guess I was just really fond of the guy and I thought that after all that he had gone through, he deserved to find a quiet place in the sun.”

Thursday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Guitar Kits, Memory-Foam Pillows, and Smartwatches

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 3. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

10 Illuminating Facts About A Christmas Story's Leg Lamp

It's a Major Award!
It's a Major Award!
Tim Evanson, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

When A Christmas Story was first released in 1983, it was a sleeper that attracted only a small (but quite cultish) following. Over the past three decades, however, the film has steadily become a holiday staple on par with classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947). And as the film itself has grown in popularity, so has one of its most recognizable props: the leg lamp, that glowing gam otherwise known as “A Major Award.”

1. The A Christmas Story leg lamp was inspired by an old-school soft drink.

Before A Christmas Story was a movie, it was a series of short stories that appeared in two different volumes by the late writer and radio personality Jean Shepherd. The books, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters, were fictionalized accounts of Shepherd’s childhood in Depression-era Indiana (though the movie was filmed mostly in Cleveland, Ohio). Shepherd describes the leg lamp and his father’s obsession with it in a 1966 story titled “My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art.”

According to A Christmas Story House and Museum (yep, there’s an entire museum dedicated to the subject), Shepherd imagined the leg lamp after seeing an illuminated Nehi Soda advertisement, which featured two shapely disembodied legs up to the knee. Shepherd gave cloaked credit to Nehi by writing that the Old Man’s crossword contest was sponsored by an “orange pop” company whose name “was a play on words, involving the lady’s knee.”

When the lamp finally arrives in Shepherd’s essay, he writes, “From ankle to thigh the translucent flesh radiated a vibrant, sensual, luminous orange-yellow-pinkish nimbus of Pagan fire. All it needed was tom-toms and maybe a gong or two. And a tenor singing in a high, quavery, earnest voice: ‘A pretty girl/Is like a melody…’”

2. The A Christmas Story leg lamp was immortalized by production designer Reuben Freed.

Uncertain of just what a leg lamp should look like, A Christmas Story’s production designer Reuben Freed created a quick sketch and showed it to Shepherd, who surprisingly approved it right away. “I immediately thought of something I had seen in my mother’s front room, which was sort of a gold-colored silk lampshade, pleated with fringe around it,” Freed told Cleveland magazine in 2009. “I thought of it immediately and never thought of anything else—just that classic, big ugly shape.”

3. The “original” A Christmas Story leg lamp no longer exists.

Finding an original leg lamp is considered the ultimate feat for A Christmas Story aficionados, Caseen Gaines wrote in A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic. But “the likelihood of finding one is about as great as locating Pee Wee Herman’s bicycle in the basement of the Alamo.” Freed produced three leg lamps for the movie, but none of them survived the production. All three were broken during filming.

4. There’s a simple reason for the typo on the box the A Christmas Story leg lamp is delivered in.

When the leg lamp arrives at Ralphie’s house in the movie, it’s in a crate labeled not only with the infamous “FRAGILE,” but also “HIS END UP.” Though the use of “his” in place of “this” might seem like a subtle joke, the crate was indeed originally labeled “THIS END UP,” but no one had bothered to measure the container before trying to wheel it through the door. Jim Moralevitz, an actor who played one of the leg-lamp delivery guys, told Cleveland’s News-Herald, “I had the pleasure of delivering the major award 30 years ago. Unfortunately, the crate was so wide that it wouldn’t fit through the door. So they called in the carpenters and they took four inches off.”

5. The A Christmas Story leg lamp is big in Cleveland.

Erik Drost, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Because much of A Christmas Story was filmed in Cleveland, the city has embraced the movie as its own (possibly to the resentment of Shepherd’s native Indiana). In 2013, to celebrate the movie’s 30th anniversary, Terminal Tower in Cleveland’s Public Square was turned into a giant leg lamp, complete with a red garter.

Terminal Tower can be seen, sans leg-lamp accoutrements, in A Christmas Story’s first few opening shots, looming over Higbee’s department store, where Ralphie first spots the coveted Red Ryder BB gun.

6. The A Christmas Story leg lamp is also a big deal in Long Island.

In 2005, the Reichert family, owners of the Northport Hardware Store in Northport, Long Island, got a goofy idea after attending the mayor’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony. They browsed through the store’s generous stock of leg lamps, called over some of the guys from the bar next door, and ceremoniously lit one of the lamps in the store’s picture window. Then they all cheered.

Somehow the Reicherts’s lighting of the leg lamp caught on and it has become an annual Northport tradition, though their store no longer hosts the festivities.

7. The A Christmas Story leg lamp is a hit on Halloween.

The leg lamp has become so popular, you can now purchase ready-made Halloween costumes in its likeness. In 2012, Josh Sundquist, a paralympian, motivational speaker, and author who lost his leg to cancer when he was 9 years old, won Halloween when he decided to make his own leg lamp costume. He even shaved his leg for authenticity.

8. The A Christmas Story leg lamp has been a star on the stage.

In 2012, A Christmas Story: The Musical opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. The leg lamp was celebrated with a kick line—only the Broadway chorus kicked up not only their own legs, but also fishnet-clad leg lamps.

The year before, at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, California, the Troubadour Theater Company performed A Christmas Westside Story, a mashup of A Christmas Story and the epic tale of the Sharks and the Jets. What song did the leg lamp get to sing? None other than “I Feel Pretty.”

9. The A Christmas Story leg lamp is a hot commodity.

Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

According to a post-Christmas press release that highlighted Amazon’s seasonal sales in 2012, the online retail giant boasted: “If you stacked every Christmas Story Leg Lamp purchased by Amazon customers this holiday season, the height would reach the top of Mt. Everest.”

10. The A Christmas Story leg lamp gave rise to a hilarious catchphrase.

“Fra-gee-lay. It must be Italian!” has graced everything from baby onesies to novelty shirts to kitschy home decor.