Anthony Daniels Finally Explains the Mystery of That Obscene C-3PO Trading Card

Kory westerhold, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Kory westerhold, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When Star Wars was released in 1977, the sprawling and detailed mythology created by George Lucas existed mostly in the director's head. There was no online hub to confirm how to spell Chewbacca or learn the name of the actor who played him. (The late Peter Mayhew, for the record.) Fans who wanted information beyond the scope of the film had to look toward the novelization by Alan Dean Foster, the Star Wars comic books issued by Marvel, or a series of trading card sets released by the Topps company.

Buried in these cards and their depictions of the various characters and scenes of the film was a strange and arguably obscene anomaly. On the front of card number 207, protocol droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is seen emerging from an oil bath and appearing to be anatomically correct, a rare feature of robots.

A Topps 'Star Wars' trading card featuring C-3PO is pictured
baseball-nutz, eBay

In 2007, the official Star Wars website explained that the image was nothing more than a fluke. According to the Lucasfilm-endorsed explanation, a piece of the costume became loose at the precise moment the photo was taken, lending the character the appearance of mechanical arousal:

“…[It] appears that the extra appendage is not the work of an artist, but rather a trick of timing and light. The untouched archive photo shows the image just as it appears on the card. The current theory is that the instant the photo was snapped, a piece fell off the Threepio costume, and just happened to line up in such a way as to suggest a bawdy image. The original contact sheets from the photo shoot attest to this. They are not retouched in any way, yet still contain the same image. Whatever the real explanation is, the ‘mischievous airbrush artist’ scenario simply doesn’t fit.”

An alternative explanation by Gary Gerani, who oversaw the selection of images for Topps at that time, indicated that the Pfizer version of C-3PO was the result of prop masters fooling around on set for their own amusement.

Neither explanation, however, appears to be the true story. Mental Floss reached out to Daniels, who is currently finishing his autobiography, I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story, which is due for release on November 5. Declaring both theories “nonsense,” Daniels was gracious enough to illuminate this sizable mystery.

According to Daniels, the phallic mishap happened on set in London’s Elstree Studios while shooting the scene in which Threepio was to be lowered into his oil bath. “It really was oil,” Daniels tells Mental Floss. “I stood on a platform that gently lowered me into the green liquid. The crew had been kind enough to warm it. Not as much as was indicated by the steam. That was achieved with two electric kettles hidden behind me.”

But this oil had an unintended consequence. “The oil permeated the inner spaces between me and the costume legs as I chatted with my new master, Luke Skywalker [Mark Hamill]. I eventually rose again, dripping but without incident. Or so I thought.”

Daniels finished the scene—and the film—without giving the shot another thought. Years later, he came across the card and realized what had happened. “At that time, the pants section of the costume was in two pieces of thin plastic. Front and back. A strip of gold-colored tape fixed them together, [which was] fine. But being immersed in vegetable oil dissolved the adhesive and the two parts sprung apart. At the same time, Threepio’s left leg dropped down over the shoe. The combination led to an over-exposure of plastic in that region. It left a bulging crease.”

What happened next is still open to a bit of interpretation. The now-defunct story on the Star Wars home page insisted that the card image was taken from the untouched photo snapped on the set; Daniels believes a mischievous Topps employee took the photo with the crease and accentuated the protruding part so it appeared larger and with some additional anatomical detail. This account, he says, was verified by Lucasfilm.

In any event, the photo made its way into the Topps set because Gerani and his editors were simply overwhelmed by the number of still images to comb through. After viewing hundreds of them, they were oblivious to the gaffe and sent the card into production. Parents purchasing the trading cards for their kids noticed C-3PO’s pelvic surplus and brought it to the attention of Topps executives, who quickly replaced the card by airbrushing the image to remove the offending detail.

Salacious or otherwise unwanted imagery has long plagued the trading card industry. Most infamously, a 1989 Billy Ripken baseball card from Fleer featured the player holding a bat with a profane message written on the handle. (Ripken had scribbled the obscenity, which rhymes with “muck face,” so he could easily identify his bat during practice, then forgot about it when his photo was taken.)

Though such errors can be sought after by collectors, the C-3PO card is not particularly scarce. The “X-rated” version can typically be purchased for between $30 and $100 on eBay, depending on its condition.

Just don’t expect Daniels to autograph it for you. “If you see one signed on the surface by me, it is a forgery,” the actor says. “I would never autograph it. Call me humorless, but, clever though the artwork was, I find it an insult to a good friend of mine who cannot speak for himself on this planet.”

Aside from being juvenile, Daniels believes the card commits a worse sin: It contradicts Threepio’s character. “As a protocol droid and skilled in the niceties of etiquette, Threepio would never, ever appear as excited as that in public. And that is a fact.”

2020 Golden Globes: The Full List of Nominees

Andrew Scott stars in Fleabag.
Andrew Scott stars in Fleabag.
Steve Schofield/Amazon Studios

Awards season is officially upon us and we're all rushing out to the movie theater—or, more frequently, our own couches—to load up on some of the year's biggest movie and television titles.

Now that the 2020 Golden Globe nominations have been announced, it's clear that Netflix's investment in original content like Martin Scorsese's The Irishman and Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story, which scored the most nominations with six, was a wise decision.

On the television side, streaming emerged victorious as well; The Crown landed a total of four nominations while Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Amazon hit Fleabag earned three, including one for "Hot Priest" Andrew Scott, who was a notable Emmy snub. Amazingly, Game of Thrones was nominated for just a single award: a Best Actor in a Drama Series nomination for Kit Harington.

Below is the full list of nominees for the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards, which will take place on January 5, 2020.

Best Motion Picture, Drama

1917
The Irishman
Joker
Marriage Story
The Two Popes

Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out
Rocketman
Dolemite Is My Name

Best Motion Picture—Foreign Language

The Farewell
Pain and Glory
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Parasite
Les Misérables

Best Director, Motion Picture

Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Sam Mendes, 1917
Todd Phillips, Joker
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Best Screenplay—Motion Picture

Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, Parasite
Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Steven Zaillian, The Irishman

Best Original Score, Motion Picture

Alexandre Desplat, Little Women
Hildur Gudnadottir, Joker
Randy Newman, Marriage Story
Thomas Newman, 1917
Daniel Pemberton, Motherless Brooklyn

Best Original Song—Motion Picture

Beautiful Ghosts, Cats
I'm Gonna Love Me Again, Rocketman
Into the Unknown, Frozen II
Spirit, The Lion King
Stand Up, Harriet

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture

Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture

Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Annette Bening, The Report
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Margot Robbie, Bombshell

Best Actor in a Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy

Daniel Craig, Knives Out
Roman Griffin Davis, Jojo Rabbit
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Taron Egerton, Rocketman
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name

Best Motion Picture—Animated

Frozen II
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Missing Link
Toy Story 4
Lion King

Best Actor in a Motion Picture—Drama

Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Best Actress in a Motion Picture—Drama

Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renée Zellweger, Judy

Best Actress in a Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy

Awkwafina, The Farewell
Ana de Armas, Knives Out
Cate Blanchett, Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Beanie Feldstein, Booksmart
Emma Thompson, Late Night

Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Christopher Abbott, Catch-22
Sacha Baron Cohen, The Spy
Russell Crowe, The Loudest Voice
Jared Harris, Chernobyl
Sam Rockwell, Fosse/Verdon

Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Kaitlyn Dever, Unbelievable
Joey King, The Act
Helen Mirren, Catherine the Great
Merritt Wever, Unbelievable
Michelle Williams, Fosse/Verdon

Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Catch-22, Hulu
Chernobyl, HBO
Fosse/Verdon, FX
The Loudest Voice, Showtime
Unbelievable, Netflix

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Patricia Arquette, The Act
Helena Bonham Carter, The Crown
Toni Collette, Unbelievable
Meryl Streep, Big Little Lies
Emily Watson, Chernobyl

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Drama

Brian Cox, Succession
Kit Harington, Game of Thrones
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
Tobias Menzies, The Crown
Billy Porter, Pose

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Alan Arkin, The Kominsky Method
Kieran Culkin, Succession
Andrew Scott, Fleabag
Stellan Skarsgård, Chernobyl
Henry Winkler, Barry

Best Television Series—Drama

Big Little Lies, HBO
The Crown, Netflix
Killing Eve, AMC
The Morning Show, Apple TV+
Succession, HBO

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Drama

Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show
Olivia Colman, The Crown
Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
Reese Witherspoon, The Morning Show

Best Television Series—Musical or Comedy

Barry, HBO
Fleabag, Amazon
The Kominsky Method, Netflix
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amazon
The Politician, Netflix

When Big Bird Sang "Bein’ Green" at Jim Henson’s Memorial Service

Richard Termine/HBO
Richard Termine/HBO

On May 16, 1990, Muppet creator Jim Henson passed away. Five days later, a memorial service was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. In July, another memorial was held in London, at St. Paul's Cathedral; both services were open to the public.

Four years before his passing, Henson had given very clear instructions about the services, requesting that no attendees wear black and that a jazz band be present. According to one account, Henson also reportedly wrote that "I'm not at all afraid of the thought of death and look forward to it. It would be lovely if there were a song or two ... and someone said some nice happy words about me."

It was at the second service, in London, that Caroll Spinney—the puppeteer behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch—paid tribute to his longtime collaborator with a devastating performance of "Bein' Green," the classic song made famous by Kermit the Frog.

On Sunday, December 8, 2019, Spinney passed away at his home in Connecticut at the age of 85. As a tribute to the pop culture icon, and the man who inspired him, here's the original clip of Spinney's 1990 performance.

You can see more of the videos collected from Henson's memorial services, which are touching, funny, heartfelt, and often heartbreaking, here.

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