12 Enchanting Facts About The Last Unicorn

Mia Farrow and Alan Arkin in The Last Unicorn (1982).
Mia Farrow and Alan Arkin in The Last Unicorn (1982).
Lions Gate Entertainment

It’s been nearly 40 years since The Last Unicorn (1982) reared its magnificent, horn-adorned head in theaters across America. For adults, the animated Rankin/Bass production was a highly innovative, surprisingly introspective film with all the trappings of a quality fantasy, from its magical, motley, quest-bound crew to every winding staircase in its towering castle. For those who watched the film as a kid, on the other hand, The Last Unicorn was a 90-minute nightmare complete with a screeching, three-breasted harpy; a fiery, diabolical bull; and music sung by your chillest uncle’s favorite band.

Rediscover the enchanted world of the cult classic with the following facts—and keep a wary eye out for beasts, brutes, and Mommy Fortuna.

1. The Last Unicorn was based on a book by Peter S. Beagle, who also wrote the screenplay.

peter s. beagle signs the last unicorn

Peter S. Beagle autographs a copy of The Last Unicorn at Phoenix Comic Con in 2012.

Peter S. Beagle published his fantasy novel The Last Unicorn in 1968, and also insisted on writing the screenplay when it was optioned for film. That resolution coming from another novelist might’ve made film executives a little apprehensive, but it wasn’t Beagle’s first time at the screenwriting rodeo: he had also written the screenplay for Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

“I had the horrors about who else might do it,” Beagle said in an interview. “I never felt I had a choice, whether I particularly wanted to do the screenplay or not.”

2. The Last Unicorn was originally intended for an adult audience.

It’s not just the frightful red bull and permeative sense of terror that make The Last Unicorn seem like a questionable film to show young, impressionable children—there’s also a rather scarring scene in which a lascivious old tree holds Schmendrick captive with her ample bosom. (Not to mention that most of the music was performed by the legendary ’70s folk rock band, America—not quite a kindergarten favorite.)

The overall adult tone is much less odd when you consider that it was, at least initially, intended for adults. Early press referred to the film as an “adult musical fantasy-adventure” and also mentioned that Rankin/Bass had deliberately cast actors who would pique adult interest.

3. The creators of the Peanuts TV specials wanted to make the film.

Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez, the producers behind A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and many other Peanuts TV specials, were very interested in adapting the novel for film, though nothing ever came of it. By Beagle’s own account, one of their partners’ wives pulled him aside at a gathering and earnestly cautioned him against entrusting the project to them.

“Don’t let us do it. We’re not good enough,” Beagle recalled her warning him.

4. Nobody turned down the opportunity to be cast in The Last Unicorn.

The project eventually went to Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. of Rankin/Bass Productions, the company best-known for its stop-motion animation projects like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. As a testament to both the popularity of the novel and the quality of the screenplay, Rankin and Bass weren’t forced to settle for their second choices for any of the voice actors.

“We decided to get the best people we could get,” Bass said in an interview. “And one thing that’s interesting about it, and this is unique, is that every single person whom we approached to do it said yes immediately.”

Those “best people” included Hollywood heavyweights and musical theater legends alike: Mia Farrow as the titular character, Alan Arkin as Schmendrick the magician, Jeff Bridges as Prince Lir, Christopher Lee as King Haggard, Angela Lansbury as Mommy Fortuna, Tammy Grimes as Molly Grue, and more.

5. Jeff Bridges personally asked for a role—and even said he’d work for free.

After hearing that René Auberjonois, his friend and fellow actor from 1976’s King Kong, had been cast as a cackling skeleton in The Last Unicorn, Jeff Bridges called Bass and asked if he could be involved, too. When Bass told him they had yet to cast Prince Lír, Bridges volunteered to lend his time and talents either for free or for whatever Auberjonois was making. Bass hired him on the spot.

6. Prince Lír has a happier ending in the book version of The Last Unicorn.

Jeff Bridges and Mia Farrow in The Last Unicorn (1982)
Jeff Bridges and Mia Farrow in The Last Unicorn (1982).

Lions Gate Entertainment

In the film, Prince Lír leaves the kingdom to forge a new life for himself after losing just about everything: his adoptive father has died, the castle he should’ve inherited has crumbled into the sea, and his beloved Amalthea has transformed back into a unicorn. In the original novel, however, Lír remains to rebuild the kingdom, and he even gets a second chance at love: When Schmendrick and Molly happen upon a troubled princess (fully human, this time) during their journey, they send her Lír’s way.

7. The Last Unicorn was animated by the studio that would later become Studio Ghibli.

Though the original storyboards for The Last Unicorn were created in the U.S., Rankin/Bass outsourced the film’s actual animation to the experts at Topcraft, a Japanese animation studio with whom they had already collaborated on The Hobbit and many other productions throughout the 1970s. When Topcraft folded a few years later, the company was bought by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and Toshio Suzuki, who rebuilt it as Studio Ghibli and went on to release some of the most celebrated animated features of all time, including 2001’s Spirited Away and 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle.

8. Peter Beagle wasn’t thrilled with Alan Arkin’s performance.

Overall, Beagle has expressed satisfaction with how the movie turned out, commending the animators’ “lovely design work” and calling the voice actors “superb.” One actor, however, did fall short of Beagle’s expectations: Alan Arkin, who voices the affable yet blundering magician, Schmendrick.

“I’m still a little disappointed with Alan Arkin’s approach,” Beagle said in an interview. “His Schmendrick still seems too flat for me.”

(The word schmendrick, by the way, is Yiddish for “a foolish, bumbling, or incompetent person.”)

9. Christopher Lee also played King Haggard in the German version of The Last Unicorn.

Christopher Lee was a fierce supporter of both the film and novel, and considered King Haggard a tragic, rich character similar to Shakespeare’s King Lear. Such was his enthusiasm for the project that he even signed on to reprise his role for the German dubbing of the film (he was fluent in German). According to Beagle, Lee said he “simply couldn’t resist a chance to play King Haggard one more time, even in another language.”

10. German audiences love to hear America perform “The Last Unicorn.”

Evidently, it wasn’t just Christopher Lee’s acting chops that helped establish a German fan base for the The Last Unicorn—it was also the music, composed by Jimmy Webb and recorded by America. Bandmember Dewey Bunnell said in an interview that they often play the title track while touring there, since German audiences love to hear it.

11. Art Garfunkel and Kenny Loggins have both covered songs from The Last Unicorn soundtrack.

A couple of America’s contemporaries have given their own folk rock treatment to songs from The Last Unicorn soundtrack: “That’s All I’ve Got to Say” is the final track on Art Garfunkel’s album Scissors Cut, and Kenny Loggins sang “The Last Unicorn” for Return to Pooh Corner in 1994.

12. Fergie wanted to adapt The Last Unicorn for Broadway.

In 2015, Playbill announced that the Black Eyed Peas’s Fergie, a childhood fanatic of the film, was planning to bring The Last Unicorn to Broadway with the help of then-husband Josh Duhamel. There hasn’t been any news of it since, and, considering Fergie split with Duhamel in 2017, it’s probably safe to say that the project is on hold.

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

15 Fun Facts About Betty White

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

Happy birthday, Betty White! In honor of the ever-sassy star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls's 98th birthday, let's celebrate with a collection of fun facts about her life and legacy. 

1. Her name is Betty, not Elizabeth.

On January 17th, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, the future television icon was born Betty Marion White, the only child of homemaker Christine Tess (née Cachikis) and lighting company executive Horace Logan White. In her autobiography If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), White explained her parents named her "Betty" specifically because they didn't like many of the nicknames derived from "Elizabeth." Forget your Beths, your Lizas, your Ellies. She's Betty.

2. She's a Guinness World Record holder.

In the 2014 edition of the record-keeping tome, White was awarded the title of Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female) for her more than 70 years (and counting) in show business. The year before, Guinness gave out Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Male) to long-time British TV host Bruce Forsyth. As both began their careers in 1939, they'd be neck-and-neck for the title, were they not separated by gender.

3. Her first television appearance is lost to history.

A photo of Betty White
Getty Images

Even White can't remember the name of the show she made her screen debut on in 1939. But in an interview with Guinness Book of World Records, she recounted the life-changing event, saying, "I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles. I wore my high school graduation dress and our Beverly Hills High student body president, Harry Bennett, and I danced the 'Merry Widow Waltz.'" 

4. White's initial rise to stardom was derailed by World War II.

Before she took off on television, White was working in theater, on radio, and as a model. But with WWII, she shelved her ambitions and joined the American Women's Voluntary Services. Her days were devoted to delivering supplies via PX truck throughout the Hollywood Hills, but her nights were spent at rousing dances thrown to give grand send-offs to soldiers set to ship out. Of that era, she told Cleveland Magazine, "It was a strange time and out of balance with everything." 

5. Her first sitcom hit was in the early 1950s.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

Co-hosting the Al Jarvis show Hollywood on Television led to White producing her own vehicle, Life With Elizabeth. As a rare female producer, she developed the show alongside emerging writer-producer George Tibbles, who'd go on to work on such beloved shows as Dennis The Menace, Leave It To Beaver, and The Munsters. Though the show is not remembered much today, in 1951 it did earn White her first Emmy nomination of 21 (so far). Of these, she has won five times.

6. White loves a parade.

From 1962 to 1971, White hosted NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside Bonanza's Lorne Greene. But that's not all. For 20 years (1956-1976), she was also a color commentator for NBC’s annual Tournament of Roses Parade. However, as her fame grew on CBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show, NBC decided they should pull White (and all the rival promotion that came with her) from their parade. It was a decision that was heartbreaking for White, who told People, "On New Year's Day I just sat home feeling wretched, watching someone else do my parade."

7. She has been married three times.


Getty Images

White and her first husband, Dick Barker, were married and divorced in the same year, 1945. After four months on Barker's rural Ohio chicken farm, White fled back to Los Angeles and her career as an entertainer. Soon after, she met agent Lane Allen, who became her husband in 1947, and her ex-husband in 1949 after he pushed her to quit show biz. She wouldn’t marry again until 1963, after she fell for widower/father of three/game show host Allen Ludden.

8. Her meet-cute with husband number three happened on Password.

Bubbly Betty was a regular on the game show circuit, but she met her match in 1961 when she was a celebrity guest on Password, hosted by Allen Ludden. Though White initially rebuffed Ludden's engagement ring (he wore it around his neck until she changed her mind), the pair stayed together until his death in 1981. Today, their stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame sit side-by-side.

9. White originally auditioned for the role of Blanche on The Golden Girls.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

Producers of the series thought of White for the role of the ensemble's promiscuous party girl because she'd long played the lusty Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Meanwhile, they eyed Rue McClanahan for the part of naive country bumpkin Rose Nylund because of her work as the sweet but dopey Vivian Harmon on Maude. Director Jay Sandrich was worried about typecasting, so he asked the two to switch roles in the audition. And just like that, The Golden Girls history was made.

10. If she hadn't been an actor, she'd have been a zookeeper.

"Hands down," she confessed in a 2014 interview. This should come as little surprise to those aware of White's reputation as an avid animal lover and activist. Not only does she try to visit the local zoo of wherever she may travel, but also she's a supporter of the Farm Animal Reform Movement and Friends of Animals group, as well as a Los Angeles Zoo board member, who has donated "tens of thousands of dollars" over the past 40 years. In 2010, White founded a T-shirt line whose profits go to the Morris Animal Foundation.

11. She passed on a role in As Good as It Gets because of an animal cruelty scene.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

White was offered the part of Beverly Connelly, onscreen mother to Helen Hunt, in the Oscar-winning movie As Good as It Gets. But the devoted animal lover was horrified by the scene where Jack Nicholson's curmudgeonly anti-hero pitches a small dog down the trash chute of his apartment building. On The Joy Behar Show White explained, "All I could think of was all the people out there watching that movie … and if there's a dog in the building that's barking or they don't like—boom! They do it." She complained to director James L. Brooks in hopes of having the scene cut. Instead, he kept it and cast Shirley Knight in the role.

12. A Facebook campaign made White the oldest person to ever host Saturday Night Live.

In 2010, a Facebook group called Betty White To Host SNL … Please? gathered so many fans (nearly a million) and so much media attention that SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels was happy to make it happen. At 88 years old, White set a new record. Her episode, for which many of the show's female alums returned, also won rave reviews, and gave the show's highest ratings in 18 months. White won her fifth Emmy for this performance.

13. She is the oldest person to earn an Emmy nomination.


Getty Images

In 2014, White earned an Emmy nod for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program for the senior citizen-centric prank show Betty White's Off Their Rockers. She was 92. She also holds the record for the longest span between Emmy nominations, between her first (1951) and last (so far).  

14. She loves junk food.

The key to aging gracefully has nothing to do with health food as far as White is concerned. In 2011, her Hot in Cleveland co-star Jane Leeves dished on White's snacking habits, "She eats Red Vines, hot dogs, French fries, and Diet Coke. If that's key, maybe she's preserved because of all the preservatives." Fellow co-star Wendie Malick concurred, "She eats red licorice, like, ridiculously a lot. She seems to exist on hot dogs and French fries." 

15. She wants Robert Redford.

A photo of actor Robert Redford
Getty Images

White once gave this cheeky confession: “My answer to anything under the sun, like ‘What have you not done in the business that you’ve always wanted to do?’ is ‘Robert Redford.'” Though she has more than 110 film and television credits on her filmography, White has never worked with the Out of Africa star, who is 14 years her junior.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER