10 Amazing Facts About Amazing Stories

David Hollander in the "Welcome to My Nightmare" episode of Amazing Stories (1985).
David Hollander in the "Welcome to My Nightmare" episode of Amazing Stories (1985).
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Television shows have been trying to be their generation's Twilight Zone ever since Rod Serling's trippy anthology first scrambled its viewers brains. Pulpy, one-off episodes featuring celebrity actors are at least a half-century old, but they're new (and popular) again thanks to a Jordan Peele-led reboot of The Twilight Zone, Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror, and, now, a second coming of Steven Spielberg's 1980s Twilight Zone wannabe Amazing Stories.

The original incarnation spanned 45 episodes over two seasons and saw Spielberg delivering an anthology series that was more concerned with adventure than twists. Thirty-five years later, Apple TV+ is now streaming a 10-episode revival meant to thrill and amaze.

Here are 10 astounding facts about the original '80s show.

1. Rod Serling gave Steven Spielberg his start.

Publicity still of Rod Sterling
CBS Television, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

It may have been a surprise for viewers to see Steve Spielberg go from Indiana Jones and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to a series of small screen stories, but it was a return to his roots. The now-legendary director got his start making the Joan Crawford-starring segment of the first episode of Serling's Night Gallery. Crawford was initially horrified that a 21-year-old would be directing her, but changed her mind quickly upon meeting him. Spielberg also produced and directed a segment for 1983's The Twilight Zone: The Movie before trying to make his own, original anthology concept.

2. The Amazing Stories name came from the first magazine dedicated to science fiction.

Bursting onto the scene in April 1926 with stories from H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe, Amazing Stories was the brainchild of Hugo Gernsback. He decided that the world was ready for a magazine focused on sci-fi, and he was right. Universal Studios secured the rights for the name and some of the stories before launching the anthology show with Spielberg.

3. One of the Amazing Stories stories was made into a movie instead.

Originally called "Gramps and Grammie and Company," Spielberg idea for an Amazing Stories episode just kept growing until it became the feature film *batteries not included. The movie sees a group of building tenants threatened by a real estate developer who are rescued by robotic aliens, so, yes, it feels very, very Amblin. E.T. meets Johnny Five with a dash of Spielberg's obsession with real estate developers tearing things down.

4. In Italy, three episodes were strung together and released as a movie.

Sometimes you've got to pivot to sell something to a non-American audience. The producers behind Amazing Stories packaged The Mission (about a turret gunner stuck inside a WWII bomber), Mummy Daddy (about an actor in a horror costume attacked by a small town), and Go to the Head of the Class (where students curse their English teacher played by Christopher Lloyd) into a single film called Storie Incredibili in order to win over Italian fans.

5. Four of Amazing Stories's episode directors went on to win Best Director Oscars.

A photo of Clint Eastwood
A photo of Clint Eastwood.
Roy Jones/Evening Standard/Getty Images

Amazing Stories was a cattle call of impressive talent, from Joe Dante and Irvin Kershner to Mick Garris and Lesli Linka Glatter (hello, The Walking Dead fans). Spielberg attracted top names, and four of them would go on to win Best Director Oscars: Clint Eastwood directed an episode about a grieving artist, Martin Scorsese directed an episode about a haunted horror writer, and Robert Zemeckis directed the episode where the students use magic against Christopher Lloyd. The fourth director on the list is Spielberg himself, of course, who directed the pilot episode about a man building a house on the location of a tragic train accident and the WWII bomber episode (as well as writing the stories for dozens of episodes).

6. Amazing Stories also launched a young director's career

Just as Spielberg got his start under Rod Serling's wing, Spielberg repaid the favor by hiring the young Phil Joanou right out of USC film school after seeing his short film/student project The Last Chance Dance. In addition to directing several music videos for U2 and Tom Petty, Joanou went on to direct Three O'Clock High (1987), Final Analysis (1992), and Gridiron Gang (2006).

7. One Amazing Stories episode was based on something that happened to Boris Karloff.

Tom Harrison in Amazing Stories (1985)
Tom Harrison in Amazing Stories (1985).
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

The episode Mummy Daddy features Tom Harrison as an actor on a horror movie set stuffed into a mummy costume who gets word that his wife is in labor. Like a toilet paper-wrapped Daniel Day-Lewis, he stays in costume while racing to the hospital. Things get terrifyingly absurd when the townsfolk think he's the real deal and try to kill him. Presumably no one tried to kill Boris Karloff when he got word of his daughter's birth while filming Son of Frankenstein and went to the hospital, bolts and all. It's ... a little difficult to verify that story, but at the very least it's the kind of apocryphal tale that Spielberg and company were aware of and built a story around.

8. Another Amazing Stories episode was based on the real-life murder of a man who was hard to kill.

In One For the Road, a handful of scummy speakeasy patrons try to kill a fellow alcohol-enthusiast as part of an insurance scheme. The episode was based on the 1933 murder of Mike Malloy, whose killing was far more complicated than his tormentors had planned on. Rasputin-esque, Malloy drank for an entire day without dying; ingested turpentine, rat poison, and antifreeze without dying; and spent a night drunk-sleeping in the snow with several gallons of water poured on his chest without dying. He also ate a sandwich with rotten sardines and carpet tacks and was hit by a car—neither of which fully stopped him from dropping by the bar for more drinks.

9. June Cleaver made a cameo

Remote Control Man follows the familiar trope of the put-upon husband with a horrid wife ("There was time now!") whose only joy is escaping into the TV. His new, amazing set delivers characters right into his living room, including June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver. Barbara Billingsley reprised her iconic role two decades after the wholesome sitcom had gone off the air in order to make a cameo appearance in Spielberg's sci-fi show.

10. It's only animated episode got a spin-off show.

From Brad Bird no less. The director behind The Iron Giant and several of Pixar's best pictures made an offbeat animated episode of Amazing Stories about the life of a dog, where we got to see the family's escapades from canine-level. In another weird turn of events, the episode spun-off into its own show eight years later on a different network, starring Martin Mull. It only lasted 10 episodes, which makes sense considering its pedigree. Despite having so many episodes and big name directors and stars, Amazing Stories wasn't a hit either, which is why it was canceled after its second season.

This Smart Accessory Converts Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer

Amazon
Amazon

If you can make a recipe in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or rice cooker, you can likely adapt it for an Instant Pot. Now, this all-in-one cooker can be converted into an air fryer with one handy accessory.

This Instant Pot air fryer lid—currently available on Amazon for $80—adds six new cooking functions to your 6-quart Instant Pot. You can select the air fry setting to get food hot and crispy fast, using as little as 2 tablespoons of oil. Other options include roast, bake, broil, dehydrate, and reheat.

Many dishes you would prepare in the oven or on the stovetop can be made in your Instant Pot when you switch out the lids. Chicken wings, French fries, and onion rings are just a few of the possibilities mentioned in the product description. And if you're used to frying being a hot, arduous process, this lid works without consuming a ton of energy or heating up your kitchen.

The lid comes with a multi-level air fry basket, a broiling and dehydrating tray, and a protective pad and storage cover. Check it out on Amazon.

For more clever ways to use your Instant Pot, take a look at these recipes.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Q&A: Kristen Bell Celebrates Diversity In Her New Kid's Book, The World Needs More Purple People

Jim Spellman/Getty Images
Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Kristen Bell is one of those household names that brings to mind a seemingly endless list of outstanding performances in both TV and film. She is Veronica Mars. She is the very memorable Sarah Marshall. She's the voice of Gossip Girl. She just recently wrapped up her NBC series The Good Place. Your nieces and nephews likely know her as Princess Anna from the Frozen films. She also has one of the most uplifting and positive presences on social media.

Now, adding to her long list of accomplishments, Kristen Bell is the published author of a new children’s book called The World Needs More Purple People. Born out of seeing how cultural conversations were skewing more toward the things that divide us, the new picture book—which Bell co-authored with Benjamin Hart—encourages kids to see what unites us all as humans.

We spoke with Kristen Bell about what it means to be a purple person, her new animated series Central Park, and becoming a foster failure. We also put her knowledge of sloths to the test.

How did The World Needs More Purple People book come to be?

Basically my genius buddy, Ben Hart, and I were looking around and sort of seeing how our children were watching us debate healthily at the dinner table, which is fine. But it occurred to us that everything they were seeing was a disagreement. And that’s because that can be fun for adults, but it’s not a good basis for kids to start out on. We realized we were not really giving our kids a ton of examples of us, as adults, talking about the things that bring us together. So The World Needs More Purple People was born.

Book cover of Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart's 'The World Needs More Purple People'
Random House via Amazon

We decided to create a roadmap of similarities to give kids a jumping off point of how to look for similarities ... [because] if you can see similarities, you’re more likely to walk through the world with an open mind. But if you walk into a conversation seeing only differences, your mind is going to think differently of that person’s opinion and you just never know when you’re going to hear an opinion that might enlighten you. So we wanted to give kids this roadmap to follow to basically say, “Here are some great features that no one can argue with. Have these features and you’ll have similarities with almost everyone on the planet.”

Part of the reason I love the book so much is because it encourages kids to ask questions, even if they're silly. What are some silly questions you’ve had to answer for your kids?

Oh my god. How much time do you have? Once she asked in rapid fire: Is Santa Claus real? Why is Earth? Who made dogs?

How do you even answer that?

It was too much; I had to walk away. Kids have a ton of questions, and as they get older and more verbal, the funny thing that happens is they get more insecure. So we wanted to encourage the question-asking, and also encourage the uniqueness of every child. Which is why Dan Wiseman, who did our illustrations, really captured this middle point between Ben and I. Ben is very sincere, and I am very quirky. And I feel like the illustrations were captured brilliantly because we also wanted a ton of diversity because that is what the book is about.

The book is about seeing different things and finding similarities. Each kid in the book looks a little bit different, but also a little bit the same. The message at the end of the book is with all these features that you can point out and recognize in other people—loving to laugh, working really hard, asking great questions ... also know that being a purple person means being uniquely you in the hopes that kids will recognize that purple people come in every color.

What was it like behind-the-scenes of writing a children’s book with two little girls at home? Were they tough critics?

Shockingly, no. They did not have much interest in the fact that I was writing a children’s book until there were pictures. Then they were like, “Oh now I get it.” But prior to that, when I’d run the ideas by them, they were not as interested. But I did read it to them. They gave me the two thumbs up. Ben has two kids as well, and all our kids are different ages. Once we got the thumbs up from the 5-year-old, the 7-year-old, the 8-year-old, and the 11-year-old, we thought, “OK, this is good to go.”

I hope that people, and kids especially, really do apply this as a concept. We would love to see this as a curriculum going into schools if they wanted to use it to ask: What happened today in your life that was purple? What could you do to make tomorrow more purple? Like as a concept of a way of living.

Weirdly, writing a children’s book was a way of getting to the adults. If it’s a children’s book, there is a high probability an adult is going to either be reading it to you or be there while you’re reading it—which means you’re getting two demographics. If we had just written a novel about this kind of concept, we’d never reach the kids. But by writing a kid's book, we also access the adults.

Your new show Central Park looks so incredible. What can you tell us about the show and your character Molly?

I am so excited for the show to come out. I’ve seen it and it is exceptional. It is so, so, so funny and so much fun. I signed on because I got a phone call from my friend Josh Gad, who said, “I’m going to try to put together a cartoon for us to work on.” And I said, “Yes. Goodbye.” And he and Loren Bochard, who created Bob’s Burgers, took basically all of our friends—Leslie Odom Jr., Stanley Tucci, Kathryn Hahn, Tituss Burgess, Daveed Diggs, and myself—and created a family who lives in the middle of Central Park.

I play a teenager named Molly who is very socially awkward but has this incredible, relentlessly creative, vivacious personality going on only inside her head … and it’s a musical! So, she's awkward on the outside but when she sings her songs she really comes to life. And she's a comic book artist, so the cartoon often switches to what she's seeing in her head.

It's so funny and Josh Gad plays this busker who lives in Central Park, who is the narrator. Stanley Tucci plays this older woman named Bitsy who is trying to build a shopping mall in the center of Central Park, and the family’s job is to basically save Central Park. But the music is so incredible. We’ve got two music writers, Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel, who write the majority of the music, but we also have guest writers that come in every episode. So Sara Bareilles wrote some music and Cyndi Lauper wrote some music. It is such a fun show.

My husband, who does not like cartoons or musicals, watched the first couple of episodes, and he looked at me and said, “You’ve got something really special in your hands.” And he doesn’t like anything. It made me so happy. I cannot wait until this show comes out, I am so proud of it.

What was it like to reunite with Josh Gad on another musical animated series that isn't Frozen?

Josh and I talk a lot, and we had a lot of behind-the-scenes conversations about how we can work together again, just because we adore each other. And part of it is because we get along socially, and part of it is because we trust each other comedically. He's a creator and writer more so than I am, so I usually leave it up to him and say, "What’s our next project?" We have other things in the pipeline we would love to do together, but [Central Park] was an immediate yes because I trust how he writes. Josh is at every single one of my recording sessions; he is very hands-on with the shows that he does or produces or creates. I trust him as much as I trust my husband, creatively, and that’s saying a lot.

Given your well-documented love of sloths, we do have to throw out a few true or false questions about sloths and put your knowledge to the test …

Oh my gosh. OK, now I'm nervous. Hit me.

True or false: Sloths fart more than humans.

Fart more than humans?

Yes.

I’m going to say it's true.

It’s actually false. Sloths don’t fart at all. They might be the only mammal on the planet that does not fart.

You’re kidding. Another reason to love them. You know, I was trying to think medically about it. I know they only poop once a week and that if you only go poop once a week ... I thought, “Well in order to keep your GI healthy, perhaps you have to have some sort of flow from the top to the bottom during the seven-day waiting period until you release.”

True or false: Sloths are so slow that algae sometimes grows on them.

One hundred percent true. In the wild, they’re always covered in algae and it helps their fur, all those microorganisms. But in zoos, they don’t have it.

Nice. OK, last one. True or false: Sloths poop from trees.

No way. They go down to the ground, and they rub their little tushies on the ground, and then they go back up.

You are correct.

I know a fair amount about sloths but the farting thing was new. My kids will be excited to hear that.

We heard recently that you are a part of the “foster failure” club. What went wrong? Erright?

Well, what I learned from Veronica Mars is you root for and cherish and uplift the underdog always. And my first foster failure was in 2018; I found the most undesirable dog that existed on the planet. She is made of toothpicks, it is impossible for her to gain weight. She has one eye. She looks like a walking piece of garbage. Her name is Barbara. She's 11 years old. And I saw a picture of her online and I said, “Yes. I just want to bring her over. I don’t even need to know anything else about her other than this picture," which was the most hideous picture. I mean it looks like a Rorschach painting or something. It was so awful. I was like, “She’s mine. I’ll take care of her. I’ve got this.” And it turns out she is quite lovely even though she can be pretty annoying. But she is our Barbara Biscuit, and she is one of the most charismatic dogs I have ever met. She piddles wherever she damn well pleases. So that is a bummer, because she is untrainable, but we love her.

That was our first failure. Then last year, we genuinely attempted to just foster a dog named Frank. And about two weeks in, I realized Frank was in love with me—like in a human way. He thought he was my boyfriend.

Oh no …

I just felt like … I didn’t even want a new dog—well I shouldn’t say that, because I always want all the dogs—but we weren’t planning on getting a new dog. But I had to have a conversation with my family and I said, “I think it’s going to be like child separation if I separate him. We have to keep him.” And sure enough, he can’t be more than two feet from me at any time during the day.

Does he still give you “the eyes”?

Oh my gosh. Bedroom eyes all day long. I can’t sit down without him like … not even just sitting comfortably in my lap. He has to have my arm in his mouth or part of my hair in his mouth. He’s trying to get back in my womb or something.

That’s love.

Yeah, I said, “What am I going to do? The guy is in love with me. He can live here.” So there is foster failure number two.

Wow, so it’s Frank and Barbara.

Frank and Barbara. And we also have Lola, a 17-year-old corgi-chow chow mix. Who I have had since she was one-and-a-half, who was also a pound puppy. She is our queen bee.

Before you go, we do this thing on Twitter called #HappyHour, where we ask our followers some get-to-know-you questions. If you could change one rule in any board game, what would it be?

I am obviously going to Catan ... oh I know exactly what I would do. In Catan, I would allow participants to buy a city without buying a settlement first. In Catan, you have to upgrade from a settlement to a city first, which is a waste of cards. If you have the cards for a city, you should be able to buy a city.

What was your favorite book as a child?

My favorite book as a child was Are You My Mother?

Aw, I love that one. I forgot about Are You My Mother?

It’s a good one.