21 Darn Tootin' Facts About Fargo

1. Fargo was almost a TV show back in 1997.

FX’s original series Fargo, which debuted last year to critical praise and enthusiastic viewership, has breathed new life into the funny-accents-meet-brutal-violence formula. However, FX’s take on the Coen Brothers classic actually marks the second major attempt to adapt Fargo for the small screen. In 1997, a pilot directed by Kathy Bates (yes, that Kathy Bates) and starring a pre-Sopranos Edie Falco as Marge Gunderson was passed on by the major networks. Although it never had a full run on television, this first made-for-TV version of Fargo wasn’t lost forever: it aired on the short-lived cable network Trio in 2003, as part of its Brilliant But Cancelled programming series. 

2. Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley wasn’t sure how to take Ethan Coen’s reaction to his first episode.

A bit more on the TV series: While the Coens had nothing to do with the 1997 pilot, they serve as executive producers on the FX show. According to showrunner Noah Hawley, when Ethan Coen first read the script, he gave two words of feedback: “Yeah, good.” Only after talking with Fargo cast member and frequent Coen collaborator Billy Bob Thornton did Hawley realize this was a rave review, and not just modest praise. 

3. Rumors that a Japanese woman died pursuing the buried ransom money led to a sort of Fargo spinoff.

The award-winning 2014 independent film Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is loosely based on the urban legend of Takako Konishi. In 2001, several media outlets falsely reported that Konishi had trekked from Tokyo to Bismarck and Fargo in search of the fictitious money hidden by Steve Buscemi’s Fargo character Carl Showalter, and froze in the cold. The misunderstanding stemmed from a police officer who seemingly wanted to create an interesting story. In reality, however, Konishi’s story was much less strange and a bit more melancholy: she had traveled to Fargo to commit suicide in her ex-lover’s hometown.

4. Siskel and Ebert gave it way more than two thumbs up.

Roger Ebert called Fargo "one of the best films I've ever seen" and added that "films like Fargo are why I love the movies." Both Siskel and Ebert named it their favorite movie of 1996. 

5. Despite lots of critical love, Fargo was second banana at the 1997 Academy Awards.

A critical favorite since the moment of its release, Fargo took home two Oscars in 1997: one for the Coen Brothers for Best Original Screenplay and another to Frances McDormand for her portrayal of Marge Gunderson. However, Fargo lost most of the big awards to Elaine Benes’ least favorite movie, The English Patient. The World War II romance epic won a whopping nine Oscars at the show, including Best Picture and Best Director. 

6. It killed at the box office.

The Coens' previous film, 1994's The Hudsucker Proxy, had by far their largest budget to date at the time with $25 million. It was also by far their biggest flop, earning less than $3 million at the box office. For Fargo, the Coens returned to a much more modest budget of $7 million, but ended up taking in $60 million at the box office, making it their highest percentage return on investment at the box office to date.

7. Steve Buscemi’s word count is a running joke.

Throughout the entire movie, Peter Stormare’s character—Gaear Grimsrud—has just 16 lines of dialogue. By comparison, his chatty accomplice Carl Showalter (played by Buscemi) has more than 150. This turns up as a running Coen brothers joke in The Big Lebowski, where Buscemi’s character Donny is constantly being told to “shut the f**k” up.”

8. The Upper Midwest has a love/hate relationship with the movie.

Fargo received some understandable backlash from Minnesotans and North Dakotans for portraying their neck of the American woods as being full of simple, funny-talking folks. Indeed, in the movie's DVD commentary, native Minnesotan Joel Coen referred to the state as “Siberia with family restaurants.” Fargo mayor Bonnie Cumberland said of Fargo in 1997: “It’s a movie that people who don’t live here seem to enjoy, but for us it’s a little bit of an embarrassment.”

However, as of late, many Midwesterners have warmed up to the film (pun totally intended). The film’s infamously lethal wood chipper is currently housed in the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center, and in 2006 and 2011, the Fargo Film Festival kicked off with a “larger than King Kong” screening of the movie on the side of the city’s tallest building—a Radisson hotel—to celebrate the 10th and 15th anniversaries of its release.

9. William H. Macy took extreme measures to the land the role of Jerry Lundegaard.

Originally, William H. Macy was being considered for a much smaller role, but the Coens had him come back and read for the part of Jerry Lundegaard. Macy was so convinced he was the right man for the job that he pleaded with the Coens, even threatening to shoot their dogs if they didn’t cast him (jokingly, of course). Macy ended up receiving an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of the bumbling Lundegaard, but lost to Cuba Gooding Jr. for Jerry Maguire. Macy claimed the role was a major turning point in his career, and that after: “I was ratified! I was sanctified! I'm a made guy." 

10. Only a few minutes of the film take place in Fargo.

Despite the title, only the opening scene—where Jerry meets with Carl and Gaear to reveal the plan to kidnap his wife and hold her for ransom—takes place in Fargo. Most of the movie takes place in either Brainerd or the Twin Cities area. According to Joel Coen, “'Fargo' seemed a more evocative title than ‘Brainerd’” and that’s the only reason why they chose the North Dakota city for the title. Additionally, none of the filming was done in Fargo; the Kings of Clubs, the bar where the meeting between Jerry and the criminals takes place, was actually located in Minneapolis. 

11. An inside joke led to rumors that Prince had a cameo in the film.

The Coens provided anyone willing to stick around for the extended credits to a bit of a Minnesota insider joke. The role of “Victim in the Field” is credited to a scribble resembling Prince’s “Love Symbol,” which he went by between 1993 and 2000. This spurred rumors that Prince had a hidden cameo in the film. Anyone paying attention, however, would have noticed that the role was clearly played by a much huskier fellow, who also happened to be the film’s storyboard artist (and a longtime Coen collaborator) J. Todd Anderson

12. The film features two very familiar Coen Brothers tropes.

Two of the Coens' favorite plot devices—stolen or missing money and kidnapping—feature in eight (Blood Simple; Fargo; The Big Lebowski; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; The Man Who Wasn’t There; The Ladykillers; No Country For Old Men; and Burn After Reading) and four (Raising Arizona; Fargo; The Big Lebowski; and Burn After Reading) of their movies, respectively. Alongside A Serious Man, it’s also one of two Coen films set predominantly in their home state of Minnesota. 

13. Every single one of Jerry Lundegaard’s nervous stutters was carefully scripted.

At the root of Macy’s career-making performance are lines that constantly sound like they’re tripping over each another. While they were well played by Macy, almost every single stutter-step was actually mapped out by the Coens in the script. (Ex: “Well, that's, that's, I'm not gointa, inta — see, I just need money. Now, her dad's real wealthy —.”) 

14. The movie marked a major comeback for one actor.

Before taking on the role of Wade Gustafson, the rich and hardened father of the kidnapped Jean Lundegaard, actor Harve Presnell hadn’t taken a film role in 20 years and was focusing on stage work. Following his turn in Fargo, he popped up on screen in blockbusters like Face/Off, Saving Private Ryan and Old School

15. You might know it wasn’t actually a “true story,” but the Coens' web of deception goes even further than the opening credits.

While the tag on the beginning of the film reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel Coen stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.” However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan Coen pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

16. The Big Lebowski almost came first (and that could have spelled disaster for the Coens).

It’s pretty much taken for granted that the Coens are small kings in the cinema world, able to more or less have complete creative control over their films. But without Fargo, this probably wouldn’t have been the case. Following the release of The Hudsucker Proxy, which bombed ferociously at the box office, the Coens had more or less finished scripts for The Big Lebowski and Fargo. Because The Dude was written for Jeff Bridges, who was busy shooting another movie, Fargo ended up getting made first. 

For the Coen Brothers, this release order ended up being a massive stroke of good fortune, since The Big Lebowski was a box office dud upon release and only built up its massive following after its theatrical run. Had The Big Lebowski been made first, it would have been the Coens' fourth consecutive poor performer(following Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, and The Hudsucker Proxy), and might have had major consequences on their careers. Instead, they gained the goodwill that came along with Fargo, a box office success that was praised by many as an instant classic. They’ve pretty much been riding the wave of praise and box office success ever since. 

17. The film’s editor, Roderick Jaynes, is actually Joel and Ethan Coen.

Because the Coens found having their names appear on screen as directors, writers, producers, and editors a bit tacky, they credit their editing work to the fictional “Roderick Jaynes,” who’s listed on all of their films outside of Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing. When the fictional Jaynes was for nominated for his first Oscar on Fargo, the Coens wanted to have actor Albert Finney accept the award in character, but because the Academy doesn’t allow for surrogates to accept awards (presumably due to a 1973 incident involving Marlon Brando and a Native American named Sacheen Littlefeather) they had to scratch the plan. Jaynes ended losing to Walter Murch for his work on The English Patient, and would lose again in 2008 (with The Bourne Ultimatum's Christopher Rouse beating out the Coens and No Country for Old Men)

18. Not everything about Frances McDormand’s legendary performance was authentic.

To play the pregnant Marge Gunderson, McDormand sported prosthetic breasts and a faux-pregnant belly full of birdseed. It was McDormand’s second time wearing fake breasts in a role for the Coens, following Raising Arizona, where she thought a fuller figure was appropriate considering her character had recently given birth to quintuplets. 

19. Weird weather made production a headache.

Production for Fargo was made much more difficult since the winter of 1994/1995 was one of the warmest and least snowy in Minnesota history. This led to heaps of production delays and scrambles to find snow-covered scenery. Interestingly, David Zellner, who directed the aforementioned Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, also dealt with unseasonably warm weather when he set out to shoot his quasi Fargo follow-up, waiting a year to get the movie’s appropriately chilly look. 

20. The Coen Brothers have a way with birds.

Fargo’s opening memorably features a bird in flight set against the frigid Minnesota landscape. The incident was unscripted, as were memorable bird cameos in Barton Fink and Blood Simple. Joel Coen has commented “We have an uncanny ability to make birds do what we want them to do.” 

21. The actors went through extensive training to get their accents right.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

All images courtesy of Gramercy Pictures

Amazon’s Big Fall Sale Features Deals on Electronics, Kitchen Appliances, and Home Décor

Dash/Keurig
Dash/Keurig

If you're looking for deals on items like Keurigs, BISSELL vacuums, and essential oil diffusers, it's usually pretty slim pickings until the holiday sales roll around. Thankfully, Amazon is starting these deals a little earlier with their Big Fall Sale, where customers can get up to 20 percent off everything from home decor to WFH essentials and kitchen gadgets. Now you won’t have to wait until Black Friday for the deal you need. Make sure to see all the deals that the sale has to offer here and check out our favorites below.

Electronics

Dash/Amazon

- BISSELL Lightweight Upright Vacuum Cleaner $170 (save $60)

- Dash Deluxe Air Fryer $80 (save $20)

- Dash Rapid 6-Egg Cooker $17 (save $3)

- Keurig K-Café Single Coffee Maker $169 (save $30)

- COMFEE Toaster Oven $29 (save $9)

- AmazonBasics 1500W Oscillating Ceramic Heater $31 (save $4)

Home office Essentials

HP/Amazon

- HP Neverstop Laser Printer $250 (save $30)

- HP ScanJet Pro 2500 f1 Flatbed OCR Scanner $274 (save $25)

- HP Printer Paper (500 Sheets) $5 (save $2)

- Mead Composition Books Pack of 5 Ruled Notebooks $11 (save $2)

- Swingline Desktop Hole Punch $7 (save $17)

- Officemate OIC Achieva Side Load Letter Tray $15 (save $7)

- PILOT G2 Premium Rolling Ball Gel Pens 12-Pack $10 (save $3)

Toys and games

Selieve/Amazon

- Selieve Toys Old Children's Walkie Talkies $17 (save $7)

- Yard Games Giant Tumbling Timbers $59 (save $21)

- Duckura Jump Rocket Launchers $11 (save $17)

- EXERCISE N PLAY Automatic Launcher Baseball Bat $14 (save $29)

- Holy Stone HS165 GPS Drones with 2K HD Camera $95 (save $40)

Home Improvement

DEWALT/Amazon

- DEWALT 20V MAX LED Hand Held Work Light $54 (save $65)

- Duck EZ Packing Tape with Dispenser, 6 Rolls $11 (save $6)

- Bissell MultiClean Wet/Dry Garage Auto Vacuum $111 (save $39)

- Full Circle Sinksational Sink Strainer with Stopper $5 (save $2)

Home Décor

NECA/Amazon

- A Christmas Story 20-Inch Leg Lamp Prop Replica by NECA $41 save $5

- SYLVANIA 100 LED Warm White Mini Lights $8 (save 2)

- Yankee Candle Large Jar Candle Vanilla Cupcake $17 (save $12)

- Malden 8-Opening Matted Collage Picture Frame $20 (save $8)

- Lush Decor Blue and Gray Flower Curtains Pair $57 (save $55)

- LEVOIT Essential Oil Diffuser $25 (save $5)

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12 Surprising Facts About T.S. Eliot

Getty
Getty

Born September 26, 1888, modernist poet and playwright Thomas Stearns (T.S.) Eliot is best known for writing "The Waste Land." But the 1948 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was also a prankster who coined a perennially popular curse word, and created the characters brought to life in the Broadway musical "Cats." In honor of Eliot’s birthday, here are a few things you might not know about the writer.

1. T.S. Eliot enjoyed holding down "real" jobs.

Throughout his life, Eliot supported himself by working as a teacher, banker, and editor. He could only write poetry in his spare time, but he preferred it that way. In a 1959 interview with The Paris Review, Eliot remarked that his banking and publishing jobs actually helped him be a better poet. “I feel quite sure that if I’d started by having independent means, if I hadn’t had to bother about earning a living and could have given all my time to poetry, it would have had a deadening influence on me,” Eliot said. “The danger, as a rule, of having nothing else to do is that one might write too much rather than concentrating and perfecting smaller amounts.”

2. One of the longest-running Broadway shows ever exists thanks to T.S. Eliot.

Getty Images

In 1939, Eliot published a book of poetry, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which included feline-focused verses he likely wrote for his godson. In stark contrast to most of Eliot's other works—which are complex and frequently nihilistic—the poems here were decidedly playful. For Eliot, there was never any tension between those two modes: “One wants to keep one’s hand in, you know, in every type of poem, serious and frivolous and proper and improper. One doesn’t want to lose one’s skill,” he explained in his Paris Review interview. A fan of Eliot's Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats since childhood, in the late '70s, Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to set many of Eliot's poems to music. The result: the massively successful stage production "Cats," which opened in London in 1981 and, after its 1982 NYC debut, became one of the longest-running Broadway shows of all time.

3. Three hours per day was his T.S. Eliot’s writing limit.

Eliot wrote poems and plays partly on a typewriter and partly with pencil and paper. But no matter what method he used, he tried to always keep a three hour writing limit. “I sometimes found at first that I wanted to go on longer, but when I looked at the stuff the next day, what I’d done after the three hours were up was never satisfactory," he explained. "It’s much better to stop and think about something else quite different.”

4. T.S. Eliot considered "Four Quartets" to be his best work.

In 1927, Eliot converted to Anglicanism and became a British citizen. His poems and plays in the 1930s and 1940s—including "Ash Wednesday," "Murder in the Cathedral," and "Four Quartets"—reveal themes of religion, faith, and divinity. He considered "Four Quartets,” a set of four poems that explored philosophy and spirituality, to be his best writing. Out of the four, the last is his favorite.

5. T.S. Eliot had an epistolary friendship with Groucho Marx.

Eliot wrote comedian Groucho Marx a fan letter in 1961. Marx replied, gave Eliot a photo of himself, and started a correspondence with the poet. After writing back and forth for a few years, they met in real life in 1964, when Eliot hosted Marx and his wife for dinner at his London home. The two men, unfortunately, didn’t hit it off. The main issue, according to a letter Marx wrote his brother: the comedian had hoped he was in for a "Literary Evening," and tried to discuss King Lear. All Eliot wanted to talk about was Marx's 1933 comedy Duck Soup. (In a 2014 piece for The New Yorker, Lee Siegel suggests there had been "simmering tension" all along, even in their early correspondence.)

6. Ezra Pound tried to crowdfund T.S. Eliot’s writing.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1921, Eliot took a few months off from his banking job after a nervous breakdown. During this time, he finished writing "The Waste Land," which his friend and fellow poet Ezra Pound edited. Pound, with the help of other Bohemian writers, set up Bel Esprit, a fund to raise money for Eliot so he could quit his bank job to focus on writing full-time. Pound managed to get several subscribers to pledge money to Eliot, but Eliot didn’t want to give up his career, which he genuinely liked. The Liverpool Post, Chicago Daily Tribune, and the New York Tribune reported on Pound’s crowdfunding campaign, incorrectly stating that Eliot had taken the money, but continued working at the bank. After Eliot protested, the newspapers printed a retraction.

7. Writing in French helped T.S. Eliot overcome writer’s block.

After studying at Harvard, Eliot spent a year in Paris and fantasized about writing in French rather than English. Although little ever came of that fantasy, during a period of writer’s block, Eliot did manage to write a few poems in French. “That was a very curious thing which I can’t altogether explain. At that period I thought I’d dried up completely. I hadn’t written anything for some time and was rather desperate,” he told The Paris Review. “I started writing a few things in French and found I could, at that period ...Then I suddenly began writing in English again and lost all desire to go on with French. I think it was just something that helped me get started again."

8. T.S. Eliot set off stink bombs in London with his nephew.

Eliot, whose friends and family called him Tom, was supposedly a big prankster. When his nephew was young, Eliot took him to a joke shop in London to purchase stink bombs, which they promptly set off in the lobby of a nearby hotel. Eliot was also known to hand out exploding cigars, and put whoopee cushions on the chairs of his guests.

9. T.S. Eliot may have been the first person to write the word "bulls**t."

In the early 1910s, Eliot wrote a poem called "The Triumph of Bulls**t." Like an early 20th-century Taylor Swift tune, the poem was Eliot’s way of dissing his haters. In 1915, he submitted the poem to a London magazine … which rejected it for publication. The word bulls**t isn’t in the poem itself, only the poem’s title, but The Oxford English Dictionary credits the poem with being the first time the curse word ever appeared in print.

10. T.S. Eliot coined the expression “April is the cruelest month.”

Thanks to Eliot, the phrase “April is the cruelest month” has become an oft-quoted, well-known expression. It comes from the opening lines of "The Waste Land”: “April is the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.”

11. T.S. Eliot held some troubling beliefs about religion.

Over the years, Eliot made some incredibly problematic remarks about Jewish people, including arguing that members of a society should have a shared religious background, and that a large number of Jews creates an undesirably heterogeneous culture. Many of his early writing also featured offensive portrayals of Jewish characters. (As one critic, Joseph Black, pointed out in a 2010 edition of "The Waste Land" and Other Poems, "Few published works displayed the consistency of association that one finds in Eliot's early poetry between what is Jewish and what is squalid and distasteful.") Eliot's defenders argue that the poet's relationship with Jewish people was much more nuanced that his early poems suggest, and point to his close relationships with a number of Jewish writers and artists.

12. You can watch a movie based on T.S. Eliot’s (really bad) marriage.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Tom & Viv, a 1994 film starring Willem Dafoe, explores Eliot’s tumultuous marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a dancer and socialite. The couple married in 1915, a few months after they met, but the relationship quickly soured. Haigh-Wood had constant physical ailments, mental health problems, and was addicted to ether. The couple spent a lot of time apart and separated in the 1930s; she died in a mental hospital in 1947. Eliot would go on to remarry at the age of 68—his 30-year-old secretary, Esmé Valerie Fletcher—and would later reveal that his state of despair during his first marriage was the catalyst and inspiration for "The Waste Land."

This story has been updated for 2020.