13 Surprising Facts About Apollo 13

Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Bacon star in Apollo 13 (1995).
Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Bacon star in Apollo 13 (1995).
Universal Home Video

After winning consecutive Best Actor Academy Awards for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks was nominated a third time for his role as drifting astronaut Jim Lovell in 1995’s Apollo 13. (He did not win, proving he is human after all.) The consolation prize: the dramatization of the 1970 space program crisis that kept the world on its seat was the third highest-grossing film of the year, and remains one of the most faithful depictions of NASA operations ever put on film.

1. The Movie Rights To Apollo 13 were Sold Before the Book Was Even Written.

In 1992, Lovell—one of three astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission when an explosion cost them fuel cells and oxygen, creating a life-support crisis—decided to write a book-length account of the incident titled Lost Moon. He and co-writer Jeff Kluger finished one chapter and a proposal, which was in turn sent to publishers and production houses. A bidding war was sparked, and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment wound up winning film rights. The movie actually began shooting in 1994 before Lovell’s book was even released. (It was later re-titled Apollo 13.)

2. Steven Spielberg Made a Crucial Suggestion that changed Apollo 13.

To simulate the weightlessness inside the module, Howard and his crew were contemplating using wires and harnesses, a logistical decision that would’ve had his cast suspended like marionettes for months of shooting. Instead, Spielberg (a friend of Howard’s and frequent collaborator with Hanks) suggested that he look into the KC-135, a NASA-owned airplane that’s able to simulate zero gravity by maneuvering 45 degrees up and then plummeting.

Howard’s test shooting went well enough—and his producer, Todd Hallowell, was persistent enough—that NASA granted permission for a crew to film while on board the plane. That meant that ...

3. The Cast of Apollo 13 Endured More Than 600 Controlled Plane Dives.

Because the KC-135 only achieved weightlessness for its occupants for 25 seconds at a time, Howard, Hanks and co-stars Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton had to make roughly 600 dives, called parabolas, in order to capture the amount of footage needed. Thirty to 40 of them were possible per flight, and the crew took two flights a day. Totaling more than four hours, the three actually got more experience with a reduced gravity environment than a lot of real astronauts.

4. Tom Hanks Was Dubbed Apollo 13's “Accuracy Police.”

Hanks had wanted to make a film of the Apollo 13 mission even before Lovell’s book was announced, asking writers to investigate the premise and see if they could fashion a script from the events. When his agent called and told him Howard had purchased the rights, he was predisposed to accepting the role. Referred to as a “closet astronaut” by the crew, Hanks was preoccupied with getting every detail right. One day, he dragged Howard and producer Brian Grazer out of bed so they could watch an astronaut crew in action. Unfortunately, Hanks’ idea of “action” was seeing them walk across a parking lot.

5. A Friend of Jack Swigert’s Was Unhappy With Kevin Bacon's portrayal of the last astronaut in Apollo 13

Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, and Kevin Bacon in Apollo 13 (1995).Universal Home Video

Swigert, who was one of the three astronauts aboard Apollo 13, died in 1982. In the film, Bacon embodies Swigert as a roving-eyed bachelor and possibly a carrier of a sexually-transmitted disease. (Paxton’s Fred Haise comments he might’ve gotten “the clap.”) When the film was released, Barbara Zuanich-Friedman, a friend of Swigert’s, penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that took producers to task for his portrayal, asserting he was not the playboy Bacon presented. “Hollywood usually stereotypes its bachelors,” she wrote, “and Jack, 25 years after the fact, fell prey to that chintzy ploy ... He would have loved the film. He would have hated his character.”

6. Ron Howard Refused to Use Any Stock Footage in Apollo 13.

Both NASA and news crews had been meticulous in their coverage of the crew’s departure and subsequent re-entry, and Howard had investigated the possibility of using it for the film. But when his team began studying the footage, they realized most of it had been seen and that it had little coherence—shots jumped around, and no aircraft could get close to the rocket during blast-off. Instead, Howard created all shots of the mission, replicating actual scenes and then augmenting them with angles that would’ve been impossible in real life. It was so convincing that Buzz Aldrin went up to effects supervisor Rob Legato after a screening and asked where he had found the archived footage.

7. Apollo 13 Cribbed a Classic Line From Point Break.

Rumors abound—though it’s never been confirmed—that Gary Busey visited the set one day and suggested to Bill Paxton that his character, Fred Haise, dismiss a bout of nausea with the line, “I could eat the ass of a dead rhinoceros.” Circumstantial evidence is strong, however: Busey said virtually the same thing while portraying FBI agent Alex Pappas in 1991’s Point Break.

8. No One on the Apollo 13 production team Was Sure What Re-Entry Was Supposed to Look Like.

When the three astronauts were able to attempt re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, there wasn’t a frame of reference for the special effects team to draw from—just the verbal recollections of Lovell and Haise, who described the scene from inside the module as akin to being in a fluorescent tube. To create the effect of the module’s fire-covered arrival, cameras filmed a blaze at only four frames per second, which gave it a flickering, smeared appearance to mimic the real thing.

9. “Houston, We Have a Problem” Was Not the Exact Quote from the real Apollo 13 mission.

One of the most popular lines in culture, Lovell’s grim delivery of his module’s malfunctions to Mission Control was not quoted word for word in the film. In reality, NASA received the message, “Houston, I believe we’ve had a problem,” not, “Houston, we have a problem.” (Maybe present tense made it more impactful.) Filmmakers also decided to have Hanks’ Lovell deliver the line; in fact, it was Swigert who first said it, though Lovell repeated it immediately as “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

10. Tom Hanks’s Head Kept Apollo 13 co-star Kevin Bacon From Puking.

Because the parabolas came so frequently, prompting queasiness, the actors took antiemetic medication. While none “spewed,” as Hanks put it, it was because they tried to distract themselves. Bacon recalled focusing on the back of Hanks’ head during periods of extreme stomach upset. It worked, though not everyone was soothed by the sight of famous performers. “One of the camera operators threw up all over Bill Paxton,” Howard said.

11. Apollo 13 Beat Sylvester Stallone and the Power Rangers at the Box Office.

Apollo 13 debuted in a crowded summer movie season, with Batman Forever, Braveheart, and Die Hard with a Vengeance all vying for a piece of the box office. Fortunately, its direct competition on opening weekend was the widely-panned Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and the Sylvester Stallone flop Judge Dredd. Apollo 13 made roughly $25 million in its first three days, or nearly as much as both of the other debuting movies combined.

12. Jim Lovell's original Apollo 13 checklist Fetched $388,375 at Auction.

Because it was shown so prominently in the feature film, Jim Lovell’s original checklist book filled with equations and other notes addressing their mission's issues sold for $388,375 in a November 2011 auction. But the purchase was held up when NASA inquired whether Lovell actually owned the artifact outright. In 2012, President Obama signed a bill into law clarifying that astronauts had ownership of such materials.

13. A Preview Audience Member Hated Apollo 13's Ending.

Tom Hanks imagines walking on the Moon in Apollo (1995).Universal Home Video

Test screenings of the film were generally a success, but Howard was fascinated by the opinion of one 23-year-old who seemed to be aggravated at the film's climax, where the astronauts plop into the ocean unharmed. This, he wrote on a comments card, was “Terrible. More Hollywood BS. They would never survive.”

Additional Sources:
The Making of Apollo 13

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.

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Dash/Amazon

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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.