10 Star-Spangled Facts About the Musical 1776

President Richard Nixon with the cast of the musical 1776 after a performance in the East Room of the White House in 1970. Nixon lobbied to have the song "Cool, Considerate Men" removed from the show; he finally succeeded when a prominent campaign supporter of his produced the movie version and had the footage deleted.
President Richard Nixon with the cast of the musical 1776 after a performance in the East Room of the White House in 1970. Nixon lobbied to have the song "Cool, Considerate Men" removed from the show; he finally succeeded when a prominent campaign supporter of his produced the movie version and had the footage deleted.
White House Photo Office, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The winner of three Tony Awards (including Best Musical), 1776 might be the most improbable hit in Broadway history. Between Woodstock, the Stonewall riots, and a massive anti-Vietnam march, 1969 was a turbulent year. With all that going on, who would have guessed that the Great White Way’s biggest smash would be a show in which Ben Franklin sings about the Declaration of Independence?

1. It was conceived by a former high school history teacher.

Born in 1919, Sherman Edwards went on to become a history major at NYU and Cornell. He was also a prolific songwriter who worked with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Johnny Mathis during the course of his enviable music career. After turning 40, Edwards quit teaching to spend the next six years penning the score for 1776, an ambitious project that merged these twin passions.

2. Edwards played "Sit Down, John" to win over the show's dialogue man.

Edwards wanted Peter Stone to write the book for 1776, and approached the writer with the concept several times. "1776 sounded like maybe the worst idea that had ever been proposed for a musical," Stone said.

In the end, it was 1776's opening number that sealed the deal. Having convinced Stone to meet him at producer Stuart Ostrow's office one day, Edwards made a beeline for the piano. "[In] a rotten singing voice," Stone recalled, Sherman "sang 'Sit Down, John.' And the minute I heard that, I knew I wanted to do it. Because in that song is the entire fabric and level of the show: You are involved with people whom we'd never dealt with before, except as cardboard figures. This room had flies, it was hot, and these men were not perfect. There's more information about the Continental Congress in that opening song than I learned in all my years at school."

3. Some of the lines were taken directly from the Founding Fathers's pens.

Halfway through "Is Anybody There?" an impassioned John Adams sings "Through all the gloom, I see the rays of ravishing light and glory!" Here, Edwards quoted (almost verbatim) a letter that Adams actually wrote to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776.

4. 1776 holds the Broadway record for the longest break between musical numbers.

Once "The Lees of Old Virginia" concludes early in Act I, audiences have to wait for over 20 minutes until the next song ("But, Mister Adams").

5. Jefferson's wife never really visited while he was working on the Declaration.

At Adams' invitation, she arrives in Philadelphia to help rid her husband of some nagging writer's block—or that's how it goes down on stage, anyway. In reality, Martha Jefferson was gravely ill at the time and suffered a miscarriage during the summer of '76. So, understandably, she never made the trip. Her theatrical counterpart does get one thing right, though: During Martha's one and only song, she raves about Mr. Jefferson's masterful violin-playing. This future president really did take up the instrument, which he practiced every day.

6. The song "The Egg" was inspired by the show's original poster.

According to Marc Kirkeby's booklet essay for the 1776 original Broadway cast recording, this lighthearted number was a last-minute addition. Late in the editing process, it was decided that Act II—which includes songs about slavery and death on the battlefield—really needed some comic relief. At that point, 1776's official poster (pictured here) had already been drawn. When Edwards racked his brain for ideas, the image of an American eaglet hatching from a British egg leapt out at him. Inspired, he started writing a new tune in which Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson try to choose a national bird for their emerging country.

7. Despite playing the lead role, William Daniels's Tony nomination was for Best Featured Actor.

Back then, you couldn't call yourself a leading man unless your name was printed above the show's title on promotional materials. Unfortunately, Daniels's wasn't. That minor technicality disqualified him from the Best Actor category, though he strongly felt that his character (John Adams) was, in fact, the lead. So when Daniels earned a Best Featured Actor nomination, he declined it.

8. Previously, Howard Da Silva (the original Ben Franklin) had been blacklisted.

An appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee didn't go well for Da Silva. When he refused to answer any of their questions, Da Silva was placed on blacklist in 1951.

9. Richard Nixon lobbied to have "Cool, Considerate Men" cut from the film's theatrical release.

After edging out Hair and Promises, Promises for a Best Musical Tony, the cast received a White House invitation. Shortly thereafter, trouble started brewing. “All of a sudden,” said director Peter H. Hunt, "they … asked if we would make some cuts to the show." Apparently, Tricky Dick really didn't care for "Cool, Considerate Men"—a piece in which wealthy loyalists smugly call themselves "cool, cool, conservative men" and start waltzing "to the right, ever to the right." His people wanted it axed from the show.

That request fell on deaf ears, but when the 1776 movie came along, Nixon got his way. The president was friends with Jack Warner, a longtime campaign supporter. Warner produced the picture and when its editing process began, he not only deleted this scene but tried to have the footage destroyed. Luckily, the negatives were discovered hidden away in storage when Sony put together its laserdisc release. "Cool, Considerate Men" has since been restored.

10. Boy Meets World features a probable 1776 tribute.

William Daniels stars as the kindly Mister Feeny, a teacher (and later principal) who just so happens to teach at John Adams High School. Coincidence? Many fans think not, although this hunch hasn't been verified. Daniels also played Dr. Marc Craig on the NBC medical drama St. Elsewhere. While visiting the City of Brotherly Love in one episode, he drops by Independence Hall and appears to reference 1776: "I don't know what it is about this place," he says, "[but] every time I’m here, I feel like singing and dancing."

10 Fascinating Facts About the Thesaurus for National Thesaurus Day

iStock.com/LeitnerR
iStock.com/LeitnerR

Writers often turn to a thesaurus to diversify their vocabulary and add nuance to their prose. But looking up synonyms and antonyms in a thesaurus can help anyone—writer or not—find the most vivid, incisive words to communicate thoughts and ideas. Since January 18 is Thesaurus Day, we’re celebrating with these 10 fascinating facts about your thesaurus.

1. Thesaurus comes from the Greek word for treasure.

Greek lettering.
iStock

Most logophiles consider the thesaurus to be a treasure trove of diction, but the word thesaurus really does mean "treasure." It derives from the Greek word thésauros, which means a storehouse of precious items, or a treasure.

2. The plural of thesaurus is thesauruses or thesauri.

Row of old books lined up.
iStock

How do you refer to more than one octopus? People say everything from octopuses to octopi to octopodes. Similarly, many people have trouble figuring out the correct plural form of the word thesaurus. Though thesauri is technically correct—it attaches a Latin suffix to the Latin word thēsaurus—both thesauri and thesauruses are commonly used and accepted today.

3. Early thesauruses were really dictionaries.

Close-up of the term 'ideal' in a thesaurus.
iStock

Ask a French scholar in the 16th century to see his thesaurus, and he'd gladly give you a copy of his dictionary. In the early 1530s, a French printer named Robert Estienne published Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, a comprehensive Latin dictionary listing words that appeared in Latin texts throughout an enormous span of history. And in 1572, Estienne's son Henri published Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, a dictionary of Greek words. Although the Estiennes's books were called thesauruses, they were really dictionaries comprised of alphabetical listings of words with their definitions.

4. A Greek historian wrote the first book of synonyms.

Stacks of books surrounding an open book and a pair of glasses.
iStock

Philo of Byblos, a Greek historian and grammarian, wrote On Synonyms, a dictionary of synonyms that scholars consider to be the first ancient thesaurus. Dating to the late 1st century or early 2nd century CE, the book lists Greek words that are similar in meaning to each another. Sadly, we don’t know much more about On Synonyms because copies of the work haven’t survived over the centuries.

5. An early Sanskrit thesaurus was written in the form of a poem.

Sanskrit lettering.
iStock

In the 4th century CE, an Indian poet and grammarian named Amara Sinha wrote The Amarakosha, a thesaurus of Sanskrit words. Rather than compile a boring list of similar words, Amara Sinha turned his thesaurus into a long poem. Divided into three sections—words relating to the divine, the earth, and everyday life—The Amarakosha contains verses so readers could memorize words easily. This thesaurus is the oldest book of its kind that still exists.

6. A British doctor wrote the first modern thesaurus.

Portrait of Peter Mark Roget.
Thomas Pettigrew, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Peter Mark Roget is the British doctor credited with authoring the first modern thesaurus. In 1805, he began compiling a list of words, arranged by their meaning and grouped according to theme. After retiring from his work as a physician in 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus of English words and phrases; so classified and arranged as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition. Today, Roget’s Thesaurus is still commercially successful and widely used. In fact, we celebrate Thesaurus Day on January 18 because Roget was born on this day in 1779.

7. The thesaurus has a surprising link to a mathematical tool.

Image of a vintage log log slide rule.
Joe Haupt, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The division between "words people" and "numbers people" is deep-seated. Many mathematicians may try to steer clear of thesauruses, and bibliophiles may avoid calculators, but the thesaurus is actually linked to a mathematical tool. Around 1815, Roget invented the log-log slide rule, a ruler-like device that allows users to easily calculate the roots and exponents of numbers. So while the inventor of the thesaurus was compiling words for his tome, he was also hard at work on the log-log slide rule. A true jack-of-all-trades.

8. The Oxford English Dictionary has its own historical thesaurus.

Synonyms for
iStock

In 1965, a professor of English Language at Glasgow University suggested that scholars should create a historical thesaurus based on entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. The project was a massive undertaking, as people from multiple countries worked for 44 years to compile and classify words. Published in 2009, the Historical Thesaurus to the Oxford English Dictionary contains 800,000 words organized by theme and date. The thesaurus covers words and synonyms from Old English to the present day and lets readers discover when certain words were coined and how long they were commonly used.

9. One artist turned his love of words into a series of thesaurus paintings.

Mel Bochner,
Mel Bochner, "Crazy," 2004. Francesca Castelli, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2014, the Jewish Museum in New York showed a survey of conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s art. Bochner had incorporated words and synonyms in his paintings for years—which were collectively referred to as the thesaurus paintings—featuring word paintings and lists of synonyms on canvas. The brightly colored paintings feature different groups of English and Yiddish synonyms. According to Bochner, Vietnam and Iraq war veterans cried after seeing his thesaurus painting Die, which features words and phrases such as expire, perish, succumb, drop dead, croak, go belly up, pull the plug, and kick the bucket.

10. There's an urban thesaurus for all your slang synonym needs.

Copy of an Urban Dictionary book.
Effie Yang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Urban Dictionary helps people decipher the latest slang terms, but where should you go when you need a thesaurus of slang? Urban Thesaurus, of course. The site, which is not affiliated with Urban Dictionary, indexes millions of slang terms culled from slang dictionaries, then calculates usage correlations between the terms. Typing in the word money, for example, gives you an eclectic list of synonyms including scrilla, cheddar, mulah, coin, and bling.

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.

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