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."

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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15 Moving Facts About Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987).
Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987).
Paramount Pictures

Steve Martin and John Candy starred in the holiday movie classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles, writer/director John Hughes’s first big foray away from writing about teenage angst. Martin played Neal Page, a marketing executive who is desperate to get back home to Chicago to see his wife and kids for Thanksgiving, but along the way is thoroughly aggravated by shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (Candy) and the many, many, many mishaps that befall the two throughout their travels. Here are some facts about the film that are not pillows.

1. Planes, Trains and Automobiles was inspired by John Hughes’s own hellish trip trying to get from New York City To Chicago.

Before he became a screenwriter, Hughes used to work as a copywriter for the Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago. One day he had an 11 a.m. presentation scheduled in New York City on a Wednesday, and planned to return home on a 5 p.m. flight. Winter winds forced all flights to Chicago to be canceled that night, so he stayed in a hotel. A snowstorm in Chicago the next day continued the delays. The plane he eventually got on ended up being diverted to Denver. Then Phoenix. Hughes didn’t make it back until Monday. Experiencing such a hellish trip might explain how Hughes managed to write the first 60 pages of Planes, Trains and Automobiles in just six hours.

2. Howard Deutch was originally supposed to direct Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Deutch directed Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful for Hughes. Hughes decided to direct himself after Steve Martin signed on. Deutch got to direct The Great Outdoors instead.

3. Steve Martin thought the script for Planes, Trains and Automobiles was too long.

The comedian, who had written his own screenplays, thought the 145-page length of the script was a lot for a comedy. When Martin asked Hughes where he thought they might cut scenes, Hughes was confused by the question. Martin later claimed that the first cut of Planes, Trains and Automobiles was four and a half hours long.

4. John Hughes acted out the entire movie to a publicist hoping to work on Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Reid Rosefelt went in to meet Hughes for the unit publicist position. Rosefelt recalled in his blog that he found it strange, but admirable, that Hughes did not allow Rosefelt to see the script to the movie he would potentially work on and promote beforehand. After the two grew more comfortable with one another at their meeting, Rosefelt asked what the movie was about—he only knew Steve Martin and John Candy were starring and it was called Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Hughes then performed the entire movie for him. Rosefelt didn’t get the job.

5. John Candy arrived to shoot Planes, Trains and Automobiles with exercise equipment in tow.

On the first day of shooting, the crew brought in treadmills, weights, and other exercise equipment for Candy to use in his hotel suite. Martin said Candy didn’t use any of it.

6. The entirety of Planes, Trains and Automobiles was meant to be shot in Chicago, but there wasn’t enough snow.

Some exterior scenes were filmed in Buffalo, New York. Martin said that the cast and crew pretty much lived the plot of the movie. “As we would shoot, we were hopping planes, trains, and automobiles, trying to find snow.”

7. The constant delays on production on Planes, Trains and Automobiles were very beneficial to one actor.

In John Hughes: A Life in Film, Kirk Honeycutt wrote that one actor, who played a truck driver, was only supposed to have one line and work for one day. Hughes chose to keep him on standby. The actor ended up working enough days while the crew waited for the snow to come that he was able to make a down payment on a house. It’s very possible this was Troy Evans, who was uncredited, as the shy truck driver in the movie. He went on to appear, credited, on ER for the show’s final five seasons as Frank Martin.

8. Edie Mcclurg’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles improvisations impressed John Hughes.

McClurg, probably best known as Grace, Principal Rooney’s secretary in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, played the St. Louis car rental employee upon whom Neal dropped 18 F-bombs. For the first few takes, McClurg simply raised her finger and had a standard phone conversation with a customer. Then Hughes told her to improvise talking on the phone about Thanksgiving. She then came up with the stuff about needing roasted marshmallows and taking care of the crescent rolls because she can’t cook based on her own life. When she finished, Hughes asked her how she came up with those details so quickly. When McClurg explained she just got it from her own life just like he does with his scripts, he said, “Oh yeah!” She claims people to this day ask her to tell them they’re f*cked.

9. Steve Martin and Edie McClurg's F-bomb-filled exchange earned Planes, Trains and Automobiles an R rating.

That sweary tirade between Martin and McClurg is reportedly one of the scenes that made Martin want to make the movie. Its overuse of the word f*ck is also apparently what pushed the movie's rating from PG-13 to R.

10. In one scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Susan Page is watching She’s Having A Baby—another John Hughes movie.

In the scene that goes back and forth between Neal trying to sleep next to Del clearing his sinuses and Neal’s wife (Laila Robins) watching TV alone in their bed, she is somehow watching She’s Having a Baby, which wouldn’t be released in theaters until February of the following year. Kevin Bacon stars in that movie, and made a cameo in Planes as the guy who out-hustles Neal in getting a cab. Some people believe Bacon—who was officially listed in the credits as “Taxi Racer”—was playing his She’s Having a Baby character, Jake, in that scene.

11. A scene in a strip club was cut from Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

After their car blew up, Neal and Del went inside a strip club to use a phone, where Del got distracted by the dancers. Actress Debra Lamb didn’t know that her scene was cut until she went to a screening.

12. Jeri Ryan was cut from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but her scene wasn’t.

It was the actress’s first role. She was one of the passengers on the bus ride and couldn’t help but laugh at Martin and Candy’s antics. They re-shot the scenes without her.

13. Elton John wrote a song for Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Carlo Allegri, Getty Images

Elton John and lyricist Gary Osborne were almost finished writing the theme song when Paramount insisted on ownership of the recording master, which John’s record company would not allow. The song has never been released.

14. In the original ending of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Del followed Neal all the way home.

Hughes decided during the editing process that instead, John Candy’s character would be “a noble person” and finally take the hint from Martin’s character, and let Neal return home alone, before Neal has a change of heart and finds Del again.

15. In the scene where Neal thinks about Del on the train in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Steve Martin didn’t know the camera was on.

In order to get the new ending he wanted, Hughes and editor Paul Hirsch went back to look for footage they previously didn’t think would be used. Hughes had kept the cameras rolling in between takes on the Chicago train, without his lead’s knowledge, while Martin was thinking about his next lines. Hughes thought Martin had a “beautiful expression” on his face in that unguarded moment.