15 Fun Facts About Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

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In what would be their final movie together, in 1983 the classic comedy troupe Monty Python gave the world a collection of funny sketches meant to document every stage of a person's life, from “The Miracle of Birth” to “Death” (give or take a Terry Gilliam free-for-all short film). Here are some facts about Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life before we start wondering where that fish could be.

1. INITIAL CONCEPTS FOR THE MOVIE INCLUDED MONTY PYTHON’S WORLD WAR III.

The Pythons—John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and Graham Chapman—produced a lot of material while writing in Jamaica, but couldn’t figure out how to link it all together into one general theme. Eventually, Jones—who ended up directing the film with Gilliam—said during a breakfast that “it’s somebody’s life story.” Eric Idle responded with the title of the movie.

2. THEY SENT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS A POEM INSTEAD OF A SCRIPT.

The Pythons got around getting notes from the studio by submitting a budget and a poem, which was a summary of the movie.

3. MICHAEL CAINE MADE A CAMEO IN THE ZULU WAR SCENE.

He played a dead soldier as a nod to his first major role in the 1964 movie Zulu. The Pythons asked Clint Eastwood, Julie Andrews, and Paul Newman to appear in the movie to talk about “heating arrangements in cinemas.” They all declined, though Jones said that, "Paul Newman thought about it. We got a very nice letter from him saying that he would really like to, but he thought that after all he wouldn't. Clint, I'm afraid, turned us down cold. I don't think he even replied to our letter."

4. DOUGLAS ADAMS CONTACTED THEM OVER USING A VERY SIMILAR TITLE.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams, who was one of only two non-Pythons to get a writing credit on a sketch on the troupe’s television show, contacted Terry Jones while he was in Jamaica to inform him that he was writing a book titled The Meaning of Liff with John Lloyd. This led to Gilliam having the tombstone in the opening credits initially read “The Meaning of Liff” before a bolt of lightning turned the last letter into an E. Lloyd remembered Adams saying he purposely titled their book Meaning of Liff to confuse people into thinking it was related to the Python movie.

5. THE "CRIMSON PERMANENT ASSURANCE" SHORT WAS INITIALLY SUPPOSED TO BE AN ANIMATED PIECE.

Gilliam wanted to get out of animation, and convinced the other Pythons to let him try something out on his own sound stage. He eventually had to cut it down to 15 minutes after his colleagues kept insisting it was too long.

6. MAX HEADROOM IS IN IT.

Matt Frewer was one day out of drama school when he excitedly took on the role of “Cornered Executive Who Jumps” in the “Crimson Permanent Assurance” short, which marked his first feature film appearance. The film was also the feature debut of Jane Leeves, Frasier's Daphne; she played a dancer in the “Christmas in Heaven” number.

7. TERRY JONES CAME UP WITH THE MR. CREOSOTE SKETCH WHILE MICHAEL PALIN WAS COMING BACK FROM THE BATHROOM.

Jones had the image of a huge man walking through a park with his stomach on a wheelbarrow, but nothing more. Palin told Jones that he had better have a punch line to the joke by the time he returned from the restroom. When Jones heard Palin’s footsteps returning from the toilet, he quickly jotted down the concept of the corpulent man’s stomach exploding after dining in a restaurant. Palin laughed.

8. MR. CREOSOTE’S VOMIT WAS COMPRESSED SOUP.

Nine hundred gallons of pre-mixed vomit containing vegetable soup, sweet corn, a bit of tomato, diced carrots, and Russian salad dressing were prepared for the infamous sketch. A catapult that could handle 20 to 30 gallons of the mix, and launch it 30 yards, was used to fling vomit at the extras with the cheapest costumes. Quentin Tarantino once claimed watching that scene was the only time he ever was grossed out by any scene in any movie.

9. GRAHAM CHAPMAN ONCE ACTUALLY HELD A DISMEMBERED LEG.

It was while he was in medical school, where a nurse eventually "took it away to the leg bin." Though Chapman never ended up practicing medicine, he wrote the strange incident into the movie.

10. THE KIDS WERE SPARED FROM HEARING THE DIRTY WORDS.

When singing “Every Sperm is Sacred,” Jones said to the children, “A little rubber thing on the end of his sock,” forcing him to change the word in editing later. Also, Cleese’s sex tutorial was filmed without the children on set.

11. THERE WAS ONE CLASSIC AD LIB.

Palin protesting, “Hey, I didn’t even eat the mousse!” wasn’t in the script.

12. THEY USED THE SAME CHOREOGRAPHER AS THE MOVIE ANNIE.

Arlene Phillips choreographed music videos for Aretha Franklin, Elton John, the Bee Gees, and Queen, and worked with the Pythons on their movements. She continued to do so for their live performances over the years.

13. GILLIAM RECYCLED A COSTUME FOR THE "FISH" SCENE.

The elephant costume was made for Gilliam’s movie Time Bandits. It was cut from that movie, but he had always wanted to use it somewhere.

14. A BUNCH OF HIGH SCHOOLERS WERE SOME OF THE FIRST PEOPLE TO SEE THE MOVIE.

At a test screening held in Yonkers, New York, Jones recalled that, "we had an audience of 75 percent high school kids, 15- to 18-year-olds. Out of 400, 18 (or 80, depending on how you understand Jones' accent) of them walked out in disgust. I think it got the strongest negative response of any film on which they've actually carried out one of these surveys. Disgraceful film!"

15. A "SCATHING ATTACK" ON MARTIN LUTHER WAS CUT.

Idle claimed that test audiences didn’t know who Luther was, causing them to lose faith in the scene and drop it.

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10 Facts About Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt's Home

Theodore Roosevelt's Long Island home has 23 rooms and more books than you can count.
Theodore Roosevelt's Long Island home has 23 rooms and more books than you can count.
J. Stephen Conn, Flickr // CC by NC 2.0

Fleeing Manhattan for the country is a tradition that wealthy New Yorkers have partaken in for centuries—and our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, was no exception. Starting when he was a teen, TR and his family would retreat to Long Island for the summer, and as an adult, he built his own home there: Sagamore Hill, which became his permanent home after his presidency. In honor of what would be TR’s 162nd birthday, here are 10 facts about Sagamore Hill, of which Roosevelt once wrote, “there isn't any place in the world like home—like Sagamore Hill.”

1. Sagamore Hill was built near where Theodore Roosevelt spent his childhood summers.

Oyster Bay on Long Island, New York, first served as a refuge for a sickly TR in his youth. He’d hike, ride horses, row, and swim—generally engaging in the “strenuous life” and beginning his lifelong love affair with nature. The family home was known as Tranquility, and was situated two miles southwest from the future Sagamore Hill mansion.

2. Theodore Roosevelt bought the land for Sagamore Hill in 1880.

The same year he married his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, Roosevelt purchased 155 acres on the north shore of Long Island for $30,000 to build a home. Situated on Long Island Sound, the site is home to a wide variety of habitats, from woodlands to salt marshes, as well as plenty of ecological diversity, thus giving Roosevelt much to observe and document.

3. Sagamore Hill wasn't supposed to go by that name.

The home that would become Sagamore Hill was originally going to be named Leeholm, after Roosevelt's wife Alice. However, following her tragic death shortly after giving birth to their daughter, the property was renamed Sagamore—according to Roosevelt, after Sagamore Mohannis (today more commonly known as Sachem Mohannes), who was chief of a tribe in the area over 200 years earlier. Sagamore is an Algonquian word for "chieftain."

4. Theodore Roosevelt had very specific ideas for the layout of Sagamore Hill.

Among his "perfectly definite views" for the home, he would later recall, were "a library with a shallow bay window opening south, the parlor or drawing-room occupying all the western end of the lower floor; as broad a hall as our space would permit; big fireplaces for logs; on the top floor a gun room occupying the western end so that north and west it [looks] over the Sound and Bay." Long Island builder John A. Wood began work on the Queen Anne-style mansion (designed by New York architecture firm Lamb and Rich), on March 1, 1884. It was completed in 1885, with Roosevelt's sister, Anna, taking care of the house (and new baby Alice) while Roosevelt was out west in the Dakota Badlands, nursing his grieving heart.

5. Theodore Roosevelt delivered campaign speeches from the porches of Sagamore Hill.

Theodore Roosevelt addresses a crowd of 500 suffragettes from the porch of his Sagamore Hill home around 1905. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It was one of Roosevelt’s greatest wishes for the Sagamore Hill home to possess "a very big piazza ... where we could sit in rocking chairs and look at the sunset," and so wide porches were built on the south and west sides of the house. Roosevelt would use the piazza to deliver speeches to the public, and it was here that he was notified of his nominations as governor of New York (1898), vice president (1900) and president (1904).

6. Sagamore Hill was Theodore Roosevelt's "Summer White House."

Roosevelt became the first president to bring his work home with him, spending each of his summers as president at Sagamore Hill. He even had a phone installed so he could conduct business from the house. But by 1905, Edith had had enough of TR usurping the drawing room—which was supposed to be her office—to hold his visitors [PDF], and of his gaming trophies and other treasures taking up space. So the Roosevelts constructed what would become the North Room. "The North Room cost as much as the entire house had," Susan Sarna, curator at Sagamore Hill, told Cowboys & Indians magazine in 2016. "It is grandiose." Measuring 40 feet by 20 feet, with ceilings 20 feet high, it was constructed of mahogany brought in from the Philippines. The addition brought the total number of rooms at Sagamore Hill from 22 to 23.

7. Theodore Roosevelt met with foreign leaders at Sagamore Hill.

Roosevelt stands between Russian and Japanese dignitaries in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1905. On September 5, they signed the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War and earning Roosevelt the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize; he was the first American to win a Nobel Prize of any kind.Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images

In September 1905, Roosevelt brokered peace talks between Russian and Japanese dignitaries, which led to end of the Russo-Japanese War. But before the peace talks (which took place on a yacht in the Navy yard at Portsmouth, New Hampshire), Roosevelt met the negotiators—from Japan, Takahira Kogorō, ambassador to the U.S., and diplomat Jutaro Komura; and from Russia, diplomat Baron Roman Romanovich von Rosen and Sergei Iluievich Witte—at Sagamore Hill. TR earned a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

8. Sagamore Hill has a pet cemetery.

Roosevelt’s love of animals was passed down to his six children, who adopted a veritable menagerie, including cats, dogs, horses, guinea pigs, a bear, and a badger. A number of those beloved companions ended up in Sagamore Hill's pet cemetery; among them is Little Texas, the horse TR rode on his charge up Kettle Hill during the Spanish-American War.

9. Life at Sagamore Hill was lively.

The atmosphere at Sagamore Hill was a boisterous one. According to the National Park Service, Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge complained about how late they stayed up, how loud they talked, and how early they woke up. Eleanor Roosevelt, Roosevelt’s favorite niece, too, recalled a constant barrage of activity during her visits. The children partook in all manner of outdoor activities, and Roosevelt was known for abruptly ending his appointments in order to join them.

10. Theodore Roosevelt died at Sagamore Hill.

Roosevelt passed away on January 6, 1919 at Sagamore Hill. Edith died there on September 30, 1948, and five years later, Sagamore Hill was opened to the public. In 2015, a $10 million renovation of the house was completed; 99 percent of what can be seen at the home today is original—including thousands of books, extensive artwork, and yes, 36 pieces of taxidermy.

Shortly before Roosevelt died, he asked Edith, “I wonder if you will ever know how I love Sagamore Hill?” and thanks to the extensive work done to restore his home, we all can.