42 Big Facts About Little House on the Prairie

Melissa Gilbert stars in Little House on the Prairie.
Melissa Gilbert stars in Little House on the Prairie.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

When the very popular TV series Bonanza left the airwaves after 14 years, Michael “Little Joe” Landon went looking for a new project. NBC executives approached him with the idea of producing a made-for-TV film based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s popular Little House on the Prairie series of books.

The movie was a huge ratings hit, and since it had a sort-of cliffhanger ending, the network was deluged with inquiries from viewers asking “What happened to the Ingalls family next?” Thus, a series was born. And while the show itself was very family-friendly and wholesome, the antics behind the scenes of the long-running series weren't always so PG-rated.

1. Pa Ingalls’ hair color came out of a bottle.

Michael Landon had gone prematurely grey during his Bonanza days, while he was still in his twenties, and used Clairol Medium Ash Brown to color his crowning glory. He continued using the same product once he started on Little House on the Prairie, dyeing his hair himself. But the scorching, unrelenting sun in Simi Valley, California (where the series shot) would turn his hair an odd shade of lavender after a few days, which caused production delays (lights would have to be adjusted so as to not reflect on his head). Eventually Landon gave in and allowed a professional on the set to color his hair.

2. Michael Landon asked Karen Grassle to change her name when she was cast as “Ma” Ingalls.

Karen Grassle and Michael Landon in Little House on the Prairie
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Actually Michael Landon asked her to change back to her real name, which is Karen Grassle (pronounced “Grass-lee”). When she auditioned for the role of Caroline Ingalls, she did so as Gabriel Tree, her stage name at the time.

3. The novelty of period clothing wore off quickly for the young girls in the cast.

All the exterior Little House on the Prairie scenes were filmed at the 10,000-acre Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, California, where a “cool” day meant temperatures in the low 90s. On most days, the mercury hit triple digits—and the young actresses were clad from head to toe in heavy cotton stockings, petticoats, pinafores, and bonnets. Both Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson, and an assistant director passed out from the heat on the very first day of filming.

4. Most of those dinners Ma served were really Dinty Moore beef stew.

A scene from 'Little House on the Prairie'
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Any dinner scene that showed some sort of generic meat and gravy on the family’s plates—regardless of whether Ma announced that it was rabbit, chicken, or squirrel—actually consisted of canned Dinty Moore brand beef stew. Those instances when Laura was seen pulling a drumstick out of her tin lunch pail at school? Well, those came not from the Ingalls’ chicken coop, but from Kentucky Fried Chicken.

5. Nellie Oleson’s perfect curls were actually a wig.

For the first few weeks of filming, Arngrim’s own hair was transformed into a series of sausage curls via a torturous old-fashioned curling iron that had to be heated in an oven. Finally it was decided that a custom-made wig would be more humane, not to mention both time- and cost-effective. The wig had to be held in place with an enormous metal comb plus dozens of long, straight, metal hairpins, all of which frequently dug into Arngrim’s scalp and caused it to bleed.

6. Sean Penn made his acting debut on Little House On The Prairie.

Sean Penn appears in 'Little House on the Prairie'
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

The season 1 episode “The Voice of Tinker Jones” was directed by Leo Penn, who cast his wife, Eileen Ryan, in the episode—and also brought in his 13-year-old son Sean to play an uncredited schoolboy.

7. Michael Landon kept the young actors entertained.

According to People, Michael Landon would pretend to pick lice out of Melissa Gilbert’s hair after an emotional scene. Frogs were also a big hit. “We used to go with Melissa [Gilbert] to catch frogs in the creek,” Rachel Greenbush, who played Carrie Ingalls, told Closer Weekly. “We would bring them back to Michael, and then he would put them in his mouth and walk up to people, open his mouth and the frog would jump out! People would freak out.”

8. Charles Ingalls’s manly swagger was the result of special boots.

Michael Landon in Little House on the Prairie
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Michael Landon was just 5-feet-9-inches tall and didn’t want any other actor to tower over him, so he wore four-inch lifts in his boots. If that boost wasn’t quite enough in a particular scene, he would make sure that Charles was positioned on a staircase, a ladder, or even a slight mound of dirt.

9. No one ever got very close to Mary Ingalls.

Both Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim reported in their autobiographies that Melissa Sue Anderson (known as “Missy” on the set), who played Mary Ingalls, remained somewhat cold and aloof during her time on Little House on the Prairie. There were rumors among the guardians on the set that Missy’s mother was overprotective and controlling and that was the reason the young actress tended to keep to herself.

10. Carrie Ingalls was played by a set of identical twins.

Rachel and Sidney Bush (credited onscreen as “Lindsay Sidney Greenbush” and known as “Sugar Lump” and “Foxy Robin” to everyone on the set) were just 3 years old when they were cast to play the youngest Ingalls daughter. That’s Sidney falling down while running during the opening credits; the director rotated the girls every few hours in accordance with California labor laws for such young children. In this case, just prior to filming the hillside running scene, he had called for a “Fresh twin, please!” and Mrs. Bush hastily awoke the napping Sidney and quickly put her little shoes back on … unfortunately, on the wrong feet. Michael Landon thought it was adorable when she tripped and hit the ground and left it in the sequence.

11. Michael Landon was very proud of his physique.

Landon never passed up an opportunity to appear shirtless on camera, which is why Pa never broke an arm or leg in any of his farming mishaps, only a rib or two. He also reportedly preferred to go au naturel underneath his tight-fitting prairie trousers.

12. Jason Bateman starred in 23 episodes.

Jason Bateman in Little House on the Prairie
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

In 1981, future Emmy-winner Jason Bateman landed the role of James Cooper Ingalls; it was his first TV role. Like Landon, Bateman became a TV director—in 2019, Bateman won an Emmy for directing himself in Ozark. "The only thing that I remember really soaking in was that first big job on Little House on the Prairie,” Bateman told Variety. “That group of actors had been together since Bonanza, and the way in which everybody functioned was very familial. It was a warm place.”

Bateman said that Landon influenced him both as a director and as a sort of father figure. “He was the George Clooney of that time. The crew loved him, the industry loved him, guys wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him,” Bateman said.

13. Nellie and Laura were actually best friends.

Mean ol’ Nellie Oleson got her lights punched out more than once by rival Laura Ingalls, but in real life Alison Arngrim and Melissa Gilbert became the best of friends shortly after they first met in the makeup trailer. They had sleepovers at each other’s homes and became partners in crime when it came to playing pranks on their co-stars.

14. Michael Landon’s off-screen affair permanently damaged his relationship with Melissa Gilbert.

Melissa Gilbert became very close to Michael Landon’s family after she was hired for Little House on the Prairie—especially his son, Michael Jr., and daughter Leslie. Lynn Landon and Melissa’s mother, Barbara Crane, became best friends and the two families often vacationed together. One day Barbara broke the news to her daughter that, “Auntie Lynn and Mike are separating.” Gilbert had noticed that Landon had been extremely attentive to “that makeup girl” (as makeup artist Cindy Clerico, 20 years Landon’s junior, was referred to by some cast members) on the set, but she’d never dreamed that he’d leave his wife of 19 years for her.

Gilbert remained polite and professional while working with Landon on the set after he married Clerico, but she stopped socializing with him after hours. After Little House on the Prairie ended, she didn’t speak to Landon again until 1990, when she saw him at Leslie Landon’s wedding. Landon’s highly publicized breakup with Lynn also cost him some lucrative endorsement deals, including his longtime contract with Kodak.

15. Adult beverages were regularly imbibed during the workday.

Alison Arngrim often caught a nap in the prop truck during her breaks, and it was there—while she was hunkered down on the front seat—that she overheard Michael Landon say “Hit me” to propman Ron Chiniquy at the rear of the truck. She lifted her head to peek and saw Chiniquy pour the requested four fingers of Wild Turkey into Landon’s coffee cup, even though it was only 10 a.m. She later found out from Ron that the crew usually went through two cases of Coors beer per day while working. Particularly stressful days, when rewrites and retakes were necessary, were referred to as “three-case days.” After filming was wrapped for the day, a makeshift bar with hard liquor was set up on a sawhorse for the “real” unwinding to begin. Yet both Arngrim and Gilbert said that despite all the alcohol consumption going on, no one (neither cast nor crew) ever appeared to be the least bit tipsy, nor did their work suffer.

16. Victor French briefly left the to show to star in a short-lived sitcom.

Victor French in Little House on the Prairie
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Victor French, who had starred in Gunsmoke and Bonanza, played Isaiah Edwards on Little House and directed a few episodes. He left the show in 1977 to star as a small-town Georgia police chief in sitcom Carter Country, which was sort of a comedic version of In the Heat of the Night. In 1979, when ABC canceled Carter County after two seasons, Landon welcomed French back. And in 1984, French joined Landon in Highway to Heaven. In 1989, French died of cancer, two years before Landon’s own death from cancer.

17. Mary INgalls's blindness was challenging for Melissa Sue Anderson.

During the fourth season, Mary Ingalls went blind. “It was the only time in the history of television that a series regular had lost their sight and not gotten it back … ever,” Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Mary, told Albany Daily News. “Therefore, it was exciting and challenging at the beginning … but a very difficult thing to sustain over a period of years.” At first, Anderson thought the plotline was used as a way to write her out of the script. But Landon assured her “to trust me,” he told People.

In 1978, Anderson’s performance garnered her an Emmy nomination, but a few years later she left the show. “As far as what Mary could do, my character became limited because she couldn’t see … This, ultimately, is the reason why I decided not to stay with the show and only do three episodes in the eighth season,” she said.

18. Michael Landon didn’t want to pay Karen Grassle more money.

Karen Grassle in Little House on the Prairie
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Despite the set being mostly drama-free, Grassle did have one issue with Landon. “When we were in the top 10 [TV shows] and I said, ‘Gee, it is time to renegotiate my contract,’ Michael did not want to pay me,” Grassle told Closer Weekly. “It was very difficult.”

19. They filmed on the same set as The Wizard Of Oz .

In the late 1970s, the production moved from a Paramount soundstage to MGM. “They were ripping up the floor of the set, and what Melissa [Gilbert] and I see, lying beneath, was the Yellow Brick Road!” Arngrim told Closer Weekly. “Melissa and I went nuts. We were dancing around, singing the song, pretending to be Dorothy!”

20. Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks played a criminal.

Jonathan Banks and Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul
Jonathan Banks and Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul.
NICOLE WILDER, AMC/SONY PICTURES TELEVISION

Nearly 30 years before he played Mike Ehrmantrautin Breaking Bad (and then on Better Call Saul), Jonathan Banks played a frontier criminal in the 1980 Little House episode “Darkness Is My Friend.” Banks’s Jed and two other guys take Laura and Mary hostage at Mary’s school for the blind. Thankfully, Pa Ingalls saves the day.

21. Wildfires have destroyed the Little House on the Prairie sets—more than once.

In 2003, a fire swept through the Simi Valley, California set, known as Big Sky Movie Ranch. The fires destroyed a replica of the Ingalls' homestead, which had long been a tourist attraction. It also wiped out a lot of cattle. In May 2019, lightning propelled another destructive fire on the ranch.

22. The Simi Valley ranch may have been a “sick” set.

Rocketdyne’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory was the site of one of the worst nuclear meltdowns in U.S. history back in 1959, and illegal disposal of nuclear waste continued in the area until the 1980s. No actual link has ever been admitted or proven publicly, but there have been murmurings for years that the number of cancer cases among Little House actors and crew members may have some connection to the chemical and radioactive contamination in that area. Michael Landon died of pancreatic cancer; Victor French (Isaiah Edwards) died of lung cancer (he and Landon were heavy smokers, though); Merlin Olsen (Jonathan Garvey) died of mesothelioma; Kevin Hagen (Doc Baker) succumbed to esophageal cancer; and Charlotte Stewart (Miss Beadle) is a breast cancer survivor.'

23. Nellie’s broken arm and screams were both real in that famous runaway wheelchair scene.

“Bunny,” the episode where Nellie gets thrown from the horse she’d won from Laura in a previous episode and ends up paralyzed, is a fan favorite. The climactic scene occurs shortly after Laura discovers that Nellie can, in fact, walk and has been faking her paralysis just to get attention. She gets her revenge by taking Nellie to the top of a hill in her wheelchair and giving her an almighty shove. In reality, Arngrim had recently broken her wrist in a skateboarding accident, so the plaster cast on her arm was real. And while a stunt double was used for the shot where Nellie flew out of the chair and into the pond, Arngrim was required to ride the rickety, 1870s-era wooden wheelchair down a rocky slope so she could be filmed screaming for the close-ups. The chair was attached to safety ropes, but just prior to the second take, as the director yelled “Action!” one of the crew members cried out “Oh no, the rope broke!” It hadn’t, but Arngrim didn’t know that and her terrified screams as she bounced and rolled down the hill, struggling with one hand to stay in the chair, were authentic.

24. Laura and Manly’s wedding night was not as romantic as it seemed.

Although on the show Laura was 17 when she married Almanzo Wilder, in real life Melissa Gilbert was a very innocent, romantically inexperienced 15-year-old whose first kiss was on a sound stage. Her initial kiss with 23-year-old Dean Butler (the actor who played Wilder) was only the third time she’d kissed a “boy” and it squicked her out because he had the tiniest bit of beard stubble. The thought of having to cuddle in bed with him (after the pair had wed on the series) was even more frightening to the teenager.

In an attempt to try to joke Gilbert out of her nervousness, Butler quietly crooned some lyrics from “Strangers in the Night” into her ear before the cameras rolled. Unfortunately his effort had a cringe-worthy opposite effect on Gilbert, and she pleaded with Michael Landon afterward for any romantic scenes between Laura and Almanzo to be limited to hugs or a peck on the cheek.

25. Laura and Manly’s lack of chemistry was a cause for concern among the producers.

Melissa Gilbert and Dean Butler in Little House on the Prairie
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

A “secret” memo was circulated at one point discussing the romantic pairings on the show; Laura and Almanzo just didn’t look like they were in love, and couldn’t the actors do something to generate some “sparks” between the two of them? The same memo pointed out that when Nellie and Percival were together they “looked like they f*** like crazed weasels.” Unbeknownst to the production staff, Steve Tracy, who played Nellie’s husband Percival, was gay. But he and Alison Arngrim were great friends and used to swap passionate, open-mouth kisses during their love scenes just because they knew it grossed Melissa Gilbert out.

26. Michael Landon directed almost half of the series’ episodes.

Not only did Landon play a lead role, but he also wrote, directed, and produced many of the episodes. Out of 205 episodes, he directed 90 of them, including the two-hour pilot, the final episode, and additionally TV movies Little House Years and Little House: The Last Farewell . He continued his directing and producing career in Highway to Heaven , which debuted in 1984.

27. Michael Landon didn’t "tinker" with perfection.

A scene from Little House on the Prairie
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

In her book Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, Arngrim wrote about what kind of director Landon was. “Michael was very much a fan of the ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ philosophy, and if something worked well enough in the first take, don’t bothering tinkering with perfection—just say ‘print’ and move on.”

28. NBC and Michael Landon canceled the show because Melissa Gilbert was all grown up.

In 1984, Landon told The New York Times why he and the network decided to end the show. One reason was partly because of declining ratings, and the other had to do with Melissa Gilbert’s Laura. “I didn't think a married woman should still be coming to her father for advice,” he said. “But when we started this show, we never imagined it would last this long.”

29. When filming on Little House On The Prairie finished, they blew up the sets.

In 1984, Landon directed the last TV Prairie movie, The Last Farewell, which involved the townspeople blowing up Walnut Grove so a land baron couldn’t have it. In real life, Landon ordered the sets to be blown to bits. Producer Kent McCrary explained that NBC leased the land from Getty Oil Company and the Newhall Land and Development Corporation and had to return the land back to its “original state,” meaning it had to look like it did before production moved in. McCrary suggested demolition, however, Landon said: “What if we blow up the town? That would get the buildings all in pieces and you still can bring in your equipment to pick up the debris and cart it away.” So he wrote the explosions into the script but made sure to leave the homestead and church untouched.

“I think it makes for a good strong pioneer ending,” Landon said. “It was also a nice catharsis for the cast and crew. There were lots of tears when we finally blew up the town. The actors had all become very attached to their own buildings, so it was very emotional.”

30. they did test runs before they blew everything up.

Karen Grassle in Little House on the Prairie
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

“We did quite a few tests first to make sure nobody would get hurt,” Landon told The New York Times . “So when we finally blew everything up, it went off like clockwork. We did it all in one day.”

31. Actor Stan Ivar kept his homestead.

During the final season, a new family, the Carters, move into the homestead. Ivar played head-of-the-family John Carter. Landon didn’t want the homestead destroyed, so according to Laura’s Prairie, Ivar disassembled the set and took it home with him. He supposedly has the set in storage or in his barn. At one point he tried to donate the set to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, but Ed Friendly, the owner of the Prairie brand, blocked it. The replica home might be gone, but at least the original still exists.

32. Little House on the Prairie gained a cult following in France.

Today, Little House on the Prairie can be seen in 140 countries, including France. Arngrim spends a few months a year touring the country. “It’s similar to David Hasselhoff and Germany,” she told The New York Times. “They don’t think Nellie is mean. They just think she’s French.”

33. Alison Arngrim learned to embrace "Nasty Nellie."

Alison Arngrim in Little House on the Prairie
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

In 2017, Arngrim said that she gets “recognized more now than I did when the show was running.” And somehow she has not tired of her most famous role. "I thought I’d be sick of it, but now, it just makes me smile."

34. Baby Grace published a book called Prairie Devotional.

Wendi Turnbaugh (a.k.a. Wendi Lou Lee) was literally a baby when she was cast to play Grace Ingalls, the youngest Ingalls child. In August 2019, she published a faith-based book about the show. “My husband actually gave me the idea, probably about 10 years ago,” Turnbaugh said. "I thought it was a really good idea. But I didn't have the confidence.” But when she was recovering from a brain tumor, she started writing the book. “It started out as a blog just to inform people of my health and what was happening, and it became this,” she said.

35. Wendi Turnbaugh was also a twin.

A still of the cast of 'Little House on the Prairie'
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Identical twins Rachel and Sidney Greenbush played Carrie Ingalls, and Turnbaugh also had a real-life twin (named Brenda).

36. One viewer really hated Nellie.

Nellie made quite the villain, and one person in particular took their hate too far. Arngrim explained that when she was 16, a person threw a half-filled cup of orange soda at her head while she was participating in the Hollywood Christmas parade. “I was actually impressed,” Arngrim said. “I mean, how good did you have to be to make someone so angry? I won’t ever forget it. Maybe that person will finally come forward and confess.”

37. Wendi Turnbaugh thinks people are drawn to the show’s faith.

Little House debuted 45 years ago, yet it still resonates with fans. In an interview with The Christian Perspective, Turnbaugh explained why she thought people still gravitate toward the series. “People are starving for family values and faith-filled content,” she said. “I think people might say that they don’t want that or need that. But that is what draws people in.”

38. Nellie became a gay icon.

For decades, Arngrim has immersed herself in the gay community. Her father was gay, and she worked for an AIDS charity. She told The New York Times how gay men adopted Nellie as one of their own. “I turned toward the people who were still clapping the loudest for her,” she said. She performed a one-woman show “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch” at a gay resort in Orlando and sold copies of her book at Nellie’s Sports Bar. “Little Nellie was hilarious with that hair and those petticoats, kind of like a drag queen in training,” Lady Bunny, a DJ, told The New York Times. Most recently, Arngrim was a part of Los Angeles DragCon.

39. The show may have led to more people reading books.

Little House on the Prairie Book at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Pepin, Wisconsin
Lorie Shaull, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

In a 1974 interview with People, Landon mentioned that book stores and libraries kept calling him and praising him. “Because of the show,” he said, “there are going to be an awful lot of kids reading.”

40. Alison Arngrim wants to play Mrs. Oleson if the show is ever rebooted.

Arngrim said that fans constantly request for the cast to reunite. “There’s only so much of us left, but we’d definitely all do it,” she said. She suggested casting Stranger Things’s Millie Bobby Brown to play Nellie, and the old cast could make cameos. “Also, I am the correct age now to play Mrs. Oleson and I’m available, so I have no shame,” she said. “I would play her in a second. I would totally do that,”

41. A Little House on the Prairie feature film was announced.

Melissa Sue Anderson, Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, and Matthew Labyorteaux in Little House on the Prairie
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

In 2016, Paramount was working on a Little House movie, but no word if that project is still happening.

42. And, just because: here’s disco Half-Pint as we never saw her in Walnut Grove.

We hope you enjoy the singing and dancing talents of Melissa Gilbert on this 1978 installment of the short-lived variety series Dick Clark’s Live Wednesday.

Additional sources:
Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, by Alison Arngrim
Prairie Tale, by Melissa Gilbert
The Way I See It: A Look Back on My Life on Little House, by Melissa Sue Anderson
Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter, by Melissa Francis

10 Christmasy Movies That Might Not Be "Christmas Movies"

Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001).
Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001).
Miramax

While action addicts love to extol the Christmas themes of 1988’s Die Hard every time December rolls around, the Bruce Willis-led blockbuster has plenty of company in the no man’s land between “Definitely a Christmas movie” and “Definitely not a Christmas movie.” From romantic comedies to rip-roaring thrillers, here are some other Hollywood hits that you can definitely justify adding to an upcoming holiday movie marathon (whether your guests like it or not).

1. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)

The only thing that screams “Christmas movie!” louder than an image of Colin Firth in a Rudolph-themed knit sweater (a.k.a. jumper) is a final scene where the two romantic leads kiss amidst a backdrop of falling snow and twinkling Christmas lights. Renée Zellweger’s classic rom-com Bridget Jones’s Diary has—you guessed it—both those things.

2. Trading Places (1983)

If your conception of Christmas includes a boozed-up, belligerent Dan Aykroyd stealing assorted meats from an upscale holiday party while dressed in full Santa garb, then this ’80s comedy is your quintessential Christmas flick. The plot revolves around a social experiment in which a well-to-do broker (Aykroyd) is unwittingly forced to swap lives with a petty criminal (Eddie Murphy), and the movie’s June release suggests that the filmmakers didn’t intend for its Christmas setting to factor into the public reception of the film in any significant way. In America, it might not have—but Trading Places is broadcast in Italy every Christmas Eve.

3. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

It’s hard to see the snow-covered forests and fields of Narnia without thinking about Christmas, but the White Witch’s meteorological curse isn’t really why the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s universally beloved novel is on this list. (After all, if an unforgiving winter is all it takes to make something holiday-themed, then 1980’s The Shining is also technically a Christmas movie.) Instead, the qualifying factor here is the scene where Father Christmas appears to hand out highly personalized gifts to the Pevensie children. Scored by a carol-esque children’s chorus and complete with a jingly, reindeer-led sleigh, the scene is so magical it makes you forget that the plot of the film is centered around ending Narnia’s endless winter.

4. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

There are so many Christmas trees in Stanley Kubrick’s erotic thriller that, if you ignore everything else in the film, it could pass for a really festive game of “I Spy.” In addition to the heavy-handed Christmas imagery, Kubrick opens the film with a ritzy holiday party and closes it with a feel-good (at least, relative to the other scenes) shopping trip to Manhattan’s FAO Schwarz. Interestingly enough, the characters in the source material, Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella Traumnovelle, were Jewish.

5. Gremlins (1984)

The cackling, spawning, murderous demons make Gremlins a near-perfect contender for a Halloween horror classic—if it weren’t for the fact that all the chaos ensues over the holidays, and the original gremlin was purchased as a Christmas gift. Though Warner Bros. ultimately went with a summer release, the film was initially slated to premiere during the Christmas season, and Steven Spielberg actually considered Tim Burton—the man behind another confusing horror/holiday hybrid film, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)—to direct it.

6. Batman Returns (1992)

And, just a year before Burton dove head-first into the deep end of the “Kind of a Christmas movie” pool with The Nightmare Before Christmas (which he wrote and produced, but did not direct), he got his feet wet with this follow-up to 1989's Batman, starring Michael Keaton. It’s not exactly overflowing with holiday cheer, but it does contain enough evidence of Christmas to justify making your family watch it this December instead of a traditional old talkie (or more accurately, shout-ie) like It’s a Wonderful Life. In addition to the ill-fated tree-lighting ceremony during which masked troublemakers burst forth from an enormous Christmas gift and wreak havoc across Gotham’s plaza, there’s also a Christmas-themed beauty queen called the Ice Princess, penguins who waddle around with candy cane-like torpedos strapped to their backs, and a pretty unforgettable mention of mistletoe.

7. While You Were Sleeping (1995)

Due to a comedy of errors, Sandra Bullock’s character ends up spending the holidays with a coma-ridden Peter Gallagher’s family—who believes her to be his fiancée—and falling in love with his brother (Bill Pullman). But even if this ’90s rom-com didn’t mention Christmas, the big sweaters, snow, and familial love give it a distinctly Christmasy vibe all the same.

8. Lethal Weapon (1987)

This classic buddy cop film, starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, has heroin smugglers, hand grenades, prostitution, and plenty of other R-rated, non-holiday content. However, the film opens to “Jingle Bell Rock,” features a drug bust at a Christmas tree lot, and ends with a rather heartwarming exchange between the main characters that happens on Christmas Day. Also, it’s written by Shane Black, famed for setting many a movie during the Christmas season—others include The Last Boy Scout (1991), The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Iron Man 3 (2013), and The Nice Guys (2016).

9. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis covers an entire year in the life of the Smith family, so there’s definitely no shortage of spring-, summer-, and autumn-based scenes and musical numbers throughout the film. But not even the sunny atmosphere and vibrantly-colored ensembles of the trolley passengers in “The Trolley Song” can compete with the extravagant Christmas Eve ball, after which Judy Garland’s character, Esther, warbles “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to her little sister. It was actually the very first version of the now-classic Christmas song, and it’s also probably the reason that some people consider the movie musical a Yuletide classic.

10. Die Hard (1988)

Lastly: This list would hardly be complete if we didn’t include Die Hard, the internet’s favorite so-called Christmas movie to argue about. Not only was the film released in July, its action-packed plot has nothing to do with Christmas, and Bruce Willis himself actually said it wasn’t a Christmas movie. However, Die Hard does take place between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, contains countless Christmas symbols (plus a few Christmas songs), and, at its simplest, is really about a father trying to reconcile with his family in the spirit of Christmas. Furthermore, Die Hard screenwriter Steven de Souza is a die-hard member of the “Die Hard is a Christmas movie” camp.

35 Fabulous Facts About Frank Sinatra

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

You know that Frank Sinatra was as talented a singer as he was an actor. That he had a collection of nicknames, from The Voice to Ol’ Blue Eyes. And that he liked to do things “My Way.” Here are 35 things you might not have known about the legendary crooner.

1. Frank Sinatra's birth was a traumatic one.

Born on December 12, 1915, in an apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, Francis Albert Sinatra was blue and not breathing when he was yanked out of his mother with forceps. Thought to be dead, the infant was laid on the kitchen counter while the doctor attended to his mother. His grandmother picked up the newborn, stuck him under some cold water, and little Frank wailed out his first song.

2. Those forceps caused some damage.

Those forceps left their mark on the left side of Sinatra's face, in the shape of a scar that ran from the corner of his mouth to his jaw line and a cauliflower ear. As a teenager, he was nicknamed “Scarface.” He also suffered a bad case of adolescent acne, which left his cheeks pitted. Self-conscious about his looks as an adult, Sinatra often applied makeup to hide the scars. Even with that, he hated to be photographed on his left side. The physical insecurities didn't end there: Sinatra also wore elevator shoes to boost his five-foot-seven stature.

3. Frank Sinatra was a rather large baby.


By Family photo. - Sinatra.com, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The future crooner weighed a whopping 13.5 pounds.

4. Frank Sinatra carried his own P.A. system.

When Sinatra was just starting out as a singer, he came prepared: he carried his own P.A. system to the dives in which he typically performed.

5. Frank Sinatra’s bad boy image was real.

Sinatra's bad boy image began with his infamous 1938 mug shot. The charge? The most Frank reason possible: “seduction.” The charge was reduced to “adultery,” then later dropped.

6. Frank Sinatra was one of America’s first teen idols.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the 1940s, Frank—or Frankie, as he was then known—became one of America's first teen idols. “The sound that greeted me was absolutely deafening,” Sinatra later recalled of a series of shows he performed in 1942 at New York City’s Paramount Theater. “I was scared stiff. I couldn't move a muscle.”

7. Some of Frank Sinatra’s screaming fans were paid to be screaming fans.

Not to take anything away from his amazing voice and his ability to excite the female throngs, but the bobbysoxer craze Sinatra incited (so called because the coed fans wore Catholic school-style bobby socks, rolled down to their ankles) had a little help. George Evans, Sinatra’s publicist, auditioned girls for how loud they could scream, then paid them five bucks and placed them strategically in the audience to help whip up excitement.

8. A short film got Frank Sinatra tagged as a Communist sympathizer.

In 1945, Sinatra made a short film, The House I Live In, that spoke out against anti-Semitism and racial intolerance. Ironically, a decade later, its liberal slant got him tagged as a Communist sympathizer during the McCarthy trials. (Sinatra never testified.)

9. The FBI had a file on Frank Sinatra.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sinatra’s FBI file had been started by J. Edgar Hoover after a radio listener wrote to the Bureau, saying, "The other day I turned on a Frank Sinatra program and I thought how easy it would be for certain-minded manufacturers to create another Hitler here in America through the influence of mass hysteria." Sinatra had also been investigated by the FBI for reportedly paying doctors $40,000 to declare him unfit to serve in the armed services.

10. Frank Sinatra helped introduce the concept album and box set.

In 1946, Sinatra's debut release, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, helped introduce both the concept album and the box set. At a time when long-playing records were still novel, Sinatra issued a set of 78 rpm records with eight songs, all with a theme of lost love. It sold for a hefty $2.50 (the equivalent of about $30 today). But the price didn't prevent it from topping the charts for seven weeks. Two years later, it became one of the first-ever pop music vinyl 10" LPs.

11. Frank Sinatra attempted suicide several times.

Sinatra's star fell hard in the early 1950s. He was so low that he even attempted suicide. Walking through Times Square, he saw mobs of girls waiting to get into a concert by new singing sensation Eddie Fisher. Feeling washed up, Sinatra went back to his apartment, put his head on the stove, and turned on the gas. Luckily, his manager found him in time, lying on the floor, sobbing. Sinatra made three other suicide attempts, all of them in the throes of his volatile relationship with actress Ava Gardner.

12. The Rat Pack didn’t call themselves that.


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With his pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford, Sinatra led the Vegas clique known as the Rat Pack. The name was coined by actress Lauren Bacall years earlier, to describe a Hollywood drinking circle that included her then-husband Humphrey Bogart and Sinatra. The guys in the Rat Pack actually referred to themselves by a different name—The Summit—playing on a 1960 summit meeting in Paris between top world leaders.

13. Frank Sinatra reunited Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

In 1976, Sinatra appeared on Jerry Lewis’ annual Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon and surprised the host when he brought out Dean Martin, Lewis’s former comedy partner, from whom he’d been estranged for 20 years.

14. In Hollywood, Frank Sinatra was known as “one-take Charlie.”

Sinatra’s preference for approaching film roles in a spontaneous, rather than over-rehearsed, way earned him the nickname of “One-Take Charlie” in Hollywood.

15. Frank Sinatra threatened to have Woody Allen’s legs broken.

Sinatra was married to Mia Farrow from 1966 to 1968, and the two remained close friends. In Farrow’s autobiography, What Falls Away, she shared that when Sinatra learned of Woody Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi Previn, he offered to have the filmmaker’s legs broken.

16. A magazine claimed that Frank Sinatra got his stamina from Wheaties.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1956, Confidential magazine disclosed how Sinatra managed to satisfy so many Hollywood starlets—Wheaties! The article stated, "Where other Casanovas wilt under the pressure of a torrid romance, Frankie boy just pours himself a big bowl of crispy, crackly Wheaties and comes back rarin' to go.” General Mills kept quiet as the tabloids talked up Wheaties' power to fuel Sinatra's exploits, and it wasn't long before teenage boys were stampeding the cereal aisles.

17. Frank Sinatra had two hits called “New York, New York.”

Sinatra actually had two hits called "New York, New York." The first was in 1949, from the film On the Town, and was written by Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green, and Betty Comden. Thirty years later, Sinatra cut "(Theme From) New York, New York," by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Originally from Martin Scorsese's 1977 bomb New York, New York, Sinatra turned it into his signature song and onstage closer. He also angered the lyricist, Ebb, by customizing the words (Sinatra had done this to a few songwriters, most famously Cole Porter), adding the climactic phrase "A-number-one." In 1993, Sinatra recorded the song again, this time as a duet with Tony Bennett.

18. Frank Sinatra hated being called “Chairman Of The Board.”

It’s a nickname he acquired while president at Reprise Records. According to his fourth (and final) wife, Barbara, Sinatra hated it.

19. Frank Sinatra wasn’t a fan of “My Way” or “Strangers In The Night.”

Barbara also maintains “My Way,” one of Frank’s most loved songs, did absolutely nothing for him. But that was a kind assessment compared to “Strangers in the Night,” which Frank called “a piece of sh*t” and “the worst f**king song I’ve ever heard.”

20. “My Way” has been covered by more than 60 people.

Sinatra may not have loved it, but “My Way” has been covered by more than 60 artists, including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, and Sid Vicious. It has also been recorded in various languages.

21. Several people have died after performing “My Way.”

Since 2000, at least half a dozen people have been murdered after (or while) performing the Sinatra classic. Dubbed the “‘My Way’ Killings,” the strange phenomenon has gotten so bad that some bar owners have removed it from the selection list entirely.

22. Frank Sinatra inadvertently helped name Scooby-Doo.

At least according to former CBS exec Fred Silverman, who found inspiration in Frank’s signature “Scoo-Be-Do-Be-Do.”

23. Frank Sinatra directed the first Japanese/American co-production.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1965, Sinatra stepped behind the camera to make his directorial debut with None But the Brave, which was produced with Toho Studios. It was the first Japanese/American co-production filmed in the United States.

24. Frank Sinatra has a special place in New York Yankees history.

“New York, New York” has closed out every one of the Yankees’ home games since 1980.

25. Frank Sinatra had his own pasta sauces.

The year 1990 was a post-Paul Newman, pre-Marky Ramone time in celebrity spaghetti sauce, and leave it to Frank to fill the zesty void. But despite being inspired by his mother’s very own recipe, the sauce flopped. Thankfully, you can now find Mama Sinatra’s recipe online.

26. Frank Sinatra got first dibs on playing John McClane in Die Hard.

Think some action-loving Hollywood scribe came up with the concept for Die Hard? Think again. The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 crime novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective. Because Sinatra had starred in the big-screen adaptation of The Detective, he had to be offered the role in its sequel. At the age of 73, he smartly turned it down.

27. Frank Sinatra didn’t like Marlon Brando, and Marlon Brando didn’t like Frank Sinatra.


MGM

Sinatra was always known as one of Hollywood’s most likeable stars, but Marlon Brando apparently didn’t agree. The two didn’t hit it off when they starred in 1955’s Guys and Dolls. Sinatra, who allegedly wanted Brando’s role in the film, referred to his co-star as “Mr. Mumbles,” while Brando nicknamed Sinatra “Mr. Baldy.”

28. Frank Sinatra briefly retired in 19671.

In 1971. Thankfully for you “Send in the Clowns” fans, his self-imposed exile from the entertainment industry lasted less than two years, before he returned for good with his comeback “Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back.”

29. There's an asteroid named after Frank Sinatra.

The rock, called 7934 Sinatra, was discovered on September 26, 1989 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.

30. Frank Sinatra sang one half of the only father-daughter tune to ever top the charts.


By CBS Television, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sinatra has a unique distinction in Billboard history: He’s the “father” half of the only father-daughter duet to ever hit number one—thanks to “Something Stupid,” which he sang with Nancy.

31. Frank Sinatra was an honorary tribal chief.

Specifically, the “Order of the Leopard,” the highest honor in Bophuthatswana, a quasi-nation state in apartheid-era South Africa. The honor was a show of gratitude from president Lucas Mangope for Sinatra’s performances at the maligned—and later boycotted—Sun City casino.

32. The Beatles’s “Something” was one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite songs.

Frank may not have loved (okay, he hated) rock and roll, but he was a big fan of the George Harrison-penned “Something.” The song became a sample in Sinatra’s live set toward the end of his career.

33. The last song Frank Sinatra ever performed live is “The Best Is Yet To Come.”

On February 25, 1995, Sinatra sang the song for a group of 1200 people on the last night of a golf tournament named for him. The words "The Best is Yet to Come" are also on his tombstone.

34. Frank Sinatra reportedly took some Tootsie Rolls to the grave.

According to celebrity expert Alan Petrucelli, Ol’ Blue Eyes was buried with some Tootsie Rolls, along with a few other choice effects, including cigarettes, a lighter, and a bottle of Jack Daniels.

35. A provision in Frank Sinatra’s will helped to ensure it wouldn’t be contested.

In order to ensure that his passing wouldn’t lead to any legal battles, Sinatra’s will included a “no-contest” clause, which essentially says that anyone who contested it would be disinherited completely.

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