14 Fun Facts About The Birdcage

Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in The Birdcage (1996).
Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in The Birdcage (1996).
WARNER BROS. HOME ENTERTAINMENT

A remake of La Cage aux Folles (1978), The Birdcage starred Robin Williams as a gay cabaret owner, and Nathan Lane as his drag queen partner. The two pretend to be something they are not when Williams' son (Dan Futterman), his fiancée (Calista Flockhart), and her parents (Dianne Wiest and Gene Hackman) come to visit. Here are some facts about the movie to read before the Dolphins leave you feeling betrayed and bewildered.

1. IT WAS THE LONG-AWAITED FIRST ELAINE MAY/MIKE NICHOLS MOVIE COLLABORATION.

Mike Nichols and Elaine May were an influential improv comedy duo in the 1950s and 1960s who both achieved fame individually in feature films. Nichols (director of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate) saw La Cage aux Folles and believed it could be remade as an American movie, and May (screenwriter of Heaven Can Wait, Ishtar) wrote the adaptation. "We've never done a movie from first to last together," Nichols said in the official production notes. "This is a project we've wanted to do for 15 years because we knew from the first that it was a timeless comedy with a terrific plot and a wonderful ending." Two years later they would collaborate again when May adapted Primary Colors (1998) for the screen, with Nichols directing.

2. STEVE MARTIN WAS ORIGINALLY SET TO STAR AS ARMAND.

Steve Martin was set to play Armand, with Robin Williams playing his partner Albert, but there were scheduling conflicts on Martin's end. Williams said he didn't want to play Albert anyway, believing he had already dressed in drag enough with Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).

3. NICHOLS CAST ACTORS FROM THE STAGE.

Nichols offered Nathan Lane the part of Albert while he was starring in Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor on Broadway. Lane said it was a "dream come true." Nichols also cast Calista Flockhart, despite minimal Hollywood experience, after seeing her in an Off-Broadway production of The Loop.

4. HANK AZARIA GOT THE JOB BECAUSE OF HIS WORK ON QUIZ SHOW.

Nichols liked what he saw in Hank Azaria, who played a TV producer in Quiz Show (1994). Azaria's role was expanded from initially playing Albert's dresser to Agador Spartacus, the couple's Guatemalan maid.

5. AZARIA WAS WORKING ON HEAT AT THE SAME TIME.

On his 30th birthday, Azaria worked on Heat (1995) until 6 a.m., then headed to The Birdcage set. When Nichols found out it was his birthday, and that he had been working for 18 hours straight, he sent Azaria home.

6. DAVID ALAN GRIER WAS SUPPOSED TO PLAY THE BUTLER.

Expanding Azaria's role, as Azaria explained to The A.V. Club, was Robin Williams' idea. "That first scene where I’m dressing Nathan Lane, getting him all dressed up? The maid/houseman was supposed to be a whole other character, who was supposed to be a black character like it is in the French version, and … I think he was going to be played by David Alan Grier. And they thought David was brilliant, but they thought that in an American context, the idea of a black houseman would be somewhat distasteful and have racist overtones. So since it’s set in Miami, they decided to make it a Latin character. And I was already playing the other character. So I think it was Robin Williams’ idea: 'Why not just combine the two roles and just let Azaria do it?'"

7. NICHOLS TRIED TO PREVENT WILLIAMS AND LANE FROM IMPROVISING TOO MUCH.

"We had a rule on the picture," Nichols said. "The actors would do the written script until I was satisfied and then we would do one take in which they could improvise. Given this cast, there were obviously some improvs that were insanely funny, but didn't fit the story. But there are moments all through the picture that are improvised and were perfect."

8. AGADOR WAS BASED PARTLY ON JUDY GARLAND'S DRESSER.

When Azaria couldn't figure out how to play a scene where Agador had to calm an anxious Albert down before a show, Nichols gave him some background to help. "Your character is partially based on Judy Garland’s dresser," Nichols told his actor. "Judy would panic before every performance and her dresser would panic with her and he would panic more than her so that she’d have to be the one to tell him to calm down, and that was the ritual they had."

9. A FEW WEEKS INTO FILMING, AZARIA REALIZED HE WAS IMITATING HIS GRANDMOTHER.

"I realized after about two to three weeks of working on it that it really kind of sounded exactly like my grandmother," Azaria told NPR. "Realizing it sounded like her also gave me a good piece of the character, because she was so maternal and mothering and loving, if I sort of had her mentality it was easy to be kind of feminine."

10. WILLIAMS' SLIP ON THE KITCHEN FLOOR WHILE PANICKING OVER THE SHRIMP WAS UNINTENTIONAL.

Williams' tumble was not on purpose. "And if you watch that little piece of film again, you’ll see me laughing and Robin laughing," Azaria promised.

11. NICHOLS HAD A SERIOUS CASE OF THE GIGGLES.

The director would laugh so much that he had to move his chair into another room. Williams once said Nichols would laugh so hard "they would have to put a blanket over his head."

12. IT FEATURES ORIGINAL MUSIC BY STEPHEN SONDHEIM.

Stephen Sondheim said it was fun to write "It Takes All Kinds." The song was meant to play over the opening titles, but when Nichols heard "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge, he changed his mind.

13. THE MOVIE'S SUCCESS WAS A PERSONAL VICTORY FOR NICHOLS.

After he showed the final cut of The Birdcage to his editing team in Martha's Vineyard, they all had a celebratory meal. “I was very emotional and very angry: I couldn’t speak all through lunch,” Nichols said of that day. “The film was so good, so strong. I realized I’d had no inkling of my anger at the people who had written me off. My reaction, instantaneously, was ‘F**k you, bastards. You thought I couldn’t do this anymore. Well, look at this.’ The Birdcage would go on to make over $185 million worldwide.

14. PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON LOVES IT.

Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) wrote in 2009 that there are two films "that without fail or question will make me stop dead in my tracks and watch all the way to the very end, no matter what else is happening or needs to get done." One was The Shining (1980). The other was The Birdcage.

Amazon's Best Black Friday Deals: Tech, Video Games, Kitchen Appliances, Clothing, 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.

Black Friday is finally here, and Amazon is offering great deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

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Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

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Video games

Sony

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Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

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Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

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Beats/Amazon

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HBO/Amazon

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Toys and Games

Amazon

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Casper/Amazon

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Haus/Amazon

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Ganni/Amazon

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12 Spirited Facts About How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Each year, millions of Americans welcome the holiday season by tuning into their favorite TV specials. For most people, this includes at least one viewing of the 1966 animated classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Adapted from Dr. Seuss’s equally famous children’s book by legendary animator Chuck Jones, How the Grinch Stole Christmas first aired more than 50 years ago, on December 18, 1966. Here are 12 facts about the TV special that will surely make your heart grow three sizes this holiday season.

1. Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel And Chuck Jones previously worked together on Army training videos.

During World War II, Geisel joined the United States Army Air Forces and served as commander of the Animation Department for the First Motion Picture Unit, a unit tasked with creating various training and pro-war propaganda films. It was here that Geisel soon found himself working closely with Chuck Jones on an instructional cartoon called Private Snafu. Originally classified as for-military-personnel-only, Private Snafu featured a bumbling protagonist who helped illustrate the dos and don’ts of Army safety and security protocols.

2. It was because of their previous working relationship that Ted Geisel agreed to hand over the rights to The Grinch to Chuck Jones.

After several unpleasant encounters in relation to his previous film work—including the removal of his name from credits and instances of pirated redistribution—Geisel became notoriously “anti-Hollywood.” Because of this, he was reluctant to sell the rights to How the Grinch Stole Christmas. However, when Jones personally approached him about making an adaptation, Geisel relented, knowing he could trust Jones and his vision.

3. Even with Ted Geisel’s approval, the special almost didn’t happen.

By Al Ravenna, World Telegram staff photographer - Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Whereas today’s studios and production companies provide funding for projects of interest, television specials of the past, like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, had to rely on company sponsorship in order to get made. While A Charlie Brown Christmas found its financier in the form of Coca-Cola, How the Grinch Stole Christmas struggled to find a benefactor. With storyboards in hand, Jones pitched the story to more than two dozen potential sponsors—breakfast foods, candy companies, and the like—all without any luck. Down to the wire, Jones finally found his sponsor in an unlikely source: the Foundation for Commercial Banks. “I thought that was very odd, because one of the great lines in there is that the Grinch says, ‘Perhaps Christmas doesn’t come from a store,’” Jones said of the surprise endorsement. “I never thought of a banker endorsing that kind of a line. But they overlooked it, so we went ahead and made the picture.”

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas had a massive budget.

Coming in at over $300,000, or $2.2 million in today’s dollars, the special’s budget was unheard of at the time for a 26-minute cartoon adaptation. For comparison’s sake, A Charlie Brown Christmas’s budget was reported as $96,000, or roughly $722,000 today (and this was after production had gone $20,000 over the original budget).

5. Ted Geisel wrote the song lyrics for the special.

No one had a way with words quite like Dr. Seuss, so Jones felt that Geisel should provide the lyrics to the songs featured in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

6. Fans requested translations of the “Fahoo Foraze” song.

True to his persona’s tongue-twisting trickery, Geisel mimicked sounds of classical Latin in his nonsensical lyrics. After the special aired, viewers wrote to the network requesting translations of the song as they were convinced that the lyrics were, in fact, real Latin phrases.

7. Thurl Ravenscroft didn’t receive credit for his singing of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

The famous voice actor and singer, best known for providing the voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, wasn’t recognized for his work in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Because of this, most viewers wrongly assumed that the narrator of the special, Boris Karloff, also sang the piece in question. Upset by this oversight, Geisel personally apologized to Ravenscroft and vowed to make amends. Geisel went on to pen a letter, urging all the major columnists that he knew to help him rectify the mistake by issuing a notice of correction in their publications.

8. Chuck Jones had to find ways to fill out the 26-minute time slot.

Because reading the book out loud only takes about 12 minutes, Jones was faced with the challenge of extending the story. For this, he turned to Max the dog. “That whole center section where Max is tied up to the sleigh, and goes down through the mountainside, and has all those problems getting down there, was good comic business as it turns out,” Jones explained in TNT’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas special, which is a special feature on the movie’s DVD. “But it was all added; it was not part of the book.” Jones would go on to name Max as his favorite character from the special, as he felt that he directly represented the audience.

9. The Grinch’s green coloring was inspired by a rental car.

Warner Home Video

In the original book, the Grinch is illustrated as black and white, with hints of pink and red. Rumor has it that Jones was inspired to give the Grinch his iconic coloring after he rented a car that was painted an ugly shade of green.

10. Ted Geisel thought the Grinch looked like Chuck Jones.

When Geisel first saw Jones’s drawings of the Grinch, he exclaimed, “That doesn’t look like the Grinch, that looks like you!” Jones’s response, according to TNT’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas Special: “Well, it happens.”

11. At one point, the special received a “censored” edit.

Over the years, How the Grinch Stole Christmas has been edited in order to shorten its running time (in order to allow for more commercials). However, one edit—which ran for several years—censored the line “You’re a rotter, Mr. Grinch” from the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Additionally, the shot in which the Grinch smiles creepily just before approaching the bed filled with young Whos was deemed inappropriate for certain networks and was removed.

12. The special’s success led to both a prequel and a crossover special.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Given the popularity of the Christmas special, two more Grinch tales were produced: Halloween is Grinch Night and The Grinch Grinches The Cat in the Hat. Airing on October 29, 1977, Halloween is Grinch Night tells the story of the Grinch making his way down to Whoville to scare all the Whos on Halloween. In The Grinch Grinches The Cat in the Hat, which aired on May 20, 1982, the Grinch finds himself wanting to renew his mean spirit by picking on the Cat in the Hat. Unlike the original, neither special was deemed a classic. But this is not to say they weren’t well-received; in fact, both went on to win Emmy Awards.