13 Facts About Election

Reese Witherspoon in Election (1999).
Reese Witherspoon in Election (1999).
Warner Home Video

Filmed at Nebraska's Papillion-La Vista High School, 1999's Election featured budding star Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, a compulsive overachiever running for class president at George Washington Carver High School. She wages a campaign against Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) and his sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell), but her real enemy is teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who tries to sabotage the election in favor of the doltish Paul.

Alexander Payne co-wrote and directed the R-rated high-school comedy, based on Tom Perrotta’s titular novel. Paramount/MTV Films released the film in the spring of 1999, but the film grossed just $14,902,041, despite overwhelmingly positive reviews. The filmmakers surmised that Paramount didn’t know how to market the movie, which catered more to adults than teens. But the film garnered Witherspoon her first Golden Globe nomination (she'd go on to win one in 2006, the same year she won the Oscar) plus a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination for writers Payne and Jim Taylor. Here are some facts about the satire, which Barack Obama has (twice) called his favorite political film.

1. Tom Perrotta's book Election was included by the 1992 Presidential election.

Tom Perrotta told HuffPost that the inspiration for the novel, which was published in 1998, came during from 1992 election, when Ross Perot, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush vied to become the most powerful person in the world. “I was unemployed and got caught up in that race,” Perrotta said. “When it was over, I just felt a little bit bereft. I thought I wanted to write a political novel, but I don’t know anything about politics that anybody else doesn’t know.”

2. Alexander Payne didn't want to write or direct a high school movie—until he read Election.

Though Election wasn't published until 1998, producers Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger gave Payne a copy of the manuscript in 1996. “I didn’t read it for a long time, because there were a lot of high school movies at the time,” Payne told HuffPost. “I couldn’t be less interested in making a high school movie. And then finally I read it and I liked it. It was set in a high school, but it wasn’t a high school story, per se. Also what attracted me was the formal exercise of doing a movie with multiple points of view and multiple voice-overs.”

3. Reese Witherspoon was torn between playing Tracy and Tammy in Election.

At one point in the film, Tammy, Tracy, and Paul each deliver speeches to the school laying out their presidential platform. Tammy's contribution is, “Who cares about this stupid election?” “That speech alone made me want to play Tammy!” Witherspoon told the Los Angeles Times. “So I was terribly conflicted—I didn’t know if I wanted to play Tammy or Tracy!”

4. Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise were considered for the role of Mr. McAllister in Election.

Payne told HuffPost that Paramount wanted him to cast one of the Toms for the teacher role: Hanks or Cruise. “The one actor we all could agree upon ultimately was Matthew Broderick,” Payne said. “I met with him and he was only too happy to do the part, and I’m so glad he did. I never thought Tom Cruise would have been right for the part. Tom Hanks is a wonderful actor, but I knew at the time there was no way in hell he would take the part. It just felt right that we eventually got to Matthew Broderick.”

5. Chris Klein had never acted in a movie before Election.

Chris Klein—who went on to star in American Pie—was a senior in high school in Omaha, Nebraska, when Payne discovered him. “Alexander Payne was scouting our high school as a location for Election,” Klein told The Huffington Post. “[Principal] Dr. Rick Kolowski made sure that he introduced this Hollywood director to the resident theater guy, and I had made quite a name for myself from all the high school plays and then in the community theater. So he made that introduction, and a couple weeks later Alexander Payne called me up at my folks’ house and brought me in to audition for the movie.”

Klein read the script but turned it down because of a certain scene that he thought would upset his grandmother. “‘I can’t have my grandma see me getting a blow job,’” Klein told Payne. “And Alexander Payne laughed and said, ‘Okay, kid, listen. We’ll take care of it. Just come and do the movie. Just trust me.’”

6. The Omaha Public School superintendent was horrified by the Election script.

In the movie, Papillion La-Vista High School stands in for George Washington Carver, but Payne had a difficult time finding a school that would allow him to film. “I toured almost every high school in Omaha and selected one high school and was forbidden to shoot there because the superintendent of Omaha public schools asked to read the script and was horrified by it,” Payne told The Huffington Post. “So he forbade my using any high school in the Omaha public school system because he said we would never have a student and a teacher having an affair and some of the immoral behavior he didn’t want associated.” Payne went outside the school district to Papillion, Nebraska.

7. Alexander Payne signed on to direct Election because of one scene.

When asked about what attracted him to the project, Payne admitted that there was a single shot that won him over. “It has this one shot, and that shot so cracked me up that I wanted to have a whole film just for it,” Payne said of the scene in which Mr. McAllister is supposed to meet Linda in a cheap motel. “He puts some champagne in the sink with ice from the ice machine and he puts out Russell Stover chocolates. And then there’s the shot where he gets into the bathtub and he washes his ass and his balls and his d*ck. He’s squatted over in the bathtub washing himself. The whole film was pretty much just for that shot.”

8. Election author Tom Perrotta think Alexander Payne's portrayal of Tracy Flick was better than his.

In The Huffington Post’s oral history of the movie, the novelist explained that in the book versus the movie, “My Tracy is a little bit more of a sexual manipulator, and Reese’s Tracy is more of a go-getter who’s a little bit over her head when it comes to sexual matters. It ultimately was a good change for the movie.”

9. Paramount was skeptical about making an R-rated high school movie.

“It was not an easy movie to get made in a major studio system,” Van Toffler, a former MTV executive and executive producer of the film, said. “Let me just say that I remember being called and lectured at home on a weekend about what I was thinking trying to make what [Paramount Pictures] viewed as a hard R movie based in a high school, where pages were read to me like I’m a crazy man. Why would I think of making a R-rated movie in a high school? It wasn’t a typical Freddie Prinze-like high school movie, as you can tell. At that point, if you were going to make a high school movie, it should be PG-13, not R.”

Also in 1999, another R-rated high school movie came out: American Pie.

10. Election inspired Glee.

“To me the inspiration and Brad [Falchuk's] inspiration and Ian [Brennan's] inspiration was always Election, which had a really strong student and teacher story, which was a satire about ambition,” Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy told Deadline.com. “Our version was a little bit more heartfelt about teachers and the arts. But that’s how it started off."

11. Election's Tracy Flick became the quintessential model for female politicians.

“A lot of the women I’ve met in politics say, ‘Everyone always compares me to Tracy Flick,'" Witherspoon told HuffPost. "And I think, well, isn’t that wonderful in some regards? And then in other regards, why is there only one female political archetype? It was 15 years ago and we have no other really notable women. I guess now we have Veep, which is exciting and which I love.”

When Witherspoon met Hillary Clinton, the presidential candidate told her, “Everybody talks to me about Tracy Flick in Election.”

Because of Witherspoon’s convincing portrayal of the ambitious Flick, the actress told The Washington Post that she “couldn’t get jobs for a year after that because people thought I was that crazy and angry and controlling and strange. But yeah, um, I’m not.”

12. Election's Matthew Broderick almost got in trouble with the White House.

In the film's final scene, Broderick slams a drink into Tracy’s limo, then runs away. “One time we did it and I ran into this park that was across the street from the White House,” Broderick told The Huffington Post. “And Alexander says, ‘Just keep running! I’ll film it, and maybe that would be a funny ending, just to have this guy running into a park scared. But just run as far as you can.’” Broderick kept running but found himself near the White House. “I start to notice homeless guys and dog walkers starting to take notice of me and come toward me because there’s lots of Secret Service in this park who did not like this man running full throttle toward the White House. I think they thought I was going to throw myself at the building.”

13. Election had an alternate ending.

The original ending filmed saw Tracy and Mr. McAllister reunite at his car dealership job. He says to her, “Seems like I’m the last person in the world you’d want to see before going off to college. Are you trying to humiliate me?” She drives him to her place, he apologizes, and he signs her yearbook. This was a much softer ending than the one where Mr. McAllister, in a fit of jealous rage, throws a drink at Tracy’s limo in Washington D.C. Test audiences didn’t connect with the drama-free ending.

“The movie mined [the novel] for more outrageous and subversive humor,” Payne told HuffPost. “I think the audience felt—and we the filmmakers, too—that the rather melancholy ending did not seem totally in keeping with the very funny, subversive movie which preceded it.” Payne and Taylor rewrote the ending and filmed it in December of 1998, a few months before the film was released.

This story has been updated for 2020.

A New Ruth Bader Ginsburg Bobblehead Is Available for Pre-Order

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum
The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum

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The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a devout champion for feminism and civil rights, and her influence stretched from the halls of the Supreme Court to the forefront of popular culture, where she affectionately became known as the Notorious RBG. Though there are plenty of public tributes planned for Ginsburg in the wake of her passing, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum has a new RBG bobblehead ($25) available for pre-order so you can honor her in your own home.

There are two versions of the bobblehead available, one of Ginsburg smiling and another with a more serious expression. Not only do the bobbleheads feature her in her Supreme Court black robe, but eagle-eyed fans will see she is wearing one for her iconic coded collars and her classic earrings.

RBG is far from the only American icon bobblehead that the Hall of Fame store has produced in such minute detail. They also have bobbleheads of Abraham Lincoln ($30), Theodore Roosevelt ($30), Alexander Hamilton ($30), and dozens of others.

For more information on the RBG bobblehead, head here. Shipments will hopefully be sent out by December 2020 while supplies last.

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10 Surprising Facts About Richard Pryor

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Richard Pryor, who was born on December 1, 1940, is considered by many to be the greatest stand-up comedian of all time. Jerry Seinfeld referred to him as “the Picasso of our profession.” Chris Rock has called him comedy’s Rosa Parks. Yet the indelible mark Pryor made on the world of comedy only tells part of his story.

Like his career in the spotlight, Pryor’s world offstage was also highly compelling and full of shocking turns. He’s one of those people whose real life was so off-the-wall at times that it becomes tough to separate fact from fiction. Here are just a few stories about the brilliant and chaotic life of the great Richard Pryor.

1. Richard Pryor had a tragic childhood.

Richard Pryor had a tragic early life, experiencing things that no child should have to endure: Born to a prostitute named Gertrude on December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois, Pryor’s father was a notoriously violent pimp named LeRoy Pryor. For much of his childhood, Pryor was raised in the actual brothel where his mother worked, which was owned by his own no-nonsense grandmother, Marie Carter. With his mother periodically dropping out of his life for long stretches, it was Marie who served as Pryor’s central guardian and caretaker.

In 2015, The New Yorker published an article to mark the 10th anniversary of Pryor’s passing, which offered further details on his turbulent early life, noting:

Pryor said that one of the reasons he adored movies as a boy was that you were never in doubt as to why the women in them were screaming. As for the sounds that Richard heard in the middle of the night in his room on the top floor of one of Marie’s businesses, he had no idea what was happening to those girls. A number of times, he saw his mother, Gertrude, one of the women in Marie’s employ, nearly beaten to death by his father. Gertrude left when Richard was five. He later registered no resentment over this. “At least Gertrude didn’t flush me down the toilet,” he said. (This was not a joke. As a child, Pryor opened a shoebox and found a dead baby inside.)

2. Richard Pryor walked away from a successful career.

Early in his career Pryor found success by modeling his comedy largely on the work on Bill Cosby, which led to many comparisons being drawn between the two—a fact that Cosby reportedly grew to dislike.

There are conflicting tales of just how Pryor made the 180-degree change in style that led to him becoming a comedic legend. One of the most well traveled tales, and one that Pryor himself confirmed on more than one occasion, states that Pryor was performing his clean-cut act in Las Vegas one night when he looked out into the audience and saw Dean Martin among the crowd. If you believe the story, seeing the legendarily cool Rat Packer’s face made Pryor question what exactly he was doing and caused him to abruptly leave the stage mid-performance. Around this time Pryor moved to the San Francisco Bay area, dropped out of the comedy limelight for several years, and later reemerged with the more pointed, in-your-face style that made him an icon.

3. Richard Pryor won an Emmy for writing.

Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Pryor in Tomlin's 1973 TV special, Lily.CBS Television, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Though Pryor was better known for his work in front of the camera than behind it, the only Emmy he ever won was for writing. In 1974, Pryor won the Emmy for Best Writing in Comedy for Lily, a comedy special starring Lily Tomlin (in which he also appeared). He earned a total of four nominations throughout his career, two of them as an actor and the other two as a writer.

4. Richard Pryor made Lorne Michaels quit Saturday Night Live.

Back in 1975, Saturday Night Live was brand new, so at the time the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, wasn’t yet a powerful TV icon. Therefore, when Michaels stuck his neck out and demanded the right to have Pryor on as a guest host, he was really risking a lot. It took Michaels handing in a fake resignation to convince NBC executives to allow the famously foulmouthed comic to appear. Michaels himself had to implement a secret five-second delay for that night’s episode to be sure that any off-the-cuff, unscripted choice language didn’t make its way out over the airwaves. The delay was kept from Pryor who, upon later finding out, confirmed that he would have refused to do the show had he known about it

The episode, the seventh one of SNL’s premiere season, contained one of the most memorable and edgy sketches ever to appear on the show: (the NSFW) Word Association. Chevy Chase and Pryor’s personal writer, Paul Mooney, have each claimed to have written the sketch.

5. Richard Pryor lost the starring role in Blazing Saddles.

Pryor and Gene Wilder made four films together (Silver Streak; Stir Crazy; See No Evil, Hear No Evil; and Another You), but there could have been at least one more. Pryor was one of the credited writers on Mel Brooks’s classic Blazing Saddles and the plan for a time was that he would also co-star in the film, playing Sheriff Bart alongside Wilder as the Waco Kid. In the clip above, Wilder explained how Pryor’s infamous drug use caused him to end up in a remote city and subsequently lose the starring role to Cleavon Little.

6. It wasn’t a drug mishap that caused Richard Pryor to set himself on fire.

One of the most retold stories about Pryor centers around the incident on June 9, 1980 where he set himself on fire and took off running down a Los Angeles street fully engulfed in flames. Though he wasn’t expected to survive the episode, he eventually pulled through and spent the next six weeks recuperating in the hospital. At the time it was often reported that the cause of the accident was Pryor freebasing cocaine. Pryor later admitted that in a drug-fueled psychosis he had actually attempted to kill himself by dousing his body in 151-proof rum and setting himself ablaze. A friend of Pryor’s at the time has gone on record as saying that the idea for the act likely came about that evening after the two of them watched footage of Thích Quảng Đức, the Vietnamese monk who famously burned himself to death in 1963 as an act of protest.

7. Richard Pryor was married seven times.

Pryor was married seven times—to five different women. In the 2013 documentary Omit the Logic, a friend of Pryor’s—who served as the best man at one of his weddings—recounts how Pryor showed up at his hotel room door just a few hours after marrying Jennifer Lee, insisting that he already wanted a divorce. Pryor would get divorced from Lee the next year, only to remarry her 19 years later; the two were still together when Pryor passed away in 2005.

8. Richard Pryor had a soft spot for animals.

In 1986 Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease that ultimately left him confined to a wheelchair. Pryor was such an avid supporter of animal rights, however, that he actively spoke out against animal testing of any kind—even when that testing meant getting closer to a cure for his own condition. The biography on RichardPryor.com provides more insight into this part of his private life:

He's been honored by PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for saving baby elephants in Botswana targeted for circuses. In 2000, as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was preparing to open at Madison Square Garden, Pryor gave the Big Top's first African-American ringmaster, Jonathan Lee Iverson, something to think about when he wrote him a letter in which he stated: “While I am hardly one to complain about a young African American making an honest living, I urge you to ask yourself just how honorable it is to preside over the abuse and suffering of animals."

9. Richard Pryor won the first Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Beginning in 1998, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts began awarding its annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which "recognizes individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, best known as Mark Twain." Pryor was chosen as their very first recipient. In the more than 20 years since, he has been joined by an illustrious group of comedy legends, including Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Carol Burnett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Dave Chappelle.

10. Despite his deteriorating health, Richard Pryor never stopped performing.

Even while MS continued to rob him of his mobility, Pryor’s comedic mind continued cranking. Throughout the early 1990s Pryor would often show up at Los Angeles’s famous standup club The Comedy Store to take to the stage in his wheelchair. In the above clip from The Joe Rogan Experience, a few comics discuss what it was like to watch the all-time great perform in his diminished state.

This story has been updated for 2020.