12 Facts About An American Tail

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According to Roger Ebert, An American Tail is one of the most depressing children's movies of all time—but try telling that to the millions of kids who adored Fievel Mousekewitz, his emigrating family, and the diverse cast of characters who (spoiler alert) helped reunite them. If you were one of them, read on for 12 not-so-depressing facts about the animated hit.

1. IT WAS DON BLUTH'S SECOND POST-DISNEY MOVIE.

Before striking out on his own, Don Bluth was an animator at Disney, working on Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, The Rescuers, and Pete's Dragon, among others. On September 13, 1979—his 42nd birthday—Bluth and fellow Disney animator Gary Goldman resigned from Disney in order to work on their own projects. They devastated the studio by taking 16 animators with them, resulting in an 18-month delay on The Fox and the Hound. Their first release, The Secret of NIMH, was a critical success, if not a commercial one—and it gained Bluth a very important fan: Steven Spielberg, who soon approached him about making An American Tail.

2. FIEVEL WAS NAMED AFTER STEVEN SPIELBERG'S GRANDFATHER.

Though Don Bluth originally thought the foreign name would be difficult for children to remember, the name "Fievel" was extremely personal to Steven Spielberg, so it stayed—Fievel was the Yiddish name of his grandfather, Philip Posner.

Spielberg's grandfather used to tell him stories about growing up in Russia, including one about how Jewish children were banned from attending secondary school. But they were allowed to sit outside and listen through open windows, which they did, even during snow and other inclement weather. A scene in the movie pays homage to the real Fievel's struggle for education when Fievel the mouse sadly watches American mice going to school.

3. FIEVEL'S AMERICAN NICKNAME WAS INSPIRED BY VOICE ACTOR PHILLIP GLASSER.

Phillip Glasser, who was seven years old when he worked on An American Tail, recalled that his grandmother would remind him to work on his lines every day when she dropped him off at the studio for work. "Hey Philly," she would say in a thick Bronx accent, "Time to learn your lines." Bluth overheard their exchange one day and loved it so much that he worked it into the movie—a mouse named Tony Toponi gives him the nickname "Filly."

Glasser is producing these days; here he is talking about his 2015 film, Life on the Line:

4. HENRI THE PIGEON WAS ORIGINALLY A SCRUFFY BIRD NAMED BOBO.

In early storyboards, the avian character was intended to look a bit scraggly and rough around the edges. When Christopher Plummer was cast instead, Henri was reimagined as the smooth, polished pigeon we know and love today.

5. STEVEN SPIELBERG WAS ACCUSED OF PLAGIARISM.

Throughout the late 1970s, artist Art Spiegelman had been developing a concept for a graphic novel he called Maus—a story that depicted Jewish people as mice and Germans as cats. He believed that Bluth and Spielberg had stolen the idea for An American Tail from him, but instead of suing, Spiegelman rushed to release the first half of his book before the movie came out to prove that he wasn't the plagiarist.

6. FIEVEL WAS THE SPOKESMOUSE FOR UNICEF.

Because "His immigration experiences reflect the adventures and triumphs of all cultures and their children," Fievel was announced as UNICEF's spokesmouse in 2000.

7. DREAMWORKS MAY NOT HAVE EXISTED WITHOUT IT.

An American Tail was jointly produced by Bluth's Sullivan Bluth Studios and Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. The success of the movie, along with that of The Land Before Time, spurred Spielberg to open an animation branch of the business called Amblimation. The company made just three movies before Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen formed DreamWorks—and most of the Amblimation employees were brought over as the "main source feeding DreamWorks' animation division." The first movie they tackled was The Prince of Egypt.

8. WRITER DAVID KIRSCHNER IS ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR ANOTHER POPULAR CHARACTER.

Before he was a writer, David Kirschner was a doll designer. That skill paid off a couple of years after An American Tail, when he designed another character that has its own place in pop culture, though a much different one than Fievel: Chucky, the homicidal doll from Child's Play.

9. SISKEL AND EBERT DID NOT APPROVE.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave An American Tail two thumbs down—with Ebert declaring, "This is the most downbeat movie since Return to Oz, which began, you may remember, with Dorothy being strapped down for electroshock therapy." Other critics tended to agree, but judging by the box office numbers, the public did not. The "downbeat movie" made more than $47 million domestically, beating Disney's The Great Mouse Detective, another mouse-centric animated film that had been released a few months earlier.

10. THE SCREENWRITERS HAD SESAME STREET BACKGROUNDS.

There's probably a reason An American Tail resonated with children, despite the serious subject matter: Thanks to decades of working on Sesame Street, the screenwriters knew how to talk to kids.

Screenplay writer Judy Freudberg was a longtime Sesame Street resident with 35 years under her belt. Freudberg joined the show as an assistant in the music department and ended up as a writer. Fellow screenwriter Tony Geiss also wrote for Sesame Street, including "Don't Eat the Pictures."

11. NO ONE EXPECTED "SOMEWHERE OUT THERE" TO DO SO WELL.

Songwriting team Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann were given four weeks to write four songs for the movie with James Horner. They didn't think they had written a hit, but after Spielberg listened, he was convinced that "Somewhere Out There" could be a Top 40 hit. He was right—the Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram duet peaked at #2 on the charts and won two Grammy Awards. It was also nominated for an Oscar, but lost to "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun.

12. THERE WERE THREE MORE MOVIES.

Most people know that there was a sequel to An American Tail, in which Fievel and pals head West to seek their fortunes. But there were two more movies after that. An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island and An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster came out in 1998 and 1999, respectively, and went straight to video.

12 Good Ol' Facts About The Dukes of Hazzard

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When The Dukes of Hazzard premiered on January 26, 1979, it was intended to be a temporary patch in CBS’s primetime schedule until The Incredible Hulk returned. Only nine episodes were ordered, and few executives at the network had any expectation that the series—about two amiable brothers at odds with the corrupt law enforcement of Hazzard County—would become both a ratings powerhouse and a merchandising bonanza. Check out some of these lesser-known facts about the Duke boys, their extended family, and the gravity-defying General Lee.

1. CBS's chairman hated The Dukes of Hazzard.

CBS chairman William Paley never quite bought into the idea of spinning his opinion to match the company line. Having built CBS from a radio station to one of the “Big Three” television networks, he had harvested talent as diverse as Norman Lear and Lucille Ball, a marked contrast to the Southern-fried humor of The Dukes of Hazzard. In his 80s when it became a top 10 series and seeing no reason to censor himself, Paley repeatedly and publicly described the show as “lousy.”

2. The Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee got 35,000 fan letters a month.


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While John Schneider and Tom Wopat were the ostensible stars of the show, both the actors and the show's producers quickly found out that the main attraction was the 1969 Dodge Charger—dubbed the General Lee—that trafficked brothers Bo and Luke Duke from one caper to another. Of the 60,000 letters the series was receiving every month in 1981, 35,000 wanted more information on or pictures of the car.

3. Dennis Quaid wanted to be The Dukes of Hazzard's Luke Duke—on one condition.

When the show began casting in 1978, producers threw out a wide net searching for the leads. Dennis Quaid was among those interested in the role of Luke Duke—which eventually went to Wopat—but he had a condition: he would only agree to the show if his then-wife, P.J. Soles, was cast at the Dukes’ cousin, Daisy. Soles wasn’t a proper fit for the supporting part, which put Quaid off; Catherine Bach was eventually cast as Daisy.

4. John Schneider pretended to be a redneck for his Dukes of Hazzard audition.

New York native Schneider was only 18 years old when he went in to read for the role of Bo Duke. The problem: producers wanted someone 24 to 30 years old. Schneider lied about his age and passed himself off as a Southern archetype, strutting in wearing a cowboy hat, drinking a beer, and spitting tobacco. He also told them he could do stunt driving. It was a good enough performance to land him the show.

5. The Dukes of Hazzard co-stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat met while taking a poop.

After Schneider was cast, the show needed to locate an actor who could complement Bo. Stage actor Wopat was flown in for a screen test; Schneider happened to be in the bathroom when Wopat walked in after him. The two began talking about music—Schneider had seen a guitar under the stall door—and found they had an easy camaraderie. After flushing, the two did a scene. Wopat was hired immediately.

6. Daisy's Dukes needed a tweak on The Dukes of Hazzard.

Bach’s omnipresent jean shorts were such a hit that any kind of cutoffs quickly became known as “Daisy Dukes,” after her character. But they were so skimpy that the network was concerned censors wouldn’t allow them. A negotiation began, and it was eventually decided that Bach would wear some extremely sheer pantyhose to make sure there were no clothing malfunctions.

7. Nancy Reagan was fan of The Dukes of Hazzard's Daisy.

Shirley Moore, Bach’s former grade school teacher, went on to work in the White House. After Bach sent her a poster, she was surprised to hear back that then-First Lady Nancy Reagan was enamored with it. “I’m the envy of the White House and I’m having your poster framed,” Moore wrote in a letter. “Mrs. Reagan saw the picture and fell in love with it.” Bach sent more posters, which presumably became part of the decor during the Reagan administration.

8. The Dukes of Hazzard's stars had some very bizarre contract demands.

Wopat and Schneider famously walked off the series in 1982 after demanding a cut of the show’s massive merchandising revenue—which was, by one estimate, more than $190 million in 1981 alone. They were replaced with Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer, “cousins” of the Duke boys, who were reviled by fans for being scabs. The two leads eventually came back, but it wasn’t the only time Warner Bros. had to deal with irate actors. James Best, who portrayed crooked sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, refused to film five episodes because he had no private dressing room in which to change his clothes; the production just hosed him down when he got dirty. Ben Jones, who played “Cooter” the mechanic, briefly left because he wanted his character to sport a beard and producers preferred he be clean-shaven.

9. A miniature car was used for some stunts in The Dukes of Hazzard.

As established, the General Lee was a primary attraction for viewers of the series. For years, the show wrecked dozens of Chargers by jumping, crashing, and otherwise abusing them, which created some terrific footage. For its seventh and final season in 1985, the show turned to a miniature effects team in an effort to save on production costs: it was cheaper to mangle a Hot Wheels-sized model than the real thing. “It was a source of embarrassment to all of us on the show,” Wopat told E!.

10. The Dukes of Hazzard's famous "hood slide" was an accident.

A staple—and, eventually, cliché—of action films everywhere, the slide over the hood was popularized by Tom Wopat. While it may have been tempting to take credit, Wopat said it was unintentional and that the first time he tried clearing the hood, the car’s antenna wound up injuring him.

11. The Dukes of Hazzard cartoon went international.


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Warner Bros. capitalized on the show’s phenomenal popularity with an animated series, The Dukes, which was produced by Hanna-Barbera and aired in 1983. Taking advantage of the form, the Duke boys traveled internationally, racing Boss Hogg through Greece or Hong Kong. Perhaps owing to the fact that the live-action series was already considered enough of a cartoon, the animated series only lasted 20 episodes.

12. In 2015, Warner Bros. banned the Confederate flag from The Dukes of Hazzard merchandising.

At the time the series originally aired, little was made of the General Lee sporting a Confederate flag on its hood. In 2015, after then-South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley spoke out against the depiction of the flag in popular culture, Warner Bros. elected to stop licensing products with the original roof. The company announced that all future Dukes merchandise would drop the design element. Schneider disagreed with the decision, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “Is the flag used as such in other applications? Yes, but certainly not on the Dukes ... Labeling anyone who has the flag a ‘racist’ seems unfair to those who are clearly ‘never meanin’ no harm.'”

8 Surprising Facts About Paul Newman

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With roles as varied as pool shark “Fast” Eddie Felson in 1961’s The Hustler (and 1986's The Color of Money) and alcoholic lawyer Frank Galvin in 1982’s The Verdict, Paul Newman never conformed to type. The versatile actor spent decades as a movie star, auto racer, and part-time salad dressing pitchman. In honor of what would have been Newman’s 95th birthday on January 26, 2020, take a look at some lesser-known details of the performer’s life and career.

1. Paul Newman originally wanted to be a football player.

Born in Cleveland and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Paul Newman was the offspring of Arthur, a sporting goods store owner, and Teresa, whose love of theater eventually proved contagious. But Newman originally had his sights set on a sports career. He played football in high school and college before enlisting in the U.S. Navy Air Corps, where he served as a radio operator (as he was ineligible to be a pilot due to being colorblind).

When Newman returned home in 1946, he attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio on a football scholarship. After getting arrested for fighting and being kicked off the team, Newman decided to shift his major to theater. He eventually wound up in summer stock and then the Yale School of Drama before heading off to be a full-time actor in New York.

2. Paul Newman thought his first film was the worst movie ever made.

After stints on stage and in television, including roles in Playhouse 90, Newman was offered the starring role in 1954’s The Silver Chalice, about a Greek slave who crafts the cup used during the Last Supper. While the $1000 weekly salary was welcome, the film was not. Newman later asked friends to sit through it while drubbing it as the worst film ever made. He had better luck two years later when he played boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). In 1958, Newman earned his first of 10 Academy Award nominations for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

3. Paul Newman was often mistaken for Marlon Brando.

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward standing outdoors, circa 1962
Paul Newman and wife Joanne Woodward, circa 1962.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Early in their respective careers, Newman was regularly approached by people who thought he was Marlon Brando. Rather than correct them, he would oblige their request for an autograph by signing, “Best Wishes, Marlon Brando.”

4. Paul Newman frequently enjoyed faking his own death.

Newman, who was described by most who knew him as an affable man, had a mischievous streak that often manifested in practical jokes on his directors. A frequent target was George Roy Hill, who directed Newman in 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1973’s The Sting, and 1977’s Slap Shot. Newman cut Hill’s desk and car in half during filming of the first two films. While making Slap Shot, he crawled behind the wheel of a wrecked car and pretended he had been in an accident, much to Hill’s horror.

While making 1960’s Exodus, Newman pranked director Otto Preminger by tossing a dummy off a building knowing Preminger would think it was him: Preminger collapsed in shock. He repeated the joke during shooting of 1973’s The MacKintosh Man, tossing another dummy off a 60-foot building in front of director John Huston.

5. A movie introduced Paul Newman to racing.

It was starring in the 1969 racing film Winning that led Newman down a path of competitive racing in his private life. In 1972, Newman started driving on an amateur level before winning his first professional race in 1982. At age 70, he was part of the winning team in the 1995 Daytona 24-Hours sports car endurance race and continued to drive through 2005. The hobby was one of the few things that could get Newman, who was notoriously press-shy, to open up to media. “I’ll always talk about racing because the people are interesting and fun, the sport is a lot more exciting than anything else I do, and nobody cares that I’m an actor,” Newman said. “I wish I could spend all my time at the racetrack.”

6. Richard Nixon considered Paul Newman an enemy.

Actor Paul Newman is pictured in Venice, Italy in 1963
Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images

President Richard Nixon, who was no stranger to controversy, liked to keep tabs on people he considered volatile and in opposition to his politics. While that normally included political figures, his “enemies list” also included Newman. The actor earned the honor by supporting 1968 presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey and being an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. Oddly, Newman and Nixon had some personal history: Both men shared use of a Jaguar on loan from an automobile dealer. When Newman learned that Nixon was driving the car during part of the week, he left a note saying Nixon should find no trouble operating a car with a “tricky clutch,” a nod to Nixon’s “Tricky Dick” nickname. When Nixon gathered his list of rivals in 1971, Newman’s name was on it. The actor later got a copy and had it framed.

7. Martha Stewart helped put Paul Newman’s salad dressing on the map.

Today it's not uncommon for major actors to lend their images to food and alcoholic beverages. In the early 1980s, it was unusual, though Newman wasn’t looking to make history—only salad dressing. The actor enjoyed mixing an oil and vinegar blend and giving it out to friends and family around the holidays. With friend A.E. Hotchner, Newman bottled a batch and dispensed it over the 1980 Christmas season. Martha Stewart, who was then a caterer, was living in Newman's neighborhood at the time and reported a blind taste test was in favor of the dressing. Newman agreed to put his face on the bottle and call it Newman’s Own. The dressing and the foods to come—including spaghetti sauce—generated profits that Newman donated entirely to charity. As of 2015, the company has delivered an estimated $430 million to charitable causes.

8. Paul Newman once offered part of his salary to a co-star.

While making the 1998 film Twilight with Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon, Newman was surprised to discover that both he and Hackman were making considerably more than Sarandon, despite all three receiving equal billing. Sarandon told the BBC in 2018 that Newman then offered to give up a portion of his salary to make things equitable.

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