15 Hardboiled Facts About Cool Hand Luke

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Fifty years ago today, Paul Newman introduced moviegoers to Lucas Jackson, a rebellious man who becomes a hero to his fellow prison camp members for his apparent fearlessness in Cool Hand Luke. Over time, he gets beaten down physically and emotionally when his numerous attempts to escape are thwarted, and he eats an insane amount of eggs.

George Kennedy—who won an Oscar for his performance—played Dragline, the chain gang leader who grows to respect Luke and eventually becomes his best friend. The film also boasted great performances from Strother Martin (Captain), Dennis Hopper (Babalugats), Wayne Rogers (Gambler), Harry Dean Stanton (Tramp), and others. Here are some facts about the anti-establishment classic, on the 50th anniversary of its original release.

1. IT WAS WRITTEN BY AN EX-CON.

While in the Merchant Marine, Donn Pearce was caught counterfeiting money and thrown in a French prison. He escaped, returned to the U.S., and became a safe-cracker. A waitress ratted him out and he spent two years on a prison road gang where he heard about a Luke Jackson—someone who was an excellent poker player, a banjo expert, and who had once eaten 50 boiled eggs for a bet. He wrote about him in his book Cool Hand Luke, which was published in 1965. Pearce sold the movie rights to Warner Bros. for $80,000, and got an additional $15,000 to write the screenplay.

But it was his first time trying to write a screenplay, and Frank Pierson was later hired to rework the draft. Pearce appeared in the movie as the convict Sailor and was the production's technical adviser. He punched someone out on the final day on set and was not invited to the film premiere.

2. JACK LEMMON OR TELLY SAVALAS COULD HAVE PLAYED LUKE.

Jack Lemmon's production company, Jalem Productions, produced the movie, so Lemmon had first dibs on playing the lead, but he recognized that he wasn't right for the part. Telly Savalas was then cast as Luke, but he was in Europe filming The Dirty Dozen, and since he refused to fly, the production had to look elsewhere for the starring role to get started on time.

3. PAUL NEWMAN STUDIED WEST VIRGINIANS TO GET THE ACCENT DOWN.

Newman heard about the project and asked for the part before he had even read the script. Newman, a Cleveland native, spent a weekend in Huntington, West Virginia, with businessman Andy Houvouras, on the recommendation of a mutual friend who was the director of the U.S. Office for Economic Opportunity. Houvouras drove Newman to various counties, where Newman talked to residents and recorded them. Everybody apparently knew who he was with one exception:

"He went to St. Joe High School to go pick up my sister Anne, and this nun walked up to see what the commotion was," Houvouras's son recalled decades later. "Dad said, ‘I would like you to meet Paul Newman,’ and the nun said, ‘Nice to meet you, Mr. Newman, what do you do for a living?’ She had no idea who he was.”

4. IT WAS SET IN FLORIDA, BUT FILMED IN STOCKTON, CALIFORNIA.

A crew went to Tavares Road Prison in Tavares, Florida, to take photographs and measurements so it could be rebuilt in Stockton. A dozen buildings were constructed, including barracks, a mess hall, and guard houses. Spanish moss imported from Louisiana hung from the trees. The actors stayed at the local Holiday Inn. Their mode of transportation to the set and back to their rooms was the trucks used in the movie. They rode on the backs of them.

5. NEWMAN JUDGED THE SHOOT WITH HIS NOSE.

Apparently, Newman had a good feeling about the film. “There's a good smell about this,” Newman told a visitor on the set one day. “We're gonna have a good picture.”

6. THE BOXING MATCH TOOK THREE DAYS TO SHOOT.

George Kennedy said he and Newman were both completely worn out from their boxing match—Kennedy from the fighting, Newman from the fighting and falling onto hard ground for three days in a row.

7. BETTE DAVIS WAS THE ORIGINAL CHOICE TO PLAY LUKE'S MOTHER.

Bette Davis turned down the chance to play Luke's mother, Arletta, which was a one-scene role. It went to Jo Van Fleet (East of Eden) instead, even though she was only 11 years older than Newman. For her single day of shooting, Van Fleet sat on a tree stump, 200 yards from everyone else, looking over her lines. Harry Dean Stanton recalled that Van Fleet asked him to sing to her before her take, and it made her cry.

8. THE DIRECTOR WOULDN'T ALLOW THE ACTORS' WIVES ON SET.

To get the men to feel like they were truly members of a chain gang, director Stuart Rosenberg banned women from the set. Even Joy Harmon ("Lucille") was kept away from the cast. She stayed in a hotel all alone for two days and shot her scene with just Rosenberg.

9. THE CONVICTS WERE REALLY COLD DURING THE CAR WASH SCENE.

Harmon didn't realize how suggestive the scene in which the men watch her wash her car was until she saw it in the theater.

"I just figured it was washing the car. I've always been naive and innocent," she said. "I was acting and not trying to be sexy. Maybe that's why the scene played so well. After seeing it at the premiere, I was a bit embarrassed."

When Rosenberg shot the convicts in the ditch watching Lucille, he used a stand-in: an overcoat-wearing 15-year-old girl. Despite the coat, Kennedy remembered her teeth were chattering from the cold weather. He also wrote, "Those guys shivering in a ditch did some great acting."

10. NEWMAN HAD TROUBLE LEARNING TO PLAY THE BANJO.

Originally, the scene where Newman plays "Plastic Jesus" as an ode to his mother was scheduled for the beginning of the shoot, but after Newman insisted on learning the instrument, Rosenberg delayed it a few weeks. When they tried it and the playing was unsatisfactory, it was bumped until the next to last day of production. Newman and Rosenberg had a shouting match after Newman still couldn't get it down. In what Kennedy remembered as a "tense, electrically charged, quiet" place, Newman tried again. When he finished, Rosenberg called "Print." Newman insisted he could do better. "Nobody could do it better," Rosenberg replied.

It was Stanton who taught Newman how to play "Plastic Jesus."

11. THE STUDIO DEMANDED TO SEE NEWMAN'S BLUE EYES.

Cinematographer Conrad Hall said the studio drove him "insane," and that his filming techniques were repeatedly questioned. Eventually, they explained that he wasn't showcasing Newman's famous eyeballs enough. He had to shoot a scene four times before shooting Newman "correctly."

12. FRANK PIERSON WROTE A WHOLE BACKSTORY FOR THE CAPTAIN TO EXPLAIN ONE FAMOUS LINE.

“The phrase just sort of appeared on the page," Pierson said of the film's famous "What we've got here is ... failure to communicate" line. "I looked at it and thought, ‘Now that’s interesting,' Then I thought, these words are going to be spoken by an actor (Strother Martin) who is playing a real redneck character who probably never went beyond high school, and it has a faintly academic feel to it, that line. I thought, people are going to question it.” So he wrote a backstory for the character.

According to Pierson's biography of the Captain, Strother Martin's character advanced in the prison guard ranks by taking courses in criminology, where he was "exposed to an academic atmosphere." Donn Pearce still thought it was too intelligent of a statement to be made by the Captain, but Pierson won out.

13. NO, NEWMAN DID NOT EAT 50 EGGS.

About that now-iconic hardboiled egg scene? "I never swallowed an egg," Newman admitted to a reporter.

George Kennedy got into the specifics in his book Trust Me: A Memoir. He wrote that Newman "consumed" as many as eight eggs. As soon as Rosenberg would yell "cut," Newman vomited into nearby garbage cans.

14. GEORGE KENNEDY PAID FOR HIS OWN ADVERTISING TO HELP HIM WIN THE OSCAR.

Kennedy took out $5000 in trade paper advertising to campaign for an Oscar. The ad read "George Kennedy—Supporting" over a still from the movie of Dragline carrying Luke. Even so, Kennedy was still surprised when he did take home the statue for Best Supporting Actor—so much so that he hadn't even prepared a speech.

15. DONN PEARCE DIDN'T THINK PAUL NEWMAN WAS RIGHT FOR THE PART.

Though Newman received a lot of acclaim, and a Best Actor Oscar nomination, for playing the part of Luke, Pearce wasn't impressed. “They did a lousy job and I disliked it intensely,” he said in 2011. Pearce thought Newman "was so cute looking. He was too scrawny. He wouldn’t have lasted five minutes on the road."

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

Amazon
Amazon

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If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

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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.