What You Didn’t Know About… Alton Brown

Alton Brown is the beloved host of Good Eats, one of the most popular shows on Food Network. His show is based on molecular gastronomy, which is the “application of scientific principles to culinary practices”. As a result, his show is usually half traditional cooking show and half Mr. Wizard’s World. People enjoy the show not only for its “wacky” style, but also because Mr. Brown teaches sound scientific principles that easily carry over to everyday cooking. For example, if Alton was making a spaghetti sauce, he’d show the scientific reasons why the aromatics needed to be added first, and why some form of alcohol needs to be added to the tomatoes to unlock alcohol-soluble flavors. Thus, even if you don’t use Alton’s exact recipe, you still learn how to make your own dishes properly. Which is good.

But there’s a lot you might not know about Mr. Brown and his show:

He was originally a cameraman! Actually, a lot of people know this. But did you know that he was a steadicam operator for the Spike Lee film School Daze? Did you know that he was the director of photography for R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” video?

He changed careers midstream! One day, Alton Brown decided that the quality of American cooking shows was lacking. Having little cooking experience, Brown decided to enroll in the New England Culinary Institute. He also considered himself to be a poor student of math and science, so he also read a considerable amount on both subjects whilst enrolled at the cooking school. So while it wasn’t much of a leap to go from cameraman to cooking show host, he had to spend a considerable amount of time learning about the subject matter!

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What You Didn’t Know About… Andrew Jackson!

Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States. He was known as “Old Hickory” due to his tough disposition; indeed, Andrew Jackson was someone you crossed at your own peril. But even though many Americans know about Jackson due to his being a war hero and president (and being on the $20 bill), there’s a lot about Jackson you might not know about, including some interesting “firsts”, “lasts” and “onlys”:

– Jackson was the last veteran of the American Revolution! Well, the last veteran to become president, that is. A very young Jackson – barely in his teens – served as a courier during the War of Independence. During this time, he was captured by the British, which also makes him the only American president to have been a prisoner of war. It is well-documented that, at one point during his detention, prisoner Jackson refused to shine to boots of a British officer. The officer then stuck him with a sword, leaving him with deep scars on the left side of his head as well as his left hand. This, combined with the death of his brother in the same POW camp, as well as the deaths of the rest of his immediate family either directly or indirectly at the hands of the British, caused Jackson to harbor an intense anti-British feeling for the rest of his life.

– Jackson was the first president born in a log cabin! Although most people think of Abraham Lincoln when they think of “presidents and log cabins”, Andrew Jackson was definitely the first American president born in such humble surroundings.

– Unlike Lincoln, Jackson was the first president to survive an assassination attempt. In 1835, Jackson was accosted by a mentally-disturbed man in the rotunda of the Capitol building. Amazingly, both of the would-be assassin’s guns misfired, and Jackson – showing his true colors – beat the man with his cane until some Congressmen could separate the two.

– His presidency was debt-free. During Jackson’s entire administration, the United States government was – for the first and last time – completely debt free.

– His inauguration party was the first and only “kegger”! Jackson’s inauguration party is well-known for being so out-of-control as to almost be a riot. Jackson invited “the entire nation” to the soiree, and thousands of people took him up on it. Attendees rapidly became drunk, and were packed so tightly in the White House that dishes, vases, and other objects began breaking all over the place. People in muddy boots stood on the White House’s fine chairs to catch a glimpse of Jackson. Things got so out of hand that staff began placing huge bowls of alcohol-based punch on the lawn just to get the crowd to come outside, and Jackson had to (famously) crawl out of a window to sneak away from the party. At another party later on, Jackson served his guests a 1400lb. block of cheddar cheese; it was consumed in around two hours.

– He was proud to be a jackass! In the 1828 election, one of Jackson’s opponents called him a “jackass”. Jackson relished the scorn and even went so far as to adopt the animal as his personal symbol. Jackson’s love of the jackass gradually died out, but the “jackass” comment and Jackson’s love for it would be the basis for the donkey becoming the symbol of the Democratic party.

– His pet parrot swore! In fact, his parrot swore so badly that he was removed from Jackson’s funeral!

– He was (supposedly) the inspiration behind a great gravy! According to legend, “red eye gravy” (a Southern favorite consisting of coffee, flour and pan drippings from country ham) was invented by Jackson’s cook during a military campaign. The cook had been up late drinking the night before, and at breakfast Jackson asked him for a gravy “as red as your eyes”. The only things the hapless cook had handy were the drippings, some coffee and some flour, so he threw those together and came up with a Southern delicacy. Of course, this is just one of those “stories”, so it probably isn’t true… but it’s fun to think that it is true, no?

– More firsts: Andrew Jackson was Tennessee’s first congressman, being elected in the early 1790s as the area gained statehood. Jackson was also the first president to ride in a train, the first known presidential candidate to be handed a baby to kiss (he declined) and was arguably the first president ever photographed (John Quincy Adams might have been first, but the exact dates the former presidents were photographed is unclear; William Henry Harrison was the first president to be photographed while in office). To see the picture, click here.

What You Didn’t Know About… “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”!

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is a hilarious comedy on FX. The show is about four friends that own an Irish bar in Philadelphia. It’s similar to Seinfeld in that the characters are vain, selfish, and self-centered. In fact, you might think of it as a low-budget Seinfeld for the Gen X\Gen Y crowd. But although many make comparisons to the megahit of the 1990s, there’s a lot about Philadelphia that’s unique:

  • The pilot episode cost $85 to make! The cast of the show were already good friends, so no money was needed to hire any additional actors. The show was shot in various locations that the friends could use for free, and since one of them owned a video camera, the only cost they had was for video tapes. Although FX has repeatedly stated that the pilot episode cost $200 to make, actual cast members have said that the actual cost was closer to $85.
  • The show has no original music! Although there have been a few scenes in the series where the characters sing popular songs – such as Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” – the show itself uses no original music. According to Wikipedia, the opening theme “is a piece of production music called ‘Temptation Sensation’ by Heinz Kiessling” and the rest of the music comes from stock libraries.
  • Charlie’s unattainable love is… his wife! One of the friends – Charlie Kelly (played by Charlie Day) – is in love with an unnamed barista who works at a coffee shop near the bar. She is completely unattainable to Charlie; she constantly rolls her eyes at him, sighs and asks “what do you want, Charlie?”. What makes this funny is that the waitress is played by Charlie’s real-life wife Mary Elizabeth Ellis.
  • The ending has backwards messages! The ending of each episode has the “RCH Production” logo, which features the friends wearing hoodies. A backwards message is also heard. In season 1, the message said “You are stupid for playing this forward”; in season 2, the message was changed to “Is it brown? Is it brown? Is it brown? Good work. Is it brown? Is it brown? Is it brown? Good work”. No, I have no idea what that means.
  • Frank’s MySpace page exists! In the final episode of season 2, the guys hook Frank (Danny DeVito) up with a MySpace page. Not only does the profile actually exist, he has only one friend (Tom, the guy who’s everyone’s friend!)

What You Didn’t Know About… “All In The Family”!

All In The Family was one of the most popular shows in TV history. While the show was a comedy at its heart, it was also known for taking an unflinching look at American society. The show regularly took on topics considered taboo for any TV show (much less a comedy) like racism, homosexuality, women’s lib, rape, breast cancer and impotence. Although just about everyone has seen the show at least once, there’s a lot you might not know about it:

– It was supposed to be filmed in black and white! Norman Lear, the show’s creator, originally wanted to film All In The Family in black and white to make it more “gritty”. CBS had only recently upgraded to 100% color broadcasts, so they vetoed the idea immediately. Lear opted instead to decorate the set in drab, washed-out colors as a substitute, so that’s why the Bunker’s house looks so “dreary”.

– The furniture cost thousands of dollars. Sort of. Archie’s famous chair (and the rest of the Bunker’s furniture) originally came from a Los Angeles area Goodwill store. Late in the show’s run – after All In The Family had become an American icon – the Smithsonian came calling, wanting Archie’s and Edith’s chairs for their American history museum. Lear donated the items, but then the show had to spend thousands of dollars creating exact duplicates to use in the show.

– The theme sequence was a compromise! The opening sequence of the show, which featured Archie and Edith singing a song together at the Bunker’s living room piano, is one of the most famous (and most parodied) in TV history. But the truth is that after filming the show’s pilot, there was simply not enough money left in the budget to put together a splashy introduction. So Lear came up with the idea of Archie and Edith simply singing at the piano. Several versions of the introduction were used over the years; one version even had an extra verse! But two continuing trends of the updated intros were Stapleton singing her famous line “and you knew who you were THHHHEENNN” in an ever louder and “screechier” voice, and both O’Connor and Stapleton carefully enunciating the last line of the song (“Gee our old LaSalle ran great”) ever more clearly, as viewers complained that they couldn’t understand that line.

– The show was the king of spin-offs. Sort of. “Spin-offs” are new TV shows based on popular characters in existing shows. For example, Kelsey Grammar’s popular doctor Frasier Crane was “spun-off” of Cheers into a new show called Frasier. All In The Family spun-off several shows, and if you include spin-offs of the spin-offs, it reigns supreme as the show with the most spin-offs in TV history. All In The Family itself spun-off Maude, The Jeffersons, 704 Hauser, Gloria and Archie Bunker’s Place. Further spin-offs include Checking In (a spin-off of The Jeffersons) and Good Times (a spin off of Maude).

– It was a show of firsts. All In The Family has a long line of “firsts” under its belt: the show was the first to be videotaped before a live audience (as opposed to filmed), it was the first sitcom to rank #1 in the ratings for five consecutive seasons (only The Cosby Show has matched that feat), it was the first show to feature the sound of a flushing toilet, the first show to use words like “spade” and “nigger” on a regular basis, and was also the first show in which all of the cast – Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner – won Emmy awards for their work.

What You Didn’t Know About… Peanut Butter!

Peanut butter is one of the most popular food items in the United States. Just about every household has a jar of Skippy or Jif in the pantry, and even the most confirmed bachelor could probably whip up a PB&J on demand. But there’s a lot of fun stuff you might not know about humble ol’ peanut butter:

  • It wasn’t invented by George Washington Carver! Peanut butter was invented by either the Aztecs or the Mayans and was used to make molé (sauce) for many dishes. Americans found many uses for peanut butter through the years, but it wasn’t until 1922 that “true” peanut butter was made. In that year, a Californian named Joseph L. Rosefield developed a way to take what had been a gritty, runny, sticky mess and turn it into the creamy spread we know and love today. In 1923, Rosefield licensed his technology to Swift & Company, who sold the peanut butter under the brand name “Peter Pan”. A few years later he would open Rosefield Packing Company, who would market peanut butter under the brand name “Skippy”. So how did George Washington Carver become the supposed inventor of peanut butter? He was an incredible botanist that deeply cared for the poor farmers of the South, and he *did* advocate that they plant peanuts in cotton fields as a method of crop rotation. He also published dozens of lists of uses for peanuts and peanut recipes, several of which included recipes for (the older, gritty) peanut butter.
  • The peanut butter and jelly sandwich was invented by soldiers in WWII! The US Army packed peanut butter in soldiers’ “meals ready to eat” (MRE) kits because peanut butter is a good source of protein that has a much longer shelf life than meat or cheese. Jelly was also included in the MREs because it too is shelf-stable and is easily spreadable on toast or biscuits. Some enterprising GIs put the peanut butter on one slice of the bread and jelly on another, then slapped them together to make a sandwich. The Army quickly noticed the phenomenon, and started developing ways to package pre-made PB&J sandwiches in MRE kits. Once the Army figured out a way to keep the bread from molding or going stale, they had a sandwich that was shelf-stable for three years… or more!
  • It’s called “peanut cheese” in the Netherlands! The word “butter” is a legally protected term in the Netherlands, and so it would be illegal to market it as “peanut butter”. So the Dutch use the term pindakaas, which translates literally as “peanut cheese”. The Dutch version of the spread also tastes quite different than peanut butter sold in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. It’s more savory than sweet, and tastes more like satay sauce than Skippy!

What You Didn’t Know About… “Friends”!

Friends was one of the most popular sitcoms in American TV history. Even people that claim to hate the show can get a chuckle or two out of it if they’re stuck on an airplane or in a Jiffy Lube waiting room. And there’s a lot of interesting trivia about the show you might not know:

  • The first cast member to get a movie role after the show went big was… Marcel the Monkey! Actually, Marcel was played by two female monkeys named “Monkey” and “Katie”. Katie played a central role in 1995’s Outbreak, a film which starred Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo. One wonders what that says about the rest of the cast’s acting ability!
  • The fridges actually worked! The refrigerators in Monica\Rachel’s and Joey\Chandler’s apartments actually worked; the cast and crew kept their lunches and drinks in Monica’s fridge, which explains why it was always so full. Joey and Chandler’s fridge was usually kept empty – unless a scene required something in the fridge, in which case the crew would fill it up. Since the crew didn’t want to do that very often, a camera angle was chosen such that you almost never see the inside of their fridge.
  • The episodes had similar titles! When people talk about a television show, they often refer to episodes with the phrase “The one where…”, as in “the one where Hawkeye glues Frank’s boots to the floor”. The writers of Friends noticed this phenomenon, and most of the show’s titles begin with “The One…”. Contrary to both popular belief and barroom trivia, however, not every episode was titled as such. The pilot was named “The Pilot”, the 100th episode was titled “The One Hundredth” and the finale was named “The Last One”.
  • The picture frame around the peephole was an accident! One of the most distinctive features of the show’s decor was the empty picture frame that surrounded the peephole on the back of Monica’s door. In the very early days of the show, there was a mirror in the frame, but a clumsy crew member accidentally broke it! The cast and crew decided that they liked the look of the frame, so it was left where it was.
  • Their apartment numbers changed! In the first episodes, the apartment numbers of Chandler\Joey’s and Monica\Rachel’s apartments were #4 and #5, respectively. The show’s producers quickly realized that those numbers didn’t match the view from Monica’s balcony, so the numbers were quietly changed to #19 and #20.
  • The show wasn’t always filmed in front of a live audience! Friends was almost always filmed in front of a live audience. However, there were no audiences during the filming of “cliffhanger episodes” (which is common in the industry, so that audience members can’t sell spoilers to Entertainment Weekly magazine). What’s not so common was that Tom Selleck always received a boisterous standing ovation from the crowd any time he walked on the set, so the scenes where Selleck walks on camera for the first time almost always had to be re-shot without an audience!

What You Didn’t Know About… Jerry Springer!

Just about everyone in the English-speaking world has heard of talk show host Jerry Springer. But there’s a lot about Mr. Springer that you might not know:

He was born in a Tube station! Jerry’s parents were German Jews that fled to London to escape the Nazi regime. During WWII, many London Underground stations were used as bomb shelters for civilians. Jerry’s parents were no exception, and it therefore wasn’t all that remarkable that Jerry Springer was born in an east London Tube station on February 13, 1944.

He once paid a hooker with a check! After being an aide for Robert Kennedy and unsuccessfully running for Congress, Jerry was elected to the Cincinnati city council in 1971. He had to resign in 1974 after police raided a massage parlor in Fort Wright, Kentucky and found a check Springer had written for “services rendered”. He admitted the faux pas, and was re-elected in 1975.

He was routinely mentioned on a 1970s TV sitcom! Jerry became mayor of Cincinnati in 1977. “Mayor Springer” was mentioned in several episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati, but never actually appeared on the show.

His show mirrored Morton Downey Jr.’s show! In 1982, Springer left politics and was hired as a political reporter for Cincinnati’s WLWT-TV, an NBC affiliate. This led to his own talk show, The Jerry Springer Show, which debuted on September 20th, 1991. Much like Morton Downey’s Jr.’s show in the 1980s, Jerry’s first TV show was mostly about serious topics like gun control, homelessness and abortion; the show’s guests included Oliver North and Jessie Jackson. Also like Morton Downey Jr.’s show, as time passed the show’s ratings started to fall, and more and more “outrageous” subjects were brought on.

There’s an opera based on his show! In August of 2001, Jerry Springer: The Opera debuted at the Battersea Arts Centre in the UK. The show was an instant success and was frequently moved to larger and larger venues, eventually settling at the Cambridge Theatre in London’s West End. The libretto of the opera is a bit complex to get into here, but it suffices to say that it contains a lot of foul language and content that would offend churchgoers. It’s so offensive, in fact, that the BBC received over 47,000 complaints when it aired a version of the show in 2005 – the most complaints about any show in British history!

What You Didn’t Know About… “I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck”

“I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech” is the official fight song of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech for short). You probably knew that already, but you might not know that:

  • Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev sang the song together during a summit in Moscow in 1958. The mood was quite tense, so Nixon suggested doing something to lighten the mood. For some reason, they chose to sing a song together. “I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck” was picked because Khrushchev had heard it on an Ed Sullivan sing-a-long during a previous trip to the United States, and Nixon knew no Russian songs.
  • “I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck” has been featured in movies: Gregory Peck sang it while strumming a ukulele in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, John Wayne whistled it in The High and the Mighty and Tim Holt’s character sings a few bars of it in His Kind of Woman.
  • “I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck” was the first school song played in space.
  • Because of the song’s many references to drinking, a student group backed by MADD often petitions the student government to change the song to something more sober. These petitions are heavily defeated each time they are proposed.

ADDITIONAL TRIVIA: There are only five FBS schools that do not have the word “University” in their official name. Georgia Tech is one, as is ACC rival Boston College. The others are the service academies: the United States Military Academy (Army), the United States Naval Academy (Navy) and the United States Air Force Academy (Air Force).

What You Didn’t Know About… “Match Game”

Match Game was one of the most popular game shows of the 1970s. It originally aired on NBC in a different format, but was resurrected for CBS in 1973 into the format we all know and love.

Ratings for the show weren’t that good initially, so CBS sent the show a “cancellation notice”. Back then, networks didn’t yank shows off the air like they do today, and Match Game had several episodes remaining before it was due to leave the air. So the writers decided to have fun with it: they took the show’s hitherto pedestrian “fill in the blank” questions and crammed them with lots of innuendo and double entendres. The new “spicy” version of the show became an instant hit and ran for several years.

Many folks noticed the distinctive microphone that host Gene Rayburn used on the show; few know that Rayburn designed and patented the microphone himself. It was built especially for him by Sony and was given model number ECM-51.

In his earlier days, Rayburn was a radio DJ on a show called Rayburn and Fitch. Rayburn once knitted a pair of socks as a publicity stunt for the show, and as a result he became interested in working with needles, especially needlepoint. He was frequently spotted in airports and restaurants and on airplanes doing needlepoint to pass the time. Match Game creator Mark Goodson even surprised Rayburn onstage during the taping of an episode to give him a needlepoint bag as a token gift for making Match Game the #1 daytime television show.

A 1974 incident where Rayburn told contestant Karen Lesko that she had “pretty nipples” has gone down in history as one of the worst bloopers in game show history (or best bloopers, depending on your point-of-view). Rayburn meant to say that she had “pretty dimples”.