In high school, I had a teacher that successfully convinced me how interesting history actually is. It was simple persuasion--writing the word "history" on the board and then erasing the "hi." His point being that all history is a collection of stories put together, culminating in one large story depicting the evolution of technological and ethical progress. It's a very simple concept but spoke to me in ways that my sexually frustrated high school drama kid mindset hadn't yet been exposed to. The history of the world was simply one massive story framed by expert storytellers. Up until that point, school was a place where I memorized pointless facts about random subjects. This idea of history changed my perspective completely. In just one semester, history evolved from a spectacularly tedious subject to a spectacularly fascinating analysis of the world I lived in. In my own little tribute to this teacher, this week's article is dedicated to a certain aspect of history--the origin story. Specifically, the craziest, most unique, and flat out coolest historical origin stories to famous things. Pop culture, historic, or the mundane. Everything has a beginning and this list is dedicated to appreciating just what these iconic creations had to endure to make their marks on the world.
90's Nicktoons Originated as Stop Motion Shorts and Sold Grapefruit Juice
Nothing quite gets us 90's kids excited like classic Nickelodeon. As a young boy, school was already seen in my eyes as a tyrannical prison of which escape was futile, but knowing that my Nicktoon pals were waiting for me at home was enough to make the days stretch on forever. As soon as I walked through my front door, I was on a one man war path, bee-lining to the TV. Practicing my recorder to get my purple belt in music class paled in significance to seeing what wacky shenanigans the "Hey Arnold!" crew would be getting into today, and you must have been feeling pretty brave if you dare stood in the way of my "Spongebob Squarepants." My point is that old programming on Nickelodeon was my jam and I was absolutely thrilled to discover the origins of two of its earliest and most famous shows- "Hey Arnold!" and "Doug."
To those uninformed, "Hey Arnold! was an animated show about a group of kids living in a Brooklyn-esque urban city. Pictured above, we see best friends Gerald on the left with Arnold on the right. Even to casual viewers, these guys are instantly recognizable, but it's their original 1990 appearances on "Sesame Street" that puts these characters in a whole new light. Arnold appeared as himself in three claymation animated shorts, "Arnold Escapes From Church," "The Arnold Waltz," and "Arnold Uses His Imagination." In 1993, "Hey Arnold!" creator Craig Bartlett used these shorts to pitch his series to Nickelodeon, resulting in the series we know today. All three of these shorts can be found online, but for the sake of time, "Arnold Uses His Imagination" can be found here.
Moving on to Nickelodeon's first ever Nicktoon, "Doug" tells the story of a kid named Doug Funnie and the adventures he gets into with his loyal dog Porkchop, best pal Skeeter, first love Patty Mayonnaise, town bully Roger, and the rest of his friends and family in the town of Bluffington. Being the first Nickelodeon hit, "Doug" was a massive icon whose popularity was inescapable. Get in your nostalgia time machine and check out the intro below.
Those "dooo-do-dooo-do-do-do-dooo-do-dooo-do-dooo's" are a guaranteed anti-depressant to anybody with two ears and a heart, but did you know that Doug interacting with a sentient and possibly possessed line was not his first appearance on network television? In 1988, Doug became an unofficial mascot for Florida Grapefruit Growers appearing in numerous commercials. Narrated by Lorenzo Music--famous for providing the voice of Garfield in the animated cartoons--these advertisements feature Doug performing mundane activities like visiting a fortune teller...
hanging out on the beach...
and causing a turf war between pelicans...
In his final appearance in 1989, Doug appeared in his famous khakis and green vest appearance we know of him today.
But just when everything is set in place and it looks as if Doug is pogo hopping his way over to Nickelodeon, a quick detour is put in place. Offscreen, USA Network confiscated Doug's pogo stick, dressed him as a character in an 80's fever dream, and forced on him hard labor.
Yup, that's Doug Funnie and his loyal pup Porkchop constructing a horribly irresponsible stack of televisions for the USA Network in 1990. Due to the success of these advertisements and network recognition, "Doug" creator Jim Jinkins was able to successfully pitch Nickelodeon his idea for the show. Probably with the help of a sentient line in the corner of the meeting making the neck slicing motion at executives.
A Former Nazi Interrogator Created A Mosaic Mural Found In Walt Disney World
The image of Cinderella Castle in the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida is one of the most gorgeous sights on the planet. Those that have seen this beauty can attest to the epic majesty this architectural marvel projects. To those that haven't, I make a solemn promise to you that it is something you must witness in your lifetime. I have been fortunate enough to see this beauty in person a countless amount of times due to my brief career working for the mouse, dedicating a large amount of time to explore every nook and cranny this baby has to offer. Every single square inch my employee-only access allowed me to roam has been noted and stored away in the deepest recesses of my heart, providing me a bit of lifelong magic to comfort me even on the coldest of nights. Among the immense details this thing boasts, the stunning mosaic mural lining the castle walls depicting Cinderella's story is a highlight.
The image above is just one of the many detailed canvas' guests can enjoy as they walk through Cinderella's castle, and while it is immediately apparent to anybody just how impressive these works are, what guests might not realize is the story behind the artist responsible. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Hanns Scharff. Comprised of the wrong place at the wrong time gene of John Mcclane from "Die Hard," the diligent determination of Harold Stassen, and the literal and metaphorical sweetness of Aunt Jemima, Hanns Scharff lived one of the most interesting lives history has ever documented. You see, Mr. Scharff's summer vacation to 1939 Germany just happened to accidentally coincide with the country's declaration of war. With the borders sealed shut, Hanns Scharff was trapped inside Germany, forcing he and his family to start anew with the little luggage they had. Scharff took a job in a textile business where he molded and crafted different artistic murals before eventually being drafted into the army years later. With front line combat as his destiny, his furious wife demanded he be placed as a German interpreter instead and was given the job. As an assistant to a high ranking interrogator, Scharff witnessed many different approaches to the art of interrogation--mainly torture. Immediately disgusted and horrified by treatment of their prisoners, Scarff vowed never to treat a detainee in such a manner. As Scharff grew and rose through the rankings, he became a head interrogator of downed enemy pilots and eventually Nazis. His approach to these interrogation sessions was that of friendliness, kindness, and utmost respect--he's essentially responsible for the Good Cop in the Good Cop/Bad Cop routine. One of the tools Scharff used to bond with his prisoners was discussing art. Most of his detainees appreciated the beauty of art and through long conversations discussing their passions for the subject did Scharff's desire to be an artist strengthen. Following the war, Scharff journeyed to the United States and began his career as a mosaic artist on the basis of the artistic skills he learned in his time in Germany. Initially met with massive success, it wasn't until 1971 when Scharff took on his more iconic work--the Cinderella Castle mural. Taking illustrations from Imagineer--the Disney term for "construction worker"--Dorthea Redmond, Scharff took over 22 months and 500 colors to construct the 300,000 piece murals. Forty years later, thousands of people walk past Scharff's murals every day and admire the gorgeous beauty on display. Had it not been for Scharff's poor planning on when to travel, his eventual dream to be an artist and create this famous mural might not have ever happened. Who knew that literally the world's worst timing to travel would eventually lead to a glorious mark on the world? A mark you can see in person for a mere thousands of dollars in tickets, food, and merchandise.
A Train Collision in 1914 Created The Modern Stoplight
The current incarnation of the stoplight seems so obvious that it's honestly difficult to imagine a time in which it was anything but the design of today. Red means stop, green means go, and yellow means to floor it so you don't have to wait at a stoplight. It's simple, easy to understand, and been that way for as long as you have been alive. For this piece of road rule regulation, we have three things to thank: trains, London, and a horrible, horrible accident, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Beginning in the early 1830s, a system was put in place to regulate railroad traffic. This system was a color coded pattern of lights that would inform engineers of the path ahead. Red symbolized stop--just as we know it today--green meant to proceed with caution, and white represented go. Engineers could now transport their goods and resources safely and efficiently with these light patterns...that was until the accident of 1914.
In a freak accident, the red lens had popped out of its holder leaving the white light behind it exposed. A railroad engineer saw the white light, assumed all clear, and collided straight into an oncoming train. Unfortunately, details on the accident itself are a bit fuzzy as it seems to have been lost to time, but the accident was apparently severe enough to question the design of this lighting pattern. The suits in charge agreed that white was not a sufficient color and in a probably very entertaining board room meeting decided on green to be the locomotives' guardian angel. This design proved so successful that London jumped at the chance to introduce it to the steadily increasing horse-drawn traffic to keep civilians safe and vice versa. With the times a-changin' and the rise of the automobile on the horizon, the traffic light stuck around to this day inconveniencing all workaholic fathers late for their son's little league game.
A Death in the Family Sparked the Telegraph
Samuel Morse you might remember only as the answer to the question you got wrong at last week's Applebees' trivia night: "who invented the telegraph?" Born in 1791, Samuel Morse had big dreams of a bright future. Morse became a Yale graduate in 1810 with his aspiration to be a renowned painter. After initial reluctance from his father, Morse left the United States to evolve his craft in England, eventually finding success while working with British masters at the Royal Academy. In 1815, Morse returned home with his new set of skills to take the US art world by storm. It was during this period of working and traveling around the country did he meet his wife Lucretia Morse (Walker). Over the next decade, Lucretia and Samuel would give birth to two children as Samuel's success in the art field skyrocketed.
Pictured above is Samuel Morse's "Lafayette," the painting he was working on while Lucretia was pregnant with their third child. Shortly after the birth of this child, Morse found himself on a trip to Washington D.C. for commission of "Lafayette." On this trip, Morse received a letter from his father informing him to immediately return home as his beloved wife Lucretia had become deathly ill. Immediately, Morse raced home to be with his love one final time, but unfortunately arrived too late. Lucretia had not only passed away in that time, but had also been buried. It was this tragedy that pushed Morse away from his life of art to dedicate his life to improving the state of cross country communication, resulting in the creation of the telegraph in 1838. The telegraph now symbolizes a valiant goal and a truly heartbreaking dedication to the love a grief stricken man once knew. All I'm saying is if Morse can reshape the entire status of communication for love, you can definitely text back.
Charlize Theron Was Discovered by Arguing With a Bank Teller
It's hard to imagine a world without Charlize Theron. Well, I mean it's easy, but it's simply a world I want no part of. Her contribution to cinema has been versatile and well documented, while her activist work should inspire any with an open heart. The way she carries herself in the public eye seems that of great maturity while also evoking a down to Earth sense of charm and humor. She clearly has a grasp on not just her career, but the entirety of the world around her; even confidently admitting she doesn't have all of the answers. To get a brief glimpse into Theron's mind, watch this interview.
After the life she has lived, it's hard not to love her. In fact, it seems as if Theron possesses some kind of magic in her that immediately charms everyone in the room... well, everyone except for a bank teller many years ago. Before I begin, let me back up a bit. Charlize Theron grew up in South Africa under the commanding dictatorship of an alcoholic, abusive father. Refusing to accept that life for her daughter, Theron's mother gunned down her father in a desperate act of self defense. Out of this incident grew an unbreakable bond between mother and daughter. In her teens, Theron decided to make her way to the United States in an effort to start that modeling/acting career she had grown up obsessing over. With her mother's support, Theron braved the new world ahead of her, fully aware of the financial turmoil she was in. As she says in the interview above, Theron really was living paycheck to paycheck and at eighteen years old, she found herself starving and broken. In a desperate attempt to scrounge together any amount of money, Theron went down to her bank to access her account. Unfortunately for Theron, the bank teller the higher powers that be chose for her was not having the best day. This unnamed teller began to accuse Theron of financial fraud because Theron was unable to access her account information. In the underdog story of the millennium, however, Theron summoned all fury she had bottled up inside towards her father, her financial ruin, and what I can only imagine the most destructive form of hangry a human being could embody and immediately fought back. Before Theron could finish her final deafening blow to this teller, a casting agent stepped in to introduce himself. Realizing how desperate this woman was for work, he signed her on to his agency. Within a few months, Theron landed the iconic role of Elle's Follower in "Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest." All it took was one fateful trip to the bank for Theron's life to change forever. It only cost a bank teller's pride to get there.
And the rest, as you know, was history.