5 Surprising Strange Early Works By Fan-Favorite Creators
Most of us contain multitudes, and those of creative people are perhaps weirder and more diverse than anyone else's. But don't just take our word; it's all right there if you look at all their off-brand early work most fans don't know about ...
George Orwell Defended British Cuisine And Shared His Traditional Recipes
George Orwell wrote Animal Farm in 1943 and 1944, and Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1948, and in between, he found time to write ... uh ... recipes and food essays. His first essay on food, from 1945, was titled "In Defence of British Cooking," and it was exactly that. In an effort to defend British cuisine from frequent accusations of being very, very bad, Orwell listed, at length, dishes you can only find in Britain. These included "Christmas pudding, treacle tart, and apple dumplings," "potatoes roasted under the joint, which is far and away the best way of cooking them," and "kippers, Yorkshire pudding, Devonshire cream, muffins and crumpets" which makes the whole thing sound like it was plagiarized from a Hobbit's cookbook. All these are delicacies you can eat in Britain and nowhere else, he argued, so it's unfair to say British food is awful. That may or may not make sense, but it's not exactly the kind of frivolous nitpicky bullshit you'd expect the guy who wrote against totalitarianism to obsess about.
The British Council obviously thought he did a pretty job because, next year, when they needed to advertise the country's cuisine, they tapped him. He wrote an essay called "British Cookery," which was supposed to tell European travelers why Britain's food was actually pretty good -- good enough to get them to book a trip, hopefully. Unfortunately for Orwell, that didn't quite work out -- although the editor called the essay "excellent," the Council didn't publish it. Depending on which source you read, it was either because an essay like that would have come across like a slap to the face of the British public right after they had been forced to ration food in WWII, or because Orwell was much less enthusiastic in this one and they couldn't use it. Either way, the British Council apologized to Orwell in 2019, extremely posthumously, and published the essay.
In it, Orwell tells us the British have "a simple, rather heavy, perhaps slightly barbarous diet" and "coffee in Britain is almost always nasty." Which ... fair, but you can kind of see why it didn't exactly come across like a tourist magnet in text form. Anyway, the essay also included six of Orwell's traditional English recipes -- including one for orange marmalade that his editor criticized for having "too much sugar and water." Which leads us to believe his editor may have been a raincoat sporting bear.
Gene Roddenberry Wrote Philosophical Speeches For The Head Of The LAPD
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry is not exactly a writer you'd expect to have been super-friendly to the police, let alone worked for them -- but he was a cop for seven years. He started as an LAPD patrolman in 1949 and gradually worked his way up, eventually becoming a speechwriter for police chief Bill Parker. While it sounds like it was probably a bullshit job, but Roddenberry says it wasn't at all -- he considered Parker a philosopher and said the speeches he wrote are "as close as I've come to writing pure philosophy." In other words, he and Parker turned out to have a lot in common.
Over time, Parker and Roddenberry developed a pretty close friendship. Parker had used Roddenberry as a "philosophical sounding board," and vice versa, and they also "exchanged a lot of confidences." In the early days, Roddenberry says Parker gave him free rein and encouraged him "to think out certain subjects," and later on, on the rare occasions Roddenberry disagreed with him about something and couldn't write a speech about it, Parker was apparently fine with that.
All in all, considering he had so much freedom and could think and write about whatever he wanted for at least a few years, it sounds like that job gave Roddenberry the opportunity to hash out a bunch of philosophical issues. This implies that Star Trek's utopian setting was partly shaped by, of all things, Roddenberry's time working for the chief of the LAPD. Truly, the universe has a powerful sense of irony.
John Hughes' Short Stories Are Full Of Misogyny, Racism, And Rape
If you asked a random person to name a director whose movies are warm and funny without becoming schmaltzy, they'd probably name John Hughes. He was called the "Philosopher of Puberty and the Auteur of Adolescent Angst," which is kind of a hamfisted way of saying that he treated his teenage characters with empathy, not condescension. So, the early short stories of a guy like that are probably going to turn out to be insightful and empathetic, too, right? Unfortunately, no. He wrote a bunch of stuff for National Lampoon in the late '70s and early '80s that today read like the kind of thing from someone who went on to found an incel YouTube channel rather than writing Home Alone.
For example, there's "Against His Will," in which a woman rapes a guy at gunpoint in front of his wife and parents because she's so "ugly fat" that it's the only way she could get laid. There's also "My Penis," where a girl wakes up with a penis and then orally rapes her boyfriend, while in "My Vagina," a boy wakes up with, yes, a vagina, and then gets gang-raped by his buddies when they figure that out. The story ends with him using the money he had saved for new skis to get an abortion.
Hughes also wrote practical guides for the magazine -- well, "satirical" pieces written as guides. We put "satirical" in quotes because those pieces have roughly the same worldview as your Trump-voting uncle's Facebook memes. In the "Hughes Engagement Guide," Hughes tells you how to detect "signs of future fat," how to do a pelvic exam really fast, and how to tell if your fiancee's ancestry is multi-racial (there are helpful drawings of an Asian-American, an African-American, and so on). Also, Hughes shares examples of "bullshitting" to not put out.
But the piece de reshitance is "Sexual Harassment and How to Do It!", co-written with Ted Mann, who went on to become an Emmy-nominated TV producer. The guide has nuggets of wisdom like "If you hire a woman from another field or with a background that is not suited to the duties she is to assume, you've got the glans in the crevice, or, if you prefer, the foot in the door." There are also descriptions of different kinds of secretaries, sorted according to their age (along with recommended ways of punishing and rewarding them), plus tips for how to smooth things out with cops if you get arrested. Mann was asked about this in 2018 and said that he doesn't remember writing it, adding, "It looks like one of our art director Peter's desperate page fillers." This sounds tempting to believe ... except for the guide fitting in perfectly with the rest of Hughes' writing. Odd.
Ridley Scott Made A Quaint, Old-Timey Commercial That Was Voted The UK's Favorite Ad
Ridley Scott is regularly associated with horrific aliens, dark futures, and robots with disputable humanity, but not the idyllic English countryside. Yet, that wasn't always the case. In 1973, six years before he'd direct Alien, he made a commercial about bread. English bread, specifically, made by a company founded in the 19th century that probably wanted to play up that heritage. Scott gave them exactly that: a heartstring-tugging ad featuring a boy straight out of a Dickens story pushing a bread-laden bike up a cobbled village road. The gruff yet friendly voiceover tells us that "'Twas like taking bread to the top of the world," and, yeah, you're probably gagging a little already.
(Ad starts at 6:13)
Presumably, this came after a few drafts set in a dystopian world where bread is delivered by robots powered by human blood or something. But anyway, the Brit absolutely loved it (and still do). It's so popular that the music it uses, Dvorak's "New World" symphony, is sometimes just known as "Hovis music." It's so beloved that, in 2019, it was voted the UK's all-time favorite ad. It wasn't even close -- the Hovis ad got 32.4% of the vote, and the first runner-up got 17.9%.
In honor of that, Scott's company Ridley Scott Associates teamed up with the British Film Institute to remaster the ad 46 years after it was made (which included re-recording the music with a brass band). The remastered version aired on British TV at peak times throughout June, making it a much more successful revisited property for Scott than Alien: Covenant.
Jerry Seinfeld Played The Exact Opposite Of His Seinfeld Character In The '80s Sitcom Benson
On Seinfeld, Jerry is a composed, successful comedian. The real-life Seinfeld's first TV role was ... the exact opposite of that. In 1980, he was cast in the sitcom Benson as Frankie, a joke writer for a U.S. governor (a series regular). The joke was that Frankie would be a pretty bad joke writer -- for example, at one point, he tells this one: "Did you hear about the rabbi who bought himself a ranch? Called it the Bar Mitzvah." When the only reaction is wordless disgust, Frankie asks if it was "Too Jewish? Too western?" Which feels like a character specifically designed to be the opposite of Seinfeld, the character and real-life person.
Also, it's surprising Seinfeld has the biological capacity for this bouncy energy.
The way Seinfeld was tapped for the show is kind of a humiliating story in itself. When he was doing standup at a club, a casting agent thought he could be a good addition to Benson and got him an audition for the show -- in other words, the agent saw his comedy act and thought, hey, here's someone we could cast as a dogshit comedian. Seinfeld didn't care about any of that, though, because he had $20 to his name at that point and happily took the part when offered. Expecting people to laugh at a joke writer who's bad at writing jokes was just dumb to him, but that kind of stuff doesn't matter too much when you're a broke comic, fighting a rat trying to steal that pizza crust you were saving for breakfast.
But the show didn't turn out to be much of a lifeline, as he was fired after three episodes. And in pretty much the crappiest way imaginable, too. One day, he showed up for a table read, as usual, but he wasn't given a script. Then the assistant director took him aside and just told him that, as it happens, they wrote him out of the show. There was no explanation, either -- he was just gone, and that was that. Understandably, Seinfeld was furious, and he told himself he'd never again give other people control over his career -- if he did a TV show again, it'd be with him as the lead. So, in a way, we can thank his embarrassingly short three-episode run on Benson for Seinfeld.
Top image: Larry D. Moore, Tinseltown/Shutterstock