WTF Fun Fact 12927 – Sidney Poitier Was Once Homeless

When the legendary Sidney Poitier died in January of 2022, people who paid tribute to him remembered an interview from 1985 in which he told ABC News that he arrived in NYC with $3 to his name, worked as a dishwasher, and was homeless.

Working his way up

If you’re over 40, you probably immediately recognize the name Sidney Poitier, even if you never sat down and watched “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.” If you’re lucky, you’ve seen him in movies such as “In the Heat of the Night” and more. Poitier was the first Black person to win an Academy Award for lead actor.

But his beginnings were far more humble. He arrived in New York City from his home in the Bahamas with dreams of being an actor but was quickly dismissed. According to his obituary in the LA Times (cited below):

“It was the most unlikely of beginnings. Newly arrived from the Bahamas with a thick West Indian accent, Sidney Poitier fumbled his lines so badly when he tried out for the American Negro Theatre in Harlem that he was advised he’d be better off getting a job as a dishwasher.

Humiliated but unbroken, Poitier bought a $13 radio and spent hours listening to the announcers, mimicking their pronunciation and the rhythms of their speech. When he returned to the theater, his audition was little better, but when another unknown actor, Harry Belafonte, pulled out of a performance, Poitier stepped into the limelight.”

Poitier’s time homeless on the streets of NYC

While his subsequent rise to stardom was the stuff dreams are made of, in 1985 he sat down with ABC News to describe those early days in New York working as a dishwasher. And with the dignity he seemed to exude so effortlessly, he dropped the bombshell that he once used to sleep in the public toilets on the streets of the city.

They cost a nickel to get into, so he’d put in his money, prop his feet up against the stall door, and sleep “uncomfortably” for the night until it was time to go back to work or auditions.

Poitier’s first film came out in 1950 and was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. In “No Way Out” he played an intern in a hospital prison ward in a film that explored racial prejudice.

At the time, Black actors had such minor roles as maids and janitors that they could be easily cut out of the films when they aired in the U.S. South.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Sidney Poitier, trailblazing star who helped break down Hollywood color barriers, dies at 94” — LA Times

WTF Fun Fact 12620 – Home Alone’s Spider Guest Star

There have been some famous and controversial guest stars in the Home Alone movies, but this one takes the cake.

We know it came out a long time ago (1990, to be exact), but perhaps you’ve seen the original Home Alone movie recently. And if you have, you likely remember the scene when bad-guy Marv, played by Daniel Stern, gets caught up in Kevin McAllister’s (Macauley Caulkin) set of booby traps. In one particularly cringe-worthy scene, he ends up with a tarantula on his face.

Now, tarantulas are venomous, but that venom doesn’t do humans any real harm. The worst that can happen is that they bite you and it hurts. Still, most of us want to avoid that.

Normally, a life-like tarantula would be created by a props department for use in a movie. And Home Alone’s propmasters did, indeed, make a spider for the scene. It’s just not the one that ended up on David Stern’s face. That one was real. And his name was Barry.

Stern told the story in a long Facebook post that read:

“I’ve talked about the stunt guys doing crazy things, I’ve talked about my love of doing physical comedy, but one of the most surreal moments of the film was the scene with the tarantula crawling across my face. People who meet me are always curious if the tarantula was real, if my scream was real, and if I was scared, crazy or both. The answer to all three of those questions is “Yes.”

My memory might be off and I will happily stand corrected if anybody has better info but here is how I remember it:

When I first read the script and talked to Chris Columbus, I thought the tarantula in the scene was going to be a mechanical one and when I showed up on set, sure enough the incredible crew in the prop department had made a very life-like spider replica which could move a bit, as well as a version that didn’t move. I told them I thought I could help sell it, with my great acting abilities and all… They were polite but not convinced. To insure that the “gag” was going to work, they brought in a different crew member, this one from the animal wrangling department. He had a cage and in this cage was an exact replica of the replica that the prop department had made. But you could definitely see by the way it moved that this was no fake, but a creature of royalty in the natural world. I was a little intimidated for the first time in the movie. The wrangler introduced me to “Barry the Tarantula” (possibly mis-remembering his name, apologies). They had Barry crawl around on my hand and head. I asked if Barry was trained and was told they had been working with him for a few days but tarantulas are kind of tough to train. I asked if his poison had been removed, and was told that if the poison was removed, Barry would die. I said, “Right, but if the poison isn’t removed, then I’m gonna die. See where I’m going here?!” “Just don’t make any sudden, threatening moves and you’ll be fine.” “But I’m going to be screaming in Barry’s face. Do you think he’ll feel threatened by that?!” “Barry doesn’t have ears. He can’t hear. Relax. “

I think I made one last feeble attempt to honor the hard work of the prop department and use the replica, but once the director saw Barry in action, the Barry Action Figure was put on the sidelines. I remember Barry crawling around my face. I remember trying not to piss off Barry. Once I got used to him and what he was doing, he turned out to be a great scene partner. I think I felt comfortable enough to have let out that scream right at him in the scene, but there’s another legend that says I only mimed it and added in the scream later. (I would love for the powers-that-be at 20th Century Fox to release the original footage to see if I screamed or mimed, so we can settle this “controversy” once and for all – and the world can finally be at peace.) Either way, the scream came out pretty good and was an homage to the shower scene in “Psycho”. I then had to beat Joe Pesci with a crowbar. And we all know that even though it was pretend and funny and a fake crowbar, it’s a thousand times more dangerous pissing off Joe Pesci than pissing off a venomous spider that’s crawling on your face.

Here’s to Barry! The greatest tarantula I have ever acted with!”

Want to revisit the scene now that you know that’s a real spider? Here you go:

– WTF fun facts

Source: “The Famous ‘Home Alone’ Tarantula Scene Included a Real, Venomous Spider Named Barry, Says Daniel Stern” — CheatSheet

WTF Fun Fact 12567 – The Origin of the Countdown

3…2…1…we have liftoff. NASA may not have stolen the words for their spaceship launches, but they did lift the idea from a sci-fi film.

Of course, countdown clocks allow everyone involved to ensure they’re on the same page at the same time, but a big part of the countdown is building suspense for those watching. And that’s why NASA decided to make the final countdown a major part of their televised launches.

But they didn’t come up with the idea on their own. Like so much technology, the concept originated in a 1929 sci-fi film titled Frau im Mond by Fritz Lang. Even more unexpected – it was a silent film!

The idea for the story came from the novel Die Frau im Mond, by Thea von Harbou (Lang’s wife at the time). According to Atlas Obscura: “The book, which follows a group of backstabbing moon prospectors, is a rollercoaster ride of love triangles, business intrigue, and lunar gunfights…” 

Lang needed the film to be a hit. The “talkie” was becoming more and more popular, so he needed a way to make his silent films just as engaging. That’s when he settled on the countdown. (Another fun fact: before Die Frau im Mond, books and movies that involved a shuttle launch usually used countUPs.)

Atlas Obscura explained further how this influenced NASA: “The film’s space advisors brought lessons they learned from the film set back with them to the Society for Space Travel, where they found that loudly timing launches to the second was not only dramatic, but helpful. When NASA launched its first successful satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958, newsreels broadcasting the event breathlessly announced, ‘the moment is at hand, the countdown reaches zero!'”

The breathless countdown worked for Lang – his was the highest-grossing film of the year in 1929. And we can’t imagine a NASA launch without the countdown (something we completely took for granted). – WTF Fun Fact

You can check out the film scene yourself (and no, that’s not the original music!):

Source: “NASA Stole the Rocket Countdown From a 1929 Fritz Lang Film” — Atlas Obscura