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Top 10 Movie and TV Firsts April 22, 2009

"Open hailing frequencies, Lieutenant."

"Open hailing frequencies, Lieutenant. Heh-heh-heh"

A lot of the visual mediums and standards we have today have roots in some of the weirdest places. TV can sometimes trump film for branching out and taking risks, which is why I’m mixing them together. These are all random but interesting bits of trivia. As Bob Marley once said, “In this great future, you can’t forget your past”.

The First Interracial Kiss On TV- Star Trek – Lt. Uhura and Capt. Kirk – Episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” – The actual ROLE of Lt. Uhura was a first in and of itself, where a black woman had a commanding part on the bridge of the Enterprise and wasn’t a maid, a slave or a nanny. Originally, Spock was supposed to be the one to kiss Uhura while under alien influence but Shatner fought them on this saying, “If anyone gets to kiss Nichelle, it’s going to be me. I’m the captain!”  The network was extremely nervous – and in 1968, who could blame them? Kudos to them for letting the creators go ahead with it at all, and may have only allowed it because Star Trek wasn’t very popular during its initial run. They shot two versions of the scene; one where Kirk is fighting the mind control and they-almost-but-don’t and another where he really, really isn’t fighting very much at all and it’s Snog City. Shatner crossed his eyes during the former, rendering the take useless so the network had no choice but to air the kiss. (Some might argue that a kiss – a peck on the cheek-  between Nancy Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. a year before on a variety show was the first but the Trek smooch was scripted and thought-out) This episode was so volatile at the time it wasn’t aired in the American South and was banned in England for 25 (!!!) years. When Nichelle Nichols was thinking of leaving the show because she was sick of playing a “telephone operator in space”, it was Martin Luther King Jr. – no less -  who convinced her to stay. He told her; “For the first time the world will see us as we should be seen — people of quality in the future. You created a role with dignity and beauty and grace and intelligence. You’re not just a role model for our children, but for people who don’t look like us to see us for the first time as equals.”  MLK – Freedom-fighter, orator, symbol of equality and peace among races and… Star Trek geek.

First ‘Talkie’ – ‘The Jazz Singer’ – 1927 was the end of one era and the beginning of a new one in filmdom. The Jazz Singer mesmerized movie punters who lined up around the block to hear their silver screen idols actually speak for the first time. The opposite of video killing the radio star, ‘talkies’ were bad news for stars with less than dulcet tones. This was cleverly outlined in Singin’ in the Rain and for some jobbing actors, being a voice double became a new way to pay the rent.

First Woman Nominated For A Directing Oscar – Lina Wertmuller – The name Lina Wertmuller isn’t very well known nowadays but in 1976, she made history as the first woman to be nominated for the Best Director Oscar for her film, Seven Beauties. She was a protégée of Federico Fellini and an Assistant Director on his classic, 8 1/2 Weeks. Since then, only two other women have achieved this honour – Jane Campion for The Piano and Sofia Coppola for Lost In Translation (Sofia probably would have won but Peter Jackson’s work on The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was due that year) Among her other accolades, she holds the Guinness World Record of ‘Longest Film Title’ – Un fatto di sangue nel comune di Siculiana fra due uomini per causa di una vedova. Si sospettano moventi politici. Amore-Morte-Shimmy. Lugano belle. Tarantelle. Tarallucci e vino (Translated and shortened to ‘Blood Feud’ or ‘Revenge’ for us English-speaking types) and was sufficiently famous back in the day to be parodied on SNL by Laraine Newman.

First Openly Gay Character On TV – Jack Tripper on ‘Three’s Company’ – OK, he wasn’t really gay but the fact that his landlord, Mr. Roper, thought he was is the only reason Jack could live with Chrissy and Janet in that great beach apartment. This made for all sorts of hilarious shenanigans on the sit-com but it also gently pushed the idea that being openly gay was no big deal and that it even had perks. If a crusty old right-wing grump like Mr. Roper could accept Jack and become his friend in the process, then it wouldn’t be long before audiences would be fine with a real gay character on TV. ‘Three’s Company’ slyly tested the waters for future shows like ‘Will and Grace’, ‘Queer as Folk’ and ‘The L-Word’. For some viewers, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

First Show To Come Back From The Dead (on the same network) – ‘Family Guy’ – Normally once a show is cancelled, it’s gone. Finished, kaput, bye-bye. When Fox put the kibosh on ‘Family Guy’, what they didn’t count on was its rabid fan base. They ate up DVDs, merchandise and complained, complained, complained en masse to the studio, going so far as to organize boycotts of the channel and the companies that advertised on it.  Fox eventually realized that in order to get back in the ratings game and win their viewership back, they needed to approach series creator Seth MacFarlane on bended knee, then bend over some more and call him ‘Daddy’. MacFarlane forgave them (100 million dollars makes a lot of bad memories fade) and will have 3 (count ‘em, 3!!!) shows on the network by 2010. He owes all you hyperactive ‘FG’ fans a drink.

First Showing Of A Toilet Onscreen – ‘Psycho’ – It’s funny how much of a censorship battle this was between Hitchcock and Universal – a defenseless person getting stabbed repeatedly in the shower? No problem. But showing a toilet ONSCREEN?!? Now you’ve gone too far! The screenwriter, Joseph Stefano,  had to come up with a reason for Hitch to show the toilet (apart from its obvious use) so he wrote in the scene where Marion deducts how much of the $40,000 she’s spent, rips it up and then flushes it so she doesn’t leave a trace. Making it integral to the plot was the only way Uncle Al was able to subvert the studio’s aversion to a plumbing device that everyone in the Western world uses every day. Unless you’re caught short in the middle of nowhere, that is. (Also, the MPAA wanted Hitch to remove the word ‘transvestite’ from the film until Stefano proved that it was a clinical term, not a vulgar, dirty, dirty word.)

(The original trailer with Hitchcock doing a tour of the house and motel – note his little ‘bathroom’ digs. Although the ‘Paramount’ logo is on this film, Hitch had changed camps and Universal actually owns the rights)

First Use Of CGI – ‘The Last Starfighter’ – All the effects were done on the Cray X-MP computer system, then a state of the art programme. For the time, the explosions and spaceships looked pretty amazing to the audience, both old and young. As fond as I am of this film, it’s telling that today I can watch the original Star Wars trilogy (I wouldn’t sully my DVD machine with the re-releases) and the more organic, old-fashioned trickery looks better than Alex Rogan’s trip through the universe.  I wonder if films like ‘Jurassic Park’ or, well, pretty much every other film, will hold up in 20 years time.  Probably not, our kids are going to have a field day laughing at us. Still, any film that makes a regular small-town kid into a hero because he plays too many video games is always going to be A-OK in my book.  It makes the case too that while CGI is great and good and all, you do need to think about story. Future People will forgive the ‘crappy effects’ if ya have a good tale to tell. This is your piece of immortality, film-makers. Better be a decent one.

First TV Broadcast Of The Olympics – Live From Nazi Germany, 1936 – Hitler was a real bastard, we all agree on that. Except maybe some guys with shaved heads and tiny brains. This wasn’t just the first Olympic broadcast but the first showing of a sporting event worldwide. It was supposed to be a demonstration of how awesome the Nazis were and the superiority of the Aryan race, blah, blah, blah; but what it REALLY showed the world was Jesse Owens sticking it to Adolf in the best way possible – by winning. He broke three world records and tied another at the Big Ten Track and Field Championships in just 45 minutes and came home with 4 gold medals.  Mr. Hitler was not pleased that the outside-Germany media made more of this than his 180 lines and 25 frames per sec by the end of the event. Take that, asshole!

First Artist Based Film Production Company – United Artists – The brainchild of the biggest names in cinema in the early 1900’s – Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglass Fairbanks Jr. and D.W Griffith. Each had a 20% share, with the last 20% held by Lawyer to the Stars, William McAdoo. This was the first ‘Indie’ production company, the Great-Grandpappy to ‘Miramax’. These were the actors who understood their power and, fed-up of the ‘farming out’ studio system, broke out on their own.  Pickford was the most prolific in producing films (allegedly, Chaplin was a right lazy layabout) but they struggled until Joseph Schenck brought his expertise and his wife’s rolodex into the fold, which included Buster Keaton and Orson Wells. Today, UA still exists in conjunction with MGM, with Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner at the helm.

First Swear Word On TV – Star Trek -Episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” – Again, this goes to the ‘Trek. They really did boldly go where no man had gone before, didn’t they? The swear in question is fairly tame to modern ears, “Let’s get the HELL out of here!” but that ‘H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks’ exclamation had the housewives of the 60’s running to the phone or their letter-writing desk to complain about profanity on the telly. That curse made room for South Park, NYPD Blue and other shows to let loose with some naughty words. Someone has to go first. Boldly.

(Check out Joan Collins! Yowza!)

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lynn April 22nd, 2009

What about the first nudity on network TV? I think it was NYPD Blue that showed us Det. Andy Sipowicz’s (Dennis Franz) butt.

Erin April 22nd, 2009

Lynn, I think you’re right but in my research, I couldn’t quite nail this down. There was some talk of another series being the first. So, I went with the First Swear Word, cos it’s so quaint! I do love some Sipowicz bum action though, perv that I am. ;-) Was never the biggest NYPDBlue fan – but I LOVE Andy Sipowicz.

Howard April 22nd, 2009

Television used to help lead the way toward social change. While they still try to get away with as much as they can, they’ve actually gone in reverse on some issues. 40 years ago George Carlin’s “7 Words” couldn’t be played on television. It still can’t. Really enjoyed this weeks article. It’s one of my favorites.
Way to go on crediting Last Starfighter not just for CGI but storyline.

Erin April 22nd, 2009

So true – in England and Ireland, they have the ‘watershed’. After 9pm, most curse words are fair game. That should be reasonable really.

‘Last Starfighter’ is excellent! Some friend’s kids watched it recently and absolutely adored it.

Dada November 12th, 2009

Here’s one: First use of double-motherfucker, Pulp Fiction. “Well, I’m one mushroom-cloud-laying motherfucker, motherfucker!”, say’s Samuel L. Jackson’s character to Travolta. Brilliant innovation.

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