11 Bulletproof Facts About Sledge Hammer!

ABC
ABC

Although its run was short-lived, ABC’s mid-1980s cop spoof Sledge Hammer! made a significant imprint in the minds of primetime viewers. David Rasche starred as the title character, a trigger-happy police detective who “shot first and asked questions never.” In honor of the 30th anniversary of the show’s series finale on February 12, 1988, we’ve got a few facts about the series that should hit the mark. 

1. IT WAS THOUGHT UP BY A TEENAGER.

In 1971, 10-year-old Alan Spencer snuck into a screening of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry by buying a ticket to Fiddler on the Roof and switching theaters once he was inside. Impressed by the movie and its sequels, Spencer decided to write a script lampooning the renegade cop trope. At 16, he began circulating Sledge Hammer! around the business to readers who didn’t understand the kind of satire Spencer was aiming for. One agent called it “the work of someone with serious mental problems.”

Spencer persevered: Nearly a decade later, another Dirty Harry sequel arrived in theaters and reinvigorated interest in a send-up of the genre. Reworked as a half-hour sitcom, Sledge Hammer! suddenly became a hot commodity.

2. IT ALMOST ENDED UP AT HBO.

Leonard Stern, who produced the 1960s spy spoof Get Smart, knew of Spencer’s script and connected him with HBO. The network wasn’t sure what to make of the excessive violence and dark humor and wanted Spencer to revise it to fit the persona of Rodney Dangerfield, who they wanted to have starring in the project. Spencer declined and took the idea to ABC, which was receptive to it—provided all of the profanity was deleted. The writer and network cast Second City’s David Rasche and Anne-Marie Martin as Sledge and partner Dori Doreau, respectively. (Martin went on to marry Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton.)

3. ABC WAS CONCERNED THE SHOW WOULD CAUSE HEART ATTACKS.

Composer Danny Elfman created the track for the Sledge Hammer! opening credits sequence, which was shot in romantic close-up of Sledge’s beloved .44 Magnum firearm. In a James Bond homage, Rasche was supposed to then pick up the weapon and fire it directly at the viewer, “shattering” the television screen. ABC nixed the idea, fearing the abrupt visual might prompt heart attacks in susceptible viewers. (He fired it offscreen instead.)

4. IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PETER GABRIEL SONG. (BUT USED IT ANYWAY.)

Oddly, Sledge Hammer! the series and "Sledgehammer" the song had absolutely no connection with one another, but both were released within a few months of each other in 1986. With the song a hit, ABC convinced (and obviously paid) Peter Gabriel to allow them to use it in promotional spots for the series.

5. ABC REFUSED TO HAVE SLEDGE ADMIT HE WAS CRAZY.

A man who talks to and sleeps with his gun probably is in need of some kind of mental evaluation. But Spencer’s original catchphrase idea for Sledge—“I’m crazy, but I know what I’m doing”—was axed by ABC, which refused to allow any admission the character might be mentally ill. The phrase became “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.” 

6. IT HAD A RIVALRY WITH MR. BELVEDERE.


ABC

Spencer was not a fan of Mr. Belvedere, the genteel 1980s sitcom about an English butler who charms his American employers. Sledge took several shots at the show—which aired on the same network—prompting Belvedere star Bob Uecker to criticize Sledge while a guest on The Tonight Show. The war of words was never resolved.

7. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE CANCELED SOONER.

As an acquired taste, Sledge Hammer! didn’t resonate with viewers, who preferred it a distant third to time slot competitors Dallas and Miami Vice. Believing the first season would also be the last, the show’s producers aired a finale that featured Hammer accidentally activating a nuclear warhead that reduced his city to rubble. When ratings improved for the apocalyptic finale, ABC decided to renew it—forcing the show to frame subsequent episodes as having taken place years prior to the explosion.

8. IT WAS A MARVEL COMIC. (FOR TWO ISSUES.)

Lasting just two issues, Marvel’s Sledge Hammer! took the detective into the sequential art world, including a guest appearance by Spider-Man. The cover of the first promised a faithful adaptation of the “show that refuses to die.” (Marvel’s onetime Hulk, Bill Bixby, directed several of the show’s episodes.)

9. A CONTRACT OMISSION MADE FOR A HOME VIDEO WINDFALL.

At the time Sledge Hammer! aired, studios and networks were mostly concerned with rights issues relating to videocassette releases. The network therefore didn’t bat an eye when Spencer, who loved laserdiscs, had it written into his contract that he be a profit participant in any “disc format” releases of the show. Sledge was released on DVD in 2004, a "disc format" the network could never have anticipated, and earned Spencer a significant cut of the profits.

10. NEW LINE WANTED TO MAKE A FEATURE.

In 1992, Spencer received word that New Line Cinema was interested in adapting Sledge Hammer! as a feature film. The creator passed when it became clear the studio wanted to move forward with a new cast and new characters.

11. IT EARNED ITS CREATOR AN HONORARY NRA MEMBERSHIP.


ABC

Not everyone took the satire of a gun-loving fascist as a joke. Spencer told Splitsider in 2012 that when Sledge Hammer! premiered, the National Rifle Association (NRA) bestowed him with an honorary membership for contributing to pro-gun awareness. “A lot of people took [the show] very seriously,” he said.

Orson Welles's Former Hollywood Hills Estate Is Taking Vacation Reservations

Fred Mott, Getty Images
Fred Mott, Getty Images

Orson Welles's former Hollywood Hills estate is a perfect place to get away from society, grow a bushy beard, and brood over a bottle of whiskey.

Interested? The late Hollywood icon's 3000-square-foot home is available to rent for about $755 a night through HomeAway. The house, which sits on its own private 15,000-square-foot knoll, was home to Welles at the very beginning of his career and is where he wrote the screenplay for 1941's Citizen Kane. Bring along your typewriter and try to channel some of his greatness.

Quite a few other celebrities have inhabited the house as well, including Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and David Bowie. Features of the grand four-bedroom mansion—built in 1928—include a lagoon pool, Jacuzzi, deck, and both canyon and city views.

There's never been a better time to rent Welles's abode: his final film, The Other Side of the Wind, is set to premiere at this month's Venice Film Festival before arriving on Netflix. The unfinished flick, which was shot intermittently between 1970 and 1976, has been completed and restored for its much-anticipated release. (Of course the mansion has plenty of TVs for your viewing pleasure.)

The property has a three- to five-night stay minimum, depending on the season. For more pictures, see below or head to HomeAway. And since you're already in vacation-planning mode, another creative celebrity abode to consider is F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's Montgomery, Alabama home, which is available to rent via Airbnb.

Orson Welles' house
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles mansion
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles' former home
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles' former home
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles' former home
Courtesy of HomeAway

10 Things You Might Not Know About Robert De Niro

RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images
RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images

Robert De Niro is part of the pantheon of independent-minded filmmakers who cut through Hollywood noise in the 1970s with edgier fare to create what became known as “The New Hollywood.” Following stints with Brian De Palma and Roger Corman, De Niro teamed up with Martin Scorsese for the first time with 1973's Mean Streets, which launched a fruitful artistic collaboration that has produced some of the best movies of the past half-century.

Even after his shift into commercial comedies like Meet the Parents, “dedication” has remained De Niro’s watchword. The two-time Oscar winner has earned Hollywood legend status with panache and bone-deep portrayals. Here are 10 facts about the filmmaker on his 75th birthday. (Yes, we’re talkin’ to you.)

1. HIS FIRST ROLE WAS IN A STAGING OF THE WIZARD OF OZ—AT AGE 10.

Robert De Niro got bit by the acting bug early. He threatened to thrash a hippopotamus from top to bottom-us as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at the tender age of 10. (This is the remake and casting the world needs right now.)

2. HE DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL TO PURSUE ACTING.

Robert De Niro arrives at the UK premiere of epic war drama film 'The Deer Hunter', UK, 28th February 1979
John Minihan, Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

De Niro’s mother, Virginia Admiral, was a painter whose work was part of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and his father, Robert De Niro, Sr., was a celebrated abstract expressionist painter. So the apple falling into drama school instead of the art studio still isn’t that far from the tree. Having already gotten a youthful dose of stage life, De Niro quit his private high school to try to become an actor. He first went to the nonprofit HB Studio before studying under Stella Adler and, later, The Actors Studio.

3. HE’S A DUAL CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES AND ITALY.

De Niro is American, Italian-American, and, as of 2004, Italian. The country bestowed honorary citizenship upon De Niro as an honor in recognition of his career, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing to the passport office. A group called the Order of the Sons of Italy in America strongly protested the Italian government’s plan due to De Niro’s frequent portrayal of negative Italian-American stereotypes.

4. HE GAINED 60 POUNDS FOR RAGING BULL.

Preparing to play the misfortune-laden boxing champ Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull required two major things from De Niro: training and gaining. For the latter, De Niro ate his way through Europe during a four-month binge of ice cream and pasta. His 60-pound-gain was dramatic enough that it concerned Martin Scorsese. It was one way to show dedication to a role, but the training element was even more impressive. De Niro got so good at boxing that when LaMotta set up several professional-level sparring bouts for the actor, De Niro won two of them.

5. HE AND MARLON BRANDO ARE THE ONLY ACTORS TO WIN OSCARS FOR PLAYING THE SAME CHARACTER.

De Niro won his first Oscar in 1975 for The Godfather: Part II, for portraying the younger version of Vito Corleone—the wizened capo played by Marlon Brando, who also won an Oscar for the role (Brando’s came in 1973, for The Godfather). No other pair of actors has managed the feat, although Jeff Bridges came close in 2010 when he was nominated for playing Rooster Cogburn in Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit (a role originated by John Wayne in Henry Hathaway’s 1969 movie of the same name). Oddly enough, Bridges was in contention for the role of Travis Bickle, the role that earned De Niro his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

6. HE DROVE A CAB TO PREPARE FOR TAXI DRIVER.

If you’re looking for commitment to a role, ask Hack #265216. De Niro got a taxicab driver’s license to study up to play Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and spent several weekends cruising around New York City picking up fares. It’s possible that having his teeth filed down for Cape Fear is the most intense transformation he’s undergone for a role, but picking up a part-time job to live the lonely life of Bickle is more humane.

7. ONE OF HIS FILMS POSTPONED ONE OF HIS OSCAR WINS.

The 53rd Academy Awards—where De Niro won for playing Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull—were originally scheduled for March 30, 1981 but were postponed until the following day because of an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr., claimed the attack was intended to impress Jodie Foster, who Hinckley grew obsessed with after watching Taxi Driver.

8. HE LAUNCHED THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL IN THE WAKE OF 9/11.

Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal speak onstage at the 'Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives' Premiere during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall on April 19, 2017 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Producer Jane Rosenthal, philanthropist Craig M. Hatkoff, and De Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001 as a showcase for independent films that would hopefully “spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan” after the devastation of the 9/11 terror attacks. With its empire state of mind, the inaugural festival in 2002 featured a “Best of New York Series” handpicked by Martin Scorsese and drew an astonishing 150,000 attendees.

9. HE WAS ONCE INTERROGATED BY FRENCH POLICE CONCERNING A PROSTITUTION RING.

One of the most bizarre chapters in De Niro’s life came when he was publicly named in the investigation of a prostitution ring in Paris. The 1998 incident included a lengthy interrogation session (De Niro filed an official complaint) and a pile of paparazzi waiting for him when he left the prosecutor’s office. De Niro railed against the entire country, vowing to return his Legion of Honour and telling Le Monde newspaper that, "I will never return to France. I will advise my friends against going to France.” (He had cooled off enough by 2011 to act as the Cannes Film Festival’s jury president.)

10. HE LOVED THE CAT(S) IN MEET THE PARENTS.

Meet the Parents’s Mr. Jinx (Jinxy!) was played by two Himalayans named Bailey and Misha, and De Niro fell in love with them. He played with them between scenes, kept kibble in his pocket for them, and asked director Jay Roach to have Mr. Jinx in as many scenes as possible.

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