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Movie Answer Man (07/07/1996)

Q. Last week, I was an extra in the Julia Roberts film, "My Best Friend's Wedding," which is shooting in Chicago. We were filming at Buddy Guy's club. At the crew table, I noticed to my surprise that there was an abundance of grass for cast and crew. Not the kind you smoke, however. I'm talking about lawn-type grass, growing in plastic nursery containers. Next to the grass they put a pair of scissors to cut it with. People would grind it up and drink it. I learned that this was "wheat grass," and apparently it was good for the digestion. The extras were having a ball making jokes and stealing grass to eat. I had some and it was delicious. Not as good as in my back yard, but better than what I eat at the park. I'm going to have to add this to my health diet. (Rev. Steven L. Schuneman, Niles, Mich.)

A. Heh, heh. On every movie set since the dawn of time, the extras have complained that they're fed bologna on white bread while the cast dines on sirloin. Now the cast gets grass and the extras are still trying to sneak a bite. Did anyone eat one of the plastic nursery containers?

Q. I'd like to know your opinion on the new McDonald's Happy Meals featuring Babe and various other barnyard animals. Personally, I think if the makers of "Babe" were in on this promotion, they have destroyed the whole point of the movie (considering that cows and pigs are on McDonald's menu). As far as I'm concerned, it's disgusting. (Matt Thiesen, Maple Grove, Minn.)

A. In the movie, when Babe's fellow pigs were trucked away, he thought they were going to Pig Paradise, "a place so wonderful that nobody ever came back." I guess Pig Paradise turned out to be McDonald's. Yes, the original pigs that starred in "Babe" were sold to McDonald's, chopped up, and served as reconstituted rib sandwiches.

Q. I have just noticed that they always show things in a movie as they would appear on a map. Whenever an airplane flies from New York to Los Angeles, it will always fly from right to left, and when Columbus discovers America, he always finds it on the left side, coming from the right. You could show those things in the opposite way, since it all depends on where the camera is. If the plane from N.Y. to L.A. was filmed from the other side, it would seem to fly from left to right but would still go in the same direction. (Vincent Assmann, Heidelberg, Germany)

A. On the other hand, "Flying Down to Rio" didn't have the plane crashing into the bottom of the screen.

Q. I am very concerned about the promos I'm seeing for "The Nutty Professor." As an activist and advocate for large-size people, it seems to me that the kind of "jokes" I see played out on the screen perpetuate the myths about fat people that keep us from being given equal opportunities in society. Do you think this movie will be offensive to fat people, and if so, how you think we could best handle the situation? Should we picket movie theaters, do a letter-writing campaign, or complain to theater owners or studio heads? (Lynn McAfee, Mount Marion, N.Y.)

A. In the movie, Eddie Murphy plays a fat professor who takes a secret potion and becomes a thin person. As a fat person, he is genial, intelligent, attractive to the opposite sex, and completely lovable. As a thin person, he is an obnoxious womanizer and lounge lizard who goes berserk in nightclubs. The movie, in other words, is based on real life.

Q. In your June 16 Answer Man column, you placed the time of "Dragonheart" as being "between the time of King Arthur and Albert Giblin's invention of the flushable toilet in 1819." Albert Giblin was born in 1869, and was granted a cistern patent in 1898. This historically insignificant patent is usually wrongly attributed to Thomas Crapper. Actually, neither he nor Giblin invented the modern flush toilet. This is weird because the only time I have seen "1819" in connection with Albert Giblin was in an article I was one of the sources for, Heather McCune's "Thomas Crapper: Myth and Reality," in the June 1993 Plumbing & Mechanical magazine. In a phone conversation with Ms. McCune I told her that British Patent 4990 was issued in 1898 to Giblin for his product, "Crapper's Silent Valveless Water Waste Preventer." Because we were on a bad line or I was slurring my words, 1898 became 1819. Unless you are a reader of Plumbing & Mechanical magazine (and I trust you are not!), I wonder, what is your source? (Ken Grabowski, Chicago)

A. My source is indeed that troublesome June 1993 issue of Plumbing & Mechanical magazine, of which I am a faithful reader. There you are identified as the author of a forthcoming book on Thomas Crapper's life. Your research indicates Crapper was issued nine patents, "four for improvements to drains, three for water closets, one for manhole covers and the last for pipe joints," but none for a flushable toilet. Albert Giblin's invention allowed a toilet to flush effectively when the cistern was only half full, which still leaves unanswered the question of who invented the flush toilet in the first place. After examining all the evidence, I have rewritten my review of "Dragonheart" to read, "the movie takes place between the time of King Arthur and Albert Giblin's invention of the Silent Valveless Water Waste Preventer in 1898." Interested readers can investigate further on the Web (

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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