Lemmings do not commit mass suicide. It’s a myth, but it’s remarkable how many people believe it. Ask a few.
“It’s a complete urban legend,” said state wildlife biologist Thomas McDonough. “I think it blew out of proportion based on a Disney documentary in the ’50s, and that brought it to the mainstream.”
Lemmings are a kind of short tailed vole, a mouse-like rodent that favors tundra and open grasslands.
Three kinds are found in Alaska, including the collared lemming, the only rodent that turns white in winter.
In 1958 Walt Disney produced “White Wilderness,” part of the studio’s “True Life Adventure” series. “White Wilderness” featured a segment on lemmings, detailing their strange compulsion to commit mass suicide.
According to a 1983 investigation by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation producer Brian Vallee, the lemming scenes were faked.
The lemmings supposedly committing mass suicide by leaping into the ocean were actually thrown off a cliff by the Disney filmmakers.
The epic “lemming migration” was staged using careful editing, tight camera angles and a few dozen lemmings running on snow covered lazy-Susan style turntable.
“White Wilderness” was filmed in Alberta, Canada, a landlocked province, and not on location in lemmings’ natural habitat.
There are about 20 lemming species found in the circumpolar north – but evidently not in that area of Alberta. So the Disney people bought lemmings from Inuit children a couple provinces away in Manitoba and staged the whole sequence.
In the lemming segment, the little rodents assemble for a mass migration, scamper across the tundra and ford a tiny stream as narrator Winston Hibbler explains that,
“A kind of compulsion seizes each tiny rodent and, carried along by an unreasoning hysteria, each falls into step for a march that will take them to a strange destiny.”
That destiny is to jump into the ocean. As they approach the “sea,” (actually a river -more tight cropping) Hibbler continues, “They’ve become victims of an obsession — a one-track thought: Move on! Move on!”
The “pack of lemmings” reaches the final precipice. “This is the last chance to turn back,” Hibbler states. “Yet over they go, casting themselves out bodily into space.”
The first person ever presented with an Academy Award was Emil Jannings, a silent-film actor who took the Best Actor award for two films.
The first, 1928’s “The Last Command,” told the tale of a brave Russian Czarist commander reduced to squeaking by as a Hollywood extra.
The second, 1927’s “The Way of All Flesh,” starred Jannings as a happy bank clerk who gets bamboozled by a femme fatale and ends up a tramp. (Sensing a theme?)
Jannings’ Oscar win is chock-full of weirdness.
He won in the only year that awards were given for multiple performances; there are no surviving copies of “The Way of All Flesh,” so the film is entirely lost; and according to legend, the famous German Shepherd Rin Tin Tin actually got more votes for the prize than Jannings.
(The rumor is hard to substantiate outside of modern news reports poking fun at the Academy.)
Perhaps most surprising to modern eyes, though, is what Jannings did after he won his Award.
A native German, Jannings returned to his home country and starred in several Nazi propaganda films.
After a brief early film career in Czechoslovakia, she fled from her husband, a wealthy Austrian ammunition manufacturer, and secretly moved to Paris.
There, she met Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio head Louis B. Mayer, who offered her a movie contract in Hollywood, where she became a film star from the late 1930s to the 1950s.
Among Lamarr’s best known films are Algiers (1938), Boom Town (1940), I Take This Woman (1940), Comrade X (1940), Come Live With Me (1941), H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941), and Samson and Delilah (1949).
Lamarr is also credited with being an inventor.
At the beginning of World War II, she and composer George Antheil developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes, which used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat the threat of jamming by the Axis powers.
Although the US Navy did not adopt the technology until the 1960s, the principles of their work are arguably incorporated into Bluetooth technology, and are similar to methods used in legacy versions of CDMA and Wi-Fi.
Lamarr was married six times, had two sons and a daughter.
She died in 2000 in Casselberry, Florida, of heart disease, aged 85.