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Before Family Guy mastermind Seth MacFarlane hits the Dolby Theatre stage to host the Oscars, get to know the man behind the voices. Sure, he’s a celebrated cartoonist and voice actor with a sharp sense of humor, but did you know he once appeared on Gilmore Girls? Or that his middle name (Woodbury) actually comes from a turn-of-the-century drunk?
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Below, The Hollywood Reporter has rounded up 25 things to know about MacFarlane ahead of Sunday’s telecast.
1. He’s Been Drawing Cartoons Since Childhood. Growing up the son of a butcher in Kent, Conn., MacFarlane got his practice scribbling cartoon characters on customers’ grocery bags. “It was a small town, so everybody knew everybody else, and the locals tolerated it,” he told THR in 2011, acknowledging that some kept his doodles, which undoubtedly hold value now. (His recently widowed father has many more early pieces saved in his nearby Los Angeles home.) By age 9, MacFarlane was hired to do a weekly cartoon strip titled Walter Crouton for the local newspaper, The Kent Good Times Dispatch. The gig, which he kept until he went off to college at Rhode Island School of Design, initially paid him $5 per strip but was upped to $10. During that time, MacFarlane also was making short animated films on an 8mm camera his parents had given him.
2. He Once Hoped to Work for Disney. Although he dabbled in theater and then stand-up comedy (an impression of Bill Clinton talking to Scooby-Doo was a standout) at RISD, MacFarlane was there to become an animator. A career at Disney, which had just released Beauty and the Beast, was his dream. “That’s until I found out that it was essentially Theresienstadt,” he cracked during an interview with THR, somewhat smugly suggesting that the reporter look up the concentration camp reference.
3. He’s BFFs With Norah Jones. The chanteuse sang one of his songs, “Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” on the Ted soundtrack. It is nominated for best original song at Sunday’s ceremony. “I had such a great time recording this song with Seth and was thrilled to find out that it was nominated for an Oscar,” Jones said of the nomination. “Getting to perform it at such a prestigious event, which my friend is hosting, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
4. He Has a Passion for Broadway. MacFarlane has been approached about doing Broadway, an idea he hasn’t ruled out. But don’t expect a theater run to look like The Book of Mormon from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. “If I did a Broadway musical, I’d probably want to do something a little bit more old-fashioned,” he said. “I wouldn’t necessarily do something that was as edgy as what they have done. The challenge to me would be more along the lines of, ‘Gosh, can somebody write Oklahoma! for 2011?’ “
5. He Tans in His Office. According to an article in The New Yorker, a young woman began showing up at the Family Guy offices during the show’s seventh season. She would wheel a large piece of equipment into a nearby lavatory without explanation, at which point MacFarlane would excuse himself. Meanwhile, several former staffers claim to have heard the whooshing sound of a spray-tanning machine, but no one dared to crack a joke when MacFarlane returned looking more bronzed than moments earlier.
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6. He’s a Respected Singer: His debut album, Music Is Better Than Words, earned a Grammy nomination and had a New York Times reviewer declaring him “a latter-day Dean Martin.” When he set out to make the record with American Dad! composer Joel McNeely, he had one goal in mind: to introduce others to the kind of music – including many obscure songs from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s — he has been listening to and loving since he was a boy. In a nod to his idol, he recorded the vocals with the actual microphone Frank Sinatra used on many of his classic albums. “Seth is probably more knowledgeable about this music than anybody I’ve ever known,” says McNeely, who has spent his career ensconced in that world. “If you name a song off of a particular album from that era, he’ll be able to tell you not just who arranged it but what studio it was recorded at, probably the year that it was recorded and who some of the players were. It’s a little freaky.”
7. The Sinatra Connection Deepens. When MacFarlane moved to L.A. many years ago, he began vocal training with Lee and Sally Sweetland, who had trained Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra. “They were both in their 90s when I hooked up with them,” MacFarlane once told NPR. “And they just whipped my vocal cords into better shape than they’d ever been in, and that was what really enabled me to do this.”
8. He’s Named After a Town Drunk. “A lot of the men on my mother’s side of the family had the middle name Woodbury, and about 10 years ago we asked my grandfather where it came from,” MacFarlane told Esquire. “He said that when he was born in Gardiner, Maine, in 1904, his mother thought that the town drunk was the funniest guy she’d ever met, and his name was Woodbury, so we’re all named after not just a drunk but a jolly turn-of-the-century drunk.”
9. Family Ties. MacFarlane allegedly based Family Guy’s evil, matricidal baby Stewie on his cousin, Tyler.
10. He Worked for Cartoon Factory Hanna-Barbera. After graduating from RISD, MacFarlane was hired by Hanna-Barbera to contribute to shows such as Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, and Dexter’s Laboratory.
11. Religious Beliefs. MacFarlane is said to be an atheist.
12. He’s the Youngest Executive Producer in TV History. In the mid-’90s, MacFarlane developed the Family Guy pilot for Fox and became an EP at 24.
13. He Wrote Family Guy to Showcase New England. According to TVtropes.com, MacFarlane set his animated series in fictional Quahog, R.I., because very few TV shows took place in New England.
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14. He Once Appeared on Gilmore Girls. The femme-driven drama might be far from MacFarlane’s typical beat, but in 2003 he appeared in an episode titled “Lorelai’s Graduation Day.”
15. Twisted Humor Is in His Genes. “A lot of that came from my family, actually,” he once told IGN. “Everybody in my family had a real sick, twisted sense of humor. Most of the jokes we make in our house, we would just never even dream of making anywhere else. Just sick, horrible stuff. That wasn’t anything new to college. We’d always been a bunch of sick bastards.”
16. Inspiration for Peter Griffin. MacFarlane based the voice of his dimwitted Family Guy patriarch, Peter Griffin, on a loud-mouthed security guard who worked on the RISD campus, according to IMDb.
17. He’s a Champion for Gay Rights. MacFarlane became a strong supporter of gay rights and gay marriage after a family member insisted to his gay cousin that homosexuality could “be cured,” according to Yahoo! “It is f—ing horrible to hear that from someone you love,” MacFarlane said of the incident.
18. He Wrote Ted More Than Five Years Ago. In an October interview with Maxim, MacFarlane revealed of the film: “It’s not as recent as you might think. I wrote this with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, who are the two other Family Guy writers who co-wrote the screenplay with me about five years ago. That’s how long it takes to do a movie. I wanted to make sure that Family Guy was truly on its feet after its resurrection. Once that became secure, it became feasible to do a movie. I didn’t really have any burning desire to do it until the time was right.”
19. He’s Building a Library in His Home. MacFarlane told USA Today that he’ll be looking forward to relaxing after the Oscars at his Beverly Hills home, where he’s in the process of building a library.
20. He Narrowly Missed a Hijacked Flight on 9/11. MacFarlane was booked on American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles but arrived late to the airport and was unable to board. The flight was hijacked and crashed into the North tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. There were no survivors. “The only reason it hasn’t really affected me as it maybe could have is I didn’t really know that I was in any danger until after it was over, so I never had that panic moment,” he told TVShowsOnDVD.com “After the fact, it was sobering, but people have a lot of close calls; you’re crossing the street and you almost get hit by a car. … This one just happened to be related to something massive. I really can’t let it affect me because I’m a comedy writer. I have to put that in the back of my head.”
21. He’s Dating a Game of Thrones Actress. After a few months of speculation, MacFarlane accompanied Emilia Clarke — who plays Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones — to this year’s HBO Golden Globes afterparty, where she was referred to as his girlfriend.
22. Fuzzy Door Inspiration: MacFarlane reportedly named his production company Fuzzy Door because the door to his apartment while attending RISD was covered in leopard print fur.
23. He Once Fell Out of a Volkswagen Bus. The bus was his family vehicle, and the fall left him with a scar on his forehead. He was 4. “My sister and I were in the bus, and my mom parked it on a hill in the middle of the winter to go pick up another kid for carpool. The breaks slipped on an ice patch, and it started rolling down the hill. So she was running alongside the bus and pulled me and my sister out, and I fell down on my head and busted it open,” he told Maxim. “I had about 17 stitches. My sister was 2 and landed on her ass, and she was fine. And then the bus went up on a snow bank and tipped over and fell on top of my mother. So from her stomach down, she was pinned by the bus; it shattered her pelvis.”
24. He’s Less Than Punctual, and There’s a Reason. MacFarlane once reportedly worked seven days a week for 15 months straight and had to be hospitalized for exhaustion. So now he sometimes skips table reads, even if there are dozens of writers, voice actors and network execs waiting for him. He says maintains a healthy level of stress “by not rushing and giving myself a heart attack trying to get everywhere exactly on time.”
25. Accolades. MacFarlane has been nominated for two Grammys, one Oscar, four Emmys (winning twice). In 2006, he won an Annie Award for best voice acting in an animated television production for the role of Stewie Griffin.
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