12 Fascinating True Stories About Guest Stars On 'The Simpsons'

Whenever I hear a new bit of information, my brain does the following: 1) “boobs?”; and 2) “is there a way this can be tied into something Simpsons-related?” I regret nothing. Yesterday, when I read that actor Ernest Borgnine had died, my first thought wasn’t of his Oscar-winning role in Marty or The Wild Bunch, but to that time when he played himself in “Boy-Scoutz ‘n the Hood.” On the Wikipedia page for that episode, it says:

In the final scene of the episode, Borgnine plays the guitar and sings campfire songs with the children. Borgnine was a guitar player in real life, so he brought his own guitar with him to the recording studio. Borgnine apologized because he felt that he was not being able to sing very well, but Nancy Cartwright thought his voice “added to the authenticity of his character.” Hank Azaria commented that Borgnine “had no idea what the hell he was doing. He’s a good actor, and he read his lines just fine, but he had no idea what the show was, no idea what we were doing.” (Via)

That is the most charming old person story ever, as well as a fascinating behind the scenes look at the making of a classic episode of television. Here are 12 other notable — sometimes good, sometimes bad — recording sessions with celebrities in the Simpsons‘ long, celebrated run.

All of the players were cooperative except for José Canseco, who was intimidating. He disliked his original part and insisted it be rewritten, and the writers grudgingly made him as heroic as possible. He was originally slated to wake up in bed with Edna Krabappel and miss the game, but Canseco’s then-wife, Esther Haddad, objected. He disliked his caricature, stating that “the animation looked nothing like [him],” but that he found the acting was very easy. When asked in 2007 about his part by the San Jose Mercury News, he responded, “that was 100 years ago,” hung up the phone, and did not answer any of the paper’s subsequent calls for an interview about his guest spot.

Ken Griffey, Jr. did not understand his line “there’s a party in my mouth and everyone’s invited” and got quite frustrated when he was recording it. (Via)

Aerosmith was the first band to make a guest appearance on the show. According to Al Jean, they later found out that part of the reason why Aerosmith agreed to appear was the drink being called the “Flaming Moe.” In the original script, Moe tempted the band to play by offering them free beer, but the band members asked that the joke be changed. The writers changed the line to “free pickled eggs.” (Via)

In her book Stephen Hawking: A Biography, Kristen Larsen wrote that Hawking almost missed his recording session, as his wheelchair broke down two days before his flight to Los Angeles, where the recording took place. In order to make the necessary repairs, Hawking’s graduate assistant Chris Burgoyne, aided by a technician, worked a 36-hour shift. Hawking was 40 minutes late when he arrived in Los Angeles. When he met the Simpsons staff, he apologized, saying “Sorry for being late.”

According to [writer] Matt Selman, Hawking was very humble regarding the episode’s jokes about him, and stated that he “took a lot of shots” at himself. The only note that Hawking gave regarding the script was that he did not want to be portrayed as drunk in the episode’s last scene, in which he is discussing astronomy with Homer in Moe’s Tavern…Some of Hawking’s lines were difficult to record. In particular, the word “Fruitopia” was difficult for Hawking’s computer to “put together” correctly, and it “took forever” to make the word sound right from the voice synthesizer. (Via)

On one occasion, it turned out that a joke written for [Mel] Gibson actually did happen in real life. The writing staff wanted Gibson to say that he would urinate behind a dumpster, because it sounded like it would not be a classy thing to do for a movie star. He had, however, already done that during a couple of film premieres because he can feel trapped in a public toilet with a lot of fans. Gibson was surprised the writers knew about the story, but it turned out to be a coincidence. (Via)

The Simpsons fans and that she would be in “big trouble” if she did not get Cartwright’s autograph. (Via)

Nancy Cartwright was a huge fan of Meryl Streep and she assumed that Streep would record her lines individually, but all of their recordings were done together. Streep showed up alone with no entourage at the Village Recorder in West Los Angeles at 2:30 p.m., where she recorded her parts with Cartwright. Streep was continually doing many different versions of her lines. Cartwright said in an interview with the Pantagraph that she really wanted Streep’s autograph, but was afraid to ask for it. After the recording session, Streep tapped Cartwright on the shoulder, and said her kids were big The Simpsons fans and that she would be in “big trouble” if she did not get Cartwright’s autograph. (Via)

Originally, Courtney Love and Hole were wanted for this episode, but they declined. According to the DVD commentary, an unnamed group had said that if Courtney Love was in the episode, they would not be. An Entertainment Weekly article revealed that the group was Sonic Youth. It was thought that Love would appear in the episode because she had recently done a movie with James L. Brooks, but she never responded to the request. Love was wanted specifically for one joke which would be in an exchange between her and Homer:

Courtney Love: Hi Homer! I’m a big fan, Courtney Love.
Homer: Homer Grateful!

However, she did not appear and the joke was reworded for Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins:

Billy Corgan: Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins.
Homer: Homer Simpson, smiling politely. (Via)

Beverly D’Angelo first met [Matt] Groening at a party at Frank Zappa’s house, and was called in to audition for Lurleen based on her performance in Coal Miner’s Daughter. She got the role after completing a singing test. D’Angelo wrote two songs for the episode: “Your Wife Don’t Understand You” (which Lurleen sings at the Beer ‘N’ Brawl where Homer hears her for the first time) and “I Bagged a Homer.” D’Angelo wrote both songs in an hour and presented them to Groening at the episode’s table read. Unlike most other guest stars on The Simpsons who record their lines and then leave to accommodate their schedule, D’Angelo stayed with the production team all day and pitched several jokes for the episode. (Via)

The show’s writers did not worry about perfecting Scorpio’s lines because they knew [Albert] Brooks would rewrite or ad lib new ones. Entire parts of Scorpio’s dialogue, such as his hammock speech, are Brooks’s lines and not the writers’. Dan Castellaneta described how, after he prepared something for Homer to say in response to Brooks’s new Scorpio lines, Brooks would deliver totally different lines in the next take. [Showrunner] Josh Weinstein said Homer’s reactions are exactly like someone talking to Albert Brooks. In all, his recordings amounted to over two hours in length. Brooks voiced the character Russ Cargill in The Simpsons Movie and for “about a week,” he was to reprise the role of Scorpio, but the staff felt that creating a new character was a better idea. (Via)

‘N Sync instantly said yes to being asked to guest star, although Justin Timberlake had to record his lines separate from the rest of the band due to a family death. Tom Hanks, who was filming Cast Away in the same studio, wanted to meet them and came by. Justin was reluctant to say “word” since he swore it was something he would never say, so as a joke, the editing team reused the one take where he said “word” after nearly every line. (Via)

In Nancy Cartwright’s autobiography My Life as a 10-Year-Old Boy, she comments that the episode’s script was a “gem” and recalls that Kirk Douglas’ recording session, directed by Josh Weinstein, was fraught with interruptions. He refused to wear the earphones supplied to him in the recording studio, saying they hurt his ears, so he was unable to hear Weinstein from his booth. Cartwright directed Douglas, who was in a hurry and said that he would do two takes per line at the most. However, despite reading his lines all at once, he only had trouble with one scene; the scene in which Lampwick tells Bart he created Itchy & Scratchy required three takes, as Douglas continuously misread the line “I changed all that” as “I charged all that.” Cartwright managed to get him to do a third reading of the line by pretending to sneeze during his second take. (Via)

When George Harrison arrived at the recording studio in West Los Angeles to record his lines, the casting director told the episode’s show runners, Al Jean and Mike Reiss, that Harrison was coming and that they were not allowed to tell anybody about it because it was intended to be a secret to the staff. Jean, Reiss, and Matt Groening went to see Harrison in the studio, and when they returned to the writer’s room, Groening said, “Guess who I just met? George Harrison!”, not knowing that it was supposed to be a secret. Harrison arrived at the studio by himself without any entourage or bodyguards. Groening recalls that Harrison was “pretty glum,” and he was unenthusiastic when the staff asked him questions about the Beatles. However, when Groening asked Harrison about the Wonderwall Music album, he suddenly “perked up” because it was one of his solo albums that he was rarely questioned on. (Via)

“Stark Raving Dad” was written specifically for Michael Jackson, a fan of the show, who had called Groening one night and offered to do a guest spot. The offer was accepted and a script was written by Al Jean and Mike Reiss, based on an idea pitched by James L. Brooks. Jackson pitched several story ideas for the episode, such as Bart telling everyone in town that Michael Jackson was coming to his house. He also requested that there be a scene in which he and Bart wrote a song together and asked that a joke about Prince be changed to one about Elvis Presley. Jackson would not commit to the episode until after a read-through of the script was done. The read was held at Jackson’s manager Sandy Gallin’s house, and Dan Castellaneta was 30 minutes late. Jean recalls that “no one said a word, we just sat there waiting.” Following the read, Jackson stipulated his conditions: he would record his speaking parts but not receive credit and his singing voice would be performed by a sound-alike. Leon Kompowsky’s singing parts were performed by Kipp Lennon, because Jackson wanted to play a joke on his brothers and fool them into thinking the impersonator was him. (Via)