ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia higher education officials say they have chosen a 28-year veteran of the film and television industry to lead a new effort training more people to work on productions.
Jeffrey Stepakoff will act as the executive director of the Georgia Film Academy.
University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby and Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Gretchen Corbin announced his appointment on Tuesday.
State lawmakers created the academy this year. It's intended to train more students at state colleges and universities to work in film, television and digital industries. Georgia's generous incentive program had drawn more productions here in recent years.
Officials say that Stepakoff is a professor of film and television writing at Kennesaw State University. He has worked in TV and film writing and producing.
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — The University of Georgia is the only Southeastern Conference member among the Princeton Review's annual list of the nation's top 10 party schools.
Georgia comes in at No. 8 in this year's rankings by the college guide.
The Athens News-Banner reports the ranking is the highest for Georgia since 2012, when it was ranked fifth.
SEC members Ole Miss and the University of Florida also are on the party school list but didn't rank in the top 10. The University of Mississippi comes in at 12th, and Florida is No. 14.
The University of Illinois is No. 1 in the new party school rankings, and administrators aren't happy about it. An Illinois spokesman says the ranking paints the university's students in a false light.
NEW YORK (AP) — Matt Stonie shocked the competitive eating world on Saturday by upsetting Joey "Jaws" Chestnut at the Fourth of July hot dog eating contest at Nathan's Famous in Coney Island, breaking Chestnut's bid for a ninth straight victory.
Stonie, 23, who finished second last year, downed 62 hot dogs and buns, beating Chestnut by two. Both are from San Jose, California.
As thousands of spectators observed the eaters on an elevated stage, the next closest competitor ate 32 hot dogs.
"I trained hard for this. This is actually amazing," Stonie told ESPN, which broadcast the competition live like the major sporting event its biggest fans say it has become.
Afterward, Stonie, holding his fist in the air in victory, said he came into the competition confident and prepared.
Chestnut, smiling in defeat, said he was slow and couldn't catch Stonie.
"I've been looking for competition for a long time and I finally have it," he said, vowing to return next year. "He made me hungry."
Early in the contest, Chestnut seemed to have a slight edge but Stonie moved ahead after several minutes and seemed to be slowly extending his lead until the final bell.
The men's contest came more than an hour after the women competed, with defending champion Miki Sudo capturing first place with a flourish that emphasized strategy rather than condiments.
The Las Vegas woman ate 38 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes to claim the title for the second straight year, along with the $10,000 that comes with it.
She retained the coveted mustard yellow winner's championship belt after downing four more wieners than last year and besting Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas of Alexandria, Virginia, who devoured 31 hot dogs.
Sudo employed a successful strategy of eating the hot dogs separately from the buns and swallowing the buns after first dipping them in Crystal Light.
A very light rain fell off and on before the event got underway.
The colorful holiday tradition draws its share of characters. Someone walked around dressed as a giant hot dog.
The spectacle also included a few chanting animal welfare protesters bearing anti-meat signs adorned with fake blood.
Security included police dogs that apparently were not thrown off by the scent of the grilled meat, along with police officers on rooftops.
NEW YORK (AP) — Theater fans who tune in to see the Tony Awards on Sunday night will get a pair of quirky hosts, a show crammed with music and a memorable way to celebrate the passing of Broadway figures.
Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming are the hosts this year, projecting a playful, daffy chemistry that uses gentle jokes and costume changes. The show opens with them signing a medley of standards, zooms through the season's musicals and ends three hours later with the current cast of "Jersey Boys" singing "Oh, What a Night."
The telecast on CBS starting at 8 p.m. EDT at Radio City Music Hall will feature appearances by Jennifer Lopez, Sting, Jim Parsons, Amanda Seyfried, Kiefer Sutherland, Bryan Cranston, Sutton Foster, Jennifer Nettles, Taye Diggs and Ashley Tisdale.
Josh Groban leads a moving "In Memoriam" section when he sings "You'll Never Walk Alone" from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Carousel," backed by the casts of all the shows appearing on the telecast, some 175 people.
For the record, there will be 11 musical performances and 24 competitive Tonys will be handed out, some tucked in during commercial breaks. The best play nominees will be showcased in video clips.
The nominated musicals "On the Twentieth Century," ''Something Rotten!" ''The Visit," ''The King and I," ''On the Town," ''Fun Home" and "An American in Paris" will be performed. A few other non-nominated shows, including like Vanessa Hudgens' "Gigi" and Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer with "Finding Neverland," also will get a spot.
Highlights include a bit with "Seinfeld" pals Larry David and Jason Alexander, Cumming appearing in a massive hoop dress, and Joel Grey, who recently announced he was gay, introducing "Fun Home" with his daughter, Jennifer Grey.
Producers are hoping to beat last year's average of 7.02 million viewers. But as happened last year, the Tonys will have to compete against Game 2 of the NBA Finals, which starts at the same time.
A total of 37 shows opened during the season and box offices reported a record total gross of $1.36 billion — up from $1.27 billion from the previous season.
KENNESAW — About 25,000 people are expected to descend on Kennesaw State University this weekend for the inaugural Shaky Boots Music Festival featuring country music super-stars Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton.
NEW YORK (AP) — NBC is turning to some proven players for next year's schedule, resurrecting its "Heroes" franchise, bringing back Craig T. Nelson as "Coach" and turning to veteran producer Dick Wolf for a medical drama based in Chicago.
The network is also trying the interesting experiment of airing the sitcom "Undateable" live each week. It's NBC's only returning comedy. Favorites "The Voice" and "The Blacklist" will be back in the same time slots.
NBC on Sunday became the first of the major broadcast networks to release their schedule for next season. NBC and Fox present their schedule to advertisers on Monday.
Fourteen new series, including six comedies, seven dramas and one variety show. Given the year-round nature of TV schedules now, only six will begin with the traditional September start to a new season.
The comedies "Marry Me," ''About a Boy," ''One Big Happy," ''A to Z" and "Bad Judge" are all cancelled. So are "State of Affairs," ''Constantine" and "Allegiance."
The cast and producers of "Undateable" aired a live episode earlier this month, and next season will attempt the high-wire act of doing it each week. Networks love live shows, since they are generally DVR-proof. NBC will also present a live production of "The Wiz" next fall and airs pro football games each Sunday night. For a sitcom like "Undateable," the appeal will be in seeing if a cast can pull it off without flubs.
"Live programming is one more way to make a show undeniable," said Robert Greenblatt, NBC Entertainment chairman.
Television offers no guarantees, but familiar actors and ideas are the closest thing. That's why Nelson, whose series "Parenthood" ended this past season, returns to the role he played for nine seasons on "Coach." In the new version, Hayden Fox is retired but gets back into the action to help his son.
"Heroes" was one of NBC's few successes during the 2000s, so it is coming back as "Heroes Reborn," with a similar supernatural premise and new cast, although some original "Heroes" players will occasionally appear. The original show's creator, Tim Kring, is back.
Few producers have been more dependable for NBC than Wolf, maker of the "Law & Order" franchise. His "Chicago Med" series, a relative to "Chicago P.D.," was given the go-ahead although, like "Coach," it will appear sometime in the midseason.
NBC's record developing comedies in recent years has been abysmal, with the network of "Friends," ''Seinfeld," ''Cheers" and "The Office" straining for laughs. Only two comedies made it onto the fall schedule, both on Friday nights, general considered a network graveyard. "Undateable" will be seen on a night when most of its target audience hopes to be out on dates.
Variety shows are a moribund TV genre, but NBC will try to bring it back with the versatile Neil Patrick Harris. He'll star in a Tuesday night show this fall that will feature stunts, skits and musical numbers, based on the British show "Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway."
Besides Nelson and Harris, NBC's new series feature boldfaced names like Jennifer Lopez ("Shades of Blue"), Rob Lowe ("You, Me and the End of the World"), Wesley Snipes ("The Player"), Eva Longoria ("Hot & Bothered"), Oliver Platt and S. Epatha Merkerson ("Chicago Med") and America Ferrara ("Superstore").
NBC also promised a TV movie based on Dolly Parton's life and a miniseries, "The Reaper," about an African-American sniper credited with 33 kills in a 10-day deployment in Afghanistan.
Thumbnail sketches of new series given the go-ahead for next season on NBC:
"BLINDSPOT" — A drama from executive producer Greg Berlanti about a mysterious woman found naked and completely covered in tattoos in Times Square, with no memory of who she is. The tattoos provide clues to her identity. Series was given a coveted time slot after "The Voice" on Mondays this fall.
"THE PLAYER" — A thriller from the team behind "The Blacklist" about a former military operative turned security expert in Las Vegas, starring Wesley Snipes. On Thursday night's schedule in the fall.
"HEROES REBORN" — An extension of the supernatural drama "Heroes" with the show's original creator, Tim Kring, and a new cast. On Thursday night's schedule in the fall.
"PEOPLE ARE TALKING" — A sitcom about two diverse couples who are neighbors and best friends. They obsess about everything in their lives, including the possibility that their baby sitter is a porn star. On Friday nights in the fall.
"HEARTBREAKER" — A medical drama, starring Melissa George of "The Slap," about the life of a woman who is one of the world's best heart transplant surgeons. On Tuesday night's schedule in the fall.
"BEST TIME EVER WITH NEIL PATRICK HARRIS" — The versatile actor-singer leads his own variety series with stunts, skits and musical numbers. It's based on the British series "Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway." Tuesday nights on the fall schedule through November.
"COACH" — A sitcom that brings Craig T. Nelson back to the character he played on ABC from 1989 to 1997. Football coach Hayden Fox is retired now, but springs back into action to help his son, who was hired as a coach at an Ivy League university that knows little about sports. For midseason.
"SHADES OF BLUE" — Jennifer Lopez stars as a New York detective and single mom force to make a difficult choice when the FBI calls on her to inform on dirty cops she counts as friends. For midseason.
"CROWDED" — Sean Hayes produces this comedy about a couple whose empty nest becomes full again when two grown daughters and the husband's parents move in. For midseason.
"HOT & BOTHERED" — Eva Longoria stars and produces this series about backstage life at a Latino soap opera. For midseason.
"SUPERSTORE" — A workplace comedy about employees at a megastore, starring America Ferrara of "Ugly Betty." For midseason.
"YOU, ME AND THE END OF THE WORLD" — A one-hour comic drama about what happens when news comes out that the Earth is on a collision course with a comet. Rob Lowe, Jenna Fischer of "The Office" and Megan Mullally of "Will & Grace" are all featured. For midseason.
"CHICAGO MED" — Oliver Platt and S. Epatha Merkerson are among the ensemble in this drama about life at a Chicago hospital. It's produced by Dick Wolf, who has made the "Law & Order" franchise, "Chicago Fire" and "Chicago P.D." for NBC. For midseason.
"GAME OF SILENCE" — A drama about a successful Atlanta lawyer whose long-lost childhood friends reappear with a dark secret. For midseason.
HONOLULU (AP) — In Hawaii, Spam rules. No, not the kind that you get in your email, but the kind you eat — or don't eat, as it may be for many mainlanders.
To honor Spam lovers in Hawaii, Hormel Foods released a new flavor — Portuguese sausage Spam — exclusively for the state at the Spam Jam street festival on Saturday in Honolulu. The flavor, which was available to sample at the event, may eventually be sold elsewhere in the region and internationally, the company says.
Gaby Kim, who grew up in Oahu, said she eats Spam often and always has. "I grew up eating Spam musubi a lot from 7-Eleven," she said. "It's kind of ghetto but it's good. I like the cheese one."
Spam musubi, a sushi-inspired variation, is one of the more popular forms in Hawaii. It consists of a slab of Spam, rice and sesame seeds tied in seaweed.
Many people have theories about what the name Spam actually means, but no one really knows. Many believe the name is short for "spiced ham." Others might say it stands for "shoulders of pig and ham."
But Hormel won't answer the question, saying on its website that the true meaning is known by only a small circle of former executives, and "probably Nostradamus."
Ken Daigneau, the brother of one of the founding executives for the Spam product, won $100 in a contest for naming the canned meat in 1937 when it was first introduced, according to the company website.
They say the meat is not such a mystery. They list the ingredients as pork, salt, water, potato starch, sugar and sodium nitrate.
The meat does, however, have a meaning in Hawaii. To tens of thousands in the Aloha State, it's like steak and potatoes, pasta and sauce, fish and chips, or hot dogs.
The history behind the salty luncheon meat in Hawaii goes back to World War II when the company started shipping it to military personnel stationed in the islands. Spam did not need to be refrigerated, so it could be shipped to the state without spoiling during the long journey from the mainland.
Spam quickly cross-pollinated from the military population into the local diet, and its popularity has grown ever since.
Now, Spam can be found pretty much everywhere that serves food in Hawaii: gas stations, local markets, diners and even in Hawaii's fast-food chains such as McDonald's and Burger King.
The restaurants participating in this weekend's event served up creative versions of the classic. There was barbecue Spam, Spam and fresh ahi katsu with wasabi curry and fresh mango salsa, and even Spam cupcakes.
Tina Wazney of Pearl City tried the cupcake that featured a sprinkling of Spam on top and a hearty slab baked in. "It's good but a little strange," she said of the treat. "The boy likes it though," she said, talking about her young son.
Fried Spam and eggs is a staple breakfast combo in the state, but people here eat it for lunch and dinner as well. In fact, people in Hawaii eat more Spam than any other state in the nation, consuming nearly 7 million cans per year, according to the Hormel website.
Charles Coffelt of Sacramento, California, said he doesn't like Spam very much, but wanted to come and see the event. "I can eat it," he said, "but it's one of those things that your dad makes you eat when you're a kid."
Of all the flavors he has tried, he said he likes the traditional fried Spam the best. "It tastes like a cross between bacon and ham."
According to event organizers, last year Spam Jam raised about $25,000 in donations for local charities including the Hawaii Foodbank, which feeds low-income and homeless families in the state. The event hosts about 25,000 people each year.
BOSTON (AP) — A Tennessee woman who ran the Boston Marathon is looking for the man she kissed on a dare.
Barbara Tatge says her daughter, Paige, dared her to kiss a random, good-looking man and take a photo of it as she ran her first Boston Marathon on April 20.
So, about halfway into the race, that's what the single 55-year-old from Lakeland did. "That little kiss gave me wings on my shoes for the rest of the race," Tatge said Friday by phone.
Now Paige Tatge, a graduate student at Arizona State University, is determined to find the mystery man, who clearly left an impression on her mom. This week, she's taken to social media and made outright appeals to Boston-area media. Paige Tatge says it's a birthday present to her mom.
"The response has been great so far," she said by email. "I can't believe the responses from random people wanting my mom to find this man. It's been great."
Barbara Tatge says she's a little embarrassed by the attention.
"I don't want it to seem like I'm this desperate woman that's seeking this man," she said. "But my daughters are so sweet, and they're always looking out for my best interests."
Tatge also doesn't want to put her mystery man in an awkward position if he's in a relationship or married. "I would want his wife to know I was definitely the aggressor," she says. "I mean, I approached him, you know?"
Tatge admits she's curious to see where this dare — a twist on the traditional kisses offered to runners by the women of Wellesley College — leads. She also regrets not taking the moment to get his phone number after he yelled out for her to call him as she resumed the race.
"I'd like to find out who he is, regardless of how this all turns out," Tatge says. "Am I kicking myself? Maybe just a little."
Paige says she's not surprised her mom took her up on the challenge.
"My mom is the definition of a risk-taker! I was more surprised that the man was so handsome," she wrote. "I dared my mom to kiss a Wellesley man because my mom truly wanted to have a good time at the Boston Marathon. The race wasn't about time to her. It was about having a great experience. I wanted to help her have some fun along the run!"
AKRON, Ohio (AP) — The stars of a charity calendar are in their 80s and 90s, but that didn't stop the men and women from an assisted living facility in Ohio from showing a little skin.
Miss March, who's 88, wears a green top hat and not much else in the calendar from Pleasant Pointe Assisted Living, and the centerfolds are two women in their 90s who seem to be playing poker with strategically placed oversize cards.
Flip to February and you'll see a smiling, white-haired Dottie Rutter soaking in a bubble bath and flower petals, with chocolates and lingerie nearby.
At 87, she's the same age as the youngest of three models standing in the cover photo, where their bare feet and shoulders peek out from behind a banner they hold advertising the Barberton facility and the affiliated Pleasant View Health Care Center.
It reads: "Pleasant View, Pleasant Pointe."
Another resident in the calendar is covered only by a large exercise ball.
Administrator Teresa Morris told The Akron Beacon Journal (http://bit.ly/1x0K3x3) that the residents were clearly having fun the morning the photos were taken.
"The residents were like 20-year-olds — giggling, and having the time of their lives," Morris said. "I do not believe the elderly should just sit around staring at each other. I want a fun environment where I challenge them and they challenge me."
Money from the $12 calendars goes toward a fund providing shoes for children in the local schools in the city of Barberton.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A church camp on the banks of the Cahaba River will spring to life this summer, thanks to a $2.52 million gift left by an Avondale widow who died in 2012.
The river camp has been in the planning stages for 14 years and will have a grand opening on April 25. The Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley, the regional governing body of the Presbyterian Church (USA), sold its 317-acre Covenant Mountain church camp in Springville in 2001 and used that money to purchase 437 acres along a four-mile stretch of the Cahaba River in Bibb and Shelby counties.
Last week, the presbytery introduced Executive Director John Erdman, who will run the Living River Camp. Erdman was hired in January.
"I think it's a great facility in a great location," Erdman said.
Erdman has extensive experience as a church camp professional, running camps for several denominations. He most recently ran Camp Wesley Woods, a United Methodist Church camp in East Tennessee.
Living River Camp is going into business at the same time a lot of church camps have been struggling to stay in business. "In the 1940s and 1950s, churches discovered church camps," Erdman said. "With all those camps aging and in need of repair, and fewer children spending summers at church camps, the camps have had problems staying open."
Erdman said Living River Camp has the advantage of having an infusion of money and new facilities that will attract visitors from outside the church's membership. "We're brand new and we're a retreat center for everybody," Erdman said. "We have an environmental education center and we will be working closely with schools."
Bette Wilson, 81, a member of the now-defunct Avondale Presbyterian Church, died in 2012. When her will was probated, it was discovered that she had more than a dozen banking and investment accounts that totaled about $2.8 million. She had $1.5 million in a Morgan Stanley investment account, and the rest spread out in other accounts up to $250,000 each.
She had left most of her money to the church, dedicating it to the building of the Living Rivers Camp. The gift came as a surprise to the church, since Wilson had lived modestly in her later years.
When her microwave oven stopped working, the former church members didn't think she had enough money for a new appliance and they gave her the one from the shut-down church building. They had no idea that she was secretly a multi-millionaire.
She had attended the church most Sundays for 50 years until the 16-member congregation disbanded in 2010. She liked wearing different hats. People called her "the hat lady."
Mrs. Wilson had worked as a credit manager for 40 years at Pure Oil Co., and her husband had worked for decades as an airplane mechanic for Delta Airlines. They had built a two-bedroom, one-bathroom, 850-square-foot house on 47th Street in 1953 and lived in it the rest of their lives. They had no children.
At her death, the church thought that at most, it had probably inherited only her house, valued at $88,000. Instead, her $2.52 million gift provided the final push that allowed cabins to be built on the riverfront property.
About $7.5 million had already been raised and $4.5 million had been spent on developing the land, building a water tank, water lines, putting in roads and building a canoe launch on the Cahaba River.
The camp now has buildings ready to host campers and canoeists. Youth retreats are being held there this month and in March. Summer camps will be underway in June and July.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Oscar movies this year may be small, but they're packing a lot of drama.
When the 87th Academy Awards kick off Sunday night at 8:30 EST, the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles will be buzzing with something the Oscars haven't always had in recent years: genuine intrigue at who the night's biggest winners will be.
The Oscars may also have another sight unusual to Southern California: rain. Light afternoon showers are expected, which could dampen red-carpet arrivals (though the carpet itself is under a glass tent).
With a co-leading nine nominations, Alejandro Inarritu's backstage comedy "Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" flies in with the strongest wind at its back. It topped the acting, directing and producing guild awards, which are often strong predictors of what the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will vote for.
"Birdman" also won best feature at Saturday's Independent Film Spirit Awards, further boosting its momentum. At the pre-Oscars beachside bash, star Michael Keaton, who won best actor, proclaimed the film "bold cinema" and "a game changer," a judgment shared by many in Hollywood who no doubt recognize something in Keaton's character's out-of-control ego.
But the coronation of "Birdman" is far from assured. Many believe the landmark of Richard Linklater 12-years-in-the-making "Boyhood" will ultimately prove irresistible to academy members. Best director also appears to be a toss-up between Inarritu and Linklater.
Three of the acting winners — Julianne Moore ("Still Alice"), J.K. Simmons ("Whiplash") and Patricia Arquette ("Boyhood") — are virtual locks going into Sunday's show, but best actor will be a nail biter. It could be the young British star Eddie Redmayne for his technically nuanced performance as Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything," or it could be Keaton's career-topper in "Birdman," as an actor trying to flee his superhero past.
But whether suspense will be enough to pull viewers to the telecast on ABC remains to be seen. Host Neil Patrick Harris will hope to continue the recent ratings upswing for the Oscars, which last year drew 43 million viewers, making it the most-watched entertainment telecast in a decade.
This year's crop of nominees, however, is notably light on box-office smashes. Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper" (six nominations including best picture) is the only best-picture candidate to gross more than $100 million domestically. (A runaway hit, it recently surpassed $300 million.)
Possibly worse for the Oscars is that the lack of diversity in the nominees this year (all 20 nominated actors are white) turned off many potential viewers and led some to call for a boycott of the broadcast. Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are likely to aim for a telecast more inclusive than the nominees.
Planned performers include Lady Gaga, Jack Black, Jennifer Hudson and Anna Kendrick, as well as Oscar-nominated original songs: Common and John Legend ("Glory" from "Selma"), Maroon 5 ("Lost Stars" from "Begin Again"), Tim McGraw ("I'm Not Gonna Miss You" from "Glen Campbell . I'll Be Me"), Rita Ora ("Grateful" from "Beyond the Lights") and Tegan and Sara with the Lonely Island ("Everything Is Awesome" from "The Lego Movie").
Oprah Winfrey (a co-star in "Selma") will be among the presenters, as will Eddie Murphy, Chris Pratt, Kevin Hart, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Cate Blanchett, Channing Tatum and John Travolta.
Increasingly, ratings are driven by moments that spark social media frenzy, like when Travolta famously mispronounced the name of singer Idina Menzel as "Adele Dazeem" at last year's show. Sunday night, he gets a chance for redemption.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Revelers danced into the wee hours Tuesday at glitzy balls, kicking off the annual Mardi Gras bash that spills costumed merrymakers into the streets of New Orleans for partying, parades and trinkets tossed from passing floats.
Al Johnson, singer of the catchy Mardi Gras tune "Carnival Time," served as grand marshal of the Red Beans and Rice foot parade, a Monday prelude to the all-out revelry known as "Fat Tuesday." He and others downed traditional fare of spicy red beans and rice before attending the Orpheus Ball, one of several as the partying began in this Mississippi River port.
Johnson told The Associated Press his catchy song — now synonymous with the annual Carnival seasons — got its inspiration from the Lower 9th Ward, a New Orleans district devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "It all started down there," he said of the Louisiana neighborhood where levees broke and surging stormwaters splintered wooden homes. But after Katrina, he said, "Life is going on."
Celebrities and celebrity watchers are also around at Mardi Gras and this year was no exception.
The cast of the CBS crime drama "NCIS: New Orleans" got to experience Mardi Gras firsthand as they rode in the Orpheus parade late Monday, tossing beads to revelers lining city streets before heading off to the ball. Their Mardi Gras episode airs Tuesday night at 8 p.m. CST.
Other celebrities joining in this year's revelry were comedian Ron White and country music star Dierks Bentley.
Ordinary folks took to dressing up. Friends Alexandra Sergutin and Ashley Dornier of New Orleans said donning elegant gowns for the Carnival balls is one of their favorite Mardi Gras activities.
"It feels good to be a part of that tradition. It really does. It touches your heart," said Sergutin, draped in colorful beads. " ... You're a part of something amazing and big."
Around daybreak Tuesday, retired clarinetist Peter Fountain was to help kick off the citywide party. The National Weather Service said some early rain was expected to clear out shortly before for the first parades, with temperatures in the upper 30s to the lower 40s by midday.
Now 84, Fountain no longer makes the walk of 10 miles or so of his Half-Fast Walking Club, which he helped found more than half a century ago.
Celebrations also were scheduled throughout south Louisiana and in coastal Mississippi and Alabama, sharing the traditions brought by French Catholic colonists in the 18th century. In Louisiana's swampy bayou parishes, costumed riders on horseback go from farm to farm, collecting ingredients for a huge community gumbo.
After Fountain's Half-Fast Walking Club, parade groups were to follow, including the "krewe of Rex, king of Carnival," who wears a golden crown and carries a golden scepter. That group features some of the season's most wildly fantastic floats. After Rex two groups were to follow in "truck floats" — hundreds of flatbed trailers topped by costumed riders — whether families, clubs or other social groups.
The parades wind down late Tuesday afternoon and outdoor celebrations cease at midnight, when the solemn Catholic season of Lent begins. New Orleans police ride horseback down the French Quarter's Bourbon Street to clear the last tipsy revelers at the end, signaling the party is over for another year.
ATLANTA (AP) — Messages of support were being offered Monday as people awaited word on singer Whitney Houston's daughter, who authorities say was found face down and unresponsive in a bathtub over the weekend in a suburban Atlanta townhome.
Twenty-one-year-old Bobbi Kristina Brown was taken Saturday to a hospital in the northern Atlanta suburb of Roswell, Georgia, police said. Brown is also the daughter of R&B singer Bobby Brown.
Lindsey Harber, a spokeswoman at North Fulton Hospital, where police say Houston's daughter was taken, declined comment.
"I can't confirm she's even there," Harber said Sunday.
Brown's husband, Nick Gordon, along with a friend, found her in a bathtub Saturday, Roswell police said in a statement. The friend called 911 while Brown's husband performed CPR on her because they did not believe she was breathing nor had a pulse, said Officer Lisa Holland, a Roswell Police Department spokeswoman.
Police gave Brown additional care before she was taken to the hospital, Holland said.
La Toya Jackson is one of several celebrities who used Twitter to express her support Sunday.
"Let's All Send Love Light & Prayers to Bobbi Kristina Brown!" Jackson tweeted. "Wishing Her A Healthy & Speedy Recovery!" Singer-songwriter Missy Elliott said on Twitter that she's also throwing her support behind Brown. "Still Praying 4 Bobbi Kristina," Elliott tweeted in part.
The townhome is in a subdivision near a bend in the Chattahoochee River, about 20 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta.
Whitney Houston was found dead in a hotel bathtub on Feb. 11, 2012, in Beverly Hills, California. The 48-year-old Houston had struggled for years with cocaine, marijuana and pills, and her behavior had become erratic.
Authorities examining Houston's death found a dozen prescription drug bottles in the hotel suite. They concluded Houston accidentally drowned. Heart disease and cocaine use were listed as contributing factors in Houston's death.
In September, the late singer's sister-in-law Pat Houston told The Associated Press that Bobbi Kristina Brown was doing well, and that she was proud of her.
"Bobbi's a 21-year-old. She's doing good," Pat Houston said.
"I always tell the kids — not only her — but the other nieces and nephews, 'You think you're grown. Just because you're 21, out of the house, you think you're grown,'" she added. "I mean, they make their decisions, they keep moving, you can only advise them and keep it moving, and that's what I do. But she's good. I'm very proud of Krissy."
Over her career, Whitney Houston sold more than 50 million records in the United States alone. Her voice, an ideal blend of power, grace and beauty, made classics out of songs such as "Saving All My Love For You," ''I Will Always Love You," ''The Greatest Love of All" and "I'm Every Woman." Her six Grammys were only a fraction of her many awards.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New historical research is shedding light on how pivotal the victory by Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson and his ragtag army of frontiersmen, Creoles, slaves and American Indians was at the Battle of New Orleans 200 years ago.
Often the Battle of New Orleans — the main battle took place Jan. 8, 1815 — is viewed as having been a great military victory, but inconsequential because a peace treaty between Britain and the United States was signed before the battle was fought.
"What I was taught in school, like most of us, was that the Battle of New Orleans was irrelevant," said C.J. Longanecker, a former National Park Service ranger who worked for years at the Chalmette Battlefield, a national park dedicated to the battle.
In reality, historians now say, the peace treaty was only as good as the paper it was written on.
A big discovery has come from British war records: A set of secret orders given in October 1814 to Maj. Gen. Edward Pakenham, the commander of the British invasion of the Gulf Coast.
The orders directed Pakenham to fight on regardless of any peace deal and capture New Orleans, said Ronald Drez, the military historian who uncovered the orders. He dug up the records last spring during research in London for his new book, "The War of 1812, Conflict and Deception: The British Attempt to Seize New Orleans and Nullify the Louisiana Purchase."
This should put to rest any doubt about British designs in America, Drez argues.
"It truly is the smoking gun," Drez said. "They say to Pakenham: 'If you hear of a peace treaty, pay no attention, continue to fight.'"
Drez found the orders among military records in The National Archives at Kew in London.
"It's old information that hasn't been looked at," said Ron Chapman about the orders, a historian at the Nunez Community College close to the old battlefield, a large, grassy slip of land along the Mississippi River surrounded by live oak trees, a sugar mill and oil refineries.
In Chapman's new book, "The Battle of New Orleans: But for a Piece of Wood," he reaches similar conclusions to Drez. Both historians said Americans don't appreciate how close the British came to seizing New Orleans and radically changing the course of American history.
The British viewed the sale of the Louisiana territory by Napoleon Bonaparte to Thomas Jefferson as illegal. Great Britain "had never been reconciled with the loss of its colonies" in North America, said Christina Vella, a Tulane University historian and biographer. "They planned to colonize Louisiana."
The stand by Jackson and his makeshift army, then, takes on new meaning.
Nearly 300 British soldiers were dead and almost six times as many were wounded, captured or missing after a multi-pronged attack by the British on the makeshift fortifications the Americans had erected on the two banks of the Mississippi River south of New Orleans. The defeat caused the British armada to retreat to Mobile and definitively ended the War of 1812, and the two countries never went to war again.
"This is as big as Yorktown," Chapman said, referring to the decisive victory over the British during the American Revolution.
All the same, it's not an easy page of American history to digest.
Jackson was a cruel bloodthirsty killer and slave owner. Though courteous in genteel society, the future president drank, swore, smoked, gambled and loved cockfighting. He routinely ordered executions and put bounties on the heads of fugitive slaves, said Vella, the Tulane historian.
As for the other hero of the Battle of New Orleans, the French pirate Jean Lafitte, he was a slave-runner and tax cheat who likely never even heard a shot fired during the battle, said William C. Davis, a historian at Virginia Tech and an authority on Lafitte.
But in discussing the formation of the United States, historians say the battle for New Orleans and its participants, regardless of their failings, were pivotal in saving the American expansionist dream.
"When you think of this nation from shining sea to shining sea," said Longanecker, the retired park ranger, "it would not have happened but for this battle."
CINCINNATI (AP) — A "Zombie Nativity" scene in a southwest Ohio suburb was still undead Tuesday, past the deadline to remove it.
Sycamore Township officials said last week they had received complaints about debris at the home and concluded that the display violated zoning rules on size and placement of yard structures. They sent resident Jasen Dixon two zoning violation notices and gave him until the day after Christmas to take it down.
Facing a fine and legal action, Dixon kept the display up. A Facebook page devoted to the scene urges support for "freedom of expression."
The township administrator, Greg Bickford, said Tuesday the owner will face fines of up to $250 a day. Officials say they're not anti-zombie, but pro-zoning rules.
"The property owner will be cited for failure to remove the structure," Bickford said via email. "Not the zombies, but the structure."
Dixon indicated he planned to take the display down, but not for forever. He has started an online crowdfunding effort to build an even better display next year — and to help cover township citations.
The scene has eerie figures including a demonic-looking creature sitting up in the manger where the baby Jesus would be in traditional Christmas nativities. There's a detached head with it in the manger, while another ghoulish figure holds a replica heart in its hand as a somber "Silent Night" plays in the background.
"We do live in a free country, don't we?" asked Judy Giese, who lives down the block from Dixon on Vorhees Lane (not related to "Friday the 13th" movie slasher Jason Voorhees). Auto paint and body shops line the other side of the road in the township nearly 15 miles northeast of Cincinnati.
Dixon manages a haunted house attraction and used figures from a Halloween display to create what he calls a holiday decoration.
Giese said she and her husband took down their own small nativity scene and lights after Christmas. She doesn't mind if Dixon expands his display, as long as it's not into her yard.
"It's different," she said, adding that it was quite a hit with guests at their Christmas party. "It's like being next to an amusement park."
Contact the reporter at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell
STOCKHOLM (AP) — French economist Jean Tirole won the Nobel prize for economics Monday for research on market power and regulation that has helped policy-makers understand how to deal with industries dominated by a few companies.
Calling Tirole "one of the most influential economists of our time," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said he's made contributions in a range of research areas. But it highlighted his role in clarifying "how to understand and regulate industries with a few powerful firms."
Tirole, 61, works at the Toulouse School of Economics in France and has a Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Left unregulated, industries that are dominated by a few single firms can produce undesirable results, such as unnecessarily high prices or unproductive companies blocking new firms from entering the market. From the mid-1980s, Tirole "breathed new life into research on such market failures," the academy said, adding his work has strong bearing on how governments deal with mergers or cartels and how they should regulate monopolies.
"In a series of articles and books, Jean Tirole has presented a general framework for designing such policies and applied it to a number of industries, ranging from telecommunications to banking," the academy said.
His work is credited with helping drive the deregulation of industries in developed economies in the 1980s and 1990s, when many sectors were dominated by state-owned companies or monopolies. More recently, however, Tirole has argued for stronger regulation in the wake of the global financial crisis.
In a 2012 interview, Tirole told the financial journal Les Echos that the 2008 financial crisis stemmed primarily from regulatory failure. "The vision according to which economists have unlimited trust in the efficiency of markets is 30 years behind the times," he said, adding his research "does not advocate necessarily more or less of the state, but rather better state intervention."
Harvard University professor and economist Philippe Aghion said on France's BFM television Monday that Tirole's work is particularly useful to governments as they try to determine the best level of regulation, notably of banks after the global financial crisis. "Tirole is at the frontier of this domain," Aghion said.
It was the first economics prize without an American winner since 1999.
"I'm so moved," Tirole said, speaking to a news conference in Stockholm on a telephone link from Toulouse.
In an interview with France-Info radio on Monday, Tirole said his work applied theories derived from game theory to industry.
"The idea is to give companies the analytical means to deal with new contexts and also to give regulators the analytical tools they need," he said. "For example, how to deregulate electricity or railroads without creating infrastructure problems. How to allow entrants who are perhaps more dynamic without expropriating from the companies already in place."
Before Tirole, the academy said, policy-makers advocated simple rules including capping prices for companies with a monopoly and banning cooperation between competitors. Tirole showed that in some circumstances, such rules can do more harm than good.
"His contribution is that he has given us a whole toolbox," said prize committee secretary Torsten Persson. "More than that, he has given us an instruction manual for what tool to use in what market."
Drawing on insights based on Tirole's work, "governments can better encourage powerful firms to become more productive and, at the same time, prevent them from harming competitors and customers," the academy said.
The economics prize completed the 2014 Nobel Prize announcements.
In Nobel Prizes awarded last week, Taliban attack survivor Malala Yousafzai, 17, became the youngest Nobel winner ever as she and Kailash Satyarthi of India won the peace prize for fighting for children's rights. French writer Patrick Modiano won the literature prize for his lifelong study of the Nazi occupation and its effect on his country.
U.S. researchers Eric Betzig and William Moerner and Stefan Hell of Germany shared the chemistry prize for finding ways to make microscopes more powerful than previously thought possible; while Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano of Japan and Japanese-born U.S. scientist Shuji Nakamura won the physics prize for the invention of blue light-emitting diodes used in mobile phones, computers and TVs.
The awards will be presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.
Even though the economics award is not an original Nobel Prize — it was added in 1968 by Sweden's central bank — it is presented with the others and carries the same prize money.
Last year the economics prize went to three Americans who shed light on the forces that move stock, bond and home prices.
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Patrick Modiano of France, who has made a lifelong study of the Nazi occupation and its effects on his country, won the 2014 Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday.
The Swedish Academy gave the 8 million-kronor ($1.1 million) prize to Modiano for evoking "the most ungraspable human destinies" and uncovering the world of life behind the Nazi occupation.
Modiano, 69, whose novel "Missing Person" won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1978, was born in a west Paris suburb in July 1945, two months after World War II ended in Europe. His father was of Jewish-Italian origins and met his Belgian actress mother during the occupation of Paris.
Jewishness, the Nazi occupation and loss of identity are recurrent themes in his novels, which include 1968's "La Place de l'Etoile" — later hailed in Germany as a key post-Holocaust work.
Modiano, who lives in Paris, rarely accords interviews. He has published more than 40 works in French, some of which have been translated into English, including "Ring of Roads: A Novel," ''Villa Triste," ''A Trace of Malice," and "Honeymoon."
He has also written children's books and film scripts, including co-writing the 1974 movie "Lacombe, Lucien" with director Louis Malle and the 2003 movie "Bon Voyage" with director Jean-Paul Rappeneau.
He was a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000 and in 2012 won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature.
Dervila Cooke of Dublin City University, author of a book on Modiano, said his works dealt with the traumas of France's past but have a "darkly humorous touch."
"His prose is crystal clear and resonant," she said. "A common description of his work is of its petite musique — it's haunting little music."
Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy said Modiano's works often explore the themes of time, memory and identity.
"He is returning to the same topics again and again simply because these topics, you can't exhaust them," Englund told journalists in Stockholm. "You can't give a definite answer to: Why did I turn into the person I am today? What happened to me? How will I break out of the weight of time? How can I reach back into past times?"
Englund said Modiano also likes to play with the detective genre. In "Missing Person" he wrote about a private detective who is about to launch his last investigation — finding out who he is because he has completely lost his memory.
Betting on Modiano to win the Nobel Prize surged in the week before the announcement, raising questions about a possible leak. David Williams of bookmaker Ladbrokes said Modiano's odds had shortened from 100-1 a few months ago to 10-1 before the announcement.
Something similar occurred the last time there was a French winner, when Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio won the Nobel literature prize in 2008. The academy at the time suspected a leak.
But Williams said the betting pattern on Modiano was not suspicious.
"We are experts in analyzing betting patterns and we kind of know what a leak looks like. This doesn't look like a leak. It just looks like his fans got behind him and gave him a bit of momentum," he told The Associated Press.
Last year's prize went to Canadian writer Alice Munro for her mastery of the short story.
This year's Nobel Prize announcements started Monday with a U.S.-British scientist splitting the medicine prize with a Norwegian husband-and-wife team for brain research that could pave the way for a better understanding of diseases like Alzheimer's.
Two Japanese researchers and a Japanese-born American won the physics prize Tuesday for the invention of blue light-emitting diodes, a breakthrough that spurred the development of LED as a new light source.
The chemistry prize on Wednesday went to two Americans and a German researcher who found new ways to give microscopes sharper vision, letting scientists peer into living cells with unprecedented detail to seek the roots of disease.
The announcements continue Friday with the Nobel Peace Prize and the economics award on Monday.
The awards will be presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.
Associated Press writers Thomas Adamson in Paris and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — "Modern Family" and "Breaking Bad" triumphed at Monday's Emmy Awards, proving that established broadcast and cable fare retains the power to fend off challenges from upstart online series such as "Orange Is the New Black."
The ceremony's emotional high point came with Billy Crystal's restrained and graceful remembrance of Robin Williams, who was found dead Aug. 11, an apparent suicide.
"He made us laugh. Hard. Every time you saw him," Crystal said of Williams at the conclusion of a tribute to industry members who died within the past 12 months. "Robin Williams, what a concept."
ABC's "Modern Family" won a fifth best comedy series Emmy, tying the record set by "Frasier," while the final season of AMC's "Breaking Bad" captured the top drama award and a trio of acting honors for its stars.
Netflix's freshman "Orange Is the New Black," which competed for best comedy series despite its dark prison setting, failed to sway Emmy voters, as did Netflix's sophomore series "House of Cards."
Bryan Cranston was honored as best actor in a drama for "Breaking Bad," proving that "True Detective" nominee Matthew McConaughey's movie-star appeal couldn't conquer all.
"I have gratitude for everything that has happened," Cranston said. His victory ties him with four-time best drama actor champ Dennis Franz. Cranston's co-stars Aaron Paul and Anna Gunn were honored in categories for best drama supporting acting — he for the third time and she for the second straight year — and the series won its second consecutive best drama award.
"Thank you for this wonderful farewell to our show," ''Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan said of the series about a teacher-turned-drug kingpin that ended with a bang.
A broadcast win was scored by ABC's "The Good Wife" star Julianna Margulies, honored as best lead actress in a drama series. "What a wonderful time for women on television," Margulies said.
McConaughey was the object of too-handsome jokes by presenter Jimmy Kimmel and adoration by winner Gail Mancuso, honored as best director for an episode of "Modern Family." It was one of the better gags of the night.
"If you don't mind, Matthew McConaughey, I'm gonna make eye contact with you right now," she said from the stage, making good by holding the actor's gaze for much of her speech.
The ceremony honoring the best of TV wasn't shy about playing the movie-star card. "Six minutes to Woody Harrelson" flashed on screen during Colin Bucksey's acceptance speech for best miniseries direction for "Fargo."
Harrelson and his "True Detective" co-star were given time to banter before announcing that Benedict Cumberbatch of "Sherlock: His Last Vow" was the winner of the best miniseries actor award.
"So you won Oscar, (People magazine's) Sexiest Man Alive and now you want an Emmy, too. Isn't that a little bit greedy?" Harrelson teased his fellow nominee.
"Fargo" was named best miniseries, and the award for best miniseries actress went to Jessica Lange of "American Horror Story: Coven."
Buffering the miniseries awards was a parody routine about top nominees by "Weird Al" Yankovic. Musical numbers usually look out of place at the Emmys, and this one was no different. Other scripted banter fell flat, although host Seth Meyers kept soldiering on.
CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parsons was crowned as best comedy series actor, giving him his fourth Emmy and putting him in company with all-time sitcom winners Carroll O'Connor, Kelsey Grammer and Michael J. Fox.
"Modern Family" also captured a best comedy supporting actor trophy for Ty Burrell. Allison Janney was honored as best supporting comedy actress for CBS' "Mom," adding to the trophy she'd already picked up as guest actress on "Masters of Sex."
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who received her third consecutive best comedy actress Emmy for the political comedy "Veep," drew big laughs as she stopped to exchange faux heated kisses with Cranston, who earlier was her co-presenter and who appeared with her on "Seinfeld."
"The Colbert Report" was honored as best variety series for its farewell season, with its star departing to take over for David Letterman on CBS' "Late Show."
Meyers kicked off the ceremony by tweaking his home network, NBC, and other broadcasters for being eclipsed in the awards by cable series and online newcomers like "Orange Is the New Black."
Noting that the Emmys moved to Monday night to avoid a conflict with Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards, he said that MTV doesn't really specialize in videos anymore.
"That's like network TV holding an awards show and giving all the trophies to cable and Netflix. That would be crazy," Meyers joked — but the outcome proved him wrong.
Besides "Orange Is the New Black," other shows that didn't benefit from tactical category choices included "Shameless," which moved from drama to comedy consideration, and "True Detective," with its close-ended story that smacked of a miniseries.
The ceremony's traditional "in memoriam" tribute to industry members who have died in the past year flashed images of stars including James Garner, Ruby Dee, Sid Caesar, Carmen Zapata and Elaine Stritch as singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles sang "Smile." It concluded with the tribute to Williams.
Another touching moment Monday: Director-producer Ryan Murphy dedicating the outstanding TV movie Emmy won by "The Normal Heart" to the many artists felled by the HIV virus and AIDS.
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan has been upgraded to fair condition following the New Jersey highway crash that badly injured him and killed one of his friends, his spokesman said Monday.
"His personality is certainly starting to come back as well," spokesman Lewis Kay said.
The 45-year-old former "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock" star suffered broken ribs and a broken leg in the June 7 crash on the New Jersey Turnpike. The crash killed fellow comedian James McNair and seriously injured two other people.
Prosecutors say Wal-Mart driver Kevin Roper's truck hit Morgan's limo. The Jonesboro, Georgia, resident has pleaded not guilty to death by auto and assault by auto charges.
A criminal complaint alleges Roper hadn't slept for more than 24 hours before the accident when he swerved to avoid slowed traffic on the turnpike and plowed into Morgan's limo.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Arkansas, has not explained what Roper's driving route was. It has said it believes he was in compliance with federal safety regulations.
Morgan's assistant, Jeffrey Millea, of Shelton, Connecticut, has also been upgraded to fair condition, Kay said. Hospital officials said comedian Ardie Fuqua, of Jersey City, remains in critical condition.
MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — The newest sports craze sweeping through retirement communities across the country has reached Cobb County, with lessons and open court time available at local recreation centers and parks.
TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — Tybee Island officials say they're bringing in extra police officers from nearby communities for the expected spring gathering of young people known as "Orange Crush."
Authorities say they've learned from social media that Orange Crush will likely take place April 19, so the extra officers will be on the island during that day and into the early morning the following day. The event is not officially sanctioned, and word typically spreads through social media.
Tybee Island officials are expecting traffic delays, which could begin as early as 2 p.m. April 19 and last well into the evening.
On Easter Sunday, Tybee Island plans its annual inter-denominational Sunrise Service at the pier. City officials say they're taking every step to ensure that the area is clean before the sun rises on Sunday.
NEW YORK (AP) — At a time when Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are pushing people to put forward their most polished, put-together selves, a new class of mobile applications aims for a bit more honesty.
Among the latest is Secret, created by two former Google engineers who were looking for a way to let people deliver genuine feedback to coworkers. With the app, friends and friends of friends can share their deepest and darkest thoughts, along with gossip, criticism and even plans to propose marriage, under a cloak of near-anonymity.
"This idea that you have to craft this perfect image online," says Secret's 30-year-old co-founder Chrys Bader-Wechseler. "That's stressful. We want to remove that stress."
Secret joins a handful of apps such as Confide, Whisper and Yik Yak that have become popular — and in some cases, notorious — in recent months, by offering users a way to communicate while cloaking their identities.
What happens when people are free to say what they want without a name and profile photo attached? It's an experiment in human nature that harkens back to the early days of the Web, when faceless masses with made-up nicknames ruled chat rooms and online message boards.
In the past decade, anonymity has been fading. As Facebook soared to dominate online social networks, the trend shifted toward profiles, real names and the melding of online and offline identities. But as people's online social circles grew from friends to parents, grandparents, in-laws, colleagues and bosses, many became increasingly reluctant to share as openly as they once did.
"People go on Facebook and say they just got engaged. But what you don't see is 'I am going to propose today,'" says Secret co-founder and CEO David Byttow, 32.
Launched in 2012, Whisper is especially popular with teenagers and 20-somethings, with the bulk of its users under 24. Yik Yak, released late last year, made headlines recently when a California high school went into lockdown after someone used the app to post an anonymous bomb threat.
Although anonymity apps are being criticized as platforms for bullying, supports say they can be tools for preventing mischief. They also have a cathartic value for some users.
"My baby boy passed away recently. I saw his picture today and cried. I cried because I love him and miss him. I'm a guy, so no one thinks to talk to me," read a recent post on Secret.
Another recent Secret message read: "Fact: It's downright scary to hire your first woman onto an all-male team."
On Secret, users are told when a friend has posted a secret — they just don't know which friend. Whisper, meanwhile does not tell users how, or if, they are connected to a person posting.
"I am a closeted gay guy and the sheer number of hot fraternity guys on campus is a special kind of hell," read a recent post on Whisper.
Whisper CEO Michael Heyward, 26, says the company's app does not allow people to "use anonymity to hurt anyone else." Users, for instance, can't put proper names into posts unless the names belong to public figures. So Justin Bieber is okay. Justin from Spanish class is not. Whisper also employs 120 human moderators to comb through posts in real time.
"There is no safer space," Heyward says of Whisper. The company announced a partnership with media site BuzzFeed on Monday, in which BuzzFeed writers will use content posted on Whisper as source material for articles. The deal, reported in the New York Times, does not have a financial component.
Secret, meanwhile, has been especially popular in Silicon Valley and its satellite technology communities outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. Startup gossip — from personal attacks on company founders and venture capitalists to acquisition rumors that turned out to be false — has been a mainstay of Secret in the less than two months since its launch.
Secret tries to add a layer of accountability to anonymous posts by showing users' secrets to their friends and allowing only friends, or friends of friends, to comment on each shared post. Bader-Wechseler is quick to point out that the app is not exactly anonymous. Anonymish, maybe.
To sign up, users can provide their mobile phone number, email address or both. When you post a secret, your phone and email contacts who are also on Secret will be able to see it. If they tap a heart icon indicating that they "love" your secret, then their friends will be able to see it too. You won't know which of your friends is on Secret.
Secret says it ensures security by encrypting posts and without uploading contact information to its servers. The app also offers a panic button of sorts, called "unlink my posts." When a user clicks it, any link between them and all previous secrets they have posted is removed.
Katy Nelson, an early user of the app who heard about it from a friend who works at Secret, says she finds herself commenting on posts more than sharing secrets herself. This is especially true "when I see secrets where people are being really vulnerable, asking for advice about a relationship, substance abuse," she says.
"The ease of honesty that anonymity gives you is really cool," says Nelson, who works for a nonprofit group in Washington DC. She acknowledges that such honesty would not be possible on Twitter or Facebook.
"The stakes on a public platform with your name attached are just higher," she says. "It's not safe to be brutally honest, or make yourself really vulnerable."
Online anonymity is often synonymous with bullying, harassment and nasty comments. That's why sites from YouTube to the magazine Popular Science and Huffington Post have moved away from anonymity in recent months. But Heyward and Byttow argue that the new apps are different, filling a need for honesty that's only possible when identity is stripped away.
"Even though we are sharing more online than ever before, I think we have become more guarded," Heyward says. "It's like people are living their digital lives in front of a window. No one is not going to show their best self...Identity can feel sort of shackling, But if you remove that, it can lead to intimacy."
But Steve Jones, a professor who studies online culture and communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago, believes there's a "significant degree to which people want to be associated with their words," get comments, likes and acknowledgements for them. Anonymity apps, he says, could have a difficult time maintaining a business model because they are exposing themselves to a lot of liability.
"I don't want to dismiss the optimistic view that the makers of these apps have," he says. "But I don't have that much evidence yet that these apps are appealing for a better nature."
NEW YORK (AP) — One month in, NBC's generational trade of Jay Leno for Jimmy Fallon at the "Tonight" show is succeeding beyond the hopes of executives who engineered it.
Fallon's fast start is clear in television ratings and even more stark in social media metrics. While too early to declare a new king of late-night TV, the transition is a marked change from how badly NBC fumbled the short-lived switch from Leno to Conan O'Brien in 2009.
"As a guy who's been doing this for 36 years, I don't allow myself to think about this level of success," said Ted Harbert, NBC broadcasting chairman. NBC had hoped for an increase in young viewers and steeled itself to lose some of Leno's older fans, but Fallon's reception was a surprise.
When Fallon premiered on "Tonight" during the Olympics, the franchise hit numbers unseen since Johnny Carson's last week in 1992. Things have settled down but Fallon is still comfortably on top. During the week of March 10-14, Fallon averaged 4.26 million viewers to Jimmy Kimmel's 2.83 million on ABC and David Letterman's 2.78 million on CBS, the Nielsen company said. Fallon has consistently topped the 4.1 million viewers that Leno averaged this season before leaving.
Fallon's lead over his rivals is more pronounced among viewers aged 18-to-49, the demographic NBC bases its advertising sales upon.
Fallon and NBC embrace the way many early-to-bed consumers experience late-night television these days: by watching clips of a show's best moments online. The YouTube clip of Fallon and Will Smith acting out the evolution of hip-hop dancing has been seen more than 12.8 million times. Fallon's lip-sync duel with Paul Rudd on songs by Tina Turner, Foreigner and Queen has nearly 9 million views.
Other popular clips show Fallon, singer Idina Menzel and the Roots performing "Let it Go" with children's instruments and the sliced-and-diced version of newsmen Brian Williams and Lester Holt on "Rapper's Delight."
Each segment is funny, good-natured and utterly impossible to imagine Fallon's old-school predecessor doing.
"What I notice in people's reactions is not just that they like the show and think that it's funny, but they like the feel-good spirit," Harbert said. "There's a total absence of snarkiness, of cynicism. It's just there to make you feel good before you go to sleep."
The anti-show biz style pioneered by Letterman isn't dead, said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. But "it may have run its course to some extent," he said, and Fallon's sincerity dilutes the pure snark of Letterman and O'Brien.
"Fallon has been able to change the equation," he said. He's made his mark despite a more crowded competitive landscape, with O'Brien, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Chelsea Handler and Arsenio Hall also mining late-night laughs.
During his first month, Fallon generated more than 120 million hits in social media, including Twitter and Facebook posts, and, most prominently, YouTube video views, the research firm RelishMIX said. That's more than double Kimmel, who has 57 million hits. Letterman has 2.3 million hits.
"That lopsidedness is a huge wake-up call to writers, producers of late-night, network marketing departments and other series in all genres that they must 'feed the beast' or die," said Marc Karzen, RelishMIX spokesman.
Aggressive online exposure was a key part of NBC's launch strategy, which included timing Fallon's takeover to coincide with heavy viewer interest in the Winter Olympics, Harbert said. The next step is to find ways to make more money off all that online interest, he said.
Fallon's rivals haven't backed down from the competition. Kimmel got attention during the Winter Olympics for filming a stunt that jokingly suggested a wolf was roaming the halls of a dorm for athletes. With their youthful appeal (Fallon is 39, Kimmel 46), the two men seem primed for a bicoastal rivalry.
Letterman, during an appearance in January at Howard Stern's birthday bash, said Leno's departure wouldn't affect how long he wanted to keep working.
"I would do it forever if it were up to me," he said, before adding a wry aside: "Sometimes, it isn't up to me."
Judging by one of television's most prominent measuring sticks for likability, Fallon's success shouldn't be a surprise. He has a "Q'' score of 19 among viewers aged 18 to 34 — which means 19 percent of people familiar with him consider Fallon one of their favorite personalities, said the company Marketing Evaluations Inc., which polled consumers both before and after the "Tonight" takeover. Kimmel's score was 16 and Letterman's 11, the company said (an average celebrity "Q'' score is 17).
Among young men, Fallon's score shoots up to 24, said company spokesman Henry Schafer. More people that age know who Fallon is than know Letterman, he said.
For older viewers, the graciousness of Leno, 63, during the transition was crucial, Harbert said. "He said to the country, 'It's OK to watch Jimmy Fallon,'" he said. "I think if he hadn't, we wouldn't have been in this position."
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ellen DeGeneres' goal of setting a retweet record with her star-studded selfie was achieved before the Oscars telecast was even over.
During a comic bit, the Oscars host prevailed upon actor Bradley Cooper to take a picture with her and several other stars crowding around, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Spacey, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
Long before midnight Sunday, the photo had been retweeted more than 2 million times, breaking a record set by President Barack Obama with the picture of him hugging First Lady Michelle Obama after his re-election in 2012.
Twitter also sent out an apology because all the retweeting disrupted service for more than 20 minutes after 10 p.m. ET.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lupita Nyong'o has won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her harrowing portrayal of a slave who's caught her sadistic master's eye in "12 Years a Slave."
It was the first Oscar nomination for the 31-year-old Nyong'o, and she won it for her film debut.
Not just a breakout movie star, the Mexican-born actress of Kenyan descent has also made a huge splash in the fashion world.
The other nominees Sunday were: Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"; Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"; Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"; and June Squibb, "Nebraska.
'20 Feet from Stardom' wins documentary Oscar
LOS ANGELES (AP) — "20 Feet from Stardom," a documentary that puts the spotlight on backup singers, has won the Oscar for best documentary feature.
The film, directed by Emmy-award winner Morgan Neville, takes a look at the singers who come of age amid the careers of luminaries like Ray Charles, Tina Turner and Stevie Wonder.
Befitting the attention that they normally miss out on, backup singer Darlene Love broke into song before the Dolby Theatre crowd, singing "I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free."
Neville acknowledged producer Gil Friesen, who died in December.
"Tonight, I know he's celebrating with us," Neville said.
Frozen' wins Oscar for animated feature film
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Disney's fairytale musical "Frozen" has won the Oscar for best animated feature.
The 3-D film about a magically icy princess and her sister was directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, with voicing by Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell and Josh Gad. It's loosely based on the 19th century Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, "The Snow Queen," and features the catchy tween anthem "Let It Go."
Other nominees Sunday were: "The Croods"; "Despicable Me 2"; "Ernest & Celestine"; and "The Wind Rises.
The 86th Academy Awards are airing live on ABC from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, with Ellen DeGeneres as host.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ellen DeGeneres kicked off the 86th annual Academy Awards and Jared Leto took the night’s first award for best supporting actor.
As expected, Leto won for his acclaimed performance as a transsexual in the Texas AIDS drama “Dallas Buyers Club.” He dedicated his award to his mother, his date on the night.
“Thank you for teaching me to dream,” said Leto.
Sunday’s Oscars hung on a nail-biter of a finish, with the best picture race believed to be between the historical drama “12 Years a Slave,” the 3-D space spectacle “Gravity” and the con-artist comedy “American Hustle.” DeGeneres alluded to the options in her opening monologue.
“Possibility number one: ‘12 Years a Slave’ wins best picture,” she said. “Possibility number two: You’re all racists.”
Her opening went over well in Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre, which had far more mixed reactions to last year’s host, Seth MacFarlane. She chided Leto (“Boy, is he pretty”) and mocked Jennifer Lawrence for falling on her way onto the red carpet, just as she did when she accepted the Oscar last year for “Silver Linings Playbook.”
Just as Lawrence hit the carpet and waved to fans, she collapsed in a heap of her red dress, laughing at herself.
“If you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar,” said DeGeneres to Lawrence, nominated for her performance in “American Hustle.”
Though the Oscar ceremony is usually a glitzy bubble separate from real-world happenings, international events were quickly alluded to. In his acceptance speech, Leto addressed people in Ukraine and Venezuela.
“We are here and as you struggle to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible, we’re thinking of you,” said Leto.
Russian state-owned broadcaster Channel One Russia said it would not broadcast the Oscars live because of the necessity for news coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. It will instead transmit the Oscars early Tuesday morning, local time.
NEW YORK (AP) — The bloodhound drew the loudest cheers. The Portie came with presidential connections. And the Irish water spaniel tried to earn another win for Seattle in the Super Bowl — of dogs, that is.
A little wire fox terrier called Sky stood in their way.
The 5-year-old Sky won best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club on Tuesday night, finishing off a season in which she was ranked the nation's No. 1 dog.
Handler Gabriel Rangel scooped up Sky in one arm after she was picked as America's top dog. He kissed judge Betty Regina Leininger's hand as the title was awarded inside a nearly full Madison Square Garden.
Rangel may've learned that trick from his dog.
"Her personality is she loves to kiss people and she connects with everybody," Rangel said.
This was Sky's 129th best in show ribbon overall — she became a Triple Crown winner in dogdom, having previously taken the National Dog Show and the AKC Eukanuba event.
And it was the 14th time a wire fox terrier has won at Westminster. No other breed has won more than eight.
The winner with the ginger-and-white coat and terrier goatee beat out an impressive lineup in the final ring. Joining Sky were a standard poodle, a Cardigan Welsh corgi and a miniature pinscher, along with the bloodhound, Portuguese water dog and Irish water spaniel.
"She has the 'it' factor. She owned this night," Leininger said.
The standard poodle named Ally was chosen as the runner-up.
Sky sat still backstage alongside the prized silver bowl after the biggest win in her career. By the weekend, the pooch might be pooped.
Sky was scheduled to tour the morning TV news shows Wednesday, eat a steak lunch at famed Manhattan restaurant Sardi's and also go up the Empire State Building.
And on Thursday night, she's set for her Broadway debut with a walk-on part in the Tony Award-winning musical "Kinky Boots."
Neat treats for a dog with the champion's name of Afterall Painting The Sky. A special time for all those around her, too.
"It's like winning an Oscar," said Victor Malzoni Jr., one of the owners who is an economist from Brazil.
There were 2,845 dogs entered in the 138th Westminster Kennel Club show. They were eligible in 190 breeds and varieties.
Nathan the bloodhound was clearly the crowd's choice as all seven dogs circled around in the final ring. The min pin called Classie had won 121 times.
And Matisse the Portie had a great history. He is a cousin of President Barack Obama's newest house pet — the White House, that is.
But once again, a terrier prevailed. Terriers have taken 46 of the 105 best in show ribbons presented at an event that dates to the late 19th century.
Rangel, who lives with Sky in Rialto, Calif., has plenty of experience in winning. He guided Sadie the Scottish terrier to victory at Westminster four years ago.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Shirley Temple, the dimpled, curly-haired child star who sang, danced, sobbed and grinned her way into the hearts of Depression-era moviegoers, has died, according to publicist Cheryl Kagan. She was 85.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Musical moments that capture the attention of a national audience — and beyond — never seem to be in short supply. Last week, Bruno Mars set a ratings record with 115 million people watching his Super Bowl performance. A few months ago, the talk was about Beyonce's surprise album. And there's still discussion of That Miley Moment at the MTV Video Music Awards.
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — Leonardo DiCaprio says he and "The Wolf of Wall Street" co-star Jonah Hill are "going to come up with something unique" as they re-team to tell the story of 1996 Olympics security guard Richard Jewell.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — G.I. Joe is turning 50.
The birthday of what's called the world's first action figure is being celebrated this month by collectors and the toy maker that introduced it just before the nation plunged into the quagmire that would become the Vietnam War — a storm it seems to have weathered pretty well.
Since Hasbro brought it to the world's attention at the annual toy fair in New York City in early 1964, G.I. Joe has undergone many changes, some the result of shifts in public sentiment for military-themed toys, others dictated by the marketplace.
Still, whether it's the original "movable fighting man" decked out in the uniforms of the four branches of the U.S. military, or today's scaled-down products, G.I. Joe remains a popular brand.
"Joe stood for everything that was meant to be good: fighting evil, doing what's right for people," said Alan Hassenfeld, the 65-year-old former CEO for Pawtucket, R.I.-based Hasbro Inc., whose father, Merrill, oversaw G.I. Joe's development in 1963.
But it's Don Levine, then the company's head of research and development, who is often referred to as the "father" of G.I. Joe for shepherding the toy through design and development. Levine and his team came up with an 11½-inch articulated figure with 21 moving parts, and since the company's employees included many military veterans, it was decided to outfit the toy in the uniforms of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, with such accessories as guns, helmets and vehicles.
Levine, who served in the Army in Korea, said he got the idea for the moveable figure as a way to honor veterans.
But he and his team knew the product wasn't in Hasbro's usual mold, and it took years of pitches before Merrill Hassenfeld gave it the company's full backing.
"Most boys in the '60s had a father or a relative who was or had been in the military," said Patricia Hogan, curator at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, home to the National Toy Hall of Fame. "Once you've bought Joe, you need to buy all the accessories and play sets and add-ons, which was great for business."
G.I. Joe hit the shelves in time for the 1964 Christmas shopping season and soon became a big seller at $4 apiece.
It remained popular until the late 1960s, as opposition to Vietnam intensified and parents shied away from military-related toys. Hasbro countered in 1970 by introducing "Adventure Team" G.I. Joes that played down the military connection. Into the '70s, G.I. Joes featured "lifelike hair" and "kung-fu grip" and were outfitted with scuba gear to save the oceans and explorer's clothing for discovering mummies.
Hasbro discontinued production later that decade. In the early 1980s, Hasbro shrank Joe to 3¾ inches, the same size as figures made popular by "Star Wars." It has stuck to that size, with the occasional issue of larger special editions.
Over the decades, G.I. Joe has spawned comic books, cartoons, two movies starring Channing Tatum, and a G.I. Joe Collector's Club and its annual convention — GIJoeCon — held in Dallas in April. But for many G.I. Joe fans of a certain age, the newer products hold no appeal.
"The 12-inch G.I. Joe built that company," said Tearle Ashby, of the New York village of Ballston Spa. "The stuff they put out now is garbage."
Ashby, a psychotherapist who turns 50 in June, played with G.I. Joes as a boy, but few survived, falling victim to encounters with firecrackers and little parachutes that failed to open.
"Casualties of war," said Ashby, who started collecting 12-inch G.I. Joes 20 years ago and now owns about 2,000.
On Saturday, he and other collectors plan to bring their 12-inch G.I. Joes to the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs to celebrate the 50th birthday.
The exact date of G.I. Joe's introduction remains hazy. Ashby and others, including Hasbro, believe it was in February 1964 — but American International Toy Fair organizers say it was held in March that year.
Hasbro said it intends to announce details of its 50th anniversary plans during this year's fair in New York on Feb. 16-19.
G.I. Joe was elected into Toy Hall of Fame in 2004, six years after Barbie was enshrined. Hogan said the hall doesn't have policies prohibiting toy weapons from induction, although all candidates must be deemed safe. The U.S. was in the early stages of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq a decade ago, so G.I. Joe's induction didn't meet the opposition it might have faced as the conflicts dragged on, Hogan said.
"I suspect," she said, "most people would have acknowledged that G.I. Joe really does belong in the Toy Hall of Fame."
NEW YORK (AP) — Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won a best actor Oscar in 2006 for his portrayal of writer Truman Capote in "Capote" and created a gallery of other vivid characters, many of them slovenly and slightly dissipated comic figures, died Sunday. He was 46.
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — On the heels of controversy over a vandalism case, pop star Justin Bieber has been arrested after police say he drag raced on a Miami Beach street in a yellow Lamborghini and failed a sobriety test early Thursday.
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight" show, which debuts next month with actor Will Smith and U2 as guests, will look familiar to people who appreciate his current work in the time slot following Jay Leno.
Fallon said he doesn't expect to change his brand of comedy to tailor himself to an earlier time slot. Fallon and his successor at "Late Night," Seth Meyers, met with reporters Sunday as NBC begins the delicate process of a late-night transition.
"This show has completely changed from when I first started," Fallon said of "Late Night," which he has hosted for five years. "I feel like we've blossomed into what will become the new 'Tonight' show."
He rejected the idea of changes to make himself more appealing to an older, middle American audience that likes Leno. It's a delicate subject at NBC, where executives believe Conan O'Brien's limited appeal doomed their first effort to replace Leno. The executives anticipate Fallon's light-hearted comedy translating better.
Leno closes his two-decade run on "Tonight" Feb. 6 with Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks as guests. On Feb. 17, Fallon debuts a week's worth of shows at midnight following NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics. He moves into his regular time slot a week later, followed by Meyers, who has "Saturday Night Live" chum Amy Poehler booked as his first guest.
NBC's entertainment president, Robert Greenblatt, said he'd like to keep Leno at NBC, perhaps to host regular specials. Fallon said he's not worrying about whether Leno leaves NBC and decides to keep working in late-night TV elsewhere.
Fallon said he called Leno when he got the "Late Night" job to reassure him he wasn't gunning for Leno's gig. He said they have spoken regularly, and he's taken some of Leno's advice, most prominently to make his nightly monologues longer.
"He's a good guy," Fallon said. "He's really treated me well."
Fallon's "Tonight" show "should be goofy and fun and make everybody laugh. That's our job," he said. He said he appreciates showing different sides of celebrities by getting them involved in skits or games, like when Tom Cruise cracked two raw eggs on his head. Fallon's musical skits are among his most memorable. He said he alerted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's office ahead of time about his recent duet with Bruce Springsteen that spoofs Christie's traffic jam scandal.
Although Fallon is moving "Tonight" to New York from the West Coast, he said he will take the show on the road — including to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks a year.
Some critics have noted that the formal title of the show is changing from the "Tonight Show With Jay Leno" to the "Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." Fallon said it was an homage to the show's roots.
Meyers is taking over a show where the three previous occupants of his chair — David Letterman, O'Brien and Fallon — are all still hosting shows. He said the legacy of "Late Night" is that hosts get to do weird things and that people have a little more patience with it.
But Meyers seems very much the traditionalist. The current head writer of "Saturday Night Live" values writing, and he's brought the author of his "SNL" ''Weekend Update" segments over to lead his own writing team. Meyers said he's looking to build a stable of writer-performers and that a strong monologue will be key to his show. He won't have a regular sidekick and hasn't decided whether he will have a band or DJ for musical interludes.
A strong ensemble or guests will be a priority, with Meyers noting that "I like being in a (camera) shot with someone who is funnier than I am."
"If you get too hung up on the legacy of what you're getting into, it gets in the way of the work," Meyers said. "Our goal is to be as funny as we can and get better every night."
Associated Press correspondent Beth Harris in Pasadena contributed to this report.
ATLANTA (AP) — Zoo Atlanta officials say four lion cubs will soon be on display for visitors.
Officials say the cubs, three males and one female, have completed their veterinary checkups and will be on display for visitors beginning Monday if temperatures are above 50 degrees and the sun is out.
The cubs were born to Kiki on Nov. 19, 2013 and each weighs about 19 pounds. Zoo officials say their father, Kamau, had been separated from the family since the cubs were born but has had opportunities to interact with them since then. Zoo officials say Kamau was a gentle father to Kiki's first litter, which was born in 2008.
Zoo officials say the cubs have enjoyed the lions' off-exhibit outdoor patio area, and will begin exploring the zoo's African Plains habitat.
NEW YORK (AP) — Adam Jacobs is an actor with a wide smile and a lot on his plate.
He's about to star in the title role of the new Disney blockbuster "Aladdin" on Broadway. He's also a new father — of twins.
"It's going to be a big year," he says, laughing. "It's just mind-boggling to me how everything is working out right now."
His wife, fellow Broadway veteran Kelly Jacobs, is just a few weeks from delivering twin boys. "Aladdin" starts performances at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Feb. 26.
It's a good thing Jacobs, 34, is an easygoing guy with a California-bred cool. "I think it'll be good to just take things as they come," he says. "That's one of my fortes."
Jacobs has paid his dues since graduating from New York University, including singing on cruise ships, being a Broadway replacement for Simba in "The Lion King" and Marius in "Les Miserables," and being part of four national tours.
"It was grueling," he says. "I got to learn all the tricks of making Top Ramen in the coffeepots."
Now he's the star of a new show that he helped create from the ground up.
"To be able to take a character and really make it your own was one of my dreams I always wanted to do as an actor," he says. "Now I'm getting to do it so it's pretty cool."
He'll be joined by James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie, Courtney Reed as Jasmine and Jonathan Freeman as Jafar. All were part of the show's out-of-town tryout in Toronto.
"Aladdin," with songs by Alan Menken, is directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Casey Nicholaw, whose previous hits include "The Book of Mormon" and "The Drowsy Chaperone." Bob Crowley, who has a Tony for "Mary Poppins," designed the sets, and Chad Beguelin wrote the story and additional lyrics.
Beguelin, who also wrote the book and lyrics for "The Wedding Singer" and the lyrics for "Elf," has been impressed by Jacobs' instincts and his willingness to try anything, including learning to juggle and ride a "magic carpet" with aplomb.
"He just seems to take it all in stride. He's got such a positive outlook on life that I think he only focuses on the positive," Beguelin says. "It's refreshing. There's no neurotic-actor-thing going on with him. You feel totally confident that he can carry the show and have twins and juggle and tap dance on the side."
Jacobs was raised near San Francisco in Half Moon Bay, the son of a Filipino mother and a Jewish father of Polish and Russian descent. His younger sister, Arielle Jacobs, is also a rising musical theater star, with a Broadway credit for "In the Heights."
A gifted pianist, young Adam studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for eight years and flirted with the idea of becoming a concert pianist. His love of soccer and a desire to be a normal kid won out.
He fell in love with musical theater after seeing the Filipino-American actor and singer Paolo Montalban on tour as the Prince in "Cinderella." His response? "I think I can do that." He found his mixed ethnicity useful in landing all sorts of parts.
"I'm a mix and I think that's really helped me play a lot of different roles," Jacobs says. "I think the landscape has changed in terms of nontraditional casting. It's changed for my benefit for sure."
He met his future wife in 2001 while playing Santa Claus in a Christmas show in Hershey, Pa. He was in a fat suit and she played a ballerina and his waltz partner. They soon bonded offstage, spending hours talking beside a fireplace over free hot chocolate.
The couple kept their romance warm while he was touring in "The Lion King" and she was in the road company of "Mary Poppins." They were married in 2006.
"We had a rule that every three weeks we would try to see each other at least for 24 hours, which is tough to do. But we made it work," he says. "And we stuck through it and now we have that foundation and gotten through those tough times. Now we can get through the next tough time."
In a weird twist, Jacobs' wife was in the Broadway company of "Mary Poppins" when it closed last year at the New Amsterdam Theatre, the new home for "Aladdin."
"It's kind of wild, right? When does that ever happen?" says Jacobs. "I said to her, 'Keep the seat warm for me.'"
Now the couple may be in need of a magical nanny of their own as they prepare for what Adam calls the "two little Aladdins on the way."
"It's not going to be a cakewalk, I know that. It's going to be challenge," he says. "But it's something we've wanted for a while so we're up for it."
The con-artist comedy "American Hustle and the 3-D space odyssey "Gravity" lead the Academy Awards with 10 nominations each, with the historical epic "12 Years a Slave" trailing closely with nine nominations.
The nominations, announced Thursday morning in Beverly Hills, Calif. , set up an apparent three-horse race between three very different films, all of which were nominated for best picture.
Nine films were nominated for best picture. The other nominees are "Captain Phillips," ''Dallas Buyers Club," ''Her," ''Nebraska," ''The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Philomena."
The most notable omission by the academy was Tom Hanks, whose lead performance in "Captain Phillips" was widely considered a shoo-in. Robert Redford, expected by many to be nominated for the shipwreck drama "All Is Lost," also missed out on a best actor nod. Redford has never won an acting Oscar.
The best actor nominees are Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave"), Bruce Dern ("Nebraska"), Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Wolf of Wall Street"), Matthew McConaughey ("Dallas Buyers Club") and Christian Bale ("American Hustle")
Disney's making-of "Mary Poppins" tale "Saving Mr. Banks" also failed to land either a best picture nomination or a best actress nod for Emma Thompson.
The best actress nominees are Amy Adams ("American Hustle"), Cate Blanchett ("Blue Jasmine"), Sandra Bullock ("Gravity"), Judi Dench ("Philomena") and Meryl Streep ("August: Osage County").
The 86th annual Academy Awards will take place March 2, with Ellen DeGeneres hosting for the second time.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — When our Internet-connected gadgets and home appliances all learn to talk to each other, Google wants to be at the center of the conversation.
This imagined future is still a few years away, but Google is already preparing with its $3.2 billion acquisition of high-tech thermostat and smoke-detector maker Nest Labs.
The surprise deal announced earlier this week will provide Google Inc. with more tools to build a valuable hub for homes. It's a world of network-tethered toasters and tea kettles, or a so-called "Internet of Things," that is destined to reshape society, experts say, in the same way that smartphones have done in the seven years since Apple Inc. unveiled the iPhone.
The research firm Gartner Inc. expects more than 26 billion objects to be connected to the Internet by 2020, a figure that doesn't include personal computers, smartphones or tablets. That would be a nearly 30-fold increase from roughly 900 million Internet-connected things in 2009.
Google established itself as an instrumental player in smartphones with the 2008 release of Android, a free operating system that runs on more mobile devices than any other piece of software. Now, the company is gearing up for the advent of the smart home with the help of Nest Labs, a 300-employee company started in Palo Alto, Calif. less than four years ago. Tony Fadell, Nest's founder, is an Apple veteran who helped design the iPod and the iPhone.
As influential as smartphones have become, their role in understanding people's habits and preferences could be eclipsed once everything in the home has a computer chip and is connected to the Internet.
"Google bought Nest in order to learn about this world where even more information is going to be accessible by computers," said Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett.
Nest Labs quickly won over gadget lovers with its 2011 release of an Internet-connected thermostat that learns to cool and heat homes to suit the needs of the inhabitants. Late last year, the company followed up with a smoke and carbon-monoxide detector equipped with voice technology and the ability to communicate with the company's thermostat. Nest hasn't said how many of its devices have been sold, though analysts believe they are in just a small fraction of homes. The products have only been available in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.
Google hasn't disclosed its specific plans for Nest, but analysts anticipate an entire line of Internet-connected home products will be coming to countries around the world. Some of those Nest devices could be melded with existing Google services in an effort to make people's lives easier. Such a move also would provide Google with the means to gather more insight that could be used to sell the digital advertising that generates most of the company's revenue.
In a blog post about the Google acquisition, Nest Labs co-founder Matt Rogers promised that customers' personal information will only be used for "providing and improving Nest's products and services. We've always taken privacy seriously and this will not change."
But that pledge won't preclude Google from incorporating its services with Nest's products, said Gartner analyst Angela McIntyre. For instance, Google already makes a digital assistant called "Google Now" that strives to learn what its users like and where they tend to go so it can provide helpful information without prompting. McIntyre believes Nest's products will teach Google Now to become more helpful so it can increasingly take over more of the mundane tasks in people's lives.
"They need to gather as much information as they can to understand the context in how we live our lives," McIntyre said.
Google also could plug its digital mapping software into Nest products so it could learn the layout of a home, said Brian Proffitt, a technology analyst who is also a management instructor at the University of Notre Dame. That knowledge could then be deployed to delegate such household chores as vacuuming to a robot that would be able to rely on the interior maps to navigate its way through an entire home without human help, Proffitt said.
A Google division run by Android creator Andy Rubin is working on various ideas for robots, though the Mountain View, Calif., company hasn't shared many details about its goals. Google's expansion into robotics is also being bolstered by a spate of acquisitions that included the recent purchase of Boston Dynamics, a U.S. military contractor that has already built a variety of contraptions that can be programmed to run at rapid speeds, leap high into the air and climb rocky terrains.
Even as it explores various technological frontiers, Google still makes most of its money from advertising tied to search requests. Acquiring and developing products with Internet connections and environmental sensors can only help Google get an even better grasp on people's interests.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jerry Zeft was so excited to move into his new apartment that he slept on an air mattress for nearly a week while he waited for his bed and other belongings to catch up with him. No matter that he's 70 years old.
Zeft had landed a coveted spot in a new affordable housing complex for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors in the heart of downtown Philadelphia. Only two other U.S. cities have similar developments.
"I wanted to get into a community that I'm more comfortable in," Zeft said shortly after picking up the keys to his unit.
This month's opening of the John C. Anderson Apartments vindicates years of work by supporters who felt gay elders have been marginalized by youth culture, even within LGBT circles.
Experts say gay seniors are less likely than their straight peers to have the financial and family resources to age in homes of their own. Many fear discrimination at traditional elder housing facilities, leading them back into the closet after years of being open.
Philadelphia joins Los Angeles and Minneapolis in offering designated gay-friendly, affordable senior housing, collectively offering about 200 units.
Yet advocates say that's nowhere near enough: Research indicates the number of gay seniors in the U.S. is expected to double to 3 million by 2030.
"It's quite amazing that we have done so little for seniors to have a place that they can afford and that offers them respect and safety," said Barbara Satin, an LGBT activist who worked on the 46-unit Minneapolis project.
Although anti-discrimination laws prohibit gay-only housing, buildings can be made LGBT-friendly through marketing and location. The $19.5 million Anderson project, named for a city councilman who fought for gay rights, sits in the affectionately nicknamed Gayborhood. When the leasing office opened last fall, hopeful tenants sat in a block-long line to drop off applications.
Those seniors belong to the generation that trailblazed gay rights, said Mark Segal, chairman of the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund, which spearheaded the development. Yet their activism and openness often cost them both family ties and the opportunity for traditional jobs with retirement benefits, he said.
"Why should people, who were the pioneers of the community, not live with dignity? It's outrageous," Segal said. "We have to take care of our own — nobody else is."
At the 56-unit Philadelphia building, monthly rents range from $192 to $786 based on income, which can't exceed $33,000 per year. There is a waiting list for lower-tier units, though about a dozen remain at the upper end. Nearly all the residents identify as LGBT.
Two more complexes are under construction in Chicago and San Francisco. The Hirschfeld fund is interested in building units in New York, Segal said.
The housing problem may ease for future generations as legalized gay marriage allows same-sex spouses to inherit a partner's property and benefits, said Catherine Thurston, senior program director at New York-based Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE. However, she said many current seniors aren't married and don't own their homes.
Thurston also noted that it's important to offer seniors more than just a place to live — they need activities and social services "to connect them to their community."
The Anderson apartments has partnered with the nearby William Way LGBT Community Center to provide residents with counseling, programs and events. That's another reason Jerry Zeft decided to move in.
"I don't like staying home. I enjoy getting out," Zeft said. "And this is the perfect place to get out in this area."
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Some months ago, all it took was a few YouTube videos for 11-year-old Bella Hayes to fall in love with hedgehogs.
"They're so cute, they're tiny, and they're sweet," the Oconee County youngster, a student at Colham Ferry Elementary School, said in a Monday interview.
There's just one problem, though. After Bella discovered hedgehogs, she learned through further Internet research that Georgia law doesn't allow them to be kept as pets. So she did what any 11-year-old girl would — she asked her mom what to do.
Of course, that came after her telling her mom, Terri, that the family needed to move to Florida, where hedgehogs can be kept as pets. Terri Hayes, though, had a somewhat more reasonable suggestion.
"I told her to get in touch with her state representative," Terri Hayes said. And so, along with creating a Facebook page "Say No to No Hedgehogs in GA" , where visitors can sign a petition in support of her efforts, Bella got in touch with state Rep. Regina Quick, R-Athens, and has found an ally in her effort to get a pet hedgehog.
Bella first got in touch with Quick during last year's legislative session, too late to get any legislation through the Georgia General Assembly. But in September, Bella met with Quick at her Atlanta legislative office — she also got a tour of the Capitol, sitting in Quick's seat in the House chamber and pushing the button that Quick uses to vote — and presented a convincing argument for her legislative proposal.
According to Bella — and to the state Department of Natural Resources — hedgehogs aren't allowed to be kept as pets in Georgia because of concerns that if the animals escaped captivity, they would overpopulate the outdoors.
Bella, though, begs to differ. According to her, the African pygmy hedgehogs that are the subject of the legislation she's working on with Quick can't survive at temperatures below 72 degrees or above 85 degrees, making life in the outdoors at best a chancy proposition for the tiny mammals. (Interestingly, state law allows the raising of hedgehogs for selling in other states where ownership is legal.)
Quick explained Monday that the state's Office of Legislative Counsel is now working on a proposed bill that would carve out a narrow exception in state law that, if passed, would allow African pygmy hedgehogs to be kept as pets, in line with a similar exception for a particular type of ferret that is already in state law.
As part of getting the bill in order, the Department of Natural Resources will be able to weigh in on it. And at some point, it's probable that Bella will have to testify in front of a House committee to make her case for allowing pet African pygmy hedgehogs in Georgia.
It's not a particularly daunting prospect to Bella, who said that while she might be a little nervous, "once I get in front of people ... I just talk."
Bella thinks it's "pretty cool" that Quick has taken an interest in her efforts to make it legal for her to own a pet hedgehog. And for her part, Quick thinks Bella is "a very impressive young lady."
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — One of the stars of TV's "Duck Dynasty" reality show is scheduled to make an appearance in Savannah.
Organizers of the annual Southern Women's Show say Jessica Robertson from the A&E show is among celebrities scheduled to appear. The event is scheduled for Feb. 21-23.
The Savannah Morning News reports that Jessica Robertson is expected to share her personal story about life in Louisiana and the importance of family. She is the wife of the youngest Robertson son, Jep. Guests can meet her and participate in a special Q&A session during her segment.
The show follows the exploits of the Robertson family and their West Monroe, La.-based business that makes duck calls and decoys.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — What's a nine-letter word for a significant event? Try MILESTONE.
Longtime crossword constructor Bernice Gordon is marking two big ones: She turned 100 on Saturday, and The New York Times will publish another one of her puzzles on Wednesday — making her the first centenarian to have a grid printed in the newspaper.
"They make my life," Gordon said. "I couldn't live without them."
Gordon has created crosswords for decades for the Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and others, including puzzle syndicates and brain-teaser books from Dell and Simon & Schuster. She still constructs a new grid every day.
Gordon is nearly as old as the crossword puzzle itself. The first "word-cross" appeared in the New York Sunday World on Dec. 21, 1913; it was diamond shaped and didn't even separate clues into "Across" and "Down."
The grids have evolved a lot since then, thanks in part to Gordon. She's credited with pioneering the "rebus" puzzle, which requires solvers to occasionally fill in symbols instead of letters. Her first rebus in the Times used an ampersand to represent the letters AND, so an answer like SANDWICH ISLANDS was entered as S&WICH ISL&S.
Though now considered standard fare, such a trick was unheard of when it first appeared decades ago. Letters poured into then-crossword editor Margaret Farrar, who forwarded some to Gordon.
"She got hundreds of letters, some screaming that they never saw anything worse and it was cheating," Gordon said. "And the others (said) how wonderful it was. It's something new. It was an innovation."
Gordon was born in Philadelphia on Jan. 11, 1914. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she raised three children before working as an artist and traveling around the world. She began creating puzzles in her 30s because she liked the challenge and it offered some extra pocket money.
Farrar was not impressed with her first few attempts, and neither was Gordon's mother.
"My child if you spend as much money on cookbooks as you do on dictionaries, your family would be better off," Gordon recalled her mother saying.
Records are a bit sketchy — the Times didn't give constructors bylines until the 1990s — but it seems her first crossword was published in the early 1950s. She remembers one long answer was MAMIE EISENHOWER.
Since then, the paper has printed more than 140 of her clever grids. The most recent appeared last summer when she teamed up with teenage constructor David Steinberg, a regular contributor to the Times. The central answer in the puzzle was AGE DIFFERENCE.
Steinberg described the crossword as a blend of Gordon's deep classical knowledge and his penchant for modern language.
"Our styles are a bit different in that way, but we still had a lot of fun collaborating," he said, calling Gordon "amazing and also prolific."
Gordon works best in the pre-dawn hours in her home office in downtown Philadelphia, surrounded by two bookcases of dictionaries, almanacs and other directories. Ideas come to her constantly, and she uses a computer to build the grids.
"She'll spend hours and hours looking for the right word or the right phrase," said her youngest son, Jim Lanard, 73.
Unpublished puzzles are piled on the window sill. Her funny themes include types of "choppers" (HELICOPTERS, GUILLOTINES, WISDOM TEETH) and different kinds of "removers" (FLY SWATTER, FLEA POWDER, ROACH SPRAY).
Gordon has had many puzzles rejected, too, acknowledging that some of her references are not modern enough. She recalled an argument with Times crossword editor Will Shortz over the words YAY and YEA: Gordon contends the former isn't a word; Shortz disagrees and allows it in his puzzles.
"She is a pistol," said Shortz, who has known her for years. "I think of her as a classy lady who also can be very down to earth."
Shortz was among dozens of well-wishers who attended Gordon's birthday party in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Though the joy of the celebration was tempered by the recent death of her eldest son, Gordon looked radiant as she greeted guests and blew out the single candle on her large cake. Lanard then led a toast.
"Already the wheels are turning," he joked about his mother's word-centric mind. "What are eight definitions that rhyme with 'birthday'?"