Little green men are Martians from the planet Mars. Little green men are also the stereotypical portrayal of extraterrestrials as little humanoid-like creatures with green skin and antennae on their heads. Little green men is also sometimes used to describe gremlins, mythical creatures known for causing problems in airplanes and mechanical devices.
During the flying saucer sightings of the 1950s, the term little green men came into popular usage in reference to aliens. In one classic case, the Kelly-Hopkinsville sighting on August 21, 1955, two rural Kentucky men described a supposed encounter with 3-4 foot tall greenish, somewhat humanoid-looking aliens. Many newspaper articles used the term little green men in writing up the story.
However, usage of the term clearly predates this incident, though exactly when it first got applied to aliens in flying saucers or aliens in general has been difficult to pin down. Folklore researcher Chris Aubeck has used electronic searches of old newspapers and found a number of instances dating from around the turn of the 20th Century referring to green aliens. Aubeck website (http://caubeck.tripod.com/littlegreenmen/index.html) Aubeck found one story from 1899 in the Atlanta Constitution about a little, green-skinned alien, in a tale called Green Boy From Hurrah, "Hurrah" being another planet, perhaps Mars. Edgar Rice Burroughs referred to the "green men of Mars" and "green Martian women" in his first 1906 science fiction novel A Princess of Mars.
However the first use of the specific phrase "little green man" in reference to extraterrestrials that Aubeck found dates to 1908 in the Daily Kennebec Journal (Augusta, Maine), in this case the aliens again being Martians.
In 1910 (or 1915), a "little green man" was allegedly captured from his crashed spaceship in Puglia, Italy.
Green aliens soon came to commonly portray extraterrestrials and adorned the covers of many of the 1920s to 1950s science fiction pulp magazines with pictures of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon battling green alien monsters.
Nationally syndicated columns by humorist Hal Boyle spoke of a green man from Mars in his flying saucer in early July 1947 during the height of the brand new flying saucer phenomenon in the U.S. that started June 24 (see Kenneth Arnold and Roswell UFO incident). However, Boyle did not describe his green Martian as small.
Marvin the Martian was a Warner Brothers cartoon character dating from 1948. Marvin was a small humanoid character with big eyes and usually dressed in a mostly green uniform. Millions of movie-goers of that period would have been familiar with the small, green-suited cartoon Martian.
By early 1950, stories began circulating in newspapers about little beings being recovered from flying saucer crashes. Though largely considered to be hoaxes, some of the stories from the sources about little aliens eventually made it into the popular 1950 book, Behind the Flying Saucers by Variety magazine columnist Frank Scully.
A witness reporting a flying saucer sighting to a Wichita, Kansas newspaper in June 1950 stated that he saw "absolutely no little green men with egg on their whiskers."
Similarly, electronic searches show that "little green men" was specifically used in reference to science fiction and flying saucers by at least 1951 in the New York Times and Washington Post (in the Post, a book review of a mystery/Sci Fi novel called "The Little Green Man"), and 1952 in the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune (the Tribune mocking flying saucer reports using a "little green man with pink polka dots"). The familiarity with which the term was used suggests that these weren't the first instances where it was applied to extraterrestrials. The next example of the New York Times using the term dates from 1955 in a book review of a sci-fi satire called Martians, Go Home. The Martians were obnoxious "little green men" whose appearance was "true to prophecy."
The term also shows up much earlier in rather surprising ways in other contexts. Movie gossip columnist Hedda Hopper used it in 1939 referring to small cast members of the Wizard of Oz, and admonished against drinking on the set. In 1942, the Los Angeles Times used the term in a pictorial on Marines training for jungle combat. In this case, "little green men" referred to camouflaged Japanese soldiers. The Washington Post in 1942 likewise used the term "little green man" in reference to a camouflaged Japanese sniper who nearly killed one of their war correspondents.
Before its more modern application to aliens, little green men was commonly used to describe various supernatural beings in old legends and folklore and in later fairy tales and children's books. Aubeck noted several examples of the latter in 19th and early 20th century literature. As an example, Rudyard Kipling had a "little green man" in Puck of Pook's Hill from 1906.
Another example, and the earliest use of little green man in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, dates from 1902, in a review of a child's book called The Gift of the Magic Staff, where a supernatural "Little Green Man" is a boy's friend and helps him visit the cloudland fairies. The next use in the Times was in 1950, and references a planned movie by Walt Disney Corporation of a 1927 novel by poet/novelist Robert Nathan called The Woodcutter's House. The only animated character in the picture was to be Nathan's "Little Green Man," a confidant of the woodland animals. (The movie was never made.)
In 1923, a serialized romance, "When Hearts Command" by Elizabeth York Miller, which appeared in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and Washington Post, has a former mental patient who still sees "little green men" and who simultaneously comments that a fellow patient "conversed with the inhabitants of Mars."
Other instances of imaginary small green beings have been found in a newspaper column from 1936 sarcastically discussing doctors and their medical advice, saying these are the same people who have breakdowns in middle age and start hallucinating "a little green man with big ears." Syndicated columnist Sydney Harris used "little green man" in 1948 as a child's imaginary friend while condemning the age-old tradition of frightening children with stories of "boogeymen".
These examples illustrate that use of little green men was already deeply engrained in English vernacular long before the flying saucer era, used for a variety of supernatural, imaginary, or mythical beings. It also seems to have easily extended beyond the imaginary to real people, such as the reference to small actors in the Wizard of Oz or camouflaged Japanese soldiers. Similarly, Aubeck and others suspect that when flying saucers came along in 1947, with subsequent speculation about alien origins, the term naturally and quickly attached itself to the modern age equivalent. It is also clear that by the early 1950s, the term was already commonly used as a sarcastic reference to the occupants of flying saucers. By 1954, the image of little green men had become inscribed in the public's collective consciousness. Though not explicitly called little green men, Lucy and Ethel play pointy-nosed, antennaed women from Mars in a promotion for a movie in the episode "Lucy is Envious."
Further electronic searches suggest that the term became increasingly more common in the 1960s and always used in a derisive or humorous way. The Chicago Tribune in 1960 carried a front page story on the speculations of a Harvard anthropologist about how aliens might look and alien sex. The article opens with the comment, "If there really are 'little green men' out there in space, there are probably also little green women--and sex." A cartoon was attached showing two amorous centaur-like male and female aliens with antennae sticking out of their heads. The article also enigmatically states, "The 'little green men' designation came from Dr. Otto Struve, director of the national radio astronomy observatory, Green Bank, W. Va. He said that's what the possible outerspacers are called 'among themselves.'"
The term even penetrated into the commentary of the highly conservative Wall Street Journal. First use in the Journal was 1960 in an article on the Brookings Report commissioned by NASA, studying the possible social effects of the discovery of extraterrestrial life. The Journal commented that they thought the report overly pessimistic, assuming that "the little green men with the wiggly antennae" would be hostile. Another Journal use of the term occurred in 1968 in an editorial on a planned Congressional investigation of UFOs. The writer sarcastically asked how they planned to subpoena "a little green man." In 1969, they commented that the Condon Committee UFO study commissioned by the Air Force was a waste of money. The editorial stated that even if they did prove that "UFOs were people with little green men," what were we supposed to do about it?
In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's fourth season, episode number eight was titled Little Green Men. Due to an accidental time displacement, quark, Nog, Rom and Odo were transported back in time on a trip to Earth and became the subjects of the 1948 Roswell UFO incident (The title belies the fact that the characters involved were not green.)
By 1965, a little green man had even appeared in The Flintstones as a recurring character. The Great Gazoo (introduced in Episode 145) typified the representation of a little green man with his short, green stature and helmet with antennae. The Great Gazoo was later parodied in The Simpsons as the alien Ozmodiar, whom only Homer Simpson could see. However, the 1960s also marked a transition in the way people imagined a stereotypical alien. In alien abduction stories they are often small but grey beings and in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) they are unseen. Aside from Yoda in the Star Wars movie saga, little green aliens are seldom seen in science fiction anymore and seem to have migrated to the world of children's media where they can still be found in abundance (for example, see Little Green Men in Toy Story; Baloney (Henry P.); Coloring Fun: Aliens in Space; Hazel Nutt, Alien-Hunter and Aliens Don't Carve Jack -o- Lanterns). However, the term 'little green men' has fallen out of general use in science fiction circles and is typically only used by the uninformed or to ridicule the notion that aliens may exist.
In 1967, Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish of the University of Cambridge, UK dubbed the first discovered pulsar LGM-1 for "little green men" because the regular oscillations of its signal suggested a possible intelligent origin. Its designation was later changed to CP 1919, and is now known as PSR B1919+21.
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