Watching the 1988 film The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! via Amazon Prime the other night, I was surprised to see the following scroll by during the end credits:
Special Thanks to: Tripoli Rocketry Association
“Aha,” I thought, “That’s where the name came from.”
To back up and explain. The origins of “Tripoli” as the name of one of our major rocketry associations is clouded in myth and the fog of history.
I’d never really thought much about the name’s origin before. But, here was an explanation. As a contributor to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) had done earlier, I assumed that the credit was a comedic reference to events in the film (“the scene in which the car with the villain in it crashes into a mobile scud launcher before crashing into a fireworks store”).
I imagined someone seated in a theater, finishing his popcorn as the “Naked Gun” credits scroll up the screen. “Special Thanks to : Tripoli Rocketry Association” appears. Pieces of popcorn fly from his mouth as he exclaims, “That’s it! [pffft!] That’s the name for our new rocketry organization.”
It’s a good story. It would be even better if it were true. It only took me only a few minutes of Googling to discover that the “Tripoli Rocketry Association” was incorporated in 1987, a year before the film’s release.
And the source of the name “Tripoli” isn’t much of a mystery. The “History” page of the organization’s web site traces the name back to a local club formed long ago:
In December 1964 a group of high school students in Irwin, Pennsylvania formed a high school science club, with Francis (Glenn) Graham being one of the key founding members. The club was geared to all areas of science, but centered around astronomy and rocketry. Members of the club came from three cities in the area: East Pittsburgh, North Braddock, and Irwin. To help finance experiments and projects, one of the members donated some gold coins he had received from his father. These coins came from Tripoli, Lebanon during World War II. Since the members came from three towns, and Tripoli (roughly) meant “three cities,” the name was accepted and they were known as the Tripoli Science Club.
So, as much as I wish it were true, the name of the Tripoli Rocketry Association (TRA) did not originate with a joke credit at the end of the first Naked Gun film. That just leaves us with the question of why the TRA is credited at the end of the film. Is it just a joke or did someone from the organization actually help the makers of the film?
After many hours of Googling (that’s my new favorite non-word), I have an answer: “I don’t know.”