CLOSE

The Quick 10: The Careers of 10 Presidential Kids

We know George W. followed in his dad's footsteps, and we know John Quincy Adams did the same. But what did children of other Presidents end up doing? Some of them are pretty predictable: Politicians, lawyers, etc. But some of them are quite surprising, and a strange number of them have become novelists. I'm playing fast and loose with the "10" theme, by the way. Hope you guys don't mind.

adams1 and 2. Charles Francis Adams, one of John Quincy's sons, made his own bid for the Presidency. Well, the Vice-Presidency. That had to be a terrible burden "“ if your grandpa and your dad were both Presidents of the United States, I imagine it's pretty much expected that you give it a go as well. In 1848, he unsuccessfully ran for V.P. as a member of the Free Soil Party with future President Martin Van Buren as President. But I'd say he was pretty successful, even if he wasn't the third Adams to be President: he graduated from Harvard, studied law with Daniel Webster, he was a member of the House of Representatives, served in the state senate, founded and edited the Boston Whig journal, was an ambassador for Abraham Lincoln, was offered the position of Harvard President (he declined), and constructed the first-ever presidential library to honor his dear old dad. JQA had two other sons: John II we don't know much about, but George Washington Adams also graduated from Harvard and was elected to the House of Representatives. However, it's possible that the stress was too much "“ he disappeared off of a boat in the Long Island Sound in 1829; his body was found about six weeks later. Most historians believe it was a suicide.

3 and 4. Harry "Hal" Garfield was only 17 when he watched his dad get gunned down by Charles Guiteau "“ even worse, his little brother was only 15.

Both brothers went on to be very successful, though "“ Hal became a law professor and was eventually named the eighth president of Williams College. He also taught at Princeton, where he made friends with Woodrow Wilson, pre-Presidency. When Wilson became President, he asked Hal to run the Federal Fuel Administration. Hal's brother, James Rudolph, studied law at Columbia, then ran a law firm with Hal. James was in the Ohio State Senate for three years, and served as a member of Teddy Roosevelt's Cabinet as Secretary of the Interior.

alice5. Speaking of which, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy's oldest daughter and only child by his first wife, is totally fascinating. At least, I think so. Alice was named after her mom, and Teddy was so heartbroken at her death that he refused to call his daughter Alice. She went by Baby Lee (her middle name). He also nicknamed her "Mousiekins" in a letter to his sister. But that's neither here nor there. As an adult, she helped William Howard Taft (Teddy's Secretary of War) in a diplomatic trip to Japan. On the boat ride over, Alice jumped into the ship's pool with all of her clothes on and managed to convince a Congressman to do the same. While married to Congressman Nick Longworth, Alice had an affair with Senator William Borah. Alice later admitted Borah was the father of her daughter, Paulina. After the Tafts took over the White House, Alice would openly heckle Nellie Taft at White House dinners and other social events. Eventually, the Tafts banned her from the residence altogether. The Wilson Administration also banned her when she made a dirty joke about the President. During the Great Depression, Alice found herself dealing with the hard times just like everyone else. To make ends meet, she appeared as the model in tobacco ads and published her autobiography (which I think I'm going to have to get). She remained a staple in Washington until her death in 1980.

6, 7, and 8. The Taft children were also quite accomplished. The only daughter, named Helen, after her mother, was a highly accomplished academic. She was a professor at Bryn Mawr for 40 years. She was also an avid suffragist. Her brother, Charles Phelps Taft (Mr. Cincinnati), was the Mayor of Cincinnati from 1955-1957, but prior to that, he held various positions in the FDR Administration. Robert Taft became a U.S. Senator. In fact, in 1957, a Senate committee led by JFK named Robert Taft one of the five best Senators in history.

9. Elliott Roosevelt was the son of FDR and Eleanor. He was a bombardier in the United States Army Air Forces in WWII, but after that, he was kind of all over the place. He owned a radio station, he tried ranching, he was the mayor of Miami Beach for one term, and he wrote a mystery series featuring his mother as the main character. He was married five times and had five children and four stepchildren who took the Roosevelt name.

meg10. Oddly, Margaret Truman is another Presidential child who made a living writing mysteries as an adult. I suppose it makes sense "“ they probably have insights that the rest of us don't. Anyway, Margaret was on track to be a singer for a while in the late 1940s and early 50s. After one of her vocal recitals was aired on the radio, a critic at the Washington Post said she was very pretty, but couldn't hold a tune. President Truman wrote the critic a letter and said that if the two of them ever met, the critic was going to need "a new nose and plenty of beefsteak and perhaps a supporter below." After she stopped singing in the mid 50s, she started writing "“ she wrote biographies about both of her parents, wrote books on the First Ladies and First Pets and wrote a bunch of murder mysteries set in Washington, D.C.

11 and 12. Steven Meigs Ford, Gerald and Betty's youngest son, is an actor. He was actually cast in the original Grease as Tom Chisum, Lorenzo Lamas' character, but dropped out. He was on The Young and the Restless from 1981 to 1987 and has since been in movies such as Armageddon, Heat, and When Harry Met Sally. His sister, Susan, is another writer: in 2002, she wrote Double Exposure: A First Daughter Mystery. Before that, she was a photojournalist for the AP, Newsweek, Money, Ladies Home Journal and several newspapers. She also had another career: her first marriage was to one of her dad's Secret Service agents and they ran a security company in Washington for a while.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Paramount Pictures
arrow
entertainment
25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


Getty Images

By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


Getty Images

Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
arrow
entertainment
Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios