How Ex-Vice Presidents Made Ends Meet

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Getty Images

Now that Dick Cheney is winding down his second term as one of the more controversial Vice Presidents of the United States, what next? The post-White House lives of presidents have been intensely scrutinized, but what becomes of former vice presidents? Here's what happened to a few notable ones:

1. John C. Breckenridge, The Confederacy's Secretary of War

Breckenridge, who served under James Buchanan from 1857 to 1861, didn't rest on his laurels after his stint as VP. Instead, the Kentuckian became a United States Senator on the same day he left office. This arrangement didn't last long, though; in December of that year the Senate expelled Breckenridge for supporting the Confederacy. He then joined the Confederate States Army, where he rose to the rank of Major General and fought in several major conflicts, including the Battle of Shiloh. In 1865 he became the Confederacy's Secretary of War. After the Civil War, Breckenridge returned home to Kentucky and resumed his work as a lawyer.

2. Dan Quayle, I-Banker/Author

After his stint as George H.W. Bush's second in command, Quayle returned to the private sector, most notably investment banking. He's the chairman of an international division of Cerberus Capital Management, a large private equity firm, and also spent a couple of years as a professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Quayle also made his mark as a writer by penning three books, including Standing Firm: A Vice Presidential Memoir, which spent 15 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, in addition to writing a nationally syndicated column.

His political record since leaving the vice presidential residence at Number One Observatory Circle has been less rosy, though. He supposedly mulled running for governor in both his home state of Indiana in 1996 and in Arizona, where he now resides, in 2002. Both times he ultimately kept his hat out of the ring, but he did make one real campaign attempt for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2000 election. Quayle's effort didn't last long, though. At the Ames Straw poll in August 1999, he came in a dismal 8th place and quickly scrapped his campaign.

3. John Nance Garner, FDR's VP & Opponent

Many Vice Presidents are probably appreciative that their running mate helped bring them to Washington. John Nance Garner wasn't one of them, though. Although he served as Franklin Roosevelt's Vice President during FDR's first two terms, Garner didn't always agree with the New Deal's policies. Some Democratic Party leaders agreed with Garner and convinced him to run for the presidency in 1940. Garner might have had a chance at winning the Democratic nomination if his boss hadn't decided to run for a third term. Garner, undeterred, decided to gun for FDR's job anyway. Roosevelt hammered Garner in the primaries and thumped him 946-61 in the balloting for the nomination at the Democratic Convention. Although Garner obviously couldn't return to his VP post, he maintained his role in the party by offering advice to sitting Democratic leaders until his death when he was nearly 99 years old.

4. Henry Wallace, Agriculture Pioneer

Garner's successor as Roosevelt's VP had an interesting post-Washington career, too. Wallace, who had previously served as Secretary of Agriculture under Roosevelt, returned to his farm in South Salem, New York, and started trying to develop new breakthroughs in agriculture science. In addition to pioneering hybrid corn, he also co-authored a history of the grain, Corn and Its Early Fathers. Wallace was most focused, though, on creating the "perfect chicken." He may have succeeded; as late as 1990 nearly half of the eggs consumed worldwide were from Wallace's new breed.

5. Thomas A. Hendricks, Coin Legend

Grover Cleveland's running mate in the 1884 served a fairly short term in office. He took office on March 4, 1885 and then fell ill in November of the same year. Hendricks quickly passed away, but he lives on in the hearts of coin collectors everywhere. He's the only Vice President who didn't later serve as President to have his likeness on American paper money, the 1886 $10 silver certificate.

6. Schuyler Colfax, Traveling Lecturer

Colfax, who had formerly been Speaker of the House, served as Vice President during Ulysses S. Grant's first term in office, but his stint as VP didn't end so well. Colfax got caught up in the Credit Mobilier scandal, a convoluted bit of graft that involved Congressmen granting subsidies to railroads in exchange for the right to buy cheap shares of stock. Colfax may have left office in shame, but he bounced back nicely and spent his last years as a traveling lecturer. Unfortunately, this lecturing also proved fatal to him: Colfax had to walk just under a mile in -30 degree weather in 1885 to make a train connection for a lecture. Colfax made it to the depot, but the terribly cold weather brought on a fatal heart attack.

7. Aaron Burr, Hamilton's Slayer

Aaron Burr's vice presidency was perhaps the most unusual example in American history. Burr ran with Thomas Jefferson in 1800, and in doing so helped accentuate one of the flaws in the Constitution.
According to the original Constitution, members of the Electoral College cast two votes, and whoever got the second-most votes became Vice President. Jefferson and Burr's Democratic-Republican Party had figured out the best way to vote to put the two candidates in their respective offices. Something got seriously screwed up, though, and Jefferson and Burr ended up tied with 73 votes apiece. Although Congress eventually voted Jefferson into the presidency, Jefferson didn't quite trust Burr any longer, and he never really regained his footing within the administration.

After Jefferson declined to put Burr on his ticket in 1804, Burr ran unsuccessfully for governor in New York. Burr felt his old rival Alexander Hamilton was responsible for this loss, and while still serving as Vice President, famously killed Hamilton in a duel in New Jersey.

Shooting a key founding father in a duel would have ended the careers of many politicians, but Burr decided to up the ante. Instead, Burr, along with General James Wilkinson, hatched an absurdly ambitious plan to launch a military attack on Mexico, where he hoped to establish an independent country. Unfortunately, Wilkinson realized this plan was doomed and tipped off President Jefferson about what Burr was up to. Although Burr beat a treason rap for plotting the war (partially thanks to the fleet-footed legal work of his lawyer, Henry Clay), he became a much-vilified character in the U.S. He fled to Europe for four years, where he supposedly tried to talk Napoleon into invading Florida with him, and died relatively penniless in 1836.

8. Hubert H. Humphrey, Encyclopedia Man

Lyndon B. Johnson's Vice President made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1968, at which point he returned home to Minnesota to serve as a professor. Humphrey held a more unusual job after leaving Washington, though; he was also chairman of the Encyclopaedia Britannica's board of consultants. Humphrey eventually got back into the political game, though, and in 1971 went back to the Senate for seven more years until his death.

The Time Baby Ruth Sued Babe Ruth

Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1920, the Curtiss Candy Company introduced the Baby Ruth candy bar, causing a certain baseball player with a very similar name to take notice. Babe Ruth was having a monstrous year—his 54 home runs in the 1920 season were more than any other team in the American League. If you were going to misappropriate someone’s name for a candy bar, Ruth’s was a logical choice.

Sensing opportunity, the Great Bambino struck back by creating his own Babe Ruth Home Run Bar. Curtiss quickly sued Ruth’s company for trademark infringement. But what happened next was surprising: When the Sultan of Swat accused the company of using his name, Curtiss feigned shock. Its bar was named after “Baby” Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland.

For years, this has been the oft-repeated explanation, but the argument makes no sense. Cleveland had been out of office for more than two decades and dead for 12 years when the bar debuted. “Baby” Ruth herself had died of diphtheria in 1904, at just 12 years old. Although the country’s most famous baseball star would seem much more likely to have a namesake candy than a former president's departed child, the courts sided with Curtiss.

When Ruth learned of the verdict, he bellowed, “Well, I ain’t eatin’ your damned candy bar anymore!” Somehow, the Baby Ruth bar survived without his support.

What Is the Wilhelm Scream?

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iStock

What do Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Toy Story, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Anchorman, 22 Jump Street, and more than 200 other films and TV shows have in common? Not much besides the one and only Wilhelm Scream.

The Wilhelm Scream is the holy grail of movie geek sound effects—a throwaway sound bite with inauspicious beginnings that was turned into the best movie in-joke ever when it was revived in the 1970s.

Just what is it? Chances are you’ve heard it before but never really noticed it. The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in both the biggest blockbusters and the lowest low-budget movies and television shows for over 60 years, and is usually heard when someone onscreen is shot or falls from a great height.

First used in the 1951 Gary Cooper western Distant Drums, the distinctive yelp began in a scene in which a group of soldiers wade through a swamp, and one of them lets out a piercing scream as an alligator drags him underwater.

As is the case with many movie sound effects, the scream was recorded later in a sound booth with the simple direction to make it sound like “a man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.” Six screams were performed in one take, and the fifth scream on the recording became the iconic Wilhelm (the others were used for additional screams in other parts of the movie).

Following its debut in 1951, the effect became a regular part of the Warner Bros. sound library and was continually used by the studio’s filmmakers in their movies. Eventually, in the early 1970s, a group of budding sound designers at USC’s film school—including future Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt—recognized that the unique scream kept popping up in numerous films they were watching. They nicknamed it the “Wilhelm Scream” after a character in the first movie they all recognized it from, a 1963 western called The Charge at Feather River, in which a character named Private Wilhelm lets out the pained scream after being shot in the leg by an arrow.

As a joke, the students began slipping the effect into the student films they were working on at the time. After he graduated, Burtt was tapped by fellow USC alum George Lucas to do the sound design on a little film he was making called Star Wars. As a nod to his friends, Burtt put the original sound effect from the Warner Bros. library into the movie, most noticeably when a Stormtrooper is shot by Luke Skywalker and falls into a chasm on the Death Star. Burtt would go on to use the Wilhelm Scream in various scenes in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie, causing fans and filmmakers to take notice.

Directors like Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, as well as countless other sound designers, sought out the sound and put it in their movies as a humorous nod to Burtt. They wanted to be in on the joke too, and the Wilhelm Scream began showing up everywhere, making it an unofficial badge of honor. It's become bigger than just a sound effect, and the name “Wilhelm Scream” has been used for everything from a band name, to a beer, to a song title, and more.

But whose voice does the scream itself belong to? Burtt himself did copious amounts of research, as the identity of the screamer was unknown for decades. He eventually found a Warner Bros. call sheet from Distant Drums that listed actors who were scheduled to record additional dialogue after the film was completed. One of the names, and the most likely candidate as the Wilhelm screamer, was an actor and musician named Sheb Wooley, who appeared in classics like High Noon, Giant, and the TV show Rawhide. You may also know him as the musician who sang the popular 1958 novelty song “Purple People Eater.”

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