9 Things You Didn't Know About H. Ross Perot

Henry Ross Perot isn't a name you hear too often these days, but the 78-year-old Texas businessman is still kicking: He still makes an annual appearance on Forbes 400 Richest list (number 68 this year); he's still as deeply opinionated as he's always been; and his ears still stick out.

And he's still a fascinating American creation, which is why we've complied a short list of things you probably didn't know about H. Ross Perot:

1. He pulled himself up by his cowboy boot straps

H. Ross Perot was born on June 27, 1930, in Texarkana, Texas "“ just west of straddling the line between Arkansas and Texas, hence the name "“ and had his first job about the same time he lost his milk teeth. The soon-to-be billionaire grew up training horses, selling magazines and garden seeds, and delivering newspapers before entering the Naval Academy, where he was twice elected class president. Fast forward a few years, after Naval service and doing time as a salesman in the trenches at IBM, and Perot borrows $1000 from his wife to start Electronic Data Systems Leasing Corporation, or EDS as it's more commonly known, in 1962. Within eight years "“ and after closing in on some lucrative state contracts to computerize Medicare and Medicaid claims "“ that $1000 investment became a multi-billion dollar corporation employing more than 70,000 people.

2. He convinced Ollie North to stay in the Marines

Young Oliver North wanted to work for EDS, but Perot discouraged him from it, saying the promising young officer should stay right were he was, in the Marines. This, of course, may not have been the best career path for young North "“ who ended up a household name at the center of the Iran-Contra scandal.

3. He's hardcore

In 1979, when two EDS employees were kidnapped and held hostage by Iranian revolutionaries, Perot didn't wait around for help to come. The billionaire organized his own storm-the-castle rescue mission with the help of retired Green Beret Colonel Arthur "Bull" Simons.

The rescue mission, which was staffed by EDS employees, was ultimately successful "“ Perot himself walked into the Tehran prison where his men were being held and walked them out.

Ken Follett wrote a book about it, On the Wings of Eagles, which was later turned into a TV miniseries.

This was not the only time Perot would attempt to bankroll a rescue mission into hostile territories "“ this one just happened to be the most successful.

4. He's tough on drugs

Nineteen-seventy-nine was a busy year for Perot: In addition to mounting a commando raid to rescue his employees from Iranian revolutionaries, he was asked by the Texas governor to head up the Texas War on Drugs committee. Which he did pretty effectively "“ the committee proposed five laws to fight drug dealing, all of which were passed by the state legislature and signed into law.

5. He's a speed freak

Perot used to race his son on Lake Texoma "“ him in a Cigarette boat souped up with two $250,000 jet engines, against his son, Ross, Jr., overhead in a helicopter. Fellow boaters reported seeing Perot gripping the steering wheel of Blue Thunder, his boat, his goggles on and doing well over 100 miles an hour.

6. He never did get that heliport

Perot has never been particularly ostentatious with his money, a large chunk of which has long been wrapped up in philanthropic endeavors. While he's always up for spending money for a good cause, having parted with $120 million for inner-city schools and anti-drugs measures within the first few months of his charity's establishment, Perot didn't exactly splash the cash around (except for the horses, the house, and his wife's cars). But sadly, the city of Dallas denied Ross Perot one thing he truly wanted: a heliport for his 22-acre North Dallas manse. The Dallas Plan Commission denied the billionaire's request after his neighbors complained.

7. He's a collector

In 1984, Perot bought a copy of the Magna Carta "“ actually a 1297 copy of the one signed in 1215 by King John at the behest of some pissed off nobles, and defining rights for citizens of British Commonwealth countries for years to come. Perot, through his foundation, bought the document from a British family of gentry for $1.5 million; it had been in their possession since the Middle Ages. He lent it to the National Archives in Washington, DC, where it shared the room with original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution "“ until 2007, that is. In 2007, the foundation Perot controls abruptly decided to take the Magna Carta back and put it up on the auction block, where it promptly sold for $21.3 million.

8. He hates John McCain

perot-mccain.jpgPerot, who worked with the Nixon administration to figure out ways to help POWs in Vietnam, hates the senator from Arizona and two-time presidential candidate. In January of 2008, just as the primaries were about to hit full stride, Perot made a well-timed call to Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, blasting McCain for both personal reasons (dumping his wife, Carol, for beer heiress Cindy; calling Perot "nuttier than a fruitcake"), and political (Perot believes McCain hushed up evidence that POWs were left alive in Vietnam).

Alter's conversation with Perot also revealed that the former presidential candidate, like many others in the country, had been duped by email chains claiming that Barack Obama was a Muslim and had refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. At that time, Perot said he'd be voting for former Massachusetts governor and Mormon Mitt Romney in the Texas Republican primary, explaining, "When I went to the Naval Academy and met my first Mormons I asked why so many were excellent officers"¦ I learned it was because of their strong family unit."

9. He's a family man

During an interview on 60 Minutes, Perot claimed that he so abruptly dropped out of the 1992 presidential election to protect his daughter. According to Perot, his daughter Carolyn's wedding was in danger of being disrupted by a nefarious Republican plot to embarrass her with lurid and ostensibly doctored nude photographs. And this same nefarious plot included some sort of disruption of the wedding day itself. And there was this other nefarious plot to tap his phones. Perot had no proof of that either plot existed, but hey, a man can't be too careful with his daughter's happiness, now can he? (It was later discovered that the man who told Perot about the plots actually made it up, in an effort to discredit Bush.)

(For more on the presidential election of 1992, check out our previous post, Secrets of Past Elections: 1992.)

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Warner Bros.
19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

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