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

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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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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers’ Movies
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Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers’s movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’ 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS'S WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that featured a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination). 

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. "The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, "Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that."

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen Brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen Brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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