6 Unforgettable Movie Mothers and the Real Moms They Depicted

Some women are more extraordinary than others. They raise children, start businesses and schools, write books, and even advise kings and presidents. A few get their life stories turned into movies, but sometimes a bit of truth gets lost along the way. As Mother's Day approaches, let's look at six mothers who were immortalized in film.

1. The Movie: Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)

Cheaper By The Dozen was based on the book of the same name by two of Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth's twelve children. The couple were efficiency experts who often tried out their theories on their children. The movie was a series of comedic anecdotes starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy. The mother's role was not developed as much as it could have been; the movie focused more on the father and his relationship with his children. A sequel released in 1952 was entitled Bells on Their Toes. A remake in 2003 had nothing in common with the original except for the title.

The Mother: Lillian Moller Gilbreth


Lillian Moller Gilbreth was an engineer and an industrial psychologist who was known as "the mother of modern management". She achieved a master's degree in literature and a doctorate in psychology (by which time she already had four children). She and her husband (who never went to college) studied scientific management principles and time studies. While Frank concentrated on worker efficiency, Lillian explored the effects of incentives, job satisfaction, stress, and fatigue on workers. Did I mention she raised twelve children? After Frank's death, she became the first female professor in the engineering school at Purdue University. Lillian Moller Gilbreth continued to work up into her eighties; she wrote books, lectured, and even served as a consultant to five presidents on various issues. She was 93 when she died in 1973.

2. The Movie: The King and I (1956)


The musical The King and I was based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein  Broadway production of the same name, which was based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. That book was based in turn on the 1870 book The English Governess at the Siamese Court by Anna Leonowens. The story revolves around Leonowens (Deborah Kerr), who takes a position in the palace of King Mongkut (Yul Brynner) of Siam in the mid 19th century. She was employed as a teacher for the king's many wives and children. In the movie, she sang and danced with the king and brought enlightenment to a backward country. A 1946 film, Anna and the King of Siam was based on the same story, as well as the the 1999 film Anna and the King. All these movies are banned in Thailand as being disrespectful to the king.

The Mother: Anna Leonowens


Anna Harriette Edwards Leonowens was born in India in 1831. She hid the fact that one of her grandparents was Indian; the rest of her ancestors were British. She had four children (two who died in infancy) with her husband Thomas Leonowens. By the time Thomas died in 1859, Anna had already founded schools in both Australia and Singapore. To support her daughter and son, she accepted a job teaching the 39 wives and 82 children of King Mongkut in 1862. Leonowens took her young son with her and sent her daughter to school in England. She served the king until his death in 1868. Leonowens moved to New York where she wrote travel articles and worked on her book. She then moved on to Canada where she founded the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and later retired to live in Montreal. Leonowens was a crusader for women's rights and women's education until she died in 1915. Some say that her adventures in Siam were somewhat exaggerated, or possibly made up of whole cloth, but one of her students, Mongkut's successor King Chulalongkorn made many reforms including beginning the process to abolish slavery in Siam.

3. The Movie: Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968)


How's this for a movie plot: a widow (Lucille Ball) with eight children falls in love with a widower (Henry Fonda) who has ten children. Yours, Mine, and Ours begins with a cute courtship in which neither mentioned how many children they have until they had already fallen in love, advances through the difficulties of blending 20 people into one family, and ends with the birth of a 19th child and the oldest leaving home. It was one of the top-grossing movies of 1968. A 2005 remake was even further fictionalized.

The Mother: Helen North Beardsley


Helen North married Frank Beardsley in 1961. They began corresponding to offer grief support to each other after their spouses died. There was no attempt to hide how many children they had from each other. After they married, they moved into Frank's home, which had to be expanded to eight bedrooms and five bathrooms. Unlike the movie, the children liked their stepparents and step-siblings from the beginning and even encouraged Helen and Frank to marry. The Beardsleys, both devout Catholics, had two more children together for a total of twenty. After Frank retired from the Navy, the family opened three bakeries. Helen Beardsley died in 2000. At the time of her death, she had 44 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. Helen Beardsley wrote a book about her family, Who Gets the Drumstick in 1965.

4. The Movie: Mommie Dearest (1981)


The movie Mommie Dearest was based on the 1978 book by Christina Crawford, the daughter of Joan Crawford. Movie star Crawford, portrayed by Faye Dunaway, adopts a baby girl and then a boy and treats them cruelly. Crawford is obsessed with appearances and will not tolerate children acting like children when there are movies, photo shoots, and parties to deal with. As Crawford's career declines, she becomes more abusive to (and even competitive with) her daughter. Although a commercial success, the movie was critically panned.

The Mother: Joan Crawford


Joan Crawford entered show business in 1923 and worked until 1972. Crawford adopted a total of four children, ending with a set of twins in 1947. All four children were eventually sent to boarding schools. When Crawford died in 1977, she deliberately excluded Christina and her brother Christopher from her will. A year later, Christina's book was published. Some of Crawford's friends claimed the story was not true, but many conceded that Crawford's obsessive-compulsive behavior and bad temper were real.

5. The Movie: Finding Neverland (2004)


In Finding Neverland, Johnny Depp portrays playwright J.M. Barrie. He strikes up a friendship with a family led by widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) who has four young boys. Barrie becomes a father figure to the children, and is inspired to write Peter Pan. His attraction to Davies stirs gossip and drives Barrie's wife to leave him. When Davies dies, she names Barrie one of the guardians of her children.

The Mother: Sylvia Llewelyn Davies


Sylvia Jocelyn Llewelyn Davies was not a widow in 1898 when she met Barrie, who already knew her three sons. She and her husband Arthur Llewelyn Davies eventually had five boys. The entire family befriended Barrie and even took him along on vacation. Arthur Llewelyn Davies died in 1907, and Barrie divorced his wife in 1909. Barrie supported Davies' family financially, but there is no evidence that the relationship was anything but platonic. Davies died in 1910 and willed guardianship of her children to four people, including Barrie, who continued to support them financially.

6. The Movie: The Sound Of Music (1965)


The Sound of Music won five Academy Awards in 1966 (including Best Picture) and was nominated for five more. Young novitiate Maria (Julie Andrews) leaves her convent to work for wealthy Baron Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) as a governess for his seven musically-inclined children. They fall in love and marry. After returning from their honeymoon, they escape Austria while being chased by Nazis who want to conscript Georg. The 1965 musical that spawned many classic songs was based on the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway production of the same name, which was a fictionalized version of the 1949 book The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp.

The Mother: Maria von Trapp


Maria Augusta Kutschera was hired as a tutor for one of the von Trapp children in 1926, but came to love all seven of them. She married their father Georg von Trapp in 1927. The real Maria was much more dominant in the family than the movie version revealed, while Georg was more easygoing than his film character. Eleven years later in 1938, the family of professional singers left Austria to escape Nazi rule. They rode a train to Italy and with the help of their booking agent, immigrated to the United States where they made a living touring, recording music, and running a music camp. Maria bore three more children, the last after coming to America. After Georg died in 1947, Maria opened the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont. She kept the family singing together professionally until 1955. The family did not see profits from The Sound of Music, as Maria had sold the rights to their story years before. Maria von Trapp was 82 when she died in 1987. Here's a clip of Maria appearing with Julie Andrews on TV just a few years after the movie appeared.

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Where Did The Easter Bunny Come From?
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Getty Images

The Easter Bunny is an anthropomorphic, egg-laying rabbit who sneaks into homes the night before Easter to deliver baskets full of colored eggs, toys and chocolate. A wise man once told me that all religions are beautiful and all religions are wacko, but even if you allow for miracles, angels, and pancake Jesus, the Easter Bunny really comes out of left field.

If you go way back, though, the Easter Bunny starts to make a little sense. Spring is the season of rebirth and renewal. Plants return to life after winter dormancy and many animals mate and procreate. Many pagan cultures held spring festivals to celebrate this renewal of life and promote fertility. One of these festivals was in honor of Eostre or Eastre, the goddess of dawn, spring and fertility near and dear to the hearts of the pagans in Northern Europe. Eostre was closely linked to the hare and the egg, both symbols of fertility.

As Christianity spread, it was common for missionaries to practice some good salesmanship by placing pagan ideas and rituals within the context of the Christian faith and turning pagan festivals into Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas). The Eostre festival occurred around the same time as the Christians' celebration of Christ's resurrection, so the two celebrations became one, and with the kind of blending that was going on among the cultures, it would seem only natural that the pagans would bring the hare and egg images with them into their new faith (the hare later became the more common rabbit).

The pagans hung on to the rabbit and eventually it became a part of Christian celebration. We don't know exactly when, but it's first mentioned in German writings from the 1600s. The Germans converted the pagan rabbit image into Oschter Haws, a rabbit that was believed to lay a nest of colored eggs as gifts for good children. (A poll of my Twitter followers reveals that 81% of the people who replied believe the Easter Bunny to be male, based mostly on depictions where it's wearing a bowtie. The male pregnancy and egg-laying mammal aspects are either side effects of trying to lump the rabbit and egg symbols together, or rabbits were just more awesome back then.)

Oschter Haws came to America with Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in the 1700s, and evolved into the Easter Bunny as it became entrenched in American culture. Over time the bunny started bringing chocolate and toys in addition to eggs (the chocolate rabbit began with the Germans, too, when they started making Oschter Haws pastries in the 1800s).


The Easter Bunny also went with European settlers to Australia—as did actual bunnies. These rabbits, fertile as they are, got a little out of control, so the Aussies regard them as serious pests. The destruction they've caused to habitats is responsible for the major decline of some native animals and causes millions of dollars worth of damage to crops. It is, perhaps, not a great idea to use an invasive species as a symbol for a religious holiday, so Australia has been pushing the Easter Bilby (above, on the right), an endangered marsupial that kind of looks like a bunny if you squint. According to some of our Australian readers, the Easter Bunny is not in danger of going extinct.

Gregor Smith, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Men Behind Your Favorite Liquors
Gregor Smith, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Gregor Smith, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It's hard to walk down the aisle of a liquor store without running across a bottle bearing someone's name. We put them in our cocktails, but how well do we know them? Here's some biographical detail on the men behind your favorite tipples.

1. Captain Morgan

FromSandToGlass, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Captain wasn't always just the choice of sorority girls looking to blend spiced rum with Diet Coke; in the 17th century he was a feared privateer. Not only did the Welsh pirate marry his own cousin, he ran risky missions for the governor of Jamaica, including capturing some Spanish prisoners in Cuba and sacking Port-au-Prince in Haiti. He then plundered the Cuban coast before holding for ransom the entire city of Portobelo, Panama. He later looted and burned Panama City, but his pillaging career came to an end when Spain and England signed a peace treaty in 1671. Instead of getting in trouble for his high-seas antics, Morgan received knighthood and became the lieutenant governor of Jamaica.

2. Johnnie Walker

Kevin Chang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Walker, the name behind the world's most popular brand of Scotch whisky, was born in 1805 in Ayrshire, Scotland. When his father died in 1819, Johnnie inherited a trust of a little over 400 pounds, which the trustees invested in a grocery store. Walker grew to become a very successful grocer in the town of Kilmarnock and even sold a whisky, Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky. Johnnie's son Alexander was the one who actually turned the family into famous whisky men, though. Alexander had spent time in Glasgow learning how to blend teas, but he eventually returned to Kilmarnock to take over the grocery from his father. Alexander turned his blending expertise to whisky, and came up with "Old Highland Whisky," which later became Johnnie Walker Black Label.

3. Jack Daniel

LeeRoyal, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel of Tennessee whiskey fame was the descendant of Welsh settlers who came to the United States in the early 19th century. He was born in 1846 or 1850 and was one of 13 children. By 1866 he was distilling whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Unfortunately for the distiller, he had a bit of a temper. One morning in 1911 Daniel showed up for work early and couldn't get his safe open. He flew off the handle and kicked the offending strongbox. The kick was so ferocious that Daniel injured his toe, which then became infected. The infection soon became the blood poisoning that killed the whiskey mogul.

Curious about why your bottle of J.D. also has Lem Motlow listed as the distillery's proprietor? Daniel's own busy life of distilling and safe-kicking kept him from ever finding a wife and siring an heir, so in 1907 he gave the distillery to his beloved nephew Lem Motlow, who had come to work for him as a bookkeeper.

4. Jose Cuervo

Shane R, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1758, Jose Antonio de Cuervo received a land grant from the King of Spain to start an agave farm in the Jalisco region of Mexico. Jose used his agave plants to make mescal, a popular Mexican liquor. In 1795, King Carlos IV gave the land grant to Cuervo's descendant Jose Maria Guadalupe de Cuervo. Carlos IV also granted the Cuervo family the first license to commercially make tequila, so they built a larger factory on the existing land. The family started packaging their wares in individual bottles in 1880, and in 1900 the booze started going by the brand name Jose Cuervo. The brand is still under the leadership of the original Jose Cuervo's family; current boss Juan-Domingo Beckmann is the sixth generation of Cuervo ancestors to run the company.

5. Jim Beam

Jim Beam, the namesake of the world's best-selling bourbon whiskey, didn't actually start the distillery that now bears his name. His great-grandfather Jacob Beam opened the distillery in 1788 and started selling his first barrels of whiskey in 1795. In those days, the whiskey went by the less-catchy moniker of "Old Tub." Jacob Beam handed down the distillery to his son David Beam, who in turn passed it along to his son David M. Beam, who eventually handed the operation off to his son, Colonel James Beauregard Beam, in 1894. Although he was only 30 years old when he took over the family business, Jim Beam ran the distillery until Prohibition shut him down. Following repeal in 1933, Jim quickly built a distillery and began resurrecting the Old Tub brand, but he also added something new to the company's portfolio: a bourbon simply called Jim Beam.

6. Tanqueray

Adrian Scottow, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

When he was a young boy, Charles Tanqueray's path through life seemed pretty clear. He was the product of three straight generations of Bedfordshire clergymen, so it must have seemed natural to assume that he would take up the cloth himself. Wrong. Instead, he started distilling gin in 1830 in a little plant in London's Bloomsbury district. By 1847, he was shipping his gin to colonies around the British Empire, where many plantation owners and troops had developed a taste for Tanqueray and tonic.

7. Campari

Michael, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Gaspare Campari found his calling quickly. By the time he was 14, he had risen to become a master drink mixer in Turin, and in this capacity he started dabbling with a recipe for an aperitif. When he eventually settled on the perfect mixture, his concoction had over 60 ingredients. In 1860, he founded Gruppo Campari to make his trademark bitters in Milan. Like Colonel Sanders' spice blend, the recipe for Campari is a closely guarded secret supposedly known by only the acting Gruppo Campari chairman, who works with a tiny group of employees to make the concentrate with which alcohol and water are infused to get Campari. The drink is still made from Gaspare Campari's recipe, though, which includes quinine, orange peel, rhubarb, and countless other flavorings.


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