7 Actors Who Made a Difference

Many famous actors aren't satisfied with their stardom, and they want to do something more. Over the years, a handful of actors have truly made a difference in the world "“ and in some cases, they did so in ways that you wouldn't expect. From inventors to troublesome mistresses to Kevin Bacon, here are seven examples.

1. Lola Montez "“ She Ended an Empire

Few 19th-century entertainers were as colorful as Irish actress and dancer Lola Montez (born Eliza Rosanna Gilbert), who appeared in Broadway shows and performed around Europe as a "Spanish" dancer. She was also banished from Warsaw for publicly criticizing the ruling despot, attacked a newspaper editor in Australia when he published a bad review of her show, gossiped with the Tsar, and was the lover of composer Franz Liszt. In her most notorious episode, she became mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria in 1846, despite a 35-year age difference. Her fierce temper and arrogance made her very unpopular with his subjects, who were furious to see the influence she held over the famously amorous king, especially when he made her Countess of Landsfeld. Noble or not, her scandalous behavior contributed to the fall from grace of the popular king (who had ruled for 22 years), inspiring thoughts of revolution. Ludwig was forced to abdicate in 1848. Montez died in 1861 at age 39.

2. John Wilkes Booth "“ The President's Toughest Critic

booth.jpgMany actors have strongly condemned the president of their time, but only one actually shot his commander in chief. John Wilkes Booth's most dramatic performance, leaping to the stage after killing President Lincoln in 1865, might have overshadowed his acting pedigree. Despite the legend, he was not a failed actor. Born in Maryland, he was the younger brother of Edwin Booth, who brought class to the American theatre with his intense renditions of Shakespeare. John won his own renown as a dashing Romeo, and made a popular tour of the South in 1860-61 at the onset of the Civil War. The brothers (along with a third brother, Junius) also did a memorable version of Julius Caesar (with John playing, you guessed it, Brutus) not long before the assassination. John had entered into a conspiracy plot, and he famously shot Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. Though he escaped on a getaway horse waiting at the back of the theatre, he was shot twelve days later at age 26.

For the record, Edwin's career went from strength to strength, despite the stigma of being an assassin's brother. His later renditions of Othello in Britain, alongside the great English actors Sir Henry Irving and Dame Ellen Terry, won large audiences and rave reviews.

3. Florence Lawrence "“ Auto Pioneer

florence-lawrence.jpgCanadian-born Florence Lawrence is mostly forgotten, but devoted film buffs remember her as the world's first movie star. Initially, like all movie actors in the early days, she was uncredited for her work, and known to her fans as "the Biograph girl" (named after the studio that made her films). Though her face became famous, her name was unknown until Hollywood mogul Carl Laemmle brought her to his new IMP Company in 1910, revealing her name in big newspaper ads. At her first public appearance, in St. Louis, the crowds she drew were bigger than those that had greeted President Taft the previous week.

In her spare time, however, Lawrence was a tinkerer. The daughter of inventors, she was one of the first car-owners and a true automobile geek, inventing such accessories as the "auto signaling arm," a forerunner of the turn signal (she placed an arm on the back of the fender that could be activated with the push of a button) and the automatic "full stop" sign, an early version of brake lights.

Sadly, like Erno Rubik and the inventor of the wheel, her genius didn't extend to filling our patent forms, so others became rich by enhancing her inventions. Nor did she realize that popular film stars could demand ridiculously high salaries. She eventually died in poverty in 1938.

4. Zeppo Marx "“ The Cleverest Brother

Of all the Marx Brothers, the youngest, Herbert (alias Zeppo), got the raw deal. In the early movies, he played the straight man who usually didn't do much. He left the team when they moved to MGM in 1934 (when, it so happened, their box-office improved greatly). But before labeling him as "the boring brother," note that, as the baby of the family, he was stuck with that role. The others said that, in private, he was easily the funniest Marx. When Groucho was in hospital during one of their vaudeville shows, Zeppo would take over his role "“ and did it so well that some in the audience thought he was the "real" Groucho. (The cigars made him sick, however.)

Moreover, he was a brilliant engineer who always had a love of motor cars and machines. After leaving the Marx Brothers, he formed an engineering company, Marman Products, which manufactured coupling devices for aircraft. During World War II, most of his work was top-secret, but it was said that one of Marman's devices was used to hold the first atom bombs in place. Some years later, he invented and patented a wrist device for cardiac patients that measured their heartbeats, sounding an alarm if the wearer went into cardiac arrest.

5. Hedy Lamarr "“ Mastermind of the Wireless

There must be something about movie stars and inventiveness. Hedy Keisler made history with her teenage nudity in the daring Austrian film Ecstasy (1932), and won even greater fame when she moved to Hollywood and took the name Hedy Lamarr. In films like Algiers (1938) and Samson and Delilah (1950), she was known as one of the most sultry and beautiful women in the movies.

But Lamarr had brains as well as beauty. During World War II, she invented a radio guidance system for torpedoes, which she developed with the help of another clever Hollywood friend, composer George Antheil. Known as "frequency hopping," it consisted of two synchronized pianola rolls, allowing technicians to switch control frequencies so the torpedo could escape enemy tracking. Though they received a patent in 1942, the War Department declined to use it. It was later adapted for satellite communications, and is now widely used in cellular phones and other modern technology. As the patent had expired before most of this, neither Lamarr nor Antheil profited from their cleverness, but Lamarr was given due recognition before her death in 2000.

6. Eva Peron "“ Argentina's National Heroine

evita.jpgNot every world leader has a movie star background, but as the current French president has proven, it doesn't hurt to marry a popular entertainer. Argentina's Eva Duarte, the illegitimate child of a farm laborer and a coachman's daughter, escaped her village at age 15 for a career in show business. Her acting skills were nothing special, though she made six movies and became a popular radio broadcaster. Soon she was hobnobbing with political big shots, marrying revolutionary Juan Peron in 1945. They were a popular pair, with her good deeds (including work for charity and women's suffrage) softening his image as a charismatic but tough soldier. Her humble background was frowned upon by the upper classes, but it made her a hero to the poor. Within a year, Juan Peron was elected president, thanks in no small part to the popularity of "Evita" (Little Eva). Politically astute, Eva had a strong influence in her husband's government, and he wanted her to run as his vice-president in the 1951 election. Sadly, she had been stricken with uterine cancer and was too ill. She died, aged 33, in 1952. Naturally, she remained a folk hero in Argentina, and became even more famous as the heroine of the rock musical Evita (1978), which was filmed in 1996, presenting Madonna's best-ever film performance. When the movie was released, Madonna was already four years older than the real Evita had ever been.

7. Kevin Bacon "“ He Might Save the World Someday

bacon.jpgWell, sort of. Remember the 1990s party game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, in which players try to link any given movie actor, through a short chain of films, to Kevin Bacon, the star of Footloose and Mystic River? Bacon once commented in an interview that he'd worked with everyone in Hollywood, and three Albright College students created and popularized the game.

Of course, the idea of networking (getting a job from the friend of a friend) was nothing new, but around the time Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon originated, scientists Duncan Watts and Steve Strogatz were exploring the world of network theory, a new field of scientific research suggesting that large groups (be they viruses or football crowds) don't connect randomly, but are structured around nodes. The theory was all well and good, but they needed to prove it by studying some real networks. Strangely, few networks had been mapped "“ but then they discovered The Oracle of Bacon, a cheat-sheet website for the Kevin Bacon game, created by student Brett Tjaden and linked to the Internet Movie Database.

Tjaden's program, in the hands of the scientists, advanced the research considerably. Network science principles have already led directly to the capture of Saddam Hussein, as the military moved through the dictator's social networks. But there are hub networks everywhere from computer chips to human cells. In the future, it is hoped, scientists will map out networks to combat terrorism, predict pandemics, even cure cancer. When this happens, remember to thank a certain Hollywood star for an off-hand comment he once made in an interview.

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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