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5 Things You Didn't Know About Charles Bronson

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A New York Times profile of Charles Bronson once noted that "Bronson looks like as if at any moment he's about to hit someone." It's tough to think of a better way to summarize Bronson's five-decade film career than that. Since the forthcoming July/August issue of mental_floss contains a picture of Bronson, we thought he would make a good second installment for our new series "Five Things You Didn't Know About" Here's what you might not have known about one of film's most menacing presences:

1. He Changed His Name for Joe McCarthy (Well, Sort Of)

The man we all recognize as Charles Bronson was actually born Charles Buchinsky in the coal-mining town of Ehrnenfield, PA. It would be a gross understatement to say he was from a large family; Bronson was the 11th of 15 children born to a pair of Lithuanian immigrants. The family was so incredibly poor that when Bronson was six years old the only school outfit his mom could muster for him was one of his sister's old dresses. (The ensuing teasing would turn anyone into a world-class tough guy pretty quickly.) By age 16, Bronson was working in the mines himself.

So why did Charles Buchinsky originally become Charles Bronson? He'd broken into the film world as Charles Buchinsky with roles in films like the Gary Cooper vehicle You're in the Navy Now and House of Wax, where he played Vincent Price's deaf-mute henchman Igor. However, when Senator Joe McCarthy cranked up the Communist witch hunt of the 1950s, Buchinsky thought he might be wise to settle on a name that sounded less Eastern European and thus less potentially Communist, so Charles Buchinsky became Charles Bronson.

2. He Indirectly Helped Launch Clint Eastwood's Career

Legendary Italian director Sergio Leone was an early fan of Bronson's, and the director relentlessly tried to get the stoic tough guy to appear in his films. When Leone started production on A Fistful of Dollars, the first film in the "Dollars trilogy" and the first to feature the "Man with No Name" character, he tried to get Bronson to take the lead role. Bronson thought the script was terrible and refused. Eventually, Leone offered the role to Clint Eastwood, a decision that worked out fairly well.

Bronson wasn't through turning Leone, down, though. Leone allegedly offered Bronson the role of the sadistic mercenary Angel Eyes in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but Bronson had to back out due to his commitment to The Dirty Dozen. (Instead, Lee Van Cleef unforgettably played the role.) Eventually, though, the two men worked together when Bronson turned in one of his best performances as a haunted harmonica-playing gunfighter in Leone's epic Once Upon a Time in the West.

3. He Conquered Europe First

Although Bronson's film career began in 1951, he wouldn't become a huge star in the U.S. for another couple of decades. While Bronson was in several beloved high-profile films during the 1960s, many of them (like The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, and The Magnificent Seven) employed ensemble casts featuring much bigger names, like Steve McQueen or Lee Marvin.

In Europe, though, Bronson was a gigantic star. His adoring Italian fans called him "Il Brutto," or "The Ugly One," while the French referred to Bronson as the "monstre sacre," or "holy monster." In addition to turning in one of his strongest performances in the Italian film Once Upon a Time in the West, he also starred in the French thriller Rider on the Rain, which tore up European box offices and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Bronson was still making American movies in the interim, including 1972's The Mechanic, a film I highly recommend as possibly the most bizarre American action movie ever made. (To boil it down: Charles Bronson is an existentialist Mob hitman. Yes, really.) He didn't become a huge star in the U.S. until well after his 50th birthday, when he headlined 1974's Death Wish in what would become his trademark role, the architect-turned-vigilante Paul Kersey.

4. He Didn't Really Have a Death Wish

Bronson's physique, terse nature, and choice of roles led people to believe that he was a legitimately tough customer, and the actor did nothing to change their opinions. As the New York Times mentioned in Bronson's 2003 obituary, the actor like to regale journalists with tales of his arrests for assault and battery, the fistfights and brawls he'd gotten into, and his devotion to his knife-throwing hobby.

When journalists dug a little deeper into these claims, though, they found out the tough guy was just spinning yarns. Although he was notoriously reserved and private, the actor was apparently a gentle, devoted family man. Bronson had never been in jail, and he wasn't really into knife throwing. Instead, he had a decidedly less threatening hobby: painting.

Actually, in a roundabout way, painting was what got Bronson into acting. After returning from a stint as a tail gunner in World War II, Bronson bounced around the country working various jobs. While he was working renting chairs on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, he met a group of actors from Philadelphia and coaxed them into letting him help paint their sets. Bronson eventually spent so much time around the theater that he ended up doing a little acting and decided it beat painting.

Of course, his choice of roles, coupled with the march of the Death Wish series from its excellent, provocative first installment through four progressively more ridiculous sequels cemented Bronson's image as an ultraviolent tough guy, leading to parodies like this terrific one from The Simpsons:

5. He Didn't Lack Confidence with the Ladies

When Bronson was playing the claustrophobic "tunnel king" Danny in The Great Escape, he got to work with the Scottish actor David McCallum. After meeting McCallum's wife, actress Jill Ireland, Bronson flatly told his coworker, "I'm going to marry your wife." From anyone else, that would sound like an idle boast, but not from Bronson. McCallum and Ireland soon divorced. Bronson and Ireland married in 1968 and remained hitched until her death in 1990.

See Also: 5 Things You Didn't Know About John Cazale

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5 Things You Should Know About Robert Todd Lincoln
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Robert Todd Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln's oldest son and the only Lincoln child to survive into adulthood. While he didn't make quite the mark on history that his father did, Robert Lincoln had a pretty interesting life himself. Let's take a look at five things you might not know about him:

1. He Was on Ulysses S. Grant's Personal Staff

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Part of Abraham Lincoln's mystique lies in his humble roots as a self-made man who found education where he could. His eldest son didn't have to go through quite as many trials and tribulations to do some learning, though. Robert left Springfield, Illinois, to attend boarding school at New Hampshire's elite Phillips Exeter Academy when he was a young man, and he later graduated from Harvard during his father's presidency.

After completing his undergrad degree, Robert stuck around Cambridge to go to Harvard Law School, but that arrangement didn't last very long. After studying law for just a few months, Lincoln received a commission as a captain in the army. Lincoln's assignment put him on Ulysses S. Grant's personal staff, so he didn't see much fighting. He did get a nice view of history, though; Lincoln was present as part of Grant's junior staff at Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.

After the war ended, Lincoln moved to Chicago with his mother and brother and wrapped up his legal studies.

2. The Booth Family Did Him a Favor

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In 1863 or 1864, young Robert Lincoln was traveling by train from New York to Washington during a break from his studies at Harvard. He hopped off the train during a stop at Jersey City, only to find himself on an extremely crowded platform. To be polite, Lincoln stepped back to wait his turn to walk across the platform, his back pressed to one of the train's cars.

This situation probably seemed harmless enough until the train started moving, which whipped Lincoln around and dropped him into the space between the platform and train, an incredibly dangerous place to be.

Lincoln probably would have been dead meat if a stranger hadn't yanked him out of the hole by his collar. That stranger? None other than Edwin Booth, one of the most celebrated actors of the 19th century and brother of eventual Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Lincoln immediately recognized the famous thespian "“ this was sort of like if George Clooney pulled you from a burning car today "“ and thanked him effusively. The actor had no idea whose life he had saved until he received a letter commending him for his bravery in saving the President's son a few months later.

3. He Had a Strange Knack for Being Near Assassinations

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Lee's surrender wasn't the only history Lincoln ended up witnessing, although things got a bit grislier for him after Appomattox. As he arrived back in Washington in April 1865 Lincoln's parents invited him to go see Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater with them. The young officer was so exhausted after his journey that he begged off so he could get a good night's sleep. That night, of course, John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln's father, and Robert Todd was with the celebrated president when he passed away the next morning.

By 1881, Lincoln's political lineage and prominence as a lawyer qualified him for a national office, and he became Secretary of War under the newly inaugurated James A. Garfield. That July, Lincoln was scheduled to travel to Elberon, New Jersey, by train with the President, but the trip never took off. Before Lincoln and Garfield's train could leave the station, Charles Guiteau shot the Garfield, who died of complications from the wound two months later.

Oddly, that wasn't all for Lincoln, though. Two decades passed without a presidential assassination, but Lincoln's strange luck reared its head again in 1901. Lincoln traveled to Buffalo at the invitation of President William McKinley to attend the Pan-American Exposition. Although he arrived a bit late to the event, Lincoln was on his way to meet McKinley when anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot the president twice at close range.

Following these three bits of bad luck Lincoln refused to attend any presidential functions. He dryly noted that there was "a certain fatality about the presidential function when I am present."

4. He Realized His Mom Was a Little Nutty

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Mary Todd Lincoln is fairly widely renowned today for being mentally ill, but it wasn't quite such an open secret when she was still alive. Robert, however, realized that his mother needed psychiatric help so she didn't become a danger to herself or an embarrassment to her family, so he had her involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in 1875 following a hearing that declared her insane.

Mary Todd was none too pleased about this plan. She not only snuck letters to her lawyer to help her escape from the institution, she also wrote newspaper editors in an effort to convince the public of her sanity. Mary Todd's ploy worked; at a second sanity hearing in 1876 she was declared sane and released from the Batavia, Illinois, sanatorium to which she'd been confined. However, by this point she'd been publicly humiliated and never really patched up her relationship with Robert before her death in 1882.

5. He Made Some Serious Dough on the Railroads

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Once he got his legal practice up and running, Lincoln found a particularly lucrative clientele in the booming railroad industry. He spent most of his career working as a corporate lawyer for various railroads and train-related companies; the only breaks were his four-year stint as Secretary of War under Garfield and successor Chester A. Arthur and a four-year hitch as a minister to Britain under President Benjamin Harrison.

One of Lincoln's major clients was the Pullman Palace Car Company, for which he served as general counsel. When founder George Pullman died in 1897, Lincoln became president of the company, and in 1911 he became chairman of the Pullman Company's board. His lofty position in one of the country's most lucrative companies made him a millionaire and enabled Lincoln to build a sprawling estate, Hildene, in Manchester, Vermont.

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16 404 Pages That Are Worth the Error
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The poem above is old, but the sentiment is universal. I first saw the verse at Plinko's error page, but the original author is nowhere to be found, although the verse owes a lot to Edgar Allan Poe. Looking for something on the internet that leads to an error page is frustrating, but there's an art to alleviating the reader's pain. Only this, and nothing more. Some websites make their 404 page entertaining in itself, and a few make it a real treat. You might even be distracted from what you were trying to find in the first place!

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is all about movies, so it makes sense that their error page gives you a well-known quote about your situation. There are about a dozen quotes that rotate, with some exact quotes, and some that are altered for the occasion.

BedMap is a hotel finder. They also found a great movie quote to adapt for their error page.

The Association for Computing Machinery's error page talks to you in text. The message goes on way after what you see here, until you feel much sorrier for the poor web server than you feel for yourself.

The error page at the game Brain Chef does the same thing as ACM, but instead of becoming melancholy, it flirts with you! And it keeps on, trying to keep you from navigating elsewhere.

The 404 page at Everlasting Blort acknowledges that the server is just as confused as you are. The page contains a flashing .gif that may trigger reactions if you suffer from photosensitive epilepsy. Those who visit Blort often already know that disorientation is what you go there for in the first place.

NPR's error page looks pretty normal for National Public Radio, but it cleverly contains a list of other things besides your missing destination link that cannot be found. After Amelia Earhart and the erased Watergate tape, they list Jimmy Hoffa, your luggage, Atlantis, and Waldo. Each item links to an article about the subject.

Homestar Runner blames you for the error. Which is just as well- I blame them for not adding anything new for years. Still, if you haven't seen all the cartoons, they are there for your enjoyment. But the other error messages they've used over the years were memorable as well.

Lesson learned: don't ever cram a Swiss cake roll into your disc drive.

This Russian business site 404 page is liable to make you forget what you were looking for, even if you don't understand a word of Russian (or Romanian -thanks, !). Let's all dance! This animation is found at more than one Russian site, so it's probably a feature of the hosting service. Warning: the song might be in your head all day.

Blue Fountain Media would like to develop websites and apps for you, but if you reach their error page instead, they offer on online version of Pac-Man for you to play. That makes everything all better, doesn't it?

Titlest golf equipment knows when you've lost a link, and they'll pitch in to help you look for it. In the rough. They've found a lot of golf balls there, after all.

Joel Veitch composed a song and video for Rathergood's 404 page. As you might guess, it's sung by a kitten.

Oh dear, you've got a 404
This isn't what you came here for
Oh dear, you've got a 404, there's nothing here to see
Oh dear, you've got a 404
This isn't what you came here for
Now that you're here, let's have a 404 party!

It's just as silly as anything you could possibly be looking for in his archives.

Woodland Farmers Market sells fresh produce in Washington state. They are also Star Wars fans and punsters.

Mashable did not find the page you're looking for. But they found your socks, so that's a plus, huh? Hey wait, who's wearing my socks? Oh, that's okay, they've got a hole in them anyway.

Bluegg is a company that designs websites. They also designed a sweet 404 page that says,

Ahhhhhhhhhhh! This page doesn't exist
Not to worry. You can either head back to our homepage, or sit there and listen to a goat scream like a human.

I listened to that goat scream quite a few times while preparing this item.

The Rolling Stones website gives you a video on their error page. A very appropriate video.

To be honest, these error pages came from a list that I've been keeping for seven years now. I just added to the list as I found great 404 pages, but I hadn't stopped to check how long the list was until recently. Over the years, many great error pages were lost because the website went out of business. Others just don't seem that creative anymore. Some error pages were changed or gutted due to copyright violations. To save time, I had kept a few posts that were lists of great error pages. Now I find that those posts no longer exist, and the links redirect to boring, everyday error pages. If you know of a wonderful error page everyone should see, please tell us about it!

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