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5 Things You Didn't Know About Cary Grant

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This week's installment of our "5 Things You Didn't Know About..." series focuses on one of the finest comic actors of all time. Whether in comedies like The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby or Hitchcock thrillers like North by Northwest, Cary Grant could make even throwaway bits of dialogue screamingly funny with his superb sense of timing and brilliant facial expressions. Here are a few things you might not have known about him.

1. He Was Almost Cary Lockwood

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The man we know as Cary Grant was actually born Alec Archibald Leach in 1904 in Bristol, England. When Archie Leach finally made it to Hollywood in 1931, studio execs at Paramount didn't think that "Archie Leach" sounded sturdy enough for a leading man. As Grant later told it, someone at the studio said, "'Archie' just doesn't sound right in America," to which he grudgingly admitted, "It doesn't sound particularly right in Britain, either."

When he was faced with the task of literally making a name for himself, Leach enlisted the help of his friends Fay Wray and John Monk Saunders, who suggested "Cary Lockwood." When Leach took the "Cary Lockwood" moniker back to Paramount, the studio honchos liked the "Cary" part but felt that "Lockwood" was too long and too similar to other actors' names, particularly silent film star Harold Lockwood. Grant would later tell The New Yorker that at this point, someone in the meeting just started reading down a list of potential last names and eventually stopped at "Grant." Archie Leach liked the sound of it and nodded, and Cary Grant was born. In 1941, the actor legally changed his name to Cary Grant.

2. Archie Leach Had Some Adventures of His Own, Though

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The name Cary Grant may not have emerged until 1931, but long before that Archie Leach was already showing the inimitable charm and comedic gifts that would later light up the screen. He left home at age 13 to join the Bob Pender Troupe, a group of traveling boy comedians, and from that point on he focused on learning acrobatics, tumbling, and vaudeville techniques, where he excelled as a straight man. In 1920, Bob Pender brought his troupe to the U.S., where they successfully toured for two years. At the end of the engagement, Archie Leach decided he'd rather just stay in the U.S. than return to England.

For the next nine years, Grant did a little bit of everything. He juggled on-stage, served as an audience plant for mind readers, worked as a barker at Coney Island, and walked on stilts to advertise Steeplechase Park. He also worked as an "escort" who could fill in empty seats at dinner parties; he once escorted the great soprano Lucrezia Bori for an evening. By 1927, he'd met legendary producer Arthur Hammerstein and was appearing on Broadway, which opened the door for his film career.

3. He Took Thriftiness To a New Level

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From just watching Grant's movies, you'd think that friends would describe him as witty, charming, and urbane. While his associates certainly give him credit for all of those qualities, he's just as legendary for being a cheapskate. Although Grant was the first star to break out of the studio system and negotiate a deal where he got a percentage of his films' box office takes, he was famously careful with his cash and obsessed over how much everything cost. (If Grant attended an expensive charity event, he was quick to point out that the entrance fee was deductible.)

Rumors circulated that Grant was so cheap that when he'd worn out a shirt, he'd cut all the buttons off and save them before throwing it away. Grant never denied this rumor; he simply explained in an interview that he liked to have some extra buttons around and that if his maid used his old shirts as dust rags he didn't want the buttons scratching his furniture. As he told the New York Times, "I think it's a very sensible procedure and should be adopted as a household tip."

4. He Did a Lot of LSD

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Although Grant was outwardly a clean-cut light-comic actor, he struggled with depression throughout his life. Part of this unhappiness stemmed from his uneasy relationship with the fairer sex, a problem that may have sprung from losing his mother when he was just nine years old. (Family members told Grant his mother had either died or gone on vacation, but she'd actually been committed to the Country Home for Mental Defectives in Fishpond.) While Grant was quite the ladies' man on screen, he didn't fare quite so well in his own life. He was married five times, and the first four wives all left him.

In an effort to confront these problems and restore his mental health, Grant underwent a hundred or so LSD sessions. He started taking LSD under the supervision of doctors in 1963 when his third wife, actress Betsy Drake, hit the road. According to Grant, when he took LSD and talked to a psychiatrist he "went through rebirth," and although he discouraged the recreational drug culture that emerged later in the 60s, he remained firmly convinced that LSD helped him come to terms with his issues. In fact, Grant felt so grateful for the breakthroughs he had with LSD that he left $10,000 in his will to the doctor who had overseen the treatments.

5. He Was No Fan of Chevy Chase

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It sounds ridiculous now, but when Chevy Chase was first starting to make his splash in show business, people compared him to Cary Grant. During a September 1980 interview on Tom Snyder's talk show Tomorrow, host Snyder favorably compared guest Chase to Grant. Chase responded, "I understand he was a homo. He was brilliant. What a gal!"

Chase's comments addressed the long-standing Hollywood rumor that Grant was bisexual, and Grant was less than amused. He sued Chase for $10 million for slander the following day, and the pair eventually settled out of court. (Grant allegedly received a $1 million payment from Chase for the ill-chosen comment.) Grant, who was 76 at the time, told the media, "True or untrue, I'm old enough not to care."

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here..

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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