5 Things You Don't Know About 5 Different People

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Editor's Note: Every Friday, Ethan Trex digs up things you might not know about various authors, artists, actors, politicians, athletes and so on. We gave him today off, so we're running excerpts from five previous installments. If there's someone you'd like to learn more about, leave your suggestion in the comments.

Billy Wilder

1. Before He Was a Director, He Was a Gigolo

Wilder was born in Sucha Beskidzka in what is now Poland in 1906, and attended what he later called "the worst high school in Vienna." He eventually ended up at the University of Vienna to fulfill his parents' dreams of becoming a lawyer. Fortunately for the future of film, Wilder didn't love the ivory tower and quickly dropped out of college to become a journalist in Berlin.

It was tough to make ends meet as a writer, though, so Wilder supplemented his income by working as a gigolo. According to the director this was no Midnight Cowboy stuff, though, and Wilder went into the line of work mostly hoping it would make good research for a series of articles. His job mostly consisted of dining, dancing, and chatting with lonely old ladies. In the excellent book-length interview Conversations With Wilder by director Cameron Crowe, Wilder claims that he never got frisky with any clients "because they would come with their husbands"¦and the ladies were corpulent ladies, elderly ladies."

Read more things you didn't know about Billy Wilder.

Grace Kelly

2. Becoming a Princess Wasn't Cheap

rainier-grace-kellyKelly met Prince Rainier III of Monaco at a photo shoot in 1955 when she was leading the American delegation to the Cannes Film Festival, and the two instantly hit it off. After she returned to the States, the actress and the prince corresponded until later that year when he came to the U.S. on a diplomatic tour. After spending three days with Kelly and her family, Prince Rainier proposed, and Kelly accepted.

Things aren't so simple when you're marrying a prince, though. To seal the deal, Kelly's family had to cough up a dowry. Luckily, Jack Kelly was every bit as successful in the brick business as he was with the oars, and he forked over a $2 million dowry to help cover the cost of the wedding. (Seems crazy that Grace Kelly would have to pay someone to convince him to marry her, doesn't it?)

With a dowry like that, what kind of engagement ring does a movie star princess get? A gigantic one. Kelly's was a 10.47-carat emerald-cut diamond with a platinum band. If you want to get a look at the ridiculous rock, watch High Society, Kelly's final feature film. She wears the ring throughout, at one point causing Bing Crosby to quip, "Some stone, did you mine it yourself?"

Read more things you didn't know about Grace Kelly.

Robert Todd Lincoln

3. He Had a Strange Knack for Being Near Assassinations

robert-toddLee'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 even, 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."

Read more things you didn't know about Robert Todd Lincoln.

John Cazale

4. He Batted a Thousand With the Academy

While Cazale never earned an Oscar nomination himself, his films fared significantly better; every feature film in which he appeared received a nomination for best picture. Three of his films, The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, and The Deer Hunter took home the top prize. The other two films Cazale made during his life, The Conversation and Dog Day Afternoon, both got nominations but didn't win. Here's the real kicker, though: The Godfather: Part III, which didn't come out until 12 years after Cazale's 1978 death, featured archival footage of Cazale in the Fredo Corleone role. It got a best picture nod, too.

Read more things you didn't know about John Cazale.

Lou Holtz

5. A Young Bill Clinton Had His Back

Throughout his coaching career, Holtz insisted that his players perform well on the field and behave off of it. Sounds like a pretty sound policy, but it didn't always make him popular with players or win-at-all-costs boosters. In 1977, Holtz's first season at Arkansas, he found himself in a pickle. Star running back Ben Cowins, top receiver Donny Bobo, and another player were involved in an incident with a woman in a players' dorm. The woman ended up undressed, and when Holtz caught wind of the story he suspended all three players for the Razorbacks' Orange Bowl clash with Oklahoma.

young-clintonRunning back Cowins was a decent NFL prospect, and he needed the national exposure of the Orange Bowl to pump up his draft stock. He hired an attorney who filed a suit seeking an injunction to allow the three suspended players to appear in the Orange Bowl. Once Holtz came under legal fire, the university quickly sought top-notch counsel for him in the form of the Arkansas Attorney General, a promising young lawyer named Bill Clinton.

With the help of Clinton and his staff, Holtz's legal team defended the coach in U.S. District Court, and the players eventually withdrew their lawsuit. Obviously, it was a victory for team discipline, but wouldn't losing the offense's two biggest weapons kill the Razorbacks' Orange Bowl chances against the mighty Sooners? Not quite. Backup running back Roland Sales had an epic 205-yard, two-touchdown game, and the sixth-ranked Arkansas squad crushed number-two Oklahoma 31-6.

Read more things you didn't know about Lou Holtz.

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

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September 4, 2009 - 5:35am
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