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5 Things You Didn't Know About Eddie Murphy

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Funnyman Eddie Murphy has been on the national stage for nearly 30 years now, so it's understandable that audiences think they know the comedian and actor inside and out. Here are five things you might not know about the man who brought Axel Foley to life:

1. He Knew What He Wanted to Be When He Grew Up

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Murphy's high school yearbook photo featured the caption, "Future plans: Comedian," and the young Murphy got down to business pretty quickly. He started working Long Island clubs like the Comic Strip, and his act proved to be so popular that within two years he was a full cast member on Saturday Night Live. It was a pretty quick start for someone who was such a lethargic student that he had to repeat the 10th grade.

Murphy was a natural for SNL, where his impersonations included Buckwheat, Bill Cosby, Muhammad Ali, and Jerry Lewis. Murphy wasn't as at home off-screen, though, where he had trouble using his paychecks responsibly. As he later put it, "Give any 19-year-old kid $1,000 a week and he'll freak out." In 1982 Murphy told People that he had blown his previous year's earnings on a Trans-Am and gifts for friends.

2. He May Not Have Written Coming to America

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John Landis' 1988 film Coming to America cracked up audiences and piled up a worldwide gross of over $288 million. Not only did Murphy star in the film, he also received the sole story credit. Writing and starring in such a smash hit would have been a major coup for even a big star like Murphy, but there was something fishy about the writing credit.

After the film became a huge success, humorist Art Buchwald sued Paramount for $5 million on the grounds that the movie was based on a treatment Buchwald had sold to Paramount in 1983. It turned out that Paramount had indeed optioned a very similar story in 1983 before terminating the project in 1985. Curiously, though, the Murphy-penned story for Coming to America came out three years later in 1988.

Buchwald and agent Alan Bernheim realized that Paramount was trying to bilk them out of some serious cash, and they sued the studio. After a seven-year legal battle, the pair received $825,000 from Paramount. Although Murphy was never personally implicated in the plotline pilfering, it's pretty clear that his writing credit may not have been a true solo project.

3. He Had a Hit Record

Yes, Murphy did the obligatory celebrity record. His 1985 musical debut, How Could It Be, reached #26 on the Billboard 200. Although Aquil Fudge produced most of the album, it did have one Rick James-produced track in "Party All the Time." The song was quite a hit; it even spent three weeks at the second spot on the Billboard Hot 100 behind topper Lionel Richie's "Say You, Say Me."

When MTV wanted Murphy to host the Video Music Awards that year, Murphy joked that he'd do it only if the channel would air his video. To Murphy's surprise—he didn't even have a video—MTV agreed. Murphy and James quickly threw together a video for the song, and James' hair alone makes it a masterpiece:

4. His Suit from Delirious Met a Funny Fate

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One of Murphy's first major triumphs as a solo comedian was the 1983 stand-up special Delirious. Today the special is remembered for two things: its raunchy content and the form-fitting red leather suit that Murphy wore on stage for the taping. In fact, so many fans remembered the trademark suit that they would often ask Murphy what happened to the snappy duds.

In 2007, Murphy revealed the truth: Keenen Ivory Wayans had ruined the suit. According to Murphy, he once dared Wayans to wear the suit out for a night on the town and remain in character. Although the suit was tight on the much smaller Murphy, the 6'3" Wayans took his friend up on the dare. As Murphy later remembered, "He met girls, he had a sausage in his pants, there was dancing." The suit, though, was seriously stretched out after Wayans' adventures.

5. He's a Clean Freak

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As a child, Murphy was such a neat freak that his stepfather would joke that the lad needed to get a degree and a good job so other people would have to do his dirty work.

Fame didn't change Murphy's clean habits; if anything, it magnified them. Murphy has said he takes several showers a day and constantly washes his hands. As he explained it in an interview with Playboy, the process of meeting fans is just an inherently unsanitary one. "Because I always figure somebody might have dug in his nose—then he comes to shake my hand, 'Hey, Eddie!' Sometimes you pee and get a little pee on your hands and then it's, 'Hey, Ed!'"

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

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5 Things You Didn't Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs, but there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams' mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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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 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."

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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