5 Things You Might Not Know About Wallis Simpson

Fayer, Getty Images
Fayer, Getty Images

It takes quite a woman to get a man to give up the English throne just to marry her, but twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson pulled off that very feat in 1936 when she married King Edward VIII. Here are five things you might not know about the woman for whom Edward abdicated the throne.

1. SHE WAS THE FIRST "WOMAN OF THE YEAR."

Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson in France on their wedding day, June 3, 1937
Central Press/Getty Images

In 1936, Time honored Wallis Simpson's major coup of getting Edward to abdicate his throne by naming her "Woman of the Year," the first time the magazine had ever given its "Man of the Year" award to a woman. She didn't sneak past a field of slackers to get the honor, either; the other finalists included FDR, Mussolini, Eugene O'Neill, Chiang Kai-shek, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, Lou Gehrig, Jesse Owens, and Margaret Mitchell.

Why did the magazine choose to honor Wallis Simpson over so many people who changed the course of 20th century history? According to Time, "In the single year 1936 she became the most-talked-about, written-about, headlined and interest-compelling person in the world. In these respects no woman in history has ever equaled Mrs. Simpson, for no press or radio existed to spread the world news they made."

2. HER WEDDING CAKE SOLD FOR BIG MONEY—IN 1998.

Remember the episode of Seinfeld where the fictional J. Peterman bought a slice of Edward and Wallis's 60-year-old wedding cake for $29,000? That little quirk didn't just spring from Jerry Seinfeld's head—it actually happened.

In 1997, Sotheby's held a large auction of the Duke and Duchess's personal effects, including a slice of cake in a box marked "A piece of our wedding cake WE WE 3-VI-37." (The "WE" stood for "Wallis and Edward.")

Sotheby's expected the cake curiosity to sell for $500 to $1000. The bidding for the slice of cake quickly became heated, though, and in the end California couple Benjamin and Amanda Yim forked over $29,000 for the well-aged baked good. Benjamin Yim explained his purchase by saying, "It is almost unimaginable to have such an item exist. It is something totally surreal. It represents the epitome of a great romance."

3. SHE LOVED PUGS.

The Duchess of Windsor holding a black pug dog at the Pug Dog Show held at Seymour Hall, London.
Central Press/Getty Images

The Duke and Duchess owned a pack of pugs with great names: Disraeli, Davey Crockett, Black Diamond, Imp, Trooper, and Ginseng. Wallis didn't just love live pugs, though; she also had 11 pug-shaped pillows arranged at the foot of her bed. The pillows were replicas of a needlepoint done by actress Sylvia Sidney, and sold for $13,800 after the Duchess's death.

At least one funny story sprang from the Duchess's lifelong love of pugs. Famed photographer Richard Avedon got an opportunity to photograph Edward and Wallis during a 1957 stay at the Waldorf Astoria. Avedon didn't want to take another bland, guarded picture of smiling members of the royal family, so he got creative. After remembering that the couple were dog lovers, he told a long, sad story about seeing a taxi run over a pup. He then snapped the picture right as their faces looked the most concerned. The photo, which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, is one of Avedon's more memorable works.

4. SHE STAYED IN HITLER'S GUESTROOM.

Wallis and Edward ran afoul of the rest of the royals (and much of the British government) during World War II. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor made a high-profile trip to Nazi Germany during 1937 to see how the German people lived under Hitler's regime; they even stayed with the Fuhrer as his personal guests. When tensions flared during the early days of World War II, the couple was still said to entertain fascist friends in their French home.

Others thought that the Nazis were gleaning information about French defenses from the loose-lipped duchess. Some of the rumors were pretty steamy: People speculated that German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had been Wallis's lover during the mid-1930s and sent her 17 carnations a day as a reminder of how many times they slept together.

The British intelligence community became so worried that Wallis and Edward were Nazi sympathizers that they decided to make a preemptive strike against any future leaks. Edward received a new assignment—the relatively low-risk governorship of the Bahamas. The couple spent five years there in a Napoleon-like exile. Wallis hated life in the Bahamas and made frequent shopping trips to the U.S., which irked many British citizens who were having to deal with severe rationing and ongoing blackouts.

5. MADONNA WANTS TO PLAY HER.

In February 2009, rumors started to circulate in the British press that Madonna wanted to make a musical about Wallis Simpson's life and play the starring role. Sources close to the singer reported that Madonna closely identified with Simpson following her divorce from director Guy Ritchie. Apparently Madonna identifies with the idea of a tabloid-mocked American marrying a British institution, but the project isn't in production yet.

5 Simple Ways to Upgrade Your Green Bean Casserole

iStock.com/bhofack2
iStock.com/bhofack2

Green bean casserole became a fixture of Thanksgiving spreads shortly after Dorcas Reilly invented the dish in 1955. The classic recipe, which includes Campbell’s condensed cream of mushroom soup and French’s French fried onions, is a sacred piece of Americana—but there's nothing stopping you from playing around with it this Thanksgiving. Just brace yourself for skeptical looks from your more traditional relatives when these variations hit the table.

1. USE HOMEMADE FRIED ONION RINGS.

Green bean casserole typically calls for crispy fried onion bits from a can—and that's fine if you're pressed for time on the big day. But if you're looking to make your casserole taste unforgettable, it's hard to beat to fresh onion rings fried at home. Homemade onion rings are more flavorful than the store-bought stuff and they provide an eye-popping topper for your dish. If you're interested in making onion rings part of your Thanksgiving menu, this recipe from delish will walk you through it.

2. ADD SOME GOUDA.

This recipe from Munchies gives the all-American green bean casserole some European class with shallots, chanterelles, and smoked gouda. Some family members may object to adding a pungent cheese to this traditional dish, but tell them to wait until after they taste it to judge.

3. LIGHTEN IT UP.

As is the case with any recipe that calls for a can of creamy condensed soup, green bean casserole is rarely described as a "light" bite. Some people like the heavy richness of the dish, but if you're looking to give diners a lighter alternative, this recipe from Food52 does the trick. Instead of cream of mushroom soup, it involves a dressing of crème fraîche, sherry vinegar, mustard, and olive oil. Hazelnuts and chives provide the crunch in place of fried onions. It may be more of a salad than a true casserole, but the spirit of the classic recipe is alive in this dish.

4. MIX IN SOME BACON.

Looking to make your green bean casserole even more indulgent this Thanksgiving? There are plenty of recipes out there that will help you do so. This "jazzed-up" version from Taste of Home includes all the conventional ingredients of a green bean casserole with some inspired additions. Crumbled bacon and water chestnuts bring the crunch, and Velveeta ups the cheesy decadence factor to an 11.

5. TURN IT INTO A TART.

If your Thanksgiving menu is looking heavy on the side dishes, consider making your green bean casserole into an appetizer. This green bean and mushroom tart from Thanksgiving & Co. has all the flavors of the traditional casserole baked on an easy-to-eat tart. A tart is also a tasty option if you're looking to repurpose your green bean casserole leftovers the day after.

9 Not-So-Pesky Facts About Termites

iStock.com/Thithawat_s
iStock.com/Thithawat_s

Termites get a lot of hate for chewing through buildings, but the little creatures are far more interesting—and ecologically valuable—than we often give them credit for. Unless, of course, you’re Lisa Margonelli, the author of Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Terminology, a new book that explores their amazing world. Here are nine facts about the highly social—and occasionally pesky—insects that we learned from the book.

1. THERE ARE FAR MORE TERMITES THAN PEOPLE ON EARTH.

Termite queens live up to 25 years, and can lay somewhere around 30,000 eggs a day. As a result, a single mound can be home to millions of individuals at a time. While the numbers vary from study to study, scientists estimate that the biomass of all the termites in the world is at least as great as that of humans.

2. MOST TERMITES AREN’T PESTS.

Of the 2800 named termite species in the world, the majority have no interest in eating your house. Only 28 species are known to chow down on buildings and infrastructure. Most are actually very beneficial to their ecosystems, clearing dead wood, aerating the soil with their intricate tunnel systems, and enhancing plant growth. Researchers have found that contrary to being pests, networks of termite mounds can help make dry environments like savannas more resilient to climate change because of the way termite mounds store nutrients and moisture, among other benefits.

3. TERMITES ARE GOOD FOR CROPS.

Termites can help make soil more fertile. In one study, researchers in Australia found that fields that were home to ants and termites produced 36 percent more wheat, without fertilizer, compared to non-termite fields. Why? Termites help fertilize the soil naturally—their poop, which they use to plaster their tunnels, is full of nitrogen. Their intricate system of underground tunnels also helps rainfall penetrate the soil more deeply, which reduces the amount of moisture that evaporates from the dirt and makes it more likely that the water can be taken up by plants.

4. TERMITES HAVE VERY SPECIFIC ROLES IN THEIR COLONY.

Each termite colony has a queen and king termite (or several), plus workers and soldiers. This caste system, controlled by pheromones produced by the reigning queen, determines not just what different termites do in the colony but how they look. Queens and kings develop wings that, when they’re sexually mature, they use to fly away from their original nest to reproduce and start their own colony. Once they land at the site of their new colony, queens and kings snap off these wings, since they’ll spend the rest of their lives underground. Queens are also physically much larger than other castes: The largest type of termite, an African species called Macrotermes bellicosus, produces queens up to 4 inches long.

Unlike their royal counterparts, most workers and soldiers don’t have either eyes or wings. Worker termites, which are responsible for foraging, building tunnels, and feeding the other castes in the nest, are significantly smaller than queens. M. bellicosus workers, for instance, measure around 0.14 inches. Soldier termites are slightly bigger than workers, with large, sharp mandibles designed to slice up ants and other enemies that might invade the nest.

5. TERMITES ARE ONE OF THE FASTEST ANIMALS IN THE WORLD.

Apologies to cheetahs, but termites hold the record for world’s fastest animal movement. Panamanian termites can clap their mandibles shut at 157 miles per hour. (Compare that to the cheetah’s run, which tops out at about 76 miles per hour.) This quick action allows tiny termite soldiers in narrow tunnels to kill invaders with a single bite.

6. TERMITES ARE SKILLED ARCHITECTS.

In Namibia, quarter-inch-long termites of the genus Macrotermes can move 364 pounds of dirt and 3300 pounds of water each year total in the course of building their 17-foot-tall mounds. Relative to their size, that’s the equivalent of humans building the 163 floors of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, no cranes required. And that’s not even the tallest termite mound around—some can be up to 30 feet high. More impressively, termites cooperate to build these structures without any sort of centralized plan. Engineers are now trying to replicate this decentralized swarm intelligence to build robots that could erect buildings in a similar fashion.

7. TERMITES BUILD THEIR OWN AIR CONDITIONING.

Some termites have developed an incredibly efficient method of climate control in the form of tall, above-ground mounds that sit above their nests. Organized around a central chimney, the structures essentially act as giant lungs, "breathing" air in and out as the temperature outside changes in relation to the temperature inside. Thanks to these convection cycles, termites keep underground temperatures in their nest between roughly 84°F and 90°F.

8. TERMITES ARE FARMERS.

Humans aren’t the only ones cultivating crops. Termites farm, too. They’ve been doing it for more than 25 million years, compared to humans’ 23,000 years. Some species of termite have evolved a symbiotic relationship with Termitomyces fungi, growing fungus in underground gardens for food. When they fly off to create a new colony, termite queens bring along fungus spores from their parent colony to seed the garden that will feed their new nest. Foraging termite workers go out and eat plant material that they can’t fully digest on their own, then deposit their feces on the fungus for it to feed on. They can then eat the fungus. They may also be able to eat some of the plant material after the fungus has sufficiently broken it down. The mutually beneficial relationship has led some scientists to suggest that the fungus, which is much larger in both size and energy production than the termites, could in fact be the one in control of the relationship, potentially releasing chemical pheromones that lead the termites to build the mound they live in together.

9. TERMITES ARE MICROBIAL GOLD MINES.

As scientists begin to understand the huge role that micobiomes play in both the human body and the rest of the world, termites provide a fascinating case study. About 90 percent of the organisms in termite guts aren’t found anywhere else on Earth. In their hindgut alone, they host as many as 1400 species of bacteria. These microbes are so efficient at converting the cellulose-rich wood and dead grass that termites eat into energy, scientists want to harness them to make biofuel from plants.

Want to learn more about termites? Get yourself a copy of Underbug on Amazon for $18.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER