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5 Things You Didn't Know About Ian Fleming

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Ian Fleming is best known for his terrific series of twelve novels and two short story collections detailing the adventures of British spy James Bond, and he also wrote the children's classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Let's take a look at five things you might not know about the author.

1. He Had a Lot in Common with Bond

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Fleming was no Double-0 agent, but he wasn't a total slouch, either. During World War II he worked as an assistant to the Royal Navy's Director of Naval Intelligence, and he eventually rose to the rank of Commander, just like Bond.

Fleming wasn't just working in back rooms, though. He hatched a plan for a complex mission called Operation Ruthless that was aimed at capturing a German naval Enigma code machine. The basic gist of Fleming's plan was this: the Royal Air Force would capture a German bomber, staff it with a German-speaking British crew, and stage a crash in the English Channel. When the Nazi rescue boat arrived, the "German" flight team would kill the ship's crew and sail it back to England.

Fleming actually took a crew to Dover to wait for an opportunity to try this plan in 1940, but the operation fell through when logistical concerns over finding the right ship to commandeer and floating a stolen German bomber in the channel proved too complicated.

2. JFK Was a Fan

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Fleming's Bond novels weren't initially big movers in American bookstores, but that quickly changed in March of 1961. Life magazine asked President John F. Kennedy to list his 10 favorite books of all time, and From Russia With Love made the cut. Suddenly, Fleming became a literary star on this side of the pond, too, and by that summer production began on the first Bond film, Dr. No.

At that point, Fleming and Kennedy were already somewhat chummy. The spy author and the political star had met at a dinner party in 1960, and Kennedy asked Fleming for advice on how to discredit and topple Fidel Castro.

3. He Didn't Like Sean Connery at First

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When the Bond novels made their leap to the silver screen in the early sixties, Fleming helped with the casting of his signature character. The part was originally given to a male model who couldn't handle the acting part of the job, and Fleming and the producers would eventually reject bigger stars like David Niven and Cary Grant.

As everyone knows, the part went to Sean Connery, much to Fleming's dismay. Fleming saw an early screening of Dr. No and allegedly called the film "simply dreadful." Gradually, though, he began to appreciate the way Connery portrayed Bond so much that he decided to give Bond some Scottish heritage. In the 1963 novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Fleming delved into Bond's father's Scottish ancestry as a kind of nod to Connery. Bond's mother, on the other hand, was Swiss.

4. He Was No Fan of New York City

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In 1959 and 1960, Fleming made two trips around the world for the London Sunday Times and turned his travels into a series of essays on various international cities. In 1963, these essays were collected into the book Thrilling Cities, which is now out of print but worth picking up if you spot a copy and like reading about old restaurants and hotels.

There was only one problem with the book: publishers were afraid to release an American version because Fleming's essay on New York was downright scathing. While he had nice things to say about Chicago, Las Vegas, Honolulu, and Los Angeles, Fleming really gave it to New York with both barrels; the first sentence of the essay is, "I enjoyed myself least of all in New York." One of the subsections of the piece was pulled from an essay called "City Without a Soul." Fleming blasted New Yorkers for being impolite, for greasing headwaiters' palms, for loving scandals, and for being depressing.

In order to get the book published in the States, Fleming knew he would need to soften his view on New York. Rather than revising the essay, he called in Bond. Fleming added the short story "Bond in New York" in which the famous spy goes to his favorite shops and restaurants instead of doing any actual spying, and publishers agreed to release Thrilling Cities in the American market.

5. He May Have Had Some Posthumous Help

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Fleming died of a heart attack in 1964, but his final Bond novel, The Man with the Golden Gun, didn't hit bookstores until 1965. Almost immediately, readers began to speculate that someone other than Fleming himself might have completed an unfinished manuscript the author left behind. The novel lacks the intricate detail that characterizes most of Fleming's Bond works, and it's a bit darker and more ominous in tone.

Critics wondered if the comic novelist Kingsley Amis, a great fan of Fleming's who had published two works on Bond already, might have taken the reins and completed what Fleming left behind at his death. Although Amis denied these claims — as did many of Fleming's biographers  they persisted for years. (In 1968 Amis did write the first official Bond novel by anyone other than Fleming, the entertaining Colonel Sun, which he published under the pseudonym Robert Markham.)

Fleming's editor William Plomer similarly insisted that Fleming had completed the manuscript before his death. It's also worth noting that Fleming had made wild stylistic departures earlier in the series; Bond really only appeared as a supporting character in The Spy Who Loved Me. Still, the true authorship of The Man with the Golden Gun remains somewhat controversial.

If there's someone you'd like to see profiled in a future edition of '5 Things You Didn't Know About...,' leave us a comment. You can 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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