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11 Peculiar Meetings Between Famous People

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PA Photos/Landov

You'd expect famous people to know other famous people. But maybe not these famous people.

1. Nikita Khrushchev & Marilyn Monroe

In September 1959, during Khrushchev's American tour, he visited 20th Century Fox Studios. At a lunch banquet with hundreds of stars (including Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, and Gary Cooper), he was introduced to Marilyn Monroe. Wearing a low-cut, tight black dress, she delivered a line that Natalie Wood, a fluent Russian speaker, had taught her: "We the workers of 20th Century Fox rejoice that you have come to visit our studio and country."

Khrushchev was mesmerized. "He looked at me the way a man looks on a woman," Monroe said.

"You're a very lovely young lady," he said, squeezing her hand.

"This is about the biggest day in the history of the movie business," Monroe told the cameras. But later, she reportedly told her maid, "He was fat and ugly and had warts on his face and he growled. He squeezed my hand so long and so hard that I thought he would break it. I guess it was better than having to kiss him."

2. Samuel Beckett & André the Giant

In 1953, after the success of Waiting for Godot, playwright Beckett bought land in a French commune, forty miles north of Paris. He built a cottage with the help of some locals, including a Bulgarian-born farmer named Boris Rousimoff. Beckett and Rousimoff became friends, and would sometimes get together to play cards. Rousimoff had a son, André. At age 12, the boy was well over six feet tall and weighed 250 pounds. The local school bus couldn't hold him, and the Rousimoff family car wasn't big enough for him. So Beckett stepped forward, offering to give the growing giant a lift to school in his pick-up truck on his drives into town. Years later, André said that the two of them mostly talked about cricket.

3. T.S. Eliot & Groucho Marx

In the early 1960s, the poet and the comedian became unlikely pen pals. Eliot was a fan and requested a signed photo. In his letter of thanks, he called Groucho his "most coveted pin-up" and said, "Whether you really want a photograph of me or whether you merely asked for it out of politeness, you are going to get one anyway." Upon receiving Eliot's 8x10, Groucho replied, "I had no idea you were so handsome. Why you haven't been offered the lead in some sexy movies I can only attribute to the stupidity of the casting directors." After three years of occasional correspondence, the two finally met in London in 1964. Marx and his wife were looking forward to an evening of intellectually stimulating conversation, but all the ailing Eliot wanted to talk about was old Marx Brothers movies. "We didn't stay late," Marx later said, "for we both felt that he wasn't up to a long evening of conversation. Especially mine."

4. Federico Fellini & Stan Lee

During a visit to New York in 1965, the Italian film director caught a virus and was laid up in the Hotel Pierre. Someone brought him some comic books to read. Fellini was so taken with the exploits of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk that he called the Marvel Comics office and set up a meeting with the company's honcho Stan Lee. Years later, Lee recalled that his receptionist said, "Stan, there's a Fred Felony here to see you." Fellini entered Lee's office with a four-man entourage, all of them clad in black raincoats. With a translator smoothing the way, Fellini and Lee had a lively chat. Mostly, Fellini wanted to know about how the comic books were made. The two creative geniuses stayed in touch, with Lee visiting Fellini's villa in Rome and Fellini attending Broadway shows with Lee in New York.

5. James Brown & Alfred Hitchcock

Remember when talk shows used to keep guests on the panel together? One afternoon in 1969, Mike Douglas played host to Joan Rivers, Rod McKuen, James Brown, and Alfred Hitchcock. At one point, Brown leaned toward Hitch and asked a strangely confounding question: "In the picture Homicidal [Brown meant Psycho, but was confusing the title with a William Castle-directed knockoff], at the very end, this fella takes his wig off, as though he had played the part all the way through. Did you actually use a girl or did you use a fella?" Polite Englishman that he was, Hitchcock didn't embarrass Brown by correcting him on the movie title. Instead he offered a winking response: "I wouldn't dare tell you. It's a professional secret. That's worth money. Do you want to ruin me? What about my starving wife and child?" He then added, "I'll tell you afterwards when we go off."

6. The Beatles & Elvis Presley

During their summer tour in 1965, The Beatles visited Elvis in California one night at his Bel-Air home. At first, everyone was awkward around each other. Paul, John, and Ringo sat on the sofa with Elvis. George sat cross-legged on the floor. Respective managers Colonel Tom Parker and Brian Epstein stood off to the side. The television was on with the sound turned off. Elvis showed the Fabs the first remote control switcher any of them had ever seen. Finally, Elvis joked, "If you damn guys are just going to sit there and stare at me, I'm going to bed."

That broke the ice. Soon one of Elvis's buddies brought in guitars, and an informal jam session commenced. What songs did they play? No one remembers exactly, but, reportedly, a hit of the day called "You're My World" and "I Feel Fine" by The Beatles were two. Then they traded some war stories from the road, and talked about their mutual love for Peter Sellers and the film Dr. Strangelove. A few hours later, The Beatles left, with a complete set of Elvis records, a gun holster with a gold leather belt, and a table lamp shaped like a wagon – gifts from the King.

Elvis, by then far-removed from the raw rock 'n' roller that The Beatles had loved as teenagers, was something of a letdown. To John Lennon, at least. He later said: "It was like meeting Engelbert Humperdinck."

7. Elvis Presley & Richard Nixon

nixon-elvis

In the late 1960s, Elvis Presley started a hobby that bordered on an obsession – collecting honorary police badges. On December 21, 1970, he went after his holy grail, a badge from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), charming his way into President Richard Nixon's oval office.

In a heartfelt appeal, the purple-suited Elvis spoke of his rags-to-riches story and his desire to give back by helping America in its fight against "the drug culture and the hippie element." Pulling out all the stops, he even pointed a finger at The Beatles, who he said had been "promoting an anti-American spirit."

Nixon was apparently perplexed by the visit, but figured an association with a performer as popular as Elvis couldn't hurt. At the extensively photographed meeting, Elvis showed Nixon some family photos and a collection of law enforcement badges. Later, Nixon awarded him a BNDD badge, which listed Elvis' position as "Special Assistant."

8. Edgar Allan Poe & Charles Dickens

In 1842, when Dickens visited the U.S., the relatively unknown Poe requested a meeting. In a hotel in Philadelphia, the two discussed favorite writers and the necessity for an international copyright law. But what Poe really wanted was help in getting his book Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque published in England. Dickens promised to do what he could. Nine months later, he wrote Poe an apologetic note: "I have mentioned it to publishers with whom I have influence, but they have, one and all, declined the venture...Do not for a moment suppose that I have ever thought of you but with a pleasant recollection; and that I am not at all times prepared to forward your views in this country."

Actually, according to Poe biographer Una Pope-Hennessy, the meetings between the two "proved sterile and closed coldly. Neither seems to have liked the other much."

Twenty-five years later, when Dickens returned to America for his second tour, Poe was already dead. In Baltimore, Dickens learned that Poe's mother-in-law was ill and living on charity. Dickens visited her and slipped her some cash to help her out.

9. Orson Welles & Adolf Hitler

In 1970, while being interviewed on The Dick Cavett Show, Welles recalled his long-ago encounter with an unknown Hitler. As a teenager studying in Germany and Austria, Welles had accompanied a teacher on a hike. "The teacher, as it turned out, was sort of a budding Nazi," Welles said. "And there was a Nazi rally near Innsbruck, in the days when the Nazis were a very comical kind of minority party of nuts that no one took seriously at all. This teacher wangled a place at the table with the great man of this tiny little party of cranks. The man sitting next to me was Hitler, and he made so little impression on me that I can't remember a second of it. He had no personality whatsoever. He was invisible."

10. Bob Dylan & Woody Guthrie

Bob Dylan has said that when he first heard legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie's songs, he decided he wanted to be "Guthrie's greatest disciple." In 1961, a 19-year-old Dylan – still Robert Zimmerman to the world – visited his ailing hero at the Greystone Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey. Guthrie was being treated for erratic behavior, later diagnosed as Huntington's Chorea. The two struck up a warm friendship, with Dylan returning regularly to play songs, both Woody's and his own. One of those original tunes, called "Song to Woody," ended up on his debut album in 1962. Their friendship was later spoofed on an SNL skit in 1980.

11. Steve Jobs & Andy Warhol

In October 1984, a 29-year-old Steve Jobs attended a birthday party for Sean Lennon, son of Yoko Ono and the late John Lennon. Steve's gift to the nine-year-old boy was a Macintosh computer (it had debuted earlier that year). As Steve showed Sean how to use the mouse, and a program called MacPaint, a few party guests gathered, gaping at this amazing machine.

"Can I try?" asked Andy Warhol. Jobs gave Warhol a quick lesson, but Warhol didn't get how to use the mouse. He lifted and waved it, as if it were a conductor's baton. Jobs placed his hand on Warhol's and guided it along the floor. Finally, Warhol began drawing, staring at the "pencil" as it drew on the screen.

In his diary, Warhol later wrote, "I said that once some man had been calling me a lot wanting to give me one [a Macintosh], but I'd never called him back or something, and then the kid looked up and said, 'Yeah, that was me. I'm Steve Jobs.'"

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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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Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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iStock

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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