CLOSE

How 5 Super-Rich Places Got Such Fancy Names

1. Martha’s Vineyard

© Walter Bibikow/JAI/Corbis

This island, a regular presidential vacation destination and home to the Kennedy family, owes its name to the prolific explorer Bartholomew Gosnold.

Gosnold did a number of extraordinary things in his short life. He gave both Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod their names. He pioneered the quickest way to sail from Great Britain to the northeastern seaboard of America. It was Gosnold who recruited John Smith for his Jamestown expedition. And a published account of his voyage in 1602 was responsible for popularizing the colonization of New England.

Martha's Vineyard is named after a daughter of Gosnold who died in infancy. Originally the name was applied to a much smaller island; a “place most pleasant” according to a contemporary source. The larger island was actually called Martin's Vineyard, after the captain of the ship Gosnold was sailing on, for much of its history. Eventually the feminine name came to stand for the larger island as well. Martha's Vineyard is the eighth-oldest surviving place name the United States.

You can visit the grave of little Martha in the churchyard of Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, England. But if you like your viewings to be more up close and personal, head to the National Museum of Natural History. A 2003 excavation found what they believe to be the remains of Gosnold at the Jamestown settlement, and his bones are currently on display through January 2013 in an exhibition entitled “Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake.”

2. Beverly Hills

Sign image via Shutterstock

You’d be forgiven for thinking Beverly Hills was named after a woman named Beverly. In actuality, this exclusive area of Los Angeles has a long and strange etymology.

The area we now call Beverly Hills was a series of ranches until it was purchased in the 1880s by two men named Charles Denker and Henry Hammel. Their ultimate ambition was to turn the area into a “North-African themed subdivision called Morocco.” Severe drought and an economic collapse forced them to sell the land in 1900 to the Amalgamated Oil Company. After the company failed to find oil under the land, they changed their name to Rodeo Land and Water Company and called the area Beverly Hills, after Beverly Farms in Massachusetts.

Beverly Farms itself is named after the town of Beverly, which it skirts. The town was once a popular tourist resort; President Taft had a summer house there. It also claims to be the birthplace of the U.S. Navy, although this is debated. In 1668, English settlers named the town after the village of Beverley in Yorkshire, England.

So why was this English town called Beverley? Because in the 700s, a bishop named John founded a monastery in the town of Inderawuda and called it Beverlac, possibly after a colony of beavers in a nearby river. Eventually a slightly altered version of the name came to stand for the whole town, and Bishop John became known as St. John of Beverley after his canonization in 1037.

There you have it: Beverly Hills is actually named after some medieval English beavers.

3. Fisher Island

Aerial view via Shutterstock

This elite island just off the Florida mainland had the highest per capita income in America in 2010 and is home to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Julia Roberts, and Andre Agassi. The island is named after Carl G. Fisher, who owned it from 1919-1925. Fisher was an entrepreneur, and as wealthy and interesting as any of the people who now inhabit his island.

Fisher was a larger than life character. He married one woman while engaged to another. He set up and participated in many crazy automotive and bicycle stunts, often injuring himself. He was played a key role in starting the Indianapolis 500. He palled around with Teddy Roosevelt and Thomas Edison. And for most of his life he was filthy stinking rich.

Born in 1874, Fisher suffered from a severe astigmatism, which greatly limited his sight. Despite this, he went into business, opening a small bicycle shop with his brother. His interest soon moved from bikes to cars and his first big break came when he bought a share in the patent of the first car headlights in 1904. When he sold his share nine years later he made $9 million.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Fisher went on to open the first car lot in America, advance various areas of motor racing, and conceived and developed the Lincoln Highway, the first interstate highway that stretched 3,400 miles across the whole country.

© CORBIS

Having tired of automobiles, he turned to real estate. Miami as we know it would not exist without Fisher, who was instrumental in the development of the area. To draw national attention to Miami, he set up a photo op of then-President Warren Harding using an elephant as a caddy on a Miami golf course.

The Florida real estate bubble burst in 1925, so Fisher moved his interests to Long Island. Since he no longer had need for his private island, he traded it to William Vanderbilt for an expensive yacht.

Fisher lost most of his money in the stock market crash of 1929 and considered himself a failure. His opinion was unfounded though, and in 1998 a panel of historians voted him one of the 50 most influential people in Florida’s history.

4. Nob Hill

© Morton Beebe/CORBIS

This neighborhood in San Francisco has always been affluent. Its expansive views and central location meant that land on the hill was in high demand as San Francisco boomed in the late 1800s. Once cable car tracks were laid up the hill, it became more accessible and thus attracted newly minted railroad and gold rush barons. Some of the most important people in California built mansions on the hill, including the founder and president of Stanford University.

The present-day walking tour “Hobnobbing with Gobs of Snobs” gives insight into some of these characters. Most of them made their money through illicit means like insider trading, illegal monopolies, and money laundering. They used their ill-gotten gains to build some of the biggest houses in America at the time; huge Victorian structures where no marble was too expensive, no ballroom too large. The daughters of some of these men married into the English aristocracy, thereby cementing Nob Hill’s worldwide prestige.

After the earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed most of these great homes, the plutocrats moved away and exclusive hotels took their places.
These days Nob Hill is also known as Snob Hill, but that portmanteau is unnecessary since the 19th-century locals got there first. The “Nob” in Nob Hill was slang for someone who is “wealthy and distinguished.” Some etymologists theorize that it came from the word nabob, which was an old English term for a snob. So not only is Nob Hill an affluent neighborhood, it even owes its name to that fact.

5. The Hamptons

Hamptons image via Shutterstock

According to legend, this posh area of Long Island is named after the even posher Earl of Southampton. Thomas Wriothesley, the 4th Earl when Southampton was founded in 1640, was a Cambridge-educated aristocrat. He eventually rose to one of the most powerful political offices in Britain, that of Lord High Treasurer. Wriothesley managed to support both sides during the English Civil War, but kept his head. Since the town of Southampton was the first to be settled in that area, and since the other Hamptons (Bridgehampton, East Hampton, etc.) take their names from that town, all of them can claim to owe their name to the Earl.

However, according to the Easthampton Historical Society, that just isn’t true. “19th century snobbishness” may have resulted in locals spreading that story around, since being connected, however tangentially, to aristocracy was a big deal in late-1800s America. According to their records, Southampton was more likely named because it resembled the town of Southampton in England (no connection to the Earl), with “hamp” meaning pasture. The Native Americans had deforested much of Long Island and farmed it, so the open, flat land bordered by a coarse, brown sandy beach probably evoked memories of the south coast of England.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Paramount Pictures
arrow
entertainment
25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


Getty Images

By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


Getty Images

Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
arrow
entertainment
Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios