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Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Sad Readers

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Sad news, detectives. Donald J. Sobol, the creator of Encyclopedia Brown, passed away on July 11 at the age of 87. Sobol wrote 28 books starring 10-year-old Leroy Brown, with the next one, Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme, scheduled to come out this fall. In honor of Sobol, here are a few interesting facts about everyone's favorite reasonably priced detective. (25 cents plus expenses!)

1. Encyclopedia Brown isn't based on anyone "“ at least, not really. "He is, perhaps, the boy I wanted to be -- doing the things I wanted to read about but could not find in any book when I was ten," Sobol once said.
2. Looking at Sobol's bibliography, it's actually pretty clear that his interests were just as varied as those of the boy he wrote about. He published more than 65 books, but many of them aren't children's books or even fiction. His nonfiction titles included The First Book of Stocks and Bonds and Lock, Stock and Barrel, a collection of short biographies of men in the Revolutionary War. He also wrote The Wright Brothers of Kitty Hawk, a fictional biography of Orville and Wilbur.

3. Encyclopedia Brown wasn't Sobol's first go at writing mysteries. Just prior to his success in the world of children's books, Sobol wrote "Two Minute Mystery," a syndicated column. He later created the similarly titled Two Minute Mysteries, a series aimed at kids a bit older than the E.B. audience.

4. More than 50 million Encyclopedias have been sold, with 7.5 million currently in print.

5. Idaville, Florida, doesn't actually exist, although you can find an Idaville in Indiana, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. So why Idaville? Sobol never said for sure, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that his mother was called Ida.

6. Usually, Sobol stumps readers. But on at least one occasion, readers stumped him. In 1990, some students wrote to Sobol about a story that involving a dishonest kid sneaking a hard-boiled egg into a carton for an egg-spinning contest. But the way the story was written made it seem that inexplicably, the kid would have hidden his hard-boiled egg in the carton before it was ever purchased from the grocery store. Sobol picked up the story and reread it for the first time since it had been published 30 years prior and realized the students were right. He corrected it and newer editions make more sense.


7. E.B. made it to HBO in 1989, but he didn't last long. It was a live-action series with 30-minute episodes, but our detective couldn't solve The Case of the Low Ratings and the series was canceled after just 10 shows.


8. Topless Robot ranked the top 10 most impossible-to-solve EB mysteries. Check them out and see if you agree. Coming in at #1? The Case of the Kidnapped Pigs from Encyclopedia Brown Saves the Day.

9. Ever found yourself going back through an old Encyclopedia mystery and felt a little bad that you couldn't even solve them as an adult? Don't feel too bad. "I couldn’t solve the mysteries if I didn’t write them," Sobol once admitted. "You know my worst secret."

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Haruo Nakajima, the Original Actor Beneath the Godzilla Suit
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Haruo Nakajima (second from left) during the filming of Godzilla Raids Again (1955).
Wikipedia // Public Domain

If you can’t picture actor Haruo Nakajima’s face, that’s because his most famous movie role had him hidden inside a monster costume. The Japanese performer—who played cinema’s most famous reptilian beast, Godzilla, in both the 1954 original film and 11 sequels—died on August 7, 2017 at the age of 88 from pneumonia, but not before giving the world a glimpse of the man beneath the scaly suit.

Nakajima was born on January 1, 1929, in Yamagata, Japan. As the third of five children, he knew he wouldn't inherit his father's butcher shop (which traditionally went to the eldest son), so he enrolled in an acting program at the age of 18 after working for a brief period as a truck driver for the occupying Allied forces.

Nakajima launched his movie career by working as a stuntman in samurai movies. His most famous bit part was in Akira Kurosawa’s famous 1954 adventure-drama Seven Samurai, but his big break occurred while filming the 1953 World War II military film Eagle of the Pacific.

The script required Nakajima to jump from a burning plane, and when director Ishirō Honda saw him in action, "he thought, 'This guy is full of energy,'" the actor recalled to Great Big Story in March 2017. “They came to see me as someone who had guts, and I think that’s why they wanted me for the role of Godzilla.”

In the original 1954 Godzilla film, underwater hydrogen bomb testing disturbs an ancient sea creature from its aquatic habitat, and the beast proceeds to wreak havoc upon mainland Japan. Since Nakajima initially had no idea what the titular monster would look like or how it would move, he prepared for his role in an unusual way.

“I spent 10 days at the zoo,” Nakajima later recalled, according to Jonathan Clements’s book Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. “I’d watch the way the elephants walked, the monkeys, the gorillas, but especially the bears. I used to take two lunches with me. One was mine, and the rest of it I’d throw to the bears. When one of them snatched it up and shoveled it into his mouth, I’d watch the way he did it.”

Not that it was easy to move in the Godzilla suit. The original costume was made from ready-mixed concrete (rubber was a scare commodity in post-war Japan) and reportedly weighed around 220 pounds. It was also suffocatingly hot: Nakajima sweated so much beneath the soundstage’s bright lights that by day’s end he said he could fill half a bucket with perspiration wrung from his undershirt.

When Godzilla first arrived in movie theaters in 1954, an anonymous Nakajima watched the film from the front row to gauge the audience's reaction. "When the film was a success I was so surprised," he told Great Big Story. "I was so happy."

Nakajima starred in Godzilla movies for most of the next two decades. He also appeared in dozens of other monster movies as a contract actor for Japanese film studio Toho, which created the Godzilla franchise. But after filming Godzilla vs. Hedorah in 1971, Nakajima's exclusive contract wasn't renewed, and he donned the scaly suit just one last time for 1972's Godzilla vs. Gigan. The actor retired in 1973, and spent his remaining years attending comic cons and movie conventions, making the occasional Godzilla film cameo, and running a Toho-owned mahjong parlor.

Even though Nakajima enjoyed a successful career, he would never experience international fame: "Back then, people didn't speak positively of suit actors," Nakajima told Japanese magazine Josei Seven in 2014, according to Kotaku. "There'd be whispers going around that working inside [a suit] is not an acting job."

Yet the Godzilla franchise became a worldwide phenomenon. The films ushered in a new era of sci-fi monster movies, and after World War II, they served as a campy—yet palpable—reminder of the dangers of nuclear combat.

As for Nakajima himself, “there are not a lot of actors that you can compare him to,” Akira Mizuta Lippit, a cinematic arts professor at the University of Southern California, told The Washington Post after Nakajima’s death. “He, in fact, invented the kind of acting that he then performed. In that sense, he’s absolutely unique."

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ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
9 Moving Quotes from Pioneering Astronaut John Glenn
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ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

Pioneering astronaut and former U.S. Senator John Glenn has died, according to a statement from Ohio State University. The 95-year-old had suffered various health problems recently, and was being treated at the university’s James Cancer Hospital. Glenn, who in 1962 became the first American to orbit the Earth, also became the oldest astronaut to go to space, taking a space shuttle trip at the age of 77, while still a member of the Senate. (He retired from Congress a year later, in 1999.)

Here are a few tidbits of wisdom from the man whom NASA calls “a true American hero.”

1. ON SERVICE

“If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s that the happiest and most fulfilled people I’ve known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self interest,” he said in the 1997 announcement regarding his donation of his personal papers and artifacts to Ohio State University, which eventually named its public affairs college after him. He went on to give the school’s commencement speech in 2009, telling students that “we are more fulfilled when we are involved in something bigger than ourselves.”

2. ON CYNICISM

“If this cynicism and apathy are allowed to continue to fester, it will not only be dangerous, but in our democracy it will be suicidal,” he said upon the creation of the John Glenn Institute of Public Service at Ohio State. He went on to become an adjunct professor there, teaching late into his life.

3. ON TAKING RISKS

Glenn tells the story of climbing a giant sycamore in his childhood in his memoir. “Every time I climbed that tree, I forced myself to climb to the last possible safe limb and look down,” staring down the 55 feet to the ground. “Every time I did it, I told myself I’d never do it again. But I kept going back because it scared me and I had to know I could overcome that.”

4. ON HIS TIME IN CONGRESS

In his 2000 memoir, Glenn recalled the 24 years he served in Congress and the 9400 votes he cast. “Each had contributed in small or large measure to the painstaking march of our democracy,” he reflected. “I could not have asked for anything more rewarding.”

5. ON SEEING THE EARTH FROM ORBIT

As he made history as the first American to see Earth from orbit, his response was simple: "Oh, that view is tremendous," he said over the radio.

6. ON NEXT-GENERATION SCIENTISTS

“The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and to advance the kind of science, math, and technology education that will help youngsters take us to the next phase of space travel,” he said as the spokesperson for National Space Day in 2000.

7. ON HIS FAME

Glenn often demurred when asked about the fame he achieved in his life. “I figure I’m the same person who grew up in New Concord, Ohio, and went off through the years to participate in a lot of events of importance,” he once said in an interview. “What got a lot of attention, I think, was the tenuous times we thought we were living in back in the Cold War. I don’t think it was about me. All this would have happened to anyone who happened to be selected for that flight.”

8. ON FEAR

“You fear the least what you know the most about,” he said in the two months of continuous postponements that preceded his historic 1962 flight. As his orbiter, Friendship 7, reentered the atmosphere, he worried his heat shield had come loose, and he could see fiery chunks flying past his window. But his words to his capsule director were calm and cheeky. “My condition is good, but that was a real fireball, boy,” he said upon landing in the ocean.

9. ON TAKING RISKS ON THE JOB

“There are times when you devote yourself to a higher cause than personal safety,” he told the surviving family members of the space shuttle Challenger astronauts after the deadly 1986 explosion, comforting them immediately after the disaster. He went on to say that “the seven brave heroes were carrying our dreams and hopes with them.”

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