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The Youthful Pranks of 5 Famous People

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Julie Winterbottom is the former editor in chief of Nickelodeon magazine, where she fulfilled her childhood dream of getting paid to write jokes; her book, Pranklopedia: The Funniest, Grossest, Not-Mean Pranks on the Planet! is on sale now. Julie lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she pulls pranks on her boyfriend and cat.

Does pulling pranks in childhood lead to success later in life? Judging from the youthful shenanigans of these five famous people, the answer might be yes.

1. Abraham Lincoln

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When Abraham Lincoln was a young man living at home, he was quite the prankster. His stepmother Sarah Bush Lincoln used to tease him about his height, telling him that he’d better keep his head clean or she’d have to scrub the ceiling. The story goes that one day when Sarah was out, Abe noticed two boys playing barefoot outside next to a mud puddle. He asked them to stomp in the mud until their feet were covered. Then he brought them back to the house. One by one, he carried them inside and held them upside down so their muddy feet could touch the ceiling. Then he had them “walk” across the ceiling, creating a trail of brown footprints. Sarah reportedly took the prank with good humor—but she did make Lincoln repaint the ceiling.

2. Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Franklin D. Roosevelt is another president who got an early start pulling pranks. Young Franklin was looked after by a doting mother and a series of nurses, governesses, and tutors. When he was ten, a German-speaking nurse accompanied the family on their annual tour of Europe and became the inevitable victim of a prank. Franklin snuck into her room during the day and poured a few spoonfuls of effervescent powder in the chamber pot under her bed. That night, when the nurse relieved herself, the contents of the pot began to hiss and roil. Thinking she was ill, the nurse ran to Mrs. Roosevelt’s room for help. FDR later said that the two women never figured out it was a prank—but his father did. The senior Roosevelt summoned his son to the smoking room to be reprimanded, but he couldn’t keep a straight face. Breaking into laughter, he told his son, “Consider yourself spanked.”

3. Willie Morris


Mississippi native Willie Morris was the editor of Harper’s Magazine during the 1960s and later wrote a series of bestselling memoirs. He had deep affection for pets and practical jokes, and he managed to combine the two in an ingenious prank he pulled when he was 13.

In the 1940s, it was common for kids in Morris’s hometown of Yazoo City to start driving the family car at 13. When Morris took his parents’ DeSoto for a spin, he would always bring his English fox terrier Skip along for the ride. One day, when they got to the edge of town, Morris got Skip to prop himself against the steering wheel so he was peering through the windshield. Then Morris slowed down to 10 or 15 mph and crouched out of sight under the dashboard. He guided the steering wheel with his right hand while Skip kept it steady with his paws. As they passed a café, a man shouted, “A dog! A dog drivin’!” and promptly fell off his chair. One Sunday, Morris got an even better reaction. As he approached a rural church, he noticed that a revival meeting was letting out. He pulled over, put Skip behind the wheel, and continued up the road. As they neared the church, a woman exclaimed, “Is that a dog drivin’ that car?” Suddenly the lively crowd of parishioners went dead silent. It was a hush Morris never forgot. “It was as if the very spectacle of Old Skip driving that green DeSoto were inscrutable, celestial, and preordained,” he later wrote.

4. Steve Jobs

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Growing up in suburban California in the 1950s, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs was often plagued by boredom. Two things helped them survive: building electronics and pulling pranks. Jobs got started in the pranks department early. In elementary school, he and his friend Rick Ferrentino made posters announcing “Bring Your Pet to School Day” and passed them out to the other kids. The next day, teachers were up in arms as their classrooms became overrun with dogs chasing cats.

5. Steve Wozniak

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Apple's other cofounder, Steve Wozniak, gravitated towards high-tech pranks. During his first year in college, he built a pocket-sized circuit that could jam TV signals. He would take it to a dorm room where a group of people were watching TV and secretly activate the device. The TV screen would go fuzzy, and Wozniak would wait for someone to get up and hold the rabbit-ear antenna at a certain angle in an effort to improve reception. Once the person was in sufficiently awkward position, perhaps with his or her hand in front of the screen, Wozniak would deactivate the device and the picture would clear up. As soon as the person sat back down, Wozniak would jam the signal again. He would continue until everyone in the room insisted that the person stand holding the antenna for the remainder of the show.

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Get Crazy With the Official Bob Ross Coloring Book
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If you watched Bob Ross's classic series The Joy of Painting for hours on end but didn’t come away a terribly capable artist, you can still enjoy replicating the amazing public television personality’s work. You can now pretend you’re painting along with the late, great PBS star using a brand-new adult coloring book based on his art.

The Bob Ross Coloring Book (Universe) is the first authorized coloring book based on Ross’s artistic archive. Ross, who would have turned 75 later this year, was all about giving his fans the confidence to pursue art even without extensive training. “There’s an artist hidden at the bottom of every single one of us,” the gentle genius said. So what better way to honor his memory than to relax with his coloring book?

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the Ross landscapes you can recreate, all while flipping through some of his best quotes and timeless tidbits of wisdom.

An black-and-white outline of a Bob ross painting of a mountain valley

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a house nestled among trees.

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a farm scene.

And remember, even if you color outside the lines, it’s still a work of art. As Ross said, “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.”

You can find The Bob Ross Coloring Book for about $14 on Amazon. Oh, and if you need even more Ross in your life, there’s now a Bob Ross wall calendar, too.

All images courtesy of Rizzoli.

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8 Movies That Almost Starred Keanu Reeves
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He may not have the natural ease of Al Pacino, the classical training of Anthony Hopkins, the timeless cool of Jack Nicholson, or the raw versatility of Gary Oldman, but Keanu Reeves has been around long enough to have worked alongside each of those actors. Yet instead of Oscar nods, the actor whose first name means “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian has a handful of Razzie nominations.

While critical acclaim has mostly eluded Reeves during his 30-plus years in Hollywood, his movies have made nearly $2 billion at the box office. Whether because of his own choosiness or the decisions of studio powers-that-be, that tally could be much, much higher. To celebrate The Chosen One’s 53rd birthday, here are eight movies that almost starred Keanu Reeves.

1. X-MEN (2000)

In Hollywood’s version of the X-Men universe, Hugh Jackman is the definitive Wolverine. But Jackman himself was a last-minute replacement (for Dougray Scott) and other, bigger (in 2000) names were considered for the hirsute superhero—including Reeves. Ultimately, it was the studio that decided to go in a different direction, much to Reeves’ disappointment. “I always wanted to play Wolverine,” the actor told Moviefone in 2014. “But I didn't get that. And they have a great Wolverine now. I always wanted to play The Dark Knight. But I didn't get that one. They've had some great Batmans. So now I'm just enjoying them as an audience.”

2. PLATOON (1986)

For an action star, Reeves isn’t a huge fan of violence, which is why he passed on playing the lead in Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Vietnam classic. “Keanu turned it down because of the violence,” Stone told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. “He didn’t want to do violence.”

3. THE FLY II (1989)

Few people would likely mistake Reeves for the son of Jeff Goldblum, but producers were anxious to see him play the next generation of Goldblum’s insectile role in the sequel to The Fly. But Reeves wasn’t having any of it. Why? Simple: “I didn't like the script,” he told Movieline in 1990.


Speaking of sequels (and bad scripts): Reeves was ready to reprise his role as Jack Traven in Jan de Bont’s second go at the series … then he read it. “When I was offered Speed 2, Jan came to Chicago and so did Sandra, and they said, ‘You’ve got to do this,’” Reeves recalled to The Telegraph. “And I said, 'I read the script and I can’t. It’s called Speed, and it’s on a cruise ship.” (He's got a point.)

Even when the studio dangled a $12 million paycheck in front of him, Reeves said no. “I told [William Mechanic, then-head of Fox], ‘If I do this film, I will not come back up. You guys will send me to the bottom of the ocean and I will not make it back up again.’ I really felt like I was fighting for my life.”

5. HEAT (1995)

Reeves’ refusal to cave on Speed 2 didn’t sit well in Hollywood circles. And it didn't help that he also passed on playing Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer’s role) in Michael Mann’s Heat in order to spend a month playing Hamlet at Canada’s Manitoba Theatre Centre. From that point on, Reeves told The Telegraph that it’s been a struggle for him to book any studio movies. “That’s a good old Hollywood story! That was a whole, 'Hey, kid, this is what happens in Hollywood: I said no to the number two and I never worked with the studio again!’”

6. BOWFINGER (1999)

By the time Frank Oz’s Bowfinger rolled around, Eddie Murphy was pretty much the go-to guy for any dual role part, but the movie wasn’t always intended to play that way. Steve Martin, who both starred in and wrote the movie, had actually penned the part of Kit Ramsey for Reeves (whom he had worked with a decade earlier in Parenthood).

“When Steve gave me the script for Bowfinger, it wasn't written for Eddie Murphy,” producer Brian Grazer explained. “It was written for a white action star. It was written for Keanu Reeves, literally. I said, 'Why does it have to be an action star?' He said, 'That's the joke.' I said: 'What if it were Eddie Murphy, and Eddie Murphy played two characters? That could be really funny.' He said: 'You know, that'd be great—that'd be brilliant. Let's do that.' He processed it in about a minute, and he made a creative sea change.”

7. WATCHMEN (2009)

A year before Zack Snyder’s Watchmen hit theaters, Reeves confirmed to MTV what many had speculated: that he had turned down the chance to play Dr. Manhattan in the highly anticipated adaptation. But it wasn’t because of lack of interest on Reeves’ part; it just “didn't work out.” Still, he made it as far as a set visit: “They were shooting in Vancouver while we were filming so I went over to the set to say, 'hi.' They showed me some stuff and it looks amazing! I can’t wait. It’s going to be so killer, man!”


By the time Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder made its way into theaters in the summer of 2008, the meta-comedy had been more than a decade in the making. So it’s understandable that the final product veered from Stiller’s original plan for the film, which included Reeves playing the role of Tugg Speedman (Stiller’s eventual part). Initially, Stiller had planned to cast himself as smarmy agent Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey picked up the slack).


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