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10 Characters Made Famous on TV Variety Shows

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In the 1950s, '60s and '70s—back when there were only three major networks (not counting PBS)—variety shows were a staple of television programming. And, as corny as the singing and dancing might seem now, some of those shows launched characters that transcended popular culture, just as Bart Simpson and the Sex and the City ladies have in more recent years. See how many of these characters you remember, or maybe your parents have mentioned…

1. The Flip Wilson Show - Flip Wilson as Geraldine

Flip Wilson’s famous female alter-ego on The Flip Wilson Show, Geraldine, was the obvious inspiration for other outrageous drag characters that popped up decades later, such as Martin Lawrence’s Shanaynay and Jamie Foxx’s Ugly Wanda. The sassy Geraldine had a boyfriend named Killer, with whom she’d rendezvous at a club “in a booth in the back in the corner in the dark.” Her catchphrases, “What you see is what you get!” and “The Devil made me do it!” were on as many t-shirts in the early 1970s as Hello Kitty is today.

2. The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour – Cher as Laverne

One of the weekly highlights of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour was seeing impeccably coiffed Cher slink onstage in a fabulous (and revealing) Bob Mackie gown. So the usually glamorous Cher was truly playing against type when she dressed in a Peg Bundy-style leopard print jumpsuit and cat’s-eye glasses to play the gum-chomping laundry room gossip Laverne Lashinski. Man-hungry Laverne was such an audience favorite that Cher revived the character in the 1980s for her Las Vegas act, performing “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” natch.

3. The Carol Burnett Show – Mrs. Wiggins

The red-headed comedienne created many memorable characters during the long run of The Carol Burnett Show, and one of those was the inept secretary Mrs. Wiggins. During that less politically correct era, her name became an unfortunate synonym for any female clerical worker that was well-endowed in the caboose region.

4. The Carol Burnett Show – Eunice and Family

The syndicated sitcom Mama’s Family did not do justice to its source material. The original "Family" sketches on The Carol Burnett Show were not hackneyed slapstick; the comedy was based more on the reality of the dysfunctional family dynamic. It seemed that the only time Mama spoke was to criticize her daughter, Eunice, or her husband Ed, or to talk about anything else that irritated her. Eunice dreamed of a better life, but did nothing to improve herself. Ed was the proud owner of a hardware store and didn’t hesitate to fight back when Eunice complained about him, his nowhere job, and their nothing house. His best friend was Mickey Hart, loyal but not-too-bright hardware store employee. When gathered under one roof for any occasion, the family’s tempers could flare from zero to 212 degrees in an instant, not unlike what happens in many average American families when they get together for a friendly game…

5. Laugh-in – Lily Tomlin as Edith Ann

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In was Saturday Night Live on speed. Each 60-minute show was filled with rapid-fire gags and sketches, and it was only natural that some recurring bits would make for “breakout” characters. For example, Lily Tomlin’s 5-year-old Edith Ann espoused child-like philosophy from an oversized rocking chair. She was also responsible for adding “…and that’s the truth! Pbbbbt!” to the lexicon.

6. Laugh-In – Lily Tomlin as Ernestine

Another Tomlin character was the busybody telephone operator, Ernestine. Her “one ringey-dingey, two ringey-dingey” schtick became so popular that the Bell System used her to promote their services for a time.

7. Laugh-In - Arte Johnson as Wolfgang

Arte Johnson dressed in a German soldier’s uniform, peeked through shrubbery, and said “Verrry eeenterrresting.” For some reason this character and catch phrase caught on like (very annoying) wildfire.

8. The Steve Allen Show - Bill Dana as José Jiménez

Bill Dana created the Mexican-American character of José Jiménez for The Steve Allen Show. Just like Fonzie and Kramer, the character became an audience favorite, greeted with deafening applause as soon as he mumbled “My name José Jiménez…” One skit, in which José’s describes one of his many jobs—astronaut—became so huge a hit that the Mercury crew appointed him an honorary astronaut. In 1970, Dana officially “buried” his most famous character at a Mexican-American cultural pride festival.

9. The Red Skelton Hour – Red Skelton as Junior, the Mean Widdle Kid

One of Red Skelton’s many memorable characters was Junior, the mischievous youngster who was always getting into trouble despite knowing the consequences in advance. “If I dood it,” Junior would muse in his child-like dialect, “I get a whippin’…..” He’d consider the misdeed and the punishment for the briefest of seconds and then with a grin would announce: “I dood it!”

10. The Red Skelton Hour – Red Skelton as Freddie the Freeloader

Red Skelton’s father had once worked as a clown with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, and it was his dad’s makeup that Red used to create his Freddie the Freeloader character. Freddie was a hobo who made his home in the city dump, although sometimes he was seen napping on a park bench using a newspaper as a blanket.

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11 Ridiculously Overdue Library Books (That Were Finally Returned)
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Last week, Massachusetts's Attleboro Public Library received a big surprise when one of its regular patrons returned a copy of T.S. Arthur's The Young Lady at Home ... more than 78 years after it had been checked out. 

The man, whose name was not revealed, was reportedly helping a friend clean out his basement when he came across the tome. He recognized the library's stamp, then noticed its original due date: November 21, 1938. “We were amazed,” said Amy Rhilinger, the library’s assistant director. “I’ve worked here for 15 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Because the library charges $.10 per day for overdue books, the total bill for this dusty read would come to about $2800—but the library isn't planning to cash in. “We’re not the library police," Rhilinger said. "We’re not tracking everyone’s things. Everyone returns things a few [days] late, and it’s one thing we joke about here.”

Though it's rare, the decades-overdue book's return is not unprecedented. Here are 11 more tardy returns.

1. The Versatile Grain and the Elegant Bean: A Celebration of the World’s Most Healthful Foods by Sheryl and Mel London

LOANED FROM: The Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, Kansas
YEARS OVERDUE: 21

In 2014, someone anonymously returned this fitness-friendly cookbook, which had been missing since September 24, 1992. The volume, published that April, contains over 300 recipes—and it’s probably safe to assume that the culprit had plenty of time to try out every single one of them.

2. The Real Book About Snakes by Jane Sherman

LOANED FROM: The Champaign County Library in Urbana, Ohio 
YEARS OVERDUE: 41

Like the previous entry, whoever turned in this musty old field guide declined to reveal his name. But lest anyone question the man’s honesty, he also left the following note: “Sorry I’ve kept this book so long, but I’m a really slow reader! I’ve enclosed my fine of $299.30 (41 years, 2 cents a day). Once again, my apologies!”

3. Days and Deeds: A Book of Verse for Children’s Reading and Speaking compiled by Burton and Elizabeth Stevenson

LOANED FROM: The Kewanee Public Library in Kewanee, Illinois
YEARS OVERDUE: 47

According to Guinness World Records, the $345.14 fee paid by the borrower of this lyrical compilation stands as the highest library fine ever paid.

4. The Fire of Francis Xavier by Arthur R. McGratty

LOANED FROM: The New York Public Library, Fort Washington Branch, in New York, New York
YEARS OVERDUE: 55

In 2013, this one was discreetly mailed in and the perpetrator was never brought to justice (be on guard, Big Apple bibliophiles).

5. The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

LOANED FROM: The Rugby Library in Warwick, England 
YEARS OVERDUE: 63

The item found its way home during an eight-day “fines amnesty period,” which shielded the guilty patron from a £4000 penalty. “It’s amazing to think how much the library has changed since that book was taken out in 1950,” said librarian Joanna Girdle. 

6. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

LOANED FROM: The Chicago Public Library in Chicago, Illinois 
YEARS OVERDUE: 78

Harlean Hoffman Vision found a rare edition of this novel nestled amongst her late mother’s personal effects and vowed to set things right. “She kept saying, ‘You’re not going to arrest me?’” recalled marketing director Ruth Lednicer, “and we said, ‘No, we’re so happy you brought it back.’”

7. Master of Men by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Amazon, Public Domain

LOANED FROM: The Leicester County Library in Leicester, England
YEARS OVERDUE: 79

Oppenheim was born in the surrounding region and, hence, the Leicestershire County Council was thrilled to reclaim this piece of their literary heritage after it turned up in a nearby house—even though the library branch it originally belonged to had shut down decades earlier.

8. Facts I Ought to Know About the Government of My Country by William H. Bartlett

Amazon, Public Domain

LOANED FROM: The New Bedford Public Library in New Bedford, Massachusetts
YEARS OVERDUE: 99

Stanley Dudek of Mansfield, Massachusetts claims that his mother—a Polish immigrant—decided to brush up on American politics by borrowing this volume from the New Bedford Library in 1910. “For a person who was just becoming a citizen, it was the perfect book for her,” says Dudek.

9. Insectivorous Plants by Charles Darwin

LOANED FROM: The Camden School of Arts Lending Library in Sydney, Australia
YEARS OVERDUE: 122

An Australian copy of Darwin’s treatise on bug-eating flora was borrowed in 1889. After two World Wars, Neil Armstrong’s moon landing, and the birth of the internet, it was finally returned on July 22, 2011.

10. The Ancient History of the Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Macedonians, and Grecians (volume II) by Charles Rollin

LOANED FROM: The Grace Doherty Library in Danville, Kentucky
YEARS OVERDUE: 150 (approximately)

In 2013, this tome was discovered at a neighboring school for the deaf, where it had presumably been stored since 1854 (as evidenced by a note written inside dating to that year). The library owns no records from this period, so exactly how long it was gone is anybody’s guess, but, said librarian Stan Campbell, “It’s been out of the library for at least 150 years."

11. The Law of Nations by Emmerich de Vattel

LOANED FROM: The New York Society Library in New York City
YEARS OVERDUE: 221

Five months into his first presidential term, George Washington borrowed this legal manifesto from the historic New York Society Library. For the next 221 years, it remained stowed away at his Virginia home, and organization officials wondered if they’d ever see it again. “We’re not actively pursuing overdue fines,” joked head librarian Mark Bartlett. “But we would be very happy to see the book returned.” His wish was granted when Mount Vernon staff finally sent it back in 2010 (luckily, they dodged a whopping $300,000 late fee).

An earlier version of this post appeared in 2014.

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11 Popular Quotes Commonly Misattributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald
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F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a lot of famous lines, from musings on failure in Tender is the Night to “so we beat on, boats against the current” from The Great Gatsby. Yet even with a seemingly never-ending well of words and beautiful quotations, many popular idioms and phrases are wrongly attributed to the famous Jazz Age author, who was born on this day in 1896. Here are 11 popular phrases that are often misattributed to Fitzgerald. (You may need to update your Pinterest boards.)

1. “WRITE DRUNK, EDIT SOBER.”

This quote is often attributed to either Fitzgerald or his contemporary, Ernest Hemingway, who died in 1961. There is no evidence in the collected works of either writer to support that attribution; the idea was first associated with Fitzgerald in a 1996 Associated Press story, and later in Stephen Fry’s memoir More Fool Me. In actuality, humorist Peter De Vries coined an early version of the phrase in a 1964 novel titled Reuben, Reuben.

2. “FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: IT’S NEVER TOO LATE OR, IN MY CASE, TOO EARLY TO BE WHOEVER YOU WANT TO BE.”

It’s easy to see where the mistake could be made regarding this quote: Fitzgerald wrote the short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in 1922 for Collier's Magazine, and it was adapted into a movie of the same name, directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, in 2008. Eric Roth wrote the screenplay, in which that quotation appears.

3. “OUR LIVES ARE DEFINED BY OPPORTUNITIES, EVEN THE ONES WE MISS.”

This is a similar case to the previous quotation; this quote is attributed to Benjamin Button’s character in the film adaptation. It’s found in the script, but not in the original short story.

4. “YOU’LL UNDERSTAND WHY STORMS ARE NAMED AFTER PEOPLE.”

There is no evidence that Fitzgerald penned this line in any of his known works. In this Pinterest pin, it is attributed to his novel The Beautiful and Damned. However, nothing like that appears in the book; additionally, according to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Association, although there were a few storms named after saints, and an Australian meteorologist was giving storms names in the 19th century, the practice didn’t become widespread until after 1941. Fitzgerald died in 1940.

5. “A SENTIMENTAL PERSON THINKS THINGS WILL LAST. A ROMANTIC PERSON HAS A DESPERATE CONFIDENCE THAT THEY WON’T.”

This exact quote does not appear in Fitzgerald’s work—though a version of it does, in his 1920 novel This Side of Paradise:

“No, I’m romantic—a sentimental person thinks things will last—a romantic person hopes against hope that they won’t. Sentiment is emotional.” The incorrect version is widely circulated and requoted.

6. “IT’S A FUNNY THING ABOUT COMING HOME. NOTHING CHANGES. EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME, FEELS THE SAME, EVEN SMELLS THE SAME. YOU REALIZE WHAT’S CHANGED IS YOU.”

This quote also appears in the 2008 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button script, but not in the original short story.

7. “GREAT BOOKS WRITE THEMSELVES; ONLY BAD BOOKS HAVE TO BE WRITTEN.”

There is no evidence of this quote in any of Fitzgerald’s writings; it mostly seems to circulate on websites like qotd.org, quotefancy.com and azquotes.com with no clarification as to where it originated.

8. “SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL, BUT NOT LIKE THOSE GIRLS IN THE MAGAZINES. SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL FOR THE WAY SHE THOUGHT. SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL FOR THE SPARKLE IN HER EYES WHEN SHE TALKED ABOUT SOMETHING SHE LOVED. SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL FOR HER ABILITY TO MAKE OTHER PEOPLE SMILE, EVEN IF SHE WAS SAD. NO, SHE WASN’T BEAUTIFUL FOR SOMETHING AS TEMPORARY AS HER LOOKS. SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL, DEEP DOWN TO HER SOUL.”

This quote may have originated in a memoir/advice book published in 2011 by Natalie Newman titled Butterflies and Bullshit, where it appears in its entirety. It was attributed to Fitzgerald in a January 2015 Thought Catalog article, and was quoted as written by an unknown source in Hello, Beauty Full: Seeing Yourself as God Sees You by Elisa Morgan, published in September 2015. However, there’s no evidence that Fitzgerald said or wrote anything like it.

9. “AND IN THE END, WE WERE ALL JUST HUMANS, DRUNK ON THE IDEA THAT LOVE, ONLY LOVE, COULD HEAL OUR BROKENNESS.”

Christopher Poindexter, the successful Instagram poet, wrote this as part of a cycle of poems called “the blooming of madness” in 2013. After a Twitter account called @SirJayGatsby tweeted the phrase with no attribution, it went viral as being attributed to Fitzgerald. Poindexter has addressed its origin on several occasions.

10. “YOU NEED CHAOS IN YOUR SOUL TO GIVE BIRTH TO A DANCING STAR.”

This poetic phrase is actually derived from the work of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who died in 1900, just four years after Fitzgerald was born in 1896. In his book Thus Spake ZarathustraNietzsche wrote the phrase, “One must have chaos within to enable one to give birth to a dancing star.” Over time, it’s been truncated and modernized into the currently popular version, which was included in the 2009 book You Majored in What?: Designing Your Path from College to Career by Katharine Brooks.

11. “FOR THE GIRLS WITH MESSY HAIR AND THIRSTY HEARTS.”

This quote is the dedication in Jodi Lynn Anderson’s book Tiger Lily, a reimagining of the classic story of Peter Pan. While it is often attributed to Anderson, many Tumblr pages and online posts cite Fitzgerald as its author.

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