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10 Directors with Major Roles in Other Directors’ Films

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A movie director’s job usually takes place behind the camera, but sometimes, they get in front of the lens. Some directors, like Woody Allen, are involved in the majority of that process, and write, direct, and star in their own films. Others, like Alfred Hitchcock or John Landis, add playful little cameos—sometimes themselves, or sometimes other filmmakers who happened to be on set that day. But what happens when well-known movie directors don’t do any directing at all, and star in other directors’ films in major roles that are more than simple cameos? Here are a few examples.

1. Werner Herzog in Jack Reacher

The first director on the list is German weirdo-auteur Werner Herzog, responsible for films like Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Fitzcarraldo; and the documentary Grizzly Man. Herzog has done his fair share of acting over the years, playing a fictional version of himself in the mockumentary Incident at Loch Ness or the father in the equally weird auteur Harmony Korine’s 1999 film Julien Donkey-Boy, but his most recent acting stint as the villain in last year's Jack Reacher is his most devious role yet.

Herzog plays a shadowy and sadistic Siberian baddie called “The Zec” who has one ominously cloudy eye and, as explained by the character, is missing multiple fingers that he chewed off while in captivity to avoid gangrene from complications of frostbite. If that doesn’t win you over, the villain's ridiculous lines—delivered in Herzog’s iconic accent—definitely steal some scenes.

2. François Truffaut in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Nouvelle Vague pioneer François Truffaut had helmed 15 films of his own—and starred in two—before he stepped into the role of Claude Lacombe, the scientist trying to get to the bottom of all the UFO activity in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 blockbuster Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Though he was the lead in his own directorial efforts The Wild Child and Day for Night, Truffaut had never acted in an American film, and had a tough time with his lines in English while filming. When he was to deliver the line “They belong here more than we,” his thick French accent confused Spielberg and costar Bob Balaban into thinking he said “They belong here Mozambique.” The two then had shirts made with the Mozambique line and distributed them to the crew as a prank on the 400 Blows director. His performance, however, was no joke; it would earn Truffaut a BAFTA nomination for best supporting actor.

3. Victor Sjöström in Wild Strawberries

Swedish director Victor Sjöström worked primarily in the silent era, making early cinema classics like The Phantom Carriage—with himself in the lead role—and The Wind—starring notable silent film star Lillian Gish—that influenced such directors as Stanley Kubrick and David Lean.

Despite his long and storied career, perhaps his best effort in front of the camera is as the aging college professor Isak Borg, who ponders the beauty of life and death while travelling through Sweden to receive an honorary degree in director Ingmar Bergman’s heartbreaking 1957 film Wild Strawberries. Though it wasn’t the first time the two worked together—Sjöström appeared as a good-natured orchestra conductor in Bergman’s little-seen 1949 film To Joy—Bergman sought to truly immortalize his mentor with his role as Borg. The two first met when the Swedish production company Svensk Filmindustri brought on the veteran to oversee the young Bergman’s 1946 debut film Crisis, and the two hit it off so well that Sjöström would remain a father figure to Bergman for the rest of his life.

4. John Cassavetes in Rosemary’s Baby

Cassavetes was revered as the father of American independent cinema for directing groundbreaking films like Shadows and Faces, but he was also a fine actor in his own right. He cut his teeth in smaller acting roles for other directors, including Don Siegel’s version of The Killers and Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen—which garnered him an Academy Award nom for best supporting actor—and would later feature in quite the explosive role in Brian DePalma’s The Fury (if you’ve seen the film, you’ll get the joke). But his leading man status was cleverly tested as Mia Farrow’s husband Guy in Roman Polanski’s 1968 creep-out film Rosemary’s Baby.

The character was originally meant for a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, all-American à la Robert Redford, but Polanski—who himself has acted in his own films, including Chinatown and The Tenant—intentionally cast against type with the shifty looking Cassavetes. The film ended up a rousing and terrifying success, but the two apparently never got along on set. Polanski questioned Cassavetes’ acting ability, saying, “He knows how to play himself best,” while Cassavetes slyly called into question Polanski’s merit with the retort, “You can’t dispute the fact that he’s an artist, but yet you have to say Rosemary’s Baby is not art.” 

5. John Huston in Chinatown

Six years after Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski continued the practice of casting directors as actors in his films by giving the devious role of wealthy land baron Noah Cross to the legendary John Huston. Like the other directors on this list, Huston dabbled in bit parts in other films prior to Chinatown, including a role in Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal or as “The Lawgiver” in 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes, but, in terms of his acting, the director of The African Queen is best known for this neo-noir classic.

Though he appears in only three scenes in the entire film, his unforgettable performance is the glue that holds the shocking mysteries of the film together. At the time of filming, star Jack Nicholson was in a relationship with Huston’s real life daughter Angelica, which must have given some added tension to the scene where Huston as Cross asks Nicholson as sleuth Jake Gittes “Are you sleeping with her?” in regards to his onscreen daughter Evelyn, played by Faye Dunaway.

6. Spike Jonze in Three Kings

Before he was twice nominated for Best Director for his films The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, director David O. Russell made the underrated 1999 satirical war film Three Kings. He recruited A-list talent like George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg and off-the-beaten-path stars like rapper Ice Cube for the film, but he rounded out the cast with an unorthodox choice—Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze. Since Being John Malkovich and Three Kings were both released in October of 1999, Jonze was primarily known at the time as the genius behind music videos like the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” Weezer’s “Buddy Holly,” Björk’s “It’s Oh So Quiet,” and more, but his role as the naive man-child Conrad Vig in Russell’s film added acting to his unique legacy. Jonze would go on to direct three more films—including Her, which will be released this year—and act in smaller parts in films like Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, but never in as major a role as in Three Kings.  

7. Orson Welles in The Third Man

The renowned director of Citizen Kane eventually went on to have a long and storied acting career—he even had a particularly memorable turn as the voice of the planet-sized robot Unicron in the 1986 animated film The Transformers: The Movie—but his most indelible appearance in another director’s film was as the enigmatic character Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s 1949 film The Third Man.

Much like John Huston’s Noah Cross, Welles’ character only appears in a few scenes in the entire film, yet his character is the driving force behind the overall plot. His most famous scene, where Harry Lime meets Joseph Cotten’s character Holly Martins on the Wiener Riesenrad in Vienna’s Prater amusement park, includes the famous “Swiss cuckoo clock speech” that was largely improvised by Welles: “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” Unfortunately for Welles, cuckoo clocks are, in fact, from Germany.

8. Sydney Pollack in Eyes Wide Shut

Prior to Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Tootsie director Sydney Pollack’s feature acting credits included a rarely-seen 1962 war film called War Hunt and as the rational best friend of Woody Allen’s usual neurotic lead character in 1992’s Husbands and Wives. But the director's most haunting and complex character was the intimidating Dr. Victor Ziegler in Eyes Wide Shut, a role that was originally meant for Harvey Keitel until Pollack stepped in to replace him at Stanley Kubrick’s request.

Despite his friend Kubrick’s notorious reputation for demanding numerous takes when shooting ostensibly easy scenes, Pollack estimated that he would be able to complete his own scenes within one week. His first scene wrapped in mere hours but his second scene, which required him to simply walk across a room and answer a door, went on for two days of takes without satisfying Kubrick. When Pollack finally finished a take that was accepted by the director, Kubrick cryptically told him, “I wondered how much longer it would take you.”    

9. Quentin Tarantino in From Dusk till Dawn

In 1994, director Quentin Tarantino rewrote the book on American independent cinema with his modern classic, Pulp Fiction. Despite dabbling in acting in his own films before—he played Mr. Brown in his first feature, Reservoir Dogs, and was the frantic husband Jimmie in “The Bonnie Situation” chapter of Pulp Fiction—his first major role in another director’s film was in his friend Robert Rodriguez’s 1996 horror flick, From Dusk till Dawn, which Tarantino also wrote.

Tarantino and George Clooney starred as the Gecko Brothers, two crooks on the lam who seek refuge with their hostages in a strip club populated by vampires. The film was originally supposed to be his directorial follow up to Pulp Fiction, but Tarantino instead decided to focus on the screenplay and perfecting his acting chops for his role.

10. Fritz Lang in Contempt

Almost all of director Jean-Luc Godard’s movies are self-contained film schools, each playing with the ideas of what a movie itself can be. Godard was always eager to put his heroes in his films (American hard-boiled director Samuel Fuller had a brief cameo in Godard’s 1965 flick Pierrot le Fou, for example), but in his 1963 film Contempt, he decided to go bigger. Godard cast one of his idols, Austrian director Fritz Lang, who played a version of himself—a film director torn between adapting Homer’s The Odyssey from a small art film to an overblown studio epic.

Lang was the director of such masterpieces as Metropolis and M, and was allegedly the only person that the cantankerous Godard got along with on set. Actor Jack Palance, who played the pompous studio producer who hires a new screenwriter to rework Lang’s Odyssey adaptation, was so miserable working with Godard that he continually called his agent to get him out of his contract for the picture. But Lang, whom Godard worshipped, was made to feel right at home.  

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Warner Bros.
19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
15 Riveting Facts About Alan Turing
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

More than six decades after his death, Alan Turing’s life remains a point of fascination—even for people who have no interest in his groundbreaking work in computer science. He has been the subject of a play and an opera, and referenced in multiple novels and numerous musical albums. The Benedict Cumberbatch film about his life, The Imitation Game, received eight Oscar nominations. But just who was he in real life? Here are 15 facts you should know about Alan Turing, who was born on this day in 1912.

1. HE’S THE FATHER OF MODERN COMPUTER SCIENCE.

Turing essentially pioneered the idea of computer memory. In 1936, Turing published a seminal paper called “On Computable Numbers” [PDF], which The Washington Post has called “the founding document of the computer age.” In the philosophical article, he hypothesized that one day, we could build machines that could compute any problem that a human could, using 0s and 1s. Turing proposed single-task machines called Turing machines that would be capable of solving just one type of math problem, but a “universal computer” would be able to tackle any kind of problem thrown at it by storing instructional code in the computer’s memory. Turing’s ideas about memory storage and using a single machine to carry out all tasks laid the foundation for what would become the digital computer.

In 1945, while working for the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, he came up with the Automatic Computing Machine, the first digital computer with stored programs. Previous computers didn’t have electric memory storage, and had to be manually rewired to switch between different programs.

2. HE PLAYED A HUGE ROLE IN WINNING WORLD WAR II.

Turing began working at Bletchley Park, Britain’s secret headquarters for its codebreakers during World War II, in 1939. By one estimate, his work there may have cut the war short by up to two years. He’s credited with saving millions of lives.

Turing immediately got to work designing a codebreaking machine called the Bombe (an update of a previous Polish machine) with the help of his colleague Gordon Welchman. The Bombe shortened the steps required in decoding, and 200 of them were built for British use over the course of the war. They allowed codebreakers to decipher up to 4000 messages a day.

His greatest achievement was cracking the Enigma, a mechanical device used by the German army to encode secure messages. It proved nearly impossible to decrypt without the correct cipher, which the German forces changed every day. Turing worked to decipher German naval communications at a point when German U-boats were sinking ships carrying vital supplies across the Atlantic between Allied nations. In 1941, Turing and his team managed to decode the German Enigma messages, helping to steer Allied ships away from the German submarine attacks. In 1942, he traveled to the U.S. to help the Americans with their own codebreaking work.

3. HE BROKE THE RULES TO WRITE TO CHURCHILL.

Early on, Bletchley Park’s operations were hampered by a lack of resources, but pleas for better staffing were ignored by government officials. So, Alan Turing and several other codebreakers at Bletchley Park went over their heads to write directly to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. One of the codebreakers from Bletchley Park delivered the letter by hand in October 1941.

“Our reason for writing to you direct is that for months we have done everything that we possibly can through the normal channels, and that we despair of any early improvement without your intervention,” they wrote to Churchill [PDF]. “No doubt in the long run these particular requirements will be met, but meanwhile still more precious months will have been wasted, and as our needs are continually expanding we see little hope of ever being adequately staffed.”

In response, Churchill immediately fired off a missive to his chief of staff: “Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this had been done.”

4. HE HAD SOME ODD HABITS.

Like many geniuses, Turing was not without his eccentricities. He wore a gas mask while riding his bike to combat his allergies. Instead of fixing his bike’s faulty chain, he learned exactly when to dismount to secure it in place before it slipped off. He was known around Bletchley Park for chaining his tea mug to a radiator to prevent it from being taken by other staffers.

5. HE RODE HIS BIKE 60 MILES TO GET TO THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.

Though he was considered an average student, Turing was dedicated enough to his schooling that when a general strike prevented him from taking the train to his first day at his new elite boarding school, the 14-year-old rode his bike the 62 miles instead.

6. HE TRIED OUT FOR THE OLYMPICS.

Turing started running as a schoolboy and continued throughout his life, regularly running the 31 miles between Cambridge and Ely while he was a fellow at King’s College. During World War II, he occasionally ran the 40 miles between London and Bletchley Park for meetings.

He almost became an Olympic athlete, too. He came in fifth place at a qualifying marathon for the 1948 Olympics with a 2-hour, 46-minute finish (11 minutes slower than the 1948 Olympic marathon winner). However, a leg injury held back his athletic ambitions that year.

Afterward, he continued running for the Walton Athletic Club, though, and served as its vice president. ”I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard,” he once told the club’s secretary. “It's the only way I can get some release."

7. HE WAS PROSECUTED FOR BEING GAY.

In 1952, Turing was arrested after reporting a burglary in his home. In the course of the investigation, the police discovered Turing’s relationship with another man, Arnold Murray. Homosexual relationships were illegal in the UK at the time, and he was charged with “gross indecency.” He pled guilty on the advice of his lawyer, and opted to undergo chemical castration instead of serving time in jail.

8. THE GOVERNMENT ONLY RECENTLY APOLOGIZED FOR HIS CONVICTION …

In 2009, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a public apology to Turing on behalf of the British government. “Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly,” Brown said. "This recognition of Alan's status as one of Britain's most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue." Acknowledging Britain’s debt to Turing for his vital contributions to the war effort, he announced, “on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better."

His conviction was not actually pardoned, though, until 2013, when he received a rare royal pardon from the Queen of England.

9. … AND NAMED A LAW AFTER HIM.

Turing was only one of the many men who suffered after being prosecuted for their homosexuality under 19th-century British indecency laws. Homosexuality was decriminalized in the UK in 1967, but the previous convictions were never overturned. Turing’s Law, which went into effect in 2017, posthumously pardoned men who had been convicted for having consensual gay sex before the repeal. According to one of the activists who campaigned for the mass pardons, around 15,000 of the 65,000 gay men convicted under the outdated law are still alive.

10. HE POISONED HIMSELF … MAYBE.

There is still a bit of mystery surrounding Turing’s death at the age of 41. Turing died of cyanide poisoning, in what is widely believed to have been a suicide. Turing’s life had been turned upside down by his arrest. He lost his job and his security clearance. By order of the court, he had to take hormones intended to “cure” his homosexuality, which caused him to grow breasts and made him impotent. But not everyone is convinced that he died by suicide.

In 2012, Jack Copeland, a Turing scholar, argued that the evidence used to declare Turing’s death a suicide in 1954 would not be sufficient to close the case today. The half-eaten apple by his bedside, thought to be the source of his poisoning, was never tested for cyanide. There was still a to-do list on his desk, and his friends told the coroner at the time that he had seemed in good spirits. Turing’s mother, in fact, maintained that he probably accidentally poisoned himself while experimenting with the chemical in his home laboratory. (He was known to taste chemicals while identifying them, and could be careless with safety precautions.)

That line of inquiry is far more tame than some others, including one author’s theory that he was murdered by the FBI to cover up information that would have been damaging to the U.S.

11. HIS FULL GENIUS WASN’T KNOWN IN HIS LIFETIME.

Alan Turing was a well-respected mathematician in his time, but his contemporaries didn’t know the full extent of his contributions to the world. Turing’s work breaking the Enigma machine remained classified long after his death, meaning that his contributions to the war effort and to mathematics were only partially known to the public during his lifetime. It wasn’t until the 1970s that his instrumental role in the Allies' World War II victory became public with the declassification of the Enigma story. The actual techniques Turing used to decrypt the messages weren’t declassified until 2013, when two of his papers from Bletchley Park were released to the British National Archives.

12. THE TURING TEST IS STILL USED TO MEASURE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE …

Can a machine fool a human into thinking they are chatting with another person? That’s the crux of the Turing test, an idea developed by Turing in 1950 regarding how to measure artificial intelligence. Turing argued in his paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” [PDF] that the idea of machines “thinking” is not a useful way to evaluate artificial intelligence. Instead, Turing suggests “the imitation game,” a way to assess how successfully a machine can imitate human behavior. The best measure of artificial intelligence, then, is whether or not a computer can convince a person that it is human.

13. … BUT SOME CONSIDER IT TO BE AN OUTDATED IDEA.

As technology has progressed, some feel the Turing test is no longer a useful way to measure artificial intelligence. It’s cool to think about computers being able to talk just like a person, but new technology is opening up avenues for computers to express intelligence in other, more useful ways. A robot’s intelligence isn’t necessarily defined by whether it can fake being human—self-driving cars or programs that can mimic sounds based on images might not pass the Turing test, but they certainly have intelligence.

14. HE CREATED THE FIRST COMPUTER CHESS PROGRAM.

Inspired by the chess champions he worked with at Bletchley Park, Alan Turing created an algorithm for an early version of computer chess—although at that time, there was no computer to try it out on. Created with paper and pencil, the Turochamp program was designed to think two moves ahead, picking out the best moves possible. In 2012, Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov played against Turing’s algorithm, beating it in 16 moves. “I would compare it to an early caryou might laugh at them but it is still an incredible achievement," Kasparov said in a statement after the match-up.

15. THERE IS ALAN TURING MONOPOLY.

In 2012, Monopoly came out with an Alan Turing edition to celebrate the centennial of his birth. Turing had enjoyed playing Monopoly during his life, and the Turing-themed Monopoly edition was designed based on a hand-drawn board created in 1950 by his friend William Newman. Instead of hotels and houses, it featured huts and blocks inspired by Bletchley Park, and included never-before-published photos of Turing. (It’s hard to find, but there are still a few copies of the game on Amazon.)

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