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15 Facts in Honor of Wayne Gretzky's 53rd Birthday

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There has arguably never been a more dominant player in any sport than hockey's Wayne Gretzky. Nicknamed “The Great One,” Gretzky had a mix of preternatural ability, instinct, and charm that won him the respect of players and fans alike over his 21-year career in the National Hockey League. Today is his 53rd birthday; here are a few things you should know about The Great One.

1. Gretzky is the only NHL player to total over 200 points in one season.

NHL rules state that whenever a player scores a goal he is awarded a personal point; he also earns a point when he assists on a goal. Add these up and you get a player's total number of points. It may sound simple, but Gretzky achieved the absolutely unfathomable feat of 200 points in a season, and not just once, but four seasons in a row (1981-1982, 1983-1984, 1984-1985, and 1985-1986). Unsurprisingly, Gretzky is the leading point scorer in NHL history with 2857 points. The second place point scorer, his former Oilers and Rangers teammate Mark Messier, trails his tally with 1887.

2. He was good from the start.

In the first five years of his peewee hockey career, playing for his hometown team, the Brantford Nadrofsky Steelers, the young Gretzky notched an impressive 369 goals, which is made even more impressive by the fact that he had done it by the time he was 10. In a Toronto Telegram article, the young Gretzky stated his favorite player was Mr. Hockey himself, Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe.

3. He first wore his famous number 99 when he was 16 years old.

At the time, Gretzky was playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, a team in the Ontario Hockey League for players from the ages of 15 to 20. Number 9, the number he wore to honor his favorite player Gordie Howe, was already taken, so he eventually had to settle on number 99.

4. His number is the only number in the NHL that is retired league-wide.

Usually, teams will only retire the numbers of their own stars following long, distinguished careers, which means that no one else on that team could ever wear that number from then on. Patrick Roy, arguably the best goalie to ever play the game, has his number 33 retired for his stints on both the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche. The great Bobby Orr has his iconic number 4 retired from the Boston Bruins. And yet no one had their number retired from every team—until Gretzky, whose number 99 was retired league-wide at the 2000 All Star Game because of The Great One’s indelible contributions to hockey. The only other sports player to have his number completely retired league-wide is legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson, which gives some perspective to the reputation of Gretzky as a player and as a person.

5. Gretzky’s professional debut wasn’t in the NHL.

In 1978, the World Hockey Association (a main competitor of the NHL that eventually folded) courted many young stars, taking advantage of the NHL’s now-defunct rule that no one under the age of 20 could be drafted or signed to a contract. Nelson Skalbania, owner of the WHA's Indianapolis Racers, signed 17-year-old Gretzky to a 7-year, $1.75 million contract on June 12, 1978. Gretzky played only eight games for the Racers before the team went bankrupt and he was sent to the Edmonton Oilers (then part of the WHA). The WHA folded one year later and the Oilers joined the NHL in 1979.

6. Gretzky made 50 (and more) in 50.

It’s extraordinary when a player can score more than 50 goals in a season, but how about doing it in their first 50 games! In his second season for the Oilers, Gretzky scored and surpassed the coveted 50 goals in 50 games mark, previously achieved by Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard in the 1944-1945 season and New York Islanders winger Mike Bossy in the 1980-1981 season. Gretzky’s achievement is even more impressive when you factor in that he scored his 50 goals within his first 39 games of the season. Gretzky finished that season with 92 goals—an NHL record—and would hit the 50 in 50 mark twice more in the following two seasons with the Oilers.

7. Gretzky is literally the most valuable, most valuable player.

Each year the NHL awards the Hart Trophy to its most valuable player, and Gretzky has won the award a record nine times in his career. He was so valuable, in fact, that he won the trophy a record eight consecutive times with the Oilers from the 1979-1980 season to the 1986-1987 season. Pittsburgh Penguins great Mario Lemieux would break the streak and win the Hart in 1987-1988, but Gretzky nabbed it once more in 1988-1989. He has been named MVP more times than any player in the other three major North American sports leagues (including the NBA, NFL, and MLB).

8. Canadians treated him like royalty.

When Gretzky tied the knot with his girlfriend Janet Jones—whom he met while he was a celebrity judge on a dance contest show called Dance Fever—people of Edmonton went crazy, and dubbed the event “The Royal Wedding.” Thousands of Edmontonians lined the streets that led the over 600 wedding guests to St. Joseph’s Basilica, where the couple were wed in a lavish ceremony. Music was played by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra; Jones’ wedding ring allegedly cost $250,000, and her dress $40,000; rumor has it that Gretzky even ordered crates of champagne costing $3000 a bottle. The Great One spared no expense. 

9. He has an unofficial rule named after him.

In the '80s, Gretzky and his fellow Edmonton Oilers teammates—including future Hall of Famers Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, and Grant Fuhr—were so dominant that they won the Stanley Cup four times in five years from 1984 to 1988. Part of that success was due to their on-ice command of four-on-four situations, where minor penalties given to both teams would put a player from each team in the penalty box. Because Gretzky and the Oilers were so good in small numbers on the ice, the NHL enacted the “Gretzky Rule,” forcing teams to play at full strength despite the called penalties. The rule has since been revoked, but lives on in spirit in overtime when teams play at four-on-four strength to potentially garner faster goals.

10. When he was traded, the Canadian government got involved.

In the annals of hockey history it is simply known as “The Trade,” but to many people there wasn’t anything simple about it. On August 9, 1988, three months after winning the Stanley Cup with the Oilers, Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. It was a blow to Canadians, and such a big deal that Nelson Riis, a member of the Canadian parliament and New Democratic Party House Leader, formally demanded in the Canadian House of Commons that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney block the trade from happening. Unfortunately there was nothing the Canadian government could do about it, and the trade—which involved Gretzky and teammates Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski for players Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas, $15 million in cash, and first round draft picks in 1989, 1991, and 1993—was approved by the NHL.

11. Hockey wasn’t the only sport Gretzky was involved in.

Though hockey was the only sport he personally played at the professional level, Gretzky was one of the owners of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. Whether it was a mere hobby or a savvy business venture, Gretzky became a minority owner of the football team in 1991 along with controversial Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall and actor John Candy. Gretzky’s name was even etched into the Grey Cup—the CFL’s Championship trophy—following the team’s championship victory in the first year of his ownership.

12. He fought crime with Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson … in a Saturday morning cartoon.

In 1991, NBC broadcast a Saturday morning cartoon called Pro Stars featuring Gretzky, basketball great Michael Jordan, and baseball player Bo Jackson as a superhero team of athletes who helped kids fight crime. Gretzky himself appeared alongside Jordan and Jackson in pre-recorded live-action introductions for each episode.

13. He was a Captain or Alternate Captain all his life, until he played for the New York Rangers.

After being traded to the St. Louis Blues for a one-year stint in the 1995-1996 season, The Great One moved east and made his debut with the Broadway Blueshirts starting in 1996 ... but he was missing something. Throughout his entire career, from Edmonton to Los Angeles to St. Louis, Gretzky wore the captain’s “C” on his sweater—but not in the Big Apple. That distinction belonged to his former Oilers teammate Mark Messier, who led the team as its captain with alternates Brian Leetch and Adam Graves. Sometimes being the Great One doesn’t come with perks.

14. Two National Anthems were changed—if only once—for him.

All good things, as they say, must come to an end, and the illustrious career of Wayne Douglas Gretzky came to an end in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on April 18, 1999. Though the game was between two American teams, both the American and Canadian National Anthems were played to honor Gretzky. But instead of the regular lyrics to the Canadian anthem, singer Bryan Adams sang “We’re gonna miss you Wayne Gretzky” instead of “We stand on guard for thee.”  For the Star Spangled Banner, longtime anthem performer for the Rangers John Amirante sang “O’er the land of Wayne Gretzky” in place of “O’er the land of the free.”

15. He is among ten players to have the standard waiting period waived for immediate induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Gretzky’s retirement in 1999 was such a big event that the Hockey Hall of Fame opened up a 2300 square foot collection of Gretzky memorabilia when he was inducted. Objects in the collection included the skates he wore in his final game and the goal into which he scored his 802nd goal—a league record at the time.

All images courtesy of Getty Images

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15 Things You Should Know About Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe’s enchanting floral still lifes are now a deeply ingrained part of American culture—so much so that they often eclipse her other colorful accomplishments. For a more complete portrait of the artist, who was born 130 years ago today, brush up on these 15 little-known facts about her.

1. FLOWER PAINTINGS MAKE UP A SMALL PERCENTAGE OF O'KEEFFE'S BODY OF WORK.

Though O'Keeffe is most famous for her lovingly rendered close-ups of flowers—like Black Iris and Oriental Poppies—these make up just about 200 of her 2000-plus paintings. The rest primarily depict landscapes, leaves, rocks, shells, and bones.

2. SHE REJECTED SEXUAL INTERPRETATIONS OF HER PAINTINGS.

For decades, critics assumed that O'Keeffe's flowers were intended as homages—or at the very least, allusions—to the female form. But in 1943, she insisted that they had it all wrong, saying, “Well—I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flowers you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower—and I don’t.” So there.

3. SHE WAS NOT A NATIVE OF THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST.


Joe Raedle/Getty Images

O'Keeffe was actually born on a Wisconsin dairy farm. She'd go on to live in Chicago; New York City; New York’s Lake George; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Amarillo, Texas. She first visited New Mexico in 1917, and as she grew older, her trips there became more and more frequent. Following the death of her husband in 1946, she moved to New Mexico permanently.

4. HER FAVORITE STUDIO WAS THE BACKSEAT OF A MODEL-A FORD.

In an interview with C-SPAN, Carolyn Kastner, curator of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, explained how the artist customized her car for this use: "She would remove the driver's seat. Then she would unbolt the passenger car, turn it around to face the back seat. Then she would lay the canvas on the back seat as an easel and paint inside her Model-A Ford."

Painting inside the car allowed O'Keeffe to stay out of the unrelenting desert sun, where she painted many of her later works. The Model-A also provided a barrier from the bees that would gather as the day wore on.

5. O'KEEFFE ALSO PAINTED SKYSCRAPERS.

While nature was her main source of inspiration, the time she spent in 1920s Manhattan spurred the creation of surreal efforts like New York With Moon, City Night and The Shelton with Sunspots.

6. O'KEEFFE IMMERSED HERSELF IN NATURE ...

While in New Mexico O’Keeffe spent summers and falls at her Ghost Ranch, putting up with the region's hottest, most stifling days in order to capture its most vivid colors. (The rest of the year she stayed at her second home, located in the small town of Abiquiu.) When she wasn't painting in her Model-A, O'Keeffe often camped out in the harsh surrounding terrain, to keep close to the landscapes that inspired her.

7. …WHATEVER THE WEATHER.

The artist would rig up tents from tarps, contend with unrelenting downpours, and paint with gloves on when it got too cold. She went camping well into her 70s and enjoyed a well-documented rafting trip with photographer Todd Webb at age 74. Her camping equipment is occasionally exhibited at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.

8. SHE MARRIED THE MAN BEHIND HER FIRST GALLERY SHOW.

"At last, a woman on paper!" That’s what modernist photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz cried when he first saw O'Keeffe's abstract charcoal drawings. He was so enthusiastic about this series of sketches that he put them on display—before consulting their creator.

When O'Keeffe arrived at his gallery, she wasn't pleased, and brusquely introduced herself: "I am Georgia O'Keeffe and you will have to take these pictures down." Despite their rocky beginnings, Stieglitz and O'Keeffe quickly made amends, and went on to become partners in art and in life.

9. O'KEEFFE AND STIEGLITZ WROTE 25,000 PAGES OF LOVE LETTERS TO EACH OTHER.

When the pair met in 1916, he was famous and married; she was unknown and 23 years his junior. All the same, they began writing to each other often (sometimes two or three times a day) and at length (as many as 40 pages at a time). These preserved writings chart the progression of their romance—from flirtation to affair to their marriage in 1924—and even document their marital struggles.

10. SHE SERVED AS A MUSE TO OTHER ARTISTS.

Thanks in part to Stieglitz, O'Keeffe was one of the most photographed women of the 20th century. Stieglitz made O'Keeffe the subject of a long-term series of portraits meant to capture individuals as they aged, and she made for a striking model. Though he died in 1946, the project lived on as other photographers sought out O'Keeffe in order to capture the beloved artist against the harsh New Mexican landscapes she loved so dearly.

O'Keeffe later wrote:

When I look over the photographs Stieglitz took of me—some of them more than sixty years ago—I wonder who that person is. It is as if in my one life I have lived many lives. If the person in the photographs were living in this world today, she would be quite a different person—but it doesn't matter—Stieglitz photographed her then.

11. SHE QUIT PAINTING THREE TIMES.

The first break spanned several years (the exact number is a matter of debate), when O'Keeffe took on more stable jobs to help her family through financial troubles. In the early 1930s, a nervous breakdown led to her hospitalization, and caused her to set aside her brushes for more than a year.

In the years leading up to her death in 1986, failing eyesight forced O'Keeffe to give up painting entirely. Until then, she fought hard to keep working, enlisting assistants to prepare her canvas and mix her oil paints for pieces like 1977's Sky Above Clouds/Yellow Horizon and Clouds. She managed to use watercolors until she was 95.

12. AFTER GOING BLIND, SHE TURNED TO SCULPTING.


By Alfred Stieglitz - Phillips, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Although her vision eventually made painting impossible, O'Keeffe's desire to create was not squelched. She memorably declared, "I can see what I want to paint. The thing that makes you want to create is still there.” O'Keeffe began experimenting with clay sculpting in her late 80s, and continued with it into her 96th year.

13. SHE'S THE MOTHER OF AMERICAN MODERNISM.

Searching for what she called “the Great American Thing,” O'Keeffe was part of the Stieglitz Circle, which included such lauded early modernists as Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Paul Strand, and Edward Steichen. By the mid-1920s, she had become the first female painter to gain acclaim alongside her male contemporaries in New York's cutthroat art world. Her distinctive way of rendering nature in shapes and forms that made them seem simultaneously familiar and new earned her a reputation as a pioneer of the form.

14. SHE BLAZED NEW TRAILS FOR FEMALE ARTISTS.

In 1946, O’Keeffe became the first woman to earn a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Twenty-four years later, a Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective exhibit introduced her work to a new generation. Fifteen years after that, O'Keeffe was included in the inaugural slate of artists chosen to receive the newly founded National Medal of Arts for her contribution to American culture.

15. SHE WASN'T FEARLESS, BUT SHE REJECTED FEAR.

O'Keeffe was purported to have said, "I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do."

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11 Fascinating Facts About Claude Monet
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Oscar-Claude Monet is beloved for his series of oil paintings depicting water lilies, serene gardens, and Japanese footbridges. The French painter manipulated light and shadow to portray landscapes in a groundbreaking way, upending the traditional art scene in the late 19th century. In honor of his birthday, here are 11 things you might not know about the father of French Impressionism.

1. HIS ARTISTIC TALENT WAS EVIDENT AT AN EARLY AGE.

Born in Paris in 1840, Monet began drawing as a young boy, sketching his teachers and neighbors. He attended a school of the arts and, as a young teenager, sold his charcoal caricatures of local figures. He also learned about oil painting and en plein air (outdoors) painting, which later became a hallmark of his style. Monet’s mother encouraged his artistic talent, but his father, who owned a grocery store, wanted him to focus on the grocery business. After his mother died in 1857, Monet left home to live with his aunt and, against his father’s wishes, study art.

2. HE SERVED AS A SOLDIER IN ALGERIA.

In 1861, Monet was drafted into the army. Forced to join the First Regiment of African Light Cavalry, he left Paris for Algeria, a territory that was then controlled by France. Monet's father offered to pay for his son’s discharge if he would promise to give up painting, but Monet refused to abandon art. After serving one year of his seven-year military commitment, Monet got sick with typhoid fever. His aunt paid to get him released from the army, and she enrolled him in art school in Paris.

3. HE WAS SO FRUSTRATED WITH LIFE THAT HE JUMPED INTO THE SEINE.

In his late 20s, Monet was frustrated with the Académie, France’s art establishment. He hated creating formulaic artwork, copying the art that hung in the Louvre, and painting scenes from ancient Greek and Roman myths. Although he tried to get his paintings into the Académie’s art exhibits, his art was almost always rejected. Depressed and struggling to support himself and his family financially, Monet jumped off a bridge in 1868. He survived his fall into the Seine and began spending time with other artists who also felt frustrated by the Académie’s restrictions.

4. RENOIR CREATED A META PAINTING OF HIM.


Renoir's "Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil." Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

In 1873, Monet was spending his summer in a rented home in Argenteuil, a suburb of Paris. His friend Pierre-Auguste Renoir visited Monet to spend time together and paint outdoors. The two men connected over their mutual dislike of the traditional style of the Académie. During his visit, Renoir painted Monet painting in his garden, creating a painting within a painting. The painting, straightforwardly called Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, depicts Monet standing outside as he paints flowers.

5. HE INDIRECTLY HELPED COIN THE TERM "IMPRESSIONISM."

Monet created a community with other frustrated artists, a group that included Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, and Paul Cézanne. The group, which called itself The Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc., organized an exhibition in 1874. The exhibition included groundbreaking artwork featuring bright, vivid colors and loose, seemingly spontaneous brushwork. After a critic compared one of Monet’s paintings—"Impression, Sunrise"—to an unfinished sketch (or "impression"), the term "Impressionists" caught on to describe the artists who displayed these radically different, new paintings.

6. HIS SECOND WIFE WAS IRRATIONALLY JEALOUS OF HIS FIRST WIFE.

Monet frequently painted his first wife, Camille Doncieux, who worked as a model and had been in a relationship with the artist since the mid 1860s (they married in 1870). The couple had two sons, but Camille died, perhaps of uterine cancer, in 1879. Alice Hoschedé, the wife of a businessman and art collector, had been living with the Monets after her husband went bankrupt, and Monet may have started an affair with her while Camille was still alive. After Camille's death, Hoschedé jealously destroyed all of her letters and photographs. Despite this, Hoschedé (along with her six children) lived with Monet and his two kids, and the couple married in 1892 after Hoschedé’s husband died. (Fun fact: One of Hoschedé’s daughters later married one of Monet’s sons, so the step-siblings became husband and wife.)

7. HE IMPORTED HIS WATER LILIES FROM AROUND THE WORLD.

From 1883 until his death in 1926, Monet lived in Giverny, a village in northern France. Over the years, he hired gardeners to plant everything from poppies to apple trees in his garden, turning it into a beautiful, tranquil place for him to paint. Finally wealthy from sales of his paintings, Monet invested serious money into his garden. He put a Japanese footbridge across his pond, which he famously painted, and he imported water lilies from Egypt and South America. Although the local city council told him to remove the foreign plants so they wouldn’t poison the water, Monet didn’t listen. For the last 25 years of his life, he painted the water lilies in a series of paintings that showcased the plants in varying light and textures.

8. HE PAID A GARDENER TO DUST HIS WATER LILIES.

As Monet’s garden expanded, he hired six full-time employees to tend to it. One gardener’s job was to paddle a boat onto the pond each morning, washing and dusting each lily pad. Once the lilies were clean, Monet began painting them, trying to capture what he saw as the light reflected off the water.

9. HIS CRITICS MOCKED HIS VISION PROBLEMS.


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Around 1908 when he was in his late 60s, Monet began having trouble with his vision. Diagnosed with cataracts in 1912, he later described his inability to see the full color spectrum: "Reds appeared muddy to me, pinks insipid, and the intermediate or lower tones escaped me." When he became legally blind in 1922, he continued painting by memorizing the locations of different colors of paint on his palette. Monet delayed getting risky cataract surgery until 1923, and critics mocked him for his blurry paintings, suggesting that his Impressionist style was due to his failing vision rather than his artistic brilliance. After two cataract surgeries, Monet wore tinted glasses to correct his distorted color perception and may have been able to see ultraviolet light.

10. IN 2015, THE WORLD DISCOVERED A NEW MONET PASTEL.

In 2015, an art dealer in London discovered an unknown Monet pastel that had been hidden behind another Monet drawing that he had bought at a 2014 auction in Paris. The pastel depicts the lighthouse and jetty in Le Havre, the port in France where Monet lived as a child. Art scholars authenticated the pastel as an authentic Monet artwork and dated it to 1868, around the time he jumped into the Seine.

11. TOURISTS CAN VISIT HIS HOME AND GARDENS.


MIGUEL MEDINA // AFP // Getty Images

In 1926, Monet died of lung cancer. Starting in 1980, his former home in Giverny has been open to tourists to see his gardens, woodcut prints, and mementos. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people visit Giverny to walk through the artist’s famous garden and refurbished home. Besides looking at a variety of flowers and trees, visitors can also see Monet’s bedroom, studio, and blue sitting-room.

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