16 Fun Facts for James Madison’s Birthday

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iStock

At 5 feet 4 inches, Madison was America’s shortest commander-in-chief—but he left behind a towering legacy. To honor his 264th birthday, we’ve dug up some lesser-known details about this “Father of the U.S. Constitution” and the colorful life he led. Did you know...

1. That He Was the Oldest of Twelve Children And Prone To Sickness?

Madison wasn’t the healthiest kid—or adult for that matter. A frequent victim of nasty stomach aches, he’d also weather attacks “somewhat resembling epilepsy” throughout his life.

2. That Madison Fought—And Won—an Oratory Duel With Patrick Henry?

This was no small feat. Throughout their home state of Virginia, Henry was renowned as a public speaking heavyweight who wooed crowds wherever he went. Thomas Jefferson declared that the booming debater spoke “as Homer wrote.” Madison, in contrast, had a quiet voice and little talent for theatrics.

In 1788, a ratifying convention was held in Richmond to determine if Virginia would grant her approval to the Constitution Madison had helped engineer. Henry staunchly opposed this document, and loudly decried it for leaning “towards monarchy.” But though several people in attendance complained of Madison’s mumbling, he offered concise, well-articulated rebuttals to every argument. When the dust settled, his slow and steady approach paid off big-time: Virginia’s representatives voted 89 to 79 in favor of ratification.

3. That He Competed With James Monroe for a Seat in the Newly-Minted House of Representatives?

In 1789, both Monroe and Madison sought the job, with Madison decisively winning the election. Throughout their campaign, the two got along amicably and, every so often, would accompany each other en route to debates.

4. That He Once Thought America Should Rent Portugal’s Navy?

Congressman Madison suggested that the American government ought to guard its oceanic interests by hiring the Portuguese navy for anti-pirate protection instead of constructing one of her own.

5. That Aaron Burr Introduced Him to His Wife, Dolley, in 1794?

Alexander Hamilton’s future dueling opponent knew Madison through congress (where he also worked at the time) and had gotten acquainted with Dolley by virtue of her mother’s boarding house, which Burr frequently visited.

6. That He Fathered No Biological Children but Helped Raise a Stepson?

Dolley’s first husband and oldest child had both died the year before she married Madison. The statesman immediately took an active role in caring for her only surviving son, two-year-old John Payne Todd.

7. That Madison Loved Ice Cream?

Before freezers came along, ice cream was one labor-intensive treat, and during their tenure in the White House, the Madisons served several varieties of this chilly dessert at official functions. Apparently, the First Lady’s favorite flavor was oyster (don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it).

8. That He Employed a Number of Secret Codes?

Madison—like any good politician—was terrified by the idea that someone might intercept one of his private letters. Along with Jefferson and many mutual allies, Madison used complicated encryptions when relaying delicate info. “Having now the use of my cypher,” he informed Jefferson in 1784 after mastering a new system, “I can write without restraint.”

9. That When the British Burned Down His White House, They Also Ate His Dinner?

On August 24, 1814, an eerie emptiness fell upon the Presidential mansion. As British forces advanced towards Washington, Madison’s home and office was completely abandoned mere hours before it was besieged. After breaking in, the Brits set the place ablaze before discovering and gobbling up a beautifully-cooked meal that had been intended for the President. Apple, cider, and wine complemented the menu.

10. That Both of His Vice Presidents Died in Office?

George Clinton kicked the bucket in 1812. His short-lived replacement was former Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, who’d redistricted that state to tip the political scales in his favor, a process we now call “Gerrymandering.” Gerry also died in office, and is the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to be buried in Washington, DC.

11. That He Had a Naughty Sense of Humor?

During his days as Secretary of State, Madison once had to cover the costs of a visiting Tunisian diplomat named Sidi Soliman Mellimelli. This honored guest was accompanied by several concubines whose expenses Madison lightheartedly justified to President Jefferson as “appropriations for foreign intercourse.”

12. That He Once Proposed a Brutal Hangover Experiment?

At an 1804 party thrown in Jefferson’s honor, journalist Samuel Harrison Smith spent part of his evening drinking with Secretary Madison, who voiced his desire to find out how many glasses of champagne would be necessary to trigger “a headache the next day.” It’s unknown if anyone present ever actually tried this experiment.

13. That He Helped Amend Virginia’s State Constitution at the Ripe Old Age of 79?

This event—which consisted of a 96-man assemblage—became his last public appearance as a politician.

14. That He Played a Big Role in Establishing the University of Virginia?

Among UVA’s original trustees, Madison later served as its second rector (“chairman”) from 1826 to 1836 and bequeathed most of his personal library to the school.

15. That He Was the Last Surviving Signer of the U.S. Constitution?

For months, the dying ex-President remained bed-ridden. On June 28, 1836, Madison found he couldn’t swallow his breakfast. “What is the matter, Uncle James?” asked his beloved niece, Nelly Willis. “Nothing but a change of mind, my dear,” he replied before died.

16. That His Face Appeared on a $5000 Bill?

The government stopped printing these in 1945.

The 10 Best Movies of 2018, According to Rotten Tomatoes

The Weinstein Company
The Weinstein Company

We're a few weeks into the new year, but it's not too late to catch up on the best movies of 2018. If you're looking for a place to start, why not check out the top 10 films most widely loved by critics last year, according to Rotten Tomatoes.

The list, reported by Cinema Blend, includes a mix of family flicks, action-packed blockbusters, and art house films. Marvel's Black Panther—which was a hit with both critics and moviegoers, and just became the first superhero movie to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture—tops the list as Rotten Tomatoes's best-reviewed movie of 2018 with a wide release. It's accompanied by two other superheroes movies: Incredibles 2 and Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (both of which earned Oscar nominations for Best Animated Film).

Last year proved that critics aren't prejudiced against sequels if they're well made, with Paddington 2 and Mission: Impossible - Fallout making the list along with the second Incredibles film. This list is limited to movies that had a wide release in 2018 (600 theaters or more), so some awards darlings like Netflix's Roma didn't make the cut. But there were a few indie hits that received wider showings and earned critical acclaim, including Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade and the Mister Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?.

After checking out the full list below, you can start getting excited about the highly-anticipated films coming out in 2019.

1. Black Panther
2. Mission: Impossible - Fallout
3. BlacKkKlansman
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
5. A Star is Born
6. A Quiet Place
7. Paddington 2
8. Incredibles 2
9. Eighth Grade
10. Won't You Be My Neighbor

[h/t Cinema Blend]

11 Fascinating Facts About Sam Elliott

Christopher Polk, Getty Images For Critics' Choice Television Awards
Christopher Polk, Getty Images For Critics' Choice Television Awards

Hirsute. Rugged. Laconic. For more than four decades, actor Sam Elliott has practically trademarked the persona of a latter-day cowboy. When Patrick Swayze needed a mentor for his philosopher-bouncer in 1989’s Road House, producers called Elliott. When the Coen Brothers needed a wise baritone narrator for 1998’s The Big Lebowski, they cast Elliott. When Bradley Cooper needed a foil for his remake of A Star is Born, he wisely got Elliott, who just earned his first-ever Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting Actor) for the role.

Check out some facts we’ve wrangled up about the performer’s life, his time on the casting couch, and one strange coincidence involving Smokey Bear.

1. His dad didn't want him to become an actor.

Sam Elliott and Bradley Cooper in 'A Star Is Born' (2018)
WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER PICTURES INC.

Born in Sacramento in 1944, a 13-year-old Sam Elliott moved with his family to Oregon, where both he and his father pursued their love of the outdoors. (His dad worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in charge of “predatory and rodent control.”) While they bonded over nature, their relationship grew divisive when Elliott told his father he wanted to become an actor. They were never able to resolve the matter before his father died of a heart attack when Elliott was just 18. “He died thinking, 'Man, this kid is going to go down the wrong path,” Elliott said. "And I think on some levels that was either hard on me or made me more focused in my resolve to have a career.”

2. He played Evel Knievel in an unsold TV pilot.

After moving to Hollywood in the late 1960s, Elliott scored a small role in a big film: 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (He’s glimpsed only fleetingly during a card game.) In 1974, he had the opportunity to be the featured star, portraying daredevil legend Evel Knievel in a CBS television pilot. The series never went into production but wound up airing as a one-off special that March. Elliott went on to guest star in several series, including Hawaii Five-0 and Gunsmoke, before landing a lead role in a feature, 1976’s Lifeguard.

3. He got himself in some hot water with a studio.

Lifeguard looked to be Elliott’s breakout role: It’s a tale of a man approaching middle age who wonders if being a first responder is what he wants to continue doing with his life. Paramount, the studio behind the film, marketed it differently—as a sun-soaked teenage melodrama. Elliott chafed at the ads and made his thoughts known. “The one sheet [poster] for that film was an animated piece, and it had me in a pair of Speedos and a big busted girl on either arm,” he told NPR in 2017. “And it said, 'Every girl's summer dream' over the top of it. And I was like, wow.” Elliott complained in press interviews, a move he speculated led to Paramount cooling their heels on hiring him again.

4. He was the voice of Smokey Bear.

Early in his career, Elliott was advised by people in the industry to hone his smooth drawl into something more in the leading-man mode. “They wanted me to speed up and enunciate,” he told The Saturday Evening Post earlier this year. “I went through trying to do that for a time, but I’m glad it didn’t work out.” Elliott’s voice become one of his hallmarks and was eventually put to use as the voice of forest fire mascot Smokey Bear in 2007.

The message hit home for Elliott, whose wife of nearly 35 years—actress Katharine Ross, who earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for playing Elaine Robinson in The Graduate—saw her home burned down in 1978 after a camp fire spread. He and the spokesbear even share the exact same birthday: August 9, 1944.

5. He got propositioned. A lot.

Going from audition to audition early in his career, Elliott told syndicated columnist Rex Reed in 1980 that the proverbial casting couch was real. “You cannot believe the casting couch stories I could tell you, man,” he said. “The clichés are all true. I’ve had propositions from men and women, and I’ve turned them all down. It’s probably hurt me, but I’m the one who has to live with that guilt. My conscience is clear, even though my career is still not setting the world on fire.”

6. The Coen brothers kept him working just because they liked hearing him talk.


Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Shooting 1998’s The Big Lebowski, Elliott has a climactic meeting of sorts with The Dude (Jeff Bridges), whose adventures he’s been narrating throughout the film. Shooting the scenes, Elliott was beginning to get exasperated at the Coen brothers's insistence he keep doing it. When they clocked 15 takes, Elliott insisted they tell him what they want. It turns out take six was perfect. They made him do it nine more times just because they liked watching him deliver his lines.

7. He's got a "big three" resume.

Elliott has dozens of acting roles to his credit, but he believes he’s best-known for just three roles: The Big Lebowski, Road House, and 1992’s Tombstone. “That’s the big three,” he told Vulture in 2015. “And it’s really because they repeat that sh*t all the time. None of them had great box office, and I wasn’t so good in any of them. You just can’t escape them. They keep showing up.”

8. He doesn't like social media.

Elliott is not one to broadcast his thoughts on Facebook or Twitter. In 2015, the actor told AARP Magazine that social media is of little interest to him. “Everywhere you look, people are looking at their hands,” he said. “In restaurants, it's like you're sitting in a patch of jack-o'-lanterns because everyone's face is lit up by their phone. Nobody's relating to each other.”

9. He doesn't really get the fascination with his mustache.

Sam Elliott, Garret Dillahunt, and Timothy Olyphant in 'Justified'
PRASHANT GUPTA, FX Networks

For most of his roles, Elliott sports a soup strainer of a mustache: Thick, plush, well-weathered. When he goes without—as in his turn as a villain on FX’s Justified—it can be a little disarming, in the same way Superman looks a little odd without his cape. But Elliott doesn’t quite understand the cult of hair around his facial style choices. “The whole mustache thing is a mystery to me,” he told Vanity Fair in 2017. “I’m working on this thing now, A Star is Born—somebody showed me on their cell phone one day that there was this contest online between me and [Tom] Selleck about who had the best mustache. It’s so bizarre.” (For the record, Elliott won't comment on who has the better lip warmer.)

10. He's an Oregon local.

Elliott and his wife spend a month out of the year near Eugene, Oregon. The sight of Elliott visiting hardware stores, restaurants, and other local haunts is common, and Elliott has become a beacon for people seeking a selfie with the actor. (He usually complies.) Eventually, Elliott hopes to move to Oregon full-time.

11. He's got a secret to staying grounded.

Elliott doesn’t appear to be too invested in the trappings of celebrity. “We stay out of town, and we don’t get in too deep,” he told Vulture in 2015. “We don’t believe all the sh*t in the rags. And we work hard. Katharine and I have a lot in common. We’ve got a 30-year-old daughter [Cleo] that we’re deeply in love with and still incredibly close to. Life’s good. We live in Malibu and have horses and dogs and cats and chickens. We shovel sh*t, man. That keeps you humble."

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