10 Roaring Facts About Zelda Fitzgerald

Zelda Fitzgerald was a writer, dancer, and Jazz Age celebrity who struggled on and off with mental illness. Her husband, famed writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, called her the first American flapper, and she became a 1920s icon due to her vivacious nature and bon vivant lifestyle.

1. HER FAMILY MEMBERS HELD PROMINENT POSITIONS IN THE U.S. GOVERNMENT.

Zelda Sayre was born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1900. Her father, Anthony Dickinson Sayre [PDF], worked as a lawyer, representative in the Alabama state legislature, state senator, city judge, and justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama. Additionally, both Zelda’s great-uncle and grandfather served in the United States Senate.

2. ZELDA WAS A WILD CHILD.

In high school, Zelda’s desire to be unconventional and rebellious meant that she smoked, drank alcohol, and snuck out of her parents’ house to spend time with boys. Her friends described her as fearless, daring, and attention-seeking. Later, when she was living with her husband in New York, her carefree spirit and profligate behavior (such as jumping into fountains fully clothed) became a symbol of the 1920s.

3. HER MARRIAGE TO F. SCOTT FITZGERALD WAS INCREDIBLY TUMULTUOUS.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, with their daughter, Scottie. Getty

Zelda’s marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald was reportedly a toxic one, complete with alcoholism, mutual infidelity, and jealousy. Zelda accused her husband of having a gay relationship with his friend and fellow writer Ernest Hemingway, and she had nervous breakdowns throughout their marriage. Although they never divorced, the couple was estranged when F. Scott died in 1940.

4. BOTH F. SCOTT AND ZELDA ACCUSED EACH OTHER OF PLAGIARISM.

Kenneth Melvin Wright (Minnesota Historical Society [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

F. Scott based some of his characters on Zelda, and he adapted his real-life interactions and experiences with her into his novels. He also copied, verbatim, entries from Zelda’s journals and put them into his books, blurring the line between fiction and reality. In a piece she wrote for The New York Tribune, Zelda poked fun at her husband, saying that he “seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.” On the flip side, Scott dismissed and undermined his wife’s literary ambitions. He criticized her novel Save Me The Waltz, Zelda’s only published work, accusing her of using autobiographical details of their lives that he was going to use in his novel Tender Is The Night and borrowing a character's name from one of his early protagonists.

5. SHE TRAINED TO BE A PROFESSIONAL BALLERINA.

As a child, Zelda had taken ballet lessons, but her interest in dance was renewed in her late 20s while the couple was living in France. Hoping to become a professional ballerina, she took ballet lessons in Paris with Russian dancer Lubov Egorova. Zelda trained obsessively for a few years, spending all day practicing until her dancing dreams ended when she suffered a mental breakdown in 1930.

6. WRITING AND PAINTING WERE HER CREATIVE OUTLETS DURING HER TREATMENT FOR MENTAL ILLNESS.

Zelda Fitzgerald's "Fifth Avenue." Penn State via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Zelda was in and out of mental hospitals. Although she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, her fluctuations between depression and mania would most likely get her a bipolar diagnosis today. During her time in these hospitals, Zelda kept herself creatively occupied by writing and painting. She worked on her second novel, called Caesar’s Things, and she painted scenes from Alice in Wonderland, the Bible, and New York locations like Times Square, Washington Square Park, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

7. SHE WAS KILLED IN A FIRE AT HIGHLAND HOSPITAL.

During the 1940s, Zelda worked on writing a novel and lived intermittently in Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. On March 10, 1948, a fire started in the hospital’s kitchen. Reportedly, Zelda was scheduled for an electroshock therapy session and was sedated and locked in a waiting room. Regardless of where exactly she was, the fire spread through the floors of the building via the dumbwaiter shaft, and Zelda was killed along with eight other women. She was 47.

8. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA VIDEO GAME IS NAMED AFTER HER.

In the mid-1980s, Japanese video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto needed a name for his new Nintendo heroine, and Zelda had just the right ring to it. "She was a famous and beautiful woman from all accounts, and I liked the sound of her name," Miyamoto has said, and thus he called the princess in his fantasy game Zelda. The game was an immediate hit.

9. THE EAGLES WROTE "WITCHY WOMAN" AFTER BEING INSPIRED BY ZELDA'S BIOGRAPHY.

After reading a biography about Zelda, Don Henley of the Eagles wrote the 1972 song “Witchy Woman” about her. It was "an important song for me," Henley said, "because it marked the beginning of my professional songwriting career." Describing her as a restless spirit in the song, Henley also referred to her use of absinthe ("she drove herself to madness with a silver spoon").

10. SHE HAS BEEN IMMORTALIZED IN DESSERT TOO, THANKS TO ARTISANAL ICE CREAM.

In 2013, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams offered a limited edition line of ice creams inspired by Zelda. Called The Zelda Collection, the sweet treats came in four flavors meant to reflect Zelda’s life from Alabama to New York to St. Paul, Minnesota (F. Scott's hometown). The flavors featured were blackberries and sweet cream, cognac and marmalade, dark chocolate rye, and Loveless biscuits and peach jam. Zelda, with her appreciation for delicacies, would likely have approved.

5 Facts About Edgar Allan Poe on His 210th Birthday

You’ve read Edgar Allan Poe’s terrifying stories. You can quote "The Raven." But how well do you know the writer’s quirky sense of humor and code-cracking abilities? Let’s take a look at a few  things you might not know about the acclaimed author, who was born 210 years ago today.

1. He was the original balloon boy.

You probably remember 2009’s infamous “Balloon Boy” hoax. Turns out the Heene family that perpetrated that fraud weren’t even being entirely original in their attempt at attention-grabbing. They were actually cribbing from Poe.

In 1844 Poe cooked up a similar aviation hoax in the pages of the New York Sun. The horror master cranked out a phony news item describing how a Mr. Monck Mason had flown a balloon flying machine called Victoria from England to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina in just 75 hours. According to Poe’s story, the balloon had also hauled seven passengers across the ocean.

No balloonist had ever crossed the Atlantic before, so this story quickly became a huge deal. Complete transatlantic travel in just three days? How exciting! Readers actually queued up outside the Sun’s headquarters to get their mitts on a copy of the day’s historic paper.

Poe’s report on the balloon was chock full of technical details. He devoted a whole paragraph to explaining how the balloon was filled with coal gas rather than “the more expensive and inconvenient hydrogen.” He listed the balloon’s equipment, which included “cordage, barometers, telescopes, barrels containing provision for a fortnight, water-casks, cloaks, carpet-bags, and various other indispensable matters, including a coffee-warmer, contrived for warming coffee by means of slack-lime, so as to dispense altogether with fire, if it should be judged prudent to do so.” He also included hundreds of words of excerpts from the passengers’ journals.

The only catch to Poe’s story was that it was entirely fictitious. The Sun’s editors quickly wised up to Poe’s hoax, and two days later they posted an understated retraction that noted, “We are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous.”

2. He dabbled in cryptography.

If you’ve read Poe’s story “The Gold-Bug,” you probably know that he had a working knowledge of cryptography. But you might not know that Poe was actually a pretty darn good cryptographer in his own right.

Poe’s first notable code-cracking began in 1839. He sent out a call for readers of his Philadelphia newspaper to send him encoded messages that he could decipher. Poe would then puzzle over the secret messages for hours. He published the results of his work in a wildly popular recurring feature. Poe also liked to toss his own codes out there to keep readers busy. Some of the codes were so difficult that Poe professed utter amazement when even a single reader would crack them.

Poe was so confident in his abilities as a cryptographer that he approached the Tyler administration in 1841 with an offer to work as a government code cracker. He modestly promised, “Nothing intelligible can be written which, with time, I cannot decipher.” Apparently there weren’t any openings for him, though.

3. The "Allan" came later.

It would sound odd to just say “Edgar Poe,” but the famous “Allan” wasn’t originally part of the writer’s name. Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809 to professional actors, but his early childhood was fairly rotten. When Poe was just two years old, his father abandoned the family—leaving the toddler's mother, Elizabeth, to raise Edgar and his two siblings. Not long after that, Elizabeth died of tuberculosis.

Poe actually had a little luck at that point. John and Frances Allan, a well-to-do Richmond family, took the boy in and provided for his education. Although the Allans never formally adopted Poe, he added their surname to his own name.

Like a lot of Poe’s fiction, his story with the Allans didn't have a particularly happy ending. Poe and John Allan grew increasingly distant during the boy’s teenage years, and after Poe left for the University of Virginia, he and Allan became estranged. (Apparently the root of these problems involved Poe’s tendency to gamble away whatever money Allan sent him to subsidize his studies.)

4. He had a nemesis.

Like a lot of writers, Poe had a rival. His was the poet, critic, and editor Rufus Griswold. Although Griswold had included Poe’s work in his 1842 anthology The Poets and Poetry of America, Poe held an extremely low opinion of Griswold’s intellect and literary integrity. Poe published an essay blasting Griswold’s selections for the anthology, and their rivalry began.

Things really heated up when Griswold succeeded Poe as the editor of Graham’s Magazine at a higher salary than Poe had been pulling in. Poe began publicly lambasting Griswold’s motivations; he even went so far as to claim that Griswold was something of a literary homer who puffed up New England poets.

Poe might have had a point about Griswold’s critical eye, but Griswold had the good fortune to outlive Poe. After Poe died, Griswold penned a mean-spirited obituary in which he stated that the writer’s death “will startle many, but few will be grieved by it” and generally portrayed Poe as an unhinged maniac.

Slamming a guy in his obituary is pretty low, but Griswold was just getting warmed up. He convinced Poe’s aunt, Maria Clemm, to make him Poe’s literary executor. Griswold then published a biography of Poe that made him out to be a drug-addled drunk, all while keeping the profits from a posthumous edition of Poe’s work.

5. His death was a mystery worth of his writing.

In 1849 Poe left New York for a visit to Richmond, but he never made it that far south. Instead, Poe turned up in front of a Baltimore bar deliriously raving and wearing clothes that didn’t fit. Passersby rushed Poe to the hospital, but he died a few days later without being able to explain what happened to him.

Poe’s rumored causes of death were “cerebral inflammation” and “congestion of the brain,” which were polite euphemisms for alcohol poisoning. Modern scholars don’t totally buy this explanation, though. The characterization of Poe as a raging drunk mostly comes from Griswold’s posthumous smear campaign, and his incoherent state of mind may have been the result of rabies or syphilis.

Some Poe fans subscribe to a more sinister theory about the writer’s death, though. They think he may have fallen victim to “cooping,” a sordid 19th century political practice. Gangs of political thugs would round up homeless or weak men and hold them captive in a safe place called a “coop” right before a major election. On election day—and there was an election in Baltimore on October 3, 1849, the day Poe was found—the gangs would then drug or beat the hostages before taking them around to vote at multiple polling places.

This story sounds like something straight out of Poe’s own writing, but it might actually be true. Poe’s crummy physical state and delirium would be consistent with a victim of cooping, and the ill-fitting clothes jibe with gangs’ practice of making their hostages change clothes so they could cast multiple votes. With no real evidence either way, though, Poe’s death remains one of literature’s most fascinating mysteries.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

The $13,000 Epiphany That Made Orville Redenbacher a National Popcorn King

iStock.com/NoDerog
iStock.com/NoDerog

Happy National Popcorn Day! While you’re no doubt celebrating with a bowl of freshly popped, liberally buttered popcorn, here’s something else to digest: Orville Redenbacher originally called his product Red-Bow.

In 1951, Redenbacher and his partner, a fellow Purdue grad named Charlie Bowman, purchased the George F. Chester and Son seed corn plant in Boone Township, Indiana. Though Redenbacher’s background was in agronomy and plant genetics, he had dabbled in popcorn, and was friendly with the Chester family.

Eventually, Carl Hartman was brought in to experiment. In 1969, when the trio had developed a seed they felt really confident in, they went to market. They dubbed the product “Red-Bow,” a nod to “Redenbacher” and “Bowman.”

The product was a hit regionally, but by 1970, Bowman and Redenbacher were ready for a national audience and hired a Chicago advertising agency to advise them on branding strategy. At their first meeting, Redenbacher talked about popcorn for three hours. “Come back next week and we’ll have something for you,” he was told afterward.

The following week, he turned to the agency and was told that “Orville Redenbacher’s” was the perfect name for the fledgling popcorn brand. “Golly, no,” he said. “Redenbacher is such a ... funny name.” That was the point, they told him, and they must have made a convincing case for it, because Orville Redenbacher is the brand we know today—and the man himself is still a well-known spokesman more than 20 years after his death.

Still, Redenbacher wasn’t sure that the $13,000 fee the agency had charged was money well spent. “I drove back to Indiana wryly thinking we had paid $13,000 for someone to come up with the same name my mother had come up with when I was born,” Redenbacher later wrote.

Hungry for more Redenbacher? Take a look at the inventor at work in the vintage commercial below.

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