Getty Images // Chloe Effron
Getty Images // Chloe Effron

10 Famous Birthdays to Celebrate in August

Getty Images // Chloe Effron
Getty Images // Chloe Effron

Some of our favorite historical figures were born in the month of August. We couldn't possibly name them all, so here are just a handful of lives we'll be celebrating.

1. AUGUST 1, 1818: MARIA MITCHELL

Mitchell was the first female astronomer in the U.S. She discovered a comet in 1847; uncovered the true nature of sunspots; became the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science; was the first person ever to be appointed to the faculty at Vassar College; and was then named the Director of the Vassar College Observatory. She was also a pioneer in equal pay: When Mitchell discovered she wasn’t making as much as her less experienced counterparts, she demanded a raise and got it.

2. AUGUST 4, 1901: LOUIS ARMSTRONG

Armstrong said his birthdate was July 4, 1900, but in 1988, music historian Thaddeus “Tad” Jones found baptismal records which stated that the icon’s actual birthday was August 4, 1901. It’s unclear why the musician fibbed about his birthday, but some believe he did it to join a military band, while others say he figured he'd have better luck getting gigs if he was over 18 years old.

3. AUGUST 5, 1930: NEIL ARMSTRONG

Armstrong’s most famous quotation ("That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”) is widely criticized for its grammatical shortcomings, but the astronaut had apparently meant to say "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." In fact, after Apollo 11, Armstrong claimed to have said it correctly all along. He cited static on the radio transmission as the reason for the article omission, which was then supported by NASA representatives. Later on, Armstrong listened to a copy of the quote, and regardless of the speed or volume, neither the “a” nor the supposed radio static was ever heard. Armstrong reportedly said: "Damn, I really did it. I blew the first words on the moon, didn't I?"

4. AUGUST 6, 1911: LUCILLE BALL

Getty Images

Everyone loves Lucy, but she wasn’t just an adored actress, she was a powerful business woman. Ball was the first-ever female to head a major Hollywood production company, Desilu Productions. She became president of the company—which she founded with former husband Desi Arnaz—in 1962, and sold it five years later. In Desilu’s nearly two decade run, it produced series like Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, The Untouchables, and (naturally) I Love Lucy.

5. AUGUST 8, 1866: MATTHEW HENSON

Henson was the first African-American Arctic explorer. He traveled with Robert Edwin Peary as his “first man” for over two decades, and was part of the expedition that claimed to be the first to reach the Geographic North Pole in 1909 (an achievement disputed by many). Henson was a navigator, craftsman, and is well known for his relationship with the Inuit people. He learned the language and customs, and even earned a nickname, "Maripaluk," or "Matthew the kind one."

6. AUGUST 13, 1899: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Hitchcock was a master of fright, but he had quite a few of his own real-life phobias, including chicken eggs, jail cells, and soufflé-making.

7. AUGUST 13, 1860: ANNIE OAKLEY

The famed sharpshooter gained notoriety while traveling with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and earned one of her best-known nicknames from Hunkpapa Lakota chief and holy man, Sitting Bull. He called Oakley "Watanya Cicillia" or "Little Sure Shot," and reportedly asked to adopt Annie after seeing the young performer shoot the ace of hearts out of a card at 30 paces.

8. AUGUST 15, 1912: JULIA CHILD

Getty Images

Before she became history’s favorite television chef, Julia Child worked for the Office of Strategic Services—the predecessor to the CIA. One of the organization’s tasks during her time there was to develop a shark repellent to prevent attacks. The winning recipe—copper acetate mixed with black dye—never really worked, but was nevertheless employed by the Army and Coast Guard for about 25 years.

9. AUGUST 17, 1786: DAVY CROCKETT

When you think of this 19th century folk hero and frontiersman, a coonskin cap probably comes to mind, but Crockett’s historical image might differ from the one he actually donned. While he claimed not to care about fashion, for one portrait he asked artist John Gadsby Chapman to depict him rallying dogs during a bear hunt. Crockett even bought outdoorsy props and wanted to be shown holding up his famed cap. He reportedly did wear it sometimes in real life, but that too might have been more of a branding exercise than an authentic choice.

10. AUGUST 22, 1893: DOROTHY PARKER

The writer, known for her biting wit, has a bevy of fantastic one-liners (like: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”) but her best one might be her last. Her epitaph reads: “Excuse my dust.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Fox Photos, Getty Images
4 Fascinating Facts About John Wayne
Fox Photos, Getty Images
Fox Photos, Getty Images

Most people know John Wayne, who would have been 111 years old today, for his cowboy persona. But there was much more to the Duke than that famous swagger. Here are a few facts about Duke that might surprise you.

1. A BODY SURFING ACCIDENT CHANGED HIS CAREER. 

John Wayne, surfer? Yep—and if he hadn’t spent a lot of time doing it, he may never have become the legend he did. Like many USC students, Wayne (then known as Marion Morrison) spent a good deal of his extracurricular time in the ocean. After he sustained a serious shoulder injury while bodysurfing, Morrison lost his place on the football team. He also lost the football scholarship that had landed him a spot at USC in the first place. Unable to pay his fraternity for room and board, Morrison quit school and, with the help of his former football coach, found a job as the prop guy at Fox Studios in 1927. It didn’t take long for someone to realize that Morrison belonged in front of a camera; he had his first leading role in The Big Trail in 1930.

2. HE TOOK HIS NICKNAME FROM HIS BELOVED FAMILY POOCH. 

Marion Morrison had never been fond of his feminine-sounding name. He was often given a hard time about it growing up, so to combat that, he gave himself a nickname: Duke. It was his dog’s name. Morrison was so fond of his family’s Airedale Terrier when he was younger that the family took to calling the dog “Big Duke” and Marion “Little Duke,” which he quite liked. But when he was starting his Hollywood career, movie execs decided that “Duke Morrison” sounded like a stuntman, not a leading man. The head of Fox Studios was a fan of Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne, so Morrison’s new surname was quickly settled. After testing out various first names for compatibility, the group decided that “John” had a nice symmetry to it, and so John Wayne was born. Still, the man himself always preferred his original nickname. “The guy you see on the screen isn’t really me,” he once said. “I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne.”

3. HE WAS A CHESS FANATIC. 

Anyone who knew John Wayne personally knew what an avid chess player he was. He often brought a miniature board with him so he could play between scenes on set.

When Wayne accompanied his third wife, Pilar Pallete, while she played in amateur tennis tournaments, officials would stock a trailer with booze and a chess set for him. The star would hang a sign outside of the trailer that said, “Do you want to play chess with John Wayne?” and then happily spend the day drinking and trouncing his fans—for Wayne wasn’t just a fan of chess, he was good at chess. It’s said that Jimmy Grant, Wayne’s favorite screenwriter, played chess with the Duke for more than 20 years without ever winning a single match.

Other famous chess partners included Marlene Dietrich, Rock Hudson, and Robert Mitchum. During their match, Mitchum reportedly caught him cheating. Wayne's reply: "I was wondering when you were going to say something. Set 'em up, we'll play again."

4. HE COINED THE TERM "THE BIG C."

If you say you know someone battling “The Big C” these days, everyone immediately knows what you’re referring to. But no one called it that before Wayne came up with the term, evidently trying to make it less scary. Worried that Hollywood would stop hiring him if they knew how sick he was with lung cancer in the early 1960s, Wayne called a press conference in his living room shortly after an operation that removed a rib and half of one lung. “They told me to withhold my cancer operation from the public because it would hurt my image,” he told reporters. “Isn’t there a good image in John Wayne beating cancer? Sure, I licked the Big C.”

Wayne's daughter, Aissa Wayne, later said that the 1964 press conference was the one and only time she heard her father call it “cancer,” even when he developed cancer again, this time in his stomach, 15 years later. Sadly, Wayne lost his second battle with the Big C and died on June 11, 1979 at the age of 72.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
10 Crazy Facts About Willie Nelson
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Willie Nelson is one of the world’s most accomplished musicians—and not just in the country music world. Nelson’s talents transcend genre, and go far beyond music. Here are 10 things you might not know about the legendary outlaw country singer, who turns 85 years old today.

1. HE WROTE HIS FIRST SONG AT THE AGE OF SEVEN.

While other kids were still struggling to keep inside the lines of their coloring books, Nelson was composing music. He recalled the experience of his songwriting debut to Rolling Stone in 2004: “Back when we used to take music lessons from our grandmother, we'd go through lessons, and if we'd get the lesson right that day she'd take a gold star—a little star, about the size of your finger, with glue on one side—and she'd stick it on the sheet of music, which meant you'd done well. So I wrote this song with the line ‘They took a gold star away from me when you left me for another, long ago.’ I'd never been left by anybody, so it was kind of funny.”

2. HE USED TO BE A BIBLE SALESMAN.

Before he became a full-time musician in the mid-1950s, Nelson worked as a cotton picker (a gig he began as a child, working alongside his grandmother), disc jockey, and a Bible salesman.

3. HE RAN INTO A BURNING HOUSE (TO SAVE HIS POT).

While living in Nashville, Nelson arrived home one evening to discover that his house was burning to the ground. “By the time I got there, it was burning real good,” he told People in 1980. “But I had this pound of Colombian grass inside. I wasn't being brave running in there to get my dope—I was trying to keep the firemen from finding it and turning me over to the police.” One-hundred tapes of yet-to-be-recorded songs weren't as lucky as Nelson's stash; they were lost in the fire.

4. HE RETIRED IN 1972.

In 1972, Nelson paid $14,000 to buy out his contract so that he could retire to Austin, Texas. But his withdrawal from the music business didn’t last long. Especially considering how vibrant the music scene was happening all around him in Austin. Within a year, he was back on the charts with the album Shotgun Willie. By the mid-1970s he scored some of his biggest hits with a trio of albums: Red Headed Stranger, The Sound in Your Mind, and The Troublemaker.

5. HE HAS BEEN PLAYING THE SAME GUITAR FOR NEARLY 50 YEARS.

Nelson has been playing Trigger, his beloved guitar (which he named after Roy Rogers’ horse), since 1969. “I’ve got to take good care of Trigger,” Nelson told Uncut Magazine in 2014. “He’s had a couple of problems. We’ve had to go in and do some work on the inside, build up the woodwork in there a little bit over the years. But Trigger’s holding up pretty good.”

6. HE RECORDED THE IRS TAPES TO PAY OFF HIS TAX DEBT.

In 1990, the IRS raided Nelson’s house and seized his assets (everything except Trigger) for non-payment of taxes. The $32 million bill, one of the largest in IRS history, was eventually negotiated down and settled in a creative way: Nelson would record a new album with the IRS receiving at least 15 cents of every dollar made. The result was the limited-edition The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories, which sold for $19.95 on cassette or CD and was purchased by dialing 1-800-IRS-TAPE.

7. HE WROTE “ON THE ROAD AGAIN” ON A BARF BAG.

Nelson’s 1980 hit, “On The Road Again,” was written aboard an airplane—on a barf bag. “I was on an aeroplane with Sydney Pollack and Jerry Schatzberg, who was the director of the movie Honeysuckle Rose,” Nelson told Uncut in 2014. “They were looking for songs for the movie and they started asking me if I had any ideas. I said, ‘I don’t know, what do you want the song to say?’ I think Sydney said, ‘Can it be something about being on the road?’ It just started to click in my head. I said, ‘You mean like, ‘On the road again, I can’t wait to get on the road again?’ They said, ‘That’s great. What’s the melody?’ I said, ‘I don’t know yet.’”

8. HE PERFORMED "UP AGAINST THE WALL, REDNECK MOTHER” WITH ROSALYNN CARTER.

Former President Jimmy Carter has never made a secret of his admiration of Willie Nelson. And the two have shared a long friendship. On September 13, 1980, Nelson performed for Carter and guests at the White House—which included a duet of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” with then-First Lady Rosalynn Carter. (On various occasions, Nelson has recounted how he later made his way onto the roof of the White House and smoked a joint.) In 2012, the former President got his own chance to share the stage with the legendary musician when the two performed “Amazing Grace” together in Atlanta.

9. HE OWNS A BIODIESEL FIRM.

Nelson is much more than a musician—he’s a noted activist and entrepreneur, too. In 2004 he launched his own biodiesel firm, BioWillie Biodiesel.

10. HE’S A POT-REPRENEUR.

Nelson has hardly made a secret of regular marijuana use, or his support for its legalization. (His rap sheet of pot-related arrests certainly backs up those claims.) As more and more states are legalizing the once-outlawed weed, Nelson has put his expertise on the topic to good use, and launched his very own brand of pot: Willie’s Reserve.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios