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6 Incredible True Stories That Should Be Made Into Movies

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If you grew up in the United States, you probably learned American history. Heck, even if you didn’t grow up in the U.S., you probably learned American history. Colonialism, revolutions, wars, slavery, civil rights, women’s rights, scientific innovation, etc.—a lot of stuff happened that we know about. And while we keep making movies about WWII and musicals about the American Revolution, there are a ton of stories in American history that are ripe for adaptation. Here we humbly suggest six stories that depict people and places in the past that we would want to see on the big screen.

1. THE GI WHO BECAME A TRANSGENDER CELEBRITY

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While we all know of Caitlyn Jenner, Christine Jorgensen was actually the first American trans woman who was widely known for having sex reassignment surgery. After a brief stint in the Army in 1945, she learned about and obtained special permission to get the surgery in Denmark in 1951. Her return to the U.S. in the early 1950s was her last stop when it came to her surgeries, which led to a public story about her in the New York Daily News: “Ex-G.I. Becomes Blonde Bombshell.” She wrote about her life and became a prominent trans figure, going on the radio, talk shows, and touring college campuses to talk about her life as a trans woman. She was an actress and nightclub singer, known for her wit. Just months before her death in 1989, Jorgensen said that she had given the sexual revolution a "good swift kick in the pants.”

There’s already been an indie movie made about Jorgensen (and Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda blatantly tried to exploit Jorgensen's story), but we’d love a fun reboot where we got to spend more time on her winning personality.

2. THE WAR HERO-TURNED-PRESIDENT WHO WON THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE

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Theodore Roosevelt was undoubtedly one of our most badass presidents. He was a sickly kid with asthma, but he worked toward becoming a naturalist, historian, and politician. He was also a war hero and a big proponent of war. Despite this, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work regarding the Portsmouth Treaty, where he invited delegations from Japan and Russia to solve the Russo-Japanese war through diplomacy. Similar to the movie Lincoln, why not do a long, extended look at the Portsmouth Peace Conference?

Not to say that this was Roosevelt’s only accomplishment. After his presidency, he also traveled Africa doing research for the Smithsonian, killing or capturing over 10,000 animals to send back alongside his writings. He also traveled the Amazon basin and, while campaigning for the 1912 presidency, survived an assassination attempt. (He kept giving his speech even when he was shot, and the bullet stayed in his chest for the rest of his life.)

3. AN AUSTRIAN PHYSICIST IN CALIFORNIA

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We could all benefit from an outsider’s perspective, and there are few people wittier than Ludwig Boltzmann to give us that. An Austrian physicist’s travelogue of his time at the University of California in Berkeley in 1905 might seem random, but it’s always the smaller stories that are the most fun to adapt and watch. History can seem so distant and vast, but the details Boltzmann provides—of the people he met, the food he ate, and the beautiful imagery he saw—would provide a sumptuous and engrossing slice-of-life history. Plus, he’s a physicist, widely known to be the most charismatic of the scientists. (Just look at Albert Einstein, Neil deGrasse Tyson, or Richard Feynman.)

Boltzmann’s life certainly wasn’t a completely happy one (he committed suicide the next year and some historians believe he might’ve been bipolar), but he was a smart, complex person with the kind of witty observations that can make the past come to life.

4. THE FIRST NON-NATIVE AMERICAN NEW YORKER

Unfortunately, the beginning stages of America are a bit hazy in our U.S. history education. Oh sure, we know all about the Revolution, but what about before that? Many kids' educations are focused primarily on how the Native Americans in their respective state lived, then abruptly switched to the various colonies that struggled (like Roanoke and Jamestown) until one finally stuck.

But Juan Rodriguez’s story is different. Having come to America from what is now the Dominican Republic to what is now Manhattan on a Dutch ship in 1613, when the rest of the crew began preparing to return to Europe, Rodriguez decided to stay, becoming the first non-Native American to live independently in Manhattan for a prolonged period of time. (He was also the first Latino and the first man “with African blood” to arrive in Manhattan.) What was his life like? Why did he decide to stay? What did he think of this new country? A movie could explore all that and more.

5. THE INVISIBLE MEN AND WOMEN BEHIND THE REVOLUTION

By Anthony22, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of the Revolution: If you don’t know that story, we recommend listening to the Hamilton soundtrack. Hamilton is revolutionary in how it casts people of color as the Founding Fathers, turning the stories of revolution and change into modern, fresh ideas. But what about the actual people of color involved in the Revolution? The slaves, yes, but also the free black men and women, the immigrants (Rodriguez may have been the first Latino, but the second wouldn’t have been far behind), and the women who so often get pushed aside during the Revolution. Let’s hear about Sybil Ludington, who took a midnight ride like Paul Revere’s—except that she was 16 years old at the time, and rode twice as far.

What about the slave/spy James Armistead Lafayette, who took his friend’s name after the marquis petitioned to have him freed? What about Governor and General Bernardo de Gálvez, who organized a militia of Native Americans, freed African Americans, and his own Spanish soldiers to fight off the British? A movie that focused on these people with only glancing cameos of the Founding Fathers could be a thrilling change-up to the usual historical rendition of the Revolution.

6. THE GREAT FLU EPIDEMIC OF 1918

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You’d think with all these plague movies and TV shows, the 1918 Spanish Flu (so called because the first papers to write about it were in Spain, as censors had quieted other European papers) would be up for a movie adaptation. But nothing seems to be forthcoming, which is a shame, because when it comes to real-life terrifying epidemics, the 1918 Flu is horrifying. It was so terrible it dwarfed the last year of the war, and caused a lot more deaths—up to 40 percent of the world’s population contracted the flu. Maybe it’s because, even though scientists have dug up the Alaskan graves of some of the dead and sequenced the virus’ RNA, they still don’t know what caused it. Forget an epidemic tale, this is a full-on horror story. (Especially when you hear about what happened to someone when they got the flu, which we hesitate to detail here). Worst of all: It was a horror story that everyone in the world was experiencing.

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A Brief History of Black Friday
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The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year. But where did this tradition start and just how big is it? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about Black Friday. Hopefully they'll give you some good talking points tomorrow, when you line up outside Best Buy at 4 a.m.

HOW DID BLACK FRIDAY BECOME SUCH A BIG SHOPPING DAY?

It's hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail free-for-all, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially commenced.

In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn't start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.

SO RETAILERS WERE ALWAYS HOPING FOR AN EARLY THANKSGIVING?

You bet. They weren't just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn't begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.

BRILLIANT! HOW DID THAT WORK OUT?

Not so well. Roosevelt didn't make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its "real" date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as "Franksgiving." State governments didn't know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.

WHY CALL IT BLACK FRIDAY?

If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they'll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day's huge receipts as their opportunity to "get in the black" and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term "Black Friday" are a bit less rosy, though.

According to researchers, the name "Black Friday" dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that's played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city's streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as "Black Friday" to reflect how irritating it was.

SO WHERE DID THE WHOLE "GET IN THE BLACK" STORY ORIGINATE?

Apparently store owners didn't love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.

DO RETAILERS REALLY NEED BLACK FRIDAY TO TURN AN ANNUAL PROFIT?

Major retailers don't; they're generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn't be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.

IS BLACK FRIDAY REALLY THE BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR?

It's certainly the day of the year in which you're most likely to be punched while reaching for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to Snopes.com, Black Friday is generally one of the top days of the year for stores, but it's the days immediately before Christmas—when procrastinators finally get shopping—that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.

Snopes's data shows the 10-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year's busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.

DO PEOPLE REALLY GET INJURED ON BLACK FRIDAY?

Sadly, yes. One of the most tragic Black Friday incidents happened in 2008, when 34-year-old seasonal employee Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of hundreds of people from the approximately 2000 people waiting outside knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.

In 2010 in Buffalo, New York, several shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz—who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground—told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don't want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.

In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fistfights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores.

In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1000. The New York Times reported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”

HOW CAN THIS KIND OF THING BE AVOIDED?

In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created a special checklist for retailers expecting large crowds.

So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, if charging shoppers come running, stay out of the way.

Haley Sweetland Edwards contributed to this story, portions of which originally appeared in 2009.

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A Speedy History of the Hess Truck
Hess Corporation
Hess Corporation

Unless you know someone crazy about air fresheners or caffeine pills, holiday gifts purchased at gas stations don’t usually provoke much excitement. But if you were one of the millions who grew up in the northeast, the annual release of the Hess toy truck at Hess gas stations—usually green, always labeled with a Hess logo, always boxed with batteries—was and is as much a part of the holiday as Santa Claus and his sleigh.

The idea for an affordable, quality children’s toy sold at service stations at thousands of Hess locations in 16 states was courtesy of Leon Hess, the college dropout-turned-fuel magnate who began selling oil door-to-door in 1933 and graduated to gas stops by 1960. Hess decided he would trump the cheap merchandise given away by gas stations—mugs, glassware—by commissioning a durable, feature-heavy toy truck modeled after the first oil tanker he ever bought for his company. Unlike most toys of the era, it would have headlights that really worked and a tank that kids could either fill up or drain with water.

Most importantly, Hess insisted it come with batteries—he knew the frustration suffered by kids who tore into a holiday present, only to discover they’d have to wait until it had a power source before it could be operated.

The Hess Tanker Truck went on sale in 1964 for $1.29 and sold out almost instantly. Hess released the toy again in 1965, and then introduced the Voyager Tanker Ship in 1966. For the next 50 years, hardly a year went by without Hess issuing a new vehicle that stood up to heavy play and offered quality and features comparable to the “real” toys on store shelves. Incredibly, fathers would wait in line for hours for an opportunity to buy one for their child.

The toy truck became so important to the Hess brand and developed such a strong following that when the company was bought out in 2014 and locations converted to the Speedway umbrella, new owners Marathon Petroleum promised they would keep making the Hess trucks. They’re now sold online, with the newest—the Dump Truck and Loader, complete with working hydraulics and STEM lesson plans—retailing for $33.99. Bigger, better toy trucks may be out there, but a half-century of tradition is hard to replicate.

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