Did a British Soldier Accidentally Spare Hitler’s Life in 1918?

Getty
Getty

What would the world have been like if Adolf Hitler had never seen a rise to power? We may have come really close to finding out in September 1918, at least according to the dictator.

If you believe Hitler's story, it was on September 28 that, as a young Lance Corporal (top row, second from the right in the picture above), he found himself in the path of Private Henry Tandey, who would go on to become the most decorated British soldier of the war. Hitler was injured and unable to fight, and it was because of that, he said, that Tandey spared him.

"That man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again," the dictator allegedly said. "Providence saved me from such devilish accurate fire as those English boys were aiming at us.”

Richard Harvey, Wikimedia Commons // Fair Use

Hitler claimed to have discovered the identity of the man who saved him when he spotted Tandey depicted in a famous painting by Italian artist Fortunino Matania. But experts are doubtful that this encounter ever occurred, in part because there are records showing that his military unit was 50 miles south of Tandey's on September 28. Additionally, Hitler had been on military leave for the two days prior—September 28 would have been his first day back.

Dr. David Johnson, who wrote a biography of Pvt. Henry Tandey, believes the dictator invented the story to further perpetuate his own mythos: "With his god-like self-perception, the story added to his own myth—that he had been spared for something greater, that he was somehow 'chosen.'"

For his part, Tandey usually chose his words carefully when he discussed the event. Though he acknowledged that he had spared enemy lives on that date, he didn’t remember Hitler at all (though he would have looked much different). But after his hometown of Coventry, England, was bombed in 1940, Tandey was quoted as saying, “If only I had known what he would turn out to be. When I saw all of the women and children he had killed and wounded, I was sorry to God I let him go.”

If he had been killed, though, would it have made a difference? Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer, thought it would have. Before he was hanged at Nuremburg for his crimes, Frank said, “The Führer was a man who was possible in Germany only at that very moment. Had he come, let us say, 10 years later, when the republic was firmly established, it would have been impossible for him. And if he had come 10 years previously, or at any time when there was still the monarchy, he would have gotten nowhere. He came at exactly this terrible transitory period when the monarchy had gone and the republic was not yet secure.”

Historian Henry Ashby Turner Jr., author of Thirty Days to Power, speculates that without Hitler, Germany would have fallen under a military government. That government would have likely turned its attention to domination of the Polish Corridor. This would have resulted in a conflict between Germany and Poland, but not the entire world—and World War II would have been avoided entirely.

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The Time Baby Ruth Sued Babe Ruth

Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1920, the Curtiss Candy Company introduced the Baby Ruth candy bar, causing a certain baseball player with a very similar name to take notice. Babe Ruth was having a monstrous year—his 54 home runs in the 1920 season were more than any other team in the American League. If you were going to misappropriate someone’s name for a candy bar, Ruth’s was a logical choice.

Sensing opportunity, the Great Bambino struck back by creating his own Babe Ruth Home Run Bar. Curtiss quickly sued Ruth’s company for trademark infringement. But what happened next was surprising: When the Sultan of Swat accused the company of using his name, Curtiss feigned shock. Its bar was named after “Baby” Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland.

For years, this has been the oft-repeated explanation, but the argument makes no sense. Cleveland had been out of office for more than two decades and dead for 12 years when the bar debuted. “Baby” Ruth herself had died of diphtheria in 1904, at just 12 years old. Although the country’s most famous baseball star would seem much more likely to have a namesake candy than a former president's departed child, the courts sided with Curtiss.

When Ruth learned of the verdict, he bellowed, “Well, I ain’t eatin’ your damned candy bar anymore!” Somehow, the Baby Ruth bar survived without his support.

What Is the Wilhelm Scream?

iStock
iStock

What do Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Toy Story, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Anchorman, 22 Jump Street, and more than 200 other films and TV shows have in common? Not much besides the one and only Wilhelm Scream.

The Wilhelm Scream is the holy grail of movie geek sound effects—a throwaway sound bite with inauspicious beginnings that was turned into the best movie in-joke ever when it was revived in the 1970s.

Just what is it? Chances are you’ve heard it before but never really noticed it. The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in both the biggest blockbusters and the lowest low-budget movies and television shows for over 60 years, and is usually heard when someone onscreen is shot or falls from a great height.

First used in the 1951 Gary Cooper western Distant Drums, the distinctive yelp began in a scene in which a group of soldiers wade through a swamp, and one of them lets out a piercing scream as an alligator drags him underwater.

As is the case with many movie sound effects, the scream was recorded later in a sound booth with the simple direction to make it sound like “a man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.” Six screams were performed in one take, and the fifth scream on the recording became the iconic Wilhelm (the others were used for additional screams in other parts of the movie).

Following its debut in 1951, the effect became a regular part of the Warner Bros. sound library and was continually used by the studio’s filmmakers in their movies. Eventually, in the early 1970s, a group of budding sound designers at USC’s film school—including future Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt—recognized that the unique scream kept popping up in numerous films they were watching. They nicknamed it the “Wilhelm Scream” after a character in the first movie they all recognized it from, a 1963 western called The Charge at Feather River, in which a character named Private Wilhelm lets out the pained scream after being shot in the leg by an arrow.

As a joke, the students began slipping the effect into the student films they were working on at the time. After he graduated, Burtt was tapped by fellow USC alum George Lucas to do the sound design on a little film he was making called Star Wars. As a nod to his friends, Burtt put the original sound effect from the Warner Bros. library into the movie, most noticeably when a Stormtrooper is shot by Luke Skywalker and falls into a chasm on the Death Star. Burtt would go on to use the Wilhelm Scream in various scenes in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie, causing fans and filmmakers to take notice.

Directors like Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, as well as countless other sound designers, sought out the sound and put it in their movies as a humorous nod to Burtt. They wanted to be in on the joke too, and the Wilhelm Scream began showing up everywhere, making it an unofficial badge of honor. It's become bigger than just a sound effect, and the name “Wilhelm Scream” has been used for everything from a band name, to a beer, to a song title, and more.

But whose voice does the scream itself belong to? Burtt himself did copious amounts of research, as the identity of the screamer was unknown for decades. He eventually found a Warner Bros. call sheet from Distant Drums that listed actors who were scheduled to record additional dialogue after the film was completed. One of the names, and the most likely candidate as the Wilhelm screamer, was an actor and musician named Sheb Wooley, who appeared in classics like High Noon, Giant, and the TV show Rawhide. You may also know him as the musician who sang the popular 1958 novelty song “Purple People Eater.”

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