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9 Wonderful Acts of Kindness

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Even when the news all seems to negative, it's nice to remind ourselves from time to time that there are plenty of people doing good in the world. For World Kindness Day, here are a few acts—some big, some small—that all make more than just the recipient feel the love.

1. THE SECURITY GUARD WHO MAKES KIDS FEEL EXTRA SPECIAL.

When he retired after 35 years in the German navy, Freddie Wieczorek started to go a bit stir crazy. He and his wife had moved to Florida, so he decided to get a part-time job at Walt Disney World as a security guard. But he went above and beyond making sure guests' days are safe and enjoyable: When he isn’t too busy, he asks costumed children for their autographs.

While it seems like such a small gesture, it makes the days of all the tiny princesses and pirates, many of whom think he has mistaken them for the "real" characters. "Every time I see a princess leaving from that signature or when I just tell them, 'You look so pretty,' I see them skipping. Then I know I just made their day," Wieczorek told Today in 2012. "And the pirates, the same thing. When they 'Awwwr,' it’s very special."

2. THE MAN WHO GAVE UP HIS DREAM OF WALKING TO HELP A CHILD.

Following a biking accident, Welshman Dan Black was paralyzed from the chest down at age 22. He spent four years raising £22,000 in the hopes that a future stem-cell treatment might help him walk again one day. But then his mom showed him a newspaper article on a 5-year-old boy who lived nearby with cerebral palsy whose family was trying to raise £60,000 for an operation that would let him walk unaided for the first time. Despite having what his mother called a "horrendous" quality of life, Black decided the boy, Brecon Vaughan, needed the money more than him and donated every penny. That, plus the news his generosity generated, helped them reach the goal within days. Brecon soon underwent the surgery, and within a year had ditched his walker. Within two years he was walking to school on his own and running along with his classmates.

3. THE TOWN THAT RALLIED WHEN NO ONE CAME TO A CHILD'S BIRTHDAY PARTY.

Last year, kindergartener Glenn Buratti invited all 16 of his classmates to his birthday party, and not a single one showed up. According to his mother, when Glenn realized no one was coming, he was devastated and tried to hide his tears. So like many upset moms do in that situation, Ashlee Buratti took to a community-based Facebook page. Within an hour, her son had a birthday party, all thanks to strangers.

Half a dozen families stopped by, some with presents. The sheriff’s department sent a helicopter to do a flyby. Later in the week they sent over the full arsenal: police cars, fire trucks, a SWAT van, and a canine unit. His mother said that despite having autism and some social anxiety, Glenn’s smile just kept getting bigger and bigger.

4. THE GREEK CAFE THAT HOUSES STRAY DOGS AT NIGHT.

The Hott Spott café on the island of Lesbos might be a cool hangout for humans until 3 a.m. each night, but after that it is a warm place for stray dogs to sleep. Ever since Greece was hit by their debt crisis, people have been abandoning dogs they can no longer afford. It has gotten so bad that animal charities estimated there were more than a million stray dogs in the country. Last winter, an assistant sociology professor took a photo of some dogs curled up on the café’s benches that went viral, and said that since the refugee crisis, it seemed like people had been trying to find ways to help the less fortunate, including cold puppies who might otherwise freeze on the streets.

5. THE TEENAGER WHO USED EXTREME COUPONING TO DONATE TO A HOMELESS SHELTER.

Sixteen-year-old Jordon Cox decided to try and get a huge Christmas meal for as little as possible. But not for his family: He donated it all to a homeless shelter. In the end, he managed to get £572.16 worth of food from a British supermarket … for only four pence.

Part of this was down to writing food manufacturers directly and telling them about his mission; many of them sent him vouchers. But the other part was possible thanks to his spending half an hour each day searching online and through mailers for great deals—i.e. "extreme couponing." While normally he does it to save money on his and his mom’s weekly shop, at the holidays he wanted to help those less fortunate.

6. THE STRANGERS WHO RAISED THOUSANDS FOR A MAN WHO COMMUTED 21 MILES EACH DAY—ON FOOT.

James Robertson’s Detroit neighborhood didn’t have bus services all the way to his factory job, so he found himself walking eight miles there and 13 miles home, five days a week. Some nights he would only get two hours of sleep. But when the 56-year-old's story was highlighted in the city newspaper, donations started pouring in.

Three GoFundMe campaigns raised a total of $33,000 within hours. A car dealership offered him the choice between two newer vehicles, and other people offered bikes, bus tickets, and even to drive him to work themselves. Needless to say, Robertson was completely overwhelmed by the generosity. But he still urged Detroit to consider a 24/7 bus service, because he knows he’s not the only person in that position.

7. THE WOMAN WHO TURNED HER HOME INTO A HOSPICE FOR TERMINALLY ILL CATS.

Peruvian nurse Maria Torero, not content with helping the sick at her day job, turned her eight-room home into a hospice for cats with leukemia. And not just two or three cats—for years, she has regularly had up to 175 at a time. She has stray cats tested, and will only bring home the adult ones who already have leukemia, since the disease can be spread to healthy cats. Her house is covered in food bowls and litter trays, as well as beds so they can be comfortable. Torero spends roughly $1500 a month (from donations and out of her own pocket) on food and medicine for her feline patients, and she even knits them sweaters. But she says that the best gift she can give them is love and respect during their lives.

8. THOUSANDS TURN OUT TO FULFILL CHRISTMAS WISH OF A GIRL WITH CANCER.

In 2013, 8-year-old Delaney Brown was diagnosed with leukemia in May, and by December, doctors were only giving her days to live. While she had already received donations to pay for medical expenses and a video chat with Taylor Swift, she knew what she really wanted as one last Christmas wish: to hear live carolers outside her house. So her parents posted it to social media. Instead of just a few people, an estimated 6000 to 8000 turned up, allowing Delaney to hear them sing "Frosty the Snowman" and "Jingle Bells" even though she was too sick to come to the window. She posted a picture on Facebook saying, "I can hear you now!!! Love you!"

Delaney died just a few days later, on Christmas morning.

9. THE UGANDAN WOMEN WHO DONATED TO KATRINA VICTIMS.

Despite only earning $1.20 a day, a group of women in Uganda got together and donated $900 to the relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. Because the group had selflessly donated to the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia the year before, local nurse Rose Busingye didn’t want to ask them for money again, instead just asking that they pray for those affected. But to her surprise, 200 women donated money not just from their day jobs breaking rocks into gravel, but from selling things like bananas, necklaces, and chairs. The money all went to a Catholic aid organization in the United States.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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15 Surprising Facts About Scarface
Universal Home Video
Universal Home Video

Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


Universal Home Video

Producer Bregman offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay, but Stone—who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand—wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


Universal Home Video

De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
Universal Home Video

In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

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