Joshua Moore // Getty Images
Joshua Moore // Getty Images

10 Famous Birthdays to Celebrate in December

Joshua Moore // Getty Images
Joshua Moore // Getty Images

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

1. WALT DISNEY: DECEMBER 5, 1901

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Walter Elias Disney was a sketch artist from an early age, and his cartoons from the 1920s were so successful that he eventually opened his own studio, where Mickey Mouse was born. Always looking for bigger and better things, Disney produced the first full-length animated feature in 1937 (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), was an early adopter of television, and opened Disneyland in 1955. But to build an empire, you have to exert some serious control—even over unlikely things. Case in point: For 43 years, employees at Disney theme parks were forbidden from growing facial hair. That all changed in 2000 (four years after Disney's death) when the company decided to let male employees sport mustaches, a logical choice since Disney himself wore one throughout his life. There is a catch though: Employees must already have one when they get hired or grow it out on vacation. The trash 'stache look is not allowed. 

2. SAMMY DAVIS JR.: DECEMBER 8, 1925

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Sammy Davis, Jr. was destined for show business. Born to two vaudevillians, he began performing on stage at age four, and you can watch his film debut at the age of seven in the short Rufus Jones For President (1933). Davis's career included vaudeville, standup comedy, singing, dancing, Broadway musicals, movies, and TV. He was a member of the infamous Rat Pack, along with Frank Sinatra, whose birthday is also this month. He was also particularly known for his celebrity impressions, which you can see here, including an impressive Michael Jackson mimic.

3. EMILY DICKINSON: DECEMBER 10, 1830

Renowned poet Emily Dickinson spent most of her life at home in Amherst, Massachusetts, surrounded by family. While she's often remembered as a recluse, Dickinson did have a noteworthy social life—even to the point of scandal. We can only speculate how her many rumored paramours may have contributed to the passion in her romantic poems.

4. ADA LOVELACE: DECEMBER 10, 1815

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Augusta Ada King-Noel died at the age of 36, but she managed to make a serious mark on humanity in her short life. As a young woman, Lovelace worked for professor Charles Babbage, who developed a theoretical computer in the 1830s. He assigned young Ada with figuring out how to input data to make the computer, well, compute. A brilliant mathematician, she was up to the task, and developed the world's first computer software, a century before there was an actual computer to use it. Take that, modern coders. 

5. FRANK SINATRA: DECEMBER 12, 1915

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Frank Sinatra might have had an air of ease about him, but began his life the hard way. The forceps used to bring him into the world left a lifelong scar on his left jaw and mangled his ear. And while he was always self-conscious about his looks, it didn't stop him from becoming an icon. "Ol' Blue Eyes" started his singing career with the big bands of the 1930s, effortlessly moved into the role of a teen heartthrob in the '40s, and began appearing in movies, where he proved to be a natural. In the 1950s, Sinatra had his own TV show, and won an Oscar for From Here to Eternity (not to mention his many Grammy Awards). When his record sales flagged, Sinatra became a record company executive, but ultimately made comebacks with his music in both the '60s and the '70s, while constantly adding to his acting credits.   

6. SHIRLEY JACKSON: DECEMBER 14, 1916

In the 1940s, Shirley Jackson was a housewife and mother of four with serious literary chops (and aspirations). One day in 1948, she sat down to write about an idea she'd been mulling over. In just two hours she produced the short story "The Lottery" [PDF], about a small town where every year, residents draw slips of paper, and one unlucky "winner" is stoned to death. Published in The New Yorker, it was an immediate sensation—because readers were horrified. The magazine was flooded with calls and letters, people canceled their subscriptions and others still, believing it was nonfiction, inquired as to how they could witness the ritual in the story. Jackson said nothing, preferring her work to speak on its own. She went on to write several more well-received novels, mostly horror and some humor. "The Lottery" has since become a classic think piece, and required reading in many schools.

7. JANE AUSTEN: DECEMBER 16, 1775

Jane Austen wrote her heart out from an early age, but did not publish her first novel until 1811, when she was 36 years old. Sense and Sensibility sold well, so Austen published Pride and Prejudice in 1813, a novel she completed when she was only 21. Two more novels followed, all published anonymously. It was only after Austen's death at age 41 that her true identity was revealed to the literary world. Two more of her novels were published posthumously.

8. LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: DECEMBER 16, 1770

Joseph Karl Stieler via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

German composer Ludwig van Beethoven was in the right place at the right time to fill the void left by the death of Mozart. Beethoven became a rock star in the royal courts and concert halls of Europe, and had an ego to match his fame. When his hearing began to fail at around age 30, he stopped performing and dedicated his life to composing. Beethoven made his comeback in 1824 when he debuted his Symphony No. 9, which became his most famous work ever.     

9. CLARA BARTON: DECEMBER 25, 1821

Clarissa Harlowe Barton (who preferred to be called Clara) was working as a clerk in Washington D.C. when the Civil War began. She saw a need and went to work supporting Union troops with food, supplies, and medical care. Barton sought permission to bring food and medical supplies to front line clinics, where she was considered an "Angel of the Battlefield." Barton also searched for missing soldiers and worked to identify those in graveyards. She learned about the International Red Cross during a visit to Europe in 1869, and volunteered with the organization during the Franco-Prussian War. Her service impressed Red Cross officials in Europe, and Barton spent the next several years lobbying for the United States to open a chapter—the American Red Cross—which was established in 1881.

10. HENRI MATISSE: DECEMBER 31, 1869

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Henri Matisse was the leading artist of the Fauvist movement, though his art evolved during his more than half a century of work. Best known for his paintings, Matisse was also a sculptor and printmaker, but before all of that, he pursued a more practical career path: law. Matisse earned a legal degree and was working as a clerk in a law office when he came down with appendicitis in 1899. His mother brought him paints to use while he was recuperating, and the rest was history. 

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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.

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10 Crazy Facts About Willie Nelson
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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.

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