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9 Hardened Facts About Charles Bronson

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At the height of a long career, Charles Bronson (1921-2003) embodied the palpable grit and realism that characterized the film industry in the 1970s. Bronson’s unconventional looks and stoic demeanor made him a perfect foil for street crooks in the Death Wish series and as a stern American export in foreign film territories, where Bronson’s popularity soared. Take a look at some facts about the man to ponder the next time he’s glaring at you from your television screen.

1. HE STARTED SMOKING AT AGE 9.

Born Charles Buchinsky in 1921, Bronson was an addition to a large family: He was number 11 out of 15 kids. The brood struggled to make ends meet, with poverty so pervasive that Bronson sometimes had to wear his sister’s dresses to school, had his head shaved to stave off lice, and felt obligated to begin working in the nearby coal mines at the age of 10. That early stress might be why Bronson took up smoking at 9 years old. (He had, he said, been fond of chewing tobacco before then.)

2. HE EARNED HIS FIRST ACTING ROLE BY BURPING.

Bronson had always been interested in the arts. After serving in the Army during World War II, he found himself in Atlantic City doing odd jobs. One acting troupe invited him to paint scenery for them; Bronson found he enjoyed performing more. His first film role, in 1951’s You’re in the Navy Now, was landed, he said, because he was the only actor who could burp on demand.

3. COMMUNISM (AND STEVE MCQUEEN) FORCED A NAME CHANGE.

When Bronson (né Buchinsky) was starting out, Senator Joseph McCarthy was preoccupied with rooting out Communists in Hollywood. Fearing his Lithuanian name would provide ammunition for accusations, he took on the name Bronson after driving with friend Steve McQueen, who pointed to a “Bronson” street sign and shouted to him that it would be perfect.

4. HE WAS ROOMMATES WITH JACK KLUGMAN.

Before Jack Klugman became famous for being the disheveled Oscar in the television adaptation of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, he was playing opposite a prototype Felix in real life: Bronson. The two shared an apartment in New York in the late 1940s. Klugman once recalled that Bronson was neat and a “damn good ironer.”

5. HE WASN’T THE FIRST CHOICE FOR DEATH WISH.

After studios began circling an adaptation of author Brian Garfield’s novel Death Wish in 1972, director Michael Winner started his search for the actor who could convincingly portray Paul Kersey, a pacifist-turned-vigilante who begins gunning down criminals after a violent assault against his wife. Henry Fonda was approached but found the subject matter “repulsive.” When Winner solicited Bronson, the actor told him, “I’d like to do it.”

“The movie?” Winner said.

“No, shoot muggers,” Bronson answered.

Released in 1974, Death Wish was a smash hit, grossing an impressive $22 million. At one New York theater, it took in over $70,000 in a single week, outperforming The Godfather at the same venue.

6. HE WAS AFRAID OF FIRE. AND GERMS.

While shooting Death Wish in New York in early 1974, Bronson insisted that he and his family be put up in a suite on the second floor. He refused to be booked in a room any higher up, fearing he wouldn’t be able to get out in case of a fire. Bronson also avoided fans that swarmed his car during shooting, declining autograph requests or any hand-shaking for fear he’d be exposed to germs.

7. HE WASN’T A BIG TALKER.

Bronson’s monosyllabic screen presence wasn’t much of a stretch. As journalists found out, the actor preferred to say as little as possible. When Roger Ebert was dispatched to interview Bronson in 1974, he found a man who would rather be anywhere else. “I don't ever talk … about the philosophy of a picture,” he said. “It has never come up. And I wouldn't talk about it to you. I don't expound. I don't like to overtalk a thing … Because I'm entertained more by my own thoughts than by the thoughts of others."

8. HE WAS HUGE IN ITALY.

While Bronson was a bona fide movie star in the States for a portion of his career, he was a megastar in other countries. Italian moviegoers called him “Il Brutto” (The Ugly One) and in France he was one of cinema's “monstres sacrés” His movies would often earn more in other territories than they would in North America. In Japan, a publicist once said, his name appeared on a sign over a block long.

9. LANCE HENRIKSEN PLAYED HIM IN A TV MOVIE.

After Bronson’s wife, actress Jill Ireland, died in 1990, a film based on her memoirs was produced. Reason for Living: The Jill Ireland Story starred Jill Clayburgh as Ireland and Lance Henriksen (Aliens) as Bronson. The NBC project upset the actor, who threatened legal action to prevent it from being made. “While Henriksen doesn’t resemble Bronson at all,” wrote Entertainment Weekly, “he nonetheless summons up Bronson’s tough-guy inscrutability.”

Additional Sources:
Bronson’s Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films, by Paul Talbot
Bronson’s Loose Again: On the Set With Charles Bronson
, by Paul Talbot

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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