Monday, 31 August 2015

Nancy Drew Stories Written by Toledo Reporter

"I sort of liked the character from the beginning.  Now, that kind of woman is common, but [back] then it was a new concept, though not to me.  I just naturally thought that girls could do things boys did." (Mildred Augustine Wirt Bentley)

Her Underwood typewriter sits in the Smithsonian Institution, the one that typed 135 children's stories, including 23 of the first 25 Nancy Drew mysteries.  Her name is Mildred Augustine Wirt Bentley, the real Nancy Drew.

Born in 1905, Mildred attended the University of Iowa, the university's first woman to graduate with a Masters in Journalism.  Mildred liked to do things that other women didn't even think of at the time:  she explored Central American archeological sites in a dugout canoe.  She took flying lessons at the ripe old age of 59.  And she wrote for a newspaper, largely a man's profession at the time.  In the testosterone and smoke filled newsroom of the Toledo Times, she pounded out stories about the courts and city hall (

In 1929, Mildred was approached by a book syndicator with a plot line and character sketch, to create a sleuth.  Under the pen name Carolyn Keene, she created Nancy Drew, a strawberry blonde who drove around in her convertible and solved mysteries.  Nancy Drew was no cheer leader:  she liked to do things more typical of a man. She was not easily scared or deterred, just like her real life counterpart.  Mildred's favourite story was The Hidden Staircase, the second in the series.

Although Mildred carved out the character of Nancy Drew, and wrote a large portion of the series, she was never paid more than $500 per book.  No one will every forget the famous sleuth who solved mysteries.  She passed away from lung cancer in 2002, perhaps the result of all those years in the smoke filled newsroom.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Jaws' Quint Based on Shark Hunter Frank Mundus

"This shark swallow you whole." (Quint, Jaws)

Quint was a shark hunter from New Jersey who owned a boat called The Orca.  He operated a whale oil business as well as a bootleg distillery.  After a renegade shark attacks tourists on the jersey shore, Quint is charged with capturing the great white.  He meets a premature death as he battles the shark.

Quint is loosely based on the Montauk, New York shark hunter, Frank Mundus.  As eccentric as he was ostentatious, Mundus spent started chasing the great white in 1951 and dedicated a lifetime to the quest.  The captain of the Cricket II, named for its Jiminy Cricket like profile, he spent hours haunting the Atlantic shore.  

One night Mundus rescued passengers from The Pelican, an overloaded party boat on which 35 of the 54 souls perished.  He continued to search for the great white; his persistence paid off.  In 1986, 28 miles off the coast of Montauk, he captured a shark weighing 3427 pounds, the largest ever caught by rod and reel.  Mundus took great delight in hanging a replica from the Montauk pier.  

Later in life, the shark hunter became a conservationist.  Mundus was featured in a 2005 documentary called "Shark Hunter:  Chasing the Great White".  He passed away in 2008, still searching for the elusive shark.

Frank Mundus, right, with a great white shark courtesy

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Rainman's Autistic Savant Based on Kim Peek

Car dealer Charlie Babbitt goes home to Cincinnati after his estranged father passes away.  He discovers he has an older brother, Raymond, an autistic savant, who lives in a mental institution to which his father has bequeathed his 3 million dollar fortune.  Motivated by the money, Charlie checks his brother out of the institution and they proceed to cross the country to Los Angeles, a trip which profoundly affects both men.

Raymond is based on a megasavant named Kim Peek, who was born in Salt Lake City.  Kim suffered from a condition called macrocephaly in which the bundle of nerves linking the two hemispheres of the brain is missing.  While he was behind in his physical development -- he didn't walk until he was four years old -- he was ahead in his mental development (

By 16 months of age he was memorizing small books; once read, he would place them on his bookshelf upside down.  At age 14, he had already completed his high school education.  At age 18, he was hired to do the payroll for 160 people, a task he completed without the use of a calculator.  With the invention of computers, his job was phased out ten years later.

Screenwriter Barry Morrow visited Kim Peek in 1984 and interviewed him for a story he had in mind.  Morrow tracked down Dustin Hoffman to play the character of Raymond Babbitt, an autistic savant.  Tom Cruise was chosen to play his car salesman brother, Charlie.  Rainman, which debuted in 1988, was the result.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Doc Brown Based on Physicist Dr. Ronald Mallett

"My whole existence, who I am, is due to the death of my father, and my promise to myself to figure out how to affect time with Einstein's work as a foundation." (

Everyone remembers the wide-eyed, wild-haired scientist Doc Brown from the movie Back to the Future. Michael J. Fox's character, Marty McFly, drives Doc's DeLorean car, a time machine, into the past (1950's) and then has to get "back to the future" (1980's) to warn Doc about the terrorists who would shoot him for his plutonium.  McFly knows that there will be a lightning strike on the clock tower on a specific date and time in 1955, thanks to a poster with the caption "Save the Clock Tower".  He relies on the power from the lightning to start his disabled DeLorean and get back to the future, thereby saving the scientist.

Doc Brown is based on the real physicist Dr. Ronald Mallett, a physicist from Pennsylvania whose father died when he was only 11 years old.  At the time, Mallett started working on a time machine to transport him back into the past to warn his father about the heart attack that would kill him, a tragedy that left Mallett "depressed and heartbroken".  Sadly, his invention did not fly.

However, at 69, Dr. Mallett's not giving up on the time machine.  He is building on Einstein's "Theory of Relativity".  He "describes how a neutron can be moved or dragged because the space it occupies is being twisted by laser light".

Thursday, 27 August 2015

All The King's Men character based on Huey Long

"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again."

Robert Penn's 1946 novel All the King's Men, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, featured a character named Willie Stark.  Stark was based on the real life governor and senator of Louisiana, Huey Long. 

Long was an outspoken populist and early supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  His motto was: "Every man a king, but no man wears a crown."  Long denounced banks and the rich, painting himself as a spokesman for the poor and downtrodden.  As governor of Louisiana, he established a "Share Our Wealth" program, developping public works programs to get the unemployed back to work (

Long became a controversial figure in his attempt to combat the rich.  He suggested a 5 cent a barrel tarrif on oil, a big business in Louisiana.  The reaction of the state capitol was to try to impeach him, an attempt that failed.  

In 1935, Long announced that he would be a candidate for the President of the United States.  At the peak of his popularity, Long's Share Our Wealth programs attracted 7.5 million Americans; his radio broadcasts attracted 25 million listeners; and he received 60,000 letters a week (more than the President).  

But his opponents remained.  In September of that year, he attempted to have an opponent removed form the bench of the Louisiana Court, Judge Pavy.  Pavy's son-in-law interrupted the proceedings, pulled a gun and assassinated the senator.  Long's last words were:  "God don't let me die.  I have so much to do."

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Real-Life Willy Wonka

"You won't know his name, but Brian Sollit was the genius who brought a perfect ending to dinner parties and family gatherings at Christmas." (

Brian Sollit's relationship with Rowntree in York, England dates back to the 1950's.  At the age of 15, he was hired as a chocolatier.  David's work on chocolate recipes so impressed his boss that he was promoted to head of the cream department in 1962.  There, he was asked to develop a recipe for a thin mint.  After Eight's were the result; the chocolate with the peppermint fondant became a favourite of many, including the Queen Mum.  

"[Brian] spent months, sometimes years agonizing over the technical details of his creations."  He also created the Lion's Bar and the Yorkie.  Referred to as a "larger than life" figure, the chocolatier was assigned the task of creating a 3 foot Pudsey Bear for Children in Need.  In 2012, he created a 3 kilogram After Eight to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the popular mint.  Over the past half century, millions of After Eights have been sent to over 50 countries around the world.

Brian Sollit not only loves chocolate but also Christmas, two things that go hand in hand.  "Every surface in my house is covered with Father Christmases" explained the Rowntree chocolatier.  Sadly, he never found a wife; some say he was married to his job.  

In 1964, author Roald Dahl penned the novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  First published in the United Kingdom, the novel sold 10,000 in the first week after it came out in the United States.  Like the After Eight, the novel was a huge success, going on to be read in classrooms all over the continent.  In 1971, the novel was adapted for the big screen starring Gene Wilder.

Brian Sollit referred to After Eight mints as the highlight of his career. Here he presents a giant version to parliament to mark the 50th anniversary in December 2012

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Shop Around the Corner Based on Hungarian Play Parfumerie

Jimmy Stewart plays a character named Alfred who works in a leather goods shop in Budapest, Hungary.  Margaret Sullavan plays Alfred's co-worker Klara who takes an immediate dislike to him.  Each day, between customers, the pair argues over petty things.  At home, Alfred writes letters to a secret admirer; so too, does Klara.

One day Alfred plans to meet his admirer at a cafe.  Klara also plays to meet her beau at a cafe. Alfred says he'll wear a flower pinned to his lapel.  Klara is disappointed that her admirer is not at the cafe.  She spots Alfred and strikes up a conversation.  After several minutes, Alfred uncovers a flower, pinned to his lapel (

The Shop Around the Corner is based on the play Parfumerie, written by Hungarian born playwright Mislo Laszlow.  Born to German Jewish parents as Nicholaus Leitner, he was forced to change his name to Mislo Laszlow to appear Hungarian rather than German, in the country's attempt at "cultural unification".

Mislo grew up in the hustle and bustle of wartime Budapest.  His family was in the entertainment business.  He "rubbed elbows with the Hungarian literati, including Ferenc Molnar, the playwright for Liliom, better known as Carousel.

After many years of high living and poor management, Mislow's father became destitute.  Mislow, who had never wanted for anything, became a surrogate father overnight to his seven siblings.  He tried his hand at candy making, collar sales, a necktie agent and a petrol factory worker.  But his heart remained in the world of entertainment.

In 1934, Mislow wrote his first script for a play called A Legboldogabb Ember, which won a Hungarian Academy Award, the equilavent of the Pulitzer Prize in the United States.  In 1936, he penned the script for Parfumerie, which was performed at the Pest Theatre a year later.

But things were getting rough for Jews in Europe.  The Anschluss was only a year away, uniting Germany and Austria.  Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass, during which Jewish shop windows were shattered and businesses robbed, was fast approaching.  Hitler was bent on occupying neighbouring countries.  Would Hungary be far behind?  Mislow chose to immigrate to the United States in 1938.

Once in America, Mislow struck a deal with Hollywood.  The Shop Around the Corner, starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan premiered on the silver screen on January 12, 1940.  The romantic comedy was remade in 1999 as You've Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Mockingbird's Dill Harris Based on Truman Capote

"Mr. and Mrs. Lee, Harper Lee's mother and father, lived very near.  Harper Lee was my best friend...I'm a character in her book, which takes place in the same small town in Alabama where we lived.  Her father was a lawyer and she and I used to go to trials all the time.  We went to trials instead of going to the movies." (Truman Capote)

When I first read To Kill a Mockingbird to my Grade 10 class in Windsor, the image of Scout and Dill timidly approaching the recluse Bo Radley's house stuck in my head.  The image of Scout and Dill peeking their heads over the courthouse balcony as they watched Scout's dad defend a black man accused of rape lingered in my memory.  

In the 1920's and early 1930's, Harper Lee and Truman Capote were next door neighbours.  They developped a close relationship, spending long afternoons together.  Lee used to sneak into her lawyer father's study and sat at his typewriter as Capote dictated wildly imaginative stories.  Lee and Capote used to attend Mr. Lee's trials, the way other kids would go to the movies.   

Another pastime the friends shared was "the killing of mockingbirds", mentioned in a letter to a friend in 1955, seven years before the publication of the famous book.  The two were what Anne of Green Gables would call "kindred spirits".  Capote moved to New York; Lee later followed.  Both became writers.  Both became recluses later in life.  While Capote was a prolific writer, Lee only published one book in her lifetime (Go Set a Watchman came out posthumously).  Capote is immortalized in Lee's classic novel, a testament to a lasting friendship.

For more information, visit


Sunday, 23 August 2015

Jimmie Foxx Basis for A League of Their Own Character

"He has muscles in his hair." (Lefty Gomez, New York Yankees pitcher)

Jimmie Foxx, who played professional baseball for 20 seasons, was only the second person in history to score 500 home runs, after Babe Ruth.  Foxx was the inspiration for Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own.

Born and raised in Maryland, Foxx was signed by the Athletics in 1925 at the tender age of 17.  Four years later, Foxx had a breakthrough year batting .354 and scoring 33 home runs, meriting him a spot on the cover of Time.  

By 1933, Foxx earned the Triple Crown of Baseball, with a batting average of .356 and 48 home runs.  Lefty Gomez, a New York Yankees pitcher, explained:  "He has muscles in his hair."  It was Gomez who pitched a ball to Foxx which the latter hit into the third deck of Yankee Stadium, a rare feat.

The Great Depression forced the Athletics owner to sell Foxx's contract to the Boston Red Sox.  Foxx played in Boston for six years in which he earned 50 home runs one season, a feat not duplicated until 2006.

Foxx's skills diminished after 1941, possibly the result of drinking.  He finished his career with the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies.  Often referred to as the "left handed Babe Ruth", Foxx ended his career as a pitcher.  He played with such greats as Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg.  

Foxx passed away in 1967 but his jersey hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  He will also be remembered as the character Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, in the 1992 movie A League of Their Own.  

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Edith Head Inspiration for The Incredibles' Edna Mode

"I let my kids use them [Oscar statuettes] as G.I. Joe's." (Edith Head)

The Incredibles' character Edna Mode, sporting thick round glasses and straight black bangs, is based on real life fashion designer Edith Head.  Just as Mode designed costumes for every superhero, Head designed dresses for just about every leading lady in Hollywood.

Edith Head, born and raised in California, received a B.A. in French and an M.A. in Romance Languages.  Her first teaching job was at a La Jolla school, where she offered to teach art as well as French to make more money.  She enrolled at Chouinard Art College to hone her skills, a move which would lead to her brilliant career in fashion design.  

It started with a job at Paramount Studios where Head was selected to design costumes for the silent film The Wanderer in 1925.  Despite no experience, Head seemed well suited for the job and by the 1930's, she was considered one of Hollywood's leading costume designers.  In 1937, she outfitted Dorothy L'Amour in a beautiful sarong in The Hurricane.  In 1944, Head designed a mink lined gown for Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark.  

Head's work on The Emperor Waltz (1937) led to her first Academy Award nomination when a fashion design category was added in 1948.  Each successive year with Paramount brought another nomination for head until 1966.  In total, Head received 35 nominations and brought home 8 gold statuettes.  "I let my kids use them as G.I. Joe's," she once said.  

While Head worked on an astonishing 436 films, here are a few actresses she outfitted:  Bette Davis in All About Eve, Grace Kelly in Rear Window, Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun.  

Head developped a close working relationship with Alfred Hitchcock, partnering with him on several films including Vertigo, Read Window and The Birds.  Hitchcock left for Universal Studios in 1960 and Head followed 7 years later.  

Head penned two fashion design books titled The Dress Doctor (1959) and How to Dress for Success (1967).  While she was known for the beautiful gowns she sketched, she chose to wear simple two piece suits, along with the trademark thick glasses copied by Edna Mode.

One of the highlights of the fashion designer's illustrious career was designing a woman's uniform for the U.S. Coast Guard in the late 1970's.  Edith's last movie, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which premiered after her death in 1982, was dedicated to her.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Lincolnshire Woman Inspiration for 50 First Dates Character

"There are some benefits [to amnesia] however.  There is no such thing as a repeat on TV and every joke is funny..." (


Adam Sandler plays Henry, a veterinarian from Hawaii who avoids commitment until he meets a woman named Lucy.  The two fall in love, but Lucy, who has no short term memory due to a car accident, keeps forgetting who he is. 

Henry, along with Lucy's father and brother, plays a charade whereby they pretend it is always October 13, the last day in her memory bank.  Each day, Lucy is handed the newspaper with that date; she watches the Vikings football game; and she uses a full bottle of shampoo (refilled by her brother).  And each day, she has another "first date" with Henry.

The charade works until Lucy is ticketed by a police officer for having an outdated licence sticker.  Henry and her family have to come clean.  He makes her a video which she plays every morning to remind her about what has transpired in her life since October 13 (

Lucy is based on Michelle Philpots, a Lincolnshire woman who suffered two accidents, one on a motorbike, one in a car.  Just as Lucy relied on the video to fill in the missing years of her memory bank, Michelle relies on hundreds of post-its on her wall, dozens of reminders on her mobile phone and several photographs sitting in frames.  Her husband has shown tremendous patience faced with her memory loss, called Anterograde amnesia.

Michelle explains that her amnesia is not completely negative.  "There are some benefits, however. There is no such thing as a repeat on TV and every joke is funny..."

Michelle Philpots

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Fumio Demura Inspiration for Karate Kid's Mr. Miyagi

He graced the cover of over 50 magazines around the world.  He was world champion at 18 years of age.  He revolutionized the sport of karate.  He inspired the character Mr. Miyagi.

Born and raised in Japan, Fumio Demura quickly acquired a black belt in karate.  He won the world karate championship at 18 and the All Japan Karate Championship in 1961.  In 1965, he was invited to move to the United States to teach karate full time.  It was in Orange County, California that he started training actor Steven Seagal in martial arts.

In the 1980's, he started training actor Pat Morita, the actor who would play the bonsai-trimming Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid.  Demura served as Morita's stunt double in the film, as well as three sequels.  He went on to train many others in martial arts.  The karate master authored a book on the subject called Nunchaku.

Note:  Currently, a documentary is being filmed titled The Real Miyagi:  The Man Behind It All (

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Cruella de Vil Based on Actress Tallulah Bankhead

Cruella de Vil, the villainess in the movie 101 Dalmatians, is known for her expensive car, her fancy clothes, her trademark cigarette holder and her sultry voice.  The same can be said of actress Tallulah Bankhead, on whom Cruella was based.

Bankhead was born into an Alabama family steeped in politics.  Tragedy struck when her mother died of blood poisoning three weeks after her birth.  Her father descended into alcoholism and Tallulah was shuffled off to her grandparents' home.  In an effort to keep Tallulah out of trouble, her grandparents enrolled her in a Catholic convent school a few years later.  But Tallulah would have none of it.

The pretty young girl entered a beauty contest and won first prize.  As a teenager she headed to New York City where she received bit parts, eventually making it to Broadway.  She soon became known as a party girl:  one of her trademark moves was to attend a soiree where she would perform cartwheels wearing a skirt sans underwear.  

Hollywood beckdoned and Tallulah landed her first role in the Tarnished Lady in 1931.  The following year, she was cast in Devil and the Deep, claiming that the main reason she took the role was to bed her handsome co-star, Gary Cooper.  Tallulah was the original choice for Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind.  However, by 1939, the director thought she looked to old to play Scarlett, who starts the film as a 16 year old.

Hitchcock cast her in Lifeboat, possibly her best performance.  For the role, Tallulah received the New York Film Critics Circle award.  When she received her trophy, she responded in her sultry voice:  "Dahlings, I was wonderful."

In London, England, Tallulah was known for driving around town in her Bentley.  A cigarette holder between her lips, she was known to smoke as many as 150 cigarettes a day.  The Hollywood roles started to dry up for the aging film star.  However, NBC hired her as hostess for The Big Show in 1950.  Tallulah also starred as the Black Widow in Batman in the 1960's.

Tallulah passed away in 1968, a lonely divorcee.  She never had children, nor dalmatians.  She is immortalized in the infamous Cruella de Vil.


Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Cesare Pavese Inspiration for La Dolce Vita Writer

Federico Fellini's masterpiece La Dolce Vita, which won a Palme d'Or, was based on the life of Italian writer and poet Cesare Pavese.  In the 1930's and 1940's, he moved in anti-Fascist circles. Pavese's protagonists tended to be loners and their relationships tended to be superficial.  Pavese seemed to lack purpose in his life.  He spiralled into a depression and committed suicide in 1950. Italians took the death of the great author and poet very hard.

Fellini's protagonist in La Dolce Vita is also a writer.  He works as a gossip columnist, chronicling "the sweet life" ("la dolce vita) of fading aristocrats, second rate movie stars and aging playboys.  He attends high class parties and meets bikini clad women while his long suffering fiancee waits at home.  He is a "soulless man" with empty nights and lonely mornings.  His life lacks purpose and meaning.

Fellini catches old Rome on film in scenes at the baths of Caracalla, the Trevi Fountain, the Via Veneto and St. Peter's Square.  The story chronicles the seven deadly sins which take place over seven days on the seven hills of Rome.  One scene shows a statue of Christ being transported above the Roman aqueducts as someone yells:  "Look, it's Jesus!"

The Roman Catholic Church considered the scene to be sacreligious as it seemed like the Second Coming of Christ.  They banned the film in Spain until 1975.  The film, however, was well received at the Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palme d'Or.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Italian Holocaust Survivor Inspired Hit Film Life is Beautiful

"At Auschwitz, I was no longer Rubino Romeo Salmoni, but Jew number A15810, to be exterminated." (,,20509487,00.html)

In 1999, Roberto Benigni jumped on the back of a chair at the Kodak Theatre after he won the Academy award for Best Actor for the movie "Life is Beautiful".  His unrestrained joy was indicative of the real life counterpart of the character that he played, Rubino Romeo Salmoni, a survivor of the Auschwitz.

About 7,500 Italian Jews perished in the Holocaust during the Second World War.  Rubino Romeo Salmoni's two brothers were among them.  "At Auschwitz, I was no longer rubino Romeo Salmoni, but Jew number A15810, to be exterminated," explained the Italian.  However, Salmoni determined that he would not be another statistic in the "long journey toward death". 

While in the Nazi death camp, Salmoni used his imagination to help his family.  He sneaked in food for his son and made a "game" of their internment, saying that the first person who accumulated 1,000 points won the game.  Salmoni explained that if he cried or complained that he was hungry, he lost points.  However, if he remained quiet or hid from the guards, he gained points.  He made "life tolerable behind the barbed wire", something his son realized after their internment (

In the movie, Salmoni is shot dead by a guard shortly before the camp's liberation.  However, in real life, he not only survived, but thrived, going on to see the birth of many children and grandchildren. Salmoni documented his life in his book I Beat Hitler, adapted for the screen by Roberto Benigni.

Life Is Beautiful (1997) Poster

Life is Beautiful movie poster courtesy

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Best Years of Our Lives Inspired by Time Article

"According to the story, Kantor had driven up to a Tennessee mountain retreat to work on the screenplay.  He took his typewriter and a case of bourbon.  He emerged some months later with empty bottles and 'Glory for Me', written in the form of a narrative poem..." (

Time magazine came out with an article on August 7, 1944 called "The Way Home", based on a trainload of Marines on furlough in New York.  Samuel Goldwyn, knowing that the world was in the closing stages of the Second World War, knew that there would be millions of Americans returning home from the battlefront in the next year.  They would have to put on a suit and tie, or a pair of overalls, after years of wearing army fatigues, no easy adjustment.

Goldwyn commissioned journalist MacKinlay Kantor, who had served with the 305th Bomb Group in England, to write a work of prose about American veterans returning from the front and adjusting to civilian life.  "According to the story, Kantor had driven up to a Tennessee mountain retreat to work on the screenplay.  He took his typewriter and a case of bourbon.  He emerged some months later with empty bottles and 'Glory for Me', written in the form of a narrative poem..."

The result was 434 pages of blank verse.  Goldwyn was disappointed; he wanted a screenplay.  He hired Robert Sherwood to reshape the narrative poem for the screen.  "The Best Years of Our Lives", referring to the fact that wartime in many ways was easier than peacetime for these veterans, was the result.  The movie starred Frederic March as an alcoholic army sergeant, Harold Russell as a sailor and Dana Andres as a bombardier.  All three veterans were "thrust into domestic tragedies and uncertainties" once they returned to their hometown, which resembled Cincinnati, Ohio.  

"The Best Years of Our Lives" won seven Oscars, including Best Picture of 1946.  The film grossed over 23 1/2 million dollars at the box office.  The theme obviously struck a chord with the American public.

On the set of "The Best Years of Our Lives" courtesy

Saturday, 15 August 2015

To Sir With Love Character Based on British Guiana Engineer

E. R. Braithwaite, circa 1959, the year the his book To Sir With Love was published courtesy

To Sir With Love is a 1967 movie starring Sidney Poitier, a black teacher who is charged with teaching in a rough London high school during the swinging sixties.  Despite racist attitudes and despite the students' lack of motivation, Poitier's character is determined to stick it out  (,_with_Love).

To Sir With Love is based on the book of the same name, published in 1959,_With_Love_(novel).  The author, E. R. Braithwaite, was a British Guiana Engineer who came to Britain during the Second World War and signed on with the RAF.  At the war's end, he looked for work, but failed to find a job due to the anti-black attitudes of the time period.

A friend recommended that Braithwaite apply to a high school in London's East End, a rough neighbourhood.  The war veteran soon found out that the students were semi-literate and lacked the motivation to learn.  They tried everything in their power to make their new teacher's job difficult. Braithwaite pointed out that they were almost adults, and that they needed to be prepared for the outside world.  He set new ground rules:  he would let them decide the topics of study but in exchange they were to give him the respect that he deserved.  Braithwaite went above and beyond the call of duty, taking them on several field trips to museums, an experience they had never had before.  The students responded in kind; his enthusiasm was infectious.

A young teacher, Gillian Blanchard , accompanied them on their field trips.  Gradually, she and Braithwaite started to fall in love.  However, given that Gillian was white and Braithwaite was black, her parents did not approve of their interracial relationship.  Despite their misgivings, they realized that they must trust their daughter's judgement.

After a decade, Braithwaite decided to change careers.  His students ordered monogrammed cigarettes for their teacher, wrapped them and wrote on the gift, "To Sir With Love".  Not a smoker, Braithwaite kept the cigarettes as a momento of his cherished time at the East End London school.

Friday, 14 August 2015

North by Northwest: The Hitchcock Picture to End All Hitchcock Pictures

"Fifty years on, you could say that Hitchcock's sleek, wry, paranoid thriller caught the zeitgeist perfectly:  Cold War shadiness, secret agents of power, urbane modernism, the ant-like bustle of city life, and a hint of dread behind the sharp suits of affluence.  Cary Grant's Roger Thornhill, the film's sharply dressed ad exec who is sucked into a vortex of mistaken identity, certainly wouldn't be out of place in Mad Men.  But there's nothing dated about this perfect storm of talent, from Hitchcock and Grant to writer Ernest Lehman, co-stars James Mason and Eva Marie Saint, composer Bernard Hermann and even designer Saul Bass, whose opening credits sequence still manages to send a shiver down the spine." (Time Out, London edition)

North by Northwest was not the brainchild of Alfred Hitchcock:  he is merely the man who adapted it to the big screen.  The original idea was created by journalist Otis C. Guernsey who, inspired by a fictitious spy created by the British, whom the Germans followed around during World War II (see "Operation Mincemeat") hatched his own fictitious agent.  The story involved an American salesman who travelled to the Middle East, was mistaken for a secret agent and got caught in a web of intrigue.  

Hitchcock bought the story for $10,000 and, along with writer Ernest Lehman, adapted it for the silver screen.  Lehman vowed that he would make "the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures".  The famous director changed the salesman to a Madison Ave. executive.  He clothed the character in a gray flannel suit, one that the GQ fashion experts would later call "the best film suit in history".

Hitchcock tossed around plot ideas:  how about a murder at the United Nations or a Detroit car plant or a showdown in Alaska?  And how would the villains attack the main character?  He suggested a tornado.

James Stewart was the original choice for the starring role in North by Northwest.  However, in the end Hitchcock picked the dashing and debonair Cary Grant, who cut quite a figure in the gray flannel suit.  

The director settled on a murder scene at the United Nations building in New York City.  The building was relatively new in 1959, opening soon after the Second World War.

Hitchcock chose a crop dusting scene, rather than a tornado, in Indiana.  The shot, with Cary Grant running down a road, rows of corn on either side, has been compared to the painting "Le Paquebot ou L'Estran" by Leon Spillraerts.  The famous scene was rated number one by Empire magazine, among the 1001 Greatest Movie Moments. 

Hitchcock decided on a showdown in South Dakota at Mount Rushmore.  The portly director suggested that the main character would hide in Lincoln's nose, sneeze and be discovered by the villains.  He even suggested calling the movie "The Man in Lincoln's Nose", but in the end he settled on "North by Northwest" perhaps taken from the Hamlet line "I am but mad north-northwest."

While the Hitchcock changed the title of the movie, the effect remained the same:  the audience was mesmerized.  Journalist Nick Clooney called it "Hitchcock's most stylish thriller, if not his best".  

For more information, see

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Sister Mary Benedict Based on Director Leo McCarey's Aunt

"[She was] a very sporty, laughing girl who liked boxing and tennis, who adored children and caring for them, and built for herself a life full of love and faith." (Leo McCarey:  From Marx to McCarthy, Wes D. Gehring)

Sister Benedict, played by Ingrid Bergman in the movie Bells of St. Mary's, was the aunt of director Leo McCarey.  Just as the character in the movie helped acquire a new building for her school, the real Sister Benedict helped build Immaculate Heart Convent in Hollywood.  Just as the character in the movie loved boxing, Sister Benedict was fascinated with the sport; her father, a boxing promoter, likely taught her everything she knew.  Just as the nun in the film had a winning smile, so too did Sister Benedict.

Leo McCarey explained:  "[My aunt] made a great impression on my life [and] she had a wonderful sense of humor.  We were close friends and I learned from her the magic of a smile."  Sadly, just as the character in the film suffered from a disease, tuberculosis, Sister Benedict suffered from typhoid fever.  But before she passed away, Ingrid Bergman was able to get acquainted with her personality and study her mannerisms.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Ian Fleming Patterned James Bond After World War II Agent

"Yeo-Thomas used a range of techniques to escape or evade his enemies, including jumping from a train, strangling a guard, wearing disguises and riding in a hearse.  These methods echo tactics later used by Bond.  And like Bond, Yeo-Thomas always carried a weapon.  In Paris, he once shot an enemy agent and threw him into a river." (

Memo: James Bond author Ian Fleming, who also worked in intelligence during the war, informed colleagues of Yeo-Thomas's escape from the Gestapo in this 1945 document

James Bond author Ian Fleming worked in intelligence during the Second World War.  In the closing days of the conflict, he sent a memo to his colleagues about the escape of Forest Yeo-Thomas, a special agent who had been parachuted into occupied France three times during the war.  Yeo-Thomas, who seemingly had nine lives, would serve as the inspiration for 007.

Forest Yeo-Thomas, born in London, England, moved to Dieppe, France at an early age, where he became fluent in French.  Forest Yeo-Thomas, nicknamed Tommy, served as a wing commander in the Polish Soviet war of 1919-1920, where he earned the Cross of Merit.  

After the Evacuation at Dunkirk early in the Second World War, Yeo-Thomas escaped back to England.  He was hired as an interpreter for DeGualle's Free French Forces.  However, the British Special Operations Executive soon lured him away to work in intelligence.  Yeo-Thomas became a liaison officer with the Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action.  

Yeo-Thomas parachuted into occupied France for the first time in February of 1943, armed with the assignment to obstruct the German occupation.  Donning a disguise, he dined with Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, aboard a train.  

Yeo-Thomas returned to England where he begged five minutes with Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  Granted an audience, the special agent begged for more resources for the French Resistance.  

The fearless liaison officer parachuted again into occupied France in February of 1944 where he was captured at a Paris Metro station.  Recognized as "The White Rabbit", as the Gestapo nicknamed him, he was tortured with physical beatings, electric shock and submersion in ice-cold water for four days.  The latter caused him to pass out and be resuscitated by the guards.

The Gestapo sent Yeo-Thomas to Buchenwald Concentration Camp.  But they couldn't keep a good man down.  He escaped, was recaptured, posed as a French National and was sent to Stalag XX-B.  It was there that Yeo-Thomas donned a disguise, shot an enemy agent, escaped and reached Allied lines in April of 1945.  Commander Ian Fleming, also in British intelligence, learned about the escape and sent out a memo informing his colleagues of Yeo-Thomas' safe return.

Inspired by the daring exploits of the Special Agent, Fleming penned his first James Bond story Casino Royale in 1952.  "Yeo-Thomas used a range of tactics to escape or evade his enemies, including jumping from a train, strangling a guard, wearing disguises and riding in a hearse.  These methods echo tactics later used by Bond."

Yeo-Thomas' exploits did not go unrecognized.  He was honoured with about a dozen awards including:  the George Cross, Legion of Honour and Croix de Guerre.  However, his dangerous career did take its toll:  Yeo-Thomas suffered from recurring nightmares and illness.  He passed away in 1962, three years before Churchill, the leader who led his country through the infamous conflict.

Hero: Wing Commander Forest 'Tommy' Yeo-Thomas, has been identified as the inspiration behind Ian Fleming's character James Bond

For more information about Forest Yeo-Thomas:

1.  Watch Carve Her Name with Pride (movie starring Michael Caine).
2.  Watch The White Rabbit (BBC television mini-series).
3.  Read Churchill's White Rabbit:  The True Story of a Real Life James Bond (Sophie Jackson).

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Draper Daniels Inspires Role of Don Draper on Mad Men

"He was a tall, distinguished looking man in his early 50's, with Copenhagen blue eyes and a riveting presence." (wife of Draper Daniels)

Real life ad exec Draper Daniels is the inspiration for Don Draper on the TV show Mad Men.  When Myra Daniels met her future husband, Draper Daniels, he was working for Compton Advertising in Chicago.  He had been responsible for such iconic ads as the Marlboro Man.  He was energetic, innovative and smoked like a chimney, despite being raised as a Quaker in upstate New York.  

Draper was also a womanizer; that is, until he met Myra.  At the time Myra was the executive of an ad agency and she and Draper met to discuss a possible merger.  They were introduced by Draper's co-worker, Vivian.  Draper bet Vivian two rolls of nickels that within two years, Myra and he would be married.  

That night, Myra and Draper talked for five hours, then went out for hamburgers at the Wrigley Building.  Even though Myra was engaged to someone else, they soon started dating.  Myra insisted on at least a year's courtship.  They went on to secure many important accounts from Colgate-Palmolive, Swift, Maytag and Consolidated Foods.   

Sure enough, two years after they met, they were married.  When Draper passed away in 1983, Myra cleaned out his old highboy chest and found two rolls of nickels.  It was then that Vivian told her the story about the bet.   

Monday, 10 August 2015

Wendell Smith Recommends Robinson to Rickey

When Jackie Robinson played, he turned an upside down nation right side up. (Roger Rosenblatt)  

The movie 42 features a man who sits in the stands at Ebbetts Field with his typewriter in his lap, furiously typing away names, dates and stats.  He is not a baseball player; he is not a manager; he is a journalist -- a black journalist.  That is why he sits in the stands rather than in the press box.  He is on a mission -- to desegregate the game of baseball.

Wendell Smith played baseball back in the 1930s.  In fact, he won the American League championship game in 1933.  A scout in the stands, so impressed by Smiths play, spoke to him after the game:  I wish I could sign you, but I cant, he said.  He signed the opposing pitcher, a white, instead.  Smith vowed then and there that he would help to get the first black player into the major leagues.

He would reach his goal, however, with a typewriter, not with a ball and glove.  Smith was hired by the Pittsburgh Courier, the most influential black newspaper in the country.  He highlighted the names of 20 black players that he felt were good enough to make it in the big leagues.  His suggestions were also published by the Communist paper The Daily Worker.  Despite his comprehensive pieces, Smith was rejected by the Baseball Writers Association of America due to his colour.

In 1938, Smith polled the big league players in a Pittsburgh Hotel lobby and discovered that 75% were not opposed to integration on the baseball field.  However, owners were not hiring them; all that is, except, Branch Rickey, head of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Smith approached Rickey and told him how impressed he was with a young black player named Jackie Robinson.  In 1947, Rickey, who had also vowed to help get the first black into the major leagues, signed Robinson.

It was Smiths job to be in charge of Robinsons travel and lodging arrangements while he was on the road, given that he was not allowed to eat and sleep at the same hotels as the white players. Something as simple as a black using a restroom at a gas station was cause for conflict in the Jim Crow South.  Smith helped smooth over those rough early days in Florida during spring training. Robinsons teammates did not accept him right away, nor did the fans.  But Rickey and Smith backed him up, and Robinson delivered with the bat and with his feet.  As Roger Rosenblatt explained:  "When Jackie Robinson played, he turned an upside down nation right side up."

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Will the Real Rhett & Scarlett Please Stand Up?

Scarlett:  "Sir, you are no gentleman."
Rhett:  "And you, Miss, are no lady."

Anyone who has seen Gone with the Wind cannot get the iconic images out of their head:  society women in hoop skirts fluttering across the ballroom floor, a pair of horses bolting as Atlanta burns, Scarlett's plump, kerchief-wearing maid tying her corset so tight she can't breath, a pencil-moustachioed Rhett going off to join the Confederate Army, stating:  "Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn."  

Truth is stranger than fiction.  There really was a "Rhett"; there really was a "Scarlett".  Rhett Turnipseed fell in love with Emelyn Louise Hannon duinrg the Civil War era.  Rhett abandonned Emelyn to run off and join the Confederate Army.

After the Civil War, Rhett became a gambler and a drifter.  On Easter morning in 1871, he attended a Methodist Revival meeting where he gave his life to Christ.  He attended Vanderbilt University where he studied to become a Methodist preacher.  

A young woman in his flock ran away to St. Louis to work as a prostitute.  Rhett followed her there to beg her to return home.  The madam running the brothel was his former love, Emelyn Louise Hannon.  Emelyn refused to give up the young lady to Rhett.  Rhett in turn challenged Emelyn to a card game:  if she won, the girl stayed; if he won, the girl went home with him.  

Rhett was victorious and the girl returned to her family in St. Louis.  She later married and raised a family, and became a proud matriarch.  Emelyn was so impressed with Rhett's change of character that she converted to Methodism and opened an orphanage for Cherokee children.  It turned out that Rhett really did give a damn.  

Saturday, 8 August 2015

"No Soup for You!"

"A stone faced immigrant chef with Stalinesque moustache, he is renowned throughout Manhattan for his soups." (

It aired on November 2, 1995.  It is arguably the most famous Seinfeld episode.  Jerry, Elaine and George visited a soup stand that Kramer raved about.  Jerry explained to his friends the strict protocol that the owner enforced when ordering soup.  George complied, but Elaine refused; the latter was tossed out.

George returned and ordered more soup, this time complaining that he didn't receive the complimentary bread.  The Soup Nazi said that the bread cost $2.00; George balked and the owner raised it to $3.00.  George still complained and the owner barked:  "No soup for you!"

Jerry returned with his girlfriend, and the tow were kissing in line.  The owner complained; Jerry's girlfriend didn't like being reprimanded and voiced her protest.  The Soup Nazi kicked her out as well.  Jerry pretended he didn't know her so he could still purchase soup.

Elaine bought an armoire which was stolen on the streets of Manhattan.  Kramer explained the plight of his friend to the Soup Nazi who offered his own armoire as a replacement.  Elaine visited the soup stand to thank him, only to be told he wouldn't have offered it if he had known it was going to her.
Elaine later discovered the secret soup recipes in the armoire and returned to the soup stand to gloat.

Seinfeld and his cohorts visited the soup stand weeks after the episode aired.  The real Soup Nazi, Al Yaganeh did a triple take, proceeded to shout out profanities and ejected the men from the restaurant.

Soup Nazi courtesy

Friday, 7 August 2015

Struggling Philadelphia Actor Watches Fight on Black & White TV

I`ve been a survivor all my life.  If I survived the marines, I can survive Ali. (Chuck Wepner)

Mohammed Ali versus Chuck Wepner circa 1975 courtesy

In 1975, a struggling Philadelphia actor watched a fight on his black and white TV.  The world heavyweight champion, Mohammed Ali, was paired with an unknown named Chuck Wepner.  While Ali won the match hands down, Wepner went the full fifteen rounds.  The actor, admiring his spunk, wrote a screenplay about him.  The following year, Rocky debuted in theatres, and the image of the boxer standing at the top of the steps in Philadelphia, his arms held high in victory, was forever etched on the memory of Americans.

Chuck Wepner fought his first fight in 1964.  At one point, he held the title of New Jersey Heavyweight Champion.  However, he later lost to big names like George Foreman and Sonny Liston, the latter fight costing him 72 stitches.  Wepner earned the nickname `The Bayonne Bleeder`.
But Wepner wasn`t about to go down without a fight.  After a loss to Joe Bugner, Wepner rallied and won nine out of the next eleven fights.

In 1975, crazy haired promoter Don King was looking for a new opponent for Mohammed Ali.  He chose the unknown Chuck Wepner.  Ali would receive 1.5 million for the fight while Wepner would receive $100,000.  The latter retreated to the Catskill Mountains for eight weeks of heavy training.

Ali and Wepner met at Richfield Coliseum, a city south of Cleveland, for the match.  When asked how he thought he would fare in the ring, Wepner explained:  Ì`ve been a survivor all my life.  If I survived the Marines, I can survive Ali.` Wepner did survive the fight, although he was badly beaten up in the process.

At home in Philadelphia, a young Sylvester Stallone watched the fight on his television.  He created Rocky Balboa, an underdog with a heart, to mirror Chuck Wepner.  Apollo Creed, his loud boisterous opponent who holds the world heavyweight championship, mirrored Mohammed Ali.  The script had all the ingredients of a blockbuster movie.

While Rocky required next to nothing to make, it earned 225 million at the box office and spawned a series.  Creed, the most recent in the series, is due out in November of 2015.

Rocky Balboa vs Apollo Creed in the 1976 movie courtesy

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Amasa Coleman Lee Inspiration for Mockingbird's Atticus Finch

"Atticus Finch was further enshrined in the cultural canon through Gregory Peck's portrayal in the Oscar winning 1962 film.  Parents named their children after him.  Law professors assigned the book in ethics class.  The Alabama Law Association erected a monument to him in Monroeville, Ms. Lee's hometown." (

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, standing next to Mary Badham as Scout, in a scene from the 1962 film 'To Kill A Mockingbird.'

The image of Gregory Peck's character, Atticus Finch, outside an Alabama jail, confronting an angry mob that wants to lynch the black man whom he represents, is forever etched on the memory of those who saw the movie To Kill a Mockingbird.  The scene is not that far off the mark.  In 1934, Mockingbird author Harper Lee's father, whom she based Atticus on, confronted KKK members in the street, exchanging words with the leader.

Amasa Coleman Lee, born in Alabama in 1880, attended law school and set up a practice in Monroeville.  He married Frances Finch who gave birth to Nelle Harper Lee.  Mr. Lee adored his daughter and tended to indulge her.  

Harper admired her father and the stand that he took on social issues.  IN 1919, Mr. Lee defended two black men charged with a botched robbery and murder.  Even so, the two men were convicted and hanged.  He continued to defend blacks in the 1920's and 1930's, preaching:  "Equal rights for all, special privileges for none."

However, in 1954, with the victory for civil rights in Brown vs Board of Education, Mr. Lee resisted school integration.  He was, nonetheless, part of the Deep South establishment.  Harper was disappointed that her father was agreeing with the status quo.  Her childhood view of him as this larger than life character who fought for the underdog was shattered.

However, by the late 1950's, when Harper was working on her manuscript for To Kill a Mockingbird, her father had a change of heart.  He talked about voting rights for blacks.  The book was published in 1960, selling 2.5 million copies in the first year and remaining on the bestseller list for almost two years.  

In 1962, the movie debuted in theatres.  "Atticus Finch was further enshrined in the cultural canon through Gregory Peck's portrayal in the Oscar winning 1962 film.  Parents named their children after him.  Law professors assigned the book in ethics class.  The Alabama Law Association erected a monument to him in Monroeville, Ms. Lee's hometown." 

The same year, the man who inspired the character passed away.  His daughter outlived him by decades.  Her other book, Go Set a Watchman, which shed some light on her father's initial resistance to integration, was published last month.