Presidential Trivia

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Presidential trivia often pops up as a category on Jeopardy and even occasionally on Millionaire. While chances are you’ll never actually make money from knowing certain interesting or unusual tidbits out our chief executives, it never hurts to carry out that little piece of extra knowledge in your cranium. You never when it may come in handy.

Questions about the military service of both Pres. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush appear to have presented no obstacle to their both getting elected as Commander-in-Chief, but they are hardly the only ones to face charges of draft-dodging. In fact—as in the case of George W. Bush—Grover Cleveland not only faced the accusation, it was undeniably true. Cleveland’s opponent James Blaine brought to light the fact that Cleveland had hired someone to take his place in the military. Probably because this was not only perfect legal, but had also been done by Blaine itself, the accusation had as little effect on Cleveland’s getting elected as the fact that George W. Bush actually went AWOL when he wasn’t even in combat had during his second campaign. Cleveland was elected.

July 4th is an eventful day for America. Not only does it stand as the date on which our founding fathers engaged in the most outrageous and courageous act of dissent ever perpetrated against a nation’s rulers, but it is celebrated yearly as the anniversary of our independence from British rule. July 4th is also the anniversary of the deaths of three different Presidents: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Making this coincidence even more startling is the fact that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the same July 4th, almost at exactly the same time!

Some would argue that the most influential position in American politics isn’t President, who can only serve eight years, but the Chief Justice of the United States, who receives a lifetime appointment. (Just another of the decision made by our founding fathers which indicates that nobody’s perfect.) The only man to ever serve as both President of the United States and Chief Justice of the United States was William Howard Taft. Taft also holds the dubious distinction of being the heaviest President so far. And in the age of the thirty second campaign commercial, it’s highly doubtful anyone heavier will ever get elected.

The only bachelor President was James Buchanan. During his term of office, his niece Harriet took over the duties traditionally carried out by the First Lady. You know, things like telling him what to say under her breath, consulting astrologers as part of policy-making, etc.

Although it is almost impossible to tell from any of his official portraits, George Washington’s face was pockmarked with scars. The cause of this disfigurement was his survival of a bout with smallpox.

The tallest President ever was Abraham Lincoln at 6 feet, four inches. James Madison was our country’s shortest leader. He was a full foot shorter than Lincoln.

The votes of the majority of American voters have not been enough to elect a President on three occasions. In 1824 Andrew Jackson won the popular vote, but lost the election when it was toss to the House of Representatives. In 1875 Samuel Tilden received more votes than Rutherford B. Hayes, yet still lost. And, of course, in 2000 the Supreme Court voted to award the electoral votes of Florida to George W. Bush rather than follow the will of the people.

Let us not even speak of 2016. Perhaps if we don’t say it out loud, it never actually happened. Oh dear god, if only that were so!

Offbeat Academy Awards Trivia

The concept of spending a few days inside the head of someone who gets to nominate people for the Academy Award is nearly as frightening as spending an hour inside the head of any leading figure in Republican politics. Aside from the fact that these people thought Surf’s Up was more deserving of a Best Animated Movie nomination than The Simpsons Movie, there is also the fact that they seemed to get some kind of bizarre pleasure in nominating Steven Spielberg’s film The Color Purple in just about every possible category only to not grant the film a single award. The nominating is nearly as confusing as the process of determining the BCS Bowl Game teams in college football, but there is one thing that you have to admit. Occasionally, the nominating process for the Academy Awards results in some bizarre outcomes.

It’s a Drag.

1982 marked a high point in the history of movies that perhaps hasn’t been equaled since. Yes, the boring epic Gandhi won everything, but if you avoid that unpleasantness, 1982 made for some quite memorable films including E.T., Tootsie, Diner, and Sophie’s Choice. What the 1982 Academy Awards may best be remembered for was that three different actors received nominations for dressing up in clothing of the opposite gender and either pretending to be a member of that gender or pretending to be pretending to be a member of the opposite site. Dustin Hoffman was nominated and got screwed out of an award for Tootsie, John Lithgow got screwed out a Best Supporting Actor award for The World According to Garp, and Julie Andrews should just be glad she got nominated for Victor/Victoria as a way of making up for the fact she should have been nominated for S.O.B.

I’ll Drink to That.

Playing a drunk has been a surefire way to get nominated as with the ridiculous nomination for Dudley Moore for Arthur in 1981 and the bewildering win of Nicolas Cage for Leaving Las Vegas over Sean Penn for Dead Man Walking. But the 1983 Academy Awards really went on bender. No less than all five of the Best Actor nominees were characters that had one level or another of a drinking problem. Not to mention that a plurality of Oscar voters must have had a drinking problem they year they award Best Actor to Lee Marvin for Cat Ballou over Rod Steiger for The Pawnbroker.

What, Fred Astaire Couldn’t Act?

If you were to take a guess on who was the first person to receive a Best Actor nomination for a musical role who would you guess? Astaire? Gene Kelly? Nelson Eddy? Howard Keel? Oddly enough, the first actor to accomplish this still rare feat was James Cagney. Although quite the song and dance man, Jimmy Cagney is most usually associated with his tough guy roles, but he won his one and only Oscar (amazing!) playing James M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The Long and Short of It:

The longest movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture remains Gone with the Wind (although the longest-feeling movie, Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King, felt like it lasted about seven hours), but the longest movie ever nominated was Cleopatra with Liz Taylor. The shortest film to win an Oscar for Best Picture was Marty (essentially Rocky without the boxing scenes), while the shortest film ever nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture was She Done Him Wrong, starring Mae West’s breasts.

Better Brown Than Red:

People in the movie business love to complain about the stupid rules and regulations associated with the Oscars that don’t allow worthy people to be nominated, such as the arcane rule that disallowed the best score of 2007, There Will be Blood, to even be nominated. The single dumbest rule ever introduced to the Academy Award voters took place in 1957. Beginning in that year, Constitutional rights were suspended so that nobody who was communist would be allowed to win an Academy Award. Funny how conservatives still insist that Hollywood is a hotbed of liberalism since that rule has apparently never been officially lifted.

Dirty Harry Trivia

A good piece of trivia regarding the Clint Eastwood film Dirty Harry would be that it was the primary foundation of the blueprint drawn up by the architects of the Bush administration in regard to how they planned to frame their concept of the justice system in America. As far as I know this is not an authentic piece of trivia about Dirty Harry, but it sure has the tinge of believability to it, doesn’t it? Imagine an entire country of Dirty Harry style law enforcement officials who don’t have any need for warrants or even suspicion. Well, hey, why bother imagining; just look out your window.

While we can only assume that John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales developed their concept of American justice and their respect for the United States Constitution from having watched Dirty Harry endlessly, there are some bits of trivia regarding the film about the San Francisco cop with the enormous .44 caliber penis substitute that is not up for intuition but is backed by cold hard facts. Dirty Harry contains some quite fascinating trivia about the ways that Hollywood blockbusters are cast and produced. For instance, today it seems as if Dirty Harry Callahan was pretty much written for the then-registered Republican (and now Republican-leaning “libertarian) Clint Eastwood. The fact that a registered Republican eventually landed the role of the fascistic police officer who never allowed Constitutional rights and civil liberties to get in his way should not be surprising. John Wayne is said to have been often quoted as turning down the role of Harry Callahan. One can only imagine that Dirty Harry was simply too liberal for the Duke, but that’s pure conjecture on my part. Probably John Wayne simply felt he was too old for the part and he definitely would have been. The most surprising bit of trivia related to Dirty Harry may be that Frank Sinatra was offered the part as well. Of course, the Chairman of the Mafia Board had politics equitable to Dirty Harry AND Clint Eastwood, so that’s not surprising, but pudgy Frank Sinatra as a cop who could intimidate a serial killer. Not in this lifetime. I think Sinatra probably must have passed because he knew no serial killer would ever be afraid of him, although he officially blamed it on a hand injury. Along with Sinatra went the original choice for a director of Dirty Harry, Irvin Kershner. Kershner’s claim to fame, of course, was to direct the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back. The really weird thing about Dirty Harry is that Paul Newman was approached. Newman’s politics have definitely been leftward of Dirty Harry which is probably why he suggested Clint Eastwood would be the better choice.

Speaking of casting, it is hard to imagine anybody other Andrew Robinson as the Scorpio killer. Robinson has since gone on to be one of the most dependable and versatile actors in Hollywood and it is one of the many, many, many shames of the Emmy Award voters that he never won an Emmy for his brilliant performances on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Garak. Hard as it is to believe, allegedly World War II hero and World War II movie star Audie Murphy was tapped to play the Scorpio killer. Unfortunately for Murphy and fortunately for Andrew Robinson (and moviegoers) Audie Murphy died in a plane crash before filming actually began on Dirty Harry. Clint Eastwood’s politics may be goofy as hell, but the man knows talent and it was Eastwood who suggested Robinson for the role of the Scorpio killer. Unfortunately, and you must remember this was the early 70’s, Andrew Robinson was a genuine practicing pacifist. When it came time to shoot the gun, Robinson had trouble pulling the trigger convincingly because he reacted like a peacenik would to the sound of a weapon going off the sole purpose of which is harm another human being. Robinson required a week of training in order to become proficient at shooting without seeming like a wimp. I told you the guy was a helluva actor. Would you have believed that trivia possible? In fact, so believable was Andrew Robinson as a violent nut that he had to have phone number changed because he kept getting death threats from, probably, doped-up lunatics who thought he really was a serial killer.

Interestingly, the politics of Dirty Harry was explicitly alluded to in the original working title of the film: Dead Right.