Miscellany and Trivia

Anecdote Greta Garbo – Swedish actress (1905 – 1990)

During the production of the screen adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (starring Greta Garbo, 1927), the film's producers decided to change the title because they feared that a foreign name would confuse American audiences. After considering various one-word titles, they settled upon "Heat." Screenwriter Frances Marion, however, promptly persuaded them to reconsider. "I think that would be a good ad for Dante's Inferno," she cried, "but I'd hate to see on the billboards: Greta Garbo in Heat!"

Anecdote Barbara Bush – American former first lady, wife of U.S. President George Herbert Bush

Former First Lady Barbara Bush once delivered a commencement address at Wellesley College. "Someday someone will follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the president's spouse," she declared. "I wish him well!"

Anecdote Queen Elisabeth II’s coronation

The date of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation (June 2, 1953) was selected after extensive consultation with British meteorologists, who determined that June 2nd was the most consistently sunny day in the calendar. Needless to say, it rained.

Anecdote Yehudi Menuhin—Jewish American violinist and conductor (1916-1999)

Julian Lloyd Webber remembers: “My favorite anecdote is when I knocked on Yehudi Menuhin’s dressing room in Sydney, Australia, to discuss the finer point of interpretation shortly before a performance of the Elgar cello concerto. Yehudi liked to practice Yoga and was standing on his head. So I placed the score upside down in front of his face and had a lengthy discussion with him about the slow movement while we were both lying on the floor.

Anecdote Leo Tolstoy – Russian novelist (1828-1910)

Tolstoy was a great pacifist and was once lecturing on the need to be nonresistant and nonviolent toward all creatures. Someone in the audience responded by asking what should be done if one was attacked in the woods by a tiger. Tolstoy responded, "Do the best you can. It doesn't happen very often."

Anecdote Socrates – Classical Greek Athenian philosopher (468-399 BC)

Delphi was revered by the ancient Greeks as the site (at the “omphalos,” the navel or center of the world) where messages from Apollo were supposedly relayed through the Pythia (a kind of spokesperson whose trance-like utterances were interpreted as prophetic statements). The oracle was once asked to name the wisest man in Greece, and replied that Socrates, the Athenian philosopher, was truly wisest. Socrates was later told of the oracle's prophesy. "Since the gods proclaim me the wisest, I must believe it," he declared. "But if it is true, it must be because I alone, of all the Greeks, realize that I know nothing."

Anecdote Charles Robert Darwin – English naturalist (1809-1882) and author of The Origin of Species

After spending more than a decade developing his theory of evolution, but refusing to publish his controversial findings while he gathered more evidence, Charles Darwin was finally prompted (by the similarity of Alfred Wallace's work) to publish The Origin of Species in 1859. Darwin was not entirely pleased with the finished work, which was only one-fifth as long as the author had planned, and for the rest of his life he referred to it, disparagingly, as an "abstract." Even so, the book (whose original title, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life," is also five times longer) ran to more than 500 pages. The book, which one reviewer called "so turgid, repetitive, and full of nearly meaningless tables, that it will only be read by specialists," became a bestseller in 1948.

Anecdote Margaret Thatcher - Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 until 1990

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was famed for her domineering manner. During a Cabinet meeting one day, Norman St. John-Stevas (leader of the House of Commons between 1979 and 1981) rose rather early to excuse himself. The Iron Lady promptly balked at his request. "I must leave now, Margaret," he insisted. "I'm going to Covent Garden [the opera] this evening." "Sit where you are, Norman," she ordered. "I, too, am going." "Ah, but Margaret," he smartly replied, "I take so much longer to dress than you do!"

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