6 WTF Facts You Never Knew About Famed Speeches From History
If politics has taught us anything in the past grueling year, it's that it involves a lot more posturing than actual policy. Without a bunch of charisma and some great speeches, a politician could be running on a platform of free ponies and healthcare and still not get elected. But even the greatest political figures can't bat a thousand. Fortunately for us, even their worst-reviewed speeches and weirdest moments have been preserved for posterity. For example ...
Nixon's "I Am Not A Crook" Speech Was Given At Disney World
Of all the things you could say about President Richard Nixon, the most accurate is probably that he was not a very fun person. Disney World, on the other hand, is the absolute pinnacle of fun, especially if you're under the age of nine or over the age of 20 and weird. So how did Nixon end up making one of the most important political speeches in modern history near the Mad Tea Party ride?
In 1973, the Watergate scandal was fully blowing up, and everyone wanted Nixon's head on a pike for authorizing espionage on the Democratic Party. (We know that sounds strange, but there used to a time when we held bad presidents accountable for their misdeeds.) Nixon knew he needed to calm the press down in order to keep his job, and his best chance of doing so was to attend the Associated Press Managing Editors annual national conference and have a nice and friendly chat -- two adjectives that have never been used to describe Nixon. There was only one downside: For some reason, the dignified and prestigious conference was being held at Disney's Contemporary Resort in Florida. It seems even the leaders of the mainstream media sometimes want to blow off steam by having their pictures taken with Goofy.
There, in a Mickey Mouse conference hall only a brief stroll away from the Magic Kingdom, Nixon uttered the most famous and damning line of his political career: "I am not a crook."
But for some reason, history tends to leave out the part where he did it surrounded not only by journalists who were pissed that they had to throw on a suit in the Florida humidity, but also their kids, who were pissed that Mom and Dad had to watch the nation fall apart instead of taking them to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. That's pretty surreal, even by Disney standards.
The Gettysburg Address Got Mixed Reviews (From Northerners)
Never was there a greater divide between the North and South of the United States than during the Civil War. Brother fought brother and a nation tore itself to pieces because of fundamental differences regarding states' rights (to own other folks). Yet even back then, there was one thing many Northerners and Southerners could agree on: The Gettysburg Address sucked.
While it will come as no surprise that the South wasn't that big a fan of the man they thought was going to take away their sovereignty and hide it in his big stovepipe hat, not a lot of history books deign to mention that President Abraham Lincoln's most iconic words weren't all that well-received by his own side either. For every glowing report of the Gettysburg Address, there were sterner voices who thought it was far too emotional and sappy for a world leader to talk that way. As noted by The Harrisburg Patriot And Union:
"We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the Nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of."
That's a lot of shade to throw at a president who could probably literally have dunked on them. But It gets worse. None other than The Chicago Times published a review so scathing that even Roger Ebert would have found it a bit much:
"The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances."
But how was the reaction in the South? Well, there wasn't really one. Most papers chose to ignore Lincoln's silly little rant, instead focusing on Edward Everett, the actual keynote speaker of the event, who droned on for a good two hours. How dare they disrespect Daniel Day-Lewis like that!
Ronald Reagan Once Pretended To Start World War III
In the media, there is a phenomenon called a "hot mic," a sticky situation wherein people who think they aren't being recorded start talking like there isn't a microphone broadcasting their every word. Hot mics have picked up all sorts of crazy nonsense, from the sound of people peeing to future U.S. presidents admitting to sexual assault. But no mic has ever been hotter than the one that picked up Ronald Reagan telling the whole world he was about to commence a nuclear holocaust.
The year was 1984, and actor/president Reagan was gearing up to do a radio address. Totally routine, no big deal at all. First on his agenda was some boring announcement about further dissolving the separation of church and state by letting religious teenagers form clubs during nonschool hours. So Reagan was going to start with this sentence:
"I am pleased to tell you that today I signed legislation that will allow student religious groups to begin enjoying a right they have long been denied -- the freedom to meet in public high schools during nonschool hours."
Except he didn't realize his mic was live when he was warming up, and thought he'd tell a funny little joke:
"My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."
Pretty dark, Gipper, but we see the humor. Who didn't see it, however, was the rest of the world, which went in a bit of a panic after the story (though not the audio) was leaked a day later. Of course, the Soviet Union condemned the remark, and the U.S. government spent the rest of the week calming down a slightly jumpy and angry populace.
Colonel Gaddafi Tried To Trick A Crowd Of Italian Women Into Converting To Islam
Muammar Gaddafi, former ruler of Libya, is best known for trying piece together a functioning socialist state, to mixed results. But before being brutally executed by his own citizens, he was at least feared and taken seriously by his own citizens. However, the rest of the world wasn't so convinced about his absolute authority. The following is a prime example of why.
In 2009, agencies across Rome sent out an invitation to their models: Any women over 5'7" and under the age of 35 could attend an evening gala hosted by the colonel and earn a quick 50 Euros. About 200 women answered the call and showed up in elegant formal wear under the assumption that all they had to do was look pretty and eat a bunch of crab cakes.
However, the event turned out to be a trap. Upon arriving, women whose clothing was deemed "too revealing" were turned away, and the rest were ushered to Gaddafi's personal residence. The women were seated and handed copies of the Quran and Gaddafi's philosophical treatise The Green Book -- which must be the weirdest gala goody bag these women ever received. When Gaddafi finally arrived, instead of mingling, he fired up a two-hour lecture in order to convert all these attractive women to Islam, clearly worried about his religion's shortage of babes.
Strangely, all but one of the women gave this conversion a hard pass, complaining mostly about the boredom and the lack of snacks provided. But the evening wasn't entirely a bust, as it gave us the most amazingly ball-shattering headline ever written about a ruthless dictator:
Fidel Castro's Speeches Were Absolute Marathons
Cuban President Fidel Castro knew how to work a crowd. His speeches opened people's eyes with his intelligence and passion ... and then closed them again. Because he. Just. Would. Not. Stop.
To this day, Castro holds the record for the longest speech ever given at the United Nations. On September 29, 1960, he clocked in at four hours and 29 minutes -- a marathon's worth of words. He went on and on about the U.S. presidential election, saying of JFK: "Were Kennedy not a millionaire, illiterate, and ignorant, then he would obviously understand that you cannot revolt against the peasants." After that, he took pot shots at Nixon and capitalism, and gave a bunch of shout-outs to global communism. After over four hours of badmouthing the U.S., Castro finally called it quits -- probably to check up on the live chickens he was keeping in his room while preparing for the speech.
Amazingly, this wasn't even his longest speech by a mile. A full 26 years later, at the Communist Party Congress, Castro delivered a rousing speech lasting seven hours and ten minutes (which you can find here in full, if you ever want to skip a full night's sleep). How is that even possible? If you gave a six-year-old carte blanche to talk about dinosaurs, farm animals, finger-painting, and whatever they wanted, even they couldn't come up with seven hours of material. Castro was on fire.
And he didn't slow down all that much even as an old geezer. At 74 years old, he traveled up to Manhattan and delivered another speech that lasted four hours and 16 minutes, talking about poverty in developing nations and the AIDS pandemic. A decade later, at age 84, after deciding that he didn't mind standing in the sun a little longer, he improvised an entire speech and kept going on and on for an hour and 14 minutes. Pretty impressive stamina for a man of his age. We wish that we could keep our diatribes up for that long.
Mussolini Really Loved "American Pee"
Before the 1930s, Benito Mussolini was just another European leader trying to fulfill his dream of turning his country into a totalitarian dystopia. But ol' Benny knew that a dictator needs as many friends as he can get his tiny hands on. To that effect, he wanted Italy to become pally with the United States, which was still on the fence regarding the whole fascism fad. And in order to win the hearts of everyday Americans, he tried emulating their greatest hero: Mickey Mouse.
When the "talkies" finally arrived in the late '20s, Il Duce, a former journalist, realized that by being able to spread bullshit far and wide without ever leaving his palace, a charismatic dictator would "need no other power." So when the Fox News Corporation offered to film one of his speeches and air it in U.S. theaters, Mussolini jumped at the opportunity. And so, in 1927, Fox News began its long and proud tradition of cozying up to fascists.
For several months, Mussolini's speech to the U.S. opened before F.W. Murnau's iconic Sunrise, like some kind of demented Pixar short. However, his speech wasn't a great success. In a time when movie audio sounded like it was being recorded on two tin cans tied together with string, Mussolini's incredibly thick accent made it almost impossible to understand him. Of course, it didn't help that Mussolini didn't know a lick of English, and read the text like someone rubbed peanut butter on his gums moments before the camera started rolling.
So for all his bloviating on American-Italian fraternity, what most people heard was the leader of Italy referring to them as the "American Pee" -- something he did twice in the same 90-second speech. Maybe the director should have let Mussolini use the bathroom in between takes.
Isaac used to be pretty good at stand-up comedy and acting. Follow him on Twitter and give him work as an actor or comedian.
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