4 Very 2020 Hobbies Of Old-School Celebs
When the cameras stop rolling, we know that celebrities don't freeze in place like statues -- they have homes, families, and cocaine to attend to. It's reassuring then, that when we hear the news talk about how everything millennials like to do in their spare time is dumb, that several icons of history did the exact same stuff during their downtime ...
Orson Welles Had a True Crime Podcast
In February 1946, Sgt. Isaac Woodard, a Black army veteran, was returning from the frontlines of WWII when he was brutally beaten by a police officer at a bus stop. He was then arrested for being drunk and disorderly, a bullshit charge if ever was one, and languished in custody until his release several days later. Only then was he taken to hospital, where doctors confirmed that the attack was so vicious that his eyeballs were crushed, causing him to permanently lose his eyesight.
The attack on Woodard infuriated the nation -- or at least, the parts that weren't racist -- no-one more so than Orson Welles, who responded by doing the most 2020 thing possible: he pivoted his weekly radio show, Orson Welles Commentaries, from celebrity gossip into a proto-true crime podcast that, throughout five episodes, investigated the attack on Woodard in the hope of finding his attacker.
The first episode, which aired on July 28, 1946, saw Welles read an affidavit filed by Woodard, then openly declare war on the then-anonymous officer, saying:
"[I] invite you to luxuriate in secrecy. It will be brief. Go on, suckle your anonymous moment while it lasts. You're going to be uncovered [...] We will give the world your given name, Officer X [...] After I have found you out, I'll never lose you. If they try you, I'm going to watch the trial. If they jail you, I'm going to wait for your first day of freedom. You won't be free of me [...] We have an appointment, you and I - and only death can cancel it."
He then cut to an advert for two free months of Skillshare.
Over the next four weeks, and aided by a team of investigators, Welles ran down the case, culminating in an episode on August 25, where he outed the officer as none other than the local police chief, Mr. L. L. Shull.
Welles' outing of Shull resulted in a furious campaign by listeners, politicians, and activists demanding that Shull be placed on trial for his attack on Woodard. Although he eventually was, it ended with him being acquitted by an all-white jury because the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Houdini Debunked Mediums in His Spare Time
In recent years, the proliferation of fake news has reached fever-pitch. It's hard to know who to trust, what to think, and, thanks to deep fakes, soon our own eyes. However, the rise of fake news has also brought up the rise of debunkers who exhaustively debunk every bit of bullshit that crosses their path, be it in the form of exhaustive social media threads, videos, or entire websites like Snopes -- who've been unclogging the great, big toilet that is the internet from its very beginning, the poor bastards.
If Harry Houdini were around today, though, he'd be loving this because it was how he got his kicks when he wasn't being tied up in a sack and throw off a bridge for money. Houdini's main gripe wasn't politicians or dodgy journalists, it was fake mediums (read: all mediums). One was Mina Crandon, aka the "Blonde Witch of Lime Street," who alleged that channeling the spirit of her dead brother allowed him to rap out messages, play musical instruments, throw objects across rooms, and, in what we imagine made for a bizarre encore performance, cause white ectoplasm to, um, leak from her vagina. Is that incest, or doesn't it count if one of the parties is dead? Let us know on social media with the hashtag #poltergeyser.
In July 1924, the experts at Scientific American had tested Crandon and were about to lend credence to her claims -- which would've basically made her a legit medium in the eyes of science. An outraged Houdini, along with several of these "experts," decided to attend a session with Crandon so that he could put her scam to bed once and for all.
After an entertaining evening where her brother yelled at, touched up, and threw a microphone at him, Houdini left Crandon's saying, "I've got her. All fraud. Every bit of it." After attending another session, to confirm his suspicions of how her grift worked, Houdini published a pamphlet that November titled Houdini Exposes the Tricks Used by the Boston Medium. It was, as the title suggests, a thorough debunking of how Mina was able to pull over her repertoire of tricks -- which, yes, included the vagina thing. It turned that before a session, Crandon would, um, insert the ectoplasm into herself and let gravity do the rest.
Just to make sure that her ownage was complete, Houdini adapted the pamphlet into a touring stage show, where every night to raucous applause, he recreated Crandon's 'miracles' -- effectively destroying her career.
Her supporters took the whole thing as well as can be expected and responded to Houdini by sending him death threats. But their criticism was nothing compared to his falling-out with long-time friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who despite his hyper rational-science-logic persona, was actually a huge nerd for the supernatural. Knowing that Houdini believed his beliefs to be "applesauce" and "hogwash," he took Houdini's debunking of Crandon as a personal attack and so the two spent the next several years locked in a feud, which only ended when Houdini died in 1926.
Andy Warhol Basically Invented Pet Instagram
Although dog photos have become a staple of the internet in recent years, they're not exactly high-art, are they? It's a dog. It might be wearing clothes or being assigned a numerical value, but they're just dogs. So it's kinda weird that when we delve into the history of this quote-unquote "artform," it was actually invented -- or at least, as much as it's possible to invent taking a photograph of something -- by one of art's greatest minds: Andy Warhol.
Throughout his daily travels, Andy Warhol loved to take photos of anything and everything interested that he came across -- and there was nothing more interesting to him than dogs, judging by the sheer volume of photos that he took of them.
That tracks, considering Warhol once refused to travel to an international art show -- which is how artists make money -- because doing so would require him to either leave his dachshund, Archie, behind or take him and thereby doom him to spend six months in quarantine.
Despite his collection, Warhol never displayed it for the world to see. If he'd known how popular dog photographs would become, however, we're sure he would've jumped on that bandwagon and hung a gigantic billboard-sized snap in Times Square.
MLK Jr. Had His Own (Bad) Advice Column
We don't know about you, but our lives are a mess. Fortunately, there's a whole host of advice columns like Dr. Nerdlove or Dear Prudence that we can use to resolve our disgusting grievances ... or we could hop in the ol' time machine, and have a heart-to-heart with none other than Martin Luther King Jr., who may have been history's first celebrity advice columnist.
For several years during the '50s, MLK had an advice column -- called "Advice for Living" -- in Ebony magazine. But don't go expecting some jokes or a touch of humor. He took this responsibility deadly seriously, despite the fact that on reading his advice, you'll note that he sucked pretty hard at it. For example, when a housewife asked what she should do about her cheating husband, MLK's advice was simple: steal the other woman's personality because yours clearly stinks, and also, this is all your fault.
"Since the other person is so near you might study her and see what she does for your husband that you might not be doing. Do you spend too much time with the children and the house and not pay attention to him? Are you careful with your grooming? Do you nag? Do you make him feel important? This process of introspection might help you to hit upon the things that are responsible for your husband's other affair."
It wasn't all bad, though. A lot of questions that MLK received weren't about sex and relationships but Black issues, including (as Gene Demby notes) why the Black community doesn't support Black-owned businesses or why Black celebrities take white partners after they become famous. It's also important to note that there was a reason why writers who wrote to MLK asking for advice on relationships got a stern talking-to about personal responsibility: because the guy wasn't just an ex-preacher, he was also the figurehead for a movement that was under near-constant scrutiny. It would've been very right-on for him to tell that woman that she should dump her husband's cheating ass, but MLK (and the civil rights movement) had enough to contend with, without the local men's club wanting to murder him for telling their wives to dump their fuckboy asses.