Tolkien Versus Disney, And More WTF Historical Feuds
History is full of famous feuds. Hamilton and Burr, Hatfields and McCoys, Cracked.com and public intoxication bylaws. But as bitter as these disputes could be, at least there was a grim logic to them. The same can not be said for the following, where famed historical figures reduced themselves to petty bullshit pretty much just for the hell of it.
J.R.R. Tolkien And C.S. Lewis Bonded Over Hating Walt Disney For His Take On Dwarfs
J.R.R. Tolkien, the famous creator of Tom Bombadil, and C.S. Lewis, the famous creator of Fur Christ, were good friends when they weren't arguing about who had the better initials or how much Latin should be used in church. And, speaking of stuffiness, they bonded over ripping into Walt Disney.
Had Walt insulted their work? Were they accosted by Goofy at Disneyland? No, they saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs together and they both fucking hated it.Specifically the dwarf parts. Lewis, while calling Disney a "poor boob," complained that Dopey and friends were the wrong kind of ugly, writing "Dwarfs ought to be ugly of course, but not in that way. And the dwarfs' jazz party was pretty bad." He would have filmed a YouTube rant in the parking lot had the technology been available.
Lewis did praise the film's spookier elements and much of the animation ... before whining about the dwarfs again. He complained their design was "bloated, drunken, low comedy," and lamented that Disney was wasting his obvious talents by selling out. If only Walt had been tempted away from the evil siren song that is "updating a 19th century children's tale for modern viewers."
Tolkien's initial reaction wasn't as harsh, but he was disappointed that his beloved folktales had been commercialized. Or, at least, commercialized in a way he didn't enjoy. For context, The Hobbit reached bookstores just a few months before Snow White hit theatres, and a society previously indifferent to dwarfs could choose between comedic ones who liked to sing and serious ones who... liked to sing. The difference in artistic merit is clear.
Lewis eventually moved on with his life, but Tolkien just got grumpier over the years, complaining decades later that Disney had infantilized once serious folk stories (and implicitly made them, gross, accessible to non-academics) and that Disney's take on Mary Poppins was just the latest in a long line of "hopelessly corrupted" adaptations. If you ever find Tolkien too mythical a figure in his own right, picture him sitting in a movie theater as an old man, getting angrier and angrier at the cartoon penguins dancing with Dick Van Dyke. There's no indication that Walt Disney knew or gave a shit about any of this, which is like if Jonathan Franzen kept complaining about Marvel movies while Kevin Feige was too busy making laser noises and counting his money to notice.
Freud Spent His Final Years Trying To Prove That Woodrow Wilson Was Gay
You probably don't think of Sigmund Freud and Woodrow Wilson in the same context outside of some very niche erotica. But in the early 1930s, years after Wilson's presidency had ended and the man himself had died, Freud decided to "prove" that Woodrow had been deep in the White House closet.
To understand why we have to introduce Bill Bullitt who, long before he became a Mario mini-boss, was Assistant Secretary of State at just 26. Bullitt was part of the American delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, where he advised Wilson to recognise the Soviet government. Wilson declined, Bullitt resigned in protest because government officials actually used to stand up to the President, and from there he started to live like you'd expect a 20-something trust fund kid would. He got married, moved to Paris, wrote a novel mocking American high society, had a nervous breakdown, and sought out a trendy celebrity doctor.
Despite their 35-year age gap, Freud's treatment soon evolved into a strong friendship. Based on loathing Woodrow Wilson. Bullitt blamed him for the demise of his diplomatic career, and Freud blamed him for the collapse of his beloved Austro-Hungarian Empire, once writing "As far as a single person can be responsible for the misery of this part of the world, he surely is." Bullitt had written a historically dubious anti-Wilson play like a Gilded Age Dinesh D'Souza, although it was never performed and Freud was apparently its only fan. Together, they decided to go a step further and write a biography of Wilson. While Bullitt penned most of the ensuing nonsense, Freud contributed extensive notes and a chapter of psychoanalysis on the President, despite the slight handicap of having never met the man. Among their many discussions was how explicitly they could suggest Wilson was a "passive homosexual."
A book deal was signed, Freud was given the modern equivalent of a $40,000 advance during the goddamn Great Depression, and ol' Siggy was convinced the work would make him a superstar. But Bullitt kept rejecting Freud's baseless last-minute additions. Suggestions that Wilson had a "castration complex" and a masturbation addiction were excessive even to the man who wanted to drag Wilson's corpse through the mud, and their disagreements delayed the release until Bullitt suddenly had a diplomatic career again and didn't want to immediately shoot that career in the head.
In the only nice part of this story, Bullitt used his political influence to help Freud and his family escape the Nazis before Bullitt once again managed to torpedo his own career. A grateful Freud then became more amenable to Bullitt's critiques of the jerking-off portions, but the book remained shelved until Bullitt's retirement. It was finally published in 1967, shortly after Bullitt's death, and it was so poorly received readers thought Freud's contributions were a hoax.
Michelangelo Had A Ridiculous Feud With Leonardo Da Vinci, Also Had A Ridiculous Feud With Raphael
The Renaissance was a golden age of culture, but even the greatest creators feuded. In 1503, a middle-aged da Vinci, a celebrity across Europe, was commissioned to paint a battle scene for Florence's Council Hall. Then some 29-year-old punk named Michelangelo was hired to paint a battle scene for Florence's Council Hall.
This was explicitly a competition. Da Vinci had derided Michelangelo's style as wooden, while Michelangelo had given da Vinci so much crap that Leonardo once left an entire country to avoid him. The hope was that the rivalry would spur them to new heights as Florence, having recently reinvented itself as a Republic, needed patriotic masterpieces to inspire the people. Instead, both men created dark, depressing works. Michelangelo's never got past the outline stage, while da Vinci's painting was less likely to inspire citizens to defend the city than to make them hide from the horrors of war. In 1512, the Medicis returned to power, and by 1565 a new painting was slapped over da Vinci's piece because today's masterpieces are often yesterday's disposable crap.
But while we know Cracked fans love to read about the nuances of 16th century Italian politics, this was just a prelude to Michelangelo's next feud. In 1508, it was Raphael's turn to be the young upstart, as he was just 26 when Pope Julius II commissioned him to spruce up the Papal bachelor pad. What became known as the Raphael Rooms were meant to impress the Pope's visitors, and Michelangelo, already at the Vatican to work on Julius II's tomb and some roofing project, was pissed that he had to share the spotlight with a kid gaining a reputation as his superior.
Aside from generally being a dick to Raphael, Michelangelo accused him of stealing his ideas after Raphael snuck into the Sistine Chapel to get a sneak peak at the ceiling. Raphael arguably did rip Michelangelo off for a church fresco a few years later, but even in the Renaissance it was common to chase trends. Raphael, meanwhile, responded to Michelangelo's rudeness by sneaking Michelangelo's face onto Heraclitus' body in The School of Athens. You need a philosophy degree to fully appreciate the joke because insults were a lot more complicated back then but, in short, Raphael was comparing Michelangelo to a philosopher with a reputation as both a titanic genius and a miserable asshole who hated all his rivals. At least time prevented Michelangelo from feuding with Donatello and completely destroying the team's crimefighting chemistry.
Poe Absolutely Hated Longfellow For Writing Pop Poetry, Started A Huge Newspaper Argument
Poe is remembered as a sad, spooky man, but in his time he was best known as a prolific literary critic with such strong opinions on what made for good writing that he earned the nickname Tomahawk Man. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a massive celebrity and Harvard professor who wrote poetry for the masses back when writing poetry for the masses was a valid career move, and Poe's thoughts on poetry anyone could enjoy was "Absolutely the fuck not, how dare you." The feud got very public, very ugly, and very pretentious.
In 1845, Poe went beyond his usual disdain to imply that Longfellow was ripping off other American poets. This critique included the lines "We conclude our notes ... with the observation that, although full of beauties, is infected with a moral taint -- or is this a mere freak of our own fancy?" because everyone in the 1800s wrote like they wanted to be bullied. Longfellow himself never responded, because that would be like Nicholas Sparks taking time out of his day to hit back at a YouTuber with 700 subscribers, but plenty of friends and fans wrote newspaper columns in Longfellow's defense.
But Poe's stance had its supporters too. The New York Historical Society decided to troll the literary community by inviting Poe to give a speech on Longfellow, which is like inviting Ben Affleck to sound off on the Yankees. One paper called the lecture a "decapitation." In response, an anonymous column appeared accusing Poe's "The Raven" of stealing from a poem called "The Bird of the Dream." The column helpfully included side by side excerpts with 18 highlighted similarities. Yes, kids, newspapers were just the internet in slow motion.
A flustered Poe managed to defend himself from the accusations, but withdrew his own and eventually scaled back his mockery of Longfellow's work. History mostly proved Poe right, as Longfellow's popularity collapsed after his death. Today he's best known for elevating Paul Revere's ride from footnote to a major part of American folklore with a hokey, historically inaccurate poem, although he's enjoyed a bounce back among the kind of people who own Thomas Kinkade paintings. But Longfellow is also remembered as a kind man who encouraged other artists and offered financial support to ex-slaves, black churches, and other unpopular causes of his day. So for him to have written to a friend, and we're paraphrasing here, "Boy am I glad I outlived that asshole," Poe must have really pissed him off.
Abraham Lincoln Claimed A Rival Sucked With Women
Even the most influential people get reduced to a few key moments in popular history. But 19 years before Abraham Lincoln led the Union, proclamated some emancipation, and became a famous patron of the arts, he nearly got stabbed for making the kind of joke that now gets told online 500,000 times a day.
In 1842, Lincoln was an Illinois state legislator. A Whig, he had a good working relationship with James Shields, a Democrat, whose achievements included a distinguished military career and 2,234 career strikeouts. But Shields became State Auditor and passed several touchy bills that, while far too boring to get into here, soured their relationship. So Lincoln responded like a mature lawmaker willing to negotiate contentious issues: he sent mocking letters from an invented "Rebecca" to the local newspaper.
Some of the letters critiqued Shields' policies, but others were entirely personal, claiming he was "a fool as well as a liar" and that "If I was deaf and blind I could tell him by the smell." Shields was a pompous eccentric considered "an irresistible mark for satire," and Lincoln took particular joy in mocking Shields' ineptitude in the romance department, claiming Shields responded to a woman's financial concerns by saying "Dear girls, it is distressing, but I cannot marry you all ... It is not my fault that I am so handsome and so interesting."Ol' Shitpost Abe even ran his letters by Mary Todd and her friend so they could punch up the jokes.
Shields did not appreciate the satire and demanded the editor reveal the writer's name. He did, with Lincoln's permission, and Shields promptly challenged Lincoln to a duel. Lincoln thought that was a stupid solution but felt honor-bound to agree, a belief that thankfully fell out of favor before every internet comment section could produce 47 fatalities.
Lincoln then set about mocking the duel by picking the most ridiculous circumstances imaginable, including the insistence that it be held in a pit on a nearby island. He also chose cavalry broadswords as the weapon, giving him five inches of reach instead of letting Shields' show off his crack marksmanship. Lincoln kept trying to ridicule or intimidate Shields into abandoning the whole affair, but they came moments away from crossing swords. Thankfully for both history and common sense, mutual friends intervened and worked out a compromise where Lincoln apologized but presumably got to keep privately finding his prank hilarious.
Lincoln and Shields later became good friends who were embarrassed when the duel was brought up, and Lincoln no doubt appreciated that things were settled peacefully when war broke out and Shields' troops delivered Stonewall Jackson his only defeat. In fact, they became such fast friends that, when returning to the mainland post-duel, they created a "body" with a log covered in a shirt to prank gawking onlookers.