5 Surprising Relationships Between Historical Figures
One of the coolest things about being famous is that you get access to other famous people who are just as interesting as you. You meet up at Illuminati picnics, orgies, and planning meetings for secret cities where you'll all move after the Apocalypse. But most importantly, you make odd friendships that normal people generations later would never have expected. History, it turns out, is full of these odd pairings.
H.P. Lovecraft Was Harry Houdini's Ghostwriter
Harry Houdini was famous the world over for his escape skills, so when he visited Egypt in 1910, the locals knew all about him, and had a surprise in store. A guide took him on the expected sightseeing trek, but then delivered him into the hands of a gang of thugs. They tied him up and dropped him down a shaft in a pyramid, leaving Houdini to pass the test or die in the attempt.
At least, that's the story Houdini liked to tell. But his publishers wanted it written up as a proper story and so dug up a ghostwriter, settling on a young H.P. Lovecraft, who did a little fact-checking and found Houdini had made the whole thing up. So when writing the story, he figured there was no harm in exaggerating things even further, turning it into full-fledged cosmic horror. He wrote that in the bowels of the pyramid, Houdini met hippo-headed men worshiping strange artifacts and an ancient god, and raised the possibility that the guide who betrayed him was a time-traveling pharaoh. Basically, he took a pulpy tale that was pretty illogical already and went full Cthulhu with it.
Lovecraft typed up the story, but in the most rom-com-esque event in his life, lost it at a train station before leaving for his wedding. So during his honeymoon, he had to retype the story with the help of his new wife. Houdini ended up liking this version of the account, now clearly and absurdly fictional, just fine. Evidently, he never really cared about fooling people, and just wanted a fantastical story. The story was in first-person and was credited solely to Houdini, until a reprint mentioned Lovecraft in an editor's note after both men had died.
Years after writing "Imprisoned With The Pharaohs," Lovecraft needed work again and visited Houdini's Manhattan apartment. (Fun exercise: Imagine Houdini loudly challenging Lovecraft to an arm wrestling match, and then losing.) Later still, Houdini commissioned Lovecraft to write an article debunking astrology, and after this he commissioned him again, this time to ghostwrite a full book on debunking called The Cancer Of Superstition. Houdini soon died, cutting this project short, and the manuscript was thought to be lost until it turned up in 2016. But somehow we don't yet have a Netflix series about the two of them traveling the world, debunking ghosts and escaping elaborate traps.
Amelia Earhart And Eleanor Roosevelt Abandoned A White House Event To Fly Together
On April 20, 1933, the White House threw a party, and the most famous guest there had to be Amelia Earhart. She had completed her big solo transatlantic flight the previous year, and had become friends with Eleanor Roosevelt after that. This was a formal dinner party, but despite that, or possibly because of it, Earhart eventually said, "Screw this dinner. Let's go flying." And so the two of them bailed and went to Hoover Field in Arlington, Virginia, the first airport to open close to the White House.
The two women, and a few of the guests, got into a twin engine plane owned by Eastern Air Transport (Eastern Air's president was attending the party, so this technically did not count as grand theft aero). They flew to Baltimore, and then flew back, still garbed in fancy 1930s eveningwear, complete with white gloves. Earhart piloted the plane for most of the way, of course, and the first lady took the controls too. She had been taking flying lessons, having been set up with an instructor by Earhart herself. FDR had put an end to the lessons, fearing for her safety, but on the night of this flight to Baltimore, FDR was out of town. And despite objecting to his wife flying planes herself, FDR was pushing hard for America overall to embrace air travel, so Eleanor ended up taking a bunch of flights just for publicity reasons, including a famous one with the Tuskegee airmen.
Eleanor Roosevelt often flew in a converted bomber that had been intended as the very first Air Force One before it was rejected for its bad safety record. The name of this plane was Guess Where II. Wait, seriously? Someone getting into a plane called Guess Where II that's failed safety requirements sounds like a Family Guy cutaway gag ... but then again, so does Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart fleeing a party and flying away together.
Hans Christian Andersen Stayed With Charles Dickens (And Was A Terrible Guest)
Without looking it up, can you correctly identify when Hans Christian Andersen lived? Say, to the nearest century? Maybe you can, but considering that the guy wrote fairy tales like "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "The Ugly Duckling," he seems like he could be downright BCE. However, he was actually a contemporary of Charles Dickens in the 19th century, and was a big Dickens fan, to boot. They met at a party, Andersen called him the best writer ever, and Dickens sent him a package of books. They kept in touch by letter for the next decade.
Or it might be more accurate to say that Andersen kept writing to Dickens for years, and Dickens sometimes replied. Andersen was kind of obsessed, and maybe even in love (he liked men and women, though he didn't have sex with either). He'd also send Dickens his own books and ask for notes, which is a lot to ask of a busy writer, and history does not record whether Dickens ever obliged. Then in 1857, Andersen wrote to say he was coming to visit Dickens' house. "My visit is intended for you alone," he said. "Above all, always leave me a small corner in your heart." He didn't even ask if it was a good time for a visit.
And it was not -- Dickens was preparing for an acting role, was recovering from the failure of his last book's release, and was having marital problems. But Hans Christian Andersen stayed for five weeks. He'd go into London each day then return to Dickens' country home drunk. He was moody and would cry. He complained that there was no one there to shave him, which was something he'd not specifically requested when he first wrote to say he was coming, because he thought it went without saying.
One other thing that exasperated Dickens, as he wrote in a personal letter of complaint that he sent to the goddamn prime minister of England, was that Andersen spoke poorly. He didn't speak English well, nor German, nor Italian. Which might seem forgivable, considering he was Danish, but Dickens felt he had to draw the line somewhere. He finally kicked Andersen out, and the two were never friends again. Though considering that Dickens may have already based the odious villain from David Copperfield on Andersen, it's possible it was never really the healthiest of friendships to begin with.
Mark Twain Bailed Out A Broke And Dying Ulysses S. Grant
In 1884, Ulysses S. Grant was bankrupt. That's not a position you'd expect a former president to find himself in, but these were different times, as it would be another 75 years before presidents started getting pensions after leaving office (a practice started when Harry Truman found himself with a similarly slim wallet). And it would be even longer before presidents realized they could charge millions for 20-minute speaking gigs.
To make things worse, Grant's son had partnered with a fishy banker named Ferdinand Ward, and Grant had sunk all his savings into Ward's investments. Then, hearing that Ward's company was about to go bust, he borrowed a whole lot more money from the world's richest man, William Vanderbilt, to keep the firm afloat. But it turned out Ward's venture wasn't so much a "company" as it was a "Ponzi scheme," and Grant was ruined. Oh, and he also he had cancer, making it hard to leave anything to his wife and son. So Grant decided to make money the one way he knew how: He'd cook meth.
Wait no, it would be three more years before meth was invented. So instead he went straight from the doctor's to a publishers and struck a deal to write his memoirs. Soon after that, he visited his friend Mark Twain, who learned those publishers were offering Grant just 10% of the book's profits as royalties. Seemed like they were cheating him, said Twain. And besides, hadn't Grant, years before, promised Twain the rights to his memoir if he ever got down to writing one? If Twain published them instead, he'd offer Grant 75% of the royalties, which is a much higher number, and thus a better one.
Twain couldn't necessarily afford to be so generous, as he too had lost a bunch of money in a flawed investment, this one for a new sort of printing press that another invention made immediately obsolete. But he got Grant to accept the deal, and the memoir ended up selling like crazy, making Grant's widow a multimillionaire. It made so much that Twain must have done well from the deal after all -- though, this was also the year he published Huckleberry Finn, so by this time, the crazy shirtless badass was going to be rich regardless.
Ian Fleming Worked With Alan Turing In WWII, And Knew The UK's Enigma Secrets
Alan Turing went pretty much straight from studying mathematics in college to working as a code breaker for Britain, trying to decipher communications written by Germany even before World War II started. Then, when the war really did start, anyone who was anyone in Britain found themselves with some role to play, and the military saw all kinds of strange crossovers between famous figures who'd otherwise never meet. Over in naval intelligence, where Turing worked, one swiftly rising figure was Ian Fleming, who'd later go on to write the James Bond books and, um, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang.
Fleming came into the naval division as some guy's assistant and then became a lieutenant, then a commander, but he still remained in a position where Turing was a superior. The two collaborated, but didn't get along. Fleming would propose intelligence plans, and Turing would reject them. We don't have details of all these plans, but can logically assume they were Thunderball-esque. For one plan we do know about, Fleming traveled to Spain on a fake passport to build a strategy for what the Allies would do if Germany took the country over. This mission's name was Operation Goldeneye.
Another plan we know about was Operation Ruthless, and from Fleming's diaries, it sounds like Turing was angry this one didn't go through. Fleming's idea was to dress five people (himself included) as Germans and crash a German plane into the English Channel. Then they'd get picked up by German rescue, settle on the ship that collected them, and then kill everyone aboard before collecting all the info they could find on its Enigma machine. So it's a disguise mission, a survival mission, a rescue mission, a murder mission, AND an intel mission. Better hope there are a lot of save points.
Britain kept their progress on decoding Enigma a secret from America, and Fleming's records of Turing's process have since become a source for historians. They were also a source for the writers of The Imitation Game, the film starring Benedict Cumberbatch, who will definitely play a Bond villain eventually. And yet Fleming didn't appear anywhere in The Imitation Game. Come on. The movie had no problem inventing a bunch of bullshit that didn't really happen to make things more suitable for Hollywood, but they couldn't stick the real James Bond in there?
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