With ‘normal’ news on hold at the moment, it’s to the past that we have to turn for ‘take your mind off the virus’ material. In that spirit, every weekend the Spectator is bringing you doses of topical trivia – facts, figures and anecdotes inspired by the current week’s dates in history …
Liberace (born 1919). The entertainer used to flaunt his diamond rings at his audience and say: ‘Do you like them? You should do – you paid for them.’
Pierce Brosnan (born 1953). His contract as James Bond forbade him from wearing a dinner suit in any other film. That’s why in The Thomas Crown Affair, when he dances with Rene Russo at a formal ball, his bow tie and top shirt button are undone – this was seen as sufficient to comply with the clause.
Alan Johnson (born 1950). When Tony Blair discovered that the Labour MP had fathered three children by the age of 20, he said: ‘Gosh, you really are working class, aren’t you?’
In 1631, John Winthrop became the first Governor of Massachusetts. During the 2010 campaign to become Senator for the state, one of the candidates aired a TV ad that misspelled ‘Massachusetts’.
Rick Wakeman (born 1949). The keyboard maestro’s rider was once 26 pages long. Every item was alcohol, except for the last one: ‘Peanuts (optional)’.
In 1962, Marilyn Monroe gave her famous rendition of Happy Birthday to John F. Kennedy at New York’s Madison Square Garden. (The celebratory gala was held 10 days before ‘Mr President’ actually turned 45.) Her flesh-coloured dress was so tight that Monroe couldn’t wear anything underneath it.
Nora Ephron (born 1941). The screenwriter had a clever solution to the problem of forgetting people’s names at parties. Whenever she saw someone familiar approaching, she would squeeze her husband’s arm. This was their secret signal for him to quickly introduce himself, thereby getting the person’s name and saving his wife’s embarrassment. The system worked perfectly until his memory got as bad as hers, when he would forget what the signal meant.
Cher (1946). Flying from London to New York on July 13 1985, the singer saw Phil Collins, and asked what he was doing. A somewhat surprised Collins replied that he was heading to Philadelphia to perform at the American leg of Live Aid, having just played at the Wembley concert. It was the first Cher had heard of the event. She asked Collins if he could ‘get her on it’. He said that she didn’t need him – she should ‘just turn up’. Following his advice, Cher managed to get herself on stage to sing on the final song, We Are The World.
World Bee Day. In its entire life, the average bee produces one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey.
In 1832 the US Democratic Party held its first national convention. The music for the 2000 convention was going to be Mambo No .5 by Lou Bega, until someone realised at the last minute that repeated references to ‘a little bit of Monica in my life’ might not be the ideal backdrop for Bill Clinton’s appearance.
The Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980. The shot where Luke Skywalker uses mind control to pick up his lightsaber was achieved by getting Mark Hamill to throw it away, then playing the film backwards.
Hergé (born 1907). The Tintin author was born Georges Remi. His pen name was the French pronunciation of his initials in reverse (R.G.)
Menzies Campbell (born 1941). Before he became a politician, Campbell was a talented athlete. His 1967 time for the 100 metres (10.2 seconds) earned him the title of ‘fastest white man on the planet’.