For this Sunday, I present you with a little quiz. Each of the ten people listed below have exactly one thing in common among all of them. I’ll even help you out by giving a mini-bio on each, but make your guess before the reveal, okay?
Okay. Here we go. In chronological order…
Richard III (1452—1485)
King of England, last of the Plantagenet rulers, from the House of York, which famously lost to the house of Lancaster in the War of the Roses — and yes, there’s a reason those names might remind you of the family names “Stark” and “Lannister,” because this is where George R.R. Martin cribbed one of the storylines for Game of Thrones.
Richard III is probably most famous to us now, especially non-Brits, as one of Shakespeare’s most memorable villains, and the character actually appears in an entire cycle of plays about the War, known as Gloucester in the latter plays of the expanded Henriad, since he doesn’t become king (briefly) until the last play.
Shakespeare’s view of Richard’s villainy most likely came from Thomas More’s account of his reign, written at the court of Henry VIII, and More is the one who claimed that Richard had his two nephews, rivals to the throne, murdered in the Tower of London. Did he do it, or was it his successor Henry VII, who needed to eliminate them after defeating Richard at Bosworth Field?
We can’t really be sure, but what we do know, after the presumed remains of Richard were found under a parking lot in Leicester in 2012, and confirmed to be his on February 4, 2013, is that he was not, as Shakespeare depicted him, a sufferer of kyphosis, the medically correct term for hunchback, although Richard had suffered from scoliosis. Additionally, while Shakespeare wrote that Richard III had a limp and withered arm — and used it in the play to accuse his brother’s widow, Anne Neville, of witchcraft — his remains show that he did not.
Facial reconstruction also revealed that he wasn’t all that bad looking, for being a villainous king. Of course, Shakespeare probably had the same motive in trashing Richard as Thomas More did — making their monarchs happy. In More’s case, it was Henry VIII, son of the man who defeated Richard III, and in Shakespeare’s case it was Elizabeth (not yet the first), who was the daughter of Henry VIII.
Gotta kiss up to your patrons, after all.
Nat Turner (1800—1831)
Nat Turner was born enslaved in 1800, and Turner wasn’t even his name. He never knew his father, who had escaped at some point before Nat was aware of him. Turner was the name of the slaver who claimed to own him.
He was extremely intelligent and learned to read, but also became very religious, focusing on the Bible and, eventually, started to have visions, one of which told him that Jesus had put down the yoke he had taken up for mankind, implying that Nat should take it up instead.
Add one solar eclipse on February 12, 1831, which Turner took to be the sign from god that it was time to act, and he bought up muskets in order to launch a slave rebellion, originally planned for July 4, 1831 (because, symbolism) but delayed.
Then, solar events again intervened on August 13 (six months and a day after the eclipse, natch), when the Sun appeared bluish-green, probably due in large part to debris thrown into the atmosphere by the distant eruption of Mount St. Helens.
But Nat took this as another sign, and on August 21, he and his fellow rebels went house to house, freeing slaves and killing many of the white people they had encountered, although they’d given up on the muskets as they would draw too much attention, so settled for knives, hatches, axes, and blunt instruments.
They passed over homes with poor white residents who were not slaveholders. Nat’s goal was to spread “terror and alarm” among white people to reveal the true brutality and inhumanity of slave-holding.
Whether involved in the rebellion or not, 56 black people were executed and 100 to 120 more were killed by militias. Unfounded and untrue rumors about roving bands of rebelling slaves spread, so that white people began attacking blacks at random and without reason.
After a brief trial, Nat Turner was executed on November 11, 1831. His body was flayed, and his skin used to make souvenir purses. His remains were dumped in an unmarked grave.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869—1948)
That’s right, his first name was not Mahatma. That was an honorific title not given to him until he was in his 40s. He started out as a lawyer, moving to South Africa in 1893 after not being able to start a law practice in India, and remained there for over 20 years, finally returning to India in 1915.
Here, he became an activist, assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress (INC), one of the country’s political parties, organizing peasants, farmers, and urban laborers to protest against discrimination and excessive land taxes. After he assumed control of the INC in 1921, he also adopted the garb he is most known for — the white loincloth, or dhoti, with a long, shawl made from hand-spun yarn in winter. He did this in order to show his identification with India’s rural poor.
As independence for India approached, Gandhi supported religious pluralism, sharing territory and rule between Hindus and Muslims, but Muslim nationalists demanded a separate homeland. In August 1947, Britain granted independence but, in their infinite stupidity, attempted the whole two-state solution thing, creating Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, which required the relocation of lots of people from one country to the other — including Sikhs, who didn’t belong to either religion.
Hm. I wonder where else Britain cocked it up like that?
Gandhi attempted to stop ensuing religious violence, undergoing several hunger strikes, also trying to pressure India to pay out assets that they owed to Pakistan. This, or course, didn’t sit well with Hindu nationalists, and on January 30, 1948, Nathuram Godse shot Gandhi in the chest three times, killing him.
Julius “Groucho” Marx (1890—1977)
Hooray for Captain Spaulding, the African explorer. ‘Did someone call me schnorrer?’ Hooray, hooray, hooray!
Groucho Marx and his two most famous brothers, Leonard “Chico” Marx and Arthur “Groucho” Marx, will always be American comedy icons, and I’m betting that even if you’re Gen Z, you would recognize them in a photo (in character) instantly.
While Groucho was sort of the straight man in the bunch — relatively speaking — he was also a master of incredible word play, shooting off rapid-fire monologues that would turn on a dime, especially in turning definitions on their heads. In a lot of ways, his humor descends from people like Oscar Wilde.
Typical Groucho quotes:
“The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
“Behind every successful man is a woman, behind her is his wife.”
“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
He never headed any political movements or rebellions and the only country he ever led was a fictional one, Fredonia, in the Marx Brothers’ 1933 film Duck Soup. The Marx Brothers ended their film career with 1949’s Love Happy, although they had a brief reunion, sort of, in 1957’s The Story of Mankind, although it was not a Marx Brothers’ vehicle, and only featured Grouch, Chico, and Harpo in separate cameos.
Groucho did go on, though, to appear in five more feature films, culminating in 1968’s Skidoo, an utterly bonkers must-see film very much inspired by LSD culture of the time, and in which Groucho plays god.
He was also the host of the very popular quiz show You Bet Your Life, which premiered on radio in 1947, added TV broadcasts in 1950, and ran in both formats until 1960. During the entire run, Groucho demonstrated his incredible improvisation skills, and the uncanny ability to make the very nervous contestants look good.
Rex Reed (1938—)
Mostly known as a very acerbic film critic who somehow also became a celebrity, possibly because his film critics and columns appeared everywhere. He was also the author of eight celebrity profile books, four of which became bestsellers. They had provocative titles like Do you sleep in the nude? and Conversations in the Raw.
If you remember the famous rumor that Marisa Tomei hadn’t actually won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1992, but that Jack Palance had read the wrong name, welp, that rumor was started by Reed. Reed claimed that the Academy covered up the mistake in order to avoid embarrassment, but we all saw rather publicly how wrong that theory was in 2017, when La La Land was incorrectly announced as Best Picture winner, only to be corrected by Price-Waterhouse Reps live, during the broadcast.
Reed has always come across as a fussy, uptight queen, although he does hold a place in camp history as one of the two leads in the film version of Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge, playing the pre-gender confirmation surgery version of Raquel Welch’s character.
The last time he really made the news was in 2000, when he was arrested for shoplifting in Manhattan after taking a five-finger discount on CDs by Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, and Carmen McRae.
And… this got way longer than I thought that it would, so I’m going to pick it up next week, with names 6 through 10, and your chance to answer the question: What do they all have in common.
Also… if this list seems a bit misogynistic, keep in mind that prior to the 20th century, famous women tended to be erased from history. In the next installment, though, 4 out of 5 entries are women. Enjoy!