Anecdotes

So, what’s an anecdote anyway?

Webster says that an anecdote is “a usually short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident.” Clifton Fadiman tells us that a “first-rate anecdote should be more than merely a good saying” or the description of an eccentric moment in an individual’s life. D’Israeli called anecdotes “minute notices of human nature and of human learning.” A “good” anecdote is often a mini-drama that helps us to reflect on our own lives as we peek into the lives of those more famous. However you define them, I hope that when you read the anecdotes you find here you'll be both amused and enlightened.

Where did these anecdotes come from?

Unless otherwise stated, all anecdotes are taken from The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, Clifton Fadiman, general editor. ©1985. Little, Brown and Company, Inc. In addition, several anecdotes have been gleaned from books, historical records, newspapers, biographies, and autobiographies and those sources are indicated on the pages where those particular anecdotes appear. Some are word-of-mouth accounts from friends or acquaintances of the person about whom the anecdote is told.

The Anecdotes...

Hank Aaron

During the 1957 World Series, Yankee catcher...

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Abbott and Costello

“Bud Abbott and Lou Costello once took out a $...

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John Abernethy

A patient complaining of melancholy consulted...

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Dean Acheson

On leaving his post as secretary of state,...

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Abigail Adams

In her last few months as First Lady, the...

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Ansel Adams

During his early years Adams studied the piano...

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John Adams

Although failing fast, Adams was determined to...

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Jane Addams

In 1900 the Daughters of the American...

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Louisa May Alcott

When Miss Alcott became a celebrity, she often...

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Alfonso X

The most celebrated of the works undertaken...

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Saint Thomas Aquinas

As the pupil of the scholastic teacher...

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Neil Armstrong

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the...

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Isaac Asimov

Once Horace Gold [editor] went too far. He...

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Fred Astaire

Attracted by Hollywood as a young dancer,...

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“Red” Auerbach

On tour with the Boston Celtics, Auerbach met...

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P.T. Barnum

Barnum’s business instincts did not desert him...

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Clara Barton

Miss Barton, who never bore grudges, was once...

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Elgin Baylor

When Baylor was the leader of the Los Angeles...

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Sir Thomas Beecham

Sir Thomas Beecham was traveling in a...

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Henry Ward Beecher

Arriving at Plymouth church one Sunday,...

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Menachem Begin

In September 1940 Begin was playing chess with...

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Hilaire Belloc portrait by Emil Otto Hoppé

During the 1930s in a railway carriage Belloc...

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Robert Benchley

Benchley was attending the Broadway premiere...

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Sarah Bernhardt

An admirer of a certain young English...

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Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein’s father was criticized for not...

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Yogi Berra

On one occasion when the New York Yankees were...

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Sir Rudolf Bing

In Sir Rudolf Bing’s 5000 Nights at...

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Daniel Boone

The American artist Chester Harding, painting...

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Junius Brutus Booth

“You’re such a wonderful actor, Mr. Booth,”...

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Johannes Brahms

As a celebrated composer, Brahms conducted his...

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Willy Brandt

On a visit to Israel as mayor of West Berlin,...

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Young Robert Browning

Browning’s Sordello was published in...

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Martin Buber

Addressing an audience of priests, Martin...

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William F. Buckley

In 1965, Buckley ran as Conservative candidate...

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Samuel Butler

“Promise me solemnly,” I said to her as she...

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George Cadbury

When King George V and Queen Mary visited the...

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James Cagney

James Cagney’s wife often commented on her...

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Maria Callas

In the fall of 1971, Maria Callas taught a...

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Mrs. Patrick Campbell

Mrs. Campbell once attempted to smuggle her...

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George Canning

Sydney Smith said that Canning in office was...

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Al Capone

The U.S. Bureau of Internal Revenue astounded...

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Benjamin Cardozo

A group of Supreme Court justices once took an...

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Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie was a generous supporter of...

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Enrico Caruso

Caruso was caught in the great 1906 San...

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Cato the Censor

The eighty-year-old Cato surprised his friends...

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William Cecil

Traveling to a confirmation ceremony, the...

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Charlie Chaplin

The playwright Charles MacArthur had been...

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Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

When Hernando Cortéz, the celebrated explorer...

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Charles, Prince of Wales

Charles briefly attended a school in Australia...

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G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton’s mind was so preoccupied that he...

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Joseph Hodges Choate

Choate was asked at a private dinner who he...

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Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie’s second husband, Max Mallowan...

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Winston Churchill

Churchill was no admirer of Sir Stafford...

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George Rogers Clark

Impoverished and crippled, Clark applied to...

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Mark Wayne Clark

Clark was once asked what was the best advice...

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George Clemenceau

Clemenceau loathed flying and always avoided...

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Frances Folsom Cleveland

At a White House dinner given during one of...

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Grover Cleveland

Cleveland, though constantly at loggerheads...

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Jean Cocteau

Cocteau was once asked if he believed in luck...

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George M. Cohan

Cohan auditioned an actor for a role and...

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Coleridge was once involved in discussion with...

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Christopher Columbus

On Columbus’s first voyage west, in 1492, his...

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Calvin Coolidge

While Coolidge was governor of Massachusetts,...

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Charles Townsend Copeland

For many years Copeland used a couple of...

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Cornelia

Most of Cornelia’s children died young,...

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Douglas Corrigan

In 1937 Corrigan applied to the Bureau of Air...

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Noël Coward

Coward was strolling around an art exhibition...

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Illustration of William Crockford

Crockford’s horse Ratan was favorite for the...

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Croesus

Deliberating whether to attack the Persians,...

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Marie Curie

An American newspaperman tracked the Curies...

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Cyrus the Great

On one occasion Cyrus reprimanded his son,...

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Salvador Dalí

Dalí once took his pet ocelot with him...

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Clarence Darrow

Reporters would on occasion tease the...

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Sir Edgeworth David

During the South Polar expedition, Sir...

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Bette Davis

Jack Warner, the movie producer and co-founder...

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Cecil B. DeMille

When told that investors were becoming “...

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Jack Dempsey

J. Paul Getty was one of the wealthy men who...

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Frances Hutt (Mrs. Thomas Dewey)

In the 1948 presidential contest between Harry...

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Charles Dickens

When Charles Dickens moved into Tavistock...

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Diogenes

By constant flattery the hedonistic...

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Benjamin Disraeli

A young lady was taken to dinner one evening...

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John Donne

Donne secured the post of secretary to Sir...

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Joking with Doyle during a rehearsal for one...

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Alexandre Dumas

Dumas’s quarrel with a rising young politician...

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Albrecht Dürer

The story is told that Dürer and another...

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Leo Durocher

Asked if he didn’t feel sorry to have beaten...

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Thomas Alva Edison

Edison was asked to sign a guest book that had...

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Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor

Addressing a group of friends on the subject...

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Albert Einstein

Einstein and an assistant, having finished a...

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Dwight Eisenhower

During his first term Eisenhower appointed...

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T. S. Eliot

Publisher Robert Giroux once asked Eliot...

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Eric the Red

The terrain of Greenland is covered mainly...

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John Erskine

Erskine was once asked if he found it...

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Phil Esposito

Esposito was one of the North American ice-...

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Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

As he was driving back to his mansion,...

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William Faulkner

Faulkner was on a shooting expedition with...

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Ferdinand Foch

A young officer has been disciplined by his...

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Henry Fonda

Henry Fonda was asked to say in one phrase the...

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Gerald R. Ford

In 1976, Ford lost his bid for the presidency...

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St. Francis of Assisi

The popularity of the Nativity scene, one of...

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Francisco Franco

Franco had remarkable powers of endurance and...

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Benjamin Franklin

At the signing of the first draft of the...

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Sir Oliver Shewell Franks

In December 1948, a Washington, DC, radio...

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Frederick II

Frederick’s cook Noël one day served some...

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Robert Frost

After a dinner party Robert Frost and the...

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Zsa Zsa Gabor

Miss Gabor once appeared on a television...

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John Kenneth Galbraith
George Horace Gallup

The Gallup poll conducted before the...

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Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi gave a lecture to a select gathering of...

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Greta Garbo

David Niven speaks of a conversation with...

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Erle Stanley Gardner

In the early days of his career, Gardner...

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Isabella Stewart Gardner

Isabella Stewart of New York never thought...

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George III

The acclaimed musician Johann Peter Salomon...

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George Gershwin

The pianist and wit...

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J. Paul Getty

A newspaper reporter once asked Getty if it...

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W.S. Gilbert

Soon after the death of a well-known composer...

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Giotto by Ucello

When he first encountered Giotto’s children,...

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Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva, in the year 1057, exasperated her...

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In 1830, Goethe’s dissipated son August, who...

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Benny Goodman

In the early part of his career, Goodman...

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Cary Grant

After watching Cary on a television broadcast...

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Ulysses S. Grant

Undistinguished and often shabby in appearance...

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Hetty Green

Mrs. Green’s most faithful friend was a...

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Joseph Henry Green

On his deathbed, Green behaved very coolly. “...

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Sir Alec Guinness

He was seldom recognized in public. In one of...

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Johnny Gunther

John and Frances Gunther’s son, Johnny, died...

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Nathan Hale

In September 1776 Hale volunteered for a...

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Dashiell Hammett

During the eight years that Hammett worked as...

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John Hancock

As president of the Continental Congress,...

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George Frideric Handel

The famous soprano Francesca Cuzzoni, who came...

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Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hawthorne’s son, Julian, was also a writer and...

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Helen Hayes

As she retired to the kitchen to put the...

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William Randolph Hearst

Hearst offered columnist Arthur Brisbane a six...

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Jascha Heifetz

Shortly after his appointment as professor of...

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Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s son Patrick asked his father to...

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Sir William Herschel

As news of Herschel’s discoveries became...

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Sir Edmund Hillary

The dramatic photograph of Tenzing Norgay on...

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Alfred Hitchcock

At a French airport one day, the customs...

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Portrait of a Man by Katsushika Hokusai

Looking back toward the end of his long life...

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Herbert Hoover

In 1929, Hoover waited until he’d been in...

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John Huston

The word came by phone when he was in the...

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Andrew Jackson

When Congress assembled on December 7, 1829,...

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Martha Skelton Jefferson

The young widow Martha Skelton, whom Thomas...

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Joseph Jefferson

“I was coming down the elevator of the Stock...

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Thomas Jefferson

By a strange coincidence Jefferson and his old...

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Pope John XXIII

Photographer Yousuf Karsh had been...

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Lyndon Baines Johnson

LBJ had a vast store of preacher stories. One...

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Immanuel Kant

In 1802 Kant discharged Lampe, the faithful...

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Jacqueline Kennedy, circa 1964

When President Kennedy and his wife visited...

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John F. Kennedy

In 1962, when Kennedy was President, he...

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Joseph P. Kennedy

Kennedy objected to being referred to as an...

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William Paton Ker

Visiting a natural history museum, Ker and a...

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Nikita Khrushchev

Censuring Stalin at a public meeting,...

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Rudyard Kipling

A newspaper to which Kipling subscribed...

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Ronald Knox

Traveling by train from Oxford to London one...

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Marquis de Lafayette

The harvest of 1783 was a poor one, but the...

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Charles Lamb

“Don’t introduce me to him,” said Lamb...

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Wilfrid Lawson

Lunching in a pub before a matinee performance...

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Robert E. Lee

Toward the end of the Civil War, when meat was...

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Oscar Levant

During World War II, Oscar Levant appeared...

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Abraham Lincoln

During the Civil War Lincoln had occasion at...

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Robert Todd Lincoln

Robert Todd Lincoln was home from Harvard on a...

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Joseph Lister

Lister was once summoned to attend a rich lord...

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David Lloyd George

Lloyd George was once approached by explorer...

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Sid Luckman

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, Sid Luckman was...

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James Madison

At the Constitutional Convention Madison was...

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George Mallory

Mallory, a veteran of several Everest...

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Thomas Mann

Mann was introduced to an American writer of...

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Princess Margaret

While attending a small dinner given in her...

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Herbert Marshall

Marshall served in the British merchant marine...

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Jan Masaryk

Early in his career, Jan Masaryk served as...

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Marcello Mastroianni

Film producer Joseph Levine once presented...

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W. Somerset Maugham

Unable to take his Spanish royalties out of...

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Charles Horace Mayo

In Dr. Mayo’s mail one morning was a letter...

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Joseph McCarthy

Senator McCarthy stalked out of a...

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Carson McCullers

Carson McCuller’s mother was on a bus en route...

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William McKinley

On September 6, 1901, while greeting people at...

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Golda Meir

During the negotiations with the Arabs, Mrs....

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Paul Meurisse

Meurisse, renowned for his taciturnity, once...

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Michelangelo - self portrait

One day Michelangelo happened to overhear a...

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James Michener

Michener was once invited by...

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Robert Andrews Millikan

Millikan’s wife was passing through the hall...

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A.A. Milne and his son, Robin

Christopher Milne explained how his father...

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Richard Monckton Milnes

As he lay on his deathbed the bon vivant...

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Robert Mitchum

In 1970, when Mitchum and his wife had been...

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Ferenc Molnár

Molnár and a friend had been given...

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Charles Edward Montague

At the outbreak of World War I, Montague dyed...

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Clement Moore

When Clement Moore wrote his poem A Visit...

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Robert Morley

Morley once met an old friend, fellow actor...

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Grandma Moses

When asked what she would have done if she...

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Mother Teresa

Excerpt from an interview with Martin...

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Louis Mountbatten

The five-year-old Mountbatten was reluctant to...

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Gamal Abdel Nasser

With emotions high on the night before the...

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Isaac Newton

Newton owned a pet dog named Diamond, which...

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Florence Nightingale

During the Crimean War Florence Nightingale...

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Richard Nixon

On October 28, 1970, the presidential...

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Eugene O’Neill

O’Neill always strongly objected to cutting...

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J. Robert Oppenheimer

Physicist James Franck was professor of G...

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Thomas Paine

Benjamin Franklin said to Paine, “Where...

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Dorothy Parker

In the hospital Dorothy Parker was visited by...

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Blaise Pascal

Pascal’s father began his son’s education with...

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Luciano Pavarotti

This story was told by composer Lalo Schifrin...

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Gregory Peck

Entering a crowded restaurant with a companion...

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Ross Perot

Looking around for a suitable way of serving...

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Prince Philip

Visiting an Australian university during a...

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Pablo Picasso

“When I was a child, my mother said to me, ‘If...

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Alexander Pope

When Pope was on his deathbed, the doctor...

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André Previn

In order to assess their suitability for...

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François Rabelais

It is said that Rabelais made the following...

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George Raft

George Raft acquired and disposed of about ten...

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Ronald Reagan

In March 1981 a would-be assassin fired...

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Antonio Rivera Ramírez

Antonio took refuge with other Nationalists in...

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Artur Rodzinski

On a vacation Rodzinski noticed that there was...

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Will Rogers

Rogers, having paid too much income tax one...

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Eleanor Roosevelt

Harry Truman had accepted the vice presidency...

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Theodore Roosevelt

Shortly before he left the White House,...

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Arthur Rubinstein

We...awaited him in the restaurant. He entered...

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Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth was enormously popular, a larger-...

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George Santayana

When Santayana came into a sizable legacy, he...

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Ernestine Schumann-Heink

Conditions were rather cramped in the Detroit...

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Albert Schweitzer

On a train journey in the American Midwest,...

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Catharine Maria Sedgwick

Like most Sedgwicks, Catharine was very fond...

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Peter Sellers

Blake Edwards, who directed Sellers in the...

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George Bernard Shaw

At a performance given by an Italian string...

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George Shearing

Asked by an admirer whether he had been blind...

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Fulton J. Sheen

In Baltimore to address an interfaith rally,...

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William Tecumseh Sherman

After the Mexican War, Sherman was sent by...

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Red Skelton

In 1951, Red Skelton and a party of friends...

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Sam Snead

Passing through Rome in 1961, Snead stopped...

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Socrates

Knowing the frugality of Socrates’ way of life...

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King Solomon

Two prostitutes living alone in the same house...

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William Archibald Spooner

The Rev. W.A. Spooner was reputed to have had...

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John Steinbeck

During his later years, when he was famous,...

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Thaddeus Stevens

A visitor who called on Stevens during his...

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Adlai Stevenson

Harry Truman finally persuaded Stevenson to...

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Rex Stout

An old midwestern farmer once ponderously...

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Igor Stravinsky

Stravinsky wrote a ballet for Billy Rose’s...

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Willie Sutton

Willie Sutton, one of the most famous bank...

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Leo Szilard

On one occasion, Szilard was discussing with...

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William Howard Taft

On one occasion Taft, stranded at a small...

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Charles Talleyrand-Périgord

Claude Rulhières, author of a celebrated work...

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Tecumseh

In 1810 William Henry Harrison, then governor...

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Louisa Tetrazzini

Tetrazzini was concerned neither about her...

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Dylan Thomas

On one occasion when Dylan Thomas had been...

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William Thomson, Lord Kelvin

Kelvin worked out an improved method for...

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Dame Sybil Thorndike

Sybil Thorndike was married to Sir Lewis...

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Jim Thorpe

King Gustav V of Sweden presented Thorpe with...

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James Thurber with his dog

When The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,...

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Titian self-portrait

When very old, Titian finished one of his...

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Arturo Toscanini

Every Christmas, composer Giacomo Puccini...

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Harry Truman

After his election to the U.S. Senate in 1934...

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Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth was one of the first blacks to...

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Mark Twain

Mark Twain loved to brag about his hunting and...

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Mo Udall

In 1983, Democratic Congressman Mo Udall of...

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Louis Untermeyer

Untermeyer once returned his speaker’s fee to...

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Martin Van Buren

Van Buren was so obnoxious to the southern...

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Cornelius Vanderbilt

One of Vanderbilt’s sons-in-law, needing $50,...

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Queen Victoria

In the early years of their marriage, Victoria...

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Rudolf Virchow

Appendectomy first became widely and safely...

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Joseph Wanamaker

The late John Wanamaker was the king of retail...

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George Washington

Early in the Revolutionary War, Washington...

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Evelyn Waugh

Once, when he had behaved with particular...

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Clifton Webb

Actor Clifton Webb was devoted to his mother,...

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Daniel Webster

Webster’s father left him and his brother...

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Duke of Wellington

During the Peninsular War a detachment of...

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H.G. Wells

On leaving a Cambridge party, Wells...

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Harry Wheatcroft

Wheatcroft was known for his flamboyant dress...

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James Whistler

A snobbish Bostonian approached Whistler at a...

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Andrew Dickson White

A stickler for academic excellence, White...

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Oscar Wilde

Wilde died of cerebral meningitis in a hotel...

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Michael Wilding

Wilding was once asked whether actors had any...

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Tennessee Williams

Newspaper reports in 1961 announced that...

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Richard Wilson

The Italian tradition of landscape painting...

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Woodrow Wilson

One afternoon during his time as governor of...

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Alexander Woollcott

Childless himself, the redoubtable Alexander...

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William Wordsworth

Wordsworth boasted in...

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Bishop Milton Wright

One day the Bishop Wright was discussing...

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The Wright Brothers

Weary of explaining the principles of their...

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Israel Zangwill

Andrew Lang wrote to inquire of his friend...

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