What We Talk About When We Talk About Fritz Haber

18Here’s the thing: The reason billions of people haven’t starved to death is thanks to German scientist Fritz Haber and the Haber-Bosch Process, which basically allows large-scale fertilizers to exist. He won the Nobel Prize!

But he also pioneered chemical warfare, deriding those who called it inhumane by pointing out that death is death, no matter what horse it rides in on.

His wife Clara may have disagreed; shortly after Haber personally oversaw the deployment of chlorine gas at Ypres (which saw 67,000 deaths), Clara and Fritz argued and she shot herself in the head with his gun. Their 13-year-old son, Hermann, heard the shots and found her. (Hermann would later commit suicide after WWII and the death of his youngest daughter; his oldest daughter would do likewise.)

And just as Haber saw no difference between modes of death, the Nazis saw no difference between Jews, whether they had served their country during the Great War or not. Presuming himself safe from persecution after converting to Christianity, Haber was stunned when he was ordered to dismiss all Jewish employees. He was dead by January 1934.

Allegedly, some of Haber’s extended family would be killed in concentration camps, courtesy of chemicals that had been developed at his lab.

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Don’t Accuse Judy Agnew of Being a Bad Hostess

92714786_134098689093Sure, the First Ladies get the biopics, the memoirs, and the biographies—but that doesn’t mean, especially when it comes to national politics, that they’re the only interesting ladies in D.C. There are, after all, the Second Ladies. (Maybe we never hear about them because “Second Ladies” sounds so… sinister.)

For instance, there was Judy Agnew. Oh Lord, poor Judy Agnew. She was content just being a homemaker for Spiro while he was governor of Maryland, then she got caught up in Nixon’s whirlwind just as it stopped being fun and started being felonious. Not that she was political. When someone asked her what she was doing as Second Lady,s he replied, “Trying to keep the ashtrays clean.”

And when a news report went out saying that… Well, no. Let me just quote it straight from her New York Times obituary:

During the 1968 presidential campaign, after newspapers reported that she had scandalized Maryland society by serving martinis in peanut butter jars, she went on television to rebut the accusation, displaying her shining crystal glasses.

Does anyone have that footage?

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The Many Deaths of Dorothy Dell

5ede22d73e5b3a1b109f04159ed12a28As a little girl, future Miss Universe Dorothy Dell was violently attacked by a dog in Mississippi. She only survived because her father killed the dog to save her.

In July 1931, Ziegfeld Showgirl Dorothy was invited to a party on vaudevillian Harry Richman’s yacht, Chevalier II. She declined; another showgirl took her place; the yacht exploded; the alternate showgirl was killed.

In August 1931, Dorothy was severely injured in an automobile accident. She spent two months recovering and almost died when she contracted influenza.

Then she broke a leg, and spent the next several months singing torch songs on the stage from a stool.

On June 7, 1934, Dorothy said, “You know, they say deaths go in cycles of three. First it was Lilyan Tashman, then Lew Cody. I wonder who’ll be next?”  Continue reading

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You Must Listen to You Must Remember This


I have been told for months that I need to listen to Karina Longworth’s podcast You Must Remember This. “But,” I was warned, “you may be a little jealous. She covers a lot of your favorites.”

“Oh, I’m sure I”ll be fine,” I said smugly. “My podcast would be about people like Gloria Grahame.”

“She did it.”

Lauren Bacall, obviously.”


“Kay Francis?”

“Oh, that was such a good episode!”  Continue reading

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Lana Turner’s Gun

1973_deaths_lex_barker_lana_turner_1955I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite gallant leading ladies these days. Chief among them is, of course, Elizabeth Taylor. Say what you will about her life, her appetites (for men, jewels, food), and her talent, but she lived life with a gusto that few of us could hope to match. Remember when Montgomery Clift crashed his car outside her house, and she saved his life by reaching down into his throat and pulling out the front teeth he was choking on? And how, outside the hospital in a cab with an unconscious Monty on her lap, she responded to the cab driver’s insistence that he be paid the $10 fare by throwing a $10,000 diamond ring at him?

But these are told and retold stories. The one I want to tell today is Lana Turner’s.  Continue reading

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Real Talk: Take a Powder

“Hey, smart guy. Why don’t you take a powder and leave the adults alone?”

So why does “take a powder” mean to leave? No one knows! Yes, it’s going to be one of those entries in which I claim to answer a burning questions (for no one) but actually just shrug my shoulders and list a bunch of theories. Ladies’ choice!

Take a powder could come from the routine exclamation from doctors to patients—take a laxative powder for what ails you. Maybe! Or it could be a shortened version of, “I’m going to the powder room to powder my nose.”

In either case, it definitely originated in the 1920s and means to make a hurried—but discreet!—exit.

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Won’t You Spend an Hour with Bea Arthur?

Oh my. Don’t you wish we still lived in a world where a Bea Arthur could get an entire variety special on network TV? (Then again, this special seems to indicate that the variety special deserved to be put out of its misery.)

Special Note: Rock Hudson “would never ever take advantage of a woman.”

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