Quittin' Time!: People Who Punched Out of Work In Their Prime

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HARPER LEE

Most one-book authors are one-book authors for a reason: They die before they can crank out a second. (Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind comes to mind.) It seems Harper Lee, however, just plain doesn't want to write anymore. In the 1950s, Lee moved to New York to become an author, and in one sense, she succeeded. Her 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, won a Pulitzer Prize and is already a classic. But aside from a few nonfiction magazine articles she published later in the 1960s, she's refused to write anything since—including a foreword for her lone novel.

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JACKIE JENSEN

Jackie Jensen, an outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, was named the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1958. Just one year later, though, the 32-year-old slugger retired. Jensen wasn't ill, but he did have a condition he couldn't surmount. In the late 1950s, teams began traveling between cities on planes rather than trains, and Jensen didn't find the skies too friendly. The owner of the Sox hired a psychiatrist and a hypnotist to help the right-fielder overcome the phobia, but nothing worked. Convinced to return in 1961 after sitting out a year, Jensen played one more season for the Red Sox (although he took unpaid leave during several West Coast road trips) before giving up on baseball—and flying—for good.

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RICHARD JAMES, SLINKY CEO

If there's one job we can't imagine quitting, it's that of Slinky® CEO. Richard James invented the Slinky in 1943 after he saw a spring fall off a table and wiggle upon hitting the floor. And despite being about as much fun as watching a spring fall off a table and wiggle on the floor, the Slinky became an overnight sensation. When Slinky sales started to slack off in the mid-1950s, however, James turned his attention to things that went up instead of down. He donated most of his money to his church and left behind the nearly bankrupt Slinky business to become a missionary in Bolivia. He remained there until his death in 1974, when he fell down the stairs. (Just kidding. It was a heart attack.) Fortunately, James' wife raised the Slinky empire from its ruins, and to date, more than a quarter-billion of the toys have been sold.

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POPE CELESTINE V

Make a note, people. Quitting can have its consequences. Just ask Pietro di Murrone, a simple 13th-century monk who enjoyed spending his free time hanging out in the woods and practicing ascetic self-denial. (Most of us are quite content with just one Lent celebration every year. Pietro preferred four.) Given his fondness for solitude and utter lack of experience with church bureaucracy, Pietro was a terrible candidate for pope. And yet, nobody seemed to care. In 1294, the 88-year-old won unanimous support from the cardinals and became Pope Celestine V. He quickly proved he was no good at the job, though, and abdicated just five months later. He then returned to the woods to mind his own business. But the new pope, Boniface VIII, had no intentions of letting Celestine off that easy. Boniface found Pietro, dragged him back to Rome, threw him in jail for two years, and then had him killed.

This adventure into the mental_floss archives has been brought to you today by Volume 4, Issue 3, and intrepid writer John Green.  

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February 19, 2007 - 4:35am
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