13 Bizarre Stipulations in Wills

zimmytws/iStock via Getty Images
zimmytws/iStock via Getty Images

News outlets reported this week that legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite never amended his will to include Joanna Simon, who had been his girlfriend for the last four years of his life. Cronkite's daughter said the newsman never planned to leave Simon, a former opera singer and older sister of Carly Simon, any sort of inheritance, but either way, wills are back in the news. What better time to look at some of the most bizarre codicils ever written?

1. Leona Helmsley
The notoriously egomaniacal hotelier famously left $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble, while entirely cutting two of her grandchildren out of her will (for "reasons which are known to them"). Her other two grandchildren didn't get off the hook entirely; their inheritances were contingent upon their regularly making visits to their father's grave, where they would have to sign a registration book to prove they had shown up.

2. Carlotta Liebenstein
Don't think Trouble Helmsley is the richest pooch on the block. When Liebenstein, a German countess, died in 1991, she left her entire $80-million estate to her dog, Gunther.

3. Jeremy Bentham
The 18th-and-19th-century social philosopher left the world a rather odd bequest in his will: his preserved, clothed body. No one's quite sure what Bentham was getting at with this "gift," but since his 1832 death his clothed skeleton "“ topped with a wax model of Bentham's head "“ has been preserved in a wood-and-glass cabinet known as the Auto-Icon. It now resides at University College London and is occasionally moved so Bentham can "attend" meetings.

Bentham didn't want for the Auto-Icon to feature a wax head; he actually carried around the glass eyes he wanted used in his preserved face for years before his death. However, the preservation process distorted his face, so the wax replica had to stand in. For many years Bentham's real head sat between his feet in the Auto-Icon, but it was such a target for pranksters that it eventually had to be locked away.

4. Sandra West
West, a California socialite and oil heiress, died when she was just 37 years old and requested that she be buried "in my lace nightgown ... in my Ferrari, with the seat slanted comfortably." Her family buried West in her powder-blue 1964 Ferrari 330 America, then covered the car with cement to deter car thieves. Good call: nice examples of that year's 330 America can now sell for well over $300,000.

5. Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara

The Portuguese aristocrat was a childless bachelor, so he divvied up his estate by picking 70 names at random from the Lisbon phone book. When he died 13 years later, his attorneys notified the unsuspecting beneficiaries that they stood to inherit their benefactor's cash, his home, and his car.

6. Heinrich Heine
The German poet left his entire fortune to his wife, but with one catch: she had to remarry "because then there will be at least one man to regret my death."

7. S. Sanborn
Sanborn, a 19th-century New England hatter, left a rather macabre bequest to a friend—a pair of drums made from Sanborn's skin. The friend received further instructions to go to Bunker Hill each June 17th and play "Yankee Doodle Dandy" on the drums.

8. T.M. Zink
Zink, an Iowa lawyer who died in 1930, must have had some pretty bad experiences with women. When he died he left his daughter a measly five bucks, and his wife got nothing. He stipulated that the rest of his $100,000 estate be put in a trust for 75 years, then used to create the Zink Womanless Library. The library would have no feminine decorations, no books or magazine articles by female authors, and was required to have "No Women Admitted" carved into the stone over the entrance.

9. Charles Millar

The Canadian attorney died a childless bachelor, but he left $568,106 to the mother who gave birth to the most children in Toronto in the 10 years following his 1928 death. This bequest prompted what Canadians called "the Baby Derby" as mothers raced to win the fortune. Finally, in 1938 four winners split the prize after giving birth to nine babies apiece.

10. Robert Louis Stevenson
When the celebrated author died, he left his friend Annie H. Ide his birthday. Ide had previously complained to Stevenson about the inconvenience of being born on Christmas, so the writer left her November 13th as a new birthday provided she take care of it with "moderation and humanity... the said birthday not being so young as it once was."

 11. Ruth Lilly
This one's not like the others on this list, since Ruth Lilly is still alive. Lilly, a pharmaceutical heiress and aspiring poet, spent much of her life trying to convince editors to publish her verses. Although she didn't get any bylines, the editor of Poetry magazine once sent Lilly a handwritten rejection note, and that was enough for her. In 2002, Lilly pledged $100 million worth of stock to the foundation that publishes the journal.

12. Henry Budd
It's not clear how he originally made 200,000 pounds, but when Henry Budd died in 1862, he left his substantial fortune to his two sons on the condition that neither sullied his lip with a mustache.

13. Mark Gruenwald
When longtime comic book writer and editor Mark Gruenwald died in 1996, fans of the Marvel Comics icon probably thought they'd seen the last of the former Captain America writer. Gruenwald had other ideas, though. He requested that his ashes be mixed into the ink used to print the first trade paperback anthology of Squadron Supreme, another one of his landmark creations.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.