7 Famous Hoarders

iStock / kali9
iStock / kali9

Do you have trouble throwing stuff out? Afraid to let go of that old remote control for the broken TV you've got stored away in the basement just in case you might need it someday? You might be suffering from disposophobia, sometimes called pathological hoarding. Of course, there's a big difference between needing to exorcize your clutter and hoarding, pack rat-style. Disposophobia is a serious form of OCD, and one not to be taken lightly, as the following seven people prove.

1. & 2. Homer and Langley Collyer

The Collyer brothers have been the subjects of movies, plays and a recent novel by E.L. Doctorow. With American roots tracing back to the days of the Mayflower, Homer and Langley Collyer were well-off members of Manhattan's elite. After their parents' death in the 1920s, the brothers withdrew from society and divided their time between their family's Manhattan and Harlem brownstones. Appropriately enough, thanks to Homer (who was also crippled and blind) and his brother Langley, disposophobia is also sometimes referred to as 'Collyer brothers syndrome.'

Why? Because as the brothers became more and more reclusive, rumors began circulating that the houses were filled with riches and the brothers set booby traps to protect their valuables. Then, in 1947, a neighbor called police complaining of a pungent odor. Inside the Harlem brownstone police found Homer Collyer dead. His corpse was amid tons of junk, including an early X-ray machine, the jawbone of a horse and bundles upon bundles of old newspapers.

His brother Langley was nowhere to be found, and a nationwide manhunt was conducted. Weeks later, when half the brownstone had been cleared of 180 tons of junk, a worker discovered Langley's decomposed corpse buried beneath a stack newspapers. He had been dead for weeks and rats had eaten most of his body. It was ultimately determined that Homer died of starvation when Langley, who fed his crippled, blind brother, was crushed to death under—what else?—a bunch of junk.

3. & 4. The women of Grey Gardens

In the early 1970s, two women related to Jackie Onassis were the subjects of the critically acclaimed documentary, Grey Gardens, about eccentric behavior. The women, Edith Bouvier Beale and her mother, Edith Ewing Bouvier, were former New York socialites who spent their days holed up in a decrepit East Hampton mansion.

When the Suffolk County Board of Health raided their house, they found piles of garbage amid human and animal waste. It was said that only three of the mansion's 28 rooms were used, while the others were occupied by hundreds of cats, possums and raccoons.

When word of the deplorable conditions got to Jackie-O, she and her then-husband Aristotle Onassis paid $32,000 to clean the house, install a new furnace and plumbing system, and cart away 1,000 bags of garbage. When Grey Gardens filmmakers Albert and David Maysles began to shoot there in 1973, the mansion was so infested with fleas that they had to wear flea collars around their ankles.

5. Edmund Trebus

TV viewers all over the UK knew compulsive hoarder Edmund Trebus for his eccentric habits and snarky English temper. Featured on the 1999 television documentary A Life of Grime, Trebus would often tell friends and neighbors to "stick it up your chuffer!" especially when they complained about the odor emanating from his house. The majority of his household junk was acquired from his neighbors' trash, and Trebus went to great lengths to collect any material related to his favorite musician, Elvis Presley. He had an expansive Elvis collection that included most of the King's original records. But it was the flotsam and jetsam that took up most of his five-bedroom Victorian villa at Crouch End in north London: window frames, motorbikes, scaffolding poles, tree-trunks, For Sale signs (complete with posts), fridge-freezers, even a mortuary table.

The smell his neighbors complained about was a result of the bags of rotting vegetables (mostly grown in his own garden!) piled from floor to ceiling in every room. At the time of his death, Trebus's North London home was so stuffed with junk that he was living in a small area on the floor.

6. Ida Mayfield Wood

In the late 19th century, all of New York's high society knew Ida Mayfield. Her charm and beauty attracted many suitors and Ida eventually married Benjamin Wood, publisher of the New York Daily News. But the couple's marriage was an unhappy one and Benjamin fathered a child by another woman.

To make up for his womanizing, Benjamin would give his wife large sums of money to deposit into her own savings account. By the time of Benjamin's death in 1900, Ida was a very wealthy and powerful woman. The influential pages of the New York Daily News were now under her control. But after the financial panic of 1907, Ida grew increasingly paranoid about her finances and withdrew from society.

She lived in squalor in a couple of rooms at New York's Herald Square Hotel and never went outside. By the time of her death in 1932, Ida had hoarded nearly $1 million in cash, stuffed in pots and pans inside the hotel room. Among other valuables found inside were a diamond necklace hidden in a Cracker Jack box. Ida was even found to have $10,000 in cash sealed around her waist.

7. Bettina Grossman

New York's famed Chelsea Hotel, the place everyone from Mark Twain to Janis Joplin once called home, was also home to an unknown artist by the name of Bettina Grossman. Bettina had been living in the Chelsea as one of its artists-in-residence for 30 years and had amassed an entire lifetime of artwork. The fruits of Bettina's labor lay stashed away in hundreds of boxes inside her tiny two-room apartment.

When filmmaker Sam Bassett, another artist-in-residence at the Chelsea, discovered Ms. Grossman, she was literally sleeping on a deck chair in the hallway. Bassett became inspired by Bettina's artwork and eventually convinced her to display her various collages and mixed media portraits. He even helped her build shelves to organize it all. Bettina agreed, and Bassett's 2007 documentary, Bettina, chronicles the eccentric artist's long road to personal recovery.

Last year, Ms. Grossman fell and broke her hip, and is now living a Brooklyn nursing home. Still, her artwork is never far behind. She's brought a few boxes of her work with her to the home.

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]

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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.