5 Surprising Facts About Jacques Cousteau

Hans Peters / Anefo, CC0, Wikimedia Commons
Hans Peters / Anefo, CC0, Wikimedia Commons

French naval officer, explorer, and filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau helped millions of people learn about what goes on under the ocean's surface. How well do you know the man in the wetsuit, who was born on June 11, 1910? Let's take a look at five things you might not have known about the master of the deep.

1. Jacques Cousteau originally wanted to become an aviator.

When Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a young man he joined the French navy, but he never had any intention of going underwater as part of his service. Instead, Cousteau planned on becoming a naval aviator, but that dreamed died when Cousteau was in a serious auto accident in 1936. The young pilot borrowed his father's Salmson sports car to attend a wedding and had a horrific crash when the headlights shorted out on a dark road. Cousteau was so severely injured in the accident that it seemed like resuming his pilot's training was impossible.

Cousteau needed a way to rehab and strengthen his broken arms, though, so he took to swimming in the ocean. Later that year, Cousteau made his first underwater swim in goggles, and he realized that he had found his calling.

2. He had a secret family.

Soon after Cousteau discovered his love of the undersea world, he also declared his love for Simone Melchior. The couple married in 1937, and Simone was never in the shadows of Jacques's life. She went along on expeditions on his ship Calypso, helped him secure financing for his projects, and even sold her family jewels to help buy fuel for the ship. Simone took such good care of Calypso's crew that they nicknamed her La Bergere, or "The Shepherdess."

Quite a storybook romance, right? You can imagine how surprising it was when, in 1991, Jacques announced that not only did he have a mistress, but an entire secret family. One year after Simone's death from cancer, Cousteau told the world that he had been having a longtime affair with Francine Triplet, who was more than 30 years his junior. Cousteau also announced he had two secret children from the affair. He later married Triplet.

3. Cousteau's famed ship, Calypso, is scheduled to explore the seas again.

Cousteau's famed ship Calypso got its start as a British minesweeper during World War II, and after the conflict ended she became a ferry in Malta. In 1950 Irish millionaire Thomas Loel Guinness, a descendant of the storied brewing family, bought the ship. Guinness didn't hang onto the ship for long, though. He leased her to Cousteau for a pretty sweet deal: one franc per year.

The ship has had a bit of a rough time since Cousteau made it famous. In January 1996, Calypso was in Singapore when a barge accidentally rammed her. The ship sank and had to be pulled from the water by crane for extensive restoration. Following Cousteau's 1997 death, the two wings of his family fought a bitter battle over the future of the ship. For years, the ship's new owners have worked on restoring it and in 2016 announced that it will explore the seas once again in the future.

In 2016, Francine—Jacques's second wife and president of the Cousteau Society—told The Telegraph that she was, "particularly happy to announce this news after a 20-year fight against adversity and twists of fate ... When the Calypso returns to the Mediterranean, it will be navigable and running on its own engines, as captain Cousteau wished.” 

In 2017, a fire damaged part of the Calypso while it was being restored in Istanbul. "This situation reinforces my determination to carry out Captain Cousteau's wish for Calypso to sail again," Francine Cousteau said. "I have been fighting for over 20 years to protect the legacy that the Captain has passed on to the Cousteau Society. It is a passionate and complex mission, which I won’t abandon, no matter the obstacles along the way. For Calypso, we have an excellent shipyard with dedicated project managers and exceptionally motivated carpenters, who have all been working with love and skill. For them, and for all of those who share the hope of seeing this ship rebuilt, I want to succeed."

4. Cousteau became friendly with Fidel Castro.

In 1985, Cousteau and his crew ventured to Cuba to research the country's unique system for managing its lobster population. While there, Cousteau received Fidel Castro on his ship for dinner. Castro seemed to take a liking to Cousteau; the dictator allowed the diver to liberate 80 political prisoners. Cousteau and his team also received another unique honor: they became the first non-Cubans to pass through the gate of the U.S. Navy's Guantanamo Bay installation since the Cuban missile crisis 24 years earlier.

5. Cousteau wanted Waterworld to become a reality.

Cousteau may have co-invented the Aqua-Lung and become one of history's most famous divers, but he dreamed of his creation one day becoming a medical reality. In a 1960 interview with TIME, Cousteau predicted that in the future, medical science would advance to the point where men could surgically be given gills that would enable them to live underwater. Cousteau figured if that surgery could be perfected, so could a follow-up procedure that would remove the gills and enable normal life back on land. He told the magazine, "Everything that has been done on the surface will sooner or later be done under water. It will be the conquest of a whole new world."

This story has been updated for 2019.

14 Famous People Who Survived the 1918 Flu Pandemic

National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Over a century ago, a deadly flu pandemic swept across the globe. The first cases of the so-called Spanish Flu—named because that’s where early news reports of the disease originated, though research has put its actual origin anywhere from China to Kansas to France—are traditionally dated to Kansas in March 1918. The disease ultimately infected some 500 million people, and estimates put the death toll anywhere from 20 to 50 million. The people on this list contracted the deadly flu and lived to tell the tale.

1. Walt Disney

Walt Disney sitting in a chair.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

If Walt Disney hadn’t contracted the flu, we might never have had Mickey Mouse. Even though he was only 16 at the time, Disney lied about his birth year to sign up for the Red Cross Ambulance Corps at the tail end of WWI. Then he got sick. By the time he was ready to ship out, the war was over.

2. Mary Pickford

A close-up photo of silent film star Mary Pickford smiling.
General Photographic Agency // Getty Images

The silent film star was at the height of her fame when she fell ill; thankfully, Pickford’s bout with the flu was uneventful, but as the disease spread, many movie theaters were forced to close. Irritated theater owners in Los Angeles, claiming they had been singled out, petitioned for all other places that people gathered together (except for grocery stores, meat markets, and drug stores) to be forced to close as well. While stores were not forced to close, schools were and public gatherings were banned.

3. David Lloyd George

David Lloyd George sitting outside with his dog and reading a newspaper.
Ernest H. Mills // Getty Images

Weeks before the end of World War I, Lloyd, Prime Minister of the UK at the time, came very close to dying of the flu. He was confined to his bed for nine days, had to wear a respirator, and was accompanied by a doctor for over a month. Because it was thought that news of the Prime Minister’s illness would hurt the morale of the British people and “encourage the enemy,” his condition was kept mostly hidden from the press.

4. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Portrait of a young Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

In 1918, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and had been in Europe for two months before contracting the flu on the boat home. The New York Times described his illness as “a slight attack of pneumonia caused by Spanish influenza.” Roosevelt convalesced at his mother’s New York City home until he was well enough to head back to Washington, D.C.

5. Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson circa 1912.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

Considering Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States and he was dealing with the end of WWI, early 1919 was a seriously inconvenient time to get sick. Not only did he get the flu, but he fell ill so violently and so quickly that his doctors were sure he had been poisoned. When Wilson was well enough to rejoin the “Big Three” negotiations a few days later, people commented on how weak and out of it he seemed.

6. Wilhelm II

Wilhelm II in his uniform.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

While the German Kaiser was undoubtedly upset to get sick himself, he had reason to be happy about the flu epidemic, or so he thought. One of his military generals insisted—despite the fact that the surgeon general disagreed—that the illness would decimate the French troops, while leaving the Germans mostly unharmed. Since Germany needed a miracle to win the war, the flu must have seemed like a godsend. In the end, it ravaged all armies pretty much equally, and Germany surrendered.

7. John J. Pershing

John J. Pershing in uniform sitting on a horse.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

While the great American general got sick himself, the flu gave him a much larger problem. His troops were dying at a faster rate from illness than from bullets. Soon there were more than 16,000 cases among U.S. troops in Europe alone. Pershing was forced to ask the government for more than 30 mobile hospitals and 1500 nurses in just over a week.

8. Haile Selassie I

Haile Selassie sitting in a chair drinking tea.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The future emperor of Ethiopia was one of the first Ethiopians to contract the disease. His country was woefully unprepared for the epidemic: There were only four doctors in the capital available to treat patients. Selassie survived, but it's unknown how many people the flu killed in Ethiopia; it killed 7 percent of the population of neighboring British Somaliland.

9. Leo Szilard

A black and white photo of Leo Szilard in a suit and tie.
Department of Energy, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

You may not have heard of him, but the atomic scientist Leo Szilard might have saved the world. While he survived the flu during WWI (he was supposedly cured by spending time in a humid room, the standard treatment for respiratory illness at the time), what he should be remembered for is his foresight before WWII. When he and other physicists were discovering different aspects of nuclear fission, he persuaded his colleagues to keep quiet about it, so that the Nazis wouldn’t get any closer to making an atomic bomb.

10. Katherine Anne Porter

Author Katherine Anne Porter sitting in a chair wearing a hat with a bow on it.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

The author turned her experience with sickness in 1918 into a short novel called Pale Horse, Pale Rider. The story is told by a woman with the flu who is tended to by a young soldier. While she recovers, he contracts the disease and dies.

11. Alfonso XIII

The King of Spain working at his desk.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Alfonso was the King of Spain when the “Spanish” flu hit, and he was not immune to its outbreak. The flu was no worse in Spain than anywhere else, but unlike most journalists in other countries—who were under wartime censorship—the Spanish media actually covered the pandemic, leading to an unfair association that persists to this day.

12. Edvard Munch

A portrait of Edvard Munch standing in the snow.
Nasjonalbiblioteket, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Munch, the artist behind The Scream, had an apparent obsession with sickness and death long before he came down with the flu—he painted many works on the subject. But the flu obviously affected him especially: He painted a few self-portraits of both his illness and shortly after his recovery.

13. Lillian Gish

A portrait of Lillian Gish.
General Photographic Agency // Getty Images

The silent film star started feeling sick during a costume fitting and collapsed with a 104-degree fever when she got home. Fortunately, she could afford a doctor and two nurses to attend to her around the clock. While she recovered, it wasn’t all good news. Gish complained later, “The only disagreeable thing was that it left me with flannel nightgowns—have to wear them all winter—horrible things.”

14. Clementine Churchill

Clementine Churchill speaks at a microphone.
Arthur Tanner/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

While Winston was in France in 1919, the Churchill household—including his wife Clementine and their nanny Isabelle, who was looking after their young daughter Marigold—contracted the flu. According to Churchill’s daughter Mary Soames, Isabelle grew delirious and took Marigold from her cot despite being sick herself. Clementine grabbed the child and was anxious for days about Marigold’s condition. Isabelle died of the flu, but Clementine and Marigold survived. (Sadly, Marigold would die from a bacterial infection that developed into sepsis in 1921.)

During World War II, Clementine served as a close adviser to Winston. She was also the “Chairman” of the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund, which raised 8 million pounds during WWII and resulted in her being awarded the Soviet Order of the Red Banner of Labor, being made a Dame, and being given a 19th century glass fruit bowl from Stalin. Churchill’s Chief Staff Officer, General Hastings “Pug” Ismay, would later comment that without Clementine the “history of Winston Churchill and of the world would have been a very different story.”

In the 1800s, Drinking Too Much Tea Could Get a Woman Sent to an Insane Asylum

The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

If you were a woman in the 19th century, virtually anything could get you committed to an insane asylum—including drinking too much tea.

NHS Grampian Archives, which covers the region around Scotland’s Grampian mountains, dug up an admissions record from the Aberdeen Lunatic Asylum while looking into the institution’s annual reports from the 1840s. The table contains data on causes of admissions categorized by sex. In addition to those admitted to the asylum for “prolonged nursing,” “poverty,” or “disappointment in love” (one man and one woman admitted for that one!), one woman arrived at the asylum only to have her issues blamed on “sedentary life—abuse of tea.”

Intrigued by the diagnosis, someone at the archives tracked down more details on the patient and posted the case notes on Facebook. Naturally, her condition involved more than just a little too much Earl Grey. Elizabeth Collie, a 34-year-old factory worker, was admitted in November 1848 after suffering from delusions, specifically delusions about machines.

Her files state that “she imagines that some species of machinery has been employed by her neighbors in the house she has been living in, which had the effect of causing pain and disorder in her head, bowels, and other parts of the body.”

Asylum employees noted that ”no cause [for her condition] can be assigned, except perhaps the excessive use of tea, to which she has always been much addicted.” She was released in June 1849.

A letter to the editors of The British Medical Journal in 1886 suggests that the suspicion of women’s tea-drinking habits was not unique to Aberdeen mental health institutions. One doctor, J. Muir Howie—who once served as a regional president for the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh, so we can assume he was relatively respectable—wrote to the publication:

Would you kindly allow me to draw attention to the fact that, among women at least, the abuse of tea frequently leads to the abuse of alcohol! My experience in connection with a home for inebriate women has led me to this conclusion. Many of the inmates, indeed, almost all of them, were enormous tea-drinkers before they became victims to alcoholic dipsomania. During their indulgence in alcohol, they rarely drink much tea; but, as soon as the former cut off, they return to the latter. In many instances, alcohol was first used to relieve the nervous symptoms produced by excessive tea drinking.

Ah, women. So susceptible to mania and vice. It's a miracle any of us stay out of the madhouse.

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