10 Fascinating Facts About Huey Long

Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Governor, senator, and potential presidential nominee, Huey Pierce Long Jr. would have been as fascinating a politician in the current era as he was in his own. By all accounts he was crass, commanding, and vengeful, with massive popularity as a Depression Era populist who was further to the left than Franklin Roosevelt and touted a campaign slogan of “Every man a king, but no one wears a crown.”

Long rose from the extremely impoverished Winn Parish in Louisiana to the national political stage with zeal, towering ambition, and a charismatic knack for attracting followers and powerful devotees. Here are 10 facts about the ostentatious politician who gave himself the nickname "The Kingfish."

1. HE WAS A TALENTED STUDENT WHO WAS EXPELLED BEFORE GRADUATING.

Since there was no public school in Winn Parish when he was growing up, Huey Long was home-schooled before his father and other neighbors pooled money together for a teacher to create a “subscription school.” He started at public school in fourth grade, and later managed to convince his teachers to let him skip seventh grade. He was on the cusp of graduating from Winnfield High School in 1910 following the 11th grade when a 12th grade was added to the curriculum.

Long was kicked out of school for circulating a pamphlet decrying the extra year and, as a result, he never finished high school (though he was awarded a diploma posthumously). As revenge for his expulsion, he launched a petition calling for the principal to be fired and got enough signatures from the townspeople to see the principal removed.

2. HE RECEIVED A SCHOLARSHIP TO LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY, BUT STILL COULDN’T AFFORD TO GO.

Though he didn't graduate high school, Long's talent for winning arguments got him noticed by colleges. Long came in third at a Louisiana state debate competition, and won a scholarship to LSU as a result. Since room, board, and textbooks weren’t included in the offer, Long had to pass on the opportunity. Instead, he worked as a traveling salesman, hawking medicines and books all over the state.

3. HE PASSED THE BAR EXAM AFTER ONLY ONE YEAR OF LAW SCHOOL.

After half-heartedly trying his hand at seminary school at Oklahoma Baptist University at his mother’s insistence, Long—who claimed to have a photographic memory—later transferred to the University of Oklahoma College of Law, but was distracted by the local casinos and ended up staying for just one semester. In 1914 he attended Tulane University Law School for only a year before convincing the school board to let him take an oral bar exam. He passed and moved back to Winnfield as a lawyer.

4. HE WASN’T AFRAID TO GET HIS KNUCKLES BLOODY.

Long was irascible and, more than once, physically assaulted those who challenged him. That included a newspaper editor and one elderly, outgoing governor who called Long a liar (and was punched in the face by Long as a result). He was also accused of blackmailing and bullying his opponents, including a Baptist minister whom he tricked into entering a hotel room he’d staged with liquor and a prostitute. Beyond bloody knuckles, Long also got his hands dirty by rigging elections with fraudulent votes from “Babe Ruth,” “Charlie Chaplin,” "Clara Bow," and other celebrities.

5. HE WAS A HERO TO THE POOR.

Long’s mandate when he became governor of Louisiana in 1928 (with 96.1 percent of the vote) was to aid the poor with publicly-funded projects, including new roads, bridges, hospitals, and schools and free textbooks for students. Before he took office, Louisiana had a 25 percent literacy rate, only 300 miles of paved roads, and three major bridges. By the end of his term, adult literacy programs had taught 175,000 to read, and there were 9000 miles of roads and more than 100 bridges. A lifelong enemy of the oil industry after Standard Oil caused him to lose money on an investment by refusing to buy any of his well’s oil, Long pushed for a tax on petroleum products to help fund his social programs, also enacting a tax on the wealthy to benefit the poor.

He invested in LSU’s campus, ordered construction on a new capitol building, and effectively gave Louisiana a head start with the kinds of programs President Roosevelt would enact nationwide in response to the Great Depression. However, Long was also anti-union, opposed progressive child labor laws, saw the state debt balloon under his leadership, and failed to bring economic growth to the very people who supported him.

6. HE RAN THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE LIKE A DICTATORSHIP.

In Freedom From Fear, historian David Kennedy wrote that Long lorded over “the closest thing to a dictatorship that America has ever known.” In winning the governor’s mansion, Long overturned the power of the Regular Democratic Organization political machine (also known as the Choctaw Club) and ousted hundreds of political opponents from jobs in the state bureaucracy, replacing them with loyalists who paid part of their salary into his campaign war chest. He strong-armed and cajoled legislators, diminished Standard Oil’s power in governance, installed Oscar K. Allen as a puppet governor to follow his orders once he became a United States senator, and reportedly had armed thugs change voter rolls, all while overseeing a massive redistribution of wealth in the state.

7. AN ATTEMPT TO IMPEACH HIM TURNED INTO A RIOT.

In 1929, Shreveport representative Cecil Morgan, who was aligned with the Choctaw Club, sought to impeach Long on a variety of charges, including of corruption, incompetence, and blasphemy. Speaker of the House John B. Fournet, who was loyal to Long, moved to adjourn the special session abruptly and faked a vote count to say that the adjournment motion had passed. Enraged, Morgan’s and Long’s allies attacked each other.

According to Huey Long’s Louisiana Hayride: The American Rehearsal For Dictatorship, the right honorable lawmakers “beat each other with ink wells, slugged with both fists. Shirts were torn off, eyes gouged, heads butted on desks,” in what would become known as “Bloody Monday.”

8. LONG STAYED ON AS GOVERNOR FOR THE FIRST YEAR OF HIS TENURE AS A SENATOR.

His term as a United States senator should have begun March 4, 1931, but he stayed almost long enough to finish his four-year term as governor through the following year. His entrenchment blocked his rival, Lieutenant Governor Paul N. Cyr, from assuming the governorship. In October 1931, Cyr declared himself the rightful governor, citing Long’s election to a different office, so Long had the state National Guard surround the capitol, and then successfully argued to the Louisiana Supreme Court that Cyr had left the office of lieutenant governor vacant by declaring himself governor. Cyr was blocked from both positions, and Long’s ally Alvin King became lieutenant governor before assuming the top post in January 1932. Long then handpicked Oscar K. Allen as his successor; Allen easily won the special election, and Long felt comfortable finally leaving Louisiana for Washington, D.C.

9. FDR CONSIDERED HIM ONE OF THE "MOST DANGEROUS MEN IN THE COUNTRY."

Long was initially a big supporter of President Roosevelt, but he acted as one of his most vocal critics when, in Long's opinion, federal programs didn’t go far enough to redistribute wealth. Roosevelt once said, “It’s all very well for us to laugh over Huey, but he really is one of the two most dangerous men in the country.” The laughter was meant for Long’s flamboyancy, loud costume-esque attire, and flagrant self-serving speeches. The fear was for his incisive political acumen, devoted voting bloc, and revenge-obsessed modus operandi. (The other “most dangerous” man Roosevelt referred to was General Douglas MacArthur.)

10. HE WAS ASSASSINATED BEFORE HE COULD RUN FOR PRESIDENT.

Having always planned to seek the top office, Long wrote a book called My First Days in the White House, which (fictionally, and with much hubris) recounted how the people backed his message with such fervor that they whisked him into the presidency with a roar that drowned out the outgoing president. Before he could make that fantasy a reality, he was killed by the son-in-law of an ousted political rival.

In 1935, Long lorded over a special session of the state legislature to influence a vote to remove Judge Benjamin Pavy from his seat, which was the last in a long line of humiliations Long had dealt the Pavy family. After the vote removed Pavy from office, Pavy’s son-in-law, Carl Weiss, shot Long with a revolver. Long died on September 10, 1935. My First Days in the White House was published posthumously. 

A New Ruth Bader Ginsburg Bobblehead Is Available for Pre-Order

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum
The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum

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

The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a devout champion for feminism and civil rights, and her influence stretched from the halls of the Supreme Court to the forefront of popular culture, where she affectionately became known as the Notorious RBG. Though there are plenty of public tributes planned for Ginsburg in the wake of her passing, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum has a new RBG bobblehead ($25) available for pre-order so you can honor her in your own home.

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10 Amazing Facts About Bruce Lee On His 80th Birthday

Photo courtesy of The Bruce Lee Family Archive
Photo courtesy of The Bruce Lee Family Archive

Bruce Lee is one of pop culture's most multifaceted icons. Legions of fans admire him for his movies, his martial arts prowess, his incomprehensible physical fitness, his championing of Chinese culture, and even his philosophies on life. Yet for all the new ground Lee broke, most of his recognition only came after his death at the age of 32. Read on to learn more about the life of this profound, if enigmatic, superstar.

1. Bruce Lee’s first starring role in a movie came when he was just 10 years old.

In 1950’s The Kid, a pre-teen Bruce Lee played the role of Kid Cheung, a streetwise orphan and wry troublemaker, based on a comic strip from the time. Starring opposite Lee, playing a kindly factory owner, was his father, Lee Hoi-chuen, who also happened to be a famous opera singer. (Bruce Lee was actually born in San Francisco while his father was there on tour; Lee would move back to the U.S. in 1959).

According to Lee biographer Matthew Polly, the movie was a big enough success in China to earn sequel consideration. There was just one problem: A young Bruce Lee was getting into fights at school and out on the streets, so his father forbid him from acting again until he straightened up—which, of course, didn’t wind up happening.

2. Bruce Lee was deemed physically unfit for the U.S. Army.

While he may have walked around with body fat in the single digits and could do push-ups using only two fingers, Lee still managed to fail a military physical for the U.S. draft board back in 1963. Despite being an adherent to physical fitness all his adult life, it was an undescended testicle that kept him from fighting for Uncle Sam in Vietnam.

3. Bruce Lee was an exquisite cha-cha dancer.

Long before he was known for breakneck fight choreography, Bruce Lee’s physical skills were focused on the dance floor. More specifically, the cha-cha. In Polly’s book, Bruce Lee: A Life, the author explains that the dance trend made its way from Cuba through the Philippines and soon landed in China. And once the cha-cha settled into the Hong Kong social scene, it didn’t take long for youth dance competitions to spring up. Lee had been taking part in cha-cha dancing since the age of 14, and in 1958, he won the Crown Colony Cha-Cha Championship. Foreshadowing his later dedication to martial arts, Lee would keep crib notes of all 108 different cha-cha steps in his wallet so that he could obsessively memorize them.

4. Bruce Lee refused to lose a fight to Robin.

The Green Hornet aired its first episode in September 1966, with Bruce Lee as the Hornet's (Van Williams) lightning-quick sidekick, Kato. The series would immediately be compared to Batman, ABC's other costumed crime-fighting show, and it wouldn't be long before a two-part crossover episode was in the works. And as heroes do, before they teamed up, they first had to fight each other. According to Newsweek, since Batman was by far the more popular show, the script featured a fight between Burt Ward's Robin and Bruce Lee's Kato that was set to end with the Boy Wonder getting the upper hand. But who would really buy that?

Well, Lee certainly didn't—and he knew no one else would, either. Williams later recalled that Lee read the script and simply said, "I'm not going to do that," and walked off. Common sense soon prevailed ... sort of. The script was rewritten to change the ending—not to a Kato K.O., but to a more diplomatic draw. Though The Green Hornet was Lee's first big break in the United States, the series itself lasted only 26 episodes.

5. Bruce Lee trained numerous Hollywood stars.

As Bruce Lee worked to become a big-screen heavyweight, he made a living as a martial arts trainer to the stars. Among Lee’s students were Steve McQueen, James Coburn, James Garner, Roman Polanski, and Sharon Tate. For his services, Lee was known to charge about $275 per hour or $1000 for 10 courses. McQueen and Coburn grew so enamored with Lee over the years that they remained close friends until his death in 1973, with both men serving as pallbearers at Lee's funeral (alongside Chuck Norris).

6. Roman Polanski may have (briefly) thought Bruce Lee murdered Sharon Tate.

In addition to providing Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate with kung fu lessons, Bruce Lee also lived near the couple in Los Angeles when Tate and four others, including Lee’s close friend Jay Sebring, were murdered by the Manson Family in August 1969. It would be months before the Manson Family was arrested for the murders, but in the meantime, according to an article from Esquire, Polanski had grown obsessed with finding a suspect, looking for potential perpetrators even amongst his own inner circle.

During one kung fu lesson in the months after the murders, Lee had mentioned to Polanski how he had recently lost his glasses, which immediately piqued the director’s interest. A mysterious pair of horn-rimmed glasses had been found at the murder scene near his wife’s body, after all. Polanski had even purchased a gauge to measure the lenses and find out the exact prescription so that he could do his own detective work, according to The New York Post.

The director, without giving himself away, offered to bring Lee to his optician to get a new pair—this would allow him to hear Lee’s prescription firsthand and determine if the specs discovered at the crime scene belonged to him. It turned out Lee’s prescription didn’t match, and Polanski never told his friend about his suspicions.

7. Bruce Lee had his sweat glands removed.

Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (1973).Warner Home Video

Bruce Lee brought an impeccable physique to the screen that was decades ahead of its time. But because his roles required so much physicality, he would be drenched with sweat while filming. And apparently, the martial arts pioneer loathed the sweat stains that would show up on his clothing as a result. His solution? In 1973, Lee actually underwent a procedure to surgically remove the sweat glands from his armpits to avoid the fashion faux pas from showing up on camera.

8. Bruce Lee’s cause of death still raises questions.

Bruce Lee’s death at the age of 32 on July 20, 1973, was officially ruled the result of a cerebral edema, or swelling of the brain. Lee had complained about headaches on the day of his death, and was given a painkiller by Betty Ting Pei—an actress who claimed to be Lee's mistress—before lying down for a nap. He never woke up.

Though many reports at the time suggested Lee had an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the painkiller, Polly points to a mystery that began on May 10, 1973, when the star previously collapsed in a hot recording studio while dubbing new dialogue for Enter the Dragon.

In Polly’s opinion, Lee’s collapse had to do with heatstroke, since his stint in an overheated recording studio was compounded by a lack of sweat glands that prevented his body from cooling off naturally. Heatstroke can also cause swelling in the brain, much like was found during Lee’s autopsy. And Dr. Lisa Leon, an expert in hyperthermia at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, told Polly, “A person who has suffered one heat stroke is at increased risk for another" and that there may be long-term complications after the initial incident.

9. Footage from Bruce Lee’s Funeral was used in 1978’s Game of Death.

At the time of his death, Bruce Lee was involved in numerous projects, including the movie that would become Game of Death, his next directorial effort. According to Vice, there wasn’t much completed on the film by the time of Lee’s passing—there were some notes, a story outline (which simply read “The big fight. An arrest is made. The airport. The end.”), and 40 minutes of footage, including Lee’s now-iconic fight against NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Usually, a project in that situation would just be a lost cause, but production company Golden Harvest wanted to salvage what they could, so they hired Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse to put together ... something. The result was a Frankenstein’s monster of a film, comprised of 11 minutes of existing footage Lee shot, overdubbed clips from his previous movies, and stand-ins to fill out certain scenes. The director even resorted to using an unfortunate Bruce Lee cardboard cutout to complete one shot.

That’s not even the top rung on the ladder of poor taste: When the movie called for Lee’s character to fake his death, they used footage from his actual funeral to realize the scene, complete with waves of mourners, pallbearers, and closeups of Lee’s open casket.

10. Bruce Lee’s posthumous success resulted in its own sub-genre.

Lee’s career was exploding in China and gaining momentum in the United States by 1973, but he passed away just a month before his biggest hit was released: Enter the Dragon. The movie, which grossed more than $200 million at the worldwide box office, catapulted the late Lee to icon status. But with the star himself no longer around to capitalize, there would soon be a wave of knockoff films and wannabes looking to take advantage of the martial arts craze.

Both affectionately and derisively known as “Bruceploitation” films, this strange sub-genre of martial arts cinema gave life to z-movie oddities like Re-Enter the Dragon and Enter the Game of Death, starring the likes of—and we’re not kidding—Bruce Le and Bruce Li. Jackie Chan was even roped into a few of these movies, like 1976's New Fist of Fury. In 1980, Bruceploitation even went meta with The Clones of Bruce Lee, starring Dragon Lee, Bruce Le, and Bruce Lai, who play genetic reconstructions of the late actor after scientists harvest his DNA.