10 Hearty Facts About Wilford Brimley

Paramount Home Entertainment
Paramount Home Entertainment

Some know him from a storied big-screen career in films like 1993’s The Firm and 1985’s Cocoon. Others know him as the spokesperson for Quaker Oats cereal or as an advocate for diabetes monitoring on late-night television. However you’ve come to be aware of Wilford Brimley, you’ve probably been charmed by his genial nature and hirsute facial appearance. With his recent viral fame following the Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl LIV win, now might be the time to steep yourself in some facts about the actor’s life, his time as a bodyguard for one of the world’s most famous men, and why he’s not friendly with the man who portrayed Yoda.

1. Wilford is Wilford Brimley's middle name.

Born in Salt Lake City in 1934, Anthony Wilford Brimley moved to California with his parents when he was 6 years old. He elected to drop out of high school so he could join the Marines, serving on the Aleutian Islands for three years before returning to civilian life as a ranch hand and horse wrangler. Those skills eventually came in handy when Westerns became a popular television genre, and Brimley often found work as an extra or background player. When he got screen billing, Brimley initially used his real first name—Anthony, or Tony—instead of his middle name, Wilford.

2. Robert Duvall got Wilford Brimley into acting.

While working as a horse-riding extra, Brimley became friendly with actor Robert Duvall (The Godfather) and was encouraged by Duvall to try his hand at more substantial parts. "He’s always been really encouraging," Brimley said of the Oscar-winning actor in 2014. “He’s always been a marvelous example of honesty and integrity.” The two appeared onscreen together in 1982’s Tender Mercies, about a country singer (Duvall) trying to reconnect with his daughter. Brimley played his agent and also met his future wife during production.

3. Wilford Brimley was a bodyguard for Howard Hughes.

Before getting work as a stuntman and actor, Brimley worked as a bodyguard for aviator-turned-recluse Howard Hughes. But the actor is rarely open to discussing Hughes, a famously reclusive man in his later years. “He was a good guy,” Brimley once said of his former employer. The job came in part through Brimley’s membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: Hughes reportedly preferred to employ Mormons, as he liked that they didn't smoke or drink and they rarely talked.

4. Wilford Brimley didn't train to be an actor.

Brimley’s genuine demeanor didn’t come to him through any kind of Method approach. He was never formally trained as an actor, choosing instead to draw upon his decades and self-professed lean years working various jobs (bartender, horseman) before getting a break in 1979’s The China Syndrome. “Training?” he asked a reporter rhetorically in 1984. “I’ve never been to acting classes, but I’ve had 50 years of training. My years as an extra were good background for learning about camera techniques and so forth ... basically, my method is to be honest.”

5. Wilford Brimley enjoys mooning people.

Actor Wilford Brimley is photographed during a public appearance
Bryan Bedder, Getty Images

While Brimley’s onscreen presence is normally one of sedate wisdom, the actor is not averse to showing his buttocks if the timing is right. Speaking with the Chicago Tribune in 1988, actor Steve Guttenberg, Brimley’s co-star in the Cocoon movies, mentioned that Brimley sometimes mooned people on set. “The biggest fun I had on the Cocoon shoot came when Wilford Brimley would moon the audience, or the camera,” Guttenberg said. “He has a running contest with Robert Duvall to see who can moon the most people at one time. Duvall has the record. He drove through a town when it was having a parade and mooned 2000. But Wilford isn't giving up.”

6. Wilford Brimley surprised an elementary school class.

While shooting a film in Louisiana in 1990, Brimley struck up a friendship with Elizabeth Landman, the then-9-year-old daughter of the set’s food caterer. When Landman returned to school to tell her friends at St. Joseph’s Catholic School that she had met the man from Cocoon, no one believed her. Brimley decided to boost her credibility by visiting the school unannounced one day to sign autographs and answer questions about his career.

7. Wilford Brimley's not opposed to a cockfight.

In 1998, Brimley attended a rally in Phoenix, Arizona to oppose a statewide ban on cockfighting—an often-illegal practice that sees bettors wager on the outcome of a fight to the death between roosters equipped with razors on their feet. The actor argued that the law would be a slippery slope, one eventually leading to a ban on hunting dogs. He also said that while he lived in Utah, he visited Arizona to attend the competitions. “I’m trying to protect the lifestyle of freedom and choice for my grandchildren,” he said. The activity was eventually outlawed in Arizona in 2007.

8. Wilford Brimley can sing.

Though he “never made a thing about it” and proclaimed he was “not a great singer,” Brimley has a passion for covering popular music. In the 1990s, the actor performed at Los Angeles-area clubs after rehearsing with pianist Bob Smale and bassist Don Bagley for two years. He performed “My Funny Valentine,” “It Had to Be You,” and “All the Things You Are,” among other hits, and later made appearances on the Jerry Lewis telethon and the ill-fated Pat Sajak Show. He also recorded a number of albums. When Brimley agreed to hit the stage at Cal State Northridge for a jazz endowment benefit fund in 1993, Joel Leach, the school’s jazz band director, said that Brimley had a warm, rich voice. Brimley offered to do the benefit for free and even left filming of The Firm in order to appear.

9. Wilford Brimley got into a feud with Yoda.

While shooting the 1997 feature In and Out, Brimley was said to have gotten upset with director Frank Oz. Oz—a performer who operated and voiced Yoda in several Star Wars movies—told an interviewer that Brimley is one of three actors who “hate my guts.” (The other two were Marlon Brando and Cher.) Neither Oz nor Brimley have ever elaborated on what transpired between the two to cause the rift.

10. Wilford Brimley is active on Twitter.

While he takes only sporadic acting roles these days, Brimley (who now lives in Santa Clara after selling his Wyoming ranch in 2015) isn’t completely unplugged from the public. He has a verified Twitter account on which Brimley—or an authorized representative—tweets inspirational quotes and occasionally takes note of his contemporary status as a meme source. Brimley once responded to an observation that action star Tom Cruise, who was 56 at the time, was five years older than Brimley was when he played a geriatric in Cocoon. “This is still hard for me to believe,” Brimley wrote.

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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