9 Old-Fashioned Ways to Climb the Social Ladder

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istock

Dreaming of living life as a richer, more popular version of yourself—and, obviously, as richer and more popular than your rivals—is a timeless endeavor. Every age has had its ruthless social climbers, and the Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century—when the gap between the rich and the poor was particularly vast—was no exception. Before reality television or Instagram fame were around to catapult people up the social ladder, here are the often-extreme measures would-be socialites had to resort to. 

1. Seduce someone rich. 

Marriage has always been a great way to weasel your way into the upper class (and for some, still is). Entrap a rich businessman or wealthy widow with your beguiling attentions, then sit back and enjoy the lavish parties for the rest of your life. Before all these pesky notions of “love” and “romance” became commonplace, marriage was seen as a business decision, one in which young people and their parents would jockey for position trying to secure a betrothal to the most socially and economically profitable mate possible.

2. Find a lord who’s fallen on hard times.

At the end of the 19th century, America’s richest class was full of industry titans, whose fortunes had been recently acquired in railroads or manufacturing. They were rolling in dough, but the nouveau riche didn’t always impress old-money aristocrats. British aristocrats, on the other hand, had plenty of social clout but crumbling fortunes. A marriage between, say, a wealthy American steel heiress and a struggling British lord would save the lord’s debt-ridden estate while catapulting the lady into a new level of social sophistication.

3. Cross your fingers and pray a distant relative kicks the bucket before he can have a son. 

While the American moneyed classes could leave their fortunes to whomever they wished, European gentry have always been more restricted. In England, for instance, aristocratic titles and estates still must go to the oldest male descendant (the throne is the exception). The eldest daughter of a lord is SOL once her father dies; his riches will go to the oldest male in his lineage, even if it’s a distant cousin. So if you happen to be of modest means but have a far-flung relative with no male heir, you could stand to inherit his entire fortune, even if you’ve never met the man (extra brownie points if you marry one of his now-displaced daughters). 

4. Fervently hope an older brother dies. 

Fancy aristocratic titles like earl and duke (and the fortunes that accompany them) only go to the oldest son, per a system called primogeniture. All other children are doomed to a life of envy and resentment. However, if some … accident … were to befall all the older sons who stand before him in line, a youngest brother would stand to inherit that grand castle that once seemed so impossibly out of reach. As it happens, disease had a relatively high chance of taking out children in 1900 anyway, so chances were relatively high that your siblings might die young.

5. Make a ton of money. 

The rags-to-riches tale is an American staple. They say that money can’t buy you love, but if enough libraries are named after you, it’s hard for people to argue that you’re one of the riffraff. Andrew Carnegie, for instance, was born a poor weaver’s son in Scotland, but became one of the richest men in America by the end of his life as a steel baron. Before he died, Carnegie gave $350 million to libraries and universities, making himself a household name in the process. 

6. Join the military. 

Becoming an officer in the military could launch you into the respectability of a gentleman. You generally had to have money to become an officer (until the 1870s, British soldiers had to buy their officer’s commission), but a uniform could turn new money into a modicum of upper-class dignity. 

And in the Gilded Age, the U.S. military elite made bank. Officers almost always came from at least the middle class, but even the lowest ranks of officers made good enough money to enjoy the life of the bourgeoisie. You know, if you could leave the frontier for long enough to enjoy it.

7. Find God. 

For Catholic men, becoming a priest was a way to achieve greater status in the community. Climbing the religious career ladder was also a way to climb the social and economic ladders—though with anti-Catholic sentiment running high during the Gilded Age, the gains might not translate as much to the world at large. 

8. Vacation at a fancy resort.

Once upon a time, travelers had little choice but to rub elbows at the local inn, whether they were wealthy merchants or poor pilgrims. However, in the early 20th century, a whole slew of different resort options (at different price points) opened up. The rich and fashionable of the Northeast vacationed in fabulous Newport, while the commoners headed to Coney Island (as if!). Where you could afford to spend your leisure time said more than a little something about your social position. 

9. Fake it. 

Before the Internet made it easy to dig into a stranger’s past, it wasn’t hard to completely fabricate a family history. Oh, you’re a count from a far-flung land? Sure! In 19th century France, for instance, petty nobles often invented titles that were not legally theirs. These became known as titles of courtesy. So, when in doubt, just invent a bold-faced lie and say it confidently while looking down your nose. How could someone dare question a person of such noble heritage as yourself?

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Linenspa

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20 Eye-Opening Facts About Eyes Wide Shut

Warner Bros./Liaison via Getty Images Plus
Warner Bros./Liaison via Getty Images Plus

In the late 1990s, stories about what was happening on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s already-secretive film Eyes Wide Shut constantly made headlines. Everyone wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes with real-life celebrity couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and the 15-month shoot only intrigued people more. Finally, the film was released on July 16, 1999—more than four months after Kubrick had passed away. While there is still a lot we don’t know about the movie, here are 20 things we do.

1. Eyes Wide Shut is based on a 1926 novella.

Eyes Wide Shut is loosely is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story), which was published in 1926. Considering that the movie takes place in 1990s New York, it is obviously not a direct adaptation, but it overlaps in its plot and themes. “[The book] explores the sexual ambivalence of a happy marriage and tries to equate the importance of sexual dreams and might-have-beens with reality,” Kubrick said. “The book opposes the real adventures of a husband and the fantasy adventures of his wife, and asks the question: is there a serious difference between dreaming a sexual adventure, and actually having one?”

2. Production on Eyes Wide Shut began in 1996.

By then, Kubrick had been holding onto the rights to Traumnovelle—which screenwriter Jay Cocks purchased on his behalf, in order to keep the project under wraps—for nearly 30 years. Kubrick had planned to begin working on the film after making 2001: A Space Odyssey, but then got the opportunity to adapt A Clockwork Orange.

3. The studio pushed Stanley Kubrick to cast A-list names.

Terry Semel, then-head of Warner Bros., told Kubrick, “What I would really love you to consider is a movie star in the lead role; you haven't done that since Jack Nicholson [in The Shining].”

4. Stanley Kubrick wanted to cast Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger.

Kubrick liked the idea of casting a real-life married couple in the film, and originally considered Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. (He also liked the idea of Steve Martin.) Eventually, he went with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who were married from 1990 to 2001.

5. London stood in for New York City.

Though the film is set in New York, it was filmed in London. In order to construct the most accurate sets possible, Vanity Fair reported that Kubrick “sent a designer to New York to measure the exact width of the streets and the distance between newspaper vending machines.”

6. Some of the shots in Eyes Wide Shut required no set at all.

In order to give the movie a dream-like quality, the filmmakers used an old-school method of shooting—and a treadmill. “In some of the scenes, the backgrounds were rear-projection plates,” cinematographer Larry Smith explained. “Generally, when Tom’s facing the camera, the backgrounds are rear-projected; anything that shows him from a side view was done on the streets of London. We had the plates shot in New York by a second unit [that included cinematographers Patrick Turley, Malik Sayeed and Arthur Jafa]. Once the plates were sent to us, we had them force-developed and balanced to the necessary levels. We’d then go onto our street sets and shoot Tom walking on a treadmill. After setting the treadmill to a certain speed, we’d put some lighting effects on him to simulate the glow from the various storefronts that were passing by in the plates. We spent a few weeks on those shots.”

7. Eyes Wide Shut holds a Guinness World Record.

The film has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest constant movie shoot, with a total of 400 days, which was a surprise to the cast and crew. Cruise and Kidman had only committed to six months of filming. The extended shoot was a lot to ask of Cruise in particular, who was at the height of his career. He even had to delay work on Mission: Impossible II to finish Eyes Wide Shut. He didn’t seem to mind though. “We knew from the beginning the level of commitment needed,” Cruise told TIME. “We were going to do what it took to do this picture.”

8. The script for Eyes Wide Shut kept changing.

Warner Bros. via Getty Images Plus

According to Todd Field, who portrayed piano player Nick Nightingale (and is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker in his own right), “We’d rehearse and rehearse a scene, and it would change from hour to hour. We’d keep giving the script supervisor notes all the time, so by the end of the day the scene might be completely different. It wasn’t really improvisation, it was more like writing.”

9. Tom Cruise developed ulcers while shooting Eyes Wide Shut.

“I didn't want to tell Stanley," Cruise told TIME. “He panicked. I wanted this to work, but you're playing with dynamite when you act. Emotions kick up. You try not to kick things up, but you go through things you can't help.”

10. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman slept in their characters' bedroom.

In order to reflect their real-life relationship, Cruise and Kidman were asked to choose the color for the curtains in their on-screen bedroom, where they also slept.

11. The apartment featured in the movie was a re-creation of Stanley Kubrick's.

According to Cruise, “The apartment in the movie was the New York apartment [Stanley] and his wife Christianne lived in. He recreated it. The furniture in the house was furniture from their own home. Of course the paintings were Christianne's paintings. It was as personal a story as he's ever done.”

12. Stanley Kubrick temporarily banned Tom Cruise from the set.

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Given his penchant for accuracy, it’s quite possible that Kubrick wanted to stir up some real-life jealousy between his stars in order to help them embody their characters. In a fantasy sequence, Kidman’s character has sex with another man, which motivates the rest of the film’s plot. Kubrick banned Cruise from the set on the days that Kidman shot the scene with a male model. They spent six days filming the one-minute scene. Kubrick also forbid Kidman from telling Cruise any details about it.

13. It took 95 takes for Tom Cruise to walk through a doorway.

Six days for a one-minute scene is nothing compared to the time Kubrick had Cruise do 95 takes of one simple action: walking through a doorway. After watching the playback, he apparently told Cruise, “Hey, Tom, stick with me, I’ll make you a star.”

14. Security on the set was tight.

Aside from Kubrick, Kidman, Cruise, and their tiny crew, no one was allowed on the set, which was heavily guarded. In May 1997, one photographer managed to capture a picture of Cruise standing next to a man that the photographer thought was just an “old guy, scruffy with an anorak and a beard.” That man was Kubrick, who hadn’t been photographed in 17 years. After the incident, security on the set was tripled.

15. Paul Thomas Anderson spent some time on the set.

One person Cruise did manage to sneak onto the set was his future Magnolia director, Paul Thomas Anderson. While there, Anderson asked Kubrick, “Do you always work with so few people?” Kubrick responded, “Why? How many people do you need?” Anderson then recalled feeling “like such a Hollywood a**hole.”

16. Stanley Kubrick makes a cameo in the movie.

Warner Bros.

He’s not credited, but the film’s director can be seen sitting in a booth at the Sonata Café.

17. Stanley Kubrick died less than a week after showing the studio his final cut of Eyes Wide Shut.

Kubrick died less than a week after showing what would be his final cut of the film to Warner Bros. No one can say how much he would have kept editing the film. One thing that was changed after his death: bodies in the orgy scene were digitally altered so that the movie could be released with an R (rather than an NC-17) rating. Although many claim that Kubrick intended to do this, too. "I think Stanley would have been tinkering with it for the next 20 years," Kidman said. "He was still tinkering with movies he made decades ago. He was never finished. It was never perfect enough.”

18. By the time Eyes Wide Shut was released, a dozen years had passed since Stanley Kubrick's last directorial effort.

Eyes Wide Shut came out a full 12 years after Kubrick’s previous film, 1987's Full Metal Jacket.

19. Eyes Wide Shut topped the box office during its opening week.

The film earned $30,196,742 during its first week in release, which was enough to take the box office’s number one spot—making it Kubrick’s only film to do so.

20. Tom Cruise didn't like Dr. Harford.

One year after the film’s release, Cruise admitted that he “didn’t like playing Dr. Bill. I didn’t like him. It was unpleasant. But I would have absolutely kicked myself if I hadn’t done this.”

An earlier version of this article ran in 2015.