10 of History's Best Compliments

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Giving someone a memorable, cliché-free compliment is trickier than it sounds, but these famous figures managed to express their admiration—or in a few cases, double-edged appreciation or backhanded contempt—in a truly unforgettable way.

1. THE TIME A TEENAGE GEORGE R.R. MARTIN WROTE A FAN LETTER TO STAN LEE.

Game of Thrones

author George R.R. Martin has a brilliant, twisted mind, but beneath his chest beats the heart of a fan boy. In 1964, a teenage Martin wrote a letter to Marvel Comics, addressed to Stan Lee—the legendary co-creator of Marvel characters including the X-Men, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and the Avengers—and American comic book artist Don Heck.

Martin loved the latest two issues of The Avengers and Fantastic Four so much, he had "finally come to the decision to have both mounted in bronze and set on a pedestal in the center of my living room," he wrote. The young fan had particular praise for Lee, telling him, "Stan old boy, you can put another notch in your pen for this masterpiece."

That being said, Martin had quibbles with a few characters, calling them "probably four of the poorest villains you have ever introduced." Even as a teen, Martin was already thinking long and hard about what constitutes the perfect villain.

2. THE TIME THE CAMPBELL SOUP COMPANY SENT THEIR PRODUCT TO ANDY WARHOL.


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Critics didn’t know what to make of Andy Warhol’s Campbell's Soup Cans piece, which the pop artist debuted in 1962 during a one-man exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. But not surprisingly, William MacFarland, the Campbell Soup Company’s product marketing manager, loved it. In 1964, MacFarland showed his appreciation for Warhol's work by mailing him a few cases of tomato soup:

In an accompanying letter, MacFarland wrote:

Dear Mr. Warhol, I have followed your career for some time. Your work has evoked a great deal of interest here at Campbell Soup Company for obvious reasons.

At one time I had hoped to be able to acquire one of your Campbell Soup label paintings—but I’m afraid you have gotten much too expensive for me.

I did want to tell you, however, that we admired your work and I have learned that you like Tomato Soup. I am taking the liberty of having a couple of cases of our Tomato Soup delivered to you at this address.

We wish you continued success and good fortune.

3. THE TIME A CHILD ATE MAURICE SENDAK'S LETTER.

Maurice Sendak
Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Compliments aren’t always verbal. Case in point: In 2011, Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, told NPR Fresh Air host Terry Gross that a child once expressed his love for the illustrator/writer’s work by devouring it:

Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters—sometimes very hastily—but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, "Dear Jim: I loved your card." Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, "Jim loved your card so much he ate it." That to me was one of the highest compliments I've ever received. He didn't care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.

4. THE TIME CLYDE BARROW SENT HIS REGARDS TO HENRY FORD.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s preferred getaway car was reportedly the Ford’s V-8-powered Model B. In 1934, the two outlaws even died in one, after law officers showered their stolen Ford V-8 with more than 130 rounds of steel-jacketed bullets.

Barrow couldn’t write well, but between heists and killings, he purportedly took the time to send a letter to Henry Ford. The fugitive's missive praised Ford for manufacturing his favorite ride:

Dear Sir:

While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8—

Yours truly
Clyde Champion Barrow

Barrow is said to have sent the letter around a month or so before he and Parker met their untimely fate. Its authenticity has been debatedbut according to legend, Ford had his secretary write the outlaw a thank you letter (which Barrow never received).

5. THE TIME A TEACHER NOTED A YOUNG ROALD DAHL'S UNUSUAL WRITING STYLE.

Roald Dahl
Ronald Dumont/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Roald Dahl famously grew up to become a novelist, short story author, and children’s book author, but as a young boarding school pupil, teachers noted his eccentric writing style. "I have never met anybody who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what is intended," an instructor once wrote on one of Dahl's school reports. It’s hard to determine whether she meant this as an insult or a compliment, but Dahl likely construed it as the latter, since he held onto the assignment.

6. THE TIME MARK TWAIN COMPARED HELEN KELLER TO SHAKESPEARE (AND OTHER GREAT THINKERS/LEADERS).

Mark Twain and Helen Keller made unlikely friends, but they were close ones all the same. Keller was 14 years old when she met the celebrated American author—then in his late fifties—through writer Laurence Hutton. During the course of their 15-year relationship, Twain showered her with compliments, the most effusive one being, "Helen Keller is fellow to Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon, Shakespeare, and the rest of the immortals… She will be as famous a thousand years from now as she is today." Not bad praise from a writer known for his stinging wit.

7. THE TIME HEMINGWAY TOLD F. SCOTT FITZGERALD HE WASN'T TOO CRAZY ABOUT HIS NOVEL. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald spent nine years on his fourth novel, Tender Is the Night. When he finally finished the work in 1934, Fitzgerald asked his close friend, Ernest Hemingway, for an opinion.

Hemingway replied with a double-edged compliment: "Dear Scott: I liked it and I didn’t." He was a fan of the novel’s beginning, he said, but didn’t think the work felt authentic. "That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best—make it all up—but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way," Hemingway advised.

"It's a lot better than I say," he admitted. "But it's not as good as you can do."

8. THE TIME MARIO PUZO CONVINCED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY THE GODFATHER'S VITO CORLEONE.

Marlon Brando
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The Godfather (1972) was based on author Mario Puzo’s bestselling novel, published three years prior to the film’s release. Before director Francis Ford Coppola signed on to the project, Puzo had a clear vision of who should star as Vito Corleone: Marlon Brando. Hoping to flatter the actor into trying out for the role, Puzo sent Brando a complimentary note in 1970, telling him he was made to play the mafia don:

Dear Mr Brando

I wrote a book called THE GODFATHER which has had some success and I think you're the only actor who can play the part Godfather with that quiet force and irony (the book is an ironical comment on American society) the part requires. I hope you’ll read the book and like it well enough to use whatever power you can to get the role.

I'm writing Paramount to the same effect for whatever good that will do.

I know this was presumptuous of me but the least I can do for the book is try. I really think you'd be tremendous. Needless to say I've been an admirer of your art.

Mario Puzo

Puzo’s fan letter worked its magic, but studio executives were leery of hiring Brando, as the actor's films were no longer raking in the big bucks—plus he was infamous for his overbearing on-set demands. They eventually caved after Coppola joined the project and advocated for Brando to join the cast.

9. THE TIME DIRECTOR BILLY WILDER TOLD A SINGING ACTOR HE WAS TONE DEAF.

Filmmaker Billy Wilder won multiple Academy Awards for his work on Sunset Boulevard (1950), The Lost Weekend (1946), and The Apartment (1960), but his famously backhanded compliments—while harsh—also deserve props for their cleverness.

While making the 1964 comedy Kiss Me, Stupid, Wilder listened to an unknown—but tone-deaf—actor sing, and remarked, "You have Van Gogh’s ear for music." If that weren't enough, Wilder also once told actor Walter Matthau—who starred in Wilder-directed movies including The Front Page (1974) and The Fortune Cookie (1966)—"We're on the track of something absolutely mediocre," and courted his wife by telling her, "I'd worship the ground you walk on if you lived in a better neighborhood."

10. THE TIME JOHN F. KENNEDY PRAISED THOMAS JEFFERSON AT A DINNER FOR NOBEL PRIZE WINNERS.

On April 29, 1962, President John F. Kennedy addressed a roomful of Nobel Prize winners who were being honored at a White House dinner. Surrounded by countless brilliant minds, Kennedy jokingly paid his highest compliment not to his guests, but to a long-dead U.S. President: Thomas Jefferson. In his opinion, nobody—not even his distinguished companions—held a candle to the polymath Founding Father:

I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet.

Additional Source: Letters of Note: Volume 1: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience

12 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Easter Bunnies

This child clearly can't get enough Easter Bunny in her life.
This child clearly can't get enough Easter Bunny in her life.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Every year, thousands of families, church groups, and event planners enlist entertainment companies to dispatch a costumed bunny for their Easter celebrations. These performers often endure oppressive heat, frightened children, and other indignities to bring joy to the season.

It can be a thankless job, which is why Mental Floss approached several hares and their handlers for some insight into what makes for a successful appearance, the numerous occupational hazards, and why they can be harassed while holding a giant carrot. Here’s a glimpse of what goes on under the ears.

1. They might be watching netflix under the mask.

Has a bunny ever seemed slow to respond to your child? He or she might be in the middle of a binge-watch. Jennifer Ellison, the sales and marketing manager for San Diego Kids’ Party Rentals and a bunny wrangler during the Easter season, says that extended party engagements might lead their furry foot soldiers to seek distractions while in costume. “We book the bunny by the hour and he is often booked for multiple hour blocks,” she says. “Listening to music definitely helps the time pass.” One of her bunny friends who does a lot of shopping mall appearances has even rigged up a harness that can cradle a smart phone. “It sits above the bunny's nose, resting right at eye level for the performer inside, easily allowing the performer to stream Netflix, scroll through Facebook, or check emails.”

2. They can’t walk on wet grass.

Bunnies that appear at private functions, like backyard parties or egg hunts, have to maintain the illusion of being a character and not a human in a furry costume. According to Albert Joseph, the owner of Albert Joseph Entertainment in San Francisco and a 30-year veteran of Easter engagements, one of the cardinal rules is never to set foot on wet grass. Why? “They wear regular shoes under their giant bunny feet,” he says. “If they step on wet grass and then walk on cement, they’ll make a human foot print, not a bunny print.”

3. There’s a reason they might not pick up your kid.

Bunnies might be amenable to posing for a photo with your child on their lap, but they’re probably not going to grab the little tyke and sweep them off their feet. According to Steve Rothenberg, a veteran performer and owner of Talk of the Town Entertainment in Rockville, Maryland, deadlifting a kid is against the rules. “The last thing you want is to lift them up and have them knock off your head,” he says.

4. Giant carrots will invite inappropriate behavior.

A person dressed as the Easter bunny.
As the 3-foot-long carrot proves, adults are easily the least mature guests at a child's Easter party.
lisafx/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Joseph’s warren of party bunnies usually come equipped with a 3-foot-long giant carrot as a prop. While children are amused by the oversized vegetable, the adults at the parties usually can’t help making observations. “Practically every visit, there’s always someone saying, ‘My, what a big carrot you have,’” he says.

On one occasion, Joseph attended a function at a retirement home. One of the women, who he estimated to be in her 80s, commented on his big feet in a lascivious manner. “She told me she was in room 37.”

5. Clothes make the bunny.

Easter bunny at the White House.
Every year, a well-dressed Easter bunny visits Washington, D.C. for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

While “naked” (i.e., unclothed) bunnies remain popular, Ellison’s lineup also includes Mr. Bunny, a “classy lad with a top hat and vest,” and a Mrs. Bunny sporting a purple dress. Why would kids care if a bunny has sartorial sense? “Kids can probably better relate to a giant, furry character if it's dressed like a human,” Ellison says. “[And] we just thought the costumes looked cute.”

6. They can’t wear dark clothing underneath.

If a bunny wants to wear a black shirt under his or her fur, it stands to reason there wouldn’t be any issue: It's all hidden from sight. But Joseph insists that his cast stick with white apparel only. In addition to being cooler, it serves a practical function. “There’s always an opportunity to see a little something around the neckline or near the feet,” he says. Light clothing helps preserve the character.

7. They use an upholstery cleaner for their heads.

Most bunny costumes can be tossed in any regular washing machine, with the feet going in a larger commercial-use unit. But the heads, which are typically massive and unwieldy, get special attention. “You know those upholstery cleaners you can rent from a grocery store?” Joseph asks. “We use those. There’s a wand attachment to it for cleaning carpet.”

8. There’s a trick to keeping cool.

Costumes made of fake fur in the spring can be a recipe for disaster—or at least some lightheadedness. While none of the bunnies we profiled had experienced fainting spells, Ellison says that the trick to staying cool is actually adding a layer underneath the outfit. “Light, breathable clothing underneath the suit usually does the trick, but some people choose to wear an ice vest under the suit as well.”

Many bunnies also work in intervals: 45 to 50 minutes “on,” and 10 to 15 minutes in a private area to cool off and drink water. “Clients are usually understanding and sympathetic of the bunny and will allow even more breaks if necessary,” Ellison says.

9. Mints are essential.

Bunnies may favor carrots and grass, but their human operators need something other than that in order to deal with the humidity. Rothenberg says that his bunnies usually nibble on mints while working a crowd. “They’ll typically chew gum or have some kind of mint to keep their throat from drying out,” he says.

10. They use bunny handlers to prevent knockdowns.

A person dressed as the Easter bunny.
An Easter Bunny makes a young girl's day.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Any professional bunny knows that having an assistant watching their back is the best way to ensure an appearance goes smoothly. “Your vision is limited and you can’t really look to the left or right,” Rothenberg says. “Having an assistant prevents kids from running up behind you.”

11. They have damaged butts.

In order to ease apprehensive kids, Joseph advocates for his bunnies to squat near a child rather than bend over. “It gets them at a child’s level so they can touch and feel for themselves,” he says. “But a bunny that does a lot of squatting winds up needing their [costume] butts re-sewn. I’ve repaired a lot of them.” Joseph will also invite mothers to sit on the bunny’s lap so fearful children are more likely to approach. “You don’t want to prod the kid,” he says.

12. They’re not just for easter.

While bunny costume season is a fleeting few weeks, companies are happy to roll out their rabbits for other occasions. Once, Ellison sent out a bunny for a customer’s Alice in Wonderland-themed gathering. “The client wanted the White Rabbit, so we dressed up our bunny in a vest and top hat and gave him an over-sized pocket watch. It worked out great.”

This piece originally ran in 2017.

The 48 Most Frequently Banned Wedding Songs

Bogdan Kurylo/iStock via Getty Images
Bogdan Kurylo/iStock via Getty Images

Who among us hasn't attended a wedding and cringed at the playlist? In 2017, stats/polling site FiveThirtyEight asked more than two dozen professional DJs who had DJ’d around 200 weddings what songs couples ban from their weddings and, after surveying 182 wedding playlists, came up with a list of 48 songs. They gave each song a percentage, which represents the share of weddings that banned the song.

The first 10 on the list represent silly dances people like to do but shouldn’t do, like The Chicken Dance, The Macarena, and The Electric Slide. After that, the list starts to see overplayed songs like “Don’t Stop Believin',’” “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” “Dancing Queen,” and “Sweet Caroline,” and call-and-response songs like “Shout.” The list contains a mix of new and old hip-hop, R&B, and pop hits, and several songs ended up tied.

Interestingly, a few songs from FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 ultimate wedding playlist also appear on the banned list, including “Hey Ya!,” “Uptown Funk,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Call Me Maybe.”

You may or may not agree with this list, but don’t feel bad if you decide to ban any of these songs from your own wedding playlist—chances are, someone out there agrees with you.

  1. “The Chicken Dance”

  1. “Cha-Cha Slide” // DJ Casper

  1. “Macarena” // Los Del Rio

  1. “Cupid Shuffle” // Cupid

  1. “YMCA” // Village People

  1. “Electric Boogie (Electric Slide)” // Marcia Griffiths

  1. “Hokey Pokey”

  1. “Wobble” // V.I.C.

  1. “Happy” // Pharrell Williams

  1. “Shout” // Isley Brothers

  1. “Love Shack” // The B-52's

  1. “We Are Family” // Sister Sledge

  1. “Blurred Lines” // Robin Thicke

  1. “Celebration” // Kool & The Gang

  1. Cotton Eye Joe” // Rednex

  1. “Dancing Queen” // ABBA

  1. “Don’t Stop Believin’” // Journey

  1. “Single Ladies” // BeyoncÉ

  1. “Sweet Caroline” // Neil Diamond

  1. “Turn Down for What” // DJ Snake & Lil Jon

  1. “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” // SilentÓ

  1. “Hot in Herre” // Nelly

  1. “Mony Mony” // Billy Idol

  1. “All About That Bass” // Meghan Trainor

  1. “Baby Got Back” // Sir Mix-a-Lot

  1. “Booti Call” // Blackstreet

  1. “Gangnam Style” // Psy

  1. “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” // Big & Rich

  1. “Stayin’ Alive” // Bee Gees

  1. “Sweet Home Alabama” // Lynyrd Skynyrd

  1. “Uptown Funk” // Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars

  1. “Wagon Wheel” // Nathan Carter

  1. “What Do You Mean?” // Justin Bieber

  1. “All of Me” // John Legend

  1. “Bohemian Rhapsody” // Queen

  1. “Brown Eyed Girl” // Van Morrison

  1. “Call Me Maybe” // Carly Rae Jepsen

  1. “Footloose” // Kenny Loggins

  1. “Get Low” // Lil Jon

  1. “Hey Ya!” // Outkast

  1. “Hotline Bling” // Drake

  1. “I Will Survive” // Gloria Gaynor

  1. “My Heart Will Go On” // CÉline Dion

  1. “SexyBack” // Justin Timberlake

  1. “Shake It Off” // Taylor Swift

  1. “Sugar” // Maroon 5

  1. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” // Bonnie Tyler

  1. “You Shook Me All Night Long” // AC/DC

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