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.

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.

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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.

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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

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.