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.

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.

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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

10 Reusable Gifts for Your Eco-Friendliest Friend

Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
DecorChic/Amazon

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

By this point, your eco-friendly pal probably has a reusable water bottle that accompanies them everywhere and some sturdy grocery totes that keep their plastic-bag count below par. Here are 10 other sustainable gift ideas that’ll help them in their conservation efforts.

1. Reusable Produce Bags; $13

No more staticky plastic bags.Naturally Sensible/Amazon

The complimentary plastic produce bags in grocery stores aren’t great, but neither is having all your spherical fruits and vegetables roll pell-mell down the checkout conveyor belt. Enter the perfect alternative: mesh bags that are nylon, lightweight, and even machine-washable.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Animal Tea Infusers; $16

Nothing like afternoon tea with your tiny animal friends.DecorChic/Amazon

Saying goodbye to disposable tea bags calls for a quality tea diffuser, and there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be shaped like an adorable animal. This “ParTEA Pack” includes a hippo, platypus, otter, cat, and owl, which can all hang over the edge of a glass or mug. (In other words, you won’t have to fish them out with your fingers or dirty a spoon when your loose leaf is done steeping.)

Buy it: Amazon

3. Rocketbook Smart Notebook; $25

Typing your notes on a tablet or laptop might save trees, but it doesn’t quite capture the feeling of writing on paper with a regular pen. The Rocketbook, on the other hand, does. After you’re finished filling a page with sketches, musings, or whatever else, you scan it into the Rocketbook app with your smartphone, wipe it clean with the microfiber cloth, and start again. This one also comes with a compatible pen, but any PILOT FriXion pens will do.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Food Huggers; $13

"I'm a hugger!"Food Huggers/Amazon

It’s hard to compete with the convenience of plastic wrap or tin foil when it comes to covering the exposed end of a piece of produce or an open tin can—and keeping those leftovers in food storage containers can take up valuable space in the fridge. This set of five silicone Food Huggers stretch to fit over a wide range of circular goods, from a lidless jar to half a lemon.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Swiffer Mop Pads; $15

For floors that'll shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.Turbo Microfiber/Amazon

Swiffers may be much less unwieldy than regular mops, but the disposable pads present a problem to anyone who likes to keep their trash output to a minimum. These machine-washable pads fasten to the bottom of any Swiffer WetJet, and the thick microfiber will trap dirt and dust instead of pushing it into corners. Each pad lasts for at least 100 uses, so you’d be saving your eco-friendly friend quite a bit of money, too.

Buy it: Amazon

6. SodaStream for Sparkling Water; $69

A fondness for fizzy over flat water doesn’t have to mean buying it bottled. Not only does the SodaStream let you make seltzer at home, but it’s also small enough that it won’t take up too much precious counter space. SodaStream also sells flavor drops to give your home-brewed beverage even more flair—this pack from Amazon ($25) includes mango, orange, raspberry, lemon, and lime.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Washable Lint Roller; $13

Roller dirty.iLifeTech/Amazon

There’s a good chance that anyone with a pet (or just an intense dislike for lint) has lint-rolled their way through countless sticky sheets. iLifeTech’s reusable roller boasts “the power of glue,” which doesn’t wear off even after you’ve washed it. Each one also comes with a 3-inch travel-sized version, so you can stay fuzz-free on the go.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Countertop Compost Bin; $23

Like a tiny Tin Man for your table.Epica/Amazon

Even if you keep a compost pile in your own backyard, it doesn’t make sense to dash outside every time you need to dump a food scrap. A countertop compost bin can come in handy, especially if it kills odors and blends in with your decor. This 1.3-gallon pail does both. It’s made of stainless steel—which matches just about everything—and contains an activated-charcoal filter that prevents rancid peels and juices from stinking up your kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Fabric-Softening Dryer Balls; $17

Also great for learning how to juggle without breaking anything.Smart Sheep

Nobody likes starchy, scratchy clothes, but some people might like blowing through bottles of fabric softener and boxes of dryer sheets even less. Smart Sheep is here to offer a solution: wool dryer balls. Not only do they last for more than 1000 loads, they also dry your laundry faster. And since they don’t contain any chemicals, fragrances, or synthetic materials, they’re a doubly great option for people with allergies and/or sensitive skin.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Rechargeable Batteries; $40

Say goodbye to loose batteries in your junk drawer.eneloop/Amazon

While plenty of devices are rechargeable themselves, others still require batteries to buzz, whir, and change the TV channel—so it’s good to have some rechargeable batteries on hand. In addition to AA batteries, AAA batteries, and a charger, this case from Panasonic comes with tiny canisters that function as C and D batteries when you slip the smaller batteries into them.

Buy it: Amazon

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5 World War I-Era Tips for Celebrating Thanksgiving in Strange Times

Thanksgiving Day menu from November 1917 at Fort D. A. Russell in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Thanksgiving Day menu from November 1917 at Fort D. A. Russell in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
National World War I Museum and Memorial

The year 2020 has been one of hardships, sacrifices, and reimagined traditions. As the United States enters the holiday season with COVID-19 cases at a record high, this reality is more undeniable than ever.

Thanksgiving may look different for many people this year, but it won’t be totally unprecedented. Whether you’re connecting with people remotely, entertaining a smaller group, or trying out a new menu, you can find guidance in the records of Thanksgivings past.

As a 1918 newspaper article from the National World War I Museum and Memorial’s archives reads, “The thanks of the Yanks may differ this year from that of peace-time Novembers, but [...] the spirit of the day is always the same, however much the surroundings may differ."

Americans celebrating Thanksgiving at home and abroad during World War I had to deal with food shortages, being away from family, and, in 1918, a global pandemic. Mental Floss spoke with Lora Vogt, the World War I Museum’s curator of education, about what people making the best of this year’s holiday can learn form wartime Thanksgiving celebrations.

1. Mail Treats to Loved Ones.

Thanksgiving postcard from 1918.National World War I Museum and Memorial

Even when separated by great distances, families found ways to share food on Thanksgiving a century ago. “We have all of these letters from service members saying thanks for the candy, thanks for the cakes, thank you for the donuts—all of these foods they were sent from their loved ones when they couldn't be together,” Vogt tells Mental Floss.

If you're spending Thanksgiving apart from the people you love this year, sending them a treat in the mail can be a great way to connect from a distance. Just remember that not everything people mailed to each other during World War I belongs in a modern care package. “I would suggest you forgo the live chickens,” Vogt says. “The USPS has been through so much this year already.”

2. Try a New Recipe.

Food shortages made ingredients like sugar, wheat, and red meat hard to come by during World War I. In 1918, the U.S. government released a cookbook titled Win the War in the Kitchen, which featured ration-friendly recipes. Americans aren’t dealing with the same food shortages they saw during World War I (or even March 2020) this Thanksgiving, but an unconventional celebration could be the perfect excuse to recreate a dish from history. Some recipes from Win the War in the Kitchen that could fit into your Thanksgiving menu include corn fritters, lentil casserole, carrot pudding, Puritan turkey stuffing, and maple syrup cake with maple syrup frosting. You can find the full digitized version of the book at the National World War I Museum’s online exhibit.

3. Depart From Tradition.

This year is the perfect opportunity to break the rules on Thanksgiving. That means instead of sitting down to a stuffy dinner at a set time, you could enjoy a relaxed day of eating, drinking, and binge-watching. This excerpt from a 1918 letter written by serviceman James C. Ryan to his mother may provide some inspiration:

"Had Thanksgiven [sic] dinner at Huber's over in Newark. Collins was in Cleveland on a furlough and Huber and his wife was alone with me [...] Started off with a little champagne and I certainly did put away an awfull [sic] feed. Had several cold bottles during the day and after coming back from a movie we had a few and some turkey sandwiches."

“Starting off with a little champagne does not sound like a bad plan,” Vogt tells Mental Floss. “And it was very much a small pod. They have their variation of Netflix, and then turkey sandwiches at the end of the day. Certainly some similarities and some inspiration there.”

Thanksgiving festivities were also unconventional for soldiers serving overseas in World War I. While stationed "somewhere in France" on November 29, 1918, Hebert Naylor wrote to his mother describing a Thanksgiving with two big meals—and not a turkey in sight:

“We came back and had breakfast at 10 o’clock. It consisted of pancakes, syrup, bacon and coffee. We had the big dinner at 4:30 PM and I tell you it was quite a dinner to be served to so many men. It consisted of baked chicken, creamed corn, french fried potatoes, lettuce, pie, cake and coffee. This was the first pie and cake I had since I left home and believe me it tasted good.”

4. Find Normalcy Where You Can.

Thanksgiving 1918 for the 79th Aero Squadron at Taliaferro Field, Hicks, Texas.National World War I Museum and Memorial

No matter what your Thanksgiving looks like in 2020, making room for a couple of traditions can provide much-needed comfort in a year of uncertainty. Even people celebrating during wartime 100 years ago were able to incorporate some normalcy into their festivities. On November 29, 1917, serviceman Thomas Shook wrote about seeing a football game while at army training camp: “In the afternoon several of us went to the Army vs. Ill. U. football game. There sure was some crowd. Army lost the game first they have lost.”

Keeping some classic items on the menu is another way make the day feel more traditional. Army trainee Charles Stevenson wrote to his grandmother on Thanksgiving 1917: “We had about the best dinner I ever ate today—turkey, cranberry sauce and cranberries, fruit salad, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, tea and mine [sic] pie. Pretty fine eating for the soldier bosy [sic].”

5. Share What You’re Thankful For.

During the Great War’s darkest moments, some service members were still inspired to express gratitude when Thanksgiving rolled around. Thomas Shook wrote in a letter to his parents dated November 28, 1918 that after surviving the war, he had now escaped the Spanish Flu that was infecting many of the men he served with. Despite the hardships he endured, he was thankful to have been spared by the virus and be on his way home.

Wherever you are this Thanksgiving, sharing what you’re grateful for with loved ones—even if it’s by phone, Zoom, or a handwritten letter—is a simple way to celebrate the holiday.