Historical movies aren't history. It's common knowledge that movies based on historical events routinely omit facts, distort narratives, and sometimes just make stuff up. There are all kinds of reasons why filmmakers do or don't include a particular historical detail, but today we're focusing on one specific case: stories that are true but still too weird to include.
Sometimes, these stories are omitted because they strike the wrong tone for the movie. A serious drama about the final days of WWII probably doesn't need a realistic depiction of a certain chancellor's flatulence. But it still would have been historically accurate. On the other hand, some details just sound so far-fetched that most audience members would assume the filmmakers were making them up for dramatic effect, which could undermine the serious movie. But the saying "truth is stranger than fiction" is a cliche for a reason.
Today, we're going to cover the weird details that filmmakers ignored. And for some of these movies, including the strange stuff might have made them even better.
'Tesla' Avoided Mentioning The Time He Fell In Love With A PigeonPhoto: IFC Films
Nikola Tesla was a singular genius who's one of the two people responsible for the AC electrical current system we still use today, along with George Westinghouse. But he was also a bona fide eccentric whose habits were unusual even for his time. Whether Tesla's genius derived specifically from his peculiarities is an interesting question for another article, but for now, we're going to focus on just one peculiarity: the pigeon love.
Tesla devoted his life to his career. He never married and remained celibate throughout his life. But while he was living in New York City, he did form a special bond with the city's pigeon population. Tesla would often feed pigeons in parks and bring injured ones home with him, and he even asked the hotel's chef to concoct a special birdseed mixture for his feathered friends. But Tesla was more than just a pigeon fanatic. At one point, he met and fell in love with a white pigeon whom he saw frequently. “I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me," he said about her. "As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life." One night, his avian paramour flew into his hotel room. Tesla believed she was telling him she was about to perish, and then she did. At that point, Tesla knew his life's work was over.
Unfortunately, the 2020 biopic about the Serbian inventor mentions none of this. It did include a made-up scene in which Tesla and his main rival Thomas Edison have an ice cream fight, though, so it's not like Tesla was married to the truth.10128Ridiculous story?
'Wolf Hall' Doesn't Specify What Exactly The 'Groom of the Stool' Was Responsible ForPhoto: BBC
Henry Norris was an influential courtier in the court of King Henry VIII, and he played a major role in the events of the downfall of Anne Boleyn - he was one of four men accused of having adulterous affairs with her, along with her own brother George. Norris appears in numerous retellings of Henry VIII's reign. He's a central figure in the BBC miniseries Wolf Hall, and he's appeared in Tudor-era movies going back decades. But these movies and TV shows never explain what Norris's duties were as a courtier.
Norris's official job title was "Groom of the Stool." The Groom of the Stool was essentially the king's personal valet, but it went beyond that. In a time when indoor plumbing didn't exist and wealthy people often wore many layers of clothing, a Groom of the Stool helped the king do his business and made sure his "close stool," or chamber pot, was regularly emptied and cleaned. The historical record doesn't specify whether the groom also literally wiped the king or just handed him a cloth. Unglamorous as it sounds, because the Groom of the Stool did have intimate daily access to the king, the role evolved into one of the king's most trusted confidantes and policy advisors. It was a coveted position among the aristocracy, and Henry rewarded many of his Grooms of the Stool with land, titles, and yearly incomes.11038Ridiculous story?
Along with his stovepipe hat, Abraham Lincoln's beard is one of his defining characteristics, and it's difficult to imagine him without it. But Lincoln actually didn't grow his beard until after he won the presidency in 1861, and he did it on the advice of a young girl. Lincoln was always tall, skinny, and gaunt-looking, and when he rose to national office this became more and more of a problem for his public perception. Newspapers openly negged him, with one calling him a "horrid-looking wretch," and another describing him as "the leanest, lankiest, most ungainly mass of legs, arms, and hatchet face ever strung upon a single frame."
But it was 11-year-old Grace Bedell of Westfield, New York, whose words cut Abe the deepest. When Grace's father brought home a poster of the Republican presidential candidate, she wasn't impressed, and she wrote to him with advice. "If you let your whiskers grow... you would look a great deal better, for your face is so thin," she wrote. "All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President."
Lincoln let his whiskers grow out and became the first fully bearded US president. Grace approved of his new look, along with millions of other Americans.15875Ridiculous story?
- Photo: Paramount Pictures
Lyndon Baines Johnson gets credit for being one of America's best presidents. His administration helped usher in both the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Great Society program of domestic policy reforms. But he doesn't get nearly enough recognition for being one of the most colorful characters to ever hold the office. LBJ didn't draw much of a distinction between "work time" and "personal time," and he didn't let such mundane matters as personal hygiene interfere with running the nation. If LBJ had to go to the bathroom during a meeting, the meeting would move into the bathroom with him. Johnson frequently took meetings while on the toilet. In the mornings, he would discuss policy while showering and shaving, totally undressed. He invited his male aides to skinny dip with him in the White House pool. During these sessions he would compare genitalia, referring to his as "Jumbo." In other words, LBJ was our most body-positive president.
All of this would make for a compelling movie character, yet no depictions of our 36th president mention it. The 2014 drama Selma, about Martin Luther King Jr.'s efforts to pass said Civil Rights legislation, depicted LBJ as a doubter and an obstacle (which scholars called inaccurate).9730Ridiculous story?