Ask Mr. Know It All

Q. Did Peter Sellers break into show business as a funnyman?

K.M., Brady, Texas

A. No. Sellers’ parents were both vaudeville performers who took their son on the road with them. By age 16, he was touring as a jazz-band drummer. In 1943, he was drafted into the British Royal Air Force and spent his war years playing in the RAF band, which is when he started doing comedy sketches.

After the war, Sellers became a sought-after radio performer. In 1951, he had his own radio program called “The Goon Show.” In 1963, he achieved an international reputation with the release of “Dr. Strangelove.” The following year, he appeared in the first of five “Pink Panther” films. He was 54 when he died of a heart attack July 24, 1980.

Q. When I was a youngster, I got a Barbie doll with a dog for Christmas. Both the doll and dog are long gone, but neither is forgotten. Maybe that’s not totally true — I can’t remember the name of the poodle. Do you know it?

J.I., Palm Harbor, Fla.

A. His name is Prince. I found several available for purchase on eBay.

Q. Who wrote “Outlined against the blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again”?

O.B., Chandler, Ariz.

A. That is the work of sportswriter Grantland Rice. He was referring to the backfield of Notre Dame’s 1924 undefeated team: Elmer Layden, Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller and Jim Crowley. After the Notre Dame upset against Army on Oct. 18, 1924, Rice wrote the famous lede: “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore, their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden.”

Q. What did movie great Gary Cooper do before he became a star?

I.H., Fort Worth, Texas

A. Frank James Cooper (1901-1961) grew up on a sprawling Montana ranch, where he became an expert horseman. After college, he worked as a political cartoonist. Finding ranch work unromantic and cartooning not financially rewarding, he decided to find a new career. He was able to parlay his ranch skills into a Hollywood job as a stuntman. Not content, he hired an agent and changed his first name from Frank to Gary and was signed by Paramount. Before long, the handsome and rangy actor became a leading man.

Q. I know the Wright Brothers flew their plane at Kitty Hawk, N.C., but what was the name of the plane?

I.L., Rome, N.Y.

A. On Dec. 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers successfully flew the first sustained powered flights in a heavier-than-air machine called the Wright Flyer.

Q. I came across an old container of face powder with the word “Rachel” printed on it. Was this a brand name?

N.F., Salina, Kan.

A. No, it was a shade of face powder. In the 1800s, face powder was available in three shades: blanche (white), naturelle (pink) and Rachel (cream). The color Rachel was named after French actress Elisa Felix, who used the stage name Mademoiselle Rachel. She was best known for playing tragic roles.

Q. According to a biography of Jackie Gleason, he starred as Chester A. Riley on the TV show “The Life of Riley.” I thought William Bendix played that role. Is there something I’m missing?

C.H.Z., Montpelier, Vt.

A. There is — about four years. “The Life of Riley” started out on radio in 1944, with William Bendix voicing the lead role. In 1949, the show, starring Gleason, was brought to TV. Though the show won an Emmy, it was dropped after 26 weeks. In 1953, the program returned to TV with a whole new cast, this time starring Bendix. The show lasted five years.

Q. I was and still am an avid fan of Tom Selleck’s “Magnum, P.I.” He often sported a Detroit Tigers cap on the show. Was there a reason?

R.M.W., Beeville, Texas

A. In real life, Selleck is a big fan of the Detroit Tigers.

Q. Was Tennessee Williams born in that state? Is that his given name?

E.J., Mesa, Ariz.

A. Thomas Lanier Williams (1911-83) was born in Mississippi. His father was born in Tennessee.

Send questions to Mr. Know-It-All at or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

2013 Gary Clothier

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