Ask Mr. Know It All

Q. What is pleather? Quite some years ago, I saw an ad for a chair made of genuine pleather.

R.L., Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

A. The world “pleather” is a slang term for a plastic fabric made to look like leather. When first introduced in the 1970s, the term was meant to be a derogatory word; as more people opted for the imitation leather over the real stuff, pleather became a preferred fabric among many consumers.

Q. Who said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”?

J.G., Syracuse, N.Y.

A. Those words are part of the lyrics to John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy [Darling Boy],” about his son, Sean. Here is one verse:

“Before you cross the street

“Take my hand

“Life is what happens to you

“While you’re busy making other plans.”

Q. What are “sun dogs”?

B.C., Peru, Ill.

A. Also called “mock suns,” “false suns” or “parhelia,” they are bright spots located on either side of the sun when it is low in the sky. Sun dogs are formed when the sun’s light travels through flat ice crystals, called “plates.” This refracted light causes the spots. If you have access to a computer, enter “sun dogs” using a search engine. You’ll find some great sites with pictures and a more technical explanation of how sun dogs are formed.

Q. When and where was actor Crispin Glover born?

Q.L., Santa Rosa, Calif.

A. Crispin Hellion Glover was born April 20, 1964, in New York City. He got his big break playing George McFly, the father to Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly in the 1985 blockbuster “Back to the Future.” Michael J. Fox was born June 9, 1961, in Edmonton, Canada. No, the dates are not a misprint; the movie son was three years older than the father.

Q. When Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty) left the TV show “Gunsmoke,” who took over the Long Branch Saloon?

R.B., Springfield, Mo.

A. Amanda Blake (1929-1989) was with the show from its beginning in 1955. By 1974, she grew tired of the role and decided to leave the show. The duties at the Long Branch Saloon became the responsibility of Miss Hannah, played by Fran Ryan. “Gunsmoke” left the air in 1975.

Fran Ryan (1916-2000) might be best remembered for her role as Doris Ziffel on “Green Acres.”

Q. I have a question about game-show host Wink Martindale. Is that really his first name?

P.W., Johnson City, N.Y.

A. His full name is Winston Conrad Martindale. He was born Dec. 4, 1934, in Jackson, Tenn. He got his nickname, Wink, from a friend when he was a kid. While still in his teens, he hosted a radio show and later a kids’ television program. In 1959, he moved to California, where he landed a gig as a host of a dance party similar to the one he had in Tennessee. He became a popular disc jockey on Los Angeles radio before moving on to television, where he hosted 15 network game shows.

Martindale received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006.

Q. When did magician David Copperfield take up magic? Is that his real name? When and where was he born?

W.L., Elmira, N.Y.

A. David Seth Kotkin was born Sept. 16, 1956, in Metuchen, N.J. He learned his first magic trick from his grandfather when he was 7. By the time he was 12, he was performing professionally under the name “Davino, the Boy Magician” and was inducted into the Society of American Magicians. He worked as an adjunct professor at New York University at age 16.

Copperfield has grossed more than $4 billion in ticket sales, which is more than any other solo entertainer in history. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 21 Emmys and 11 Guinness World Records.

Q. Years ago, I visited Ellis Island in New York Harbor. Going there is an emotional experience. Are there records that tell us who the very first person was who came through the processing station on his or her way to a better life in America?

T.L., New Ulm, Minn.

A. On Jan. 1, 1892, arriving with two younger brothers, 15-year-old Annie Moore from County Cork, Ireland, was the first person to pass through the newly opened processing station at Ellis Island. Her parents immigrated to the United States three years earlier. Moore remained in New York City until her death in 1923. In 1993, Irish President Mary Robinson attended a ceremony in which a bronze statue of Annie Moore was unveiled in the island’s museum.

Q. There is a place in the United States called Four Corners, the only place where four states meet — Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Is there a place where four nations meet at one point?

I.L.C., Youngstown

A. There isn’t, but one place is close. Four African countries — Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe — almost meet at one point (called a “quadripoint”). The borders are actually 100 to 150 meters away from being a quadripoint.

Q. When was the Barbie doll introduced? What about Ken? After whom is the company Mattel named?

P.D., Duncan, Okla.

A. Barbie was introduced in March 1959, at the American Toy Fair in New York City. The Ken doll was introduced in 1961. In 1945, Ruth and Elliot Handler joined with their friend Harold Mattson to form Mattel. The name comes from MATTson and ELliot. Ruth Handler developed Barbie and Ken, and she named them after her children, Barbara and Kenneth.

Q. Los Angeles is pretty much located in a desert. Why does it have an NBA team called the Lakers?

I.J., Huntsville, Ala.

A. The Lakers were formed in 1947 from the remnants of National Basketball League’s Detroit Gems. The newly formed Minnesota Lakers, based out of Minneapolis, played one season in the NBL before moving to the National Basketball Association. The team was named after Minnesota’s nickname, “the Land of 1,000 Lakes.” When the Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960, the name was not changed.

Q. I have heard of someone named “the Last of the Red-Hot Mammas” for many years, but I don’t know who she was.

E.B., Daytona Beach, Fla.

A. “The Last of the Red-Hot Mammas” was the nickname for singer Sophie Tucker (1887-1966). The moniker came from one of her songs, “I’m the Last of the Red Hot Mammas.”

Send your 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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