Ask Mr. Know It All

Q. I know cork comes from the cork oak tree. Is this a once-and-done process, or does the cork grow back?

O.H.H., Dover, Del.

A. After it reaches maturity (at least 25 years old), a cork tree can be harvested every eight to 14 years. No trees are cut down in the process of harvesting cork. The countries that produce the most cork include Portugal, Algeria, Spain, Morocco, France, Italy and Tunisia.

Q. During a guided tour of France a few years back, we went through a village where we were told Canadian forces from World War I were buried. I don’t remember the town, but I do remember the cemetery had an unusual name. Can you help?

K.G., Elyna, Ohio

A. You were in Miraumont, France, and visited the Adanac cemetery. You’re right, the cemetery’s name is quite unusual — it’s “Canada” spelled backward. The village, which is in northern France, was completely destroyed between 1914 and 1918 during World War I.

Q. Why are most pencils painted yellow?

G.B.L., Warren, Mich.

A. There are a lot of explanations. Here is one: A pencil manufacturer painted its product yellow, and the public liked it because the color made it easier to locate when misplaced. A second: In the 1890s, the best graphite in the world came from China. To indicate that a pencil had that graphite, it was painted yellow — the royal color of China. And one more: An Austria-Hungary company introduced an expensive, yellow pencil named after a famous yellow diamond, Koh-I-Noor. Other manufacturers copied the yellow color so their products would be associated with this high-quality brand.

Q. I’ve seen some old movies with Merle Oberon. She was such a stunning actress. I recall reading her birth name was Queenie. Is this true?

E.C., Marblehead, Mass.

A. The exotic and glamorous Merle Oberon was born Feb. 19, 1911, in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Her birth name was Estelle Merle O’Brien Thompson. As a girl, she was given the nickname Queenie in honor of Queen Mary. While in her teens, she moved to London and took the stage name Queenie O’Brien but quickly changed it to Merle Oberon.

Oberon died of a massive stroke in Malibu, Calif., in 1979.

Q. The 1961 movie “Splendor in the Grass” takes place in Kansas. I’m from Kansas, and I have often wondered where the movie was filmed.

O.R.N., Yuba City, Calif.

A. “Splendor in the Grass,” starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty, was shot in Staten Island, N.Y. Director Elia Kazan had planned to film the movie in Kansas, but the location was changed due to a severe drought.

Q. Why did Elvis Presley name his mansion Graceland?

B.U., Oswego, N.Y.

A. He didn’t. The home had that name when he bought it from Ruth Moore in March 1957. The Memphis, Tenn., property originally was established as a 500-acre farm during the Civil War. It was owned by publisher S.E. Toof, who named it after his daughter, Grace. Ruth Moore, Grace Toof’s niece, built the mansion on the property in 1939.

Q. Do you remember the TV show “Kukla, Fran and Ollie”? The names Fran and Ollie are not too unusual, but I’ve never heard the name Kukla. What is its origin? Which character was the clown, and which the dragon?

H.G., Sandy, Utah

A. I do remember the show, and I enjoyed it tremendously. “Kukla” is Greek for “doll.”

Ollie, or Oliver J. Dragon, was a one-toothed dragon; Kukla was a clown. Fran was often the only human on the show. “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” aired from 1947 to 1957 and was entirely ad-libbed.

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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