Ask Mr. Know It All

Q. I have a question for you about the TV series “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” The actress who played the role of Dobie’s mother had an unusual name. What was it?

B.F., Lake Station, Ind.

A. Florida Friebus (1909-1988) played the role of Winifred “Winnie” Gillis, the mother of Dobie Gillis. After the series ended, she appeared in many other shows, including: “Perry Mason,” “Father Knows Best,” “Peyton Place,” “Ironside,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Barnaby Jones” and “Rhoda.” Besides appearing on television, Friebus was also a writer and Broadway actress.

Q. I’ve heard of Black Bart since I was a kid. Was there really an Old West bandit by that name? Or was he just another myth?

H.L., Boston

A. Black Bart was real. As far as stagecoach robbers go, Black Bart was one of America’s most unusual. He was polite, never used profanity, wrote poetry and, according to many, he never fired a gun during a robbery.

Black Bart’s birth name was Charles Bowles, and he was born in England in 1829; his family emigrated to upstate New York in 1931. Around the age of 20, he headed to California to mine for gold, where he had some success. He robbed his first stagecoach in 1875 and continued until 1883, when he was captured and sent to prison for four years. In early 1888, he disappeared and was never heard from again.

Q. I’m not sure how many times actress Elizabeth Taylor has been married. The last time was to some guy who was a former construction worker; as I recall, he was much younger. How much younger? There is also a poker hand named after him. What is it?

B.G., Yuma, Ariz.

A. Larry Fortensky was born Jan. 17, 1952, and Elizabeth Taylor was born Feb. 27, 1932. The two met at the Betty Ford Clinic in late 1988. The following year, they left the clinic and remained friends. They were married at Michael Jackson’s estate, Neverland, in October 1991. The marriage did not last: On Oct. 31, 1996, the couple officially ended their union. This marriage was Taylor’s seventh, but she was married eight times; it was Fortensky’s third trip down the aisle.

The poker hand named after him is a four of a kind with all tens. It’s a play on his last name, which is pronounced “four-ten-ski.”

Q. Every now and then, I say, “The best laid plans of mice and men go astray.” My daughter says she’s never heard the phrase before. Where did it originate?

T.R.H., Fleetwood, Pa.

A. The phrase, of course, means no matter how well you plan something, you should always expect the unexpected; in other words, have a plan B in mind. The line is paraphrased from the 1786 poem by Robert Burns, “To a Mouse.” Although there are several thoughts as to what the poem means, one theory is that it describes how a mouse’s home is destroyed by a farmer’s plow even though the mouse thought he had a perfect location. The actual line reads: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” The phrase is also the source for the title of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”

Q. Why do we fly the American flag at half-mast to mourn the loss or show respect of someone?

R.T.N., Bennington, Vt.

A. According to legend, after a battle, defeated forces would lower their flag to make room for the victors to fly their flag above theirs. Around the 17th century, it was customary to lower a ship’s flag to half-mast when a crew member was lost. The lowered flag made room for the invisible flag of the Angel of Death.

The correct term for non-nautical use is “half-staff,” not “half-mast.”

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

2013 Gary Clothier

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.