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January 25, 2024 10 mins

Our tour today will introduce you to two curious individuals who revolutionized the roles they were lucky enough to fill.

Pre-order the official Cabinet of Curiosities book by clicking here today, and get ready to enjoy some curious reading this November!

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Hey, folks, erin here. I have some exciting news to
share with you, so please don't skip this message. We'll
get to our new stories in just a moment. Don't worry.
This podcast has been delivering stories to you for roughly
five years now, with today's episode featuring stories numbered eleven
sixty nine and eleven seventy. It's wild to think that
we've crafted so many little journeys for you to enjoy.

(00:22):
But I also know that that means that finding older
ones can often be a challenge. Well, I might have
a solution for you. On November twelfth, we're publishing our
very first cabinet of Curiosity's Book with our partners over
at Saint Martin's Press. As of today, the cover has
been revealed and the pre order page has gone live,
So you know what I'm going to ask for next, right,

(00:43):
Every single pre order that we get will go into
a bucket that counts toward the book's release week sales,
which means that you find, folks, have a great shot
at making this a New York Times bestseller, and knowing
how amazing all of you are, I feel pretty good
about those odds. This book will be a collection of
hundreds of Cabinet stories that you know and love, plus
a handful of new ones. And best of all, they'll

(01:05):
be sorted topically, making it really easy for you to
pick your favorite category to read or to look up
a tale you remember but haven't been able to find before.
And the book is gorgeous too, making it a great
addition to any bookcase or bedside table. I've put the
link to the official Cabinet of Curiosities book pre order
page in the episode description, so just tap on that

(01:26):
and let it take you to your favorite bookstore where
you can pre order your very own copy, and now
on with the show. You know, film has changed a
lot over the last one hundred and thirty years. We
went from short clips of only a few seconds long

(01:48):
to three hour motion pictures. Silent films gave way to
the talkies, and given the amount of computer generated effects
in today's movies, it might be safe for referring to
many of them as animated films instead of a life
live action pictures. But when film was still in its infancy,
as directors were learning how to fool the audience with
tricks of the lens, actors were also on the hunt

(02:10):
for new ways to keep everyone on the edge of
their seats. Now, stunt doubles have been used since nineteen
oh three's The Great Train Robbery, but some actors preferred
to do their own stunts, and sure we still see
that today. Just look at any film where Tom Cruise
is running or hanging from an airplane, a mountain, or
a building. But back in nineteen nineteen, one silent action

(02:30):
star stood above the rest. Harold Lloyd born in Birchard, Nebraska,
in eighteen ninety three. Harold walked a rocky path on
the way to start them. After performing with Thomas Edison's
Motion Picture Company early in his career, he had a
west to try his luck with the burgeoning movie industry
out there. After a series of rejections at a studio

(02:50):
head who wouldn't give him a shot, he met his
future collaborator, Hal Roach. Now Roach was in charge of
his own studio, and together the pair made a series
of silent shorts that drew in big crowds. Lloyd's lonesome
Luke and Glass characters were often involved in chaotic, mad
cap situations with a lot of slaps to humor and
some pretty dangerous stunts. For example, in the nineteen fifteen

(03:14):
short called Lonesome Luke Messenger, Lloyd and a fellow bike
messenger get into a number of shenanigans. One scene has
their bicycle knocking someone off a ladder before careening into
a tree. These are the kind of stunts that he
became known for, and they helped rocket him to the
top of the box office, and so it was no
surprise that Lloyd would find himself being courted by the media.

(03:35):
He often appeared in magazines and on posters advertising his films,
and in August of nineteen nineteen, several months after signing
a new contract with the Pathe Distribution Company, he was
invited to WHITSL Photography Studio in Los Angeles for a
photo shoot. But it wasn't just him. He also had
his fellow co stars and a box of props at
his side to help sell his adventurous escapades. Among the

(03:59):
various odds inside that box were some paper mache bombs,
completely harmless and not filled with explosives at all. And
that's when one of Harold's gagmen, a guy named Frank Terry,
lit one of the fake bombs and handed it to
the actor. Harold had been holding a cigarette which he
had tried to light using the wick from the prop.
Plumes of smoke began to pour out from the top

(04:20):
of the bomb, and he knew that so much smoke
would ruin the shoot, so he went to place the
object on a nearby table, and that's when the worst
thing happened. It blew up in his face. Apparently, Pathay
had been planning on a scene in an upcoming film
not starring Lloyd, and it involved the use of some
very real bombs. One of these explosive devices found its

(04:42):
way into the prop box at the studio, and of
all the ones that Terry could have handed him, he
picked the only real one to do so. The explosion
nearly blew the roof off, leaving a gaping hole sixteen
feet above their heads. It also fractured Terry's upper dental
plate into two pieces while rendering the foot potographer unconscious,
but Harold Lloyd was still standing despite being closest to

(05:04):
the blast. Sure he suffered burns across his chest and
face and nearly lost his eye. Thankfully, he wound up
saving his sight. Unfortunately, he did lose one thing, well
two really, his thumb and forefinger on his right hand.
Once he had healed and got back to work, though
hal Roach and producer Sam Goldwyn invented a prosthetic device

(05:25):
for him to wear. Goldwyn had been a glove salesman
before founding his own studio, so he put that knowledge
to work and took a rubber mold of Lloyd's complete
left hand, and then, according to silent film historian Annette
the Gastino, Lloyd no relation by the way, the mold
was reversed to simulate the incomplete right hand. The missing

(05:45):
fingers were then removed from the mold and inserted into
a leather glove, which slipped over Lloyd's right hand, giving
him the appearance of having all five fingers intact. He
only ever wore it while on the camera. When walking
about town, he simply kept his hand jammed inside his pocket,
and if he had to greet anyone, he shook their
hand with his left. Harold Lloyd was one of the
most talented stars of the silent era. He pulled off

(06:08):
some of the wildest stunts ever captured on film, including
hanging from a giant clock, and he did it all
after surviving a bomb blast and losing two of his fingers,
and for that we should give that man a hand.

(06:36):
We've probably all had a situation at work where we're
asked to do something we don't want to. Maybe someone
left and now we have to take on their responsibilities
as well, or a manager is trying to avoid hiring
a new person, so they're just adding those old duties
onto our own list. But even though we would love
to say not my job and then walk away, we
don't always get that satisfaction. The truth is if we

(06:58):
want to stay employed, then sometimes we have to perform
tasks that we were never meant to do. British marine
biologist Jeffrey Tandy ran into something similar in nineteen forty one,
except if he'd said not my job, then World War
two might have gone a lot differently. Tandy was born
in nineteen hundred and graduated from Oxford in nineteen twenty one.

(07:19):
He then attended Burbeck College in London for a graduate
school with a focus on marine biology. After his studies
were over, he took a job at the Natural History
Museum in London, where he worked for over twenty years
studying cryptogams. Notice how I said cryptogams, which is a
word used to describe plant like organisms that do not
produce spores or flowers, not to be confused with cryptograms

(07:41):
or puzzles involving encoded text. Basically, Tandy's line of work
was algae, moss and fung guy, not word games. But
during the war he found himself in the very strange
position of an impromptu career change. He had joined the
Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was sent to Bletchley Park,
which happened to be a massive mansion. It was built

(08:02):
during the nineteenth century, but after Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair,
the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, bought the estates
in nineteen thirty eight, it became home base for Allied codebreakers,
and it was there that Tandy ran into a bit
of a hiccup. You see, the Ministry of Defense was
in need of someone with well to borrow a phrase
from mister Liam Neeson a particular set of skills cryptography skills,

(08:25):
to be exact. But Tandy wasn't a cryptogrammist. He was
a cryptogamist, the foremost experts and algae in the reserve
in fact. But those two similar words got confused and
the Ministry of Defense came knocking, and Tandy was in
no position to say no. So for two years he
served in a secret code breaking group, biding his time

(08:45):
as a member of one of the most important and
covert units of the war. And then in nineteen forty
one he got his big break. Some German U boats
had been destroyed by Allied torpedoes, leaving behind a number
of documents that had been salvaged from the recks. But
this wasn't just any paperwork. Among the materials rescued from
the bottom of the ocean were instructions on how to

(09:07):
decipher enemy messages written using Germany's Enigma machine. In other words,
the key to understanding what the Germans were saying to
each other in secret. Unfortunately, those papers were unusable in
their current state. They were soggy and hardly readable. They
needed to be dried out and repaired before they could
be used. Enter Jeffrey Tandy. His previous experience in handling

(09:29):
water logged objects and organisms such as algae were finally
being put to good use. He grabbed some supplies from
the museum and he got to work. His skill set
had come in quite handy as he dried out the
documents Once they were in good enough condition to be
read by his colleagues, they were passed along to the
code breakers for further deciphering. The Allies now had a
way to unlock intercepted German communicays, and of course it

(09:53):
proved invaluable to the war effort. Thanks to Tandy's expertise,
he shortened the length of World War II by his
many as two to four years, and saved countless lives
as well. Jeffrey Tandy didn't throw his hands up until
the Ministry of Defense that it wasn't his job. He
did what many of us do when thrust into occupations
were unqualified for. He faked it until he made it.

(10:20):
I hope you've enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet
of Curiosities. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn
more about the show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com.
The show was created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership
with how Stuff Works. I make another award winning show
called Lore, which is a podcast, book series, and television show,

(10:42):
and you can learn all about it over at the
Worldolore dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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