Question: I was fortu nate to have seen Andy Williams several times in Branson, Mo. I was sad dened to hear of his pass ing. My favorite song is "Moon River." I was lis tening to some of the words:

There's such a lot of world to see

We're after the same rainbow's end,

Waitin' 'round the bend

My huckleberry friend, Moon River and me.

I have to ask: What is a huckleberry friend? -- J.S., Mount Penn, Pa.

Answer: I am asked this question every few years. Since the passing of Andy Williams on Sept. 25, I have received many emails and letters with the same question.

First, let me tell you the huckleberry story. When early American colonists encountered a native berry, they mistook it for the European berry known as the "hurtleberry." The name stuck, but the pronunciation changed over time to huckleberry.

By the mid- to late- 1800s, huckleberry became slang for "an all-around nice person." Now, to confuse things a bit, huckleberry could also mean "a small amount or distance" or an "insignificant thing or person." This meaning led to another popular phrase at the time, to bet a huckleberry to a persimmon, meaning a very small bet.

The lowly huckleberry was also used in a phrase indicating something or someone special, as in "the only huckleberry on the bush," which I'm sure led to the phrase "huckleberry friend," meaning someone very unique or special.


Q: Azure is one of my favorite colors. How did it get its unusual name? -- I.B., Santa Rosa, Calif.

A: Azure has its roots in the Persian word "lazheward." Lazheward is located in northern Afghanistan, a place famous for its deep blue stone. We know those stones today as "lapis lazuli," which means "stone of Lazheward." The gemstone was among the first to be worn as jewelry; it was used extensively in ancient Egypt.

By the 12th century, the French had adopted the word "l'azur." The first use of the color name was in Geoffrey Chaucer's 1394 work, "Troilus and Criseyde."

Q: I was in a small crowd going to an amuse ment park when someone used an unusual name for the Ferris wheel. I have a feeling it may have been carnival lingo. I have no idea what the term is -- do you know? -- L.O.B., Perry, Ga.

A: The term is "simp heister," which is, indeed, carnival slang. Its origin is based on carnival jargon: "simps" -- simple people -- who are foolish enough to be "heisted," or hoisted, into the air.

Q: Who was the biggest long-shot winner in the Kentucky Derby? -- Y.L., Newark, Ohio

A: Donerail, a 91-1 long shot, won the 1913 Kentucky Derby. A $2 bet on Donerail provided a $184.90 payout. His jockey was Roscoe Goose, who was nicknamed the Golden Goose after the stunning victory.

Q: It's not uncommon for the president of the United States to be a former U.S. senator. Who was the first former senator to become president? -- H.J., Annapolis, Md.

A: To date, 16 senators have also served as president. The first was James Monroe, who represented Virginia in the Senate from 1790 to 1794. He was president from 1817 to 1825.

Only one man -- Andrew Johnson -- has served as a senator after his presidential term.

Q: There is a TV commercial in which NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and former NFL star Deion Sanders are dressed in pixie costumes. Manning winds up in the refrigerator next to a jar of something, and he even mentions its name. What is in the jar? -- B.L., Sioux City, Iowa

A: Manning is standing next to a jar of tapenade in the DirecTV ad. Tapenade is a spread of pureed or finely chopped olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil. It's popular in southern France, where it is generally eaten as an hors d'oeuvre. The name comes from "tapenas," meaning "capers." Other variations include ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, basil, thyme or oregano.

Q: I was wondering if there are books available that list every character actor? My wife and I have seen books about movie stars, but we have never seen anything on the people who play certain characters or bit parts in movies. -- J.R., Cheboygan, Mich.

A: A few recommended books are "Names You Never Remember, With Faces You Never Forget," by Justin Humphreys, and "Hey! It's That Guy!" by Tara Ariano and Adam Sternbergh. You should be able to order the books from any bookstore or on

Q: Actor Cary Elwes never seems to be referred to in Hollywood news. He was in the movie "The Princess Bride" (1987). Can you tell me more about him? -- M.K., Naples, Fla.

A: Ivan Simon Cary Elwes was born in London on Oct. 26, 1962. He has been married to photographer Lisa Marie Kurbikoff since 2000. They have one daughter.

Elwes stays very busy with roles on TV and in the movies, both acting and voice parts. You may have seen him in "Psych," "New Year's Eve" or "Saw."

Q: I am almost 80 years old, and I still have and enjoy my collection of Shirley Temple dolls and toys that my mother bought for me when I was very young. I haven't heard anything about Shirley Temple for the past several years. Is she still alive? -- L.D., Easton, Md.

A: Shirley Temple Black is alive and well. The 84-year-old former child star and U.S. ambassador lives in California.

Q: During an episode of "Seinfeld," Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) made reference to a "swen-jolly." What is it? I'm obviously not spelling it correctly because I can't locate it. -- I.G., Layton, Utah

A: The word is "Svengali." A Svengali is a person who exerts excessive control over another -- often for personal gain. The word does not derive from a real person, but from a character in George du Maurier's best-selling 1894 novel "Trilby."

Q: I have a question about the TV Western "James Garner as Nichols" that aired in 1971. One of the characters was named Mitchell. Who played him? Mitchell had a dog. What was the dog's name? -- O.L.P., Albany, Ore.

A: Stuart Margolin played Deputy Sheriff Mitch Mitchell. The dog's name was Slump.

When the series first aired, it was called "Nichols," but it was retitled "James Garner as Nichols" for episode seven to capitalize on the star's name. The series was set in the fictional town of Nichols, Ariz., in 1914. This was a non-traditional Western in which Nichols rode a motorcycle and drove an automobile. Margot Kidder played Ruth, the love interest/barmaid of Nichols.

Q: Is actress Krysten Ritter of "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" related to Jason Ritter or the late John Ritter? -- P.R., Torrance, Calif.

A: Krysten Ritter, who was born Dec. 16, 1981, is related to neither John Ritter nor Jason Ritter. John Ritter is Jason Ritter's father. John Ritter died Sept. 11, 2003.

Q: Is actress Jane Seymour married to actor Stacy Keach? -- O.H., Plano, Texas

A: Jane Seymour is married to actor and director James Keach, brother of Stacy Keach. The couple married in 1993.

Q: I came across a recording by Spike Jones recently -- it brought back some fond memories. How did he get the name Spike? When and where was he born? -- M.J., Cape Coral, Fla.

A: Lindley Armstrong "Spike" Jones was born in Long Beach, Calif., on Dec. 14, 1911. A telegraph operator gave Jones his nickname, insisting the future musician was as skinny as a railroad spike.

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