Question: My grand mother used the phrase "heavens to Betsy." I have long wondered about the origin of the phrase and who was Betsy? -- J.M., Statesville, N.C.

Answer: "Heavens to Betsy" can best be described as a mild exclamation of surprise. There is little agreement on anything else about the phrase. The earliest date of origin that I have come across is that it appeared in print in the 1800s. Researching the burning question "Who is Betsy?" led to a dead end. There are various theories about Betsy, but as etymologist Charles Earle Funk concluded, it is "completely unsolvable."

Q: What is a "Hitchcock blonde"? -- L.U., Belen, N.M.

A: The great movie director Alfred Hitchcock had a strong preference for blond women -- not because of an attraction to them, but because he believed the audience would be less suspicious of them than a brunette. He believed there was a tradition of the blond heroine starting with silent movie star Mary Pickford. He also said blondes photographed better in black and white, which was the type of film he used in his early days.

Q: "The Charge of the Light Brigade" is a famous poem, but what was the charge all about? -- B.K., Globe, Ariz.

A: In December 1854, Alfred, Lord Tennyson published his poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade." The narrative poem is about the now-famous charge that occurred during the Battle of Balaclava (Ukraine) on Oct. 25, 1854, during the Crimean War.


The poem memorializes the suicidal charge by British cavalry over open terrain, in which 247 men of the 637 in the charge were killed or wounded. The war was fought by Russia against Turkey, Britain and France, because Russia sought to control the Dardanelles.

Q: Why is a leg injury called a charley horse? -- J.W.J., Minersville, Pa.

A: The term "charley horse" has been used since the late 1800s. It refers to leg cramps or muscle spasms. There is no definitive explanation for the origin of the term, but it is often cited as baseball slang. The most plausible story goes that it was named after pitcher Charley "Old Hoss" Radbourn, who suffered from severe leg cramps.

Q: Whatever happened to the idea about a movie that was to be filmed about Liberace and his lover? -- S.M., Myers town, Pa.

A: The movie you are referring to will air on HBO in 2013. It is titled "Behind the Candelabra," and it stars Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his lover, Scott Thorson.

Q: Is Crystal Gayle still performing? Does she still have hair down to her feet? Did she ever marry and have a family? Any thing you can tell me about her will be appreci ated. -- A.K., Upper Chichester, Pa.

A: Crystal Gayle still performs and keeps a busy tour schedule. Her hair is as long as ever. Gayle, whose birth name is Brenda Gail Webb, was born Jan. 9, 1951, in Paintsville, Ky. She and Bill Gatzimos, who was her high school sweetheart, married after high school graduation. They have two children and one grandchild.

Fun fact: Crystal Gayle's sister is country superstar Loretta Lynn.

Q: I have been admiring the 2013 Lincoln Motor Co. lineup. Who was the company named after? -- Chester, Va.

A: In August 1917, Henry M. Leland formed Lincoln Motor Co. He named it after his hero, Abraham Lincoln. The company's mission was to build aircraft engines with cylinders supplied by Ford, not to build cars.

In 1922, Edsel Ford, Henry Ford's son, signed an agreement to buy Lincoln Motor Co. In 1940, it became the Lincoln Division of Ford Motor Co. Earlier this month, Ford announced it was taking the luxury brand back to its roots by returning to its original name, Lincoln Motor Co.

Q: I recently visited my sister. She has a dog similar to the one used in "The Wizard of Oz." What became of Toto after the movie? -- S.R., Dawson, Ala.

A: In the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz," Toto was played by a female cairn terrier named Terry. She was owned and trained by Carl Spitz. Terry earned $125 per week for her role in the movie -- more than many of the human actors. During the filming of the movie, a co-star stepped on and broke one of her feet. While she was healing, another dog was used.

Terry appeared in more than a dozen other movies, but she was most famous for her role in the Oz film. Her owner changed her name to Toto due to her immense popularity. She was 10 or 11 when she died in 1945. Spitz buried her at his ranch in Studio City, Calif.; however, when the Ventura Freeway was constructed in 1958, her grave was destroyed. In 2011, a permanent memorial was erected in her honor at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Q: James Cagney is famous for his line "You dirty rat, you!" What movie is that line from? -- L.H., Brooklyn, N.Y.

A: The phrase is often misquoted. The actual line is "Come out and take it, you dirty, yellow-bellied rat, or I'll give it to you through the door!" Cagney's character, Matt Nolan, says it in the 1932 film "Taxi!" The film also starred Loretta Young.

Q: When I was a kid, soda was not available in cans, but you could buy it in bottles. I enjoyed Mountain Dew in the green bottle with the image of the mountaineer toting a rifle with an outhouse in the background. Did the mountaineer have a name? -- T.W.L., Sedalia, Mo.

A: Willy the Hillbilly is the old mascot of Mountain Dew soda. The character was created in 1948, and it was retired in 1973. It was replaced when Pepsi came up with a new logo to attract a younger generation. In 2008, Willy was brought back for a limited time. Willy the Hillbilly is now on the packaging for Mountain Dew Throwback sodas.

Q: I'm reading a novel set in the English countryside. The main character visits the home of friends, where a spirited game of draughts was going on in the family room. What is the game of draughts? -- T.U., Bally, Pa.

A: On this side of the ocean, we call it checkers.

Q: How many Finger Lakes are there in central New York state? --V.H., Covington, La.

A: The Finger Lakes consist of 11 long, narrow bodies of water formed by the grinding action of glaciers during the Ice Age. However, according to Native Americans, the lakes were formed when the Great Spirit blessed the area, leaving behind the imprint of his hand.

Q: What nationality was actor Anthony Quinn? -- Y.D., Rochester, Minn.

A: Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca was born April 21, 1915, in Chihuahua, Mexico, to an Irish-Mexican father and a Mexican-Indian mother. Besides being a talented actor, he was also a painter, sculptor and writer. Quinn's signature role was Zorba in the musical "Zorba the Greek" (1964). He died June 3, 2001.

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