Q: I was a fan of Jeanne Crain. How old was she when she died? Was she married? How many children did she have? — J.M.P., Newton Falls, Ohio
A: Jeanne Elizabeth Crain was born in 1925. She died of an apparent heart attack in 2003.
Crain began her acting career in 1943 and remained active until she retired in 1975. She appeared in more than 50 movies and TV shows. She received an Academy Award nomination for best actress for the 1949 film “Pinky,” in which she played the leading role of an African-American woman passing for Caucasian. She was an accomplished ice skater.
Crain married actor Paul Brinkman on Dec. 31, 1946, and the couple had seven children.
Q: Why are new potatoes called “new”? — G.L.L., Ocean City, Md.
A: New potatoes are young potatoes of any variety. Because the potato hasn’t had time to convert all of the sugar into starch, these immature tubers have a slightly different flavor from a mature potato.
Q: Is it true that Judge Joseph Wapner of “The People’s Court” dated actress Lana Turner? — V.T., Owosso, Mich.
A: Wapner did date Lana Turner, but in high school only. According to Wapner, the couple went on a few dates during the six weeks she attended Hollywood High School with him.
Wapner married his wife, Mickie, in 1946; they had three children. He retired from the Los Angeles Superior Court bench in 1979. Three years later, “The People’s Court” premiered. Wapner presided over about 7,000 cases. The show was canceled in 1993.
Turner, known as “The Sweater Girl” for her lovely physique, was a movie star in the 1940s and ‘50s. She married seven times.
Q: In the move “Secretariat” (2010), what was the name of the horse who played the former Triple Crown winner? — D.F., Woburn, Mass.
A: Five horses played Secretariat. The principal horse was Trolley Boy, who won a look-alike contest at the 2008 Secretariat Festival. He was the horse who walked the red carpet at the film premiere in Hollywood. Longshot Max was chosen after his owners submitted his photo to secretariat.com. The other three horses were used for racing scenes only.
Q: Why are left-handed pitchers called “southpaws”? — R.H.
A: The term came about from the early days of baseball. Diamonds were set up with the batter facing east to avoid the afternoon sun. A left-handed pitcher who was facing west would have his pitching arm toward the south side of the diamond. Most sources say the term was first used around 1885.
Q: What is the origin of the superstitious phrase “knock on wood”? — T.L., York, Pa.
A: The most common explanation is that cultures throughout the world have long worshiped trees. When good luck was wanted, a person knocked on wood, hoping a tree spirit would hear him and grant his wish. I like an explanation I read many years ago: At one time, spirits were thought to be lurking about willing to do evil — or at least mischievous — deeds. If someone was speaking of his good fortune, he would want to knock on wood to drown out the words so the nasty spirit would not hear him and reverse his luck.
In the U.K., the phrase is “touch wood.”
Q: I don’t understand the game of cricket, but I’m fascinated by it. What is the origin of its name? — L.A.S., Houston
A: There are many possibilities. Several historians wrote that a game similar to cricket was played in the late 1500s and was called “creckett.” The speculation is that the name came from the Dutch “krick,” meaning “stick” or “crook.” At that time, England and Flanders had a strong trade connection.
Q: At the pizza parlor I frequent, the pie is cut using a double-handled, curved, single-edge knife. I asked the chef what it is called — he said it’s a pizza knife, of course. Is there a more technical name for this innovative implement? — E.N., Lakeville, Minn.
A: How about mezzaluna? “Mezzaluna” is Italian and means “half-moon.” Some mezzalunas come with double blades; others are smaller, making them more appropriate for chopping herbs.
(Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at AskMrKIA@gmail.com or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)