During the nineteenth century, composer Franz Liszt was a major celebrity, as is demonstrated by these anecdotes. He used to go to fancy restaurants, order tea, and leave a few drops in the cup. Women fought each other for the privilege of drinking those drops. After he had sat on a chair, an American woman took the covering off the chair, had the covering framed, then hung it on a wall. An old woman who smelled of tobacco even though she never smoked admitted that she had acquired a cigar stub that Liszt had smoked and was carrying it around in her corset.
Enrico Caruso was so popular that audiences kept applauding him long after he wished to leave the opera house, thus forcing him to come up with hints for the members of the audience to go home. He sometimes appeared at the final curtain carrying his wig in his hand — or dressed in an overcoat, with his hat and his walking stick in one arm and a lit cigar in the other hand. He was so famous that whenever he went for a walk, he was forced to have a car follow him so that he could be driven away if mobs of admirers tried to surround him.
When ballet dancer Linda Maybarduk was 15 years old, she got a chance to meet her idol, Rudolf Nureyev, after one of his performances. Unfortunately, despite her wish to act like a sophisticated young lady when she met him, the moment was too much for her, and she started crying. Mr. Nureyev was very encouraging to young Linda, but it was her father who ended up having a 15-minute talk with the dance superstar. In adult life, Ms. Maybarduk danced with her idol in professional performances.
The comedy team of Laurel and Hardy was greatly loved throughout the world. In 1953, after Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had stopped making movies, they went on tour in the British Isles. When their boat came to Cobh, Ireland, the pier was lined with hundreds of Laurel and Hardy fans. As the boat docked, all the church bells in the city started ringing out Laurel and Hardy’s movie theme song. Both Laurel and Hardy cried.
Sophie Tucker understood the value of treating fans well. She met many fans backstage, and she kept a list of their names and addresses. Before coming back to a town to perform, she would send her fans in that town a postcard telling them about the performance. She also sent out a great many Christmas cards to fans. Each year, she sent out 7,000 handwritten cards to her fans.
In his later life, artist Pablo Picasso was so famous that he needed to take steps to get away from the people wanting to see or meet him. Once, he bought a house near Marseilles, but after remodeling the house and moving into it, he discovered that crowds of people gathered on a nearby hill to watch him through binoculars. Therefore, he never settled there permanently.
Ann B. Davis first became famous as “Schultzy” on The Bob Cummings Show, then she became famous to a new generation of fans as Alice on The Brady Bunch. A friend once introduced her young daughter to Ms. Davis by saying, “You remember Schultzy.” The young daughter indignantly replied, “That’s not Schultzy — that’s Alice!”
Opera singer Mary Garden occasionally could not resist having fun at fans’ expense. After she had given a lecture during which she wore some fine jewels, a woman asked her, “Excuse me, Miss Garden, but are those the jewels the Czar gave you?” Ms. Garden replied, “Oh, just some of them” — but she had never even met the Czar.
Comedian Fred Allen once met a fan who told him that she had traveled to New York all the way from San Francisco to see him broadcast his radio program. Mr. Allen replied, “Madame, if I had only known you were coming all that way just to catch my little old show, the least I could have done was meet you halfway — say, about Omaha.”
Henriette Sontag, the nineteenth-century German soprano, was much beloved. In 1825, she sang in Göttingen in front of enthusiastic audiences. After she had left the city, the citizens of Göttingen decided that no other person was worthy of occupying her carriage, so they threw it into a river.
American speed skater Bonnie Blair trained for a while in the Netherlands, where she was a celebrity because of the popularity of her sport and her skill in it. Sometimes, when she trained at a rink in Heerenveen, the 16,000 fans watching her sang “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.”
At the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Wilma Rudolph became an international celebrity after winning three gold medals in track and field. Returning home, she was besieged by fans. One overeager souvenir hunter even pulled off Ms. Rudolph’s shoes and ran away with them.
At a concert of works by George Gershwin, both Gershwin himself and Oscar Levant performed. After the concert, Mr. Gershwin was surrounded by many fans, while Mr. Levant stood alone. Finally, Mr. Levant said, “You could at least send one of them over to me.”
Comedian Jay Leno once appeared on Oprah Winfrey, and afterward, he met a lot of enthusiastic male fans who escorted him to his car. Later, he discovered that the enthusiastic fans were also going on Oprah Winfrey — each of them had murdered his wife.
American fans tend to be uninhibited when they meet J.K. Rowling, author of the very popular and very profitable Harry Potter books. In LA, a middle-aged woman told her, “I’m so glad you’re rich.” And in New York, a young boy told her, “YOU ROCK!”
A gay man was stuck in traffic, so he started reading Alison Bechdel’s cartoon book, Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For. Hearing a horn blowing, he looked up and saw two women in a nearby car pointing to his book and giving him a thumbs-up sign.
Movie actress Norma Talmadge retired in 1930. A little afterward, a fan approached her for an autograph, but Ms. Talmadge replied, “Go away, dear. I don’t need you anymore.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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