David Bruce: Old Age Anecdotes

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Women were a rare sight in the western frontier. Mark Twain relates in Roughing It that “once in Star City, in the Humboldt Mountains, I took my place in a sort of long, post-office single file of miners, to patiently await my chance to peep through a crack in the cabin and a sight of the splendid new sensation — a genuine, live Woman! And at the end of half of an hour my turn came, and I put my eye to the crack, and there she was, with one arm akimbo, and tossing flapjacks in a frying-pan with the other. And she was one hundred and sixty-five years old, and hadn’t a tooth in her head.” (In a footnote, Mr. Twain says that since he is now in a calmer mood, he would knock 100 years off her age.)

Paul Douglas used to be a U.S. senator. When he was old, he suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair. One day, while reaching for something, he fell out of his wheelchair. The only other person at home was his wife, who wasn’t strong enough to pick him up and put him back in the wheelchair. She told her husband, “Paul, we haven’t had a picnic in such a long time,” then went into the kitchen and made some sandwiches. She brought out the sandwiches, put a few potted plants around to make the scene look more like the country, then she opened a bottle of wine. The two had their picnic, then read love poetry to each other until someone arrived to help pick up Mr. Douglas.

When Patrick Macnee, the actor who played the sartorially perfect John Steed in The Avengers and The New Avengers, was in his 70s, he went on a cruise to St. Petersburg, Russia. Many of the passengers told him how much they had enjoyed his TV series. Mr. Macnee, who says that he is now old, fat, and grey (although his photographs show him looking very distinguished) says that many of the passengers recognized him by his voice.

During the 1950s, an old man knocked on a door at Lancashire School and asked the two schoolboys who answered his knock if he could sit down in the room as he believed that long ago he had lived in this room at the school. After they had entertained the old man and he had left, the schoolboys were astonished to learn that their visitor had been the world-famous conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, who had attended Lancashire School as a teenager.

A group of elderly Jews were discussing current world events and looking very worried. One man astonished the others by saying, “You know what — I’m an optimist.” “You’re an optimist!” exclaimed another man. “Then why do you look so worried?” “In today’s world, you think it’s easy to be an optimist?”

For decades, Sir Thomas Beecham conducted from memory. However, in his old age he sometimes used a score while conducting. When Neville Cardus asked him about this, Sir Thomas replied, “I have been going through my scores recently, and I find that they hold my interest from the first page to the last.”

When Sarah Bernhardt was 78 years old, she planned an American tour, and she told Alexander Woollcott, “Not a long tour this time. I am too old and frail to undertake one of those exhausting tours. Not a long one this time. Just Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Cleveland, Chicago and a few places like that.”

Natalie Schafer, who played Mrs. Thurston Howell on Gilligan’s Island, kept her age strictly a secret. (When she died in 1990, she was 90 years old.) When her husband, Louis Calhern, was on his deathbed, he asked her to reveal her age to him. She looked her dying husband straight in the eyes and replied, “Never!”

Conductor Arturo Toscanini was willing to admit when he had made a mistake. When he was old, he once told soprano Helen Traubel to change an emphasis in an aria, but then he reconsidered and told her, “You are right, and the old man, he is wrong.”

When he was quite old man and suffering from arthritis, Lionel Barrymore was asked by a reporter if acting was as much fun as it had much for him. Mr. Barrymore replied, “Young man, I am 75. Nothing is as much fun as it used to be.”

When Harry Hershfield first went to Paris as an old man, he told a friend that he wished he had seen Paris 30 years earlier. The friend asked, “You mean when Paris was Paris?” “No,” he said, “when Hershfield was Hershfield.”

Thomas De Quincey once attended a dinner party where an old woman talked on and on. His hostess apologized to him later, saying of the old woman, “She’s practically in her dotage.” Mr. De Quincey replied, “I would call it anecdotage.”

“The only thing I’ve found in people who’ve had a lot of fun in life is that when they get old, they wish it hadn’t ended. They have no remorse except the passing of time. I’ve never met any one who ever regretted any sort of fun, even if it was sinful.” — Ben Hecht.

I was recently what I liked best in the world. I answered, “Either cleavage or chocolate chip cookies. I must be getting old, because I find it difficult to pick which I prefer.”

In 1962, when he was 70, violinist Mischa Elman said, “When I made my debut as a 12-year-old in Berlin, people used to say, ‘Isn’t he wonderful for his age?’ Now they’re beginning to say it again.”

At the age of 76, Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel, returned from a trip abroad, then said, “I’ve learned that there are certain things you can do at 70 that you can’t so easily do at 76.”

On his 75th birthday, Sir Winston Churchill said, “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is ready to meet me is another matter.”

Bernie Bernheim began to study karate when he was 57. At the age of 61, he earned his black belt.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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