David Bruce: Birthdays Anecdotes


John F. Kennedy (Public Domain, via Wiki Commons)

In 1962, Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy in a breathless, sexy voice. Afterward, President Kennedy said, “Thank you. I can now retire from politics after having had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.”

In 1956, American Tenley Albright won the gold medal in ladies’ singles figure skating at the Winter Olympics held in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. She won despite an injury suffered during a practice in which she fell and her skate cut through her right boot and reached the bone. Fortunately, her father, a surgeon, flew to Cortina and fixed her up, although for a few days she couldn’t do any real practicing of the hard jumps and spins. Fortunately, on the day the competition was to begin, her ankle felt normal and she could do the hard stuff. In the final part of the skating competition, she started skating to her music, and suddenly she heard what sounded like singing, although her music was instrumental only. She says, “What happened was the thousands watching were humming and singing along with the music. It was wonderful. It made me forget my injury.” Of course, she became the first American woman to win the gold medal in ladies’ singles figure skating. Interestingly, she shares the same birthday (month and day) as the first American man to win the gold medal in men’s singles figure skating: Dick Button, who won gold in 1948 and 1952. Each year, they call each other up on July 18 to wish each other a happy birthday.

On her 15th birthday, Jean Little—who later became a young people’s author—was reading one of her favorite books: Jane Eyre. She had reached an exciting episode—Jane being run down by Rochester’s horse—when her usual bedtime arrived. Because she wanted to read the episode, she scrunched down in her chair, hoping that her parents would forget that she was still up. Luck was with her. She finished that episode, then kept reading. Just then, her parents got up, and her mother asked her, “You’ll turn off the lights, won’t you?” Jean pointed out, “It’s way past my bedtime. You forgot to send me to bed.” Her mother replied, “You are 15. You should have sense enough by now to go to bed at a reasonable hour. From now on, your bedtime is your responsibility. Good night.” As her parents went to bed, Jean heard them laughing—they had known Jean was still up, and they had already decided that her bedtime was now her responsibility.

Victoria Horne Oakie, the wife of comedian Jack Oakie (who played the Mussolini character in Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator), had a wonderful idea for her husband’s 70th birthday. For the year leading up to the birthday, she contacted hundreds of people her husband had worked with during his long career and asked them to write a letter to Jack. So many letters poured in that she had to collect them in two volumes. It took Mr. Oakie two weeks to read all the letters after dinner.

William C. McVeigh and his wife, Ruth, live in Fountain Hills, Arizona, where they had 14 children. Three of their children, Robert, Charles, and James, were born on December 4, but in different years. As the boys were growing up, each year on their birthday, the family would bring a birthday cake, sing “Happy Birthday” to Bobby, then take four candles off the cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to Charlie, and finally take three more candles off the cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to Jimmy.

Before actress Sandra Bullock and director Joel Schumacher started work on the movie A Time to Kiss, Mr. Schumacher had a birthday. To celebrate, Ms. Bullock had carpenters build a giant birthday cake, out of which she popped while wearing a fluorescent bikini. She then mooned Mr. Schumacher—on her buttocks was printed his age.

Ballerina Natalia Makarova was rehearsing Manon when the orchestra suddenly began playing an unexpected piece of music. She felt bad because this meant she wasn’t sufficiently familiar with the music of the ballet, but then she saw everyone smiling at her and realized that the orchestra was playing “Happy Birthday.”

Marvelous Marv Throneberry had a terrible day at first base, fumbling four ground balls and forcing manager Casey Stengel to bench him. After the game, he was glum and explained, “Today’s my birthday, and nobody gave me a cake.” Mr. Stengel told him, “I’d give you one—if I thought you could hold on to it.”

Opera/lieder singer Kathleen Ferrier seldom lost control of her emotions, but at a birthday party she started crying when a birthday cake decorated with passages from Orpheus was brought in. She apologized, “Please forgive me, but, you see, this is the first birthday cake I have ever had!”

Ballerina Margot Fonteyn danced in Roland Petit’s Paradise Lost, which required her to crawl through a 30-foot passage to get to a trap door. During one performance, as she crawled along the passage, she thought to herself, “This is a hell of a way to spend your 48th birthday.”

Comedian Rita Rudner once bought a massage for her husband as a birthday gift. Big mistake. The doorbell rang, Rita answered it, and a beautiful, blonde, 18-year-old woman said, “I’m here to give your husband a massage.” Ms. Rudner replied, “He’s dead.”

In the early 1980s, Judi Dench’s husband, Michael Williams, gave her a birthday present of a rose every Friday for a year. When the year was up, however, he felt it would be “churlish” to stop the present, so Ms. Dench is still delivered a rose every Friday.

George Burns almost lived to be 100 years old. Some of his other family members were also long-lived. On his sister’s 93rd birthday, Mr. Burns called her up and asked, “How do you feel?” She replied, “I’m 93!”—and hung up on him.

When Paul Newman turned 75 years old, he decided that he was too old to be formal any more—so he burned his tuxedo.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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