David Bruce: Alcohol Anecdotes

Kingsley Amis enjoyed drinking alcohol a lot, and he drank a lot of alcohol. He even wrote three books about alcohol: On Drink, Everyday Drinking, and How’s Your Glass? He once attended a stand-up (not dinner) party at which he was offered his choice of red wine or white wine. However, he explained that drinking wine without eating food upset his stomach, but that he would enjoy spirits. Unfortunately, his host said, “Sorry to hear that. I’m afraid there’s nothing else in the house.” Mr. Amis says, “My stomach took five minutes to change its mind.”

If you want to hear some good stories about writers who drink lots of alcohol, talk to Joseph Tartakovsky, associate editor of the Claremont Review of Books. Among his stories: 1) Cratinus, an Athenian poet of the 5th-century BCE, died of grief after seeing a cask break into pieces. It wasn’t just any cask, of course—it was filled with wine. 2) Tennyson was not sure what to do after receiving a letter asking him to become poet laureate of Britain. Therefore, he wrote two letters—one accepting and one declining—then he drank a bottle of port. He decided to accept. 3) Sergio Leone, director of the spaghetti Westerns starring Clint Eastwood, once asked Norman Mailer to write a script for him. Mr. Mailer locked himself into a room with a typewriter and a case of whiskey. He wrote for three weeks, occasionally stopping to sing, to curse, and to order ice cubes. The script was never filmed.

Actor Jack Nicholson is aware that two Jacks exist. Big Jack is the image, a raiser of hell complete with sunglasses and smokes and other stimulants. Regular Jack is a lot quieter, especially at age 70. Occasionally, people see Big Jack when Mr. Nicholson wants them to see Regular Jack. This occurs a lot with bartenders. Mr. Nicholson says, “I can’t tell you how many bartenders I’ve had to grab by the lapel and say: ‘Look, give me a very big glass with a lot of ice and a small amount of bourbon.’ They see Big Jack and they want to give Big Jack that extra shot of bourbon. But you can’t be Big Jack all the time.”

Some people know their wine. British wine writer Oz Clarke once sampled a red wine without being told anything about the vintage. He sniffed, and he tasted, and he finally declared that he knew that the wine was a Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle, but that he could not decide whether it was from 1982 or 1983. As it turned out, the mystery red wine he was drinking was a blend of a 1982 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle and a 1983 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle.

Michael Harrington, who wrote many, many books, including The Other America, on the divide between the American rich and the American poor, enjoyed conversation, including arguments, and beer at the end of a day’s hard work. During one such conversation, he raised a glass of beer and remarked, “The great thing about beer is that it’s one of the few good things in life that the rich do not begrudge the poor.”

Leif Vidø and other Danish Resistance members needed to escape to Sweden after some of them killed a hated SS policeman from the Baltic states. The resistance members went to a ship in the harbor in Copenhagen, showed their guns to the captain, and demanded to be taken to Sweden. Actually, the guns weren’t necessary. The captain of the ship hated the Nazis, and he served the Danish Resistance members brandy as his ship took them to safety in Sweden.

The Irish grandfather of author Dinty Moore—yes, he’s a real person and that’s the name he pays taxes under—smuggled booze from Canada during Prohibition. In one memorable case, he put nuns on his boat then traveled across Lake Erie to Canada. On the trip back, the nuns were carrying bottles of booze under their habits. Why would nuns do this? They were Irish, and they liked a drink now and again.

Children’s book author Jane Yolen’s 22nd birthday was special. On that day, Pirates in Petticoats, her first book, was accepted for publication. She ran to her father to tell him, and he celebrated by buying alcoholic drinks for everyone—except Jane. She was his little girl, and so, even though she was 22 years old, he bought her a Coke.

John King owned the music studio where Run-DMC and many other hip-hop groups did their recording: Chunking Studios. So many hip hoppers worked there in the 1980s and 1990s that Mr. King took the soft drinks out of the soda machine and replaced them with the hip hoppers’ beverage of choice: Olde English 800.

Author G.K. Chesterton delivered some proofs to his editor one night. From his bag he pulled out his corrected proofs—and a bottle of port and two glasses. Unfortunately, his editor confessed that he did not drink alcohol. Shocked, Mr. Chesterton said, “Good heavens! Give me back my proofs!”

“Sally HH,” a reader of Andrew Tobias’ Web site, once won a newspaper contest that asked, “How do you cure a cold?” She says, “I used my great-uncle’s remedy: Put hat on bedpost. Get into bed. Drink gin until you see two hats.”

Pianist Josef Hoffman used to tell a story about a man who wanted to attend a piano recital, but was refused admittance because he was drunk. The man was indignant and said, “You don’t suppose I would go to a piano recital unless I was drunk?”

Queen Victoria enjoyed drinking, and she opposed teetotalism—so much, in fact, that she would not give a cleric a promotion to a deanery unless he stopped advocating refraining from alcohol. According to Queen Victoria, teetotalism was “a pernicious heresy.”

At the end of his life, the 19th-century actor Edwin Forrest was so ill that he could hardly stand up on stage, but he refused a drink offered to him as a stimulant by James Oakes, saying that when he died, he did not want alcohol to be smelled on him.

“I must have a drink of breakfast.” — W.C. Fields.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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