David Bruce: Money Anecdotes

In November of 2007 Hollywood writers went on strike. Why? Ken Levine gave an answer in a column that he wrote for the Toronto Star. He pointed out that he had recently received a check from American Airlines, which had been showing episodes that he had written for Becker, Cheers, and M*A*S*H and that he had directed for Dharma & Greg, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Frasier. He estimates, based on number of years and on number of flights, that American Airlines has shown these episodes 10,000 times. So how much was Mr. Levine’s check for? Nineteen cents.

In 1915, Eddie Jackson, a singer who later teamed with Jimmy Durante and Lou Clayton and performed comedy, worked in a bookbindery in Brooklyn under a foreman whose name was Al Capone. Mr. Capone liked to bet on horse races, but he wasn’t good at it, so he often borrowed money from Mr. Jackson. Eventually, Mr. Jackson quit, and eventually, Mr. Capone became a famous gangster in Chicago, but Mr. Capone didn’t forget Mr. Jackson. Whenever Mr. Capone returned to New York for a visit, he would see Mr. Jackson perform and throw $100 bills at him.

As artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet in the 1980s, Rudolf Nureyev really shook things up, bringing in modern-dance choreographers and bringing in dance teachers who had not been taught in France. Once, Mr. Nureyev interrupted veteran dance teacher Michel Renault’s class to make his own corrections. Mr. Renault objected, and Mr. Nureyev responded by breaking Mr. Renault’s jaw. After Mr. Renault sued and was awarded 2,500 francs, Mr. Nureyev said, “If I’d known it would be that little, I’d have hit him a second time.”

A beggar asked Rabbi Shmelke for alms, but the good Rabbi had no money to give, so he gave the beggar a ring. A few minutes after the beggar, the good Rabbi’s wife entered the house, and he told her what he had done. She exclaimed, “That ring was very valuable! It had a real diamond in it! Run and catch up with the beggar!” Rabbi Shmelke ran after the beggar, caught up with him, and told him, “The ring I gave you is very valuable. It has a real diamond in it. When you sell it, make sure that you get a good price.”

The decathlon is a grueling event, and after Bob Mathias won a gold medal in the decathlon at the 1948 Olympic Games, his first words were, “I wouldn’t do this again for a million dollars.” However, the pain of winning an Olympic gold medal in the decathlon must be a lot like the pain of giving birth. The reward is so great that often the pain is willingly endured again. Many mothers have a second child, and four years later Mr. Mathias competed in the 1952 Olympic games and won a second gold medal in the decathlon.

Heavyweight champion Joe Louis lost very few fights, either as an amateur or as a pro fighter, but when he was an amateur, he lost a decision to Max Marek. No fool, Mr. Marek cashed in on his victory after Mr. Louis became a champion. Mr. Marek opened a bar and grill in Chicago, and he put a big sign out front inviting people to come in, enjoy themselves, and shake hands with Mr. Marek—“The Man Who Beat Joe Louis.”

Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld frequently needed money, although he produced many money-making spectaculars in his lifetime. One day, he telegraphed comedian Ed Wynn that he needed $5,000 immediately. Mr. Wynn thought that the money must be needed for an emergency, so he wired him the money, but Mr. Ziegfeld used all of the $5,000 for a luxurious private railroad car to carry him from New York to Hollywood in style.

Francis X. Bushman made millions of dollars in the silent-film era—before income tax was instituted. Theatrical guru Danny Newman got to know him when Mr. Bushman was doing theater and was not making nearly as much money as in his days of silent-film stardom, Mr. Newman asked him, “Frank, what happened to all those millions you earned?” Mr. Bushman grinned happily and replied, “I spent them!”

Tobey Maguire played Spider-Man and Peter Parker in the movies. His parents were unmarried, and they split up when he was two years old. At first, he wanted to be a cook like his father, but his mother, a secretary, said that she would give him $100 if he took a drama class in high school. He did take the class, he enjoyed it, and for acting in Spider-Man, he made $4 million—for acting in Spider-Man 2, he made $17 million.

Hetty Green was known as the Witch of Wall Street, and she was a miser, as was her father. In fact, her father once turned down the gift of an expensive cigar because he was afraid that he would like it so much that he would start buying and smoking expensive cigars and stop buying the inexpensive cigars that he always smoked.

All too often, fans think that movie actors have an easy life, with money from residuals rolling in to keep bank accounts flush. Actor Eli Wallach once received a residual check for the movie Mistress, in which he appeared with Robert De Niro, after it was shown on TV. The residual check was for two cents.

Al Capp wanted to pay his way in life. As the cartoonist who created Li’l Abner, he was a major celebrity and his fans wanted his autograph. Mr. Capp used to deliberately and illegibly scrawl his name on checks so people would cash the checks and not keep them because of his signature.

Jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker once had a chance to play in Duke Ellington’s band—until he mentioned how much money he wanted to be paid. Shocked, Mr. Ellington told him, “Bird, for that much dough I’d work for you.”

Canadian painter Jean-Paul Piopelle once grew annoyed because art dealers priced his paintings by the number of square inches in them. Therefore, he created a circular painting to confuse them.

“Money isn’t everything; usually it’s not even enough.” — Anonymous.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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