David Bruce: Work Anecdotes

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1938, playwright Arthur Miller had a choice to make: Either he could go to Hollywood and work for Twentieth-Century Fox for $250 a week, or he could go to New York and work for the Federal Theater Project for $23 a week. Because he wanted to do serious and important writing, he chose to go to New York. Of course, he became very successful both critically and financially, and his financial success bothered him. After all, his plays were about ordinary people and ordinary life, and he wanted to stay connected to ordinary people and ordinary life. Shortly after winning the Drama Critics Circle Award for All My Sons, Mr. Miller worried about staying connected to the lives he wrote about, so he walked into the New York State Employment Service office and said that he wanted to work at the first job they could find. The very next day he was working at minimum wage assembling beer box dividers. Fortunately, he quickly returned to writing plays, including his masterpiece, Death of a Salesman.

The security guards at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC covet certain rooms to guard. For example, the most coveted rooms are those devoted to the French Impressionists because those works of art are so greatly loved by both the museum visitors and the security guards. For a while, security guards weren’t so happy about working in the East Building because those rooms are devoted to twentieth-century art, which is more difficult to understand. Sometimes, museum visitors will tell the security guards, “My kid can do better than that!” However, the curators of the twentieth-century works of art began to educate the security guards, pointing out that at first people rejected the French Impressionists and made the same kind of comments about their works of art. After receiving these art lessons, the security guards don’t mind working in the East Building as much as they did.

Chip Dayton took a lot of photographs of the Ramones, many of which appeared in his book Ramones: Photographs by Chip Dayton. He had “access all areas” status, and he was privy to much of what the Ramones did backstage. One thing that impressed him was that the Ramones would meet backstage to perform a ritual before performing. Tommy would drum on a table or on a little drummer pad. Johnny and Dee Dee would strum their guitars. Joey wouldn’t sing, but he would go “D-D-D-D-DUN, D-D-D-D-DUN.” The Ramones would be really intense about this ritual, and definitely no talking was allowed in the dressing room while they went through it. Mr. Dayton says that it is obvious why they did it—“so they’d be a groove when they walked out [onstage] and plugged in. I never saw another band do that.”

An evil man died, and he woke up in a beautiful pleasure palace. A man in white told him, “Devote yourself to pleasure. If you want sex, you can have it. If you want alcohol, you can have it. If you want tobacco, you can have it. If you want food, you can have it. Any pleasure you want, it is yours.” For years, the evil man devoted himself to pleasure, then he told the man in white, “I have given myself every pleasure I have ever wanted. Now I want something meaningful to do.” The man in white said, “I’m very sorry, but that is the only thing that I cannot get for you. Here there is no meaningful work.” The evil man complained, “To spend eternity with nothing important to do? I would prefer a thousand times to be in hell!” The man in white replied, “Where do you think you are?”

Maya Angelou needs a place where she can create for long stretches of time without interruption. When she is away from home, sometimes for long periods of time, she will rent a hotel room to use as a writing space. She tells the hotel management not to interrupt her by having someone change the sheets, as she won’t be using them because she will be sleeping elsewhere. At 5:30 a.m. she enters the room and works until early afternoon. Sometimes, she will write after dinner until late at night. During one prolonged stint of creativity, the hotel management slipped this note under her door: “Ms. Angelou, please let us get in there and change the sheets. We think they are moldy.” She ignored the note.

Movie jobs are sometimes strange. For example, the movie Desert Hearts, about a lesbian relationship with a happy ending, required a spritzer. The movie has an important love scene between the main lesbian characters, and director Donna Deitch, who did the spritzing herself (because she didn’t want too many people present during the filming of the scene), points out that the spritzer is “the person who in all love scenes or fight scenes, there’s always somebody around who’s gotta spritz them, ’cause you gotta have that sweat, some little bit of sweat.”

While driving one day, Muhammad Ali saw a hungry homeless man being kicked out of a restaurant. He made a U-turn, got out of his car, spoke to the homeless man, and entered the restaurant with him. Mr. Ali then told the restaurant manager, “This man is hungry, he has no place to call home, and no food to eat. He is a human being. Since he’s worthy enough to occupy space on God’s earth, he certainly is worthy enough to eat in this restaurant.” He then paid for the hungry man’s meal, took him to a hotel and paid for one month’s rent, and told the man that he would help him find a job after the man got cleaned up.

When New York City Ballet ballerina Wendy Whelan was asked what she liked least about her choice of careers, she replied, “The knowledge that it’ll be over.” (What she likes most is the people she works with.)

What does it take to be a top stand-up comedian? The Library of Congress once hosted an exhibit titled “Bob Hope and American Variety.” Among the items on display was 85,000 pages—of jokes!


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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