David Bruce: Practical Jokes Anecdotes

• Years ago, almost everyone working for the Denver Morning Postwas fired when the newspaper folded. H. Allen Smith, who had been offered a job with the Evening Post, got drunk out of sympathy for his fellow reporters. A young woman named Libbie Block, who had been fired from the Morning Post, told the inebriated Mr. Smith that she was desperately unhappy because now that she had been fired, her parents would force her to marry an old, stinky man whom she hated. Mr. Smith said that he would tell her parents a thing or two, so Libbie took him home and got her parents out of bed. Midway through Mr. Smith’s lecture to them, her parents began laughing, then Libbie began laughing, and after Libbie explained that she had made the whole story up, Mr. Smith began laughing.

• Eastman Boomer, the agent of comic singer Anna Russell, was a practical joker. He frequently told Ms. Russell that a notable personality such as Arturo Toscanini was staying at her hotel and wanted to meet her — but this always turned out not to be true. One day, Boomer called her and said the great conductor Leopold Stokowski was coming over to meet her. Of course, Ms. Russell didn’t believe him, so she put her hair up in curlers and put cold cream on her face. When a knock sounded on the door, she opened it, expecting to see Boomer — but standing before her was Maestro Stokowski.

• Hugh Troy had an aunt whom he considered officious. Once, she arrived for a visit while his parents were out of town, so he and his sister prepared for her visit by bringing down several pieces of furniture from the attic to the living room. After eating super, the officious aunt were sitting in the living room when Hugh and his sister arrived carrying hatchets and loudly discussing the furniture, saying that there was way too much and that it was always getting in their way. Then they started chopping up the furniture and carrying it out of the house. The aunt returned to her home the next morning.

• While attending Harvard, Robert Benchley and a friend pulled a notable practical joke. At Louisburg Square, they knocked on the door of an elegant house and when the maid answered, Mr. Benchley said, “We’re here for the davenport.” The maid asked, “Which one?” Looking past her, Mr. Benchley pointed and replied, “That one.” They then removed the davenport, carried it across the square, and knocked on the door of another elegant house. When the maid answered, they said, “We’re here to deliver the davenport. Where do you want it?” The maid pointed to the sitting room, and there Mr. Benchley and his friend left it.

• Russell Johnson, who played the Professor on Gilligan’s Island, had the hardest lines to learn because so much of what he said was scientific. One day, as a practical joke, the series’ producer, Sherwood Schwartz, wrote out a half page of scientific-sounding gibberish and told Mr. Johnson to memorize it for the next day’s shooting. The next day, to Mr. Schwartz’s surprise, Mr. Johnson was letter-perfect in his recitation of the gibberish. (Mr. Johnson had suspected the practical joke and had stayed up half the night to learn his lines.)

• Opera singer Leo Slezak’s mother-in-law had been a beautiful wife with two sons and two daughters. One day, she and her daughters were beautifully dressed and riding in their carriage at a big social event, throwing flowers to the crowds watching them. Suddenly, her two sons, who had dressed themselves as filthy street urchins, came up to the carriage and yelled, “Mama, Mama, we want to ride in the parade with you.” Of course, the crowd enjoyed the scene, but she was furious at being made the laughing-stock of Vienna.

• Oscar Levant once became interested in the daughter of a Los Angeles society family, but she declined to date him until he and a member of his family were introduced to her family. Since no members of his family were in LA, Mr. Levant took along Harpo Marx when he visited her family and introduced Harpo as his uncle. Big mistake. Within five minutes, Harpo had insulted the butler, flirted with the maid, and chased the society woman’s mother through the house. Of course, Oscar and Harpo were quickly thrown out of the house.

• Some youths decided to play a trick on Mulla Nasrudin. They hid eggs in their clothing, then went to the public baths with Nasrudin. At the baths, the leader of the youths said, “Each of us will attempt to lay an egg.” Each youth squatted, then let drop the egg he had hidden in his clothing. Immediately, Nasrudin began crowing and flapping his arms. “Why are you doing that?” asked the leader of the youths. Nasrudin replied, “All of you hens need a rooster.”

• Members of the Benson Company, a traveling Shakespearean troupe, often played practical jokes on newcomers to the company. Once, a newcomer arrived at the train station wearing a kilt because the company was crossing the border into Scotland that day, and he had been told that it was a tradition that members of the Benson Company wore a kilt whenever they traveled into Scotland.

• A man died, leaving behind a will that stated that in a certain closet was a sealed box. The will gave the strictest order that the box must not be opened, but must be burned until it was nothing but ashes. The man’s sons and daughters carried out his wishes — only to learn that the box was filled with firecrackers.

• Comedian Eddie Cantor grew up in the city and believed that oranges grew underground. When he went to California and saw his first orange tree, he thought that his friend Georgie Jessel was trying to pull a practical joke by tying the oranges to the tree.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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