David Bruce: Boredom is Anti-Life — Food, Friends, Games

Food

• George Burns was Jewish, and his wife, Gracie Allen, was Catholic. They raised their adopted children, Ronald and Sandy, Catholic. Every Friday, the Burns family ate fish, as Catholics at that time did. Sandy did not like fish, so she ate elsewhere on Fridays and told people that she was a Catholic only six days a week.

• Theatrical producer Jed Harris once made an appointment to meet playwright Charles MacArthur at a restaurant for lunch, but showed up 10 hours late, just as the restaurant was closing. He asked Mr. MacArthur if he had been waiting long. Mr. MacArthur replied, “No, I just got here a couple of hours ago myself.”

• How much would the best meal in the world cost? How about $4,000? That’s how much Parisian chef Denis Lahana charged Craig Claiborne and a friend for a meal consisting of 31 dishes, 9 wines, cognac, and Calvados. (The bill was paid by American Express, which used the meal as a publicity stunt.)

• Gioacchino Rossini was a big eater. Unfortunately, he once dined at the home of a host who served small portions. After the dinner of small portions had been served, his host said, “I do hope you will soon do us the honor of dining here again.” Mr. Rossini replied, “Certainly. Let’s start now.”

• Ballerina Marie Taglioni was so beloved that a group of ballet lovers in Russia boiled her toe shoes, then ate them. In her youth, Ms. Taglioni had been round-shouldered, and one of her dance teachers said that she didn’t know “what to do with that little hunchback.”

• Shortly after coming to the United States for the first time, choreographer George Balanchine fell ill. He recovered, apparently helped by a high-calorie, high-cholesterol diet. All the eggs, cream, and butter he ate resulted in a weight gain of 30 pounds in 30 days.

Friends

• Jack Benny was George Burns’ best friend and best audience: Mr. Burns could always make Mr. Benny laugh. Once, Mr. Benny complained about not sleeping well. Mr. Burns asked, “How did you sleep the night before?” Mr. Benny replied, “The night before I slept great.” Mr. Burns then advised, “Try sleeping every other night.” And once, Mr. Burns said absolutely nothing, and Mr. Benny started laughing. Mr. Burns asked why Mr. Benny was laughing; after all, he (Mr. Burns) had not said a word. Mr. Benny replied, “I know. But you didn’t say it on purpose.”

• Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein were not only professor and student, but also friends. Still, Mr. Wittgenstein could be an exasperating student. For example, Mr. Russell once said of him, “He thinks nothing empirical is knowable.” Mr. Russell had good reason for making this statement. Mr. Wittgenstein had refused to acknowledge the truth of the statement “There is no rhinoceros in this lecture room” — even after Mr. Russell had looked all through the lecture room for a rhinoceros, even checking under tables and chairs.

Games

• Both Jim Backus and Alan Hale, who played Thurston Howell III and the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island, were avid golfers. Once, they made a bet about who could drive a golf ball further, so they started hitting golf balls on the CBS back lot. They were too lazy to walk out to see who had driven the ball further, so they argued about it, with Mr. Backus claiming, “My ball went at least 10 yards further than yours.” Just then, a security guard came up to them and announced that one of the golf balls had gone through the window of a car in the parking lot. Mr. Backus immediately pointed to Mr. Hale and said, “He outdrove me by a mile!”

• An Athenian once saw Aesop, teller of fables, entertaining some children and playing games with them. Aesop was laughing and enjoying himself. The Athenian, however, did not approve and told Aesop that grown-ups should not waste their time in such a way. Aesop then pointed to the Athenian’s bow and asked if sometimes he unstrung it. “Yes,” the Athenian replied, “if a bow is never unstrung, it will lose its elasticity and become useless.” Aesop said, “The same is true of people.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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