David Bruce: Boredom is Anti-Life — Parties, Poetry and Poets, Practical Jokes, Prejudice

Parties

• Sometimes, young people don’t appreciate when they are surrounded by genius — although they do appreciate it later. Felia Doubrovska danced in Sergei Diaghilev’s ballet company, where she worked with and was surrounded by people such as Bronislavka Nijinsky, George Balanchine, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Georges Auric, and Sergei Prokofiev. At a party thrown by Coco Chanel, Igor Stravinsky was playing the piano, and Mr. Diaghilev told Ms. Doubrovska, “Eat later. Now listen and try to learn something.” Mr. Stravinsky was playing Les Noces — in the ballet of which Ms. Doubrovska later danced the role of the Bride.

• Joseph Chamberlain was the after-dinner speaker at a party where the guests were enjoying themselves very much. When the time for his speech approached, he was asked, “Shall we let these people enjoy themselves a little longer, or will you give your speech now?”

Poetry and Poets

• Maxwell Bodenheim considered himself the 376th ranking poet in the United States because he had entered 376 poetry contests and had never won a prize. By the way, Ben Hecht once said, “One of the happiest failures of civilization is that it has never been able to kill off the poets. It tries hard by ignoring and starving them. Luckily the poets have always been able to survive. It is the voice of the poets, more than the historians, that tells us who and what we are.”

• While at Trinity College, Dublin, Oscar Wilde read a poem, causing the class bully to sneer. This made Mr. Wilde angry, so he asked the bully to explain himself. Once again, the bully sneered. To settle the dispute, the two decided to fight. No one gave Wilde, who avoided competitive sports, a chance, but he soundly beat up the bully.

Practical Jokes

• Opera singers constantly worry about catching colds. Tenor Leo Slezak knew a baritone at the Vienna Opera who was especially worried. To prevent this disaster from occurring, he wore large cotton earplugs, taking them out for rehearsals and to perform, but leaving them in his ears while on the street. The baritone once sang the role of John the Baptist in Richard Strauss’ Salome. In this opera, John’s head is carried onstage on a silver platter, covered with a cloth. For one performance, Mr. Slezak secretly made a few modifications to the papier-mâché head of John the Baptist — when the cloth was removed onstage, the head was wearing two large cotton earplugs.

• While Eve Arden was appearing in a play, Tallulah Bankhead and her date watched from the audience and tried to break up the cast with laughter. Her date was wearing a wide red ribbon across his chest. At a crucial moment in the play, white lights shone in the ribbon, spelling out the words, “Call for Phillip Morris,” the slogan of the sponsor of Tallulah’s radio show.

• 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.

• Wilson Mizner was a card sharp, and he knew a lot of other gamblers who were also card sharps. Once, he brought a deck of cards consisting of all aces to a card game, and after dealing a hand from the deck, watched with amusement as all the other players attempted to get rid of their extra ace.

Prejudice

• Back in the Jim Crow days when African-Americans were forced to sit at the back of the bus, black comedian Dick Gregory used to do a routine about the first black bus driver in the Jim Crow South: “Can you imagine how it will be, when they hire the first Negro bus driver in the South, and the steering wheel’s 25 feet long?” He also joked, “What a country! Where else could I have to ride in the back of the bus, live in the worst neighborhoods, go to the worst schools, eat in the worst restaurants — and average $5,000 a week just talking about it?”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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