• Eve Arden was getting ready to go on stage in Los Angeles, California, in the title role of Auntie Mame when she realized she couldn’t remember the name of the Connecticut town where Mame’s nephew’s snooty fiancé lived. She turned to a cast member who played one of the Connecticut group and asked, “Quick, Frank, where do you live?” Misunderstanding her, he told her the name of his Los Angeles hotel. Fortunately, Ms. Arden remembered the name of the Connecticut town once she was onstage.
• Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker got to know playwright Robert E. Sherwood (later to become twice a Pulitzer Prize-winner for Idiot’s Delight and Abe Lincoln in Illinois) because he asked to go to lunch with them — and to walk between them. They soon found out why. Mr. Sherwood was six-feet-seven, and some little people near where he worked used to lie in wait for him and walk him to his restaurant while shouting things like “How’s the weather up there?”
• Dame Edith Evans consistently made the same mistake during rehearsals for Hay Fever, saying, “On a very clear day you can see Marlow.” Mr. Coward told her, “Dear Edith, you spoil the rhythm by putting in a ‘very.’ The line is ‘On a clear morning you can see Marlow.’ On a very clear morning you can also see both Beaumont and Fletcher.”
• Shakespeare was very popular in Yiddish translations in Yiddish theaters. Once, a Yiddish-speaking taxi driver asked Walter Matthau what he was doing. Mr. Matthau replied that he was performing in a Broadway production of King Lear. The taxi driver replied, “Really? Do you think it would go in English?”
• While performing in a Marx Brothers play on Broadway, Groucho went to the footlights and asked, “Is there a doctor in the house?” When a doctor stood up, Groucho asked him, “If you’re a doctor, why aren’t you at the hospital making your patients miserable, instead of wasting your time here with that blonde?”
• Balletomanes sometimes think that the life of ballet dancers and choreographers is glamorous, but it often isn’t. Early in ballerina Maria Tallchief’s career, she and other lowly paid ballet dancers often played “Ghosting,” aka “That Old Army Game.” One dancer would rent a room, then two other dancers would sneak in and stay there, too. One dancer would sleep on the bed, another on the box springs, and a third on the floor. Because of wartime conditions, however, rooms were not always available, and Ms. Tallchief once saw famed choreographer Agnes de Mille sleeping on a table in a hotel hallway.
• Estimating travel times accurately used to be very difficult, as naturalist Charles Darwin found out when he set sail on the Beagle. Robert FitzRoy, Captain of the Beagle, thought that the voyage would take two years. The actual time it took for the Beagle to return home again was five years! By the way, when Mr. Darwin wished to learn how to stuff birds, his teacher was a black man named John Edmonstone, who had been a slave in South America but was freed.
• When Oscar Wilde arrived in the United States for his 1882 lecture tour, he went through customs, where he stated, “I have nothing to declare but my genius.” By the way, during his American lecture tour, Oscar Wilde was asked whether he had in fact walked with a lily in his hand down Piccadilly — as legend had it. Mr. Wilde replied, “To have done it was nothing, but to make people think one had done it was a triumph.”
• Melissa Hayden, a ballerina with the New York City Ballet, used to travel with a special circular bag which held a flattened tutu. Stewardesses often wondered what was in it, and Billy Weslow, a funny but sometimes crude NYCB dancer, often yelled, “It’s her diaphragm!”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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