• Wilson Mizner was a great scoundrel and a great wit: 1) During a hard winter in New York, when con men were preying on each other, Mr. Mizner recommended that con men wear roses in the lapels of their coats so they could be identified by other con men. 2) Mizner once read a story to Jim Tully, who liked the story so much he wired an editor, who immediately offered $1,000 for it. Mr. Mizner complained, “It took me over eight hours to write that.” 3) Mr. Mizner was with fighter-author Jim Tully when Mr. Tully’s secretary gave him the news that Calvin Coolidge, who was noted for seldom speaking, had died. Without even looking up, Mr. Mizner asked, “How can they tell?” 4) Mr. Mizner was once told by his host to leave the house. He replied, “A gentleman never leaves a house until told to do so by a gentleman.” 5) Mizner liked to get up late in the afternoon — he often boasted that he had never seen a sunrise.
• Three short witty anecdotes: 1) Hillaire Belloc could be very imposing. He once arrived late at a lecture he was giving, but told everyone present, “I am half an hour late. It is entirely my fault. I do not apologize.” 2) At the end of their career, authors sometimes publish a collection of their writing and title it The Works of …. However, The Works of Max Beerbohm appeared when Max was all of 23 years old. 3) James McNeill Whistler, the famous painter, was once asked, “Do you think genius is hereditary?” He replied, “I can’t tell you; heaven has granted me no offspring.”
• Actor Peter Ustinov had a cigarette in his mouth when director Fred Zinnemann told him, “You can’t concentrate with a cigarette in your mouth.” Mr. Ustinov replied, “You mean, you can’t concentrate with a cigarette in my mouth.” By the way, Mr. Ustinov received very poor critical notices for his play No Sign of the Dove. According to Sir Peter, “Yes, I had to fight like a stag to get the critics to attack me.” Also by the way, Mr. Ustinov’s preferred way of shutting up bores is to say to them, “Now, Singapore — does that mean anything to you?”
• Prime Minister David Lloyd George was a small man. At a political meeting, he was once introduced in this way: “I had expected to see Mr. Lloyd George a big man in every sense, but you see for yourself he is quite small in stature.” Mr. Lloyd George replied, “In North Wales we measure a man from the chin up. You evidently measure from the chin down.”
• In the 18th century, Richard Porson was Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge University. He had a number of enemies, one of whom told him, “Dr. Porson, my opinion of you is most contemptible.” Dr. Porson replied, “Sir, I never knew an opinion of yours that was not contemptible.”
• Society lady Helen Choate Bell of Boston disliked the great outdoors. Hearing that some friends were going to spend a day in the woods, she said, “Kick a tree for me.” She was also against automobiles, saying that they would divide Humankind into two groups: the quick and the dead.
• Critics denounced Arthur Wood’s performance as Bottom in Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream, so Mr. Wood wrote an angry letter to a newspaper. The editor printed the letter, but added this note: “Mr. Wood seems rather thin-skinned about his Bottom.”
• Singer/songwriter Jack White used to make a living as an upholsterer. As you may expect, he was an unusual upholsterer. Everything in his business — clothing, tools, even his van — had to be yellow or white or black. Why? He explained that it was “an aesthetic presentation.” When he made out his bills, he used crayon. When he restored furniture, he hid in the upholstery poems for the next upholsterer who would restore the furniture. Mr. White said, “I thought, we’re the only ones to see inside this furniture, we should be talking to each other, like the Egyptian masons might leave a message on the stone they were putting in the pyramid.” He even formed a band with another upholsterer. The band, obviously, was called the Upholsterers. They recorded a single, made 100 copies, and hid them inside the furniture they restored. Mr. White said, “Not one’s been found yet. They were on clear vinyl with transparency covers, so even if you x-rayed the furniture you wouldn’t be able to find them. I know where a couple of them might be, but it’s very funny in that sense.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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