David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Advertising, Alcohol, Animals

Advertising

• A hotel owner once telephoned comedian George Jessel to find out how much he would charge for a performance. When Mr. Jessel said his price was $1,000, the hotel owner offered, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you, Georgie, my boy. I’ll give you $500 and put your picture in the Sunday Times in my ad.” Mr. Jessel replied, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you, Julius, my boy. You give me $1,000 and you can put your picture in the Sunday Times in your ad.”

Alcohol

• When children’s mystery writer Joan Lowery Nixon was young, her parents moved the family to a new house, very close to the house owned by W.C. Fields. Being both observant and curious, Ms. Nixon noticed that a closet in her new home was unusual in that it could be locked from the inside. She investigated, using a measuring tape, and discovered that the closet was in front of another, hidden space. Her mother would not let her investigate further, but after Mr. Fields died, Ms. Nixon toured his house in the presence of a real-estate agent, who showed her a hidden room that had been used to hide liquor during Prohibition. Both houses — that of Mr. Fields and that of Ms. Nixon’s family — had been built during Prohibition.

• Some comedians take a drink to steady their nerves before performing. George Gobel once had Garry Moore as a guest on The George Gobel Show. Mr. Moore visited Mr. Gobel in his dressing room before the live TV show started, and Mr. Gobel motioned to a bottle of whiskey and said, “Have a drink.” However, Mr. Moore replied, “Thanks, but I don’t believe I’ll have anything before the show. I’ll be happy to join you for a drink after the show.” Mr. Gobel could hardly believe what he was hearing: “Garry, do you mean to say you go out there all alone?”

• Comedian Bill Hicks used to do a lot of drugs, especially alcohol. Fortunately, after going on a late-night drug binge, then doing a radio show at 7 in the morning — during which he was funny although his heart was pounding instead of beating — he decided that he needed help. Mr. Hicks asked a friend who was currently peaceful although he had formerly been wild and crazy, “Are you going to one of those AA meetings today?” The friend replied, “I’ve been waiting three years for you to say that. There’s a meeting in 15 minutes. Let’s go.”

• While the movie The Captain Hates the Sea was being filmed on location, the atmosphere was that of a party, and expenses mounted quickly. Columbia studio head Harry Cohn wired the director, Lewis Milestone: “HURRY UP! THE COST IS STAGGERING!” Mr. Milestone sent back this telegram: “SO IS THE CAST.”

• In his home, W.C. Fields kept a chalkboard on which he listed his appointments. When comic writer H. Allen Smith visited him, Mr. Fields had listed, “Stay home and meditate on the follies of humankind. P.S. Get stiff.”

Animals

• As a small boy, Wally Cox owned a cat that was smarter than he was and smarter than the adult humans in his household. For example, like all house pets, this cat would sometimes be accidentally shut in a room with all the doors and windows closed. When that happened, the cat would meow, then wait. If that didn’t bring a human running to let the cat out of the room, then the cat would knock something small off a shelf or table onto the floor, then wait. If that didn’t bring a human running to let the cat out of the room, then the cat would knock something large off a shelf or table onto the floor, then wait. The bigger items made lots of noise, and soon a human would come running to let the cat out of the room. Once the cat was shut in the basement with lots of canning jars. This time, however, the humans thought that they would train the cat. No matter how many jars of canned goods the cat knocked onto the floor, the humans would NOT come running to let the cat out of the basement. The cat knocked a canning jar onto the floor, then another, and then another — until 32 canning jars were on the floor. The humans remained resolute, and did not come running to let the cat out of the basement. Then a truly major racket exploded in the basement, and the humans came running and opened the door to the basement. The cat came out of the basement — objective achieved — and walked haughtily away. This is what had happened. An ironing board was at the top of the basement stairs, and the cat had managed to knock it over so that it crashed down the basement stairs. After that experience, the humans were properly trained. Whenever the cat needed to be let out of a room or the basement, the humans came running — quickly.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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