David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Work; Create, Then Take a Break — Actors and Acting

Work

• Stand-up comedians need to have a lot of confidence that they can “get” an audience — that is, make an audience laugh. When Judy Carter worked as the opening act for Loggins and Messina, sometimes the music-loving audience did NOT want to hear her. Once, the opening of the show was delayed for an hour, so the audience was even more impatient than usual to hear the band. Things got so bad that a druggie member of the audience came up on stage, threw a tablecloth over Ms. Carter’s head — then SET IT ON FIRE. As Ms. Carter was being carried off the stage to safety, she kept saying, “Put me down. I know I can get them.”

• Comedian Jimmy Durante started out in show business as a piano player. Singer and comedian Eddie Cantor was the first person to urge Jimmy to get up on stage and away from the piano: “Piano playing is going to get you nothing. You’ll be a piano player till you’re a hundred years old. You gotta look further than that. People like you a whole lot. So why don’t you get up on the floor and say something to the people?” Eventually, of course, Mr. Durante took Mr. Cantor’s advice. However, his immediate reaction was, “Gee, Eddie, I wouldn’t do that. I’d be afraid that people would laugh at me.”

• Lesbian comedian Judy Gold once worked on the New Jersey turnpike as a toll collector. The job had its interesting moments. She points out, “It was the ’80s, and people going to concerts at the Garden State Arts Center would give me joints.” However, she also remembers a time when she had 12 trucks backed up in her lane. Why? She explains, “The guys would get on the CB and be like, ‘Chick in lane four.’”

Actors and Acting

• English actor Stanley Holloway, who created the role of Eliza Doolittle’s father in My Fair Lady on Broadway, almost didn’t. He felt ignored during rehearsals, although he later realized that that was a compliment. The director and everyone else were concentrating on Rex Harrison, who was unknown—at that time—as a musical comedy star. Knowing that Mr. Holloway was an extremely competent actor, they left him to his own devices. Mr. Holloway called the play’s producer, Herman Levin, and asked to be released from his contract because no one was even saying hello when he arrived at the theater. Mr. Levin talked him out of immediately quitting and the next morning when Mr. Holloway arrived at the theater, everyone crowded around him to say hello. Even though Mr. Holloway knew that it was a put-up job, he felt better.

• When Marilyn Monroe showed up to act the part of an aging jewel thief’s girlfriend in The Asphalt Jungle, she told the director, John Huston, how nervous she was. He replied, “If you’re not nervous, you might as well give up!” By the way, Ms. Monroe was known for being late everywhere. She once stopped to apply more lipstick—and missed her plane. Also by the way, one of the most famous scenes in Ms. Monroe’s movies occurs in The Seven Year Itch, where she stands on a grating above a subway on a hot night and the subway train causes a cooling breeze that makes her skirt fly into the air. This scene was filmed at 2 in the morning; nevertheless, over 2,000 people were on hand to watch it.

• John Barrymore was noted as much for his dissipation as for his acting. While acting in Hamlet after a night of revelry, he began the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, but in the middle of the speech found it necessary to retire to the side of the stage so he could vomit. Later, he was complimented for this innovation: “I say, Barrymore, that was the most daring and perhaps the most effective innovation ever offered. I refer to your deliberate pausing in the midst of the soliloquy to retire, almost, from the scene. May I congratulate you upon such imaginative business? You seemed quite distraught. But it was effective!”

• The famous actor Edmund Kean idolized fellow actor George Frederick Cooke. He even had a monument erected over Mr. Cooke’s grave in New York and carried away one of Mr. Cooke’s finger bones, which he displayed on a mantle. Mr. Kean’s wife, however, objected to the display of the finger bone, and so one day it became “lost.” Like many other actors, Mr. Kean studied life to gain effects to use in acting. Once, he was wounded while fencing, and he fainted. When he regained consciousness, his first words were, “How did I fall?”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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