David Bruce: CREATE, THEN TAKE A BREAK — Alcohol, Animals, Art and Artists


• In Austria, operatic tenor Leo Slezak sometimes heard musical societies play at dances for summer visitors. Often, as the night wore on and the band members became drunker and drunker, the music declined in quality. Once, he saw a band member stuff a sausage into the mouth of a tuba, thus preventing the tuba player from getting any sound at all from his instrument.

• John Steed, the sartorially perfect spy on the TV series The Avengers, does a lot of drinking—especially champagne—so of course he has a hangover cure, which we learn in the episode “A Touch of Brimstone.” The cure is to play the National Anthem because it “gets you to your feet.”


• Arturo Toscanini once conducted the New York Philharmonic in a Sunday radio broadcast of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. A flock of canaries was loose in an apartment while the occupant listened to the broadcast. The canaries were silent for the symphony’s first three movements, but when the Choral Finale began they flew to the radio, settled on it, and sang with the music. Maestro Toscanini was greatly pleased with this story.

• George White was a producer of revues during the Roaring Twenties. Often, he sat in the ticket office and sold tickets for his revue and was amused whenever someone he had never met demanded good seats because of being “a personal friend of George White’s.” By the way, Mr. White thought it was a good day when he lost $100,000 at a horse race because he immediately stopped betting on the horses.

• When Tallulah Bankhead appeared with a monkey in Conchita at the Queen’s Theatre, it did not go well. When the monkey first appeared on stage, it grabbed Tallulah’s black wig, then ran away, revealing Tallulah’s blond hair. The audience laughed, and Tallulah turned a cartwheel on stage.

Art and Artists

• Joe Greene of Stillwater, Oklahoma, does not like good things to go to waste. In the summer of 2012, he looked in a trashcan outside a church in Stillwater and saw the corner of an old wooden frame. He took it out and looked at it. The glass pane in front was smeared with ketchup and barbeque sauce. He said, “It had been buried in somebody’s picnic.” He took it and left. For about six weeks, he ignored it, and then he looked at it again. On the back was a photocopied newspaper article about Doel Reed and some contest-entry forms for an arts festival in Taos, New Mexico. From 1924 to 1959, Mr. Reed had worked in the art department at Oklahoma A&M College, which is now Oklahoma State University. In 1967, he created the drawing in the frame. Mr. Greene called a friend who is an artist, and the friend advised him to take the drawing to the art department of Oklahoma State University. Chris Ramsey, the head of the art department, advised him to have the drawing reframed. He did, and the drawing looked brand-new. Mr. Greene then donated the drawing to Oklahoma State University in honor of his wife, Dixie Mosier-Greene, who is part of the university’s philosophy department faculty. The drawing is titled “Near Ledoux,” and now it hangs in the Oklahoma State University Bartlett Center for the Visual Arts. Oklahoma State University art historian Louise Siddons said about the drawing and its artist, “It’s just really direct and clearly drawn. He just communicates how it felt to be in that place in that light.” Mr. Greene is proud to have rescued the work of art. He said, “My life is weird. And it gets weirder all the time.”

• Rembrandt van Rijn didn’t have to worry about models. The people depicted in his Night Watch are all people who paid him to be in the painting. Those who paid more got a better position in the painting. By the way, Vincent van Gogh painted 22 portraits of himself. This does not mean that he had a big ego; rather, he was always so broke that he could not afford to hire models to sit for him.

• Landscape artist Joseph Turner (1775-1851) painted his Peace: Burial at Sea of the Body of Sir David Wilkie, using some very dark colors for the sails. Clarkson Stanfield objected to the “funereal and unnatural blackness of the sails,” but Mr. Turner replied, “I only wish I had any color to make them blacker.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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