Charlie Chaplin enjoyed performing for other people — more than he enjoyed being a ladies man. One day, Sid Grauman of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood decided to play a trick on Mr. Chaplin. Mr. Grauman borrowed a realistic female mannequin, dressed it in a negligee, and installed it in a hotel bed. Mr. Grauman then told Mr. Chaplin that a female admirer of his wanted to meet him, and he told Mr. Chaplin at which hotel room he could meet her. Mr. Chaplin arrived, and immediately began to perform for what he thought was a real-live woman. Not until 30 minutes had passed did Mr. Chaplin discover that he was performing for a mannequin.
Robert Merrill was touring with the Met in Aida along with a chef-cum-makeup-artist named Poppa Senz. One day Poppa Senz told him to come to the theater before a performance, and he would cook him a spaghetti dinner. Mr. Merrill accepted the invitation, and Poppa Senz made a wonderful dinner with extra garlic. However, when Mr. Merrill walked on stage to make his entrance, the prima donna playing Aida smelled the garlic on his breath and slapped him — she was allergic to garlic, a fact well known to Poppa Senz. When Mr. Merrill looked over at Poppa Senz, who was standing offstage, he saw that Poppa Senz was doubled over with laughter.
Les Moss, a good man at repairing baseball gloves, once was given the glove of an opposing player, catcher Clint Courtney, to mend. He did so, but he also sewed some pieces of Limburger cheese into the glove. As the game wore on that day, the catcher’s mitt began to stink. Umpire Ed Hurley noticed the stink, and he asked Mr. Courtney, “Don’t you feel well?” Mr. Courtney said he felt fine, but the stink grew worse as the game continued, and eventually Umpire Hurley threw Mr. Courtney out of the game with a strict order to see a trainer about his “problem.”
Music-hall comedian Alec Finlay was a practical joker. When his friend Jimmy Logan wanted to use his dressing room, Mr. Finlay let him, but when Mr. Logan entered the dressing room, he discovered that large padlocks were on all the cases and every drawer and wardrobe had been tied shut with thick rope. However, Mr. Logan got revenge. A couple of nights later, he had an orchestra play “Happy Birthday” for Mr. Finlay, and he sent him 12 gift-boxes — but the “gifts” were Mr. Finlay’s own padlocks and rope.
To film the Gilligan’s Island episode titled “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Gilligan,” Bob Denver, who played Gilligan, was suspended by a cable 50 feet above the stage. Mr. Denver looked down and saw two crew members holding the cable suspending him above the stage. One of the crew members said to the other crew member, “Let’s go get a cup of coffee,” then they let go of the cable and walked away. Mr. Denver screamed — but he hadn’t fallen an inch. The cable was tied to the stage, and the two crew members had only pretended to be holding the cable.
Theatrical actress Beatrice Lillie enjoyed playing practical jokes. In the 1936 play The Show is On, she stood behind a box office window and co-star Bert Lahr, famous for playing the Cowardly Lion in the movie The Wizard of Oz, was supposed to go to her and exchange one-liners. One night, Mr. Lahr approached the box office window, but she said, “So sorry, box office closed” — then slammed the window in his face.
Reporters for the tabloids play dirty tricks on each other, such as calling an opposing newspaper with a bogus news tip. For example, a reporter will be sent out to investigate a place where a major celebrity is supposed to be recuperating from a life of excess. The reporter will drive for hours, only to find out that the address given by the tipster is that of a desert shack no celebrity would ever live in.
Dean Acheson was the Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman. One day, Hugh Troy hired a character actor to impersonate Mr. Acheson while the real Mr. Acheson was away. So on a Sunday morning, as people went to church on Sunday, they were startled to see “Dean Acheson” in full regalia, including silk hat and striped trousers, sitting on the steps of his Georgetown home, fishing — in a bucket of water.
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.
Comedian Rich Hall used to have fun in New York City. He would take an old movie camera with him, stand on a street corner, wait for curious passersby to gather around, then say that he needed their help to finish making a low-budget horror movie. After he had passed out the scripts, people ran screaming on the sidewalks of New York.
Zen master Soen Roshi sometimes played tricks on his students. His students used to enter a room where he was sitting behind a curtain, and they bowed in his direction. Soen once placed a pumpkin on the cushion he was accustomed to sit on behind the curtain and laughed as his students bowed to the pumpkin.
Irish playwright Brendan Behan once promised to paint the apartment of poet Patrick Kavanagh absolutely free of charge while Mr. Kavanagh was away from home. He lived up to his promise — but he painted the apartment completely black.
Elizabeth Gurney Dimsdale, a Quaker, once saw some small boys trying to ring a doorbell. She kindly rang the doorbell for them, but immediately the small boys ran away. She hesitated, then she ran away, too.
During a rehearsal of Un Ballo in Maschera, African-American diva Martina Arroyo walked out on stage — wearing a fake beard.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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