David Bruce: Work Anecdotes


Giulio Gatti-Casazza: By Bain News Service, publisher, now part of the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When Giulio Gatti-Casazza first became the director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York early in the 20th century, the women singers at the Met had a clause in their contracts saying that they would be paid even if they cancelled a scheduled performance because of indisposition. Not surprisingly, the singers were frequently indisposed. As soon as Gatti-Casazza became director, he cancelled that clause of their contracts. Not surprising, the cases of indisposition immediately declined in number.

Rudolf Bing knew a man called Childs, whom he described as the “perfect butler.” Childs was a butler to John Christie, and he also helped to take care of Mr. Christie’s guests. He knew Mr. Bing liked to sleep later than the other guests and skip breakfast, and one morning he woke Mr. Bing with the announcement, “Breakfast at eight-thirty, sir.” Mr. Bing then asked him the time, and Childs replied, “Nine o’clock, sir.” Once, Mr. Bing asked where Mr. Christie was, and Childs told him — it was a place that surprised Mr. Bing. He asked Childs, “How do you know he is there? Did you ask him before he left?” Childs replied, “A good butler never asks his master where he is going, but he always knows.”

Buddy and Vera Ebsen were a brother-and-sister dance act whose first big break came when they danced in the chorus of Eddie Cantor’s hit show, Whoopie. They rehearsed on stage, but to rehearse they had to use the work lights. This upset some people, and in Chicago they weren’t allowed to use the work lights to rehearse. However, the star of Whoopie, Eddie Cantor, found out about it, so he had this sign posted: “If any youngsters are ambitious enough to practice every day in order to get out of the chorus, I will pay for the work lights. Eddie Cantor.”

Someone asked the maggid of Zlotchov why Jews are bound to ask when their work will approach the work of their fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After all, isn’t such a thing impossible? The maggid replied, “Just as our fathers founded new ways of serving, each a new service according to his character: one the service of love, the other that of stern justice, the third that of beauty, so each one of us in his own way shall devise something new in the light of teachings and of service, and do what has not yet been done.”

In 1898, Thomas B. Reed campaigned to be the Republican candidate in the Presidential election. One day, the wife and the young son of Ellison Purdy, who was the pastor of the Oak Street Meeting in Portland, Maine, walked past Mr. Reed’s house. The young son, Alex, asked his mother, “Tom Reed wants to be President, doesn’t he?” Mrs. Purdy replied affirmatively. Young Alex then asked, “Will my father ever be president?” Mrs. Purdy replied, “No, thy father is a preacher — he has a job.”

Impressionist/comedian George Kirby wanted a job with Count Basie. Therefore, Mr. Kirby went to a concert by Count Basie and his orchestra. Count Basie used to sit at a piano, plink a note and have his drummer enter, plink another note and have another bandmember enter, and so on until the entire band was on stage. Mr. Kirby, without prior authorization, walked on stage, and impersonated Count Basie, to the audience’s delight. Count Basie also enjoyed the joke, and he hired Mr. Kirby.

During the Depression, Cornelius Gallagher was worried about losing his job. He was Second Broom (assistant sweeper) at an Electro-Dynamic plant, and he worried that the company might decide that it needed only a First Broom. Therefore, Mr. Gallagher decided to go to college and to study law at night. Later, he became Representative Gallagher (D-NY). According to Mr. Gallagher, if he had been First Broom, he would never have become involved in politics.

Representative John Conyers, Jr., a Democrat from Michigan, was running for office when he went back to his old neighborhood. Some people saw him and asked if he had grown up in the area. He admitted that he had, and a man asked what he was doing now. He modestly replied, “I’m a Federal employee. I work for the government.” The man said, “No kidding? You’re in the Post Office, too, huh?”

Grantland Rice enjoyed telling a story about a day when he, Ring Lardner, and “Tiny” Maxwell (who was a big man) were golfing. Mr. Lardner had the bad luck to hit his ball into a bunker on which several men were working with picks and shovels. Mr. Lardner proceeded to try to hit his ball out of the bunker, but failed three tries in a row. Mr. Maxwell then told Mr. Rice, “If he misses that ball again, they’ll think he’s working here.”

Caspar Wistar, a Quaker, first earned his living hauling ashes in a wheelbarrow, but later became a mayor. Some of his opponents tried to embarrass him by wheeling a wheelbarrow outside his house, but Mr. Wistar came out of his house and offered to show them how to wheel the wheelbarrow correctly.

African-American opera singer Betty Allen was born in Campbell, Ohio. Her talent for hard work came in part from her mother, who during the Depression earned $30 a week as a washer-woman — a lot of money for the time. Ms. Allen says, “She had two Maytags going all the time, from six o’clock in the morning ’til midnight.”

Conductor André Previn has in his office a cartoon showing a music stand marked “L.A. Symphony.” On the music stand is a Help Wanted Notice: “Resident Orchestra Conductor; Party Goer; Gladhander; Fundraiser; High Visibility; Some Knowledge of Music Desirable.”

One morning, comedian Jack Oakie was missing from his dressing room; however, he did drive to the movie set and told Charles Barton, “I won’t be working today.” When Mr. Barton asked why, Mr. Oakie replied, “It’s my birthday,” then drove off.

Black comedian Dick Gregory became very involved in the Civil Rights movement. In fact, he had a clause put in his contract saying that he could leave immediately whenever he was needed at a demonstration or a march.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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