David Bruce: Mishaps Anecdotes

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In the episode “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier, Sailor, or Marine” of the TV series The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis, several actors on the series, including Bob Denver, who played Maynard G. Krebs, did jumping jacks. In the middle of the jumping jacks, Mr. Denver had the misfortune to fart. The director yelled “Cut!” and asked, “Who did that?” Mr. Denver was no fool. He looked at the other actors, and the other actors looked at each other. Take two. Once again, in the middle of the jumping jacks Mr. Denver farted — this time, everyone on the set pointed at him. He had to endure their teasing until they got tired of it. (I’m just glad this didn’t happen during filming of the episode titled “Sweet Smell of Success.”)

In 1967, Plácido Domingo sang the lead role of Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlos in his debut at the Staatsoper in Vienna, Austria. Only one rehearsal was held — and it wasn’t held at the Staatsoper. Therefore, Mr. Domingo was unfamiliar with the stage at the first performance, and when he charged onstage, he nearly fell into the orchestra pit as he sang “Io l-ho perduta.” The words mean “I’ve lost her,” but if he had fallen into the orchestra pit, the words could equally well be translated as “I’ve lost it.”

Lisa Kron wellremembers her most terrifying performance on stage. She was working with Holly Hughes, who finished writing the piece minutes before they were to perform it. Just before they went on stage, Ms. Hughes handed her some index cards on which her lines were typed in red ink. Unfortunately, the lights in the theater were also red, so when she looked at the cards they appeared to be blank.

During an open-air performance of Macbeth starring Charlton Heston, arrangements were made for a dummy to be thrown into the ocean for Lady Macbeth’s death. Unfortunately, during one performance the wind was blowing so heavily that when the dummy was thrown from a wall the wind blew the dummy back again — right at the feet of the actor who reported, “The queen is dead, my lord.”

Early in her career, Lucille Ball wanted to be a showgirl. During the audition, producers would line the women up in, then walk down the line, looking the women over. Lucy knew that some of the other women were better endowed than she, so she stuffed her bodice with toilet paper. Unfortunately, some of the toilet paper was sticking out of her bodice — this did get Lucy noticed!

In 1984, Natalia Makarova was performing in a revival of On Your Toes on Broadway. In one scene, she threw a shoe at another actor. The shoe went wide of its mark and hit a vase which fell to the stage floor and shattered. The vase had been filled with marbles to weigh it down, and the marbles bounced all over the stage. Afterward, a nonbreakable vase was used in the scene.

During World War II, Laurence Olivier served as a pilot in the British Royal Air Force, but he was not necessarily a good pilot. On his very first day as a pilot at Worthy Down near Winchester, he showed just how bad a pilot he could be. While taxiing on a runway, he wrecked one plane and damaged two others — all without even taking off.

People who work in the White House need to be masters of diplomacy. Once, the wife of a foreign diplomat was in line waiting to meet President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Unfortunately, her underwear slipped to the ground. White House doorman John Mays picked up the underwear, folded it and put it on his arm as if it were a towel, then carried it away.

Bruce Vilanch had a role as a fashion designer in the Diana Ross movie Mahogany, but he ruined the first take of his scene. He was supposed to be sewing in the scene, but he didn’t know how to sew. He ended sewing his scarf to Diana’s coat, and when Diana got up to leave, she started to drag him along with her.

While in school, Judi Dench acted in Time and the Conways with Richard Page-Jackson. In one scene, he had to pull a curtain, but he pulled it so hard, it fell from the wall onto Ms. Dench’s head. The audience laughed at the line Ms. Dench spoke next in the play: “I suppose you do this to all your girlfriends.”

Animals cause their share of mishaps on stage. Fred Terry once wore a false nose while playing the role of King Charles, who kept a number of spaniels. During a performance, one of the spaniels jumped up, bit off the end of the false nose, then ran away. The audience was delighted.

American dance pioneer Ted Shawn once danced a duet with Martha Graham. The dance was Spanish, and his pants split with a loud noise. The next day, a reviewer wrote that the splitting of the “incredibly tight Spanish trousers” was something he had prayed all his life to witness.

Entertainers have to be ready for the unexpected. In a play, Joe Smith (of the vaudevillian team Smith and Dale) was supposed to “shoot” a fellow actor. The gun failed to fire its blank, the actor fell “dead” anyway, and Mr. Smith turned to the audience and said, “He died of fright.”

Janet Lynn is a famous ice skater in part because of a mistake she made in the 1972 Olympic Games in Japan. She fell during a spin, ruining her chance for a gold medal, but smiled. That smile under duress made her admired worldwide and especially by the Japanese.

While performing the title role of Giselle, Alicia Markova once slipped and landed on the stage floor in an undignified position with her feet and lilies pointing straight up. Her undignified position made her laugh despite the seriousness of the role.

Choreographer Léonide Massine once endured a train wreck in which a sleeping Englishman was doused by a bottle of mineral water that fell on him when the train derailed. The Englishman woke up and asked, “I say, could there be a leak?”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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