David Bruce: Friends Anecdotes

Friends can be a big help when help is needed. While Jimi Hendrix was in the United States Army and stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, some of his fellow soldiers did not like him and even beat him up once. One of Jimi’s friends from Seattle, Washington, where he had been born, was also stationed there: Raymond Ross, the heavyweight boxing champion for the 101stAirborne. Raymond hit a few heads, and Jimi’s fellow soldiers decided not to beat Jimi up anymore. As a young musician in Nashville, Tennessee, Jimi sometimes could not afford to replace his guitar’s strings when they broke. As Jimi was trying to play his guitar without an E string, Larry Lee, a Nashville bass guitarist, gave him an E string. They became friends. When Jimi decided to go to New York City, he lacked a coat; Larry gave him one. By the way, much later Jimi asked Larry to play rhythm guitar for him at Woodstock. Also by the way, an element of luck is involved in becoming a member of a famous rock group such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Noel Redding, a white man, became bass guitarist for the group in part because he was a guitarist who had never played bass guitar before and so would not be limited by preconceived ideas about how to play bass guitar — more importantly, Jimi chose him because he liked Noel’s Afro hairdo. Mitch Mitchell and another man were competing for the drummer position — Mitch got it because he won a coin toss.

When he was a young man, Leonard Bernstein met a man named Adolph Green, who later became big on Broadway and in Hollywood. When they met, they quizzed each other on his knowledge of music. They quickly discovered that neither was a fake and both would admit when they did not know something. Lenny played a few bars of music, said that they were by Dmitry Shostakovich, and asked Adolph to name the piece. Adolph said that he could not name the piece. Actually, the piece was by Lenny himself. Adolph then requested Lenny to play the piece titled Puck by Debussy. Lenny replied that he did not know that piece. Actually, no such piece existed. After the musical quizzing was over, the two became close friends. Betty Comden, who collaborated with Adolph for six decades, was impressed by Lenny when she first met him. She went home and woke up her mother and told her, “Mom, I’ve met my first genius.” Her mother replied, “That’s nice, dear,” and then she went back to sleep.

Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel were friends, and Mr. Gable helped Ms. McDaniel to get the coveted role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind, the role for which Ms. McDaniel got the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress — the first Oscar won by an African-American. (She was also the first African-American to be nominated.) When the movie premiered in Atlanta, Georgia, during those days of Jim Crow, none of the black actors in the movie was invited to attend. Mr. Gable at first vowed not to attend the premiere, but Ms. McDaniel told him that she was not surprised that no black actors were invited to attend the premiere and she told him that he needed to attend the premiere to get publicity for the movie. She also thanked him for his friendship. After Ms. McDaniel integrated the West Adams Heights district of Los Angeles, California, Mr. Gable attended her parties.

Artist James Montgomery Flagg was a friend of the Barrymores, whom he greatly respected and liked. He remembers being with Jack Barrymore in his dressing room after a theatrical performance. Jack was in his undershirt and was removing his makeup. Mr. Flagg remembers that some of the makeup got on Jack’s undershirt, which was already stained with makeup. Mr. Flagg wrote about Jack’s undershirt, “Obviously, it had not collected all that gruesome brown in a mere week.” Mr. Flagg remembers that Jack did not dance. He asked him about it, and Jack replied, “Unless I could be the best god*mned dancer in the world, I wouldn’t dance!” Of course, Jack had a drinking problem, but Mr. Flagg evaluated Jack in this way: “Great in spite of grog.”

Comedian Jack Benny played the violin, and many of his friends were famous musicians. Jascha Heifetz, Gregor Piatagorsky, Leonard Pennario, and Mr. Benny once were at the home of Joan, Mr. Benny’s daughter. Mr. Benny sat in a chair, which made a noise, and Mr. Heifetz immediately said, “E flat.” Mr. Benny, however, said, “E natural.” Joan went to the piano, played E flat, and Mr. Benny sat down in the chair again. The noise it made was E flat. Mr. Benny was happy to have been proven wrong and happy that Mr. Heifetz’ renowned perfect pitch had been proven right once more. By the way, when Mr. Benny celebrated his 80th birthday, movie director Billy Wilder gave him the perfect gift: two copies of the book Life Begins at Forty.

Penn Gillette of Penn and Teller fame respects thought. Once, he was taking a now-former girlfriend out to eat, but he needed to get some writing done first. It would take about an hour, and after apologizing to her, he said, “You can turn on the TV; my iPod has music on it and there are headphones right there. If you want to go out, my car keys are right there and there’s a Starbucks in the lobby. I have a couple books there if you want to read and there’s a magazine or two ….” But she said to him, “I’m fine. I’ll just sit here.” Penn asked her, “What are you going to do?” She replied, “I’ll sit and think.” In his book God, No!, Penn writes, “She’s still one of my best friends and an inspiration.”

Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr., were friends, but when Sammy started taking cocaine, Frank dropped him as a friend—fast. For three years, they didn’t talk, but then they happened to meet again. Frank said, “Sam, I’m so f**king disappointed in you, with that s**t. Dump it. You’re breaking your friends’ hearts, Sam.” Sammy replied, “I’ll give it up, Frank.” Then he gave it up.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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