David Bruce: Good Deeds Anecdotes

Joseph Barbera and William Hanna are famous for their Hanna-Barbera cartoons, featuring such stars as Yogi Berra, Huckleberry Hound, and—of course—the Flintstones. They also made cartoons featuring Tom and Jerry that showed before movies. Mr. Barbera once visited an ill boy at the request of nurses in the pediatric ward—Mr. Barbera called them “wonderful, caring, dedicated people.” This boy was depressed and withdrawn, and his mother had not seen him in six months. Mr. Barbera talked to the boy about Tom and Jerry and drew pictures of Tom and Jerry for him. The boy ended up smiling and laughing; the nurses ended up crying. One nurse told Mr. Barbera that it was “the most incredible, moving experience” of her entire professional life. In his old age, Mr. Barbera invited forty of his colleagues to dinner at his favorite Chinese restaurant—a way to say thanks to them. At one point, Mel Blanc, who provided the voices for so many Hanna-Barbera characters, stood up and said, “I’ve known Joe Barbera for thirty years, and I want to say that I have never heard in all that time one person say one bad thing about him.” Mr. Barbera said, “I have never been prouder, happier, or more pleased with myself than at that moment.”

Ed McMahon worked for many years with Jerry Lewis in the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. His daughter Claudia worked for a year with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and she was able to let him know that yes, the money the telethon raised was put to good use. She told her father, “I’ve never seen like it. I’ve never had to say no to a patient’s request. Whatever they need—an electric wheelchair, a ramp built onto their home—the organization provides it for them without any red tape. It’s the most incredible thing.” Frank Sinatra once telephoned the telethon to donate $25,000, but the person answering the phone wondered whether Frank was really Frank. Because Ed McMahon knew Frank, he went to the phone to confirm Frank’s identity. In their private life, the two men shared a toast. Frank would raise his glass and said, “To the festival.” Ed would then say, “To the incredible festival of life.” Therefore, Ed said on the phone, “To the what?” Frank replied, “To the festival,” and Ed said to the telethoners, “Take his money.”

Gerhardt Stehmann, an extraordinarily competent man, sang bass and baritone for the Damrosch Opera Company. Among other abilities, he could learn a role very quickly. The German composer Xaver Scharwenka had written an opera and was anxious to conduct it, and Walter Damrosch agreed to let him use the Damrosch Opera Company for a performance. Unfortunately, the day before the opera was to be presented, tenor Ernest Krauss pleaded hoarseness, and it seemed as if the opera would have to be cancelled, bitterly disappointing Mr. Scharwenka. However, Mr. Stehmann said to Mr. Damrosch, “Give me the part, and I will learn it for tomorrow night.” Mr. Damrosch objected, “But this is a tenor part, and you are a bass baritone.” Mr. Stehmann replied, “Give it to me. I think I can transpose a few of the high notes and can at least save the performance.” He did save the performance, and he did not make a mistake while performing in the opera. This was both a good deed and a remarkable deed.

Edgar Poe was born on 19 January 1809. His father deserted the family when Edgar was very young, and his mother, Eliza Poe, died on 8 December 1811, when Edgar was not yet three years old. Neighbors took in Rosalie, Edgar’s sister, the youngest of three children. William, the oldest child, was taken in by his paternal grandparents. Edgar was taken in by Frances Allen, who was nicknamed Fanny. She had taken care of Eliza during her final illness. Fanny and her husband, John Allan, never formally adopted Edgar, but Edgar used the name “Allan” as his middle name. Mr. Allan and Mr. Poe quarreled over money when Edgar grew up, but Mr. Allan did show personal responsibility. When Mr. Allan discovered that he had an illegitimate child (not Edgar), he acknowledged paternity and gave the child’s mother financial support.

Political cartoonist Herblock once drew a cartoon of President Lyndon Johnson as the Music Man, the creation of Meredith Willson, who wrote the musical The Music Man. Mr. Willson wrote Herblock to ask for the cartoon, and Herblock sent it to him. Mr. Willson wrote him a charming thank-you letter, and one year later, he sent him another letter saying that the cartoon was a “daily joy” and “I’d be a pig not to tell you this.” Herblock said about Mr. Willson, “He must have been as charming as his songs and shows.”

When cartoon director Chuck Jones was a child, he lived near the Hollywood Bowl. He and other children would climb down the side of a hill and listen to and watch the entertainments for free. One guard was assigned to watch the side of the hill, and he knew that the children were there. Because the guard was a nice man, he would always do such things as whistle or walk into bushes to make noise to let the children know about his presence so that they could hide and not get caught.

When the father of Jamie Farr (who played Klinger on TV’s M*A*S*H) died, Jamie was broke and needed money to get to Phoenix, Arizona, for his father’s funeral. Jamie started to tell a long-time friend, Andy Fenady, his problem, and before Jamie was able to finish, Andy gave him a signed blank check and said, “Fill it out for whatever amount you need.” Jamie filled it out for $50—at the time that was enough money for a round-trip air ticket.

In August 2011, actor Keanu Reeves was riding a subway in New York City. He noticed that a woman did not have a seat, and he gave up his seat for her. Also doing a good deed were the New Yorkers. They had to have recognized the famous actor but did not bother him. (One person did unobtrusively videotape him from a distance, hence the evidence of his good deed.)

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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