David Bruce: Mishaps Anecdotes

At Sheffield, Thomas Beecham produced one of the operas in Wagner’s Ring cycle. Unfortunately, as Brünnhilde was singing her farewell song, the curtain came down. Mr. Beecham pressed the bell-button repeatedly, and the curtain went up again, only to come down again almost immediately. Again, Mr. Beecham pressed the bell-button repeatedly, and this time the curtain stayed up until the end of the opera. Afterward, he learned that the individual in charge of the curtain had fallen asleep. When he woke up, it was long after 11 p.m. Since in his experience, no performance had ever lasted that long, he concluded he had slept through it and so he let the curtain down. Hearing Mr. Beecham’s bell-button, he had raised the curtain again, but then he remembered that his wife was expecting him for dinner at 11 p.m., and that she would be angry if he were late. This made him think there must be a mistake somewhere and so he dropped the curtain again.

In the later 1800s and early 1900s, Jacob A. Riis became famous for his photographs of poor people in New York City tenements. His photographs showed How the Other Half Lives—the title of one of his books. In the early days of photography, getting enough light to photograph indoors could be a problem. He used to make a fire in a frying pan and use it to light his flash powder. If that didn’t work well enough, he would shoot a revolver and use the light of its flash to take his photographs. Occasionally, Mr. Riis’s lighting techniques started fires. He once caught his own clothes on fire, and he twice accidentally set fire to buildings. In addition, when a flash went off too close to his eyes, he almost blinded himself. However, his muckraking photographs, articles, and books led to social reforms to help poor people.

George Burns and Gracie Allen had years of experience performing in vaudeville before they started doing their radio show. This long experience came in handy when mishaps occurred on their show. Once, the lights in the studio went out, and no one could read the script. On another occasion, Gracie accidentally dropped her script, and the pages scattered everywhere. Both times, they ignored the script. George simply asked, “Gracie, how’s your brother?” — and Gracie started one of their well-memorized and very funny vaudeville routines.

Every hockey fan knows what a slap shot is, but a backside shot can also score goals. The very first goal scored by the great Stan Mikita of the Chicago Black Hawks came when teammate Bobby Hull unleased a slap shot that went awry. The shot hit Mr. Mikita in the backside, then landed in the net of the opposing team for a goal — because Mr. Mikita had touched the goal last before it went into the net, the goal was credited to him. Fortunately, the other 540 goals scored by Mr. Mikita in his career came in more conventional ways.

Opera/lieder singer Kathleen Ferrier occasionally made mental lapses, forgetting a phrase as she sang. She once forgot some of the words to Handel’s “Where’er You Walk.” So instead of singing, “All things flourish, where’er you turn your eyes,” she sang the only thing she could think of, which was, “All things flourish, where’er they eat the grass.” This normally wouldn’t be too bad, but the phrase which she couldn’t remember appeared three times in the song, and by the time she had finished singing it, her face was bright red.

While Patricia McBride and Edward Villella were dancing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet to Prokofiev’s music as performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony, the conductor set the tempo way too slow, forcing Ms. McBride and Mr. Villella to dance ahead of the music and to finish dancing before the music stopped. What to do? Ms. McBride started to bourrée off stage on pointe, but Mr. Villella grabbed her wrist and pleaded, “Patty, just stay with me.” The two then improvised—well—a few minutes of dance.

While the Old Vic Company was performing Twelfth Night in Philadelphia, problems arose because members of the cast frequently got lost between the dressing rooms and the stage in the large, unfamiliar theater, forcing the other cast members to improvise while waiting for an absent actor. While Judi Dench was onstage as Olivia, she said her line, “Get ye all three into the box-tree. Malvolio’s coming down the walk.” Actor John Neville made her laugh when he whispered, “Wanna bet?”

Before defecting to the west, Natalia Makarova had great trouble with the 32 fouéttes in Swan Lake. Of course, they are supposed to be performed in one spot, and the ballet dancer ought not to travel around the stage while spinning, but Ms. Makarova remembers that at her first attempt at them on stage she travelled so far that she ended up in a rear wing where she could not be seen by the audience.

Kristen Bell, star of the TV series Veronica Mars, says that she once “fell madly in love” with Saturday Night Live star Amy Poehler because of her petiteness and sense of comedy. On a red carpet, she saw Ms. Poehler’s then-husband, actor Will Arnett, and told him, “I’m absolutely in love with your wife.” He replied, “I’m so glad you didn’t say me. That would have been awkward.”

Not all volcanic eruptions are swift. In Hawaii, one volcano emits molten lava slowly. In fact, residents on the island have plenty of time to leave their houses and move their household possessions out of the line of lava. In some cases, people sit on lawn chairs and drink cold beer from a safe distance as they watch the molten lava flow upon and destroy their houses.

When a batter popped up down the third-base line, both catcher Yogi Berra and third baseman Clete Boyer of the New York Yankees ran to catch it, but collided together, letting the ball fall safely to the ground. Clete asked Yogi, “What’s the matter, Yogi? Couldn’t you yell for it?” Yogi replied, “Sure, but I thought you could hear me waving at you.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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