David Bruce: Work Anecdotes

When he was a young man, Daniel Keyes, author of Flowers for Algernon, worked as a waiter for a luncheonette and ice cream parlor, which was owned by an eccentric man named Mr. Sohn. This eccentric man would do such things as take sugar dispensers, salt shakers, and ketchup bottles off the tables and hide them behind the counter—this was an over-reaction to an unfortunate day during which a practical joker had put salt in the sugar dispensers and sugar in the salt shakers. Mr. Sohn also was convinced that someone was stealing his flatware, so he would take the flatware and also hide it. Of course, customers expect such amenities as salt, sugar, ketchup, forks, spoons, and knives, so the waiters had a real problem. However, they figured out what they had to do to survive. They used to hide flatware in their pockets and wherever else they could put it, and they figured out ways to distract Mr. Sohn so that their confederates could liberate the sugar dispensers, salt shakers, and ketchup bottles.

Soon after he started working for MAD magazine, writer Dick DeBartolo needed an answer to a financial question, and only MAD publisher William M. Gaines, whom he had never met, could answer that question. His boss, Nick Meglin, called up Mr. Gaines—while Mr. DeBartolo was still on the telephone line—to arrange an appointment. Unfortunately, Mr. DeBartolo could hear every word Mr. Gaines said on the telephone: “DeBartolo’s on the phone? Who the hell wants to speak to him? Did you tell him I’m in? Oh, Christ, what the hell does he want? He’s a pain in the *ss!” Fortunately, when Mr. DeBartolo began speaking on the line, Mr. Gaines said, “Dick, I’m pulling your leg. Relax. I do that to all the new guys. I like to scare them. Welcome to MAD.”

Nina Simone started out as a classical pianist, and she hoped to become the first African-American concert pianist; however, she started to play music in a bar in Atlantic City to make money, and she became a singer through an accident. Harry Steward hired her to play at the Midtown, and he enjoyed her piano playing her first night on the job; however, when he had hired her, he had thought that he had hired a singer, so after he had complimented her on her piano playing, he asked her to sing the next night. When she told him, “I’m only a pianist,” he replied, “Well, tomorrow night you’re either a singer or you’re out of a job.” She did sing the next night, and she was immediately popular.

Dale Messick was actually Dalia Messick, but she took a more masculine name to avoid having her work rejected by male editors and publishers simply because she was a woman. She created the comic strip Brenda Starr, and she kept on producing the strip even after she became pregnant, although she says that her work day became “throw up, draw Brenda, throw up, draw Brenda.” She liked doing the comic strip and even named her daughter Starr and dyed her own hair red like that of her comic-strip heroine.

Emma Caulfield played Anya the former vengeance demon on TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Perhaps it is lucky that she got the job; after all, she admits to being a horrible waitress at a restaurant where she disliked the food. Customers would come in, ask what she recommended, and she would tell them that the food was very bad but the drinks were very good. Her customers ended eating little, but drinking a lot, and leaving her very generous, motivated-by-alcohol tips.

Halle Berry was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and she got her first name because her pregnant mother was shopping in Halle Brothers, a department store, and she decided she liked the store’s name. Before becoming a model and actress, Halle studied broadcast journalism at Cuyahoga Community College. She decided that this profession was not for her after she started crying while interviewing a family who had just lost their house in a fire.

Charles M. Schulz, creator of the comic strip Peanuts, was a very careful worker. For the first four years he drew his comic strip, he never had a spelling error for his editor, Amy Lago, to find and correct. When he finally turned in a strip with a spelling error—he wrote “extention” instead of “extension”—Ms. Lago was so surprised that she checked a dictionary to make sure that “extention” was not an acceptable alternative spelling of “extension.”

In 1943, composer Samuel Barber joined the United States Army, then transferred to the Army Air Forces, where he was given his duty. No, he was not ordered to fight in the war; instead, he was ordered to write a symphony that honored the military. According to his friend and fellow composer Gian Carlo Menotti, “Barber was probably the only soldier in the United States who never learned to take a gun apart and put it together again.”

At a time when there was no work that needed to be done, Ub Iwerks and some other animators played poker; however, Walt Disney did not join the game but instead became engrossed in doing something at a desk. At one point, Mr. Iwerks looked over Mr. Disney’s shoulder and discovered that he was practicing his signature. After seeing that, Mr. Iwerks realized that here was a man whose ego would drive him to become a huge success.

Rube Foster was a tough manager in the Negro Leagues. He carried a pipe that he used to make signals, and when a player ignored his signal to bunt and instead hit a triple in a game, Mr. Foster was not happy. As soon as he could, he hit the player in the head with his pipe, and then told him, “As long as I’m paying you, you’ll do what I tell you.”

Early in his career, comedian Don Knotts hoped to get a job on The Jackie Gleason Show. He called the show’s casting office and explained that he was a comedian and that he wanted to be on the show, but a voice—not Mr. Gleason’s—told him, “We got a comedian,” and then hung up.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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