Comedian Phyllis Diller was much influenced by the book The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol. It gave her so much confidence that when she was fired at the San Francisco Purple Onion by Keith Rockwell as a result of some intrigue by other people, she didn’t grow angry at him; instead, she told him, “That’s OK. I don’t really need this job to make my way in the world of comedy. You gave me my start, and that’s enough. Don’t worry about me; I’ll be fine.” Mr. Rockwell was used to being screamed at by the people he fired, and Ms. Diller’s gracious response to being fired impressed him so much that a few days later he re-hired her.
After Merrill Ashley had danced exceedingly well in the premiere of Jacques d’Amboise’s Saltarelli, someone asked George Balanchine, “Wasn’t she beautiful, Mr. B?” Mr. Balanchine agreed, “Oh, yes! In three or four years, very good dancer.” This was praise, but not exactly the kind of praise Ms. Ashley was hoping for. For one thing, she was hoping for a raise and a promotion soon. She thought, “I’ll show him.” Sure enough, it was not too long before she was given a raise and a promotion to soloist. (Even before those things happened, Mr. Balanchine had given her a rare compliment after she first danced in Diamonds: “Excellent, dear.”)
At times people need to work together to accomplish something major. To create the Stravinsky Festival of 1972, members of the New York City Ballet worked together. New ballets were created, and the members worked long hours to learn and rehearse those ballets. No one complained about the constant breaking of union rules. Everyone was overworked, and no one shirked their work because if they had, the work would have had to be done by another already overworked person. The result: an incredibly successful festival and several new ballet masterpieces.
As a very young, 23-year-old musician, Branford Marsalis got to play with some true jazz greats, including pianist Herbie Hancock, drummer Tony Williams, and bassist Ron Carter. Mr. Marsalis was in awe of these musicians, but unfortunately, his awe badly affected his playing ability. Mr. Carter even told him, “We’re delighted by the fact that you’re in awe of us. But we’re playing you money to play, and you ain’t playing!” The talk helped, and Mr. Marsalis started playing better—and the next time he played with these greats, he was able to hold his own. This time he said, “I felt like a peer, not a subordinate.”
Tex Avery, the director of many classic Bugs Bunny cartoons—and the man who gave Bugs his distinctive personality—was a perfectionist who worked long hours to make his cartoons funny. In fact, he once worked so hard that he delayed urinating for so long that he ended up with a hospital, where a catheter had to be used to empty his overfull bladder. Despite his hard work, he was insecure about his job, and when he was away from his desk he carried around a timing chart for cartoons so it always looked as if he were working.
Early in their career, the Rolling Stones went to Chess Records to record at the legendary studio where so many of their music heroes had recorded—they were even able to meet Muddy Waters! But what shocked them was that their hero was working as a roadie because people weren’t buying his records at the time. Stones bassist Bill Wyman said, “As kids we would have given our right arm to say hello to [him], and there’s the great Muddy Waters helping carry my guitar into the studio …. It was unreal.”
As a teenager, baseball player Truett “Rip” Sewell worked at a drugstore, where he created a window display one evening, using pretty bottles and pretty boxes from the shelves of the store. Unfortunately, the owner of the drugstore saw the window display the following morning and fired him. Why? The pretty bottles contained a laxative, and the pretty boxes contained toilet tissue. Mr. Sewell, however, said, “Quite a display, it seemed to me. It looked real nice.”
Lesbian comedian Judy Gold once worked on the New Jersey turnpike as a toll collector. The job had its interesting moments. She points out, “It was the ’80s, and people going to concerts at the Garden State Arts Center would give me joints.” However, she also remembers a time when she had 12 trucks backed up in her lane. Why? She explains, “The guys would get on the CB and be like, ‘Chick in lane four.’”
J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and creator of the wizard Gandalf, served as a soldier in World War I, and one of his sons, Michael, served as a soldier in World War II. At one point, Michael transferred to the Royal Air Force from the Army, and while filling out a form that asked for his father’s occupation, he wrote, “WIZARD.”
Roald Dahl, the author of the noted children’s book Matilda, had a hut in which he did his writing. The hut was filled with mementos of his life, including a ball made out of foil that had wrapped the many chocolate bars Mr. Dahl had eaten throughout his adulthood—and the hut included a memento of one of Mr. Dahl’s operations: his hipbone!
Ann Landers, nee Esther Pauline Friedman, got her job as an advice columnist fortuitously. One of her friends was an executive on the Chicago Sun-Times. She called the friend to ask if she could help the newspaper’s advice columnist answer her mail. As it happened, the advice columnist had died one week earlier.
Justin Jeffre of the singing group 98° knew at an early age that he wanted to be a singer. However, he knew that it would be a good idea to have a back-up plan in case things didn’t work out. Therefore, he decided on an alternative career to pursue if he didn’t make it as a singer: he would become a cowboy.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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