David Bruce: Alcohol Anecdotes

Monty Python member Graham Chapman was an alcoholic, but for a while even the other members of Monty Python didn’t know how bad his problem was because for the most part he was a gentlemanly drunk. However, they learned of the extent of his alcoholism while shooting the sketch “Upper Class Twit of the Year.” The Monty Python members needed to check something in a script, but no scripts were readily available, so Michael Palin opened Mr. Chapman’s briefcase in search of one. He found a half-empty bottle of vodka and looked stunned. Someone asked him what was the matter, and he replied, “That was full this morning.” Mr. Palin found the half-empty bottle at 10:15 a.m. Remarkably, Mr. Chapman quit drinking without the aid of Alcoholics Anonymous, and within six months he was in better shape than any of the other members of Monty Python.

Abraham Lincoln had sold whiskey as a storekeeper. One of his political opponents was Stephen Douglas, who was known for liking whiskey. At a political debate, Mr. Douglas said that he had first met Lincoln at a store front where Lincoln was selling whiskey. Mr. Lincoln responded, “What Mr. Douglas has said, gentlemen, is true enough; I did keep a grocery, and I did sell cotton, candles and cigars, and sometimes whiskey; but I remember in those days that Mr. Douglas was one of my best customers. Many a time have I stood on one side of the counter and sold whiskey to Mr. Douglas on the other side, but the difference between us now is this: I have left my side of the counter, but Mr. Douglas still clings to his as tenaciously as ever.”

John Barrymore was as noted for his dissipation as much as for his acting. While acting in Hamlet after a night of revelry, he began the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, but in the middle of the speech found it necessary to retire to the side of the stage so he could vomit. Later, he was complimented for this innovation: “I say, Barrymore, that was the most daring and perhaps the most effective innovation ever offered. I refer to your deliberate pausing in the midst of the soliloquy to retire, almost, from the scene. May I congratulate you upon such imaginative business? You seemed quite distraught. But it was effective!”

The Hassidim abhorred drunkenness, but they felt that a drink after prayers was appropriate. Once, Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn was asked why the Hassidim took a drink after prayers while the opponents of Hassidism (the Mitnagdim) studied the Mishna instead of taking a drink. He answered, “The Mitnagdim pray frigidly, without life, enthusiasm, or emotion. They appear almost lifeless. After their prayers, they study the Mishna—an appropriate subject when one mourns the dead. But the prayers of the Hassidim are alive and living people need a drink.”

Drinking is not a good idea if you are in the theater. Once, actor Wilfred Lawson met Richard Burton before a matinee, so they retired to a pub for a few drinks, then went to the play. Mr. Burton grew uneasy as he thought that Mr. Lawson should be getting into costume for his role, but Mr. Lawson remained unperturbed. Finally, Mr. Lawson tapped Mr. Burton on the shoulder and said, “This is the good bit—this is where I come on.”

When Wilson Mizner married a rich society widow, he inherited her late husband’s clock collection—2,000 clocks were kept in the Clock Room, and Mr. Mizner ordered the servants to wind the clocks and keep them in good order, despite the deafening racket they made each hour as they chimed, rang, or otherwise announced the time. Mr. Mizner enjoyed inviting hungover friends to visit the Clock Room just before the hour.

In Scotland, it is customary to offer a workman a drink when he finishes some job around your home. A woman once asked a workman if he wanted a drink after he finished a job. He was amenable, so she asked how he liked his drink. He replied, “Half whiskey and half water—and put in plenty of water.”

Diana Rigg once was present at a performance of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona in Stratford when the stagehands operating the revolving stage were intoxicated. They accelerated the revolving stage to such a speed that anyone who tried to get on the stage was promptly thrown off.

A preacher once spoke in his sermon about the dangers of alcohol. At one point, he asked an elderly lady—one of the pillars of the church—if she agreed that alcohol was an evil that should be destroyed. The elderly woman replied, “Actually, I enjoy a little toddy once in a while.”

James McNeill Whistler, the famous artist, enjoyed his beer. He once asked a bartender, “Would you like to sell a great more beer than you do?” The bartender replied in the affirmative, so Mr. Whistler told him, “Then don’t sell so much froth.”

The Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo; however, Wellington had very little respect for his troops. Once he described them as “the scum of the earth—they have enlisted for drink—that is the simple truth.”

Zen master Bassui prohibited his students from drinking even a drop of alcohol, but later he got drunk in front of his students. When his students questioned him about his inconsistency, he said that he was teaching them not to get so hung up on rules!

President James K. Polk didn’t like dancing on the Sabbath and he didn’t like card parties. Sam Houston once said that what was wrong with President Polk was he drank too much water.

A lady temperance speaker once closed a speech by saying, “I would rather commit adultery than take a glass of beer.” A man in the audience called out, “Who wouldn’t?”

During World War II, playwright and screenwriter Charles MacArthur was a Major for the Allies. He often hitched a ride during bombing raids on Berlin and dropped his empty whiskey bottles on the city.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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