Some American towns are wet (they allow alcohol); other American towns are dry (they don’t allow alcohol). During his 1885 American tour, Colonel James H. Mapleson had the misfortune to stop in Topeka, Kansas, a dry town. His opera troupe had drunk all the wine available on their train, and they were very displeased when water was placed before them while they dined at their Topeka hotel; in fact, Colonel Mapleson’s baritone drew his knife and said that unless he had something suitable to drink soon, he would not perform that evening. Hard pressed, Colonel Mapleson sought a physician and explained the situation to him. The understanding physician wrote a prescription in Latin, Colonel Mapleson took it to a pharmacist, and the pharmacist filled the prescription by giving him three bottles of something much more stimulating than water.
Golfer Walter Hagen had a reputation for partying. According to legend, he sometimes showed up at tee time in a wrinkled tuxedo because he had been partying all night and didn’t have time to change. The truth is quite different. Mr. Hagen was often seen at parties with a glass in his hand, but when he had to play in a tournament the next day, he tossed the drink into a potted plant, then went home to get a good night’s sleep. His tuxedo got wrinkled because he ordered his chauffeur to roll it into a ball and throw it against the car until it was wrinkled enough to carry on the legend.
New Zealanders apparently don’t drink martinis—or at least they didn’t. When comic singer Anna Russell was performing in New Zealand, she threw a party, giving instructions to a bartender to make martinis using Fleischmann’s gin. Halfway through the party, however, the martinis began to be dark brown instead of clear. She investigated and discovered that the bartender had run out of Fleischmann’s gin, so he was using Fleischmann’s whiskey instead. (The party was a success nevertheless.)
Playwright John Mortimer once stopped for gasoline at a station near Covent Garden. The attendant pumping his gas recognized him, saying that he had seen Mr. Mortimer in the seats behind him at a performance of the opera Aida. This surprised Mr. Mortimer, as those seats were very expensive, so he asked the gas station attendant how he could afford the tickets. The attendant explained that he hadn’t spent any more for the tickets than any other pump man would spend getting drunk Friday night.
Some preachers at a restaurant were served the wrong dessert—watermelon spiked with alcohol. Learning of the mistake, the maitre d’hotel asked a waiter to get the dessert back if the preachers hadn’t already started eating it. However, the waiter reported that the preachers had already started eating the dessert. “In that case,” said the maitre d’hotel, “do they like it?” “They didn’t say,” replied the waiter. “They were too busy putting the seeds in their pockets.”
Once there was a friendly rivalry between two composers of operas: Christoph Willibald Gluck and Niccolò Piccinni. In a contest, they were each commissioned to compose an opera based on the same play by Euripides. When the two operas were performed, Gluck’s was the greater success—unfortunately for Piccinni, on opening night his soprano was falling down drunk.
A visitor to the home of painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler made comments on several of Whistler’s paintings, finding fault with each one. Looking at Whistler’s latest painting, the visitor said that it was “not good.” Whistler responded, “You shouldn’t say it is not good. You should say you do not like it, and then, you know, you are perfectly safe. Now come and have something you do like—have some whiskey.”
H. Allen Smith was born in McLeansboro, Illinois, where his father had grown up. When his father had been a young man, McLeansboro had been the home of an undesirable element—rowdies who fought a lot and drank a lot. Mr. Smith once asked his father if he had been one of the town rowdies. “Hell, no,” his father replied. “I was a respectable citizen. But I could lick anybody my size, and I could outdrink all of them.”
Jackie Gleason was known for drinking heavily. Once a friend locked up his liquor cabinet to keep Jackie from getting loaded, but when he came home, he discovered that Jackie was drunk. Remarkably, even though the liquor cabinet was still locked, the booze containers were empty. (Jackie had used a screwdriver to remove the back of the liquor cabinet. After drinking the liquor, he screwed the back of the cabinet on again.)
Opera singer Risë Stevens was being driven to a performance when she noticed that the chauffeur was drunk and driving unsafely. Thinking quickly, she asked the chauffeur to stop to get her a hamburger, and after the chauffeur got out of the car, she jumped behind the steering wheel and drove off, leaving the chauffeur behind.
Archbishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, later to be Pope John XXIII, was a master diplomat. At a diplomatic reception in Paris, an inebriated guest wanted Archbishop Roncalli to talk about a controversial area of religion. Archbishop Roncalli answered, “I never discuss religion at cocktail parties.”
George Frideric Handel was a Lutheran, although early in his career he worked as an organist in a Calvinist church. The Calvinists may have been willing to hire Handel, despite his religion, because the previous organist, Johann Christoph Leporin, frequently showed up to work drunk.
The first date of composer Richard Wagner and his eventual first wife Christiane Wilhelmine “Minna” Planer was memorable; Wagner got drunk, then passed out on her couch.
Don Marquis once quit drinking for a month, then walked up to a bar and ordered a drink, saying, “I’ve conquered my goddamn will power.”
Ken Tynan once said of Greta Garbo, “What when drunk one sees in other women, one sees in Garbo sober.”
“A Nazarite is called a sinner because he deprived himself of wine.”—Rabbi Eliezer ha-Kappar.
“Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”—Oscar Wilde.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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