While touring the Philippines, dancer Anna Pavlova and assistant ballet master Pianowski had an argument about Poland, which resulted in Mr. Pianowski becoming so angry that he broke his gold-headed walking stick across his knee and threw away the pieces. Later, the two made up, but the broken walking stick bothered Ms. Pavlova, so she asked her music director, Theodore Stier, to find a walking stick exactly like the one Mr. Pianowski had broken. Nine months later, in Nice, France, Mr. Stier found one. Ms. Pavlova purchased it and presented it to Mr. Pianowski, who at first thought the walking stick was a miracle.
B movie actor Bruce Campbell, star of the Evil Dead movies, once worked with craft service worker Ron Webber. A craft service worker fixes the coffee, makes sure food is available for actors and crew — and cleans up horse droppings! Mr. Campbell discovered that long ago Mr. Webber had a bit part on TV’s Lost in Space in which he had lifted a man over his head. As a surprise, Mr. Campbell located a videotape of the episode and showed it to everyone on the set, then he gave the videotape to a very happy Mr. Webber, who said, “Gonna show this to the grandkids.”
Harold Lloyd’s silent-film persona was of a seemingly ordinary man who was capable of great daring when necessary. On camera, Mr. Lloyd wore horned-rimmed eyeglasses without lenses (so that light would not reflect off them). When the glasses broke, he tried to get them fixed, but the shopkeeper could not repair them. Therefore, the shopkeeper wrote to the distributor in New York. Out of gratitude for the vast amounts of positive publicity that Mr. Lloyd’s comedies had given to the horned-rimmed glasses, the manufacturer sent him 28 free pairs.
On New Year’s Eve of 1974, a press conference was held to announce that Jim “Catfish” Hunter would start pitching as a member of the New York Yankees. Of course, as a star major league pitcher, Catfish had signed a big contract to play for the Yankees — over the next five years, the Yankees would pay him almost $4 million. A reporter quickly figured out that Catfish would earn approximately $19,331.25 for each game he pitched. At the press conference, the Mayor of New York City gave Catfish a gift: a new fishing pole. It cost $13.21.
Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek made the best miscoscopes of his time, and he was the first person to see bacteria, red blood cells, and sperm cells. After Mr. Van Leeuwenhoek died, he left 26 of his microscopes to the group of scientists known as the Royal Society of London. Previous to his death, he had guarded his microscopes carefully, seldom giving one away and even declining to let other scientists look at his best microscopes.
When figure skater Dorothy Hamill was 11 years old — in the days before teenagers got their noses pierced as a fashion statement — her friends gave her 13 pairs of earrings. A competition was coming up, and her parents told her that if she won the competition, she could get both ears pierced. However, if she finished second, she could get only one ear pierced, and if she finished third, she could get only her nose pierced.
Bass singer Feodor Chaliapin once spent the night with a young woman, and the next morning he said, “I shall give you tickets for the opera this evening.” Hinting for a different kind of gift, the woman told him that the opera tickets would be of no use to her as she was poor and hungry. Mr. Chaliapin replied, “If you wanted bread, you should spent the night with a baker.”
A few years after Martina Navratilova defected from Czechoslovakia to the United States, her parents moved to Dallas, Texas, and tried to adapt to American life. However, they grew homesick for their home country, language, and culture, so they moved back to Czechoslovakia. Martina gave them $50,000 so they could buy a very nice home and 40 apple trees.
Alicia Alonso was born in Cuba, but her grandfather was from Spain. When she was seven years old, Alicia and her family visited Spain. Her grandfather asked them for a present — to bring him back a piece of Spain. Therefore, Alicia and her sister learned some Spanish folk dances which they performed for him when they returned to Cuba.
Early in the careers of country comedy duo Homer and Jethro, work (and pay) was hard to get, and consequently, food was hard to get. During this period of poverty, Jethro had a birthday, and Homer bought him a present with the little bit of money he had — a hot dog and a Coke. The birthday present was much appreciated.
The best friend of R.L. Stine, author of the Fear Street and Goosebumps books, is Joe Arthur, who is known for his absolutely inappropriate but always funny gifts. When Mr. Stein’s son Matt was born, Mr. Arthur sent him a baby present — a very heavy shot put that cost almost $100 to mail.
Maestro Arturo Toscanini once gave each member of his symphony orchestra a gold medal showing a likeness of himself. The members were very happy to get the medals, and many gave them to their wives, who attached the medals to bracelets and wore them proudly.
Jazz great Duke Ellington loved his mother and bought her expensive gifts — a fur coat, strings of pearls, a fancy limousine complete with chauffeur. Whenever she protested his extravagance, he would tell her, “If you don’t take these things, I won’t work.”
Elise Ray, a member of the United States women’s gymnastics team at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, takes to meets with her a gift she received from Magnificent Seven member Dominique Dawes — a Cookie Monster doll.
When Jennifer Capriati was a young tennis player, her father, Stefano, often gave her gifts. For example, he would give her a gift if she lost a tennis tournament — after all, he thought, winning is its own reward.
After Anna Pavlova had danced her last performance in Sydney, Australia, a young girl presented her with a boomerang, then said, “The boomerang comes back, and we hope you’ll come back, too.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
FUNNIEST PEOPLE IN DANCE (PAPERBACK)