David Bruce: Mishaps Anecdotes

• While filming a scene in the movie Awakenings, Robin Williams’ character was required to restrain Robert De Niro’s character. Mr. Williams heard a loud pop, knew that he had accidentally broken Mr. De Niro’s nose, and started going, “Oh, no! Oh, God! Oh, Jesus!” Director Penny Marshall thought at first that he was overacting, but as soon as she saw the blood streaming down Mr. De Niro’s face, she realized what had happened. Mr. De Niro insisted on filming the scene nine more times, because his doctor wasn’t available yet, and he knew that his face was going to swell up and he wouldn’t be able to film for a week. Of course, Mr. De Niro was annoyed by the accident, but his nose had previously been broken, and Mr. Williams broke his nose in such a way that it was pushed back to where it belonged. The accident actually improved Mr. De Niro’s appearance.

• While performing Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung in the Vichy Opera House, Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence was determined to mount a live horse — something she had previously done to great effect at the Metropolitan Opera. However, the Vichy Opera House did not have its own stable, so an army horse with close-cropped tail and mane would have to play Grane. Because Grane must have a long, flowing tail and mane, an artificial tail and mane was used. At the performance, all seemed to be well. Grane swished its long, flowing tail around, and the scene seemed to be set for a magnificent departure from the stage. However, Ms. Lawrence heard laughter as she rode off — Grane had lost its artificial tail.

• Early in her career, dancer Ann Miller performed live on vaudeville bills featuring the Three Stooges. Once, the stage manager forgot to put down a rubber mat that protected the stage when the Three Stooges engaged in a pie-throwing sketch. When Ms. Miller came on the stage to dance, she slipped and fell into the orchestra pit. The Three Stooges thought this was funny, but Ms. Miller was upset and left the stage briefly before returning to dance. Afterward, the Three Stooges sent her flowers and congratulated her for acting so professionally by performing after the mishap.

• One of stand-up comedian Greg Dean’s students made the mistake of rehearsing her act silently instead of out loud, with the result that, as Mr. Dean had predicted, she forgot her act when she got up in front of a nightclub audience. Fortunately, she maintained a playful attitude and got a few laughs ad-libbing a few jokes about forgetting her act. When Mr. Dean yelled out a few words to remind her of the topic of one of her funniest bits, she got a laugh by saying to him, “Thanks, Greg, now I have to stay up here and actually do my show.”

• Pat Hutchins wrote a children’s book titled The Mona Lisa Mystery, in which someone smuggles the famous painting from the museum by wrapping it around a leg then wrapping a bandage over the painting. After the book was published, a child wrote her to say that the painting could not be smuggled out of the museum in that way — the Mona Lisais painted on wood. Ms. Hutchins did some extra research and discovered that the child was right.

• While Emma Albani was singing at a benefit night for herself at Covent Garden, an admirer threw a bouquet of flowers and a jewel case to her. Unfortunately, the jewel case struck her squarely on the forehead (greatly upsetting the gentleman who had thrown it), and Ms. Albani was forced to leave the stage. However, when she opened the jewel case and discovered that it contained a beautiful jewelled diadem, she was not angry with the gift giver.

• While filming Follow the Fleetin 1936, Fred Astaire suffered a mishap while dancing with Ginger Rogers. She was wearing a beaded gown, and the right sleeve hit Mr. Astaire’s head, dazing him. However, he continued dancing. Although they made 30 takes of the dance, the best take was the one in which Mr. Astaire carried on despite being dazed. (In the movie, you can see Mr. Astaire looking somewhat dazed, but you can’t see the sleeve hit him.)

• Coloratura soprano Lily Pons was a perfectionist. Before singing in an auditorium, she noticed that red velvet curtains hung at the back of the stage. Concerned that the curtains would absorb too much of the sound of her voice, she insisted that they be taken down. They were taken down, but unfortunately this revealed a large sign that was clearly visible as Ms. Pons sang during her concert: “RESTROOMS — THIS WAY.”

• Baseball manager Casey Stengel’s team was behind when an umpire wanted to call the game on account of darkness. Casey protested vigorously, saying, “Look, I’m sixty years old, and I can still see the ball!” To prove his point, he threw the baseball high into the air and attempted to catch it. The baseball smashed Casey’s nose, and the umpire ruled that it was too dark to play baseball.

• Mstislav Rostropovitch owns a Stradivari cello with a long scratch on a lower bout. Why hasn’t he had the scratch repaired? Because the scratch was made by a very important person. Napoleon Bonaparte had asked a previous owner for permission to play the cello, and as he was sitting down, one of his spurs made the scratch.

• Conductor Sir Georg Solti once accidentally stabbed his hand with his baton and had to leave a performance because he was bleeding so much. Fortunately, the orchestra and singers performed well as the opera continued without him.

• Wiring was a major problem in the old Metropolitan Opera, as wires ran this way and that. The wiring was also dangerous. Frederick Williams once laid down his flute on the stage apron. Suddenly there was a flash, and in its wake, a melted flute.

• In the midst of a ballet, a wigpiece worn by ballerina Karen Kain flew off and landed on stage. Because the wigpiece was small and grey, it looked like a mouse, causing the members of the corps de ballet great perturbation.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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