David Bruce: Work Anecdotes

• In April of 1960, a blizzard hit Cincinnati. Young Suzanne Farrell and her mother still made it to an audition for the National Ballet of Canada. However, a chilly journey that lasted over three hours and left no time to Suzanne to warm up took its toll on her and she did not dance well. Still, she says, she danced nowhere near as badly as the National Ballet of Canada told her mother she did. Suzanne says, “I was absolutely crushed. I was ready to give up ballet at fourteen. Then I thought it over, and decided, well, I didn’t like that company very much anyway.” The very next month New York City Ballet dancer Diana Adams discovered her, and Suzanne received a Ford Foundation Scholarship to study at the School of American Ballet. Of course, Suzanne became a superstar of ballet. By the way, in 1961 a representative of the National Ballet of Canada saw Suzanne taking class and said, “Should you decide to join us ….” Suzanne did not let the representative finish: “Sorry, I have something better to do.”

• Dodger player Gene Hermanski once thought he was in big trouble, but fortunately was not. The year was 1948, and he had dropped a fly ball that lost a game for the Dodgers. Dodger president Branch Rickey called him in for a meeting in his office. All that day and night, Mr. Hermanski thought that he was being traded or fired. However, in 1948, baseball owners agreed to give players a minimum salary of $5,000, and when Hermanski showed up for the meeting, Mr. Rickey called his secretary into the office: “Come in here. This boy is under the minimum, so we’ve got to raise him a thousand dollars.”

• Director Mike Nichols worked at a Howard Johnson’s in his youth, but he was fired when a customer what the ice cream flavor of the month was, and Mr. Nichols answered, “Chicken.” He also once worked as a filing clerk, a job he hated so much that he excused himself to go the men’s room and never came back. Like many brilliant people, Mr. Nichols was bullied in school. After he had become rich and famous, he met the man who had bullied him earlier. The man mentioned that he was selling cars for a living, and Mr. Nichols replied, “Oh, I am so glad.”

• Baseball player Colter Bean was walking to Legends Field in Tampa. Suddenly, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner came out and started yelling at some kids riding in golf carts. His point was that the carts were to be used to haul baseball players around so they didn’t have to walk. The carts weren’t supposed to be used for joy rides by young employees. Mr. Steinbrenner even fired one of the kids. Mr. Bean felt sorry for the kid, but the kid said, “Don’t worry about it. This is the fifth time he’s fired me this week.”

• Art Linkletter knows about many, many funny happenings in families. For example, one small girl spent a lot of time watching workmen as they repaired the road in front of her house. Her grandmother, who was babysitting her, worried that she might annoy the workmen, so she said, “You shouldn’t be out there bothering those workmen, dear.” The small girl replied, “Oh, that’s all right, Grandma. I’m intimate with only one of them.”

• Benny Goodman was like Fred Astaire—both wanted to be great, not good, and both were willing to put in the necessary number of hours to avoid being merely good. (Being good enough is not good enough for truly gifted people.) Frank Sinatra—who also put in the necessary hours to be great—once asked Mr. Goodman why he was constantly playing the clarinet. Mr. Goodman replied, “Because if I’m not great, I’m good.”

• Joan Rivers was serious about getting work when she was a struggling young comedian. She once crawled on the floor with a rose in her mouth—a gift to the secretary of a booking agent. She would sometimes write in the appointment book of a secretary to a booking agent: “This is your last chance: get Molinsky [her real name] a job or you’ll be wearing cement booties.”

• Animated films, even short ones, can take years to complete. Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit, paid actor Peter Sallis to do voice work (he is the voice of Wallace) on the half-hour animated film A Grand Day Out. Mr. Park says, “Seven years later, I phoned to tell him I had finally made the film, and he had no idea who I was.”

• Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline, can write almost anywhere. When his father died, he took a plane to England, and he started writing during the trip. As the plane was beginning to land, his daughter told him, “Dad, you have to put that away now.” He replied, “I don’t want to stop writing—I have to find out what happens!”

• At the Haymarket Theatre, an old man called Bibby worked as the stage door keeper, but a better employee for the position should have been found. One night, the play was running late, so Bibby, who was tired of waiting, walked on stage, gave the keys to the lead actor, and told him to lock up when the play was over.

• At the premiere of the movie Sylvia Scarlett, audience reaction was so poor that director George Cukor and star Katherine Hepburn told producer Pandro Berman that they would make another movie for him for free. Mr. Berman turned them down, saying, “I don’t want either of you ever to work for me again.”

• A man once complained to Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, “God created the world in six days—and look, it’s ugly!” The good Rabbi asked the man if he could do a better job than God. The man replied that yes, he could. The good rabbi then said, “What are you waiting for? Start working—right now!”

• Plácido Domingo occasionally runs into a problem as he stands offstage trying to get into the proper state of mind to perform an opera. As he tries to get into the character of someone like Otello, people backstage will say “Ciao, Plácido” to him as if he were doing nothing important.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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