David Bruce: Alcohol Anecdotes

• Eric Carle, author and illustrator of many children’s books, remembers when some apples fermented in a wood, producing apples with alcohol. Two brown bears smelled the apples, and they enjoyed a feast — a feast that made them tipsy. Being tipsy, they did what bears —and lots of human beings — do. They took a nap to sleep it off. Soon, the human beings in the area learned about the tipsy bears, and a hunter realized that it would easy (but of course not sporting) to kill the two sleeping bears. However, someone had telephoned the police, who sent two police officers in a patrol car to keep an eye on the bears. The hunter arrived first and left his truck, carrying a gun to shoot the bears. Immediately after the hunter had gotten out of his truck, the police officers arrived. The hunter jumped back in his truck and drove off. The police officers kept an eye on the bears until they woke up, shook themselves, and safely wandered away.

• The Hasidim loved Israel. Rabbi Yohanan of Rachmistrivska once owned a bottle of wine that had been bottled in Israel, but he declined to drink the wine, “I do not know whether I will like this particular bottle of wine. Since I do not want, heaven forbid, to disparage something that comes from Eretz Israel, I would rather not drink the bottle.” Rabbi Avraham Hazan immigrated to Eretz Israel from Uman, and each year he would travel to Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New York). He always took a bottle of Israeli wine with him, and he always made sure it lasted him until he returned to Israel. Whenever he drank wine, he drank wine bottled from outside of Israel, but he put just a little of the Israeli wine in the glass so that the wine would have some of the sanctity of Eretz Israel.

• Tenor Jussi Bjoerling and conductor Nils Grevilius enjoyed having a drink together—and another drink, and another, and on and on. During one debauch, they traveled together to Stockholm, where to take a break from their drinking, they decided to go to the opera house and see whatever was being performed. They got to their seats and waited and waited, and were about to leave and get some more drinks when the opera house general manager came on stage and announced that that evening’s performance was being canceled because “tenor Jussi Bjoerling and conductor Nils Grevilius are missing.” A very surprised Mr. Bjoerling and Mr. Grevilius stood up and announced, “We’re here! We’re here!”

• Kingsley Amis had much experience with drinking way too much, and if any man was an expert on hangovers, he was. One of the things his excessive experience with excessive drinking taught him was to “not take an alkalizing agent such as bicarbonate of soda” when he had a hangover. One dreadful morning he took some bicarbonate of soda, which he chased with some hair of the dog: vodka. His companion decided to do an experiment: “Let’s see what’s happening in your stomach.” The companion poured what was left of the vodka into what was left of the bicarbonate of soda. Mr. Amis writes, “The mixture turned black and gave off smoke.”

• One of Frank Sinatra’s gifts to Sammy Davis, Jr., was an enormous gold Cartier watch. When Sammy knew that he was dying, he told his kids about the watch, “It goes with me.” As he had requested, he was buried with that memento of a great friendship. (As happens to many friends, Sammy and Frank sometimes got angry at each other. Once, Sammy got outrageously drunk and cursed Frank, who ignored the outburst. The next day, Sammy went to Frank to apologize, but Frank simply told him, “Look, we’ve all done exactly what you did last night, but if you can’t handle it, don’t do it. Now, what exactly are we going to do today?”

• The family of William Warren Woollcott, the older brother of famous drama critic Alexander Woollcott, was at times unconventional. During the time of Prohibition, when alcoholic beverages were forbidden, Billy Woollcott made his own beer. On special occasions, he would bring up an extra bottle and let his very young daughters have a little beer along with the adults. This beer was a special treat to them. Of course, their father was a good parent. He would sometimes tell his two youngest daughters, “Drink your milk. The one who doesn’t finish her milk won’t get any beer tonight.”

• Russian bass Fyodor Chaliapin enjoyed nights out on the town, and often the next morning his throat was totally unsuited for singing. By the time the curtain rose that evening, he was able to hit high and middle notes, but not the soft notes. Still, he was known for his pianissimonotes, even after a night of drinking. How did he do it? He opened his mouth, concentrated, and raised his hand as if guiding very low notes toward the heavens. Through his considerable acting ability, he was able to convince the audience that they were hearing very soft notes although he was making absolutely no sound.

• As usual, the dancers of the Robert Joffrey Ballet arrived on time for a performance at Greensboro, North Carolina. Not as usual, the crew of the Robert Joffrey Ballet went to Greensboro, SouthCarolina, instead. However, the show went on, and en route to their next performance, the dancers celebrated by filling the water cooler not with water, but with champagne.

• Harpo Marx once visited W.C. Fields, who showed him around his home. The pool table had a cushion because on nights when he couldn’t sleep in bed he would sleep on the pool table, and his cellar was stocked with hundreds of cases of different kinds of alcohol because, Mr. Fields explained, “Never can be sure Prohibition won’t come back, my boy.”

• A very popular tonic for women in the 1800s was Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Tonic for Female Problems. No wonder it was popular — it was 18 percent alcohol!

• Ethel Barrymore’s father, Maurice, enjoyed drinking to excess, and he once stated, “Staggering is a sign of strength. Weak men are carried home.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved





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