David Bruce: Clothing Anecdotes

• Ruggero Leoncavallo, composer of Pagliacci, once was asked by Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany to compose an opera. He composed Der Roland von Berlin, and he went to the German court to deliver the score. Because the Kaiser was busy, Mr.Leoncavallo was asked to wait with a number of other people, all of whom were wearing full-dress military uniforms, while he was wearing his usual somber black clothing. Of course, he stood out, and many chamberlains who saw him and thought that he did not belong in the company of those officers asked if he was supposed to be there. Mr. Leoncavallo said, “I found in the end that it saved time to keep my invitation card constantly in my hand, as no sooner had I put it back in than I had to take it out again to satisfy some other bespangled official that the right place for me was not the servants’ hall.” Of course, this was annoying, but soon Mr. Leoncavallo got satisfaction. The Kaiser arrived, complimented his score, and invited him to lunch. Mr. Leoncavallo says about the officials, “As soon as the Kaiser had gone, they all crowded around me smiling, smirking, scraping, bowing, as if I had suddenly become a second God the Father Almighty.”

• Lucille Ball was the star of I Love Lucy, but co-star Vivian Vance was perhaps the funniest one off-screen. Tallulah Bankhead once guested on the show, and when Lucy said that she liked the sweater that Tallulah was wearing, Tallulah insisted on giving it to her, although Lucy pointed out that I Love Lucy was No. 1 in the ratings, and so she could afford to buy her own sweater. Vivian watched with interest as Tallulah insisted that Lucy take the sweater that she said she liked, and then Vivian said, “Tallulah, I love those pants.” By the way, Vivian had to gain weight in order to appear on I Love Lucy because Lucy, a former glamor model, wanted to be the prettiest one in the show. Lucy would call her up once a year and say, “Viv, dear, we start shooting in a couple of weeks. Start eating!”

• At a show in London, Roy Stride, lead singer of Scouting for Girls, sang the song “1+1=3,” which is about an unplanned pregnancy. The lyrics include the line “Take off your clothes and come to bed,” and when he sang the line, six males in the balcony stripped off their clothing and flung it onto the stage. Mr. Stride says, “I was nearly knocked out by a shoe.” He adds, “When I wrote the song, I honestly never considered fans would take the lyrics literally. Greg [Churchouse], our guitarist, says he suspected there might be some stripping. He blames me for being confronted by six bare male butts when he walked into our dressing room after the show. I was just glad the guys had come to collect their clothes. I was worried they’d go home naked.”

• On Groucho Marx’ You Bet Your Life TV quiz show, some of the guests were as entertaining as Groucho. For example, the Reverend James Whitcomb Broughter, a Baptist minister, told about getting dressed for a benefit. He had trouble tying his bowtie, so when the man who was going to take him to the banquet room showed up, he asked him if he knew how to tie it. The man did know, and he asked Reverend Broughter to lie down on the bed and then he tied the bowtie. Reverend Broughter asked, “Why did you make me lie down on the bed?” The man replied, “That’s the only way I can do it. I’m an undertaker.”

• Enrico Caruso and Frances Alda met on a ferryboat to travel together to and make some recordings in Camden, New Jersey. It was a rainy day, and Mr. Caruso pointed out to Ms. Alda, “You have no rubbers [rainy-day footwear] on.” Ms. Alda replied, “I don’t like to wear rubbers. I have pretty feet, and I’m proud of them. I’m a woman.” Mr. Caruso was still worried about her, and once they were in Camden, he took Ms. Alda to the best shoe store there and had the employees bring a large assortment of rainy-day footwear until Ms. Alda found a pair she liked. Only then did they make the recordings.

• English fans of punk rockers sometimes engaged in gobbing—spitting on punk rockers as they performed. Supposedly this was a compliment, although as you would expect often the punk rockers did not like it. English singer Honey Bane once performed a concert wearing a raincoat and holding an umbrella. After her performance, the raincoat and umbrella were drenched with saliva, but she was dry when she took off the protective clothing.

• One of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s masterpieces is the painting Madam Charpentier and Her Children. He dined often with the Charpentier family and even called himself the Charpentiers’ “artist-in-waiting.” Once, he showed up to dine but had forgotten to wear a jacket, which was the conventional clothing of the time. So that Mr. Renoir would not feel embarrassed, Georges Charpentier had the other male guests take off their jackets.

• People should be able to wear pretty much whatever they want to, as long as the clothing covers the essentials, but other people can be judgmental. Ani DiFranco started her career as a musician with a look that included a shaved head and big boots. Later, she decided she wanted hair and a pretty dress. But she remembers the first time she walked out onstage in a dress—she heard young women screaming, “Sellout!”

• Conductor Arturo Toscanini sometimes got very angry at his musicians. Often, he would break his baton in anger. Once, his baton would not break, so he took out his handkerchief and tried to tear it; however, it would not tear. Therefore, Mr. Toscanini took off his coat and tore it to shreds. Feeling much better, he continued the rehearsal.

• “It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.” — Henry David Thoreau


• “The finest clothing made is a person’s skin, but, of course, society demands something more than this.” — Mark Twain

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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