In Memory: “I have long since stopped worrying about fitting in in any way. I’m an outsider for sure. That suits me fine. Solitude is like a drug for me. I crave it.”

Art of Quotation

“I have long since stopped worrying about fitting in in any way. I’m an outsider for sure. That suits me fine. Solitude is like a drug for me. I crave it.”

Scott Walker, 1943-2019, experimental singer-songwriter, musician


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David Bruce: Practical Jokes Anecdotes

• At Cornell, an architecture professor worried that a crack in the ceiling of his lecture room would someday develop into a fallen ceiling. One day, he walked into the lecture room and saw that his fear had been realized — a big hole was in the ceiling, and chunks of plaster were lying on the floor. The professor rushed out to get some maintenance workers. When he returned with them, they saw only the regular crack in the ceiling — no gaping hole and no chunks of plaster on the floor. Here’s what had happened. Hugh Troy, an architecture student at Cornell, knew of the professor’s worries, so he had created a painting of a hole and even made it three-dimensional by gluing bits of plaster to the edges of the “hole.” They fastened the painting to the ceiling at night, and put chunks of plaster on the floor, then after the professor had discovered that the ceiling had “fallen” and left to get help, they cleaned up the mess and removed the painting.

• While in Canada, Anna Russell was invited to live at a farm with her Aunt Alice — and Uncle Ern, whom she had never met. Arriving at the farm, she discovered that Aunt Alice was gone, but she had a nice talk with a man who said he was her gardener. He gave her a lecture on plants and keeping a compost pile, and he certainly knew a lot about gardening. When Ms. Russell asked how long he had been working for her Aunt Alice, he replied, “Man and boy, fifty year. She be a right fine lady to work for.” However, Ms. Russell was shocked when her Aunt Alice came home and gave the gardener a kiss. The mystery was explained when Aunt Alice said, “Hello, Ern,” then introduced Ms. Russell to her practical joker of a husband.

• In the musical Dreamgirlsis a scene in which the actors and actresses pretend to be playing musical instruments. One actress whom Derryl Yeager disliked did not want to mess up her lipstick, so she always put the mouthpiece of her French horn not on her lips, but on her nose, reasoning that the audience was far enough away that they wouldn’t notice. Mr. Yeager decided to play a practical joke on the actress, so he filled up the mouthpiece of the French horn with toothpaste. The actress didn’t notice the toothpaste until she pulled the French horn away from her nose — and suddenly a string of white goo appeared dangling between the French horn and her nose.

• Gladys Cooper once wrecked a theatrical performance with a series of practical jokes. One actor lit an exploding cigar. The actresses who were supposed to eat cookies on stage were given cookies with flannel inside them. An actress who was supposed to eat an apple discovered that the apple was made of soap. Actor Gerald du Maurier witnessed these practical jokes and worried that he would be the next victim. His character was given a parcel on stage, and he thought that when he opened the parcel, something might fly out. Relieved to discover that the parcel was not booby-trapped, he sat down on a cushioned chair — which was rigged to emit a series of squeaks.

• Lee Greenway, a makeup man on The Andy Griffith Show, was a practical joker. An extra once came in for his makeup job at the beginning of the week, and Mr. Greenway asked him to remove his left shoe, then he put on the extra’s makeup. The next day, the extra again came in for his makeup job, and Mr. Greenway said, “Forgot to take your shoe off.” After the extra took off his left shoe, Mr. Greenway put on his makeup. The following day, the extra came in for his makeup job, and he started to take off his left shoe, but Mr. Greenway said, “No, no, this is Wednesday. We don’t take our shoe off on Wednesday.”

• Leo Slezak knew an operatic tenor who continually boasted of his prowess in billiards, so Mr. Slezak decided to play a joke on him. He knew a professional billiards player by the name of Pfeiler and arranged to have Mr. Pfeiler play billiards with the tenor, who had never heard of Mr. Pfeiler. In the game, Mr. Pfeiler allowed the tenor to get ahead, then he prepared to dazzle the tenor with brilliance. As he was shooting ball after ball into the pockets, a waiter entered the room and told the tenor that Mr. Pfeiler had said for him to hold the tenor’s cue stick until the game was over.

• Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote the screenplay for Wuthering Heights, one of critic Alexander Woollcott’s favorite books. Mr. Woollcott invited Mr. Hecht and Mr. MacArthur to his island, where he hoped to find out details of their screenplay. Knowing how snoopy Mr. Woollcott was, Mr. Hecht and Mr. MacArthur deliberately faked pages of their screenplay and left them out for Mr. Woollcott to find — the pages portrayed Heathcliff as a Wild West cowboy with six-shooters.

• In an episode of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Maynard G. Krebs, played by Bob Denver, jumps into a swimming pool. The scene was scheduled to be shot in the morning, but it kept being delayed until afternoon. When he finally jumped into the swimming pool, Mr. Denver found out why. The crew had filled the pool with ice cubes and had to wait until they melted so Mr. Denver would not know how cold the water was until he jumped in.

• At the Metropolitan Opera, tenor Leo Slezak had just finished performing in Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Armide. He saw an old, distinguished gentleman standing nearby, so he pushed him onto the stage, pointed to him, then bowed. Afterward, reporters asked him whom the old gentleman had been, and Mr. Slezak told them that it had been Gluck himself. The reporters printed the story, not knowing that Gluck had died in 1787.

• In his book The Compleat Practical Joker, H. Allen Smith tells about Brian G. Hughes, a manufacturer in Manhattan who used to go into a bar on a rainy day and purposely leave his umbrella at the bar so it would be stolen. Then he would find himself a good seat and wait for the thief to go out into the rain and open the umbrella — from which would fall confetti and streamers reading “This umbrella stolen from Brian G. Hughes.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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