• During World War II, almost every weekend Walt Disney would take his children to an amusement park or some other entertainment. His younger daughter, Sharon, remembers, “There was a brass ring on the merry-go-round at Griffith Park, and you’d lean out as far as you could. If you got the brass ring, you got a free ride.” On one memorable, magical day, Sharon grabbed the brass ring over and over. She says, “I suspected something was wrong. I found out later that dad had bribed the kid who ran the ride to let me get it.” Walt was a kind man in many ways. An employee — an artist — fell ill and was unable to report to work for almost six months. Walt kept sending his paycheck to the artist’s home. His brother Roy was also generous. In Walt’s early days, before he became a major success and instead was struggling financially, Roy sensed that he needed monetary help. He sent Walt a blank check and a note, “Kid, I haven’t heard from you, but I just have a suspicion that you could use a little money. I am enclosing a check. Fill it in with any amount up to thirty dollars.” Walt filled it out for $30, which was quite a lot of money back in the early 1920s. In his early, struggling days, Walt once was close to closing a deal to do an educational film for a dentist for $500, but he was unable to meet him to close the deal. When the dentist asked Walt why they couldn’t meet right away, Walt replied, “I haven’t any shoes.” He had had them repaired at a shoemaker’s shop, but he couldn’t pick them up until he had the money to pay his bill. The dentist paid for the repair to Walt’s shoes, had the shoes delivered to Walt, and then the two men met and closed the deal.
• Zora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes were Watching God, was her own original person. She once took a nickel from the cup of a blind beggar, promising to pay it back but saying that she really needed the fare for the subway. A man once propositioned her on the elevator. She hit him hard, he fell on the floor, and when the elevator door opened, she walked away without looking back. As a creative person, she often lacked money. One day she was thrown out of her one-room house for non-payment of rent. She had a little money, but she decided to use it to buy new shoes because her old shoes resembled scraps. While she was in the shoe store, she received a telegram offering her a $200 advance for a book. She ran out of the shoe store wearing one old shoe and one new shoe in her hurry to get to a Western Union office and send a telegram accepting the offer.
• When Fred Smith was an undergraduate at Yale University, he wrote a paper for an economics class that proposed the overnight delivery service that became FedEx. The overnight delivery service would have its own planes, depots, posting stations, and delivery vans. His professor gave him a C and wrote, “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.” Mr. Smith started the company anyway, and like many or most beginning companies, it ran into financial difficulties. At one point, FedEx had only $5,000 in its checking account, and it had to pay a $24,000 jet fuel bill. Mr. Smith took the $5,000, flew to Las Vegas, played blackjack, and won $27,000. In 2012, FedEx was worth approximately $28 billion and Mr. Smith was worth approximately $2 billion.
• Vencenzo Lombardi greatly admired the tenor Enrico Caruso and early in Mr. Caruso’s career told conductor Leopoldo Mugnone that soon the tenor would be making 1,000 lire a night. Mr. Mugnone disagreed: “Nonsense! When Enrico Caruso makes 1,000 lire a night, I’ll be the pope!” Soon afterward, Mr. Caruso was making 1,000 lire a night, and Mr. Lombardi sought Mr. Mugnone. When he found him, Mr. Lombardi pretended to kneel and kiss the conductor’s feet. Mr. Mugnone exclaimed, “What the h*ll!” Mr. Lombardi said to him, “Haven’t you heard? Caruso is making 1,000 lire a night. You’re the pope!”
• An organ grinder once played music from Gioachino Rossini’s Barber of Sevilleunder the window of rival composer Fromental Halévy, who told him, “I will give you a Louis d’or if you go and play music from one of my operas under Rossini’s windows.” The organ grinder replied, “I cannot do that. Rossini has paid me two Louis d’or to play hismusic under yourwindows.” By the way, some of Mr. Rossini’s friends wanted to erect a statue of him. Told that the statue would cost approximately 20,000 liras, Mr. Rossini proposed, “Why don’t you give me 10,000 liras, and I will stand on the pedestal myself?”
• We should pay teachers a low wage. Let’s say $6 an hour. And let’s not pay them for preparation time. We’ll just pay for the hours they spend teaching. That would be perhaps five hours a day. So that will be $30 a day for each child in a teacher’s classroom. (After all, look at how much childcare costs these days!) Let’s say that teachers have 20 children in their classroom. That will be $600 a day. Teachers work only 180 days a year. That means that teachers who teach 20 children should make $108,000 a year. Sounds about right.
• Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury loved theater and produced several of his own plays. He did not make money doing this. When his wife was still alive, every few years he would say to her, “Is this the year we open the window and throw the money out?” She would ask, “You want to do another play?” After he replied, “Yeah,” she would say, “Open the window.” Mr. Bradbury says, “When I do a play, I throw the money out and it never comes back. And I don’t expect it to.”
• “Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.” – Helen Gurley Brown
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• Opera singer Nellie Melba once toured the back-blocks — the remotest part of Australia. In one town, her concert was sold out. Some of the leading citizens neglected to buy tickets, thinking that they had discovered a way to hear Ms. Melba’s concert for free. They used a ladder at the back of the hall to climb to the roof of the concert hall, where indeed they heard the concert for free. Unfortunately, the gardener discovered the ladder leading against the wall. Not wanting anyone to steal the ladder, he removed it and locked it up. After the concert, the town’s leading free-loaders waited for everyone to leave, and then they discovered that they were stuck on the roof. Fortunately, about 5 a.m. a police officer happened by and rescued them. Ms. Melba wrote in her autobiography, Melodies and Memories, “I can well believe that that policeman lived comfortably on blackmail for the rest of his life.” Another incident in the back-blocks involved a bill for some furniture. In honor of Ms. Melba, the hotel landlady ordered some fine furniture, which touched Ms. Melba. However, Ms. Melba was surprised to find the cost of the furniture added to her bill. Fortunately, her manager, John Lemmone, handled the situation. He said to the hotel landlady, “We shall be delighted to pay for the furniture, only of course if we do that, we shall take it away with us.” The hotel landlady replied, “But I want it myself.” Eventually, the hotel landlady concluded that if she wanted to keep the furniture she would have to pay for it.
• Like many people (cough, cough), Walt Disney liked a good, funny story, and if it weren’t true, so what? He used to tell a story about asking his young daughter, Diane, what girls her age would like to see at Disneyland, and she replied, “Boys.” She heard about that anecdote and said to him, “I didn’t say that!” He replied, “I know — but it’s cute!” He was a good father, and he was better at business than many people gave him credit for (although his brother, Roy, who was more cautious than Walt, deserves enormous credit for Disney profitability). For example, when Walt was planning to build Disney World in central Florida, the Disney organization had already bought thousands of acres for the theme park. A large parcel of land came on the market, and Walt said, “Buy it!” Roy wondered whether they should do that. Walt asked, “Roy, how would you like to own 12,000 acres around Disneyland right now?” Roy said, “Buy it!” One more thing shows Walt’s business sense. When times were hard, and the Disney organization was having to watch its expenses, Walt said, “I want a raise for certain men, my top animators; I want them to have higher salaries.” When someone objected, Walt said, “I can’t make pictures without those people. I can’t hire bookkeepers to draw pictures for me.”
• Early in his career, Bill Hanna of Hanna-Barbera cartoon fame, worked for Harman-Ising, which — of course — made cartoons. By his third year, he had some responsibility — he was the head of the inking and painting department — and he was making $37.50 per week. But then one of his bosses, Rudy Ising, hired his girlfriend to work for Mr. Hanna in a job with less responsibility — at $60 a week. Mr. Hanna got really angry, and he headed over to the Disney Studio to ask Walk Disney for a job. Mr. Disney listened to Mr. Hanna and said, “I’ll tell you, Bill, we already have a girl in our inking and painting department who’s doing a h*ll of a good job. I suggest that you go back and tell Rudy about your problem and I’ll bet that you get your money.” Mr. Hanna did go back, and he thinks that Mr. Disney telephoned Mr. Ising and talked to him because Mr. Ising immediately walked into his office and said, “Bill, you’re going to get your raise. From now on, you’ll be drawing sixty dollars a week.”
• Joseph Barbera’s wife, Sheila, came up with the idea to have Fred and Wilma Flintstone of the cartoon Flintstoneshave a baby. Mr. Barbera liked the idea and attended two days of meetings in which it was decided that the Flintstones should have a baby boy. Shortly afterward, he received a call from Ed Justin, who handled Hanna-Barbera merchandising in New York. Mr. Justin said, “I hear the Flintstones are having a baby.” Then he asked, “Boy or girl?” Hearing the answer, “It’s a boy! Fred, Jr. — a chip off the old rock,” Mr. Justin said, “That’s too bad. I’ve got the Vice President of Ideal Toy here, and the only dolls they’re doing are girls. We could have had a hell of a deal if it had been a girl.” Mr. Barbera immediately said, “It’s a girl. Her name is … Pebbles. A pebble off the old rock.” Mr. Barbera pointed out, “Some ideas develop after days of meetings. Others are born in the flash of a dollar sign set off by a single phone call.”
• Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s sidekick on The Tonight Show, worked for the American Family Publishers national sweepstakes, and pretty much everyone in the United States got a entry form, including Ed’s six-month-old adopted daughter, Katherine Mary. Ed really did give away millions of the company’s dollars. When politician Bob Dole got his entry form, he wrote Mr. McMahon, “As I am seriously considering running for President, I am prohibited by federal law from accepting contributions which exceed $1,000 per person. … However, Ed, I might suggest that you and your wife each contribute $1,000 and to make up the additional $9,998,000, ask 9,998 of your friends ….”
• Two of Carl Sandburg’s most famous poems are “Fog” and “Chicago.” He worked as a reporter, and while he was in Grant Park on his way to interview a judge, he saw fog rolling into the harbor. The judge kept him waiting, and as he waited, he wrote “Fog.” His poem “Chicago” won a $200 prize as the Best American Poem of the Year. Mr. Sandburg said that the cash prize would “just octuple our bank account.”