David Bruce: Money Anecdotes

• 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.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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John Ford’s The Broken Heart: A Retelling, by David Bruce

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William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure:A Retelling in Prose, by David Bruce

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