• Comedian Red Skelton sometimes did not give enough credit to his writers, although he did pay them well. On The Tonight Show, host Jack Parr asked him where he got his jokes. Red replied, “All my jokes are put in my head by the voice of God.” His writers asked Red why he had not given them credit. Red replied, “You’re just sore because I gave God top billing.” The writers figured that if God was going to get top billing, He had better work for it, so they gave Red the script for his next show: fifty blank pages. They also gave him this note: “Dear Red: Please have God fill in the empty pages. Thanks. Your Writers.” By the way, maybe God did deserve some credit for putting jokes into Red’s head. Red once fell very ill and needed an operation. He was wheeled into the operating room, and the surgeons found this note written on a piece of tape on his chest: “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL CHRISTMAS.” By the way, when Red’s movie Half a Hero turned to be very bad, Red complained, “They were afraid to show it at Grauman’s Chinese Theater for fear the footprints would get up and walk away.”
• Artist James Montgomery Flagg painted Mark Twain’s portrait although at first Mr. Twain said that he would “rather have smallpox than sit for his picture.” Of course, Mr. Twain told funny stories during his sittings and at times Mr. Flagg could not paint because he was laughing so hard. Mr. Flagg remembers that once Mr. Twain cussed softly and then said, “My wife cusses, too—not the same words.Shesays ‘Sugar!’ and the Recording Angel will give her just as black marks as he does me!” One of Mr. Twain’s eccentricities was to spread his mail in a long line on the floor. He would walk down the line and choose the letters that he wanted to read. In his old age, Mr. Twain always wore white suits. He told Mr. Flagg, “I don’t like to be conspicuous, but I do like to be the most noticeable person!” Mr. Twain and his friend William Dean Howells once attended a performance by singer Adelina Patti. Mr. Howells asked him what he thought of Ms. Patti, and Mr. Twain replied, “I would rather sleep with that woman stark naked than with General Grant in full uniform.”
• Kathryn Stockett wrote the novel The Help, which was a major success both as a book and as a movie. The book was rejected — and rewritten — many times before an agent read it and agreed to try to sell it to a publisher. Ms. Stockett remembers meeting published authors who advised her, “Just keep at it. I received fourteen rejections before I finally got an agent. Fourteen!How many have you gotten?” Unfortunately, the answer was 55 — and counting. She did not give up. Even while pregnant in the hospital, she was working on doing research to incorporate in her book to make it better. A nurse told her, “Put the book down, you nut job — you’re crowning!” Finally, after 60 rejections and five years of writing and rewriting, she got an agent: Susan Ramer. Three weeks later, Ms. Ramer sold The Help.
• At times, Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of the classic The Scarlet Letter, was short of money. During one such time, his lawyer friend George Hilliard collected money from several friends and fans of Mr. Hawthorne. When Mr. Hilliard gave him the money, he said it was a payment on “the debt we owe you for what you have done for American Literature.” Later, Mr. Hawthorne got a job as a diplomat in Liverpool, England, and was much more flush with money. He was charitable. As a diplomat, he ran into many Americans and helped them with loans that were usually not repaid. When several American sailors were shipwrecked in the Atlantic Ocean, he used his own money to help them.
• Neil Gaiman, who wrote Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witchwith Terry Pratchett, says about his co-author, “Terry is that rarity, the kind of author who likes Writing, not Having Written, or Being an Author, but the actual sitting there and making things up in front of a screen.” Mr. Pratchett was working as a press officer while he wrote his first novel, and each night he wrote 400 words. He needed to write 300 words to finish his first novel, and after he had written the 300 words, he put another sheet of paper in his typewriter (in the days before screens) and wrote 100 words of his second novel.
• Early in her adult life, Ruth Rendell, who also writes using the pen name Barbara Vine, had a job as a reporter for the Chigwell Times. She was fired after she wrote an article about a local tennis club’s dinner without actually attending the dinner—and therefore did not know that the speaker had died while giving his speech.As an author, she writes often about death and murderers, but says, “I’ve never met a murderer as far as I know. I would hate to. It’s just not necessary.” By the way, she married Don Rendell, her former boss at the Chigwell Times.
• Hugh Troy was a noted practical joker. He once held a party for his friend Stephen Potter, author of Gamesmanship. He invited many guests, and each of them brought a Potter book for Mr. Potter to sign, but all of the books were by other authors who had Potter for their last name. At another of his parties in which an author was the guest of honor, Mr. Troy’s guests all brought a copy of the author’s book to sign, but when the guests left the party, they left behind piles of the autographed books.
• Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote: Part 1and Don Quixote: Part 2, with 10 years passing in between the books. In fact, he might not have ever written Don Quixote: Part 2if another writer had not made him angry by writing his own Don Quixote: Part 2first.
• “I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.” — Steven Wright.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
THE TROJAN WAR
SHAKESPEARE: 38 PLAYS
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE’S COMPLETE PLAYS: RETELLINGS