• Sam Levenson was a stand-up comedian who appeared several times on The Ed Sullivan Show, but a joke at a dinner that Mr. Sullivan chaired nearly ruined his TV career. After Mr. Sullivan’s introduction of him at the diner, Mr. Levenson said, “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Mr. Sullivan. There is an old legend that says that just before a child is born the angels kiss him and, says the legend, that on whatever part of him the angels kiss him will determine his particular talent on earth. If they kiss him on the head he will be an intellect; on the mouth an orator; on the hands an artisan, maybe a pianist. No one can prove exactly where Mr. Sullivan got kissed, but he sure makes a helluva chairman.” The audience liked the joke, but Mr. Sullivan did not. It was a year before Mr. Levenson appeared on his show again.
• On October 19, 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt had made a speech in Pittsburgh in which he promised to reduce government spending, but of course as President he greatly increased government spending. In his 1936 election campaign President Roosevelt was plagued by the use his political opponents were making of the speech, so he gave a copy of the speech to a ghostwriter, Judge Rosenman, and asked him to write a new speech “explaining” the old speech. However, after examining the old speech, Judge Rosenman told President Roosevelt, “Mr. President, the only thing you can say about that 1932 speech is to deny categorically that you ever made it.”
• Rev. M. Woolsey Stryker and two speakers were to dedicate a new church in Utica, New York. Because there were so many speakers, Rev. Stryker proposed that each limit himself to 20 minutes. The first speaker spoke for 30 minutes, but the second speaker spoke for 90 minutes. When it was his turn to speak, Rev. Stryker stood up, glared at the second speaker, then told the audience, “This congregation looks very much dedicated. So I will say nothing to you Uticans beyond suggesting that you all go home now and read that chapter in the New Testament which tells how Paul preached all night and Eutychus fell out of the window.”
• Winston Churchill found innovative ways of distracting other people’s attention from speeches he disagreed with. Once, while Hugh Todd Naylor Gaitskell was giving a speech on economic affairs, Mr. Churchill suddenly sat straight up, looked around him, went through all his pockets, then started searching the floor, all the time pretending not to notice that everyone’s attention was on him, not on Mr. Gaitskell. Finally, Mr. Churchill explained, “I was only looking for my jujube.” (A jujube is a piece of candy.)
• When he was Vice President, Walter F. Mondale used to tell a story about a woman being interviewed on the radio. She lived near Three Mile Island, and after being evacuated because of the disaster, she couldn’t wait to go back home. The interviewer asked her if she wasn’t afraid to go back. She replied, “No, not at all. The President was here the other day — if there was any danger, they would have sent the Vice President.” At this point, Vice President Mondale would tell the audience, “Well, here I am.”
• In 1976, Bob Dole was nominated to run for Vice President with Jerry Ford. Very quickly, he found himself making an acceptance speech on national TV. He thought his speech was pretty good, especially considering the limited amount of time he had to write it, but when he asked his mother how he had done, she replied, “You usually do better.”
• Irving Howe wrote an important book titled World of Our Fathersabout Eastern European Jews immigrating into the United States. At a question-and-answer session following one of his lectures, a woman in the audience criticized him for not titling the book World of Our Fathers and Mothers. He replied, “World of Our Fathersis a title; World of Our Fathers and Mothersis a speech.”
• Dr. Stephen S. Wise was once introduced in an African-American church by a minister who said, “I have the honor to introduce you to a man who is conceited to be America’s greatest orator.” When Dr. Wise related this story to his family later, they commented, “How well this minister knows you.”
• F.E. Smith, who later became Lord Birkenhead, was annoyed by a man who introduced him before his speech. The man talked on and on, and Mr. Smith grew angrier and angrier. When the man finally called on him for his address, Mr. Smith said, “It’s Grosvenor Square, and I’m going there right now.”
• In 1986, Russell Johnson, who had played the Professor on the TV series Gilligan’s Island, was invited to speak at Park College in Missouri. He got a kick out of the posters for his lecture: Underneath a picture of his face were the words, “See a realProfessor speak.”
• James Stuart (1885-1931) once read a long, boring speech in the House of Commons while he was Secretary of State for Scotland. A Member of Parliament shouted at him, “Speak up,” and he looked up and said, “Oh, I didn’t know anyone was listening.”
• Franklin P. Adams once attended a dinner after being promised that he would not have to speak. However, the toastmaster asked him if, after all, he would like to say a few words. Mr. Adams stood up, said “No,” and then sat down.
• When Lord Robert Cecil was elected to Parliament, he paused to deliver a yawn while giving his maiden speech. Benjamin Disraeli approved, saying, “He’ll do.”
• Hubert Humphrey was known for making very long speeches. Once he was asked to speak for only 12 minutes, and he said, “The last time I spoke for only 12 minutes was when I said hello to my mother.”
• In Parliament, A.P. Herbert made a very controversial first speech. Afterward, Winston Churchill congratulated him: “That wasn’t a maiden speech; it was a brazen hussy of a speech.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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