David Bruce: Telegram Anecdotes

• Comic writer Robert Benchley was frequently late in delivering his writing, but he always took the time to make up some excuse for why it was late. Once, he used the excuse that his mother was ill and he had to leave town to stay with her. Unfortunately, Art Shields, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, found out that Mr. Benchley was still in town. Mr. Benchley then swung into action, sending telegrams to his friends around the country and asking them to send telegrams in his name to Mr. Shields. Telegrams arrived saying that Mr. Benchley was in Hollywood making a movie with Greta Garbo, in Sante Fe becoming a member of the Navajo Indian tribe, in Maine working as a guide for a group of hunters, etc. Eventually, Mr. Shields sent Mr. Benchley a telegram: “I GATHER YOU HAVENT DONE THE PIECE.”

• Harold Ross, editor of The New Yorker, once wanted to go the theater with Marc Connelly, the playwright. Therefore, Mr. Ross broke a previous dinner engagement he had made with critic Alexander Woollcott — but without explaining why. Unfortunately, Mr. Ross and Mr. Connelly dined at the Algonquin Hotel — where they were seen by Mr. Woollcott, who was insulted. Later that night, Mr. Woollcott received this telegram: “DEAR ALECK, I FIND MYSELF IN A BIT OF A JAM. IF ANYONE ASKS YOU WHERE I WAS TONIGHT WOULD YOU MIND SAYING I WAS WITH YOU? [signed] ROSS.”

• After Igor Stravinsky scored a notable success with his Scènes de Balletin the Broadway production Seven Lively Arts, impresario Billy Rose sent him this telegram: “YOUR MUSIC GREAT SUCCESS. COULD BE SENSATIONAL SUCCESS IF YOU WOULD AUTHORIZE ROBERT RUSSELL BENNETT TO RETOUCH THE ORCHESTRATION. BENNETT ORCHESTRATES EVEN THE WORKS OF COLE PORTER.” Mr. Stravinsky sent this telegram in reply: “SATISFIED WITH GREAT SUCCESS.”

• During an American tour in 1878, opera impresario Colonel James H. Mapleson needed a second tenor, so he sent a telegram back to England. Unfortunately, the telegram was misinterpreted, and soon two tenors arrived in New York harbor. One tenor knelt on the dock and prayed to God, thanking Him for his safe arrival. This was the tenor that Colonel Mapleson sent back to England to sing in an opera for which he had already been announced.

• In the old days, telegrams almost always brought bad news. The parents of choreographer Léonide Massine once received a telegram telling them that their son Konstantin had been killed in a hunting accident. His mother read the message, stared at it, then told the telegraph boy, “This isn’t for us. You’ve made a mistake. Take it away.” The telegraph boy assured her that there was no mistake, and she began to cry.

• In Blackbirds of 1928, the great dancer Bill Robinson, aka Mr. Bojangles, performed his famous stair dance on Broadway. After the Broadway run, he declined to go on the road with the show and was replaced by Eddie Rector. One day, Mr. Rector received a telegram from Mr. Bojangles: “DO MY STAIR DANCE AND YOU DIE.”

• An accident on stage resulted in the amputation of one of Sarah Bernhardt’s legs. Shortly after the amputation, she received an telegram offering her $100,000 if she would allow her leg to be put on display at the Pan-American Exhibition in San Francisco. She sent back this telegram: “WHICH LEG?”

• Professor Charles Townsend Copeland once promised Maxwell Perkins to write his memoirs, but when Mr. Perkins telegraphed him that he would come to Boston to pick up the first few chapters, Professor Copeland telegraphed back that they weren’t started yet, so “COME UP EIGHT YEARS FROM NOW.”

• As a young man, Wilson Mizner spent money very quickly and often sent telegrams asking his mother for money. His mother grew tired of the telegrams asking for monetary assistance and once replied to one of her son’s many requests by sending him this message: “I DID NOT RECEIVE YOUR TELEGRAM.”

• Donald Ogden Stewart became anti-Nazi early. In the mid-1930s, when he heard that a friend was sailing to Europe on a German steamer, he was outraged. He threatened that if the friend insisted on taking the German steamer, he would send a radiogram to the ship: “NEVER MIND GOERING. GET H!”

• While acting in the stage play Brouhaha, Peter Sellers danced a waltz right off the stage and into the orchestra pit, bruising himself badly. Comedian Spike Milligan sent him a telegram, asking, “ARE YOU A MEMBER OF THE MUSICIANS’ UNION?”

• Charles Frohman once produced an English comedy at the Empire Theater in New York. The author of the play, not wishing to wait until the reviews came out, sent him this telegram on opening night: “HOW’S IT GOING?” Mr. Frohman cabled back: “IT’S GONE.”

• An actor was appearing in a play, and he wanted VIPs in the audience, so he telegrammed many, many people announcing his appearance. Only one person — J. M. Barrie, author of “Peter Pan” — sent a telegram in reply: “DEAR SIR: THANKS FOR THE WARNING.”

• Florenz Ziegfeld was profligate with money. Sometimes he would have an idea for publicity and send a 1000-word telegram to his press agent, only to announce at the end of the telegram that the idea was bad and to forget about it.

• Actor Patrick Macnee once this telegram inviting him to star in a production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream: “DOING A PRODUCTION OF ‘THE DREAM.’ HEAR YOU’VE BECOME A FAT LUSH. LOSE WEIGHT AND YOU’RE IN.”

• When comedian Morey Amsterdam appeared on the Ed Sullivan Showfor the first time, using his cello as a comic prop, his father — a professional cellist — telegraphed him: “YOUR CELLO IS OUT OF TUNE.”

• The opening-night telegram is a tradition of the theater. Dorothy Parker once sent this telegram to the actress Uta Hagen: “A HAND ON YOUR OPENING, AND MAY YOUR PARTS GROW BIGGER.”

• Fred Astaire danced in many movies with Ginger Rogers. When Ms. Rogers won the Oscar for her role in Kitty Foyle, Mr. Astaire sent her a very short telegram: “OUCH.”

• During World War I, Walter Elliot received a telegram, which asked, “WILL YOU STAND FOR PARLIAMENT?” He sent back this telegram: “YES! WHICH SIDE?”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved



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