• Television personality Ed McMahon, who is perhaps best known as playing second banana to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, packed a lot of living into his full life. He kept busy, worked a lot, made a lot of money, and spent a lot of money. One thing he valued was good food. Other things he valued were good beer and other kinds of alcoholic beverages. Because he traveled a lot, he ran into the problem of finding in each town or city a good place to eat. He learned to ask three people—usually a cab driver or chauffeur and a bellhop and some other third person—this question: “What’s the best restaurant in town?” He said that almost always two of the three people agreed on a restaurant—that is where he ate. On the rare occasions when all three people disagreed about the best restaurant in town, Mr. McMahon went on a diet. By the way, while travelling to Copenhagen, he noticed that the cab he was in was a Mercedes-Benz. Then he noticed that all the cabs were Mercedes-Benzes. He asked the cab driver how he could buy such an expensive cab, and the cab driver replied, “I buy one cab. It’s for life. So I buy one that will last.” Also by the way, the young Mr. McMahon had a wonderful high school physics teacher named Ken Coward who made things both fun and educational. Sometimes he would do physics experiments; sometimes he would do magic tricks. He would then have his students figure out which involved legitimate science and which involved legerdemain. Ed remembered much later, “We were seldom right.”
• World-famous accompanist Gerald Moore detests background music, of which he writes, “I find it difficult to indulge in the process of thinking even at the best of times, but when this slime is being poured into my ears, thought or study or reading are quite impossible.” He once asked an American stewardess to turn off the background music during a flight. She did, but remarked, “Not musical, eh?” Of course, as an in-demand international accompanist, Mr. Moore frequently traveled. He once undertook a sea voyage to Dublin, Ireland, from Holyhead, Wales. He boarded in the evening, drank two large whiskeys, and slept soundly. The next morning, he told a steward, “That is the way to cross the Irish Sea. I slept undisturbed the whole night, unaware of any tossing and pitching, rock ’n’ roll.” The steward replied, “No, sir, you wouldn’t have felt much movement. You see, we haven’t cast off yet. It’s been too rough.”
• Artist James Montgomery Flagg was at one time famous for his Uncle Sam posters—for example, “I WANT YOUfor the U.S. ARMY. ENLIST NOW.” While traveling with his friend Elbert McGran Jackson, he noticed that they weren’t getting good rooms or good service. He asked Jack how he was signing the hotel register, and it turned out that Jack was signing his own name first and then signing Mr. Flagg’s name, using initials for his first and middle names. Mr. Flagg told him to reverse the order of the names and to use his (Mr. Flagg’s) full name. Suddenly, they began to get good rooms and good service. By the way, Jack found it hard to get up in the morning. One morning Mr. Flagg sent him this telegram: “Hotel on fire. Love and kisses, Richmond Fire Department.”
• Very early in her career, practically before she had a career, soprano Beverly Sills took her mother on a cruise on the ship De Grasse to Europe. Another passenger was stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, of whom Ms. Sills said, “A lovely, bright, witty gal, she was a joy to be with.” Ms. Sills and Ms. Lee did benefits on board the ship for the Seamen’s Pension Fund, and Ms. Lee told contributors, “If you pay to hear Beverly sing, I’ll let you stuff the dough down my bosom. She has her thing, I have mine.” Much later in Ms. Sills’ career, John Tooley, the general administrator of Covent Garden in London, asked her if she needed anything. Ms. Sills replied, “Yes, you can warm up the seat in the loo [bathroom]. It is the coldest thing I have ever put my backside on.”
• Violinist Jascha Heifetz and tenor John McCormack once sailed together on a ship to Monte Carlo. They got together in a cabin and had a fun time singing and playing music. Suddenly, they realized that it was dawn! Unfortunately, not everyone had had the fun time that they had had. Their neighbor complained to the room steward, “What the devil was going on all night? One gent caterwauling and another gent scraping a fiddle. I never got a wink of sleep.” The room steward told him, “That was Jascha Heifetz and John McCormack.” The irate man replied, “When I get home, I’m going to smash every d*mn record I own of either of them!”
• When she was a small girl, Joy Wallace Dickinson, a history columnist for The Orlando Sentinel (Florida), used to travel with her family from up north to central Florida. They always traveled by railroad because she came from a railroad family. At the time, people dressed up to travel, and her grandfather, George Nibloc Dickinson, a railroad engineer for the Pittsburgh and Erie line, wore a double-breasted suit. Her Grandfather Dickinson died of a heart attack; his last act on earth was to safely stop the train.
• Early aviator Katherine Stinson was known for keeping her airplane very clean. Was this because of a woman’s stereotypical concern with cleanliness? No. She explained, “It’s all right if your automobile goes wrong while you are driving it. You can get out … and tinker with it. But if your airplane breaks down, you can’t sit on a convenient cloud and tinker with that!”
• According to Michael Sellers, the son of British comic Peter Sellers, Henry Mancini, the composer of “Moon River,” liked to smoke weed, and he carried it with him when he traveled. Peter Sellers once asked him, “But what about Customs?” Mr. Mancini replied, “Who’s going to bust the man who wrote ‘Moon River’?”
• “Do you know why a Hummer is considered an off-road vehicle? Because you can’t afford gas to put it on the road.” — Jay Leno.
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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