David Bruce: Work Anecdotes

• B.B. King got a lucky break early in his career in Memphis. Bluesman and radio hostSonny Boy Williamson made a mistake and agreed to sing at two different clubs at the same time, an obvious impossibility. Therefore, he decided to let B.B. sing at one of the clubs—the one that paid less. However, he knew that the owner of that club, Miss Annie, was tough and would not let B.B. play at her club unless he could bring in some customers. No problem. Sonny Boy knew how to make B.B. a celebrity in a hurry—he simply put B.B. on his radio show and had him play some music. Miss Annie and lots of potential customers were listening, and B.B. brought in a bunch of customers when he played at Miss Annie’s club. Another early job that B.B. had at about the same time was selling a popular all-purpose tonic called Pepticon. He played his guitar and sang and then sold Pepticon. For a long time, he wondered why Pepticon was so popular, and then he discovered that it was 12 percent alcohol.

• Chris Tucker, comedian and actor, once visited Ethiopia, where he talked with two nuns about their work running an orphanage. The two nuns admitted to growing discouraged occasionally. However, one nun had worked with Mother Teresa, and Mother Teresa’s words comforted them: “You know how an ocean gets filled up? One drop of rain at a time.” The nun identifies the lesson these words teach: “So you just keep doing what you can do.”

• In 2007, at age 81, actor Dick Van Dyke starred in the mystery movie If Wishes Were Horseson the Hallmark Channel. The movie also featured Barry, Mr. Van Dyke’s son, as well as Shane, Mr. Van Dyke’s grandson. Of course, Mr. Van Dyke has a very good reason for giving work to his young relatives. He points out, “I found that one way to see my children is to give them work.” Of course, members of the Van Dyke family do see each other outside of work, although family get-togethers happen mainly at holidays. As Mr. Van Dyke says, “They have very busy lives, these young people.”

• Henri Landwirth was very ambitious. He worked in a New York City hotel, and he studied hotel management. He once bribed a night accountant with a bottle of whiskey. Why? Not to get out of work. Instead, Mr. Landwirth wanted to do the night accountant’s work for him. Mr. Landwirth ended up learning every job in that New York City hotel. He became very wealthy, and he founded Give the Kids the World in 1985. This hotel and recreation complex in Florida gives a fun experience to kids with life-threatening illnesses and to the kids’ families.

• Actors Eli Wallach and his wife, Anne Jackson, once appeared on TV in a light comedy called “Lullaby” on the program titled Play of the Week. Afterward, TV mover-and-shaker David Susskind told them, “I think ‘Lullaby’ can be developed into a series. I’ll own a third, you’ll own a third, and the network will own a third. And if it’s successful, your children will never have to work again.” Eli and Anne discussed the offer, and Anne asked, “Why shouldn’t the children work?” The two decided they didn’t want to do the series.

• Mack Sennett made a lot of comedies in the silent-film days, including the famous Keystone Cops comedies. Mr. Sennett liked to keep an eye on his employees, so he had a tower built in the middle of his movie studio. That way, he could look out and see what everyone was doing. Mr. Sennett also loved taking baths, so he had a huge marble bathtub built in the tower. When he wasn’t spying on his employees or doing real work such as planning a comedy, he was often either taking a bath or getting a massage.

• Bob Hope made some very good movies and some very bad movies during his career. One of his very bad movies was a short titled Going Spanishwhich he made early in his career. Mr. Hope joked to columnist Walter Winchell about how bad the movie was: “When they catch [bank robber] John Dillinger, they’re going to make him sit through it twice.” Mr. Winchell printed the joke in his column, and Mr. Hope’s movie company fired him.

• Robin Williams found out that his TV sitcom Mork and Mindyhad been cancelled when he read about it in the trade newspapers—the studio did not even show him the courtesy of calling him on the telephone first before releasing the news to the media. At the time, he was working with fellow comedian Eric Idle in The Tale of the Frog Prince, and he says, “I was so angry and hurt—and I was dressed as a frog!”

• Behind the scenes of the hit sitcom Roseanne, a power struggle raged as star Roseanne wrestled control of the show away from executive producer Matt Williams. In the turmoil, many writers either quit or were fired, and one former writer for Roseanne paid for an advertisement in Varietythat announced that he was planning a vacation “in the relative peace and quiet of Beirut.”

• Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops (for popular, rather than pop, music), lived by the personal motto, “He who rests rots.” Long after most people retire, he was still at work bringing music to other people. Of course, one piece of advice that he gave other people was “to make your life’s work something that you really enjoy.”

• Caryll Householder, author of This War is the Passion, once worked as a cleaning lady, but unfortunately she was afraid of mice. Part of her job was to take dead mice out of traps, but rather than do that herself, she paid the cooks to do it. The bribes took up most of her salary, so she quit her job.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved



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


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


Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist: A Retelling, by David Bruce



David Bruce’s Smashwords Bookstore: Retellings of Classic Literature, Anecdote Collections, Discussion Guides for Teachers of Literature, Collections of Good Deed Accounts, etc. Some eBooks are free.


Buy the Paperback: 250 MUSIC ANECDOTES


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