• The great black dancer Bill Robinson, aka Mr. Bojangles, fought prejudice. He and his wife were on a train going from Chicago to St. Louis when they went to the dining car to eat. To avoid trouble, they usually waited until all the white people had eaten, but this time they knew that the dining car was going to be dropped off early. There was one white man still in the dining car, so they asked if he would mind if they ate in the dining car. He didn’t, so they began to seat themselves at a table. The steward said, “This table is reserved,” and refused to let them be seated. Mr. Bojangles was furious and pulled out a gun. The train conductor telegraphed down the line that a madman with a gun was in the dining car. Fortunately, Mr. Bojangles was friends with the police in that town and so was not arrested — also, he had gotten rid of the gun before the police showed up. In St. Louis, he made a complaint against the steward to the railroad manager, who said he would fire the steward. However, Mr. Bojangles didn’t want the man to lose his job, so he said, “I’m playing at the Orpheum Theater. If he wants to come down and apologize to me, I won’t force this charge against him.” The steward did apologize and saved his job.
• It pays to have a script supervisor on a television series. At a story conference for the episode “The Twizzle” on The Dick Van Dyke Show, the principals of the show were having a hard time figuring out what was wrong with a scene, so they met in the commissary later, came up with several ideas, and figured out how to fix it. Series creator Carl Reiner then asked, “My God, is anybody getting this down?” Fortunately, script supervisor Marge Mullen wrote the ideas down on a napkin, then typed them up later. Ms. Mullen also came up with the “SOS” notebook. Often, people would have good ideas for the series, but they wouldn’t fit the particular episode being worked on. Ms. Mullen wrote down the ideas and kept them in her “SOS — Some Other Show” notebook. When people became stuck for ideas, she used the SOS notebook as a source of ideas.
• Hollywood screenwriter Ben Hecht found it hard to do his job because he kept being interrupted and forced to attend story conferences with Sam Goldwyn. To solve his problem, he convinced Mr. Goldwyn to hire a collaborator for him, and he picked out Charles Lederer to work with. Thereafter, when Mr. Goldwyn called Mr. Hecht to a story conference, Mr. Hecht told Mr. Lederer exactly what to do — Mr. Lederer was to stretch out on a sofa in the conference room and go to sleep. This unnerved Mr. Goldwyn, but Mr. Hecht pointed out that under union rules, his collaborator had to attend story conferences with him. Soon, Mr. Goldwyn stopped forcing Mr. Hecht to attend story conferences, and Mr. Hecht was able to get some writing done.
• After Rudolf Nureyev defected to the West from the Soviet Union, he began to dance with Margot Fonteyn. At first, Ms. Fonteyn resisted the idea. She was much older than Mr. Nureyev and felt, “It would be like mutton dancing with lamb.” However, she and her husband discussed the idea of the dance partnership. They decided that Mr. Nureyev would be the next great sensation in ballet and for the benefit of her career, Ms. Fonteyn decided to dance with him. Despite the practical nature of her decision, it was a wise one, and the two dancers blossomed artistically together.
• The St. Louis Cardinals, aka the Gas House Gang, once faced a poor-pitching team whose starting pitcher walked four Cardinals in a row before being yanked. The next pitcher also fared poorly, walking two Cardinals and hitting two more Cardinals with balls. Batting ninth for the Cardinals was pitcher Dizzy Dean, who hit a weak grounder back to the pitcher, who misfielded the ball, allowing Dizzy to reach first safely. At first base, Dizzy complained, “A fine team I’m playing on. It isn’t enough that I do the pitching, I have to do the hitting, too.”
• Robert Benchley’s first secretary was Charles MacGregor, one of whose jobs was to get Mr. Benchley out of bed. This he did in various ways, such as walking into Mr. Benchley’s bedroom and saying, “The men are here for the trunks.” This news awoke Mr. Benchley immediately, and by the time he realized that no men had come for the trunks, it was impossible for him to go back to sleep. On another occasion, Mr. MacGregor woke Mr. Benchley by saying, “There are some men here to flood the bed for skating.”
• Pope John XXIII, the son of impoverished farmers, once gave an audience to Italian peasants and farmers. He told them, “I know how unrewarding work on the land can be. I speak to you as the son of Roncalli the winegrower. And yet, if the good Lord had not made me a pope, I would rather be a farmer than anything else.”
• Gioacchino Rossini wrote and produced his opera buffamasterpiece, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, very quickly. In fact, it was composed — and rehearsed and staged — in less than a month. When Gaetano Donizetti, another fast worker, learned this, he said of Rossini, “Well, he always was lazy.”
• Pitcher Left Gomez retired from major league baseball, then sought employment elsewhere. A job application form asked for the reason why he had left his previous job, so Lefty wrote, “I couldn’t get the side out.”
• “Body piercing. A powerful, compelling visual statement that says ‘Gee … in today’s competitive job market, what can I do to make myself even moreunemployable?’” — Dennis Miller, Ranting Again.
• “To test the worth of a man’s religion, do business with him.” — Bishop John Lancaster Spaulding.
• “Nothing is really work unless you’d rather be doing something else.” — James Barrie.
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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Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist: A Retelling, by David Bruce