David Bruce: Work Anecdotes

• Comic singer Anna Russell once worked in a pantomime at the Ashton Circus in Australia, which is as famous there as the Ringling Brothers Circus is here. Most of the pantomime performers stayed in hotels, but Ms. Russell decided that she wanted to experience the circus life, so she rented a trailer and stayed with the circus performers. At the end of the season, she was presented with a medal that had her name on one side and the Ashton crest on the other. Now, according to the ancient tradition of the circus, she can get a job — even if it is nothing more than washing the elephants — at any circus in the world simply by showing the circus her medal.

• British ballet was born in the early 1930s. Not surprisingly, it didn’t pay very well. While dancing for Marie Rambert’s company, Alicia Markova was told that she and the other dancers would be paid 6s 6d per performance, but Ms. Markova protested that this would just pay for the ballet shoes she would use in the performance. (Principal ballet dancers wear out one — or two — pairs of shoes per performance.) In addition, she would have to pay 4s for a taxi to get home after the performance. After her protest, Ms. Markova was paid 10s 6d per performance.

• Everyone believes that ballerinas lead a glamorous life, but it is hard work — and often low paying. Illaria Obidenna Ladré danced in the Diaghilev Ballet, where she was paid very little. She, like the other dancers, learned to brush her teeth when she was hungry but had no food to eat. By the way, Mr. Diaghilev, who was not supported by tax money, also suffered for his art. When he died, he had holes in his shoes and $6 in his pocket. (Many people are against the use of tax money to support the arts, but taxes are the price of civilization.)

• While working as a reporter at the Pressin Huntington, Indiana, H. Allen Smith worked alongside a 12-year-old kid whose father, a local politician, owned part of the newspaper and wanted his son to learn to be a reporter. (People started working earlier back then.) One day, an explosion occurred and the kid was sent out to cover the big story because he was the only person available. His story read: “Three men were killed in a dynamite explosion today in the new sewer. An explosion is about the worst thing that can happen to a man.”

• The night before the premiere of Don Giovanni, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was having a good time at a party when the conductor rushed in looking for him. “Where is the overture?” the conductor asked, anxious because so little time was left for rehearsing it. “Don’t worry,” Mozart said. “It’s all up here, in my head.” During the rest of the night, Mozart wrote out the overture and in the morning he gave it to the copyists. (Even so, the overture arrived at the theater only a half-hour before opening, and there was no time to rehearse it.)

• Richard Strauss was once shocked to hear that a former pupil had asked for a year’s leave from an orchestra in order to compose. According to Strauss, the pupil already had plenty of time to compose. Strauss reasoned that each day has 24 hours; therefore, once you take away 8 hours for sleeping, and 12 hours for working, you still have 4 hours for composing.

• Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) was a Russian scientist who found the time to compose. Because of his work, he composed slowly, taking five years to write his first symphony. In addition, he worked on his opera Prince Igorfor 18 years — and still had not finished it at his death. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov worked with his pupil Alexander Glazunov to complete the opera and premiere it in St. Petersburg in 1890.

• No one ever thinks of ballerinas collecting unemployment insurance, but they do. During the off-season, when all the ballet dancers were laid off, ballerina Alice Patelson used to go downtown to the unemployment insurance office on 90th Street and Broadway, where she would see other dancers with the New York City Ballet.

• One of Ludwig van Beethoven’s students, Carl Czerny, reports that the composer did not keep regular hours. He worked whenever he wished, which was usually all the time. According to Czerny, “He would often get up at midnight, startling his neighbors with loud chords, thumping, singing, etc. His singing voice was absolutely horrible.” Of course, genius requires hard work. Carl Czerny, reports that Beethoven’s fingers were powerful but not long. Because Beethoven had played the piano so much, the tips of his fingers were flattened.

• Ludwig van Beethoven’s creation of the Missa Solemniscaused him to lose two servants. According to his secretary Anton Schindler, Beethoven stayed behind closed doors, “singing, howling, and stamping his foot” in an attempt to get the “Credo” fugue right. Two maids were so frightened that they quit.

• Josef Haydn wrote The Creationand sent it to London to be copied. Unfortunately, the manuscript arrived late, so that the copyists had to work long hours to copy it, finishing the work in six days. The chief copyist remarked, “This is not the first time that The Creationwas completed in six days.”

• A man once applied for a job and submitted a resume that had three preachers listed as references. The prospective employer looked at the references, then told the job hunter, “Around here we don’t work on Sunday. Do you have any references from people who see you on weekdays?”

• Giacomo Puccini enjoyed hunting pheasant. While living in the country so he could work on composing a new opera, he used to hire someone to go to his composing room and play the music he had written so that his wife would think that he was working on the opera when he was really out hunting.

• Ballet is glamorous, but it is also hard work. Ballerina Cynthia Gregory always used two pairs of pointe shoes to dance the lead in Swan Lake. After the second act, the first pair would be soaked with perspiration and too soft to use anymore.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved



Dante’s Inferno: A Discussion Guide


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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: