David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Letters, Media, Mishaps

Letters

• Hunter “Patch” Adams, M.D., once wrote a fund-raising letter for a charity. The 2-page letter, which was actually mailed and which was successful in raising funds, was entirely written in Greek. Why did he do this? He explains that he gets “so many fund-raising letters that they all start to look the same and they might as well be in Greek.”

Media

• When Kathryn Grant — the future Mrs. Bing Crosby — was 18 years old, she had a chance to interview famous stars Bob Hope and Joan Fonteyn. Unfortunately, she nearly caused a disaster by asking Ms. Fonteyn how old she was. Fortunately, Mr. Hope smoothed things over by saying, “Making allowances for your youth and inexperience, we still can’t let you talk to a great star that way. Now, here’s what you should have asked.” Mr. Hope then asked Ms. Fonteyn a series of questions that both elicited the information needed for Ms. Crosby to write an interesting newspaper column and flattered Ms. Fonteyn at the same time. Ms. Crosby writes, “It was a gentle and instructive rebuke from a master craftsman, and I never forgot the lesson that it instilled. Months later, when the same callow teenager interviewed Bing for her paper, she was ready to snare a superstar and a husband with a far more subtle approach.”

• As a boy, W.C. Fields had a unique way of peddling newspapers. He juggled the folded newspapers, and he yelled out teasers about the stories inside the newspapers. However, he ignored regular news stories and instead boosted unusual stories, such as “Bronislaw Gimp acquires license for two-year-old sheepdog. Details on page 26.”

• Lesbian comic Robin Tyler had an interesting early career. She became a Judy Garland impersonator at a bar for gay men in New York. After the police raided the bar, she was arrested along with several men in drag. The New York Post ran this odd headline: “44 Men and 1 Woman Arrested for Female Impersonation.”

Mishaps

• Being one of the Three Stooges — Moe, Larry, and Curly — sometimes involved sacrifice. In 1936, the Stooges made the comedy short Ants in the Pantry. In it, the Stooges are pest exterminators, but business is slow, so their boss finds a way to get more customers: “If they don’t have any bugs, givethem some!” Therefore, the Three Stooges start putting mice, ants, and moths in future customers’ houses. During filming, a container of red ants broke in Moe’s pocket, and they started swarming inside his clothing, leading to a lot of squirming by Moe. The director, Preston Black, loved it, saying, “Great, Moe! Keep up that squirming!” Moe remembers, “It was very funny — to everyone but me.” Also in 1936, the Stooges made Slippery Silks. In this short, over 150 pies were thrown, and Moe ended up with a sore arm and a sore face because the pies that he did not throw were thrown at him. The other Stooges also suffered injuries: Larry lost a tooth while making one short, and Curly once got hit in the head while making a short and had to be attended to by a doctor. The doctor cut away some of Curly’s hair so he could attend to his wound, and then he glued back the hair so Curly could resume shooting the short. (In a few shorts, Curly actually has hair.)

• Jane Russell and Bob Hope once entertained at the Paramount Theater in New York. Ms. Russell had trouble dropping off to sleep — too many drunks made noise in the hallways of her hotel across the street. One day she overslept, threw a fur coat across her nightgown, then ran across the street where Mr. Hope was getting ready to introduce her. Standing in the wings, Ms. Russell threw open her fur coat, showing Mr. Hope her nightgown. Mr. Hope giggled, then told several more jokes, giving Ms. Russell time to put on a sequined gown and some lipstick.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN COMEDY

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