David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Death, Education

Death

• When Orson Welles died, Joss Whedon, then a university student and later the creator of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was upset and drunk, and he complained, “This man had so much to say, and society conspired to keep him from saying it for so long.” His then-girlfriend, a very intelligent woman, said, “It’s interesting that you feel that way about him. I feel that way about the entire history of my entire gender!” By the way, Mr. Whedon wants his tombstone to say, “He was getting better.” He says, “Whatever I do, I just want to get better at it.”

• Opera singer Mary Garden was in the audience when a crazed man rushed on stage and tried to shoot Jean de Reszke, who was singing the part of Romeo in Gounod’s Roméo and Juliet. Mr. de Reszke kept on singing as two stagehands grabbed the crazed gunman, disarmed him, and carried him off the stage. Later, Ms. Garden asked him, “Weren’t you frightened at all, Jean? He might easily have fired that shot.” He replied, “There was nothing I could do but hope that he would not fire. I hadn’t a moment’s fear.”

Education

• When Langston Hughes, the famous African-American author, was in the 7thgrade in Lawrence, Kansas, his teacher created a separate row of desks for her African-American students. Langston protested, shouting that she had created a Jim Crow row of desks. The protest was effective: The African-American students were soon seated among the white students. Mr. Hughes attended 8thgrade at Central School in Lincoln, Illinois, where he became class poet. For the 8thgrade graduation ceremony, which took place on 31 May 1916, he wrote a long poem that was very popular. Why? He explained later, “In the first half of the poem, I said that our school had the finest teachers that there ever were. And in the latter half, I said our class was the greatest class ever graduated.” As you would expect, he valued education, and he attended Columbia University for one year. However, once he threw away a number of his books. While sailing to Africa as an employee on the freighter West Hesseltinein 1923, he threw away most of the books he had brought on board, saying, “It was like throwing a million bricks out of my heart” and that the books represented “all those things I wanted to throw away.” Most of the books were college textbooks from Columbia. One book he did not throw away was a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. He wrote, “I had no intention of throwing that one away.”

• In 1960, Roy Lichtenstein started teaching at Douglass College (the women’s college of Rutgers University). There he became friends with Rutgers art history teacher Allan Kaprow. In a conversation, Roy explained that he was using the paintings of Paul Cézanne to teach his students color. Allan saw a Double Bubble cartoon, and he told Roy, “You can’t teach color from Cézanne; you can only teach it from something like this.” Allan remembers, “He looked at me with the funniest grin on his face.” Roy said, “Come with me.” He then showed Allan one of his newest works: an abstract painting in which Donald Duck appeared. Soon Roy began to paint big paintings of cartoons, and soon he began to become famous.

• Dancers very seldom see a dance from the audience’s point of view, as when they learn a dance, they watch demonstrations from the rear. According to Peter Martins, “Dancers are always shocked when they see for the first time ballets they have danced in for years from the audience’s view.” Also according to professional dancers, they always suffer from aches and pains as a result of their profession. Rudolph Nureyev once told Mr. Martins, “If I don’t ache and pain, I don’t know I’m alive.” By the way, Mr. Martins once choreographed a piece that he wanted to title Giardino di Scarlatti, but he changed the title to Sonate di Scarlattiwhen George Balanchine suggested that “Giardino” sounded like the name of an Italian restaurant.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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