David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Husbands and Wives, Illnesses and Injuries

Husbands and Wives

• Often, people said to Enrico Caruso’s wife, Dorothy, “It must be wonderful to be married to the greatest singer in the world.” She always replied, “Yes, it is.” In her biography of her husband, she added, “And it was, but only because he happened to be Enrico. He was the greatest person in the world — and he sang, too.” By the way, Mr. Caruso’s vocal cavities were extraordinary. His wife reports that he could put an egg in his mouth, then close his lips, and no one would know the egg was in there.

• Dancer Isadora Duncan once propositioned playwright George Bernard Shaw, saying that they should have a child together because he had a wonderful brain and she had a wonderful body. Mr. Shaw turned her down, saying, “Suppose it has my body and your brain?” She also propositioned Maurice Maeterlinck, who also turned her down, saying, “I am honored, Madame, but you must consult my wife.”

Illnesses and Injuries

• Early in his career Rudolf Bing auditioned many opera singers as part of his job, and all of the opera singers thereafter felt entitled to stop by his office and ask if there was any work for them. This led to a problem because Europeans have a custom of shaking hands when they enter or leave a room, and in the summer Mr. Bing was shaking hundreds of sweaty hands a day. To combat this problem, he put up a sign on the door of his office: “During the summer months, it would be appreciated if you refrained from handshaking.” However, the union he worked with regarded his attitude as undemocratic, and the sign came down.

• Colonel James H. Mapleson once received word that mezzo-soprano Sofia Scalchi was ill and unable to sing in an opera scheduled that night. He and a physician therefore went to Ms. Scalchi’s hotel apartment to ask what they could do for her, but just before they arrived at her door, a dinner of roast duck and lobsters was delivered to her apartment. Colonel Mapleson waited for the dinner to get started and after hearing the sound of laughter, he and the physician entered her apartment. No longer able to claim that she was ill, Ms. Scalchi sang that night.

• In Havana, Pasquale Brignoli was disappointed with the audience’s applause one night and therefore decided that he would claim that he was ill and so could not sing the following night. A physician examined him, saw that he was not ill, and to teach him a lesson, looked very serious and told him that he had yellow fever. Frightened, Mr. Brignoli immediately said that he was not ill, and he went on stage and put on an electrifying performance that resulted in the kind of applause that he most desired.

• In 1992, Barneys window dresser Simon Doonan created a controversy when he used Magic Johnson as the subject of one of his celebrity windows. Magic had recently been diagnosed with HIV, and so the window focused on safe sex. People objected because a small Christmas tree used in the display was decorated with miniature basketballs and gold-wrapped condoms. Mr. Doonan defended the exhibit by saying that he and Magic were trying to save lives.

• Margot Fonteyn once was surprised to find out that a man she had thought was half-Oriental was actually 100% Panamanian. It turned out that as a boy he had lived in Japan. His face was injured in an earthquake, and the Japanese doctors performing plastic surgery on him had given him an Oriental appearance.

• In 1953, the National Institute of Fine Arts gave Mexican artist Frida Kahlo a one-person show — a great honor. She was ill at the time of the exhibit, but she attended anyway, arriving in an ambulance. Once inside the building where the exhibit was located, she lay on a bed.

• Dancers often are able to dance with injuries through a kind of mind-over-matter discipline. Oleg Tupine once had a broken kneecap as he danced the Prince in Swan Lake. During the performance, he felt no pain; after the performance, he couldn’t walk.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

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