David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Language, Media, Mishaps


• Sometimes, not knowing a language well may be an advantage. Arturo Toscanini was displeased with the performance of a musician so he ordered him out of rehearsal. At the exit, the musician turned around and shouted, “Nuts to you!” Mr. Toscanini remained firm and said, “It is too late to apologize.”


• Famed conductor Arturo Toscanini disliked giving interviews and to get out of giving them, he occasionally played tricks on reporters. Samuel Chotzinoff, the music critic of the New York World, once had an interview with Mr. Toscanini, but he was surprised that the Maestro had only a very weak grasp of English. There was nothing to do but to give up on the interview and leave, which Mr. Chotzinoff did. Later, Mr. Chotzinoff found out that Mr. Toscanini spoke English much better than he had pretended. Eventually, the two men became friends, and Mr. Toscanini was pleased with Mr. Chotzinoff’s praise of his acting ability as demonstrated the first time they met.

• In January 1933, the great dancer Bill Robinson, aka Mr. Bojangles, was dancing at the Loews State Theater in New York, when a rat made its way onstage. At first Mr. Bojangles ignored the rat, but members of the audience began to see it and started screaming. Mr. Bojangles knew that the audience would panic, so he picked up a block of wood and began dancing toward the rat. In the middle of the stage, he threw the block of wood at the rat, wounding it, then ran over to it and brained it with the wood — to the orchestra’s long drumroll followed by clashing cymbals. The newspapers the next day gave much play to the story.

• Grandma Moses grew up in and loved the country. She once stopped in New York City on her way to accept an achievement award from the Women’s National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Reporters interviewed her, and she told them, “It’s nice to be here, but the city doesn’t appeal to me.” They asked, “As picture material?” She replied, “As any material.”

• American dance pioneer Ted Shawn once danced a duet with Martha Graham. The dance was Spanish, and his pants split with a loud noise. The next day, a reviewer wrote that the splitting of the “incredibly tight Spanish trousers” was something he had prayed all his life to witness.


• Despite his obvious high intelligence, Isaac Asimov could be absent-minded. When he was married to his first wife, he once took a bill to the gas company and complained about how much it was. He said, “We have never used enough gas to bring us up to the minimum. We have no children. We both work. We cook perhaps four meals a week. How can we possibly get a gas bill for $6.50? I demandan explanation.” The gas-company employee had a good explanation: “This is an electricbill.” By the way, television reporter Walter Cronkite once interviewed Mr. Asimov, who wanted to tell him, “My father will be very thrilled, Mr. Cronkite, when he finds out you’ve interviewed me.” However, he was afraid of sounding immature and so refrained from saying it. During a break in the filming, Mr. Cronkite said to Mr. Asimov, “Dr. Asimov, my father will be very thrilled when he finds out I’ve interviewed you.”

• While performing Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Götterdämmerungin the Vichy Opera House, Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence was determined to be on a live horse — something she had previously done to great effect at the Metropolitan Opera. However, the Vichy Opera House did not have its own stable, so an army horse with close-cropped tail and mane would have to play Grane. Because Grane must have a long, flowing tail and mane, an artificial tail and mane was used. At the performance, all seemed to be well. Grane swished its long, flowing tail around, and the scene seemed to be set for a magnificent departure from the stage. However, Ms. Lawrence heard laughter as she rode off — Grane had lost its artificial tail.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved






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