David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Work


• 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 in the United States. 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. According to the ancient tradition of the circus, she could 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.

• Régine Crespin, a woman of conviction, was supposed to sing the title role in Tosca, but during a rehearsal she sang a phrase faster than the conductor, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, wanted her to sing it. He told her, “Signora, that phrase does not go that way.” Very politely, she replied, “Maestro, if you don’t mind, we can discuss these details afterward.” Mr. Molinari-Pradelli then rudely said, “No, there is nothing to discuss. It will be done as I say, and that’s that.” This was too rude for Ms. Crespin, so she said, “Tant pis” [roughly, “So much for me working for you”], left, and Mr. Molinari-Pradelli was forced to find another person to sing the role of Tosca.

• In 1948, Sir Thomas Beecham was scheduled to present a program of English music at the Royal Albert Hall, but few tickets were sold and he cancelled the concert. Sensing an opportunity, the Bournemouth Corporation immediately called him and asked him to present the same program using their orchestra in Bournemouth — and they guaranteed a full house. Sir Thomas accepted, and conducted in front of a full house, as promised. Playing celesta in the Bournemouth orchestra was Rudolph Schwarz, the regular conductor of the orchestra, who wanted the privilege of playing for Sir Thomas.

• Duke Ellington played in a lot of places as a young jazz musician, including a club near Broadway that was supposed to be run by gangsters and that oddly kept catching on fire. Occasionally, the owner told Mr. Ellington and the other musicians that a certain night was a good night to take their musical instruments home because an “accident” was about to happen. By the way, Mr. Ellington understood the power of word-of-mouth advertising. When he was a young musician, he used to pay people to go around and tell other people how good he and his band were.

• Walking through the Louvre, Paul Valéry and artist Edgar Degas saw a large painting of large oak trees by Henri Rousseau. Mr. Valéry admired the painting, and he marveled at how the artist had painted so many individual leaves. He said, “It is superb, but how tedious, painting all those leaves. What a dreadful bore that must have been.” Mr. Degas responded, “Be still. Had it not been tedious, there would have been no enjoyment in it.”

• Mexican artist Diego Rivera put his art before everything else. Often, he worked 15 to 18 hours a day, every day of the week. He would snack rather than eat, and his common-law wife, Guadalupe Marín, once complained that he didn’t stop working long enough even to take a bath. During 1932-1933, Mr. Rivera worked so hard painting murals that he lost 100 pounds!

 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.

• Robert M. Brinkerhoff, the cartoonist of the long-ago comic strip Little Mary Mixup, had a yen for travel and a strong work ethic. The two worked well together. Before he traveled to the Orient, he turned in 100 cartoons to the United Feature Syndicate. For two years previously, he had created one extra cartoon each week.

• While choreographing a new production of Swan Lake, Peter Wright told ballerina Galina Samsova, who was to be carried by the dancer playing Rothbart, that she had to be down the alley formed by two rows of swans in a very quick time. Ms. Samsova laughed, then said, “I’m easy — I’m being carried.”

• When New York City Ballet ballerina Wendy Whelan was asked what she liked least about her choice of careers, she replied, “The knowledge that it’ll be over.” (What she likes most are the people she works with.)


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved






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