David Bruce: Resist Psychic Death — Animals, Art, Auditions


• Poet and essayist Tess Gallagher once had a horse that was named Angel Foot by her Uncle Porter, who wrote her, “Your filly is born. I have named her Angel Foot for the white on her hind foot where God must have held onto her when he dipped her into the black.” Angel Foot played tricks on her owner. For example, she would gallop toward a barbed-wire fence, pretending not to see it, and then would stop suddenly with her nose close to the wire. One of Ms. Gallagher’s friends asked her for a photograph of her sitting on the back of Angel Foot. He was waiting for a lung transplant, which he never got, which could have saved his life. Ms. Gallagher thinks that as he was waiting for the lung transplant, he needed “spirit-signs.” She believes that such spirit-signs are comforting


• The German artist George Grosz influenced a number of American artists, including Jack Levine. The American Institute of Arts and Letters once debated about whether to give Mr. Grosz or another artist an award. Member after member of the institute gave the opinion that Mr. Grosz had been great in his youth, but that in his later life he was not what he had been. Mr. Levine rose and spoke to defend Mr. Grosz: “Who of us, with the exception of maybe Jonathan Swift, is what he was?”

• According to an old tradition, no one touches the person of the Pope. While painting a portrait of Pope John XXIII, American artist Bernard Godwin frequently rearranged the Pope’s clothing, making the Pope’s secretary and valet gasp, but the Holy Father simply smiled.


• When Patricia Birch was a soloist for the Martha Graham Dance Company, she auditioned for the part of Anybody in Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story. When Mr. Robbins asked her if she could dance, she replied, “A little,” so he left her with an assistant who would teach her the part so she could audition for it. By the next morning, however, Mr. Robbins had learned that she really was a dancer, so he told her, “I’m don’t know what you’re trying to pull here, but I’m on to you. Give me a triple knee turn!” The audition that followed was grueling, but she got the part.

• When Merrill Ashley auditioned for the School of American Ballet, the whole thing took about 10 minutes, with dance teacher Antonina Tumkovsky twisting Merrill’s legs around to see how flexible she was presently and how flexible she might become. She did pass the audition, was accepted into the SAB, and later found out that the report on her audition said, “Good feet, rather nice” — which was high praise for an audition at this particular school.


• Lincoln Child, an editor at St. Martin’s Press, invited Douglas Preston, a writer of columns about the American Museum of Natural History in New York, to write a history of the museum. Mr. Preston agreed, and the result is his book Dinosaurs in the Attic. Mr. Child wanted to have a realbehind-the–scenes tour of the museum. Mr. Preston agreed, reluctantly, because Mr. Child did not have the security clearances needed to visit much of the museum. However, Mr. Preston decided to give him a tour at midnight because, he thought, no one would be around to check whether Mr. Child had the necessary security clearances. However, a museum guard appeared and boomed, “Who’s there?” Mr. Preston thought that he was on the verge of being fired, but Mr. Child’s quick wits came to the rescue. He told the security guard, “Thank God, you’ve finally found us! We’ve been wandering around for hourslooking for the exit! How in the world do you get out of this place?” The adventure had a good result. While in the museum, with lightning flashes from outside the skylight making visible the dinosaur bones inside, Mr. Child said to Mr. Preston, “This is the scariest building in the world. Doug, we have to write a thriller set in a museum like this.” They did. The thriller was titled Relic, and it introduced the character Aloysius X.L. Pendergast, who stars in a series of mysteries.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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