David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Gifts, Husbands and Wives, and Illegal Drugs

Gifts

• While rehearsing Norma in San Francisco, soprano Rita Hunter ran into a problem. The props department didn’t have a dagger for her character to use to murder the children in the opera, so she used a spatula with a flat rubber blade. Afterward, the stage management had the spatula inscribed and presented it to her. She treasured the gift.

• British actor Stanley Holloway once appeared in the show Crescendowith Rex Harrison and jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong gave a gift to everyone associated with the show — packets containing herbs for the bowels. According to Mr. Armstrong, the herbs were “marvelous for keeping you healthy.”

• In Paris, soprano Adelina Patti readily agreed to sing at a benefit for a little-known, young actress who had lost all her possessions in a fire. Later, the little-known actress made a great reputation and everyone knew the name of Sarah Bernhardt.

Husbands and Wives

• Irving Berlin carried on a romance with Ellin Mackay, who was the daughter of the President of the Postal Telegraph. Unfortunately, Mr. Mackay did not appreciate Mr. Berlin’s attentions to his daughter, so he approached Mr. Berlin with an offer — he would give Mr. Berlin $1 million not to interfere with Miss Mackay’s future. Mr. Berlin, a very successful songwriter, made a counteroffer — he would give Mr. Mackay $2 million not to interfere with Miss Mackay’s future. Eventually, Mr. Berlin and Miss Mackay were married.

• After blues singer Bessie Smith married police officer Jackie Gee, she became a jealous wife. One night, she kissed him, and then performed on stage. After finishing her act, she left the stage, saw lipstick on her husband’s face, and then hit him and knocked him down, demanding to know whose lipstick it was. He had to remind her that she had kissed him before she had performed and the lipstick was hers.

• Tenor Mario de Candia married soprano Giulia Grisi. Theirs was a happy marriage which resulted in six daughters. One day, Ms. Grisi and her daughters were walking in a park, where they met a noble who asked her about her daughters, “These, madam, are, I suppose, your little grisettes.” She replied, “Oh, no, sir! These are my little marionettes.”

Illegal Drugs

• Bette Midler doesn’t take illegal drugs when she performs live — she’s tried it with bad results. But she does make fun of people who think she takes illegal drugs when she performs live. In her 1980 world tour, she imitated an imaginary straight member of the audience saying, “Harry! Where does she get all that energy from? She must take something, Harry. What do you think she takes?” Then the Divine Miss M would say, dramatically, “I don’t take anything. I’m high on life.” She still remembers a voice from the real audience calling out from the balcony, “Where can I get some?”

• Gangsta rap has given rap music a bad name, but of course not all rap is gangsta rap. Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels of Run-D.M.C. is a hero of little kids in his neighborhood. They follow him around, and D.M.C. first tells them to stay in school, and then he gives them money to buy something from a deli. Many rappers are anti-drug. Grandmaster Flash wrote “White Lines” to explain how cocaine can ruin a person’s life. On the record he gives his advice about getting involved with the drug: “Don’t do it!”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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