David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books — Media, Money


• People have been suspicious of the media for decades. When Hugh Troy worked at a security job in Washington D.C., he was required to write a memo reporting in detail on every conversation he had with a member of the media. Since he lived next door to a newspaper publisher, Mr. Troy was greatly annoyed by this rule. Finally, he sent in a memo detailing a conversation with a representative of the Washington Post — his paperboy. The rule was terminated.

• Many professional writers find writing difficult and are chronically late with copy that is due at magazines. Often, a magazine editor would call humorist Robert Benchley, who frequently made use of messenger boys, with an inquiry about the whereabouts of copy that was due the week before. Mr. Benchley used to drive editors mad with the gentle comment, “My goodness, hasn’t that boy got there yet?”

• When Maury Maverick, Jr., served in the Texas House of Representatives in the 1950s, he introduced a bill that would raise the amount of money spent on food in Texas mental institutions from 75 cents to $1.10 per patient — thus allowing the patients to eat three meals a day. The headline about the bill in the Dallas Morning News the next day said, “Liberals Run Amok.”

• Humorous poet Oliver Herford’s wife came up with the idea to start a weekly publication titled Dreamland, which would publish contributors’ work only if the author could prove that it had been rejected by at least three major publishing houses. Mr. Herford liked the idea, and they started the weekly.

• A Washington newspaper printed a headline with a typo: “CHURCHILL IN BED WITH SLIGHT COED.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent Prime Minister Winston Churchill several copies of the newspaper.


• Long ago, a friend of Peg Bracken’s gave a large business dinner at a San Francisco hotel. Service was mediocre, and the dinner did not have the fresh asparagus he had ordered but instead had canned peas. When it was time to tip, the friend took $20 out of his pocket — a little over 11 percent instead of the customary 15 percent for very good (not mediocre) service. The waiter refused to take the $20, saying, “I’m sorry, sir, but we get 15 percent.” The friend said, “As you know, this is a voluntary act on my act. And you say it isn’t enough?” The waiter said, “No, it’s not enough.” So the friend put the $20 back in his pocket and left.

• Mark Twain dedicated his first book — The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches— to “John Smith” because he had heard that people always buy a copy of any book that is dedicated to them. Mr. Twain wrote, “It is said that the man to whom a volume is dedicated, always buys a copy. If this prove true in the present instance, a princely affluence is about to burst upon the author.”

• During a literary discussion in which lesbian author Valerie Taylor was participating, this question came up: “What is the function of the novel?” Jim, Ms. Taylor’s son, was listening, and he responded, “The function of the novel is to pay the rent.” Later, Ms. Taylor discovered that Thomas Hardy had said the same thing in a preface to one of his novels, so she bought a copy of the novel as a gift for her son.

• While in Paris, author Mordecai Richler was taken advantage of by several people demanding tips. A doorman removed his bags from a taxi, carried them to the front door, then extended his hand for a tip. Another man carried his bags to the registration desk, then extended his hand for a tip. A third man carried his bags to his hotel room, then extended his hand for a tip.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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