David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books — Prejudice, Practical Jokes

Practical Jokes

• David F. Day was the editor of a Democratic paper in Colorado in the late 1800s and supported the silver standard. Once, he was visited by Francis E. Leupp, a journalist who was a Republican and who supported the gold standard. In addition to being a newspaper editor, Mr. Day was also busy as the Indian Agent for the Southern Ute Indians. Because he was so busy, Mr. Day allowed Mr. Leupp to write the editorial for the week of his visit and ordered his newspaper to print whatever Mr. Leupp wrote. Mr. Leupp took advantage of Mr. Day’s generosity by writing “A Confession Wrung from Conscience,” an editorial piece ostensibly written by Mr. Day, but which totally reversed Mr. Day’s position, arguing in favor of the gold standard instead of the silver standard. Because Mr. Day lived in a silver-mining area where arguing in favor of the gold standard was both unpopular and likely to be dangerous, he was forced to hide his family until he could explain the cruel practical joke in the next week’s edition of his newspaper.

• Mark Twain was addicted to practical jokes — especially when they were jokes he played on other people. One day, when he was looking out the window of an editor’s office on the third floor of a building, he noticed a friend of his standing immediately below. Unfortunately for his friend, Mr. Twain had just been made the recipient of the gift of a watermelon by the editor. You can guess what happened to the friend and the watermelon. Still, Mr. Twain reflected, the friend came out ahead because the practical joke spoiled the watermelon, making it unsuitable for eating.

• James Thurber was ordered to court with a summons intended for John Thurber, his brother. Sitting in the witness seat, Mr. Thurber said that he didn’t have his birth certificate, but he did have a driver license, a couple of letters, and a few bills, all of which bore the name James Thurber. The court was convinced that James Thurber was not John Thurber — until humorist Robert Benchley walked into court, looked straight at James Thurber, and said, “How are you, John?”

• Many authors write witty and/or sentimental inscriptions in their books. Humorist Frank Sullivan wrote this inscription to Marise Campbell: “To dear Marise, without whose sympathetic help the undersigned would not have written this book,” then signed his name and the date. He wrote this inscription in a 1929 Staten Island telephone directory.


• Playwright Lorraine Hansberry, author of the play A Raisin in the Sun, was born into a financially well-off family. Her father was a real estate agent in Chicago, and he was determined to challenge the legal segregation that kept blacks and whites in their own separate neighborhoods. Therefore, he bought a house in a white neighborhood and moved his family into it. As he expected, the city of Chicago ordered him to move out, and he responded with a lawsuit. In addition, because he expected trouble from his racist white neighbors, he made sure that a bodyguard protected his family when he was away from home, attending to the lawsuit. (Her parents told young Lorraine that the bodyguard was a friend.) At one point, several of their white neighbors gathered together into a mob, and someone threw a chunk of concrete into the Hansberrys’ front window, shattering glass everywhere and narrowly missing Lorraine. For a while, Lorraine’s mother stayed up late at night, patrolling her house with a loaded gun in her hands. During the tension, friends stopped by frequently and African-American cab drivers drove slowly past the house, checking to make sure that everything was okay. Eventually, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the Hansberrys’ favor, thus establishing that people could not be kept out of a particular neighborhood because of their race.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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