• Comic writer Robert Benchley was not good with money, frequently finding himself in arrears to the Internal Revenue Service. One day, the IRS sent him a very complicated, multi-page form to fill out, requiring him to list exactly his assets and liabilities. Mr. Benchley sent the form back to the IRS with a note: “Don’t be silly.” Fortunately, the IRA agent sent to Mr. Benchley a few days later happened to be a friend of his, so he avoided getting into serious trouble.
• People frequently have an exaggerated respect for wealth and power. Heinrich Heine, the German poet, told a story about a scene he witnessed in Paris in the offices of the wealthy and powerful James de Rothschild. One day he saw a servant carry Mr. Rothschild’s chamber pot down a hallway. Another man who was in the hallway also saw the Rothschild chamber pot, realized whose it was, and removed his hat to show his respect.
• Being a poet — even a soon-to-be-famous poet — often means not having much money. Edna St. Vincent Millay sold five poems to Poetry magazine for publication in June of 1918, but earlier in that year, she wrote to editor Harriet Monroe, “I could be very happy except that I am broke. Would you mind paying me now instead of on publication for those so stunning verses of mine which you have?” She added this note: “P.S. I am awfully broke. Would you mind paying me a lot?”
• The agent of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick called him up one day and said that he could get him 10 percent from comic book sales of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — his novel that was the basis of the movie Blade Runner. As a writer who was serious about his work and did not want a comic book version of it, Mr. Dick thought for a moment, then asked for 100 percent of the suppository rights.
• Many authors don’t make much money from their first books through signing contracts that benefit the publisher more than themselves. Mystery writer Agatha Christie is a good example. After she wrote The Mysterious Affair At Styles, five publishers rejected it. She was very happy when Bodley Head offered to publish it, and she signed a contract by which she earned only $100 from the book.
• Hebrew poet Naftali Herz Imber, author of the Zionist hymn “Hatikvah,” enjoyed smoking and drinking, so he was upset when his doctor advised him to quit smoking and drinking. In fact, he put on his clothing and walked out of the examining room. The doctor called after him, “You forgot to pay me for my advice!” Mr. Imber turned around and replied, “But I am not taking your advice.”
• While Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, and Robert E. Sherwood were working at Vanity Fair, a new policy went into effect, saying that no one was allowed to ask other employees what salary they were making. Immediately, Mr. Benchley, Ms. Parker, and Mr. Sherwood hung signs around their necks — their signs stated their salaries.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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