David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books, Volume 2 — Relatives, Reporters, Television, Travel

Relatives

• Humorist H. Allen Smith once received this letter from two soldiers in Florida: “There is a guy here, a first sergeant who calls himself William Smith, eternally a son of a b*tch beyond belief. This lying b*stard enrages us constantly by claiming that he is your brother. It may not seem important to you, but you ought to do something about it, stop this insufferable jerk from claiming relationship with you.” Unfortunately for the two soldiers, H. Allen Smith couldn’t do anything about the situation — the “insufferable jerk” really was his brother, a highly able soldier.

• In 1969, Judy Blume received a letter from a company that wanted to publish her picture-book The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo. Of course, she was extremely happy, so she ran into her young son’s playroom and danced around while tossing his playthings in the air. Ms. Blume’s young son’s playmate ran home and told her mother, “Larry’s mother is crazy.”

• When author Peg Bracken was growing up, she and her brother sometimes raided the cookie jar. Understandably, their mother did not want them to ruin their appetite before supper, so sometimes young Peg and her brother would find this note inside the cookie jar: “KEEP YOUR BIG MITTS OFF!”

Reporters

• When a new reporter began to work in Washington, D.C., seasoned editors used to tell the reporter that a press conference was being held to announce the name of the Unknown Soldier. Of course, no such press conference was ever held, but some of the best and most dogged reporters Washington would ever know spent hours trying to track down the name of the Unknown Soldier before they understood that they were the victims of a practical joke.

• Newspaper editor Horace Greeley believed that the word “news” was plural. One day he telegraphed a reporter, “ARE THERE ANY NEWS?” The reporter telegraphed back, “NO, NOT A SINGLE NEW.”

Television

• The Mary Tyler Moore Show was ground-breaking in its day, but very quickly the much more controversial series All in the Family arrived, and writers for All in the Family felt that The Mary Tyler Moore Show dealt with fluff. Bob Weiskopf, a writer for All in the Family, once told his writing partner, “The Mary Tyler Moore Showgot wind of the fact that we’re doing a two-parter on abortion. They’re retaliating: they’re doing a three-parter on mayonnaise.”

• The scripts for The Dick Van Dyke Show were very good — the writers wanted to do their best work for the series. In the five years of the series, only one script was ever rejected. Ten people were at the reading of the script, and after the script had been read, 10 scripts were flung into the air. Series creator Carl Reiner then picked up a script gingerly by a corner and dropped it in a wastebasket.

Travel

• When Helene Hanff went to London, she visited several authors’ homes, including those of Charles Dickens and of John Keats. Valerie Grove then showed her the house belonging to John le Carré, author of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. While they were looking at the outside of the house, Mr. Carré himself came out. Ms. Grove said, “That’s him!” Ms. Hanff was properly impressed and replied, “That was something. They showed me Keats’ house, but they never showed me Keats.”

• In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote about visiting the Mosque of Omar and other interesting sites in the Holy Land. He writes, “Just outside the mosque is a miniature temple, which marks the spot where David and Goliath used to sit and judge the people.” In a footnote, Mr. Twain explains, “A pilgrim informs me that it was not David and Goliath, but David and Saul. I stick to my own statement — the guide told me, and he ought to know.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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