David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books — Volume 3 ‚ Money, Mothers


• Mark Twain told this story in Life on the Mississippi: A riverboat pilot named Stephen was out of money and in New Orleans. Aware of Stephen’s plight, a steamboat captain offered him the job of piloting a steamboat up the Mississippi — but at a salary of $125 instead of Stephen’s usual salary of $250. Having no choice, Stephen accepted the offer, but he piloted the boat up the middle of the river so that it had to fight the current instead of seeking the stiller water nearer the shore. Much slower boats sped past the steamboat Stephen was piloting. When the captain remonstrated with Stephen, he replied, “I know as much as any man can afford to know for $125.” On hearing this, the captain raised Stephen’s salary to $250, and Stephen began to make that steamboat fly upstream.

• When he was a young man, Edward Stratemeyer, who later created the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, wanted to be a writer — a career his father advised him not to pursue. Edward worked at his brother’s stationery store while continuing to write in his spare time. He wrote a long story titled “Victor Horton’s Idea,” which he sold for $75, a lot of money in the late 19th century. In fact, $75 was six times what he made per week at the stationery store. When he told his father what he had done and how much money he had been paid, his father said, “Paid you that for writing a story? Well, you’d better write a lot more of them!”

• Wilson Mizner, a playwright and screenwriter, used to travel on ocean liners, where he made a living inveigling rich passengers into playing poker with him. In fact, quite a few cardsharps made quite a lot of money that way. Once, Mr. Mizner invited a man to play poker with him, but the man kept on winning no matter what Mr. Mizner did. In the final hand of the game, Mr. Mizner manipulated the cards so that he had four queens, but the other man had four kings. Realizing that he had met a superior cardsharp, Mr. Mizner said, “You win, but those are not the cards I dealt you.”

• Perk’s Coffee House, which used to be located in Athens, Ohio, home of Ohio University, had many witty and intelligent employees who were very good at writing humor to encourage customers to toss spare change into the tip jar. For example, an April 2008 display by the tip jar consisted of a plastic figurine of Godzilla holding this sign: “Tip, and I shall spare your villages and dormitories.”

• Moritz Saphir received an allowance from the Austrian Baron Rothschild, which allowed him to devote his time to writing. One day, he arrived to pick up the money, and Baron Rothschild said, “Ah, Saphir, I see you’ve come for your money.” Mr. Saphir replied, “For my money? No, Baron, you mean for your money.”

• Samuel Hoffenstein wrote much poetry, but he gave it up when he started writing screenplays. A movie producer asked him, “How could you give up writing for this trash?” Mr. Hoffenstein replied, “Have you ever received a royalty check on a book of poetry?”


• In 1960, children’s book author Jane Yolen moved to New York, where she lived with two other women in Greenwich Village. She met her future husband, David Stemple, when he climbed in through a window to attend their housewarming party — his way of introducing himself to Jane was to kiss her neck. When they moved in together, Jane did not tell her mother. However, her mother may have known anyway. Whenever her mother wanted to visit Jane, she would call ahead of time, giving her plenty of time to de-David the apartment and get rid of any easy-to-see evidence of their cohabitation.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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