David Bruce: The Funniest People in Comedy — Money


• Many famous, rich people grew up poor, and their early poverty affected how they regarded money. Comedian Fred Allen once paid $300 to rent a cottage in Maine for the summer. (Obviously, this was a long time ago.) After the money had exchanged hands, a syndicate offered Mr. Allen $2,000 a week to write a column every other day. However, he turned it down. His friend Groucho Marx asked him why, and Mr. Allen explained, “I paid $300 for that cottage up in Maine, and if I accept this job I’ll have to stay in New York. I’d be out the $300.” So the syndicate raised its offer—to $3,000 a week. But Mr. Allen again turned the syndicate down. Groucho was incredulous, and he told Mr. Allen, “Why don’t you forget about the $300? You could take one week’s salary from the syndicate and own that cottage outright.” Mr. Allen replied, “I paid $300 to live in that cottage this summer, and that landlord is not going to get my money for nothing!”

• Walter Catlett made a good living playing eccentrics in movies of the 1930s through the 1950s. (He played the comic Sheriff in the screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby, which starred Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.) Mr. Catlett was also an eccentric in real life. One day, he ran out of money playing roulette at Agua Caliente, a gambling house in Mexico, so he pulled out his false teeth and bet them. He won and collected the price of the dentures: $350. He was well known for his drinking ability and his propensity to spend his money on having fun. When the stock market crashed in 1929, he thought it was hilarious that everyone else was as broke as he was, without having had the fun of spending their money. Yet another reason why he was so often broke was that he gave much of his money away to charity and the needy.

• At age 15, comedian Rita Rudner wanted to be a dancer, so she moved to New York City to study dancing. However, at age 15, she did not understand the intricacies of tipping. Once, she ordered and ate a turkey sandwich, then left without tipping. The waiter came running after her on the sidewalk and told her, “You forgot to leave me a tip.” She handed him her wallet and told him, “Take what you want—just don’t hurt me.” The waiter took $5 from her wallet, saying, “That’s one dollar for serving you the turkey sandwich and four dollars for making me run down the street.” Even at age 15, Rita was a comedian, so she said, “Why don’t you take two dollars for serving me the sandwich and three dollars for running down the street?”

• Comedian Jerry Lewis once boasted about a one iron he owned that he said was the best ever made. Pro golfer Sam Snead heard the boast, and he invited Mr. Lewis to try his one iron. Mr. Lewis tried it, hit the ball further than with his own one iron, then attempted to buy the one iron from Mr. Snead. On hearing the first offer—$100—Mr. Snead said, “No, no.” On hearing the second offer—$200—Mr. Snead said, “No, losing that club would ruin my whole bag.” On hearing the third offer—$500—Mr. Snead said, “Run with it before I change my mind,” and so Mr. Lewis handed over the money and took off running across the golf course.

• Before becoming rich (but not before developing his habit of overtipping), Jackie Gleason overtipped himself into poverty at a hotel. Without enough money to pay his bill, he decided to walk out on his hotel bill. He put on every article of clothing he owned, covered himself with a robe, then walked out, telling the hotel management that he was going for a swim. A year later, he was in funds again and returned to the hotel to pay his bill. He walked up to the hotel owner at the front desk, and the owner shouted, “Oh, my God! We thought you had drowned!”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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