• Jack Benny was capable of great enthusiasm. In 1956, he attended a revue titled For Amusement Only in London, and he laughed and laughed. Unfortunately, he was the only one laughing. The actors thought a wise guy or a drunk was in the audience, and they asked the theater manager to talk to him during the intermission. After a few minutes, the manager returned and, awe-struck, said, “It’s Jack Benny. He loves the show.” In fact, Mr. Benny loved the show so much that he saw it more than once, and he made sure that VIPs such as Sam Goldwyn, Van Johnson, and Tyrone Power also saw it.
• Whoopi Goldberg can be controversial. One of her theatrical sketches features a teenage girl who gives herself an abortion. Many people were upset by this sketch and picketed the theater where she was performing, but Ms. Goldberg declined to stop performing it. Instead, she thanked the picketers for giving her lots of free publicity.
• When magicians Penn and Teller won an Obie, their theatrical show was so unusual that the presenters of the award didn’t know what to call it. Therefore, they officially gave the award to Penn and Teller for “whatever it is they do.”
• Comedians Paul Rodriguez and Elaine Boosler were getting ready to perform in a prison when guards came by with a prisoner in shackles. Mr. Rodriguez picked up Ms. Boosler and carried her over to the prisoner and asked, “Hey, man, how many cigarettes will you give me for her?” The prisoner replied, “No offense, but I don’t like women anymore; however, I’ll give you a carton if you’ll spend the night with me.”
• Comedian Joe Cook used to hang 26 “No Smoking” signs in 13 different languages in his dressing room—but he didn’t mind if his visitors smoked.
• During the Joe McCarthy era, people were scared of Communists and of anyone who was politically to the left of boring—uh, center. Zero Mostel was called to testify before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. The blacklist had hit Hollywood, and Zero was no longer being offered work by Twentieth Century-Fox. When Zero was asked if he had ever been in Hollywood before 1942 to work in his profession, he replied, “Oh, yes, I was signed to a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox—or was it Eighteenth Century-Fox?” Another thing Zero did was to point to the Committee chair and say in a loud stage whisper, “That man is a schmuck,” but this was deleted from the official record of his testimony.
• Comedian Jay Sankey learned quickly that a stand-up comedian does five minutes when the comic is supposed to do five minutes, 20 minutes when the comic is supposed to do 20 minutes, and an hour when the comic is supposed to do an hour. In fact, comedy clubs have a red light that flashes on and off to let the comic know it’s time to wrap up the set. One night, he didn’t see the red light come on, so he was startled when the speakers boomed out with the sound man’s voice, saying, “This is the voice of God! Get off the stage!” Mr. Sankey ran off the stage—and bought a wristwatch.
• Buddy and Vilma Ebsen were a brother-and-sister dance act whose first big break came when they danced in the chorus of Eddie Cantor’s hit show Whoopie. They rehearsed on stage, but to rehearse they had to use the work lights. This expense upset some people, and in Chicago they weren’t allowed to use the work lights to rehearse. However, the star of Whoopie, Eddie Cantor, found out about it, so he had this sign posted: “If any youngsters are ambitious enough to practice every day in order to get out of the chorus, I will pay for the work lights. Eddie Cantor.”
• For a while, comedian Tim Conway worked in Cleveland television, but often he would commute to Los Angeles and get work there. Eventually, he was offered a part in the TV sitcom McHale’s Navy, starring Ernest Borgnine. He was uncertain about whether to accept the job offer, but his Cleveland boss made the decision for him, saying, “You’re fired. If you don’t go out [to Hollywood], you’re nuts. So you’re fired.” Mr. Conway went to Hollywood and became a star.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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