David Bruce: The Funniest People in Movies — Dance, Death


• Fred Astaire was once staying at the home of Jock Whitney, and he asked Mr. Whitney to teach him a new dance called the Sluefoot. Big mistake. Mr. Whitney wasn’t able to get any sleep that night. Mr. Astaire stayed up all night practicing the Sluefoot, and his bedroom was located directly above Mr. Whitney’s.


• In a movie stunt, actor Sheldon Leonard was supposed to be under a truck that was held up by a hoist. The truck was to be lowered toward him, then stopped by pushing a button just before it crushed him. Before doing the stunt, Mr. Leonard said, “Let me see how it works.” The director didn’t want to demonstrate, arguing that it had taken two hours to light the scene and he didn’t want to move the truck, but Mr. Leonard insisted. As the truck was lowered, the filmmaker pushed the stop button, but the truck kept descending onto the spot where Mr. Leonard’s corpse would have been if he hadn’t insisted on seeing a demonstration of the stop button. The hoist’s stop button had worked perfectly for light passenger cars, but the truck was too heavy for the hoist.

• In his movie Roger and Me, director Michael Moore included footage of a white woman slaughtering a rabbit by clubbing it to death. Many people have told Mr. Moore how upset they were by the scene. However, two minutes later in the movie appears footage in which Flint, Michigan, police shoot and kill a black man who is holding a toy gun and wearing a Superman costume. In his book Stupid White Men, Mr. Moore writes, “Not once — not ever — has anyone said to me, ‘I can’t believe you showed a black man being shot in your movie! How horrible! How disgusting! I couldn’t sleep for weeks.’”

• Charlie Chaplin died on Christmas of 1977, and on December 27, he was laid to rest in a cemetery in Vevey, Switzerland. However, on March 2, 1978, his coffin was dug up by grave robbers and carried away with his body inside it. The grave robbers demanded 600,000 francs for the return of the body. Fortunately, the police were able to capture the grave robbers as they attempted to pick up the ransom. Mr. Chaplin’s body was recovered, and the grave robbers were put on trial and convicted.

• Mischa Auer provided comic support in many films of the 1930s and 1940s, including the classics My Man Godfrey, You Can’t Take It With You, and Destry Rides Again. Mr. Auer had a hard early life in St. Petersburg, losing both parents — his mother died of typhus, and his father died in the Russo-Japanese War. After immigrating to the United States, he found it difficult to concentrate on his education, and he once told a teacher, “After seeing death and torture, suppose I don’t do algebra.”

• Sometimes fans act like jerks. In John Barrymore’s funeral procession, his friends, many of whom were famous stars, drove by a sidewalk crowded with fans who cheered as the stars went by. W.C. Fields, mourning the death of one of his best friends, looked at the crowd of fans and said, “God-d*mn morons!”

• Death is not optional. After Samuel Goldwyn had criticized her for writing her movie scripts too sad and without happy endings, Dorothy Parker replied, “Mr. Goldwyn, since the world was created, billions and billions of people have lived, and not a single one has had a happy ending.”

• British actress Hermione Gingold once was asked if her most recent of several husbands was dead. She replied, “That’s a matter of opinion.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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