David Bruce: The Funniest People in Movies — Prejudice, Preparation, Problem-Solving

Prejudice

• Spike Lee’s film Do the Right Thing is deliberately ambiguous. In it, a black man is unjustly killed, and in retaliation a mob of black people burns down a pizzeria owned by a white man. At its end, two quotations appear. The quotation by Martin Luther King preaches nonviolent resistance to injustice, while the quotation by Malcolm X says that violence in defense may be needed when blacks are attacked. When a reporter asked Mr. Lee what the right thing is, Mr. Lee replied, “I don’t know. I know what the wrong thing is: racism.”

• Many of the top executives in the early days of Hollywood were Republicans. When Irving Thalberg’s lawyer, Eddie Loeb, discovered that actor William Haines was a Democrat, he went straight to Mr. Thalberg and told him, “You know you have a Democratic snake here?” Fortunately, Mr. Thalberg, a Republican, was more enlightened than other Hollywood executives, so he replied, “The man’s entitled to his own opinion,” and he let Mr. Haines keep his job.

• Peter Sellers, famous as Inspector Clouseau in Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther movies, was Jewish, although not everyone realized that. Mary, the sister of comedian Terry-Thomas, met Peter in a hotel in Brighton, England, and told him that he would like it there, for among other attractions, no Jews were there. Mr. Sellers leaned across the table toward Mary, winked, and said, “Well, Mary, there is now!”

• While filming Hurry Sundown in Louisiana in 1967, Jane Fonda was horrified to see prejudice at first hand. Black actors had leading roles in the movie, and this upset many white Louisiana residents. These prejudiced people objected to black actors using a motel pool, and they wrote threatening letters and slashed tires.

• During the Civil Rights era, black comedian (and occasional movie actor) Dick Gregory put his career on the back burner so that he could participate in gaining rights for his people. When he was asked why he was practically giving up his career to do this, he replied, “They didn’t laugh Hitler out of existence, did they?”

• The famous Norwegian actress Liv Ullman was born in Tokyo. After she was born, the Japanese nurse told her mother, “I’m afraid it’s a girl. Would you prefer to inform your husband yourself?”

Preparation

• In 1977, Jane Fonda starred in the movie Julia, based on a friendship that playwright Lillian Hellman had when she was a young woman. To prepare for her role as the playwright, Ms. Fonda read half of a play that Ms. Hellman had written, then she set the play aside, pretended to be Ms. Hellman, and wrote the second half of the play.

• Oprah Winfrey took seriously her role as Mattie in the television movie The Women of Brewster Place. To prepare for the role, she pretended to be Mattie and wrote a 200-page journal using the character’s voice and point of view.

Problem-Solving

• Early in his career, Harold Lloyd looked for a way to break into movies. He used to sit on a bench outside a film studio in hopes that he would be hired as an extra. As he waited, he noticed that many of the actors and extras walked out of the studio in their makeup to eat lunch, then they returned to the studio after their lunch break. Therefore, Mr. Lloyd put on makeup, and the movie studio guards, thinking that he was an actor, allowed him to enter the studio grounds along with the real actors. Inside the studio, Mr. Lloyd made some friends and started acting in films. He quickly became a famous silent-movie comedian and the star of such classic comedies as Safety Last and The Freshman.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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