David Bruce: The Funniest People in Movies — Telegrams, Telephones, Tobacco, Work

Telegrams

• The production costs were mounting for the movie The Captain Hates the Sea, starring the noted actors — and drinkers — John Gilbert and Victor McLaglen, so Columbia Studios head Harry Cohn sent the director, Lewis Milestone, this telegram: “HURRY UP! THE COST IS STAGGERING!” Mr. Milestone sent back this telegram: “SO IS THE CAST.”

Telephones

• W.C. Fields didn’t care for Hollywood studio bigshots. Once, Louis B. Mayer called him. Mr. Fields’ friend, Corey Ford, answered the telephone and told him that Mr. Mayer was wondering why Mr. Fields hadn’t shown up for filming that day. Mr. Fields said, “Give him an evasive answer. Something on the order of ‘Drop dead.’” (When Mr. Fields died, humorist Frank Sullivan sent this telegram to one of Mr. Fields’ friends: “I HOPE HE GIVES ST. PETER AN EVASIVE ANSWER.”)

• While making the 1948 movie Foreign Affair, actress Jean Arthur worried that director Billy Wilder was giving the best close-ups not to herself, but to her co-star, Marlene Dietrich. Forty-five years later, Ms. Arthur gave Mr. Wilder a telephone call. She had just seen the movie on television and wanted to apologize.

• While making a motion picture, comedian Jack Oakie did not show up to work one day. The cast, crew, and director all were waiting for him in the hot sun. Mr. Oakie telephoned them. He said, “Guess where I am?” — then hung up.

• Comedian Bob Hope had clout. He once telephoned a movie theater in Palm Springs to ask when the movie started. The person who answered the telephone replied, “Mr. Hope, what time would you like it to start?”

Tobacco

• Hugh Herbert played comic support in movies of the 1930s and 1940s. He was also funny in real life. One day, insult comedian Jack E. Leonard saw Mr. Herbert smoking a cigar — from which clouds of smoke were billowing — at the Friars Club and asked him, “Don’t you ever inhale?” Mr. Herbert replied, “Not with you in the room.”

• Movie director John Waters once decided to use aversion therapy to get himself to quit smoking, so he ate all the butts in an ashtray. Unfortunately, he decided that they really didn’t taste that bad, and he kept on smoking.

Work

• While working at RKO, Lucille Ball had a notable encounter with movie star Katherine Hepburn. Lucy was having some studio portraits taken, and since she wanted to look her best, she went to Ms. Hepburn’s makeup man and talked him into making her up. All went well until Ms. Hepburn was announced and Lucy was thrown out of the makeup room. Suddenly she realized that she had left her tooth caps in the makeup room — an unfortunate event because you can’t take a glamour portrait with bad teeth. She tried to catch the make-up man’s attention through a small window, but he didn’t see her, so finally an angry Lucy threw a cup of coffee at him, missing him, but hitting Ms. Hepburn. Ms. Hepburn didn’t say anything to Lucy, but she got up and left the studio, saying she couldn’t work that day.

• While making the movie Shampoo, Warren Beatty had to ride a motorcycle around a corner, where he met Jack Warden coming the other way in a Mercedes. The two vehicles nearly collided, and Mr. Beatty put the motorcycle on the ground. A stagehand named Ron Webber came over to help him, and Mr. Beatty accidentally kicked the motorcycle into him, burning Mr. Webber’s arm without meaning to and without knowing he had burned it. The next day, Mr. Beatty saw the burn and asked Mr. Webber how he had gotten it. Mr. Webber replied, “Hey, man, you kicked that d*mn bike into me and burnt my arm.” Mr. Beatty then said, “Ron, from now on, you’re in all my films.” He kept his word — every time he made a film, he hired Mr. Webber.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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