• During a matinee performance of Macbeth at which few people were in the audience, Sir Laurence Olivier noticed a boy sitting in the balcony and decided to give a special performance just for him. Sir Laurence gave a wonderful performance and the entire company followed suit, so that during intermission Sir Laurence said, “That boy will never see anything like this as long as he lives; it’s an experience he’ll never forget.” Unfortunately, when Sir Laurence and the company went back on stage following the intermission, they discovered that the boy had left the theater and gone home.
• Carol Burnett’s career got a big boost when she appeared as Princess Winifred in the off-Broadway play Once upon a Mattress. However, the play was on the verge of closing after only six weeks. Therefore, Ms. Burnett and other cast members started to picket the theater, urging management to keep the play open. Joining the picket line were several children from the neighborhood. A Broadway columnist figured that Ms. Burnett was paying the children to picket, but after talking to them, he wrote, “I apologize. Carol Burnett is the best-loved girl on Second Avenue.”
• When 10-year-old Patricia Fosse started taking dance lessons in the Chicago Academy of Theatre Arts, she was shy and cried at the thought of taking dance lessons alone. Therefore, her parents sent her eight-year-old brother, Bob, along to keep her from feeling alone. Bob Fosse grew up to be a world-famous choreographer for such musicals as Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity, and All That Jazz. In 1973, Mr. Fosse won an Emmy (for Liza Minnelli’s Liza with a Z), an Oscar (for Cabaret), and two Tony Awards (for Pippin).
• At a dinner that Alexander Woollcott threw for Mrs. Minnie Fiske, four street urchins followed the proceedings as they looked through a window. They were delighted when Mr. Woollcott and his friends gave them some after-dinner mints, but when Mrs. Fiske offered them some red roses, their leader declined, explaining, “I work in a florist’s.” Following the dinner, the smallest of the street urchins said, “Thank you, one and all, gentlemen and -women of leisure.”
• When British character actress Patricia Routledge was a small child, whenever she would cry, her mother would say, “Have a toffee.” Sometimes young Patricia would say she wanted a different kind of candy, but her mother insisted, “Have a toffee.” Why? Because it’s impossible to both cry and chew a toffee. Young Patricia’s attempt to do both would make her mother laugh, and soon young Patricia would laugh.
• Playwright and screenwriter Charles MacArthur used vulgar language and slang around the house, even in front of his children. When Mary, his daughter, was in the fourth grade, she was invited by some other little girls to play a game of “Kick the Can.” Mary was “It,” and because she didn’t know how the game was played, she bent over and waited for the other little girls to kick her.
• When Groucho’s first child was born, the Marx Brothers were starring in vaudeville in a comic skit called “Home Again.” Upon hearing the news of the birth, Groucho told the audience, “I have just been informed that my wife, Ruth, has made me the father of a six-pound bouncing baby. When the baby stops bouncing, I’ll let you know whether it’s a boy or a girl.”
• Music Hall performer Marie Lloyd once gave money to her dresser to have the dresser’s child see her in performance. After all, Ms. Lloyd said, “She mustn’t ever say she has never seen Marie Lloyd.” After the performance, Ms. Lloyd asked the child what she had thought of the show. The child replied, “You can’t dance and you can’t sing, and I think you’re rotten.”
• When Sir Michael Redgrave’s daughter Vanessa was born, family friend Sir Laurence Olivier announced to a theatrical audience, “Today a lovely young actress was born.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
The Funniest People in Theater: 250 Anecdotes — Buy