David Bruce: The Funniest People in Theater: 250 Anecdotes — Christmas, Costumes

Christmas

• When playwright Lorraine Hansberry was in kindergarten, she received a very nice Christmas present: a white fur coat with matching fur muff. However, she was not pleased by the gift. She knew that although her family was financially well off, other children in their neighborhood were not. In fact, some of the children in the neighborhood were forced to put cardboard in their shoes to keep the snow and ice from coming through the holes in the soles of their shoes. Just as young Lorraine suspected, the other children were jealous of her coat, and they chased her home the first day she wore it and threw mud balls at her.

Costumes

• In 1982, Sinead Cusack appeared as Katherine in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. For her costume, an exquisite pink silk dress had been designed; however, she felt that the character would not wear anything exquisite. Therefore, she wore boots with the dress, and she suggested to the designer, Bob Crowley, “Let’s desecrate it.” He agreed, and he said, “Shall I make the first cut?” With a pair of scissors, he cut a slash in the skirt, then she did the same thing. After the desecration, the dress suited the character.

• Born Sarah Francis Frost, Julia Marlowe invented her stage name by taking the last name of Christopher Marlowe and the name of the heroine from a favorite play, The Hunchback. Late in the 19th century, she was asked why she didn’t act in more modern plays — after all, her finances were being hurt because she preferred to act only in the plays of Shakespeare and other classic dramatists. Ms. Marlowe replied, “Well, I don’t fancy myself in modern drama. I never look well in modern clothes.” End of discussion.

• One of Bette Midler’s more unusual grand entrances was in a hot dog costume, complete with condiments and bun. At an early fitting of the costume, Ms. Midler ran into trouble. The costumers had used Krazy-Glu in its construction, and because of a lack of air circulation in the costume, the glue had not dried. When Ms. Midler tried to get out of the costume, she couldn’t — her hair was glued to the giant hot dog. She was forced to stay inside the giant hot dog until her hairdresser came and cut her out.

• Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld was a master at making the beautiful women who appeared in his Follies even more beautiful. Whenever he inspected a costume, he would turn it inside out to look at its lining. He believed that when the inside of the costume was as beautiful as the outside, the women in his Follies felt more beautiful and thus appeared more beautiful.

Critics

• Robert Benchley was the drama critic for Life for several years. He detested Abie’s Irish Rose, which set a record with 2,327 performances over several years. Unfortunately for Mr. Benchley, Life ran capsule reviews of plays previously reviewed, so each week he had to find a new way to write “awful” in his capsule review of the play. After running out of ideas, he began to fill the space with such “reviews” as “There is no letter ‘w’ in the French alphabet” and “Flying fish are sometimes seen at as great a height as 15 feet” and “In another two or three years, we’ll have this play driven out of town” and “Closing soon. (Only fooling.)” Eventually, he held a contest for suggestions to fill the space. Harpo Marx’s suggestion was “No worse than a bad cold.”

• Billy Rose produced The Great Magoo, written by Gene Fowler and Ben Hecht. Unfortunately, the New York critics disliked the play and it soon closed. Mr. Rose, Mr. Fowler, and Mr. Hecht were approached by a few financial backers of the play — financial backers who also happened to be members of organized crime. The financial backers invited the three men to pick any three New York critics they would like to see dead, and the financial backers would see to it their wish turned into reality. Mr. Rose was against bloodshed, Mr. Fowler wanted a few critics to die, and Mr. Hecht wasn’t sure one way or the other. Eventually, they decided to let the critics live — a decision that Mr. Hecht later said he sometimes regretted.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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