David Bruce: The Funniest People in Theater: 250 Anecdotes — Flops, Food, Friends


• Actor Sheldon Leonard once left the hit play Having Wonderful Time to star in the play Siege, but Siege flopped, leaving Mr. Leonard out of work. Fortunately, he was not out of work long, because he read in the Personals column of The New York Times: “Sheldon, come home. All is forgiven. Cast and crew of Having Wonderful Time.”


• At age 15, Percy Hammond ran away from his home in Cadiz, Ohio, ending up in Washington, D.C., with no money and little chance of employment. Starving, he made his way to the home of Ohio Senator John Sherman, brother of general William Tecumseh Sherman, who burned Atlanta during the Civil War. When Percy arrived at Senator Sherman’s door, a butler tried to refuse him admittance, but he cried, “My father and grandfather marched to the sea behind his brother,” then fainted. Senator Sherman revived him with food, then helped him find a job as a union printer. Later, Mr. Hammond became a noted theater critic in Chicago and New York.

• Gene Fowler met actress Helen Hayes after he engaged in a drunken revel with her husband, Charlie MacArthur, co-author of the stage play and movie The Front Page. Mr. MacArthur brought Mr. Fowler home and woke his wife up to meet him. Unfortunately, when the inebriated Mr. Fowler bent to kiss her hand, he toppled over. “Madam,” he said, “I beg your pardon. I grew dizzy for a moment, thinking I was five thousand feet above the canyon, in a high wind. Please charge it off to the Mexican tripe I dined on tonight in Lindy’s.

• Ralph Richardson was fastidious concerning the props that appeared on stage with him. In the George Bernard Shaw play You Never Can Tell, he carried a silver tray on which was loaded an afternoon tea, including a plateful of biscuits (or, as USAmericans would say, cookies) artistically laid out. At one performance, he said in the wings, “Oh, oh, oh! Celia Bannerman has eaten a biscuit!” His co-actor, Keith Baxter, pointed out that plenty of biscuits were left. Sir Ralph replied, “But the pattern, old fellow, the pattern! It’s gone!”

• At age 18, British comic actress Su Pollard was in a restaurant when a man left, leaving behind an untouched pork chop. Because she was hungry, she took the pork chop and ate it — and was both surprised and embarrassed when the man returned after having deposited coins in a parking meter. The man asked a server, “Where’s my dinner?” — and Ms. Pollard disappeared into the ladies restroom.

• Oscar Asche used to play Falstaff in the theater. In doing so, he was accustomed to eat an entire fowl on stage and throw the drumsticks at Bardolph, despite eating an excellent dinner before going to the theater.


• Sometimes, coordinating clothing with one’s friends can be difficult. Once, Peter Ustinov invited Wolf Mankowitz to attend a play. When they met to go to the play, Mr. Ustinov was wearing comfortable clothing, but Mr. Mankowitz was dressed up. Then Mr. Mankowitz invited Mr. Ustinov to attend a play. This time when they met to go to the play, Mr. Mankowitz was wearing comfortable clothing, but Mr. Ustinov was dressed up.

• Noël Coward frequently got into arguments with the actors and actresses in his plays, but the arguments were always sorted out later. One day, he and Gertie Lawrence were having a loud argument in a dressing room when a woman in the cast ran into the dressing room and told them, “You must stop this. I love you both and you can’t go on like this.” Mr. Coward told her, “How dare you interfere when I’m talking with my friend!”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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