David Bruce: The Funniest People in Theater: 250 Anecdotes — Gifts, Good Deeds, Husbands and Wives, Housing, Husbands and Wives


• In 1944, Laurence Olivier scored a major success while acting in Richard III. John Gielgud welcomed Mr. Olivier into the ranks of the truly great actors by giving him a special gift: the sword that Edmund Kean had used while playing the role of Richard III in the early 1800s. This sword has been passed down from Mr. Kean to Mr. Henry Irving to Mr. Gielgud to Mr. Olivier — truly great actors all.

Good Deeds

• At the very beginning of her career, opera singer/actress Grace Moore started touring with a play titled Town Gossip that never reached Broadway. Unfortunately, when it closed in Boston no money was left to pay the chorus girls, so they were stranded without a way to get back to New York City. Fortunately, Ms. Moore was able to telephone her friend Bernard Baruch — she was the type of person who knows many, many famous people — and he paid the chorus girls’ way back home. The chorus girls were grateful to him and they paid him back, but slowly — for years afterwards, small checks were sent to Mr. Baruch through Actors’ Equity.

• When Carol Burnett was majoring in theater arts at UCLA, she and a fellow student entertained at a party, where she sang songs from the Broadway hit Annie Get Your Gun. A man at the party was impressed by what he had heard, and he promised to give them the money to get to Broadway. A few days later, they stopped by the man’s office, where he handed them each a check for $1,000 and said, “Use it to get started. I came to this country without a cent. Now I want to show my thanks to America by helping others. Pay me back in five years, if you make it, and someday do the same for someone else.”


• One of Jeremy Nichols’ friends had a rather nasty experience with the interior decor of a room that was rented to itinerant actors in England. He saw a fur-covered lampshade in his room. Thinking that his landlady had horrible taste, and wondering whether the fur was real, he touched it — only to discover that what looked like fur was a coating of dust, one-half inch thick.

• British actress Hermione Gingold loved the English countryside. How much did she love it? After growing homesick for the English countryside while living in New York, she altered her Park Avenue penthouse — by giving it a thatched roof.

Husbands and Wives

• At one point, Lorraine Hansberry’s writing of a play seemed to be going nowhere, so she threw the pages into the air, then left the room to get a broom to sweep the pages into the fire. When she returned, she found her husband gathering the pages together and putting them in order. A few days later, he set the pages before her, and she resumed writing the play. In 1959, the New York Drama Critics Circle named the play, A Raisin in the Sun, the Best Play of the Year.

• Brian Smedley fell in love with actress Judi Dench and asked her to marry him. She said that she would think about the proposal, then give him her answer, but she never got back to him. Instead, she fell in love with Michael Williams and married him. While visibly pregnant, she was performing in London Assurance. Mr. Smedley saw the play, and when it was over, he went to her dressing room, stuck his head in the door, and said, “I take it the answer’s no?”

• Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari wrote the comic opera Il Segreto di Susanna in 1909. The plot revolves around Susanna’s secret, which threatens to tear apart her marriage. Her husband knows that she has a secret, and he suspects the worst, but she insists that she is innocent, and she insists on her privacy. Finally, the audience learns her secret — she smokes cigarettes!


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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