David Bruce: The Funniest People in Theater: 250 Anecdotes — Mishaps

Mishaps

• Actor Esmé Percy had only one eye, the unfortunate result of an attack on him by a Great Dane he had petted. While he was playing a drunken tinker in the final act of The Lady’s Not for Burning, his glass eye fell out, shocking the other actors. Fortunately, one of the actors recovered himself enough to pick up the glass eye and hand it back to Mr. Percy, who was murmuring, “Don’t step on it, for God’s sake! They’re so expensive!”

• Some anecdotes need not be completely told to be funny; after all, some things are best left to the imagination. In 2007, when playwright Edward Albee was 80 years old, his beloved cat died of cancer. While the cat’s grave was being dug, Mr. Albee put the cat in a freezer. He says about his cat, “I put her in plastic and forgot to tell the cleaning ladies. One of them went in there, saw a dead cat and, well ….”

• Fanny Brice was persistent. Once she was singing her big number in a show when her voice cracked — something no one could believe. She made the orchestra begin the song again, and she sang again, and her voice cracked again. So she told the audience, “Just stay in your seats. We’ll get it this time.” And she did get it, and she received a huge ovation from the audience.

• While acting in a play with Ethel Barrymore, Madeline Lee, who was Jack Gilford’s future wife, cut her finger as she sliced lemons in a scene. She brought the lemons to Ms. Barrymore. Ms. Barrymore was supposed to ask for some parsley, but instead, staring at the blood on the plate of lemons, she said, “Go in the garden and get me a plate of blood.”

• While performing on Broadway in My Fair Lady, British actor Rex Harrison narrowly missed being killed by a huge and heavy piece of scenery that fell to the floor; however, Mr. Harrison ignored the near disaster and continued acting and singing. A stagehand watched Mr. Harrison and then said, “Now I know why the British won the war.”

• Early in her career, choreographer Agnes de Mille danced in the play The Black Crook. One night, her partner accidentally kicked her and broke her nose. Ms. de Mille reported, “The sound, a kind of wet scrunch, carried to the back of the theater, but, I am proud to say, neither of us missed a step.”

• Sir John Gielgud, the actor, was known for a habit of saying absolutely the wrong thing. Once a close friend showed him a newly acquired city apartment. Sir John started off well, complimenting his friend on his sense in moving to town, but he added, “Mind you, I couldn’t bear a pokey little place like this.”

Money

• Impresario James W. Morrissey once ran low on funds in Galveston, Texas, because the play he was producing was not popular. For a few weeks, it seemed as if his troupe would be unable to leave town because of a lack of money to pay off the hotel bill and to buy train tickets — and to pay the actors their salaries. However, Mr. Morrissey hit on the idea of having his troupe give a singing concert. The concert was well attended, but the audience began to howl when the leading comedian, Owen Fawcett, who did not have a good singing voice, announced that he would recite Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Men.” Fortunately, Mr. Fawcett knew how to control an audience. He waited for the hooting and hollering to die down, then he began an impressive recitation that spellbound the audience. He finished by declaiming, “The last scene of all in this strange, eventful history is second childishness and mere oblivion: sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything — including salary.” After that joke, the concert went exceedingly well, and the actors earned enough money to get back home to Broadway.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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