• Sylvia Miles became an actress because she was incompetent at procuring theatrical props. She was working as a set designer at a Long Island theater when the producer sent her out to get some props. She returned after purchasing the props for $90. This shocked the producer, who told her, “You’re not supposed to pay for props. You’re supposed to rent or borrow them and give them billing.” Ms. Miles, of course, wanted her $90 back, so the producer said, “Tell you what. I’m going to give you a part in the play, and I’ll give you $90 to play the part.”
• The Marx Brothers flopped in London with a vaudeville skit called “On the Mezzanine.” During the skit, the Londoners began to throw pennies on the stage — a deadly insult. Groucho went to the front of the stage, raised his hand for silence, then said, “If you people are going to throw coins, I wish to h*ll you’d throw something more substantial — like shillings or guineas.” This joke was quoted throughout London, and the Marx Brothers became successful in London with a different skit titled “Home Again.”
• People who provide financial backing for Broadway shows are called “angels,” perhaps because they seldom get back their money. Marc Connelly wrote a play based on Roark Bradford’s Ole Man Adam and His Chillun, and convinced a banker named Rowland Stebbins to put up the money to produce it. Afterwards, Mr. Connelly introduced Mr. Stebbins to a couple of friends, saying, “Meet the sucker!” (Mr. Stebbins wasn’t a sucker. Mr. Connelly’s play, The Green Pastures, was a huge hit and won the Pulitzer Prize.)
• Early in his career, jazz great Duke Ellington was asked to write some songs for a musical. He didn’t know that composers often took months to write for a musical, so he stayed up all night writing four songs, and in the morning he took them to the musical’s promoter, Jack Robbins, who paid $500 for the songs after pawning his wife’s engagement ring. Mr. Robbins then took the musical to Germany, where it played for two years and made him a millionaire.
• Famed theater director Tyrone Guthrie liked to tell this story on himself. He had given an ex tempore speech in Vancouver about theater, but because he had just gotten off a plane and was tired, he had not spoken very well. After the speech, a famous Vancouver eccentric, Mrs. Clegg, approached him and said, “I’ve been sitting here listening to you for the last 45 minutes, and you haven’t said anything. I paid $1.50, and I want my $1.50 back.” Mr. Guthrie gave her $1.50.
• Sir Barry Jackson once directed an amateur production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with John Drinkwater as Malvolio. During one outdoor performance, a rainstorm blew up and the audience left en masse, except for a couple of old ladies who remained huddled under an umbrella. Sir Barry hissed to Mr. Drinkwater, “You must go on, or we shall have to repay their money.”
• Lee Schubert understood finances. Once, he sold the movie rights to a 10-year-old play and without consulting a contract to refresh his memory knew who had a share in the money thus obtained. One of the sharers was actor Leo Ditrichstein, from whose check Mr. Schubert deducted a few dollars that Mr. Ditrichstein had owed him for several years.
• As a young man, humorous poet Don Marquis worked as a journalist for $18 a week and once turned down a job to work as an actor for $15 a week. He explained later that he had decided to stay in writing because of “the big money.” (Actually, he was right — later he wrote a play titled The Old Soak that made him $85,000.)
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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