David Bruce: The Funniest People in Theater: 250 Anecdotes — Prejudice, Problem-Solving


• Tennessee Williams had a “mammy” (a black nanny) named Ozzie in his house when he was a small boy. He once called Ozzie a “n*gger,” and she walked out of the house, never to return. Although his family tried to track her down, they were unable to. Years later, when Mr. Williams became an international-class playwright, he made sure that his contracts stated that his plays could not be performed in segregated theaters.

• George M. Cohan, despite his name, was not Jewish. He once wired for reservations at a fancy hotel in Miami, but the management wired back that they catered to an exclusive clientele — meaning, no Jews allowed. Mr. Cohan wired the management, “APPARENTLY THERE HAS BEEN A MISTAKE ON BOTH SIDES. YOU THOUGHT I WAS JEWISH, AND I THOUGHT YOU WERE GENTLEMEN.”

• In the Jim Crow days, the great black comic actor Bert Williams was allowed to stay in a hotel only on condition that he use the service elevator — despite his being one of the most popular comic actors of the day. This saddened Mr. Williams a great deal. He once told Jewish comedian Eddie Cantor, “It wouldn’t be so bad, Eddie, if I didn’t still hear the applause ringing in my ears.”

• Someone once made a remark that George S. Kaufman felt insulted Jews, so Mr. Kaufman rose from his chair and — after speaking sharply to the man — said, “I am now walking away from this table, this room, and this hotel.” He then noticed Dorothy Parker, one of whose parents was Jewish, so he added, “And I hope that Mrs. Parker will walk with me — halfway.”

• African-American actor/singer Paul Robeson created a critical and popular sensation in his role as the title character in Shakespeare’s Othello, but he was sometimes forced to cancel his theatrical and musical performances — during the Jim Crow era, because of the color of his skin, he was unable to find in some cities a hotel room to stay in.


• In Miami, Florida, during a production of a murder mystery play that was set in London, England, an emergency arose that required the presence of Police Captain Ron Finkiewicz, who was in the audience. No one knew what Police Captain Ron Finkiewicz looked like, but rather than interrupt the play to make an announcement from the stage, the female lead put the news into the play. On stage, she asked, “Has Inspector Thorpe left?” Hearing from the other actor that he had left, she then said, “That’s a pity. I have a message for him from Police Captain Ron Finkiewicz. His mother-in-law’s home was broken into, and she needs to get in touch with him right away.” A moment later, Police Captain Ron Finkiewicz jumped up and left to take care of the emergency. Later, he said, “It was so smooth that it took a moment to sink in. All of a sudden it dawned on me. The play was about a murder in London, not Poland. Why would there be someone with a Polish name like mine in it?”

• Tim Hurst was an umpire who enjoyed Broadway theater. Whenever he umpired in Philadelphia, he wanted the game to end quickly so he could take a train to New York and see a Broadway show. Near the end of one game, it looked like he would make his train with time to spare because Philadelphia was leading St. Louis by 11 runs. However, since Jack Powell, the St. Louis pitcher, knew that the game was hopelessly lost, he decided to delay the game so Umpire Hurst would miss his train. Therefore, he deliberately started throwing wild pitches and walking runners. However, once Umpire Hurst realized what Mr. Powell was up to, he allowed Mr. Powell to throw only nine more pitches. No matter where Mr. Powell threw the ball — inside, outside, high, low — Umpire Hurst called the pitch a strike. After quickly completing the game, Umpire Hurst got on the train and went to New York.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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Music Recommendation: Danny B. Harvey and the Living Deeds — Living Dead Boogie”


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Artist: Danny B. Harvey and the Living Deads

Artist Location: Austen, Texas


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Genre: Rockabilly




Danny B. Harvey on Bandcamp


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Open Mic Night at Ohio University’s Front Room — 1 October 2021

Dan Canterbury
Riley James
Tim Pfaff
Joshua Corbett
Bruce Dalzell, emcee

David Bruce’s Spoken Word, More or Less:

In the 1970s, OU President Claude Sowle decided to hold public meetings at which college deans would argue for money for their departments. Of course, these were spectacular events at which college deans wore caps and gowns and argued passionately for money. At one such public meeting, Dr. Henry Lin, Dean of Fine Arts, began his remarks by saying, “Ni hao, Dr. Sowle.” Of course, he was speaking flawless Mandarin Chinese, and he continued to speak flawless Mandarin Chinese — which Dr. Sowle did NOT understand — for the rest of his remarks, occasionally using a Chinese abacus to emphasize a financial point. At the end of Dr. Lin’s remarks, President Sowle told him, “Henry, you know I don’t understand Chinese, but I’ve never understood you more clearly than right now — you need big bucks!” (By the way, Dr. Lin is the father of Maya Lin, the genius who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.) 

Artists frequently work with nude models. OU art professor John “Jack” Baldwin and his wife, Bunny, once took a vacation in Mexico, where they went to a clothing-optional beach. Bunny pointed out a particularly beautiful naked woman to Jack, who told her, “Bunny, I am here on vacation. I am not here to work.” 

An OU art professor once wrote a letter in which she used as many words beginning with the letter F as possible. She called it her F-word letter. 

Margaret “Peg” Cohn, Dean Emerita of the Ohio University Honors College, remembers carpooling with other mothers. On one occasion, she had a carload of children when they came across an intersection in which someone had written in large letters a four-letter word beginning with “F” and ending with “K.” Ms. Cohn’s seven-year-old carefully said each letter aloud, then asked, “Mom?” Ms. Cohn braced herself, afraid that she would have to give a sex education lesson to a carload of children, but fortunately her seven-year-old asked merely, “How did they do that without getting run over?” Ms. Cohn answered that question, happy that she had remembered “a cardinal rule for parents: Be sure what the question is before you give the answer.” 

Women’s sports and women athletes have not always been respected. For example, in the 1960s (well before Title 9), Catherine L. Brown used to teach field hockey at OU on a field that was also used by ROTC cadets. Sometimes, the ROTC cadets would act as if the women athletes were invisible and march onto the field — even during games. On one occasion when this happened, the ROTC cadets were standing at attention — meaning that they could not move — so Ms. Brown ordered the game to continue, and she rewarded each woman athlete who managed to hit the legs of an ROTC cadet with the ball. 

Ohio University sports publicist Frank Morgan occasionally talked at elementary schools about sports. Once he explained that baseballs are made of horsehide, and a horrified little girl exclaimed, “You mean they kill horsies to make baseballs!” 

A student once wanted to interview Ohio University zoologist Scott Moody for a term paper on herpes simplex after learning that Dr. Moody taught herpetology. However, herpetologists study amphibians and reptiles, while virologists study viruses such as herpes. Still, the student’s mistake was not as bad as it may sound. Interestingly, “herpetology” and “herpes” share a common root word, “herpo,” which means crawling. As Dr. Moody explains it, “‘Herpeton’ means creeping, crawling creature. The earlier naturalists used this term for the slow sprawling terrestrial vertebrates (lizards, snakes, turtles, salamanders) in contrast with the more active terrestrial vertebrates (mammals and birds). The first herpes described scientifically was ‘herpes zoster’ or shingles. The way a shingles infection manifests itself is as an outbreak of skin rash and blisters that then spread in a linear fashion, hence crawl in one direction. The Greek word ‘herpes’ was chosen as the genus name for this group of viruses.”

Here is a story that Scott Moody tells his friends: “When I was a graduate student living in Germany collecting data for my doctoral dissertation, I often used the public bathroom at the Berlin Train Station. One of the ‘sanitary engineers’ who happened to be an older woman got her jollies by waiting until there was a long line of men urinating in the contiguous urinal stand, then she would flush real hard, spraying water everywhere, causing men to jump backwards while urinating on the floor or on themselves, displaying their shagadelic [fans of the Austin Powers movies will recognize the reference] tools, and so forth. I witnessed this several times, and it was always the same ‘putzfrau.’” 

Philosophy professor Warren Ruchti studied under the famous philosopher Nelson Goodman, author of Ways of Worldmaking and other important books, at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Goodman’s intelligence was awesome, and Dr. Ruchti tells several anecdotes about him. A visiting lecturer once was busily writing numerous premises for his arguments on the chalkboard before his lecture when Nelson Goodman walked in. Dr. Goodman glanced at the columns of premises, and then told the visiting lecturer, “You have contradictory premises — look here and here.” The lecturer said, “Oh my gosh, you’re right!” Another time a visiting lecturer gave a long, involved talk at a colloquium. At the end of the talk, Nelson Goodman looked at Warren Ruchti and said, “He hasn’t got the answer,” and then walked out of the room. Nelson Goodman moved on to Harvard, from which he retired, but he has not been forgotten. The Ruchtis’ family pet was named in honor of the eminent philosopher: Nelson Gooddog. 

Many people don’t regard reading, writing, and learning as working. Philosophy professor Robert Wieman decided to clean his office one day, so he got sweaty moving furniture around and throwing away heaps of old, outdated files. A maintenance worker passed by and said, “You’re the first person I’ve seen working around here.”

By the way, Dr. Wieman once told his students, “I have more children than I have fingers, and all but one of them totalled a car by their eighteenth birthday.”

Also by the way, Dr. Wieman was my main advisor when I was working on my Master’s thesis in philosophy. At a volleyball game between philosophy professors and philosophy students, I managed to score a point against him. I noticed that he didn’t look too happy about it, so as soon as I could, I let him score a point against me. I could have blocked the ball, but Mama Bruce didn’t raise her little boy Davy up to be no fool. 

David Bruce