David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Police, Politics, Popularity, Practical Jokes

Police

• Pianist Oscar Levant once avoided a speeding ticket because he was listening to Beethoven on his car radio. He told the police officer, “You can’t possibly hear the last movement of Beethoven’s Seventh, and go slow.”

Politics

• George Jessel once made a speech on radio in support of the campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt for President. The other speakers went over their time limits, so Mr. Jessel’s speech had to be quite short. He told the audience, “Ladies and gentlemen, most of my eloquent colleagues have this evening taken up ever so much of their time in expounding the weaknesses and vices of President Roosevelt’s opponent, Thomas Dewey. I shall not and I could not do this. I know Governor Thomas E. Dewey, and Mr. Dewey is a fine man.” As it is not the custom to praise the opponent in politics, a hush fell over the Roosevelt supporters — until Mr. Jessel added, “Yes, Mr. Dewey is a fine man. So is my Uncle Morris. My Uncle Morris shouldn’t be President; neither should Dewey.

• Carol Burnett became very successful in New York City, both on Broadway and on television. She was a hit in her first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on August 11, 1957, when she sang the comic song “I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles.” (In real life, Ms. Burnett and Mr. Dulles had never met.) The following Sunday, Mr. Dulles, who was Secretary of State from 1953 to 1959, appeared on Meet the Press. At the end of the program, a reporter asked Mr. Dulles a light-hearted question about his relationship with the young woman who had sang about him on The Ed Sullivan Show. Mr. Dulles smiled and replied, “I make it a point never to discuss affairs of the heart in public.”

• Politicians have long been aware of the all-seeing eye of television. During the Army-McCarthy hearings, Senator Joseph McCarthy wrote a note asking the television camera operators to point their cameras at someone else for a while so that he could blow his nose.

Popularity

• The 1950s situation comedy I Love Lucy was amazingly popular when it appeared originally on Monday. In fact, it was so popular that Marshall Fields department store decided to close on Monday nights, and so it put up this sign: “We love Lucy, too, so we’re closing on Monday nights.”

• The television show I Love Lucy is aptly named. Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, who was running against Dwight David Eisenhower, once pre-empted an episode of I Love Lucy, and hate mail poured in to the candidate. One viewer wrote: “I love Lucy. I like Ike. Drop dead.”

Practical Jokes

• In junior high school, Jay Leno used to create havoc in the classroom whenever a substitute teacher appeared on the scene. For example, a classmate named Lewis Trumbore used to help him fake a suicide. Lewis would hold Jay’s shoes outside a window, then yell for the teacher and say, “Come here, quick! Jay Leno’s hanging out this window! I can’t hold on much longer!” Then he would drop the shoes, the other students — who were in on the joke — would scream, and the teacher would look out the window to see Jay lying motionless on the ground. Of course, he hadn’t jumped — he was just playing dead.

• When he was still working for NBC, Late Night talk-show host David Letterman looked out of his office window and noticed Today Show talk-show host Bryant Gumbel filming an interview outside. David being David, he got a bullhorn and shouted down to Mr. Gumbel: “My name is Larry Grossman, I am the president of NBC News — and I’m not wearing any pants.” The interruption ruined Mr. Gumbel’s interview, and he had to film it again, but Late Night fans enjoyed a good laugh.

• Actress Betty White has been on television seemingly forever — and she has had fun doing it. In an early series, Life With Elizabeth, she starred with Del Moore, who enjoyed playing a trick on the director. Between takes, he used to slip his ring off one hand and put it on his other hand. When an episode aired, he and Betty White used to enjoy watching his ring magically jump from one hand to the other.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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