David Bruce: Boredom is Anti-Life — Auditions, Authors

Auditions

• When he was 21, Luigi (Eugene Facciuto) was paralyzed in a car accident. Physicians told him that he would never walk again, but all he could think about was dancing again. An operation on his eyes, which was necessary because the car accident had crushed his head, left him permanently cross-eyed. However, he kept hearing a voice that told him, “Never stop moving, kid. If you stop moving, you’re dead. Don’t ever stop moving.” Through ballet lessons, he was able to rehabilitate himself, and he ended up dancing alongside people such as Gene Kelly. However, he was forced to become a jazz dancer rather than a ballet dancer because his crossed eyes made it impossible for him to perform pirouettes — he couldn’t spot. He once auditioned for Lucia Chase and all went well until she asked him to perform some turns in the air. Because of his crossed eyes, he couldn’t. He remembers hearing Ms. Chase say, “I thought they said he could dance.” As a jazz dancer, he performed with Judy Garland, Leslie Caron, Cyd Charisse, Donald O’Connor, and Vera Ellen. Luigi’s most important motto throughout his life has been this: “Never stop moving.”

• In April of 1960, a blizzard hit Cincinnati. Young Suzanne Farrell and her mother still made it to an audition for the National Ballet of Canada. However, a chilly journey that lasted over three hours and left no time for Suzanne to warm up took its toll on her and she did not dance well. Still, she says, she danced nowhere near as badly as the National Ballet of Canada told her mother she did. Suzanne says, “I was absolutely crushed. I was ready to give up ballet at fourteen. Then I thought it over, and decided, well, I didn’t like that company very much anyway.” The very next month New York City Ballet dancer Diana Adams discovered her, and Suzanne received a Ford Foundation Scholarship to study at the School of American Ballet. Of course, Suzanne became a superstar of ballet. By the way, in 1961 a representative of the National Ballet of Canada saw Suzanne taking class and said, “Should you decide to join us ….” Suzanne did not let the representative finish: “Sorry, I have something better to do.”

Authors

• When Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie, and her husband first arrived at their Rocky Ridge Farm in Missouri, they stayed in a log cabin that had a fireplace but no windows. When they needed more light, they simply knocked out some of the chinking between logs — this let in more light, but it also let in the wind and rain. Later, they built a much nicer house to live in. And while living in Burr Oak, Iowa, she was excited when she found a bullet hole in a door of the hotel where she and her family were living. A husband had gotten drunk, and being angry at his wife, he had tried to shoot her. The wife slammed the door behind her and got away safely.

• As an adult, E.B. White wrote Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. When he was a little boy attending his first day of kindergarten, he was annoyed by a little girl who wanted to hold his hand. By the way, as a famous author, Mr. White was often asked to make speeches, but he suffered from stage fright, so he used to decline these invitations by writing, “I am incapable of making a speech.” Also by the way, while working at The New Yorker, Mr. White declined to come in for regular hours, although he did turn in his work on time. In fact, he once set off for a vacation in Maine — without first informing The New Yorker.

• J.R.R. Tolkien was grading a stack of examination papers at Oxford University when he came across an exam that hadn’t been completed. In the empty space at the bottom of the exam, he wrote, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Later, Mr. Tolkien said, “Names always generate a story in my mind: eventually I thought I’d better find out what hobbits are like.” This single sentence at the bottom of an unfinished exam led to Tolkien’s books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

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David Bruce: Boredom is Anti-Life — Art, Audiences

Art

• Students at MIT have occasionally hacked (that is, pranked) the school’s works of art. Actually, one hack really wasn’t a hack — it really was a work of art. Artist Scott Raphael Schiamberg installed what appeared to be a field of wheat in Lobby 7. On a Monday in May 1996, students and faculty strolled through the wheat. Mr. Schiamberg received much media publicity, and he received many congratulatory emails. One MIT employee emailed him, “It took my breath away. All Mondays should be so beautiful.” Of course, MIT students added a few touches of their own to the work of art — such as a cow and a scarecrow. However, MIT students liked the field of wheat, and they did not like some of the other works of art on the MIT campus, such as Louise Nevelson’s Transparent Horizons, which MIT students criticize as being like much other MIT art: In the students’ word, the art is “ugly.” MIT hackers once installed a desk and a study light in the top of the sculpture, and they once rededicated it with this plaque: “Louise Nevelson / b. 1990 / Big Black Scrap Heap / 1975.” And occasionally MIT hackers will install authentic-looking but satiric “works of art” in MIT galleries. For example, in 1985 MIT hacking group James E. Tetazoo installed “NO KNIFE: A STUDY IN MIXED MEDIASEARTH TONES, NUMBER THREE” in MIT’s List Visual Arts Center. The “work of art” consisted of a large plate, small plate, fork, two spoons (one a soup spoon), and glass on a tray placed on an upside-down trash receptacle. A statement accompanying the “art” satirized art criticism. The first sentence read, “The artist’s mode d’emploirelies upon minimalist kinematic methods; space and time are frozen in a staid reality of restrained sexuality.”

• Do modern angels wear jeans and use mobile phones? How about statues of modern angels? In the city of Hertogenbosch (aka Den Bosch) in the south of the Netherlands is the Roman Catholic St. John’s Cathedral. Dozens of statues are in the medieval cathedral, and some of the statues are recently created. Sculptor Ton Mooy sculpted 25 new angels for the cathedral, and among them he sculpted one modern angel. The artist wanted to create a jet-pack-wearing angel, but that design was rejected, so he created an angel wearing jeans and using a mobile phone. The artist points out, “The phone has just one button. It dials directly to God.” (It’s also interesting to note that the cathedral also has a large stained-glass window depicting Hell — the window depicts 9-11.)

• British artist Sir Joshua Reynolds looked through some drawings at a second-hand picture dealer’s, then asked how much one of the drawings cost. Astonished to hear that the price was 20 guineas, he asked, “Twenty pence, I suppose you mean?” The dealer replied, “No, sir. It is true that this morning I would have taken 20 pence for it, but if you think it is worth looking at, all the world will think it worth buying.” Sir Joshua paid the 20 guineas for the drawing.

Audiences

• Sometimes, stand-up comedians face very hostile audiences. Once, an audience kept shouting at George Calfa, “Get off! Get off!” He told the audience that the only way he would leave would be for the audience to give him a standing ovation. but after the audience had given him a standing ovation, he told them, “This is the first standing ovation I ever got — I’d better do an encore.”

• The recitals of modern dance pioneer Martha Graham were so different from classical ballet that many people had trouble relating to them. A woman attended a Graham recital, then went backstage afterward and asked her, “Martha, how long do you expect to keep up this dreadful dancing?” Ms. Graham replied, “As long as I have an audience.”

• CBS executives detested the pilot episode of Gilligan’s Island; however, when they tested the pilot, they discovered that audiences loved it. This so amazed the CBS executives that they tested the pilot more than once, because they were afraid that something was wrong with the first audience.

• Following the premiere of Rodeo: The Courting at Burnt Ranch, choreographed by Agnes de Mille, the cast had 22 curtain calls and was showered with bouquets. Most of the bouquets consisted of flowers, but one was made of ears of corn and red, white, and blue ribbons.

***

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David Bruce: Boredom is Anti-Life — Advertising, Alcohol

Advertising

• In April 2012, the Coca-Cola Company put a special Coke machine in Singapore. It looked like a regular Coke machine, but it had the words “Hug Me” written on it in large letters. Anyone who hugged the machine got a reward: a free cold Coca-Cola. Leonardo O’Grady, ASEAN IMC Director, The Coca-Cola Company, said, “Happiness is contagious. The Coca-Cola Hug Machine is a simple idea to spread some happiness. Our strategy is to deliver doses of happiness in an unexpected, innovative way to engage not only the people present, but the audience at large. Whether you were hugging the machine or experiencing the event online, our goal was the same — to put a smile on your face and share that emotional connection. Reactions were amazing … people really had fun with it and at one point we had four to five people hugging the machine at the same time as well as each other! In fact, there was a long line of people looking to give hugs — it was really heartwarming.” Of course, this is good advertising. Louise Kuegler, Regional Business Director at Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific, said, “We’re excited to work with The Coca-Cola Company in delivering what is really a very simple idea. All you need to do is give the Coca-Cola Hug Machine a hug and it will love you back, by giving you a free Coke. Something simple and engaging, that lifts people’s spirits and brings a smile to their face.”

• Magician Herrmann the Great had a knack for publicity. Once, in full view of two police officers, he clumsily picked a handkerchief from the pocket of one of two men. The police officers immediately intervened, and the second man looked in his pockets and discovered that his watch was missing. The police officers asked Herrmann the Great if he had the watch, but he replied that they should look in their pockets. They did, and they discovered both the watch and the handkerchief. By this time, the two men had recognized Herrmann the Great, and they thought the joke was funny. However, the police officers were not amused, and they took the magician to the police station, where they lectured him about respecting the dignity of the police. Of course, the whole affair was written up in the newspapers — exactly as Herrmann the Great had wanted.

• Stan Freberg once parodied soap operas with a skit titled “John and Marsha.” The skit consisted only of the words “John” and “Marsha.” Marsha would say, “John.” John would then say “Marsha.” As they said the words, they went through all of the emotions seen on soap operas — love, passion, anger, etc. To advertise the skit, which appeared on a comedy album, Capitol Records printed bumper stickers. Restaurant owners took the bumper stickers, cut them in half, and put “John” on the door to the men’s restroom and “Marsha” on the door to the women’s restroom. By the way, one of Mr. Freberg’s advertisements claimed, “Nine out of ten doctors recommend Chun King chow mein.” The advertisement showed ten doctors, nine of whom were Oriental.

Alcohol

• Financial writer Andrew Tobias is often frugal. For example, he buys cheap vodka, and then pours it into bottles bearing the label of an expensive brand. According to Mr. Tobias, “When it comes to mixed drinks, vodka is vodka.” By the way, Mr. Tobias knew Bill Clinton before he became President. As a joke, Mr. Tobias once tapped Mr. Clinton on the shoulder and asked, “Now, Bill, forgive me — but where is Arkansas again?” Mr. Clinton didn’t laugh.

• Noël Coward had just finished having a drink with a VIP when a newspaper reporter spotted him. The reporter asked, “Was it just a friendly drink?” Mr. Coward replied, “My dear boy, have you ever heard of people taking unfriendly drinks?” By the way, Mr. Coward once wrote a letter to Lawrence of Arabia — Aircraftsman T.E. Shaw, No. 338171. Mr. Coward began the letter, “Dear 338171, May I call you 338?”

• Filmmaker John Waters once went to the supermarket to buy water, an act that seemed suspicious to a lower-class woman, who wondered why on earth anyone would buy water. She asked Mr. Waters, “What is that sh*t anyway?” He replied, “Perrier. It’s good for hangovers.” Hearing that, she smiled, revealing a toothless mouth, and said, “I’ll have to get me some.”

***

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio — Writers; Boredom is Anti-Life — Actors and Acting

Writers

• Some of the plots and dialogue on The Dick Van Dyke Show came from real life. The episode “A Bird in the Head Hurts!” was about a bird stalking Ritchie to get locks of his hair for her nest. (This actually happened to a neighbor of series creator Carl Reiner.) The advice given to Laura Petrie in the episode — “Let him wear a pith helmet” — was actually spoken by an ASPCA officer. In the episode “Never Name a Duck,” the Petrie family acquires two ducks as pets for Ritchie. (In real life, the Reiner family had acquired two ducks as pets for the children.) One duck died and the other duck soon appeared to be ill. The line about the ill duck — “He looks pale!” — was spoken in real life by Mr. Reiner’s wife, Estelle.

• For a while, Marc Cherry, the openly gay creator of TV’s Desperate Housewives, named every episode after a song title by Stephen Sondheim. This got Mr. Sondheim’s attention, and Mr. Sondheim sent him this note: “Next time you’re in town, give me a call and you can tell me how much you like my work.” (Mr. Sondheim can get away with messages like that because he is so successful and because he is over 75 years old.) In fact, Mr. Cherry did get to have dinner with and spend five hours talking to Mr. Sondheim.

• During the McCarthy era, and for a while after it, many excellent writers were blacklisted, meaning that they could not work in the entertainment industry. In practice, however, many of these writers continued to work, but their work appeared under the names of other people. For example, a blacklisted writer wrote an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, but the writer’s name listed on the credits was chosen at random from the Los Angeles phone book.

Actors and Acting

• Actors often know their own limitations. Early in his career, E.A. Southern tried to act the roles of tragic heroes but discovered that he was not very good at them and so performed other kinds of roles on the stage. He once told theatrical critic John Rankin Towse about a conversation that he had had with fellow actor Edwin Booth: “We were talking, among other things, of Will Stewart, the old dramatic critic, and his capacity for apt and cutting definition. By way of illustration I quoted his remark about my Claude Melnotte, that it ‘exhibited all the qualities of a poker except its warmth.’” Mr. Southern then added, “I suppose that my performance was about as bad as anything ever seen upon the stage.” Mr. Booth chuckled and then asked, “You never saw my Romeo, did you?”

• Early in his acting career, Sheldon Leonard competed for parts with Sam Levene because they played similar characters. In a road production of Three Men on a Horse, Mr. Leonard played a comedic part that Mr. Levene had originated on Broadway. During a dress rehearsal, Mr. Levene stopped by — not to watch Mr. Leonard, but to time his laughs to see if Mr. Leonard was getting bigger laughs than he had gotten. After an especially long laugh, Mr. Levene turned to Mr. Leonard’s wife, who was also standing in the back of the theater, and snarled, “What did he do? Drop his pants?

• When British actor Hugh O’Brian was visiting in New York City and feeling prosperous and famous, a woman said to him, “Excuse me, but would you be kind enough to tell me your name?” Mr. O’Brian also felt mischievous, so he replied, “Certainly, madam, my name’s Natalie Wood.” The woman turned to her companion and said, “There you are — I told you I was right.”

• Filmmaker John Waters once received a resume from a 16-year-old boy whose only acting experience was playing the Easter Bunny in a grade-school play. He offered the boy an acting job, but the boy’s parents vetoed his acting career.

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Work, Writers

Work

• Comedian Steve Allen once hosted a radio program on KNX, where his boss ordered him to “just play records, and in between do a little light chatter.” Mr. Allen did that, but as time went on, the comedy took up more and more of the radio show, leaving little time for playing records. Therefore, his boss sent him a memo, telling him to stop the comedy and play the records. Mr. Allen read the memo on the air, then argued that anyone could play records but his comedy was original. Lots of listeners agreed with him, and 400 listeners sent in letters supporting him, so his boss told him to go ahead and do his comedy — “But play a little music, OK?

• As a young man, Matt Groening sent cartoons to his friends instead of letters. The cartoons documented his life in Los Angeles, and he titled the cartoons Life in Hell. They were good enough that he collected them in homemade comic books and sold them where he worked — a record store. Eventually, he hit what he calls the “doodlers’ jackpot” of The Simpsons and Futurama. Meanwhile, all of his cartoonist friends who were more talented artists than he stopped creating and got boring, middle-class jobs.

• Emma Caulfield played Anya the former vengeance demon on TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Perhaps it is lucky that she got the job; after all, she admits to being a horrible waitress at a restaurant where she disliked the food. Customers would come in, ask what she recommended, and she would tell them that the food was very bad but the drinks were very good. Her customers ate little, but drank a lot and left her very generous, motivated-by-alcohol tips.

• Comedian Henry Morgan once worked the late shift at a radio station. Among his other duties, he had to read a list of the people who were reported missing. Since he figured that at that late hour, no one was listening to the station, he included the name of his boss among the names of the people who had been reported missing. Mr. Morgan was wrong when he thought that no one was listening — his boss had been listening, so he was fired.

• Robin Williams found out that his TV sitcom Mork and Mindy had been cancelled when he read about it in the trade newspapers — the studio did not even show him the courtesy of calling him on the telephone first before releasing the news to the media. At the time, he was working with fellow comedian Eric Idle in The Tale of the Frog Prince, and he says, “I was so angry and hurt — and I was dressed as a frog!”

• Before becoming famous on Laugh-In, comedian Lily Tomlin worked as a Howard Johnson’s waitress. However, she got fired after grabbing the microphone and announcing, “Attention, diners. Your Howard Johnson’s waitress of the week, Lily Tomlin, is about to make her appearance on the floor. Let’s give her a big hand.”

• During the McCarthy hearings, TV viewers were fascinated. In fact, a TV was rented for employees at The New Yorker but returned after a few days — the staff tended to become so involved in watching the hearings that they forgot that they were supposed to be working on the next issue of the magazine.

• Singer Al Jolson was a very popular guest star on radio programs — he once guested on 10 shows in one week! While he was guesting on the Burns and Allen program, Gracie asked why he didn’t get his own program. Jolie replied, “What? And be on the radio only once a week?”

Writers

• Monty Python member John Cleese once purchased a defective toaster, which made him very angry. He put his anger to use by writing a comedy sketch about his experience. Fellow Python member Graham Chapman often wrote with Mr. Cleese, and Mr. Cleese usually, but not always, ended up doing 80 percent of the work — sometimes he did 95 percent. Nevertheless, Mr. Chapman made some impressive contributions to the sketches. In this case, after Mr. Cleese had written a sketch about a defective toaster, Mr. Chapman said, “It’s boring. Why not make it a parrot instead?” This suggestion resulted in one of Monty Python’s most famous sketches — the Dead Parrot sketch, in which an irate man tries to return a dead parrot to a pet shop, whose owner insists that the parrot is only napping.

***

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Voices, War, Work

Voices

• Because the TV character Bart Simpson is a 10-year-old boy, people naturally expect a guy to provide his voice and not Nancy Cartwright, who does provide his voice, as well as the voices of Nelson and Ralph. One day, Ms. Cartwright was going shopping and did Bart’s voice in the parking lot. A man heard her and said, “That’s not Bart. I know the guy who does him.” Ms. Cartwright said, “A guy does Bart’s voice?” The man replied, “Yeah, that’s right. Yours is pretty good, but it’s not Bart.”

War

• War correspondent Christiane Amanpour got into broadcasting through an accident. One of her sisters paid tuition to attend a broadcasting school in London, then changed her mind. She asked for her tuition back, but it was not refundable. Therefore, Christiane asked if she could attend the school in her sister’s place. This was acceptable, and she eventually became so famous that Pentagon officials once gave her an Amanpour Tracking Chart that detailed her journeys around the world to do reporting. Ms. Amanpour says, “They say I give great war. Is that sexual or what?”

• When MacLean Stevenson, who played Colonel Blake, left the television sitcom M*A*S*H, his character’s plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan — with no survivors. This was a bit of realism no TV sitcom had previously engaged in, and the episode’s writers, Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum, were both praised and d*mned by letter writers. To people who wrote him letters criticizing the decision to kill the character, Mr. Greenbaum wrote back, “The essence of war is the quick and final departure of a loved one.”

• As young soldiers during World War II, British comedian Spike Milligan and his friends took a dislike to a certain Bombardier while they were still stationed in England. They got their revenge when the Bombardier went to bed very drunk one night. They loaded him and his bed into a truck, then drove him to a cemetery, where they unloaded him and his bed, removed his pants, then drove back to the base. The Military Police found him the next day.

• Back in the administration of George Bush, Sr., Defense Secretary Dick Cheney once flaunted a Bart Simpson doll dressed in camouflage. Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, responded by saying, “It’s always sad when a 10-year-old gets drawn into war.”

• Two days after Pearl Harbor, the radio show Fibber McGee and Molly made a joke about Japan. A character on the show said that he wanted to buy a globe, and Molly replied, “You want a globe with Japan on it? Then you better get one quick.”

• Norman Fell, who played Mr. Roper on the TV sitcom Three’s Company, flew cargo planes during World War II. As he tells it, “I was getting shot at for 8,000 pounds of toilet paper.”

Work

• Tex Avery is the cartoonist who gave Bugs Buggy his distinctive personality. Before Mr. Avery started working on the Bugs Bunny cartoons, Bugs was a lot like Daffy Duck but in a rabbit suit. Mr. Avery gave Bugs a coolness and made him totally in control of every situation. The line “What’s up, Doc?” actually came from the cool kids Mr. Avery remembered from his old high school in Dallas, Texas. Late in his career, when Mr. Avery was working on TV commercials, he directed a commercial featuring Bugs Bunny. Someone actually asked if he knew how to draw Bugs Bunny. About that experience, Mr. Avery says, “I think that’s when I started making it clear just who created Bugs Bunny.”

• In one episode of Mr. Ed is a scene in which Wilbur, the character played by Alan Young, gave Mr. Ed a bath. After Mr. Ed had his bath, Wilbur was supposed to lose his balance and fall in the bath water. Unfortunately, during this scene, Mr. Ed had a bowel movement that fell in the tub. At this point, Mr. Young had to decide what to do. It was the end of the day (and the end of the week), the camera had not caught the bowel movement, and everyone — including himself and Mr. Ed — was tired. Stopping the scene would mean having to set up the scene again and reshoot it on Monday. All in all, a lot of work. So Mr. Young thought, “The h*ll with it,” and Wilbur lost his balance and fell in the tub — then took a long, soapy shower.

***

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Talk Shows, Telephones, Tobacco, Voices

Talk Shows

• An appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson could lead to fame and fortune and great success, and so of course many guests were understandably nervous before their first appearance on the TV program. The first time that movie critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel appeared on The Tonight Show, one of Johnny’s writers stopped by their dressing room to say that Johnny would be asking them which current movies they liked. It’s a good thing that the writer stopped by, for Mr. Ebert and Mr. Siskel were so nervous that they couldn’t think of the titles of any current movies they liked, although several were playing that they had given thumbs-up to. With their minds completely blank, they brainstormed to come up with the title of a good movie. The only one they could think of was Gone With the Wind, so Mr. Siskel ended up calling their office back in Chicago and asking an assistant to tell them the titles of some movies they liked. (Of course, when they actually went on the show, Mr. Carson, always a master interviewer, put them at ease and everything went very smoothly.)

• Before Mike Douglas’ talk show was nationally syndicated, it was a locally produced show in Cleveland, Ohio. Once, Mr. Douglas decided to bring in a new, very talented singer named Barbra Streisand to appear on his show for a week. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to pay her enough money to live on. Therefore, he found her a singing job for a week in Cleveland, and she was able to make enough money to afford to appear on his talk show.

• Comedian George Carlin once appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and did an entire routine about the Vietnam War and other socially relevant issues. When he sat down, Mr. Carson said, “Wow! Pretty serious stuff.” Mr. Carlin then explained that he could have spoken about innocuous stuff such as puppies and kittens, but since 5 million people were watching him, he had decided to say something important.

• TV’s Mister Rogers was Fred Rogers, who spoke in real life in the same slow way that he talked on the TV series. Once, Mister Rogers appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and Mr. Carson was so surprised that Mister Rogers spoke that way in real life that he found it difficult to keep from laughing. Mister Rogers told him, “You want to laugh, don’t you? It’s OK.” And Johnny laughed.

Telephones

• One of the most famous gimmicks in the 1960s TV series Get Smart is the shoe phone worn by Control agent Maxwell Smart. Years after Get Smart went off the air, Don Adams, the actor who played Maxwell Smart, would sometimes stop at a red light, and someone in the car next to his would roll down a window, hand him a shoe, and say, “It’s for you.”

• As the wild-and-crazy character known as The Ghoul, Ron Sweed used to host mostly bad horror movies on a television station in Cleveland, Ohio. The show’s set included a telephone. Whenever The Ghoul had an incoming call, viewers at home heard the telephone emit a loud knock.

Tobacco

• When TV was just becoming popular, cigarette companies sometimes sponsored shows and censored them. For example, when Camel, a cigarette brand, was the sponsor of a news program, it would not allow any “No Smoking” signs to be seen in the program’s news footage, and it would not allow anyone to be seen smoking a cigar — with the exception of Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

• W.C. Fields once was on a radio program sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes when he told a series of very funny stories about his nephew, Chester. The sponsors were not amused when they realized that Chester’s full name — Chester Fields — was the name of a rival cigarette.

Voices

• Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his partner, Charlie McCarthy (sometimes called a dummy, especially by W.C. Fields), wanted to be guests on the radio show starring Rudy Valle. However, an executive scoffed at the idea of a ventriloquist appearing on radio. During the audition, Mr. Bergen forgot his lines and asked for a look at the script. A young man showed Mr. Bergen the script, then started walking away. Suddenly, Charlie McCarthy’s voice rang out: “Let me look at that.” Without hesitation, the young man allowed Charlie McCarthy to “read” the script. The executive’s jaw dropped, and he gave Mr. Bergen his start on radio.

***

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Religion, Respect, Soap Operas, Stunts

Religion

• Billy Graham occasionally appeared on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, for which he was criticized by people who felt that preachers should not know celebrities. However, Mr. Graham said that Jesus went among the sinners and therefore he could go on Jack Paar’s show.

Respect

• NBC News Washington correspondent John Yang is highly respected, very traveled, and completely gay. He could pass as straight, but he chooses not to, saying, “There are certain things about myself that are immutable, and some of them are obvious. I’m Asian. I mean, anyone who sees me on the air or hears my last name knows that. And in a way, I felt that I can’t pass as not being Asian, so why should I pass as being straight?” Many conservative politicians really don’t care if someone is gay, although you may not be able to tell that from their public pronouncements. After a conservative Republican Senator (unfortunately, not named) read an article in which Mr. Yang’s sexual orientation was mentioned, he called Mr. Yang and said, “John, I saw that thing about you in the magazine. I just want to tell you it doesn’t make any difference to me. You’re still the best d*mned reporter I’ve ever dealt with.” The senator then asked, “I haven’t said anything wrong, have I?” Mr. Yang replied, “No, Senator. You said just the right thing.”

• Marti Noxon was extremely happy when she got a job writing for the first season of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a midseason replacement series on the WB — a network that was then pretty much at the bottom of the TV barrel. Of course, shaking with excitement and happiness, she called her mother to give her the good news, but after she said the names of the series and the network, her mother paused, then said, “Oh, honey, next year you’ll do better.” Another person who didn’t get much respect was Sarah Michelle Gellar, who starred as Buffy. She told all her friends about her new role, but they weren’t impressed. Ms. Gellar said, “You try being on a midseason replacement show on the WB called Buffy the Vampire Slayer and see how much respect you get.” Fortunately, as everyone knows, the series became a cult favorite and stayed on the air for seven seasons.

Soap Operas

• Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, and Hugh Franklin, a professional actor who played a leading role on the TV soap opera All My Children, were happily married for many years. Ms. L’Engle once talked to a taxi driver and speculated about whether her and her husband’s many years of marriage had set a record for the longest-lasting marriage between an author and an actor. The taxi driver turned to her and said, “Lady, that’s not a record — that’s a miracle!”

• During the Great Depression, radio shows of every kind were very popular. Women, of course, enjoyed the soap operas of the day, including Our Gal Sunday. In fact, women could walk around the block in New York City in the summer and not miss a word of their favorite soap opera because every radio would be tuned to it and in the days before air conditioning every window and many doors would be open.

Stunts

• Of course, stunt men and stunt women played an important part in the filming of the 1960s tongue-in-cheek TV spy series The Avengers. However, you may be surprised to read that in some cases stunt men performed the stunts of Diana Rigg, who played Mrs. Emma Peel. For example, in the episode “The Bird Who Knew Too Much,” Peter Elliott performs Mrs. Peel’s high dive into the swimming pool. In many cases, however, stunt woman Cyd Child designed and performed Mrs. Peel’s dangerous stunts.

• In the TV series The New Avengers, actor Gareth Hunt performed a dangerous stunt in which he smashed through a glass window. In doing so, he cut his forehead and began bleeding. His co-star in the series, Patrick Macnee, who played an older John Steed, leaned down to him and said, “Dear boy, the biggest stunt I ever do is getting in and out of the car.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Problem-Solving, Quiz Shows, Rehearsals, Religion

Problem-Solving

• Carroll O’Connor, who played Archie Bunker on All in the Family, was a tough negotiator, but so was Norman Lear, who produced the series. According to rumor, whenever Mr. O’Connor didn’t want to do something on the series that Mr. Lear really wanted him to do, Mr. Lear would show him a special script titled “The Death of Archie Bunker.” Because Mr. O’Connor wanted to continue to do the series, he would agree to do what Mr. Lear wanted him to do.

• Nicholas Colasanto played the role of Ernie “Coach” Pantusso on Cheers. Because he was getting older, he had a hard time remembering his lines, but he found ways to cope. For example, he would write his lines on the stage walls and stage furniture. In fact, says Cheers co-creator Les Charles, “If you go into the storage room today and find the old set from Cheers, you can still see Nick’s handwriting on walls and chairs.”

• African-American comedian Jimmie Walker was drafted, but he didn’t want to fight in the Vietnam War. He was very thin, so he didn’t pass the physical, but he was told to gain weight and come back in a few weeks. For the next few weeks, Mr. Walker played basketball in the hot summer sun while wearing a sweatshirt. He then reported for another physical — and beat the draft.

• In the British tongue-in-cheek TV series The Avengers, John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee, was an expert in espionage and counter-espionage, although these activities were the domain of two separate government departments: M15 and M16. No problem. The producers of The Avengers simply made John Steed an employee of Department M15 and a half.

• Breaking into show business can be difficult, but Peter Sellers found an original way of getting a job with BBC Radio. He telephoned a senior BBC producer, then imitated a famous star named Kenneth Horne. The BBC producer heard what seemed to be the voice of Mr. Horne extravagantly praising the then-unknown comedian Peter Sellers.

Quiz Shows

• John Coveney was an artists’ relations manager, and he participated in the quiz segments of the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. Mr. Coveney was known for his quick wit. For example, when he was asked what he most liked about the new house for the Met, he answered, “Not seating latecomers.” And when he was asked what he least liked about the Met, he answered, “Not being able to get to my seat when I’m late.”

• Ava Gardner once appeared on a TV quiz show while she was having problems in her marriage to Frank Sinatra. She was asked, “Are you married?” After answering this question, she was asked, “Are you glad?” This question was followed by a full minute of silence.

Rehearsals

• Audrey Meadows is famous as Alice Kramdon, wife of Ralph Kramdon, brought to life by Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners. An actress of the theater, Ms. Meadows was used to many and long rehearsals — something Jackie hated because he felt comedic material ought not to be over-rehearsed. According to Jackie, more than one rehearsal was over-rehearsal. In a TV Guide article, quoted in Vince Waldron’s Classic Sitcoms, Ms. Meadows said, “I felt totally unprepared and desperate. Standing in the wings, ready to go on, I’d tell him, ‘You are a simply dreadful man.’”

• Early in his career, comedian Don Rickles guest-starred on The Andy Griffith Show. Of course, he was eager to do well alongside such established stars as Mr. Griffith and Don Knotts. They rehearsed for most of an afternoon, and finally Mr. Griffith said, “Well, I think we’ve rehearsed enough. Let’s go home.” Mr. Rickles pleaded, “No, let’s rehearse some more. You guys have millions of feet of film. All I’ve got are home movies of me and my cousin on a swing.”

Religion

• Actress Robia LaMorte, known for her role as Jenny Calendar on TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, became a born-again Christian after praying for a sign while driving her car on a freeway: “OK, God, you know I believe in You, but I don’t get the whole Jesus / born-again Christian thing. If Jesus really is the way, then you need to show me. If you make it clear to me in a way that I can relate to and understand, then I’ll check it out.” Immediately after she prayed, her car was surrounded by a group of bikers that at first made her think of the Hell’s Angels — until she noticed that the jackets the bikers were wearing had crosses on the back — along with the words “We Ride For Jesus.” She says that becoming a Christian is the best decision she has ever made.

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Practical Jokes, Prejudice, Problem-Solving

Practical Jokes

• After Richard Diamond, Private Eye, Mary Tyler Moore went on to The Dick Van Dyke Show. In real life Ms. Moore never made a secret of her dislike for housework, although she was playing Laura Petrie, a near-perfect homemaker. At a party Ms. Moore and her husband gave for her co-workers, Mr. Van Dyke wrote in the dust on top of her refrigerator, “Needs Soap.”

Prejudice

• Sheldon Leonard was the producer of I Spy in the days when few African-Americans were on TV. He wanted to hire the young black comic Bill Cosby to co-star with Robert Culp, but he worried about whether the NBC network brass would approve the deal. So Mr. Leonard armed himself with arguments why signing Mr. Cosby would not alienate the TV audience, then he went to see NBC President Robert Kintner. He told Mr. Kintner that he had in mind a young comic to co-star with Mr. Culp, but that he hadn’t signed him yet. When Mr. Kintner asked why not, Mr. Leonard replied, “Because he’s black.” Mr. Kintner then asked, “What difference does that make?” Relieved, Mr. Leonard said, “As of this moment, Mr. Kintner, it makes no difference whatsoever.”

• Gay deejay John McMullen of Sirius OutQ Radio occasionally visited the late famous homophobe Fred Phelps in Mr. Phelps’ native Topeka, Kansas. One day, while traveling from San Francisco to New York, Mr. McMullen even turned a half-hour, live-radio visit with Mr. Phelps into a fundraiser, telling his audience that he was taking a Sodom to Gomorrah via Topeka Tour and raising several thousand dollars for a charity that Mr. Phelps did NOT support: the Matthew Shepard Foundation

• George Takei, who played Mr. Hikaru Sulu on the original Star Trek TV series, grew up in American internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. He had a teacher who referred to him as “that little Jap boy,” and each morning, he was able to look out the school window and see barbed-wire fences and guard towers as he ended the Pledge of Allegiance by reciting “with justice and liberty for all.”

Problem-Solving

• The opening credits and the exterior shots of early episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show feature a beautiful Victorian house where the characters Mary Richards, Rhoda Morgenstern, and Phyllis Lindstrom are supposed to live. The house really belonged to a humanities professor at the University of Minnesota. Unfortunately, after the series became popular, tourists began to ring her doorbell, then ask to meet Mary. When the MTM production crew arrived to take more exterior shots of the house, the professor declined to give them permission, but they started to take the shots anyway. The professor stopped them by hanging a banner outside Mary Richards’ window. The banner made a demand about a then-current political situation: “IMPEACH NIXON.” In later episodes, Mary Richards moved to a high-rise apartment house.

• This is a story that the late central Ohio sportscaster Jimmy Crum liked to tell: Paul Robinson played for the Cleveland Browns under coach Paul Brown. Once he scored a 55-yard touchdown, but instead of heading straight for the goal line, he ran to the other side of the field, then headed for the goal line. When Mr. Brown asked him later why he had run to the other side of the field, Mr. Robinson explained, “Coach, this game is being televised nationally and my folks are watching. The cameras are over on that side of the field, and I knew they’d see me better if I ran over there.” By the way, according to weatherman Jym Ganahl of Channel 4 News in Columbus, Ohio, Mr. Crum used to eat a dozen White Castle hamburgers for breakfast each morning.

• As a young actress newly arrived in New York City, Carol Burnett ran into a problem. She couldn’t get an acting job because she had no experience, and she couldn’t get experience because no one would give her an acting job. She solved the problem by putting on a show with the other young entertainers in her rooming house, which was known as the Rehearsal Club. It worked. Carol and some of the other entertainers got jobs as a result of the Rehearsal Club Revue.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Buy

The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Buy the Paperback

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