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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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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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Money, Music, Police

Money

• In the 1960s, Ernie Anderson played wild-and-crazy horror-show host Ghoulardi in Cleveland, Ohio. After quitting, he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he made big money as a TV announcer. One day, he and his friend Linn Sheldon walked into a studio, where Mr. Sheldon lit a cigarette. Before Mr. Sheldon had finished smoking the cigarette, Mr. Anderson had read four TV promotional spots and made $30,000.

• Comedian Soupy Sales used to collect portraits of United States Presidents and American founding fathers. On his TV show for children, he once told his young viewers to go through Mommy’s purse and Daddy’s wallet and mail him “the little green pieces of paper with pictures of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Lincoln, and Jefferson on them.” In return, he promised to send the children a postcard from Puerto Rico.

• The British tongue-in-cheek spy series The Avengers was definitely capitalistic. It even had an Exploitation Manager whose job was to sell product placements — if you had a product you wanted to appear on the series, this was the person you had to deal with.

Music

• Ron Sweed, aka the Ghoul, hosted several mostly bad movies on a television program airing in Cleveland, Ohio, during the 1970s and 1980s. The Ghoul tended to show the same bad movies over and over because the station bought the rights to very few movies. To keep things interesting, The Ghoul used to change the sound tracks. For example, an actress in Attack of the Mushroom People sang a song on a cruise ship. The Ghoul disliked the song, so when she sang, he dubbed in “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” or “Who Stole the Kishka” or some other song instead. And when a disembodied head babbled in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, he played a song whose lyrics went “PAPA-OOM-MOW-MOW.”

• Early in his career, following a radio broadcast in 1936, Robert Irwin received a fan letter from famed tenor John McCormack. The following year, the non-music firm for which Mr. Irwin worked booked a recital at which Mr. McCormack would sing, and Mr. Irwin was present — although he had not yet met and been introduced to Mr. McCormack — at a press conference which had been arranged for the famed tenor. A newspaper writer asked Mr. McCormack whether any of Ireland’s younger singers were promising in particular. He replied, “Well, there’s a young fella called Irwin ….” Of course, the two were introduced immediately, and Mr. McCormack became Mr. Irwin’s mentor.

Police

• As a child attending the Peninsula School of Creative Education in Menlo Park, California, Wah Ming Chang and his friend Torben Deirup created a life-sized dummy that they used in practical jokes. Once they placed the dummy in a gutter, then hid across the street and watched as some people came out of their house, looked at the realistic dummy, then ran back into their house to call the police. Wah and Torben removed the dummy without being seen, and the neighbors had some explaining to do when the police came. Later, after playing several more practical jokes, Wah and Torben were caught red-handed with the dummy. A police officer sternly told them that if their dummy ever appeared in a gutter again, they would be attending reform school. As an adult, Mr. Chang became an artist and a special-effects wizard for the TV series Star Trek.

• Before starring as the lead actor in TV’s Hogan’s Heroes, Bob Crane was a well-known disk jockey in Connecticut. Because he was a celebrity, police officers in Connecticut sometimes let him go with a warning (and no ticket) when he was caught speeding. When Mr. Crane moved to California, he wanted to continue receiving favors, so he wrote on the back of his driver’s license, “I am a radio star,” where any police officer who stopped him would be sure to see it. Sure enough, he was stopped for speeding, but this time the police officer wrote him a ticket. Across the top of the ticket was written this note: “I am a police officer.”

• When Will Smith was starring in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, one episode revolved around his character driving around in an expensive car and being stopped by the police because they think it is suspicious for a black man to drive such an expensive car. This episode was based on Mr. Smith’s real life — often the police stopped him because they thought it was suspicious for him to drive such an expensive car.

***

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Mishaps, Money

Mishaps

• Honor Blackman starred on The Avengers for a couple of years, then left the TV series in order to star as the character Pussy Galore in the James Bond movie Goldfinger. While she was on a promotional tour for the movie, she appeared on KGO-TV, where an interviewer told her, “I’ve covered topless bathing suits, bottomless bathing suits, and now I’ve got Pussy Galore!”

• Julia Child is my kind of cook — very good, but slightly frazzled. One day, while she was cooking on TV, some of the ingredients fell to the floor. She told her TV audience, “If this happens, just scoop it back. Remember, you are alone in the kitchen, and nobody can see you.”

Money

• Jack Paar and Ed Sullivan used to compete for the same guests. Mr. Sullivan paid anywhere from $5,000 to $7,500 for an appearance, while Mr. Paar’s Tonight Show could afford to pay only $320. In an attempt to keep performers from appearing with Mr. Paar, Mr. Sullivan announced that anyone who appeared on The Tonight Show would be paid only $320 for appearing on his show. Of course, many entertainers canceled their appearances on Mr. Paar’s show. However, one entertainer who remained loyal to Mr. Paar was comedian Joey Bishop, who joked on The Tonight Show, “I have one gripe. You told me Sullivan paid only $80. I thought this was the big money.”

• In November of 2007 Hollywood writers went on strike. Why? Ken Levine gave an answer in a column that he wrote for the Toronto Star. He pointed out that he had recently received a check from American Airlines, which had been showing episodes that he had written for Becker, Cheers, and M*A*S*H and that he had directed for Dharma & Greg, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Frasier. He estimates, based on number of years and on number of flights, that American Airlines has shown these episodes 10,000 times. So how much was Mr. Levine’s check for? Nineteen cents.

• In the early days of radio, singers often did not know how much to charge. Because they charged usually by the size of the audience at concerts — a smaller fee at smaller concert halls, and a larger fee at larger concert halls — they thought that they should charge a lot because of the vast size of the radio audience. Opera singer Harold Williams was once asked by Stanton Jefferies what he would charge for a radio broadcast. He said 100 guineas. Mr. Jefferies replied, “We had in mind seven guineas.” (Of course, the radio audience did not pay admission the way the audience at a concert hall would.)

• When Wah Ming Chang and Gene Warren decided to close their firm Project Unlimited, which had created special effects for such television series as Star Trek and such movies as The Time Machine, they advertised an auction of the models and costumes they had created. Bidding was fierce as sci-fi fans acquired memorabilia of their favorite shows, so Mr. Chang and Mr. Warren went to the back and dug through the trash bins to find worn-out puppets and other items that they had been about to throw out, but which collectors eagerly purchased.

• When she was a young woman, Oprah Winfrey entered a beauty contest that she did not expect to win. However, the judges found her answers to their questions original and interesting. For example, the final question asked of the three finalists was, “What would you do if you had one million dollars?” The first two finalists gave unoriginal, uninteresting answers — one would use the money to help her family, and the other would use it to help the poor. Ms. Winfrey’s answer was, “If I had a million dollars, I’d be a spending fool!” She won.

• Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden created and played the roles of Amos ’n’ Andy. Early in their career, they were asked to come to a meeting to discuss a radio program that they might star in. Mr. Correll and Mr. Gosden discussed how much to ask for their salary ahead of time, and they decided that they would be lucky to get $10 a week apiece. Therefore, when they were asked what salary they wanted — and then quickly were offered $125 a week — they sputtered, “Ten — ten — tentatively, yes.”

***

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Mishaps

Mishaps

• George Burns and Gracie Allen had years of experience performing in vaudeville before they started doing their radio show. This long experience came in handy when mishaps occurred on their show. One day, the lights in the studio went out, and no one could read the script. On another occasion, Gracie accidentally dropped her script, and the pages scattered everywhere. Both times, they ignored the script. George simply asked, “Gracie, how’s your brother?” — and Gracie started one of their well-memorized and very funny vaudeville routines.

• Archeologist Brian Rose lectured in 1996 at Ohio University, where he told this story about excavating the site of Troy in Turkey: At the site is a huge wooden horse that was built by the BBC for a documentary on the Trojan War. Today the horse is a tourist attraction, as people can go inside the horse and look out through shuttered windows. One day, members of Mr. Rose’s crew were inside the Trojan horse smoking with the shutters closed. This alarmed the Turkish security guards because they noticed smoke coming out of the horse’s nostrils.

• British broadcaster Magnus Magnusson once invited some archeologists to appear on his television program because they had discovered evidence that the headquarters of the Roman fleet in Britain (Classis Britannicus) had been located at Dover. The most important evidence they had found was a red slate marked with the Roman initials “C.B.” The archeologists brought the red slate with them and handed it to Mr. Magnusson, who promptly dropped it, breaking it in two, in between the initials.

• While working as a co-anchor at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, Maryland, Oprah Winfrey ran into problems when the assistant news director decided to change Ms. Winfrey’s appearance. Ms. Winfrey went to a beauty parlor and got a permanent, but it made all of her hair fall out. She was totally bald! Worse, she couldn’t find a wig that fit while her hair grew back, so she was forced to wear scarves. She said, “All my self-esteem was gone. My whole self-image. I cried constantly.

• Ralph Edwards used to surprise celebrities on his TV show, This is Your Life, in which he would bring on friends and family of the celebrity to reminisce about the celebrity’s life. Many celebrities — but not all — enjoyed this. Newsman Lowell Thomas was one who did not. On air, he referred to the proceedings as “a sinister conspiracy.” When Mr. Edwards said to him, “Lowell, I know you are going to enjoy tonight’s surprise,” an irritated Mr. Thomas replied, “I doubt it.”

• In one episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore (who played Laura Petrie) was required to make some eggs. The scene was supposed to last five minutes, but unfortunately the actors worked faster than that, and when the eggs were supposed to be done, they were runny. According to Ms. Moore, “It was quite a problem — what I really needed was a soup bowl! But Dick ate them, bless him, and only turned a little green.”

• The first episode of The Simpsons was supposed to air on Fox in the fall of 1989, but it was delayed because its executive producers — Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, and Sam Simon — discovered that the first episode contained several unauthorized tasteless jokes. (Apparently, authorized tasteless jokes are OK.) The Simpsonspremiered as a Christmas special in 1989, and the actual series started in January 1990.

• Tracey Ullman is a comedian who is known for her ability to create characters with her incredible acting talent and the aid of costumes, wigs, rubber masks, etc. While filming The Tracey Ullman Show for the Fox network, she changed characters so often that she once passed out in her dressing room from accidentally inhaling the chemicals used to remove her makeup.

• Kristen Bell, star of the TV series Veronica Mars, says that she once “fell madly in love” with Saturday Night Live star Amy Poehler because of her petiteness and sense of comedy. On a red carpet, she saw Ms. Poehler’s husband, actor Will Arnett, and told him, “I’m absolutely in love with your wife.” He replied, “I’m so glad you didn’t say me. That would have been awkward.”

***

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Mishaps

Mishaps

• James Van Der Beek, star of TV’s Dawson’s Creek, got into acting partly through an accident. When he was 13 years old, he played organized football, but he suffered a concussion in a game. Instead of sitting on the bench the rest of the season, he decided to try acting in community theater and landed the role of bad boy Danny Zuko in Grease. That role increased his interest in acting, and soon he was heading to New York City to try to land roles. He did get a role in an acne-medicine commercial in which he would play the teenager with clear skin. Unfortunately, on the day the commercial was shot James had an outbreak of zits. Fortunately, he was able to keep the job — the zits were covered up with lots of makeup. Acting as a teenager had one other bad result for James: At Cheshire Academy, he had been elected vice president of his class, but he missed too many meetings because he was filming a movie titled Angus, and so he was impeached.

• Comedian Dave Thomas once starred in a television series titled The Dave Thomas Comedy Show. On the very first show, Mr. Thomas and guest Chevy Chase did a sketch about being afraid to fly, and they even wore ridiculous wigs with hair standing straight on end to show how scared of flying they were. On the night the TV show debuted, Mr. Thomas invited Mr. Chase and many other friends to his house, and they sat watching the program. Unfortunately, breaking news occurred as the fear-of-flying sketch unfolded. A real airplane crashed, and news of the crash — and film of staggering survivors — kept interrupting the show. For a while, the TV station alternated between showing horrible airplane wreckage and showing Mr. Thomas and Mr. Chase in ridiculous wigs joking about airplane disasters. Shortly afterward, the series was cancelled.

• Back in 1967, a TV commercial for Colt 45 Malt Liquor showed an impassive man named Billy Van seated at a table in a bullring as a matador fights a bull. The bull charged Mr. Van and the table, crashing him into a wall. In a close-up, Mr. Van dusts himself off impassively, sits down at the table impassively, and pours himself a glass of Colt 45 Malt Liquor — which makes him smile. The stunt with the bull was unplanned — the bull was supposed to ignore the man at the table and concentrate instead on the matador fighting him. Actually, the man at the table was not Mr. Van; it was another matador dressed as Mr. Van, who appeared only in the close-ups. The owner of the bullring told the TV film crew, “Don’t worry. If de matador dies, I get you another one.” Fortunately, the matador did not die.

• Carole Lombard once appeared in a radio program sponsored by International Silver. In addition to performing on the program, Ms. Lombard read a commercial endorsing the sponsor’s products. The commercial touted International Silver’s new pattern of silverware, Interlude, and Ms. Lombard had to read, “The bride who has Interlude on her dining room table will want Interlude in every room of the house.” However, during a dress rehearsal, a practical joker changed the wording of the commercial, so that Ms. Lombard found herself reading, “The bride who has Intercourse on her dining room table will want Intercourse in every room of the house.”

• Art Linkletter once pulled a stunt on his People are Funny TV program in which he rented a room at a hotel and had a young woman drop notes into the street reading, “Am being held by kidnappers in Room 617 … Help!” Sure enough, a sailor saw one of the notes and came rushing into the hotel, where he “rescued” the young woman, then appeared on Mr. Linkletter’s TV show. Unfortunately, several of the notes that the young woman dropped from her window fell to a ledge, where they stayed until a few days later, when they were blown into the street. Eventually, police officers rushed into room 617, searching for kidnappers and startling the paying guest.

• Arthur O’Connell once had the pleasure of conducting for Lily Pons — and of conducting a few selections without Ms. Pons. After Ms. Pons’ final song, the MC announced, “And now the Philadelphia Orchestra will play Beethoven’s Consecration of the House under the direction of Mr. O’Connell.” Unfortunately, a loud member of the audience yelled — with a voice clearly audible to Mr. O’Connell and the millions of people listening on the radio — “To h*ll with Mr. O’Connell; give us some more Lily Pons!” Ms. Pons was enough of a lady not to laugh — until she saw Mr. O’Connell laughing.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Live Television, Meetings, Mishaps

Live Television

• Cliff Robertson stayed true to the character of Charlie Gordon, the main character of Daniel Keyes’ story “Flowers for Algernon.” In the story, a mentally retarded man undergoes a medical procedure that makes him a genius for a while before he slips back into mental retardation. Of course, that ending is powerful, and of course, many Hollywood types wished to change that ending to a sappy ending in which Charlie retains his genius. In the television version (before the later movie version), Cliff Robertson was supposed to look at a copy of Paradise Lost, which the character Charlie had lost the ability to read, and then act surprised — as if he could read it and his genius ability was returning. However, when the time came, despite orders to make the ending happy, Mr. Robertson played the scene without the sappiness. And since the television version — on The U.S. Steel Hour — was live, no one could make him re-shoot the scene. (Of course, Mr. Robertson was told that he would never work on TV again, but after rave reviews and an Emmy nomination poured in, he started hearing congratulations, not threats.)

• The very first guest of Edward R. Murrow’s live TV show Person to Person was Dodger catcher Roy Campanella. The show debuted on Saturday, Oct. 2, 1953, the day that the Dodgers were playing in the third game of the World Series. Following a rehearsal that Friday, Mr. Murrow joked, “All you have to do, Roy, is hit a home run tomorrow and then come on in my first show.” That Saturday, in the eighth inning, when the score was a 2-2 tie, Mr. Campanella hit a home run to drive in the winning run. His appearance on Person to Personmade an impressive debut for what turned out to be a long-running TV series.

• On live TV, mistakes did happen. For example, in the “Better Living Through TV” episode of The Honeymooners, Jackie Gleason plays the Chef of the Future while advertising a modern gizmo on TV. At the end of the scene, Jackie accidentally hit a flat that had been painted to represent a wall. The “wall” fell down, Jackie fell down, then Ed Norton (played by Art Carney) fell down, and today you can view the whole scene during the re-runs. Even the accidents were recorded when you were doing live TV. Fortunately, the audience thought the accident was hilarious.

Meetings

• In 1971, David Davis and Lorenzo Music were asked to present an idea for a new TV series at CBS. When they met with CBS executive Alan Wagner, Mr. Music remembers, “We said that our idea was — that we didn’t have an idea.” Mr. Wagner replied, “I like it — tell me more.” This was a wise answer, for Mr. Davis and Mr. Music created The Bob Newhart Show.

• Carl Reiner, George Shapiro, and Allan Burns once held a meeting in a sauna, where of course they were naked and dripping with sweat. Mr. Reiner came up with a brilliant idea, and filled with enthusiasm, Mr. Shapiro turned to Mr. Burns and said, “Write that down!” Mr. Burns replied, “With what — sweat?”

Mishaps

• In the early days of television, Paul Ritts directed a program about dogs on a local station. He recognized that he had a problem even before the program aired — live — because the man who would host the program frequently used the word “bitch” to refer to female dogs. In fact, the program host was hard of hearing, so he spoke loudly — so loudly that during the course of their meeting Mr. Ritts received a telephone call from a female employee complaining about the language coming from Mr. Ritts’ office. Of course, Mr. Ritts explained to the TV host that broadcast standards would not permit the use of the word “bitch” on the air, and the TV host promised to try to restrain himself. And so he did, although during rehearsal he said “bit … female” twice and “bitch” three times. Fortunately, during the live broadcast he didn’t use the words “bitch” or “bit … female” at all. Unfortunately, during the live broadcast, a large dog bit one of the cameramen, and TV viewers at home saw the cameraman walking across the stage while dragging the dog — which still had its teeth in his leg. The cameraman was also yelling — “SON OF A B*TCH!”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Husbands and Wives, Language

Husbands and Wives

• In the 1970s, James Garner and Mariette Hartley made a series of TV commercials for Polaroid in which they appeared to be a feisty, but happily married, couple. The actors were so good that many viewers thought they were actually married. Ms. Hartley even started wearing a T-shirt that said, “I am not Mrs. James Garner.” Meanwhile, the real Mrs. James Garner started wearing a T-shirt that said, “I am Mrs. James Garner.”

• Bea Wain and Andre Baruch were the husband-and-wife stars of a radio show. Mr. Wain once said on the air, “The hen that laid double-yolk eggs will be exhibited at the New York State Fair. However, due to the excessive heat, the hen hasn’t laid since last Monday.” His wife added, “That could happen to any of us.”

• After Trigger, the horse of TV and movie star Roy Rogers, died, Mr. Rogers had him stuffed. His wife, Dale Evans, told him, “Roy, don’t you go getting any ideas about me.”

Language

• While living in Italy, actress Eve Arden rented a villa from a Marchese. While living in the villa, she kept track of all the drinking glasses her family had broken so that she could pay for them at the end of her lease. However, because of her poor Italian, the Marchese got a shock because he thought that the glass she was reporting on was window glass (“vietro”) instead of drinking glasses (“bicchieri”). “My God,” he said (in Italian) after hearing her report on the telephone, “there can’t be a windowpane left in the place!”

• In the TV series Hogan’s Heroes, extras frequently had to speak a little German because the series was set in a World War II prisoner-of-war camp (not in a concentration camp). Chris Anders once played a German guard who had to tell some trucks to take off, so he said, “Fahrt Los.” However, because the German word “fahrt” sounds like the English word “fart,” the director stopped the scene, saying, “We can’t use that!”

• Robin Williams’ humor could be crude. Before a Comic Relief show, members of the production staff created a pool in which they guessed how long it would take for Mr. Williams to make a penis joke in the show, which started at 6 p.m. The winner guessed 6:07 p.m. (Mr. Williams might have made the joke even sooner, but the opening number of Comic Relief took five minutes.)

• After Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale, left the 1960s tongue-in-cheek TV spy series The Avengers, her partner in the series, John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee, said in an episode, “I’ve no doubt that she is pussy-footing around on some island.” (Ms. Blackman left The Avengers to play the character Pussy Galore in the James Bond movie Goldfinger.)

• In the early days of radio, Jan Savitt was the leader of a house orchestra. One day, he decided to fire George, his Polish secretary, who was in charge of all the orchestra’s files and records. Very quickly, however, Mr. Savitt had to rehire George. George had kept all of the orchestra’s files and records in Polish.

• The star of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar, collects first editions of children’s books, including Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. She is especially fond of the author Dr. Seuss because in his book There’s a Wocket in My Pocket, he wrote the line “There’s a Gellar in the cellar.”

• Jeff Stone, an outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, once played for a while in Latin America, and when he returned to the United States, he left his TV behind. Why? He explained, “All the programs were in Spanish.”

• To break the ice with her normal-hearing co-stars on the TV series Reasonable Doubts, deaf actress Marlee Matlin taught them how to say dirty words in sign language.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Television and Radio: 250 Anecdotes — Gays and Lesbians, Good Deeds

Gays and Lesbians

• The first lesbian game-show host was probably Hella von Sinnen, who co-hosted Alles, Nichts, Oder!? (All, Nothing, Or!?) in Germany. While accepting a Bambi award (the equivalent of USAmerica’s Emmy award) in 1990, she astonished the audience when she said, “I would like to thank my wife for her support.”

• Gay deejay Jeremy Hovies of Sirius OutQ Radio occasionally receives a telephone call from a person who wants to tell him that homosexuals are evil. When that happens, he asks why the caller is so much more concerned about gay sex than he — a gay man — is.

• Gay men can be judgmental. An overweight TV sitcom star once participated in a Hollywood Christmas parade that was televised. As she rode down Hollywood Boulevard, many gay men greeted her by shouting, “Lose some weight, b*tch!”

• Chastity Bono, the daughter of Sonny Bono and Cher, was still a teenager when she said to her best friend, “Gina, I have something to tell you. I think I’m gay.” Gina’s reaction was excellent — she shrugged, then said, “What’s the big deal?”

• Lesbian humorist Ellen Orleans once attended a National Lesbian Conference in Atlanta. When she was there, someone posted this sign: “L.A. Law update: Abby asked C.J. for a date. C.J. said yes!!!!”

Good Deeds

• During the late 1950s, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy worked together on the Senate Investigations Subcommittee, and they appeared on its televised hearings. After seeing them on TV, Kathleen Ann Corley, an 8th-grade student in Chicago, decided to write them and ask for autographed photographs. She sent her letter to John F. Kennedy, although it was addressed to both brothers. He quickly sent her both a letter and an autographed photograph, then he gave the letter to his brother Bobby, who also sent her both a letter and an autographed photograph.

• Oprah Winfrey is considerate and knows how to give good gifts. The executive producer of her TV talk show (and a close friend) was Debra Di Maio. Ms. Winfrey once gave her the all-expenses-paid gift of dinner with her friends — one dinner a month for a year, in various exciting cities around the world!

Hosts

• Ed Sullivan could be a good man to work for. For one thing, he was a good editor. If a comic routine needed to be shortened, he could tell the comedian where it should be cut. Once, Shelley Berman performed a comic routine that ran 12 minutes in rehearsal. After rehearsal, he received a call to see Mr. Sullivan. He expected that the sketch would need to be shortened, but Mr. Sullivan instead suggested that a line be added. That night, when he performed the sketch live on TV, Mr. Berman noticed a change in lights, and the addition of violin music, both of which enhanced the poignant tone he set in the second half of the sketch. And when he went backstage following his live performance, a telephone call was waiting for him — Mr. Sullivan’s wife had called to congratulate him on his performance.

• Before becoming famous as the host of Late Night on NBC and the Late Show on CBS, David Letterman appeared on television in his native Indiana. Among other duties, Mr. Letterman hosted late-night movies in a program he named Freeze-Dried Movies. During what was really his second week of hosting the show, Mr. Letterman celebrated what he called his “10th anniversary” as host.

Husbands and Wives

• Vicki Lawrence starred on The Carol Burnett Show and Mama’s Family for years, but fans sometimes mistake her for either Carol Burnett or Carol Lawrence, an actress who was married for a while to singer Robert Goulet. Once, she was guesting on Password, and at one point, members of the audience were allowed to ask the celebrity contestants a question. A woman asked Vicki, “Carol, what was it like being married to Robert Goulet?” Vicki decided to answer the question, even though it was obvious that the woman had confused her with Carol Lawrence: “He was a total son of a b*tch, and I divorced his *ss.” The woman in the audience was shocked, but Password host Allen Ludden nearly peed his pants laughing. A little later, Vicki was at a party, and the real Carol Lawrence was present. Vicki was afraid that she would be angry, but Ms. Lawrence told her, “I heard about Password — you took the words right out of my mouth.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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