David Bruce: Celebrities Anecdotes

At one time, Elizabeth Taylor was married to John W. Warner, a Senator from Virginia. After a trip to a Virginia oil field, Senator Warner was thirsty, so he stopped at a tiny country store to ask for a glass of water. However, the proprietress denied his request, saying, “We’re running a business here. We’ve got Coke, Sprite, and 7-Up. Take your pick.” Aghast, Senator Warner said, “You don’t understand. I’m Senator John Warner, and I want a glass of water.” This did not impress the proprietress. Then one of the Senator’s aides said to her, “You don’t know this man. He’s married to Elizabeth Taylor.” This did impress her. She replied, “Well, then, he can have all the water he wants.”

Leo Slezak was one of the world’s great tenors, and so he was a celebrity in any country that loved opera. Of course, being a celebrity does have advantages. Once he took his children to an amusement park, where he decided to shoot an air rifle at a target. The proprietor recognized him, casually asked what target he was shooting at, then said in a voice loud enough to reach the back of the tent, “Ah, the tiger.” Mr. Slezak then aimed at a different target, fired the rifle, the tiger fell down, and he won a prize.

Star ballerinas are celebrities. Alicia Markova arranged for her 6-year-old niece, Susie, to attend a matinee of Giselle, and to come backstage after Ms. Markova’s performance. Of course, after the performance, many well-wishers stopped by to congratulate Ms. Markova, and this puzzled Susie because she could see the visitors knew who Ms. Markova was, but that often Ms. Markova did not know the visitors. Susie asked, “If I’m a famous dancer and dance Giselle, will I have a lot of people who know me but don’t know me?”

The famous composer and violinist Paul Hindemith visited New York in 1939. While he was passing through customs, an Irish customs official noticed that among the luggage Mr. Hindemith had several musical instruments. The customs officer asked if Mr. Hindemith knew the great musical personalities of his day—Jascha Heifetz, Rudolf Serkin, Adolf Busch, and others. Since Mr. Hindemith was able to reply that he had at least a slight acquaintance with these people, out of respect the official waved him through customs without opening his luggage.

Famous vaudeville comedian Bobby Clark was seldom recognized unless he was wearing his trademark spectacles—which weren’t real spectacles, but were merely drawn onto his face. Even his barber, who had been cutting his hair for years, didn’t recognize him. Once, his barber told him that he had seen a comedian with the same name as his on a vaudeville stage and he wondered where the comedian had thought up the crazy things he did. Mr. Clark replied that he had often wondered the same thing.

Comedian Jack Benny used many gestures in his comedy, including a hand-to-cheek gesture. According to Mr. Benny’s friend, George Burns, Mr. Benny developed this gesture in order to have something to do with his hands. In vaudeville, Mr. Benny had carried a violin. On the radio, he had held the script. On television, he wasn’t quite sure what to do with his hands—thus he developed the hand-to-cheek gesture.

While housesitting for a friend, author Boze Hadleigh interviewed Cary Grant. That evening, the owner of the house came back. The telephone rang and Mr. Hadleigh went to another room to answer it. When he returned, the owner of the house asked, “Who was that?” Mr. Hadleigh replied, “It was Cary Grant.” The owner of the house laughed, although she was sitting in the armchair Mr. Grant had sat in earlier that day.

Dancer Fred Astaire sometimes had an odd effect on other people. At a party, he asked a woman named Slim Keith to dance with him. She was flattered, but she was also so terrified to be dancing with the great Fred Astaire that when the music started, she was unable to move. She had to tell him, “Thank you very much, but I’m too scared,” then sit down.

Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island, still has many fans. Once, she boarded an airplane and all the passengers sang the theme song from Gilligan’s Island. On another occasion, she was touring a castle in Bavaria and some fans came running up to her, crying, “Mary Ann! Mary Ann!”

Once, the story got round that actor Patrick Macnee, then a lowly extra, was a cousin of film star David Niven. This made a minor celebrity of Mr. Macnee, and he was even asked for his autograph, provided that he wrote “David Niven’s cousin” after his name.

Through the miracle of television, we can actually hear how famous actresses’ voices change over the decades. Lucille Ball, Suzanne Pleshette, and Mary Tyler Moore all sound much different from when their first famous sitcoms were filmed.

Comedian Bob Hope was a big fan of Charlie Chaplin and when he was young, he even won a contest doing a Chaplin imitation. In New York, a friend told him that Chaplin’s car was parked outside a restaurant, so Mr. Hope waited around for 90 minutes just to catch a glimpse of Chaplin.

Once Sid Caesar’s writers were nominated for an Emmy. However, another show’s writers won—so Caesar writer Mel Brooks jumped up on his table at the awards and shouted, “There is no God!”

In Del Mar, California, there are two streets named after Jimmy Durante: one is named Jimmy Durante Boulevard and the other is named Jimmy Durante Way.

According to legend, Clark Gable and William Faulkner met in Hollywood. Mr. Gable asked, “What do you do, Mr. Faulkner?” Mr. Faulkner replied, “I write. And what do you do, Mr. Gable?”

Bing Crosby had the right idea about protecting his stardom. He refused to be the only star in a movie—he always insisted on having another star to help carry the movie.

Some celebrities have a sense of humor. Actor Walter Slezak’s autobiography What Time’s the Next Swan? has the subtitle “as told to Smith-Corona Model 88-E.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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David Bruce: Celebrities Anecdotes

The great dancer Bill Robinson, aka Mr. Bojangles, protected himself against interlopers. While performing at the Cotton Club, Mr. Bojangles noticed members of the Tramp Band talking during his dance act, so when the Tramp Band was on later, he got hold of a tin plate and beat it while wandering through the audience, calling, “Peanuts! Peanuts!” The audience were too busy laughing at Mr. Bojangles’ antics to notice the Tramp Band. After that experience, members of the Tramp Band were respectful—and quiet—during Mr. Bojangles’ performance.

Fred Astaire was very good to his Irish housekeeper, Jo Cody, buying her a round-trip to Ireland during her vacation each year—and when there was a family emergency in Ireland. He even paid for repairs to her car, and whenever she needed gasoline, he would lend her his credit card. Once, she bought gasoline away from the neighborhood, and the gas station attendant glanced at the credit card and said, “You don’t look like Fred Astaire.” After that, she bought gas only in Mr. Astaire’s neighborhood, where she was known.

While actor Paul Newman was in Kansas City to film Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, he went into an ice cream shop, where he met one of the local citizens, who was flustered to see a big movie star. The woman paid for her ice cream, then left the ice cream shop. A few moments later, she realized that she didn’t have her ice cream in her hand, so she returned to the store. Mr. Newman saw her and asked her, “Are you looking for your ice cream?” Still flustered, the woman could only nod. Mr. Newman then told her, “You put it in your purse with your change.”

Tom Jones, a male sex symbol and singing star, once was on tour in Mobile, Alabama. A limousine with a woman driver picked him up and drove away. They drove and drove, but the nightclub where he was to perform was still not in sight. Finally, Mr. Jones asked the driver, “Where are you taking me?” She replied, “I’m taking you to my house.” She wasn’t kidding. When they arrived at the driver’s house, 25 of her women friends were waiting to meet Mr. Jones.

American dance pioneer Ted Shawn suffered for his art. He wore body paint that itched when he sweated and headdresses that were extremely tight so they would stay on when he danced. Of course, he looked very different off stage. Once, he heard a woman say to a friend, “Look, there goes Ted Shawn!” The second woman eagerly looked, then said with disappointment, “That’s Shawn? Well, all I can say is, distance certainly lends enchantment.”

Al Capp for many years wrote and drew the comic strip Li’l Abner. At a cocktail party, his hostess introduced him to a VIP. She said, “Mr. President, I’d like you to meet the famous comic-strip cartoonist Al Capp.” The President asked, “What comic strip?” After answering the President’s question, the hostess then said, “Mr. Capp, I’d like to introduce the President.” Mr. Capp asked, “What country?”

Actor Gene Barry, nee Eugene Klass, played Bat Masterson on television from 1959 to 1961. Once he stopped to buy a tallith (a fringed prayer shawl) for his son’s bar mitzvah. The man who waited on him at the store looked at his check, then asked, “Are you Gene Barry?” He replied that he was, and the man ran to the back of the store and yelled to his wife, “BAT MASTERSON IS JEWISH.”

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.”

Suzanne Farrell attended Rhodes High School for a while. In the early 1960s, she was promoted in her dance career, and Ingenue magazine ran her photograph. A classmate from Rhodes told her, “You must be really famous. Your picture was on a page opposite the Beatles!” Because she had been so busy with dancing, Ms. Farrell asked, “Who are the Beatles?”

T.S. Eliot once got into a taxicab whose driver recognized him and said that he had given rides to other celebrities. One of them had been the renowned philosopher Bertrand Russell. According to the cabman, “I said to him, Bertie, what’s it all about then? And do you know, the twit couldn’t tell me.”

Pierre Monteux, a world-renowned conductor, was once denied a room at a hotel, but when the manager discovered that Mr. Monteux was famous, he said that he could arrange a room for him because he was “somebody.” Mr. Monteux refused the room and departed, saying, “Everybody is somebody.”

Pearl Bailey sometimes stepped out of character as an actress. While starring in Hello, Dolly, she got a roar of applause as she walked down a stairway preparatory to singing her big number, so she asked the audience, “Want me to come down the stairs again?” They did, so she did.

Comedian Zero Mostel was funny in real life. One day, his wife was waiting for him on their island home. When the ferryboat pulled in, Zero was tied to the mast and he yelled to his wife, “We had a mutiny and we lost!”

When David Niven, Jr. opened a restaurant in London—Drone’s—he decorated it by putting baby pictures of famous movie stars on its walls.

A photographer once snapped a shot of Noël Coward, then asked, “Could you please tell me your name?” Mr. Coward replied, “I recommend you to Who’s Who—and hell.”

Yogi Berra once arrived five minutes late for a radio interview. Because he was usually 30 minutes late for interviews, he remarked, “I guess this is the earliest I’ve ever been late.”

“I didn’t care if I had to shine actors’ shoes as long as I was in show business.”—Jackie Gleason.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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