David Bruce: Fans Anecdotes

• The world-famous opera singer Leo Slezak was a stamp collector. He once met a man who told him that he too was a stamp collector and that he could show Mr. Slezak some interesting specimens. Intrigued, Mr. Slezak took the stranger’s card and later visited him. Unfortunately, it turned out that the stranger wasn’t a stamp collector at all, but had contrived this as a way to get a celebrity to visit him and his family. Having trapped Mr. Slezak into visiting him, the stranger asked for free tickets to a concert and then tried to sell him insurance. After that, Mr. Slezak kept his hobby a secret from the public.

• Baseball scoreboards put up tons of information, including the batting average of the batter. In 1986, St. Louis Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog decided that this was hurting the team — four of his regular players were embarrassed because they were hitting under .200. However, the idea didn’t work. Fans noticed that the scoreboard was no longer displaying batting averages, so whenever a player came to bat, a fan would hold up a placard bearing that player’s batting average.

• George Majerkurth was an early umpire whom many fans loved because of his fighting ability. Once, a baseball fan who didn’t like him threw a soda pop bottle at him. The fan missed, but Mr. Majerkurth picked up the bottle, threw it, and hit the fan in the shoulder. On another occasion, Mr. Majerkurth got into a fight with a fan and punched him. As a result, he was fined, but the other fans took up a collection to pay his fine.

• Carol Klein was a young superfan who followed a singing group called the Tokens all over Brooklyn. Wherever the Tokens were performing, young Carol was sure to be there. Tokens member Neil Sedaka even wrote a song titled “Oh! Carol” and dedicated it to her. Years later, Carol Klein had become singer/songwriter Carol King, and she wrote a song titled “Oh! Neil” and dedicated it to him.

• Saul Bellow had a well-hidden house in Vermont, which was a retreat away from everything — until a member of The Saul Bellow Society tracked him down. Mr. Bellow was busy writing one day in his woodsy studio when he looked up to see a woman who began to describe how she had tracked him down. However, Mr. Bellow was not interested in the details — he ordered her off his property.

• Umpire Beans Reardon once made a mistake. Richie Ashburn slid into second base and Billy Cox attempted to tag him. Beans yelled “Safe,” but at the same time he flung his arm in the “Out” gesture. Mr. Ashburn asked, “What the hell does that mean?” Mr. Reardon replied, “Richie, you know you’re safe. Billy, you know he’s safe. But 30,000 fans see my arm. Richie, you’re out.”

• In 1961, the Philadelphia Phillies lost 23 straight games. As the baseball players departed from a plane in Philadelphia following a lengthy road trip, they found some fans waiting for them. Pitcher Frank Sullivan advised his teammates to “leave the plane in single file. That way they can’t get us with one burst.” Fortunately, the fans weren’t there to wreak havoc; instead, they welcomed the players with a show of support.

• The poet John Greenleaf Whittier disliked celebrity hunters. Once he was in a store talking with the owner when a woman came in and asked if he could tell her when the famous poet John Greenleaf Whittier lived. Mr. Whittier pointed to his own house, which was across the street. Then he made sure to keep away from his house until the celebrity hunter had left the vicinity.

• At the 1978 World Championships, gymnast Kurt Thomas won a gold medal in floor exercise  — thus winning the United States its first gold medal ever at this level and becoming an instant celebrity. Immediately, he began receiving lots of fan letters from 12- and 13-year-old girls who had developed crushes on him. Each of these letters was answered — by Kurt’s wife, Beth.

• Back when Harry “Steamboat” Johnson was umpiring in the minor leagues, fans were much more violent than they are now. After one game in which the home team lost after a player hit a home run but failed to touch first base, fans surrounded Steamboat, who calmly pulled out a knife and used it to clean his fingernails. The fans decided not to engage in violence.

• For many years, Soviet athlete Albert Azaryan was the Lord of the Rings in men’s gymnastics. At a national championship tournament, a woman arrived late at the gym and asked, “When is Azaryan performing on the rings?” When she learned that he had already performed his routine, she started crying and explained, “But I only came here because of him.”

• Gymnast Vera Cáslavská of Czechoslovakia won 18 gold medals at the 1964 and 1968 Olympics Games. During an interview, a reporter asked her about her hobbies. She said that she collected postcards, and within three days after the interview appeared, fans had sent her 3,500 more postcards to add to her collection.

• After winning gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, women’s gymnastics teammate Amy Chow became a major celebrity. While attending her first year at Stanford University, she was forced to take her name down from her room in the dormitory because so many students were stopping by to congratulate her on her gold medal.

• On The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob and Laura Petrie lived at 448 Bonnie Meadow Road in New Rochelle, New York. This was the real-life address of series creator Carl Reiner — except that he changed the number slightly so that fans of the series wouldn’t stop by and knock on his door.

• Customs vary from culture to culture. While Alexandra Danilova and Alicia Markova were dancing in Rio de Janeiro, fans would wait by the stage door after the performance. To show their appreciation for a fine performance, the fans threw firecrackers at the ballet dancers’ feet.

• Mickey Mantel was loved by his fans. When he retired, he received more than 50 scrapbooks as gifts from fans who had kept them during his baseball career.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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David Bruce: Fans Anecdotes

In the 1999 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles used their first pick—the second overall—to make quarterback Donovan McNabb a member of the team. Unfortunately, some fans had wanted the Eagles to choose Ricky Williams, a star running back for the University of Texas and the winner of the Heisman Trophy. Mr. McNabb could not believe that he was being booed. He even told his mother, “Mom, they’re booing me.” Still, he said, “Fans are always going to state their opinion, and I respect them for that. I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what fans say in the beginning, just as long as they’re cheering in the end.” Fast forward to 2002, just before the NFC Championship game, which, unfortunately, the Eagles lost to the St. Louis Rams, 29-24. Before the game, Eagles fans reenacted the 1999 NFL Draft. This time, when Mr. McNabb’s name was announced as the Eagles’ first pick, fans cheered. In 1999, Philadelphia radio personality Angelo Cataldi had led the booing; this time, he helped lead the cheering, saying, “I just thought we needed one final moment of absolution. We gave him a response more worthy of his talents and what he has done. It looks to me like he will be an absolutely terrific quarterback for the next ten years.”

Rita Moreno’s daughter loved Sesame Street, and when Ms. Moreno was offered a job as a cast member on the TV children’s program The Electric Company, she took it. Today, many people remember her opening yell on the show: “Hey, you guys!” In 2008, she walked into a restaurant, and she heard a balding man with a fat stomach who had apparently grown up watching the show say, “Hey, you guys!” She immediately thought, “I can’t be that old!” Ms. Moreno loved the Muppets on Sesame Street, and seeing Muppets creator Jim Henson in a restaurant one day, she got down on her knees before him, kissed his hand, and said, “Anything you want me to do on your show, I will do it. I can do all these little girl voices.” He was embarrassed by the kiss, but excited by her offer to do voices for the Muppets. Ms. Moreno says, “And so I wound up doing the voice for several of the puppets, working with Frank Oz. It was so marvelous.”

The B-52s recorded “Love Shack,” and sure enough, 19 years later, in 2008, they recorded the album Funplex. Singer Fred Schneider admits, “We’re not exactly the most prolific group.” Despite not producing a lot of new music, the B-52’s retain their old fans and they have acquired new fans, thanks in large part to <youtube.com>. “I’m happy doing the new stuff, and the response to the new stuff, because of YouTube, they already know it,” Mr. Schneider says. “In the past, they used to clap politely, and then you’d play an older song and they’d go wild.” The B-52’s started making music over 30 years ago in Athens, Georgia. Mr. Schneider jokes, “I’m just lucky. I haven’t got a skill, so as long as I can sing and stuff, I’m OK.”

One problem with modern celebrity is that going out in public can be dangerous. Tegan Quin of Sara and Tegan fame remembers being able to sign autographs for hours with no problems, but then things changed with greater fame. Tegan says, “That’s the one thing I regret. The bigger you get, the less you can connect with people.” Still, at times Tegan can act like a normal person. In 2008, she got on a public bus and was recognized by a few girls who asked her, “Why are you on the bus?” Tegan had the perfect answer: “I don’t drive!”

Harlan Ellison is aware that some fans can treat those they adore—or sometimes adore and sometimes hate—very, very badly. In fact, he once wrote an article on this subject after doing research: He contacted 100 writers to ask, “What’s the worst thing fans ever did to you?” Mr. Ellison received many answers about worst things, “Not the least of which is somebody walking up to Alan Dean Foster in a corridor at a science-fiction convention and throwing a cup of warm vomit on him for no reason.”

Christopher Reeve, star of four Superman movies, played a bigamist whom fans loved to hate on the soap opera Love of Life. Some fans of the soap confused the character he was playing with the real-life Mr. Reeve. Once, he was eating lunch in a restaurant in Manhattan when an angry fan hit him on the head with her purse. Benjamin, his brother, looked like him, and an angry fan once hit him on the back with her umbrella.

Movie star Clark Gable once arrived for an appointment to have his portrait taken by renowned photographer Yousuf Karsh. Why? He had been stuck in an elevator for nearly an hour at a department store on Wiltshire Boulevard. For Mr. Clark, being stuck on an elevator was a minor annoyance, but his fans who were stuck on the elevator with him were delighted.

Chicago Bear tackle George Musso was blocked in a game so fiercely that he lost consciousness. Trainer Andy Lotshaw ran over to Mr. Musso just as he was regaining consciousness. Mr. Lotshaw asked, “How are you feeling?” Mr. Musso replied, “OK — but how’s the crowd taking it?”

The Cliks are a queer band. At one time, it was an all-female band, but guitarist/lead singer Lucas Silveira transitioned into a man. How do you know when you’re a rock star? Mr. Silveira knew after a fan asked him to autograph her breasts. He says, “It’s a true sign of success.”

In 1997, the California Angels released pitcher Jim Abbott, who immediately took out ads in two newspapers in southern California to thank the fans: “Angel Fans … Thanks For The Cheers … Thanks For The Jeers … Thanks For The Memories … All My Best — Jim Abbott.”

As a young man, Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho idolized Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges. Mr. Coelho even made a trip to see Mr. Borges, and he did see but not speak to Mr. Borges. He could have spoken to the great writer, but he thought, “Idols don’t speak,” so he left.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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