David Bruce: Mishaps Anecdotes

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In the episode “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier, Sailor, or Marine” of the TV series The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis, several actors on the series, including Bob Denver, who played Maynard G. Krebs, did jumping jacks. In the middle of the jumping jacks, Mr. Denver had the misfortune to fart. The director yelled “Cut!” and asked, “Who did that?” Mr. Denver was no fool. He looked at the other actors, and the other actors looked at each other. Take two. Once again, in the middle of the jumping jacks Mr. Denver farted — this time, everyone on the set pointed at him. He had to endure their teasing until they got tired of it. (I’m just glad this didn’t happen during filming of the episode titled “Sweet Smell of Success.”)

In 1967, Plácido Domingo sang the lead role of Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlos in his debut at the Staatsoper in Vienna, Austria. Only one rehearsal was held — and it wasn’t held at the Staatsoper. Therefore, Mr. Domingo was unfamiliar with the stage at the first performance, and when he charged onstage, he nearly fell into the orchestra pit as he sang “Io l-ho perduta.” The words mean “I’ve lost her,” but if he had fallen into the orchestra pit, the words could equally well be translated as “I’ve lost it.”

Lisa Kron wellremembers her most terrifying performance on stage. She was working with Holly Hughes, who finished writing the piece minutes before they were to perform it. Just before they went on stage, Ms. Hughes handed her some index cards on which her lines were typed in red ink. Unfortunately, the lights in the theater were also red, so when she looked at the cards they appeared to be blank.

During an open-air performance of Macbeth starring Charlton Heston, arrangements were made for a dummy to be thrown into the ocean for Lady Macbeth’s death. Unfortunately, during one performance the wind was blowing so heavily that when the dummy was thrown from a wall the wind blew the dummy back again — right at the feet of the actor who reported, “The queen is dead, my lord.”

Early in her career, Lucille Ball wanted to be a showgirl. During the audition, producers would line the women up in, then walk down the line, looking the women over. Lucy knew that some of the other women were better endowed than she, so she stuffed her bodice with toilet paper. Unfortunately, some of the toilet paper was sticking out of her bodice — this did get Lucy noticed!

In 1984, Natalia Makarova was performing in a revival of On Your Toes on Broadway. In one scene, she threw a shoe at another actor. The shoe went wide of its mark and hit a vase which fell to the stage floor and shattered. The vase had been filled with marbles to weigh it down, and the marbles bounced all over the stage. Afterward, a nonbreakable vase was used in the scene.

During World War II, Laurence Olivier served as a pilot in the British Royal Air Force, but he was not necessarily a good pilot. On his very first day as a pilot at Worthy Down near Winchester, he showed just how bad a pilot he could be. While taxiing on a runway, he wrecked one plane and damaged two others — all without even taking off.

People who work in the White House need to be masters of diplomacy. Once, the wife of a foreign diplomat was in line waiting to meet President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Unfortunately, her underwear slipped to the ground. White House doorman John Mays picked up the underwear, folded it and put it on his arm as if it were a towel, then carried it away.

Bruce Vilanch had a role as a fashion designer in the Diana Ross movie Mahogany, but he ruined the first take of his scene. He was supposed to be sewing in the scene, but he didn’t know how to sew. He ended sewing his scarf to Diana’s coat, and when Diana got up to leave, she started to drag him along with her.

While in school, Judi Dench acted in Time and the Conways with Richard Page-Jackson. In one scene, he had to pull a curtain, but he pulled it so hard, it fell from the wall onto Ms. Dench’s head. The audience laughed at the line Ms. Dench spoke next in the play: “I suppose you do this to all your girlfriends.”

Animals cause their share of mishaps on stage. Fred Terry once wore a false nose while playing the role of King Charles, who kept a number of spaniels. During a performance, one of the spaniels jumped up, bit off the end of the false nose, then ran away. The audience was delighted.

American dance pioneer Ted Shawn once danced a duet with Martha Graham. The dance was Spanish, and his pants split with a loud noise. The next day, a reviewer wrote that the splitting of the “incredibly tight Spanish trousers” was something he had prayed all his life to witness.

Entertainers have to be ready for the unexpected. In a play, Joe Smith (of the vaudevillian team Smith and Dale) was supposed to “shoot” a fellow actor. The gun failed to fire its blank, the actor fell “dead” anyway, and Mr. Smith turned to the audience and said, “He died of fright.”

Janet Lynn is a famous ice skater in part because of a mistake she made in the 1972 Olympic Games in Japan. She fell during a spin, ruining her chance for a gold medal, but smiled. That smile under duress made her admired worldwide and especially by the Japanese.

While performing the title role of Giselle, Alicia Markova once slipped and landed on the stage floor in an undignified position with her feet and lilies pointing straight up. Her undignified position made her laugh despite the seriousness of the role.

Choreographer Léonide Massine once endured a train wreck in which a sleeping Englishman was doused by a bottle of mineral water that fell on him when the train derailed. The Englishman woke up and asked, “I say, could there be a leak?”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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David Bruce: Mishaps Anecdotes

R.L. Stine has written many, many scary books for kids in his Goosebumps and Fear Street series of horror novels. So what scares him? Actually, jumping into a swimming pool scares him. When he was a kid attending summer camp, he was placed in the beginners’ swimming group, which was called the Tadpoles. To move up into the next higher group, the Turtles, a Tadpole had to jump into the swimming pool, then swim the length of the pool and back. When it was his turn to jump into the pool, he couldn’t do it. Swimming back and forth in the pool was no problem, but jumping into the pool horrified him. He walked away as the other Tadpoles laughed at him. Today he says, “My … nephews think it’s very funny. They’re always teasing me and trying to get me to jump. They think it’s funny that a horror writer is afraid to jump into a swimming pool.”

Leslie Goldman, the author of Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth About Women, Body Image, and Re-Imagining the “Perfect” Body, once had the interesting experience of receiving this email: “Jim O’Connor is writing a book about unattractive people who have faced the world and found happiness, a good job, and love. Can he interview you?” In fact, the email was so interesting that Ms. Goldman writes that when she read it she snorted “Jelly Bellies out of my nose.” Another interesting experience came when she was a student. She came across a hippie who was stopping people and asking them, “Are you interested in becoming a writer or poet?” She swept on past him, and he yelled after her, “BEAUTY FADES! BUT YOUR WORDS WILL LIVE ON FOREVER!”

Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, attended Sandhurst military academy. The Duke of Cambridge, who was Queen Victoria’s commander in chief, had visited Sandhurst when many of the officer-cadets were contracting venereal diseases and told them, “I understand that some of you young gentlemen have been putting yours where I wouldn’t put my walking stick.” Ian disregarded this advice, if he was ever aware of it, and quickly got gonorrhea. That, of course, is not the only mistake Ian ever made. After Ian published On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, his friend, Patrick Leigh Fermor, reminded him that Pol Roger is never sold in half bottles—and it is the only champagne that is not sold that way.

Chris Martin of Coldplay occasionally tries to cook, but maybe he shouldn’t. Once he tried to cook fish and peas, but he forgot to turn on the vent. His fire alarm went off, and since it is connected to the fire station, a fire engine quickly arrived. He was forced to tell the firefighters, “I’m sorry. There’s no fire.” A couple of months later, he again tried to cook, and again he forgot to turn on the vent. Again, the fire engine arrived, and again, Mr. Martin said, “I’m sorry. There’s no fire.” He was shaken, and decided to get out of his home for a while. The fire engine happened to be going in his direction, so the firefighters asked, “Do you want a lift?” Mr. Martin says, “I got to have a ride in a fire engine. How cool is that?”

Jack Lemmon worked in the early days of live television, with its consequent mishaps. In one show, he and another actor were playing detectives, and the other actor was supposed to get shot, by not by Jack, who was supposed to shoot the bad guy. Unfortunately, Jack shot his blank gun right into his fellow detective’s rear end. The “detective” shouted a string of profanity that ended up in ordinary Americans’ living rooms. On another show, Jack was playing a surgeon. In one scene, he was supposed to ask for a hypodermic needle, but instead asked for a hypodeemic needle. This made the other actors laugh, including the actor who was supposed to be playing a heavily sedated patient.

The Beastie Boys’ second album, Paul’s Boutique, contained a song titled “Egg Man.” The song came from a leisure activity they and their friends engaged in. They would throw eggs at people from their 9thfloor rooms at the Mondrian Hotel. Of course, people complained, and the hotel managers send them a very diplomatic note: “We’ve had some reports of things falling out of your window. If there’s a problem with your window, please let us know.” The Beastie Boys and their friends stopped throwing eggs at people from the windows of the Mondrian Hotel; instead, they drove around in cars and threw eggs at people.

Artists Otto and Gertrud Natzler, a husband-and-wife team, worked in ceramics, and they lived in a part of California in which earthquakes were frequent—perhaps not a good idea. During one earthquake, the lights went out, but they could hear crashes coming from a closet in which they had stored many of their ceramic pieces. Of course, falling ceramic pieces were making the crashes. Gertrud listened to the crashes, and then she said to her husband, “Here goes our life’s work.” Fortunately, only a few works of art of art were totally destroyed. Many were unscathed, and others could be repaired.

During World War II, a group of Army nurses served in a makeshift hospital near the Algerian port town of Arzew. They were inexperienced at war, and since their hospital did not have a cross to mark it as a noncombat zone and protect it, they decided to make a cross out of 60 white sheets. Unfortunately, after they had finished making the white cross, they discovered that a red cross marked a noncombat zone. A white cross marked an airfield—definitely a target that the enemy would like to bomb.

Actor John Leguizamo grew up in Queens on Denman Street—by the elevated No. 7 train. This made watching mysteries on TV difficult. Mr. Leguizamo says, “As soon as they were about to reveal the killer, you’d hear, ‘And the murderer is …’”—and the train would go by and drown out the sound. He says, however, that he and his family grew skilled at reading lips.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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David Bruce: Mishaps Anecdotes

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In her autobiography, I’m Not Making This Up, You Know, Anna Russell writes that sometimes during performances she used to wear a gown that had “a big pouffe of tulle at the back of the skirt, making a little train.” During an appearance in San Francisco, her accompanist accidentally stepped on the train, pulling out the long length of tulle. Much later, during an appearance in London, Ms. Russell was wearing the same dress, but she had a new accompanist, whom she forgot to warn about her train. Once again, her accompanist accidentally stepped on her train, pulling out the long length of tulle. After the performance, an American sailor came backstage and said that he enjoyed her work, but he especially enjoyed the part at the end, when her accompanist stepped on her train. Ms. Russell explained that that had been an accident, not part of the show, but the sailor replied, “The hell it was an accident. I saw you do it in San Francisco.”

Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár was very leary of child actors because of an experience that happened during a play staged by Max Reinhardt’s Vienna Repertory. The play called for a five-year-old boy who had no lines. Because the part was so easy, the nephew of the stage manager was called into action. Unfortunately, it was a dramatic scene in which one of the characters shouted, and this scared the boy so much that he wet himself on stage. Also unfortunately, the stage was raked (that is, slanted), and the stream of urine began to flow downstage — directly toward the prompter’s box, where the prompter was sitting. Of course, the audience members in the higher seats were watching the stream of urine, which was clearly visible, and they were wondering what the prompter would do. Just before the stream of urine reached the prompter’s box, the prompter’s hand reached out and diverted the urine away from his box.

Jackie Gleason’s TV series The Honeymooners was shown live, and mistakes did happen. Once, Mr. Gleason, famous for his character Ralph Kramden, missed his entrance. Art Carney, who played sewer worker Ed Norton, simply went to the Kramdens’ icebox, took out an orange, and began peeling it until Ralph Kramden arrived. Whenever you see Jackie Gleason patting his stomach on the show, it’s a sign to the cast that they’re in trouble, and somebody better think of something to get them out of the jam. Audrey Meadows, in her character of Alice, Ralph’s wife, once snarled, “If you get any bigger, Gasbag, you’ll float away.” The line was an ad-lib, rendered necessary by circumstances.

In 1964, Marti Stevens played Elvira in High Spirits, the musical version of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit. Her first scene had her speak “Good evening, Charles” through a microphone, then fly onto stage with the aid of a cable. Unfortunately, the microphone had a short circuit, and the electrical shock she received knocked her off a 12-foot platform and she swung back and forth in front of the audience before falling on her butt. After the performance, Mr. Coward went backstage and congratulated her on her performance: “I’m very proud of you. You managed to play the first act of my little comedy tonight with all the Chinese flair and light-hearted brilliance of Lady Macbeth.”

In a scene from Camilla, Lillie Langtry’s character was supposed to give a white camellia to Armand. Noticing that the camellia was not in its regular place, she told a stagehand, who with no time to spare gave her something to take its place. On stage, Ms. Langtry recited, “Take this flower, Armand. It is rare, pale, senseless, cold but sensitive as purity itself. Cherish it, and its beauty will excel the loveliest flower that grows, but wound it with a single touch and you shall never recall its bloom or wipe away the stain.” She then handed him half a stick of celery — which the stagehand had been eating when she told him about the missing camellia.

Sir Peter Ustinov once saw four very interesting windmills at a production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quixote at the Paris Opera. The first windmill, which was propelled by a small man, turned at the proper speed. The second windmill, which was propelled by a very heavy man, turned much slower. The third windmill was turned by two men who disliked and would not cooperate with each other, so its speed varied. The fourth windmill was powered by a malfunctioning electric motor that went into reverse so that the fourth windmill was turning in a different direction than the other windmills.

During a production of Cinderella at the Booth Theater in New York, the production featured two dogs, one of which mounted the other on stage. In the audience was Richard Olivier, the small son of Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright. Young Richard asked Noël Coward what the dogs were doing. Mr. Coward replied, “It’s like this, dear boy: the one is front is blind and the kind one behind is pushing him all the way to St. Dunstans.”

Franklin Pierce Adams, George Kaufman, and Beatrice Kaufman (Mrs. George Kaufman) once attended a cocktail party. Mrs. Kaufman had the misfortune to sit on a poorly made cane-bottom chair. The cane-bottom broke, Mrs. Kaufman’s bottom fell, and she was stuck in the chair’s frame. Mr. Adams merely looked at her and said, “I’ve told you a hundred times, Beatrice — that’s not funny.”

Interesting mishaps occur on stage. While dancing the lead in Giselle, ballerina Alicia Markova attempted to pluck a flower from the stage. However, the flower would not be plucked. Looking at the stage flowers, Ms. Markova discovered that they had all been nailed down by the stagehands. By giving the flower a mighty wrench, she was able to pluck it and continue with her dance.

During the opera Norma, soprano Thérèse Tietjens — playing the title role — was required to strike a gong forcefully with a stick. In drawing back the stick to strike the gong, she accidentally belted tenor Antonio Giuglini in the nose. After suffering a severe nosebleed, Mr. Giuglini swore never again to sing in Norma.

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David Bruce: Mishaps Anecdotes

PIX 673697 Banana Gun

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During a theatrical presentation of Bulldog Drummond, the villain was supposed to gain possession of a gun, then fire it at Bulldog — but no shot was supposed to fire. Bulldog was supposed to then say, “My good man, I would scarcely have let you amuse yourself with that toy had I not known it was unloaded.” However, one night the villain grabbed the wrong gun, which was loaded with blanks, then shot twice at Bulldog. Real bullets were not used, of course, but the gun sprayed powder onto Bulldog’s chest. The actor playing Bulldog couldn’t say his line about the gun’s being unloaded, and since Bulldog was the hero of the play, he couldn’t “die,” so he looked at the villain and said, “My good man, you’re a damned bad shot.”

In Amsterdam, Anne-Marie Holmes danced the title role of Giselle. However, the National Ballet of Holland used a different grave than the one she was used to. The cover to its grave opened in the middle instead of to the side. Ms. Holmes wanted to be sure that her skirt would not get caught in the grave cover so she leaned forward; she was successful in that the grave cover did not close on her skirt — instead, it closed on her nose. Fortunately, the stagehands heard her moan, so they lifted the cover enough for her to get her nose free. Otherwise, the otherworldly spirit that was Giselle would have had an embarrassing time in front of the audience.

When Peter Martins first began performing with the New York City Ballet, he had to learn several ballets very quickly. Often, he learned a ballet during a day, then had to perform it later that night. On one occasion, he was dancing with Suzanne Farrell. He had five entrances and exits. The first four went well, but he forgot about the fifth. For support, Ms. Farrell stretched out her hand, which Mr. Martins was supposed to take, but Mr. Martins was offstage, so Ms. Farrell fell on her face. To the audience, it looked as if Ms. Farrell had committed the fault. According to Mr. Martins, “She was furious with me about that for a whole week.”

Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova toured the world, bringing ballet to everybody. Of course, mishaps occurred during touring. In Birmingham, Alabama, Ms. Markova fell flat on her back during Act II of Giselle, lying with her legs and her lilies pointing straight up, while she giggled at the indignity of her position. In Dallas, Texas, the stage floor was so slippery that at one point Mr. Dolan told the audience, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are doing our best and trying to stand up, but neither Miss Markova nor I nor our group are billed as The Ice Capades!”

Margaret Rawlins appeared in The White Devil, in which her character was killed by a gang of thugs near the end of the play. During one performance, the actors playing the thugs got carried away and Ms. Rawlins’ gown was ripped to the waist, leaving her topless. (Since this happened in 1947, the audience was in shock.) Trouper that she was, Ms. Rawlins remained motionless until the curtain came down, then she gathered the remnants of her clothing and glared at the actors who were staring at her from the wings.

Giuseppe di Stefano sang the part of Alfredo in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La Traviata. In the second act, he was supposed to throw some stage money into the face of the character Violetta — a deadly insult. Unfortunately, once on stage he discovered that his dresser had forgotten to put the stage money into a pocket — any pocket — of his costume. Forced to improvise, he slapped Violetta. The woman playing Violetta never forgave him.

One of the great dance teams of all time is Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Mordkin, but mishaps happen even to great dance teams. While touring, they performed in Mordkin’s Legend of Azyiade, based on The Arabian Nights. During a performance, Ms. Pavlova with her usual vigor hurled herself into Mr. Mordkin’s arms, and the sofa he was sitting on collapsed.

While playing Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Constance Benson once stood on a rather shakily constructed balcony. She was warned not to move around too much, but in the emotion of acting, she forgot her instructions. The balcony collapsed, and she tumbled right into Romeo’s arms.

French soprano Emma Calvé once had the misfortune of having her knickers fall down while she was singing in the presence of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Ms. Calvé remained calm and kicked the knickers into the wings as she continued to sing, but Queen Victoria was shocked and did not applaud at the end of the performance.

Frank Benson once played Hamlet so energetically that when he plunged his sword through a curtain he sliced through the eyelid of the actress playing the Queen. She asked him in a whisper if her eye was put out, and he whispered back, “No,” and to please keep the injury hidden from the audience.

While singing in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, tenor Enrico Caruso was supposed to throw a gun on the floor, at which time a stagehand would fire a blank offstage. Mr. Caruso did throw the gun on the floor, but there was no gunshot — so Mr. Caruso said loudly, “BANG.”

On one occasion, Alicia Markova, while dancing in the role of Giselle, started to pull some lilies from the stage, only to discover that the stagehands had mistakenly nailed them down. With a mighty effort, she wrenched them free, then continued to dance.

At the 1986 Federal Express St. Jude Classic, Gary McCord hit five shots in a row into a pond. Finally, he looked at his club. He was using a 4-iron instead of the 3-iron he thought he was using.

Ballet dancer Anna Pavlova loved to swim, although she was not very good at it. She liked to dive into the water and once knocked herself out with a dive.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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