David Bruce: Money Anecdotes

F._Scott_Fitzgerald,_1921

A study of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Gordon Bryant. Published in Shadowland magazine in 1921.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was thought to be a spendthrift, but actually he was careful with money so that he would be able to work on his novels. However, the illness of his wife, Zelda, forced him to spend large spends of money to take very good care of her. Occasionally, well-meaning friends recommended ways for him to reduce his expenses, but often Mr. Fitzgerald was unable to accept the recommendations. On October 16, 1936, he wrote to Max Perkins, his editor at Scribner: “Such stray ideas as sending my daughter to a public school, putting my wife in a public insane asylum, have been proposed to me by intimate friends, but it would break something in me that would shatter the very delicate pencil end of a point of view.” By the way, when Mr. Fitzgerald was filling out his income-tax forms, the United States government had no way of double-checking—as it has now—that the taxpayer had reported all income. However, Fitzgerald scholar William J. Quirk’s examination of Mr. Fitzgerald’s financial records and income-tax returns shows that he was “impeccably honest in his reporting.”

New York Times best-selling thriller author Sandra Brown has 70 million copies of her many novels in print. She regards her best purchase ever to be an IBM Display Writer, which she purchased after receiving a $12,000 loan from a bank. She remembers, “I’d published seven books that were written on a typewriter.  I typed at least three drafts of each. I spent a lot of time typing, which is entirely different from writing. One day it occurred to me that I wasn’t being paid to type, so I trotted off down to the bank and made my pitch. That banker, now in his 80s, still brags about that loan to anyone who’ll listen. Bless you, Art.”

Controversial film director John Waters has many talents, including the ability to give an entertaining pitch to people who may invest money that he can use to make his movies. Once he wrote a screenplay about a skinhead invasion of a community, and he pitched it to Dawn Steel of Disney, who listened to him, then joked, “Well, sure, when I heard ‘skinheads,’ I thought Disney!” Mr. Waters says, “She knew that they weren’t going to do it, but I give an entertaining pitch, so she took the meetings anyway.”

In 1955, the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series—the only time they won. After their victory, Dodgers Carl Erskine and Duke Snider were traveling on the Pennsylvania Turnpike when a state trooper pulled them over. The trooper gave them a warning for speeding, then told them, “By the way, I lost money on you guys again this year.” Mr. Erskine asked, “How did you lose money? We just won the World Series.” The trooper replied, “I bet on the Dodgers in 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953. You guys lost every one. I said nuts to them this year, and I’m betting on the Yankees.”

When Groucho Marx had just agreed to be the host of the You Bet Your Life quiz show, which started on radio, and then later moved to TV, he objected when he heard that one of the writers, Bernie Smith, was being paid $300 a week: “He can’t be any good. You can’t get a good writer for less than $900 a week.” John Guedel, the executive producer of You Bet Your Life, took the criticism seriously. He called Mr. Smith into his office, fired him, and then rehired him at $900 a week.

Tom Hanks, of course, has won back-to-back Oscars for Best Actor for his roles in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. This puts him in the ranks of actors who can command millions of dollars for starring in a movie. However, like most other actors, he underwent a period of poverty before making it big. Early in his career as an actor, his sister returned several empty soda-pop containers for the deposit so that she could send him an admittedly small amount of money.

Al Shean was a popular comedian during the very early part of the 20th century. He endeared himself to children whenever he visited his young nephews who later became the famous Marx Brothers. Not only did he give his young nephews money, but also he would toss 100 pennies (back when a penny was actually valuable) into the street and let the neighborhood children scramble for the money.

As an eight-year-old girl, Tatum O’Neal made Paper Moon; for a while afterward, her father, Ryan O’Neal, would not let her make any more movies. However, one day a teenaged Tatum told him that she wanted to use her earnings from Paper Moon to buy a horse ranch. He explained, “You made only $16,000. That won’t buy it.” Soon after, Tatum made $350,000 (and got a percentage) by acting in The Bad News Bears.

The former Perk’s Coffee House in Athens, Ohio, had many witty and intelligent employees who are very good at writing humor to encourage customers to toss spare change into the tip jar. For example, an April 2008 display by the tip jar consisted of a plastic figurine of Godzilla holding this sign: “Tip, and I shall spare your villages and dormitories.”

Charlie Chaplin was dissatisfied with the title of his movie The Great Dictator. He had wanted to simply call it The Dictator, but Paramount owned that title and Paramount wanted $25,000 to allow Mr. Chaplin to use it. Mr. Chaplin said, “I can’t spend $25,000 for two words. So I said, ‘All right, I’ll call mine The Great Dictator—three words and all free.’”

Russian bass Fyodor Chaliapin enjoyed partying all night even though he knew that it would interfere with his singing the following day. American industrialist Henry Ford once offered him a large sum of money to sing at 10:30 a.m., but Mr. Chaliapin replied, “Unfortunately, at that early hour I cannot even spit.”

When he was 12 years old, Denzel Washington worked in a barber shop, cleaning up, running errands for patrons, and whisking away stray hairs after patrons had haircuts. He appreciated the tips he made, and he admits, “Everybody looked like a dollar bill to me.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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