• Terry Colangelo had learned that a good reporter knew what was going on and so he or she needed to read lots of newspapers thoroughly. She followed this advice, and she read this in the classifieds ad section of a newspaper: “$5,000 Reward for killers of Officer Lundy on Dec. 9, 1932.” The murder had occurred 12 years previously, and she was interested in why a reward was being offered at that late date. It turned out that a man had been convicted of the murder, and for the last 12 years his mother had been working at night as a scrubwoman. All of the money she had earned she had saved to establish the reward. Several reporters got involved in what had seemed at first to be only a human-interest story, and they uncovered evidence that the scrubwoman’s son was innocent of the murder and had been represented by an alcoholic, incompetent lawyer at his trial and appeal. Eventually, Illinois Governor Dwight H. Green pardoned the scrubwoman’s son on the unanimous recommendation of the Illinois Department of Correction.
• Bill Russell’s mother was tough, and she expected her son to be tough, too. When Bill was nine years old, he and his mother moved to Oakland, California, to join his father, who had gotten a job there. While Bill was outside in the Housing Authority project where he lived, five kids ran by him, and one of the kids slapped him. He told his mother what had happened, and she went with him to find all five kids. When Bill said that they had found the five kids, she said, “Good, because you are going to fight all of them, one at a time.” Bill won two fights, and he lost the other three, but his mother told him, “Don’t you feel bad now, William. You did right. You stood up for yourself like a man. Always stand up for yourself like a man.” As a Boston Celtic, Bill played 13 seasons, and he and the Celtics won 11 championships.
• Johnny Cash’s mother recognized that he had musical talent, and she bought him a Sears Roebuck guitar for $6.98. She also washed and ironed someone else’s laundry so she could earn money to buy him voice lessons. She gave him 50 cents for a half-hour lesson, and young Johnny went to voice teacher Miss LaVanda Mae Fiedler. She listened to him sing “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” a country hit by Hank Williams, and she listened to him sing it again. She then told him that he was a natural singer and she couldn’t teach him anything. Johnny was relieved—now his mother did not have to wash and iron someone else’s laundry.
• Early in his life, Bernie Mac knew that he wanted to be a comedian. His mother was crying one day, the television was on, and comedian Bill Cosby made an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Bernie was present, hoping that his mother would stop crying, and soon he saw that she was laughing at Bill Cosby even though her tears were still on her cheeks. A little later, she was laughing hard, and no one could tell that she had been crying. Although Bernie was only about four years old, he told his mother, “Mama, that’s what I’m going to be. I’m going to be a comedian—so I don’t ever have to see you cry.”
• J.K. Rowling, creator and author of the Harry Potter books, was not as poor as perhaps the media has made her out to be when she was writing the first Harry Potter book, but she was a single mother who did lack money. One day, she visited another mother whose boy was roughly the same as J.K.’s daughter. That little boy had a room full of toys, and J.K. remembers, “When I packed Jessica’s toys away, they fitted into a shoe box, literally. I came home and cried my eyes out.” Those feelings of depression are the kind that the Dementors give in the Harry Potter books.
• The paparazzi could be annoying to Audrey Hepburn. Once, a photograph of Audrey with her newly bearded son appeared in a magazine. Because of the new beard, the paparazzi had not recognized her son, so this caption appeared with the photograph: “Audrey com il nuovo amore della sua vita.” Translation: “Audrey with the new love of her life.” She said, “Well, apart from the ‘new,’ for once they got something right.” That was one media photograph she cut out and framed.
• Jerry Herman wrote the scores for many great Broadway musicals, including Mameand Hello, Dolly!and Mack & Mabel, among others. His mother seems to have been much like Mame. One day, when Jerry was a schoolboy, he came home from school and saw that his mother was hosting a party. He asked her what they were celebrating. Was it someone’s birthday, was it an anniversary, was it an obscure holiday? His mother enthusiastically told him, “No, Jerry—it’s TODAY!”
• NBA star Isiah Thomas grew up in a tough neighborhood. One day, he stole a plum and got caught by the security guard of the grocery store, who told him that he was going to call the police but that first he was going to call Isiah’s mother. Isiah begged him to call the police but not call his mother because he knew that she would be disappointed in him.
• After Cameron Diaz graduated from high school, she signed with a modeling agency and began to travel around the world to model in exotic locales. Her mother gave her a gift at the beginning of her career: a long silver hairpin. Why? If necessary, it could be used as a weapon. Cameron says, “Moms are like that.”
• When Joseph Epstein was a small boy of six or seven, he was bored, and he whined to his mother about being bored. She replied, “Really? May I suggest that you knock your head against the wall. It’ll take your mind off your boredom.” Mr. Epstein writes, “I never again told my mother that I was bored.”
• Norton Juster wrote The Phantom Tollbooth, and his mother typed draft after draft. Mr. Juster says that when the book was published, his mother terrorized bookstore owners who did not have copies of the book on sale: “What? You don’t have my son’s book?”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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