David Bruce: Old Age Anecdotes

• Long after playing John Steed in The Avengers, actor Patrick Macnee was vacationing in California, where an elderly woman offered him a drive. Upon arrival, the elderly woman ran her fingers through his hair, pushed a button that lowered the backs of their seats, then, as Mr. Macnee writes, “She proceeded to behave with great mischief.” Afterward, Mr. Macnee was relaxing when someone pointed a gun at him through the car window. His naked partner looked up and asked, “Good evening, officer. How can I help you?” The police officer withdrew his gun and then told his partner, “Relax, Al. It’s only a couple of oldies having a final fling.”

• In his old age, dancer Leonide Massine went to San Francisco to recreate his choreography of Le Beau Danube. During his stay at the Valley View Lodge, some videotapes of him giving lessons to several dancers were shown, causing some elderly residents to ask, “Did you ever dance, Mr. Massine?” He smiled at the question, replied, “A little,” and then taught the elderly residents a few exercises to lessen their pain from arthritis. Shortly thereafter, the elderly residents came to Mr. Massine and thanked him for his help, saying, “I can move now. Thank you so much for your help — it is better than medicine.”

• Humorist H. Allen Smith had a grandfather who was a volunteer fireman. One day the fire alarm began ringing, and Grandpa Cad Allen jumped up out of his bed at home and threw on his clothes. He was ready to run out of the house when one of his young daughters asked for a drink of water, so Grandpa Cad got it for her. Again, he was ready to leave when his wife asked him to turn down the lamp for her. Grandpa Cad did that, then at the door he turned around and sarcastically asked, “Now, if they’s anything else anybody wants, just speak up, because I ain’t in no goddam hurry a-tall!”

• As an old man, Sir Thomas Beecham conducted a Sir Robert Mayer Children’s Concert. He slowly walked to the conductor’s chair and then spoke to the audience of children, saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, my slow progress to the conductor’s desk was due not to any reluctance on my part to conduct before so distinguished an audience. My slow progress was due entirely to the infirmity of old age. Our first piece is by Mozart. It was composed when he was at the age of …” — here Sir Thomas pointed to a small boy in the audience — “at your age, sir.”

• Even as an old man, conductor Arturo Toscanini was known for his rages when things did not proceed to his satisfaction at rehearsals. After Toscanini flew into a rage at a rehearsal with his last orchestra, the NBC Symphony, one of the musicians asked first trumpet Harry Glantz, who had played under Toscanini earlier when he was conducting the New York Philharmonic, “Was he any worse in his Philharmonic days?” Mr. Glantz significantly pointed out, “He was 15 years younger.”

• Black choreographer Katherine Dunham retired to Haiti, where she had a beautiful villa, with a swimming pool, large kitchen, many bedrooms, and a sunken Roman bath. Because Ms. Dunham was troubled by arthritis and excess weight in her later years — enough to be forced to use a wheelchair — Agnes de Mille once asked Ms. Dunham’s assistant how the great choreographer was able to use the bath. The assistant replied, “With difficulty.”

• Barbara Klassen’s great-great uncle lived to be 106 years old. During that time, he was healthy and happy and he served as a chauffer to help other old but less-healthy senior citizens get around. On his 100th birthday, his driver’s license needed to be renewed, but a clerk asked him, “You’re 100 years old. What do you need a driver’s license for?” He answered, “Somebody has to drive the old folks around!”

• Natalie Schafer, who played Mrs. Thurston Howell on Gilligan’s Island, always kept her age a secret. Whenever she went to the doctor’s and the doctor asked her for her age, she always told the doctor to look up what age she had said during her last appointment. However, checking on her last appointment never revealed her age, because she been using that trick all her adult life.

• Russell Johnson played the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. Years after the series was over, he went into a Chinese restaurant to pick up some take-out food, and the Chinese proprietor asked, “You the Professor from Gilligan’s Island?” Mr. Johnson replied that yes, he was, and the Chinese gentleman said, “Boy, you old!”

• A young man was determined to tease Dr. Samuel Johnson. First he told Dr. Johnson to stop being glum and instead be gay like other people. Next, he asked, “What would you give, old gentleman, to be as young and sprightly as I am?” Dr. Johnson replied, “I think I would almost be content to be as foolish.”

• Ballerina Madeleine Guimard (1743-1816) was often asked in her old age to dance with her husband for visitors. They would oblige, but being aware of her age, she would have her husband first hang up a curtain that hid all of her and her husband’s bodies but their feet and legs.

• When he was elderly, Church of Christ preacher T.B. Larimore preached the same sermon two nights in a row. When his wife told him, “You preached that sermon last night,” he was unperturbed and replied, “It’s a good one.”

• When Mark Twain was very old, he sometimes would reach for a doorknob but miss it. He then would turn to his secretary and say, “Just practicing.”

• A publicist once wired Cary Grant’s agent, “How old Cary Grant?” However, Mr. Grant saw the message, and he wired the publicist back, “Old Cary Grant fine. How you?”

• “I have grown old without being bored. Existence is still a strange thing to me, and as a stranger I find it welcome.” — G.K. Chesterton.

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David Bruce: Old Age Anecdotes

• Women were a rare sight in the western frontier. Mark Twain relates in Roughing Itthat “once in Star City, in the Humboldt Mountains, I took my place in a sort of long, post-office single file of miners, to patiently await my chance to peep through a crack in the cabin and a sight of the splendid new sensation — a genuine, live Woman! And at the end of half of an hour my turn came, and I put my eye to the crack, and there she was, with one arm akimbo, and tossing flapjacks in a frying-pan with the other. And she was one hundred and sixty-five years old, and hadn’t a tooth in her head.” (In a footnote, Mr. Twain says that since he is now in a calmer mood, he would knock 100 years off her age.)

• Paul Douglas used to be a U.S. senator. When he was old, he suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair. One day, while reaching for something, he fell out of his wheelchair. The only other person at home was his wife, who wasn’t strong enough to pick him up and put him back in the wheelchair. She told her husband, “Paul, we haven’t had a picnic in such a long time,” then went into the kitchen and made some sandwiches. She brought out the sandwiches, put a few potted plants around to make the scene look more like the country, then she opened a bottle of wine. The two had their picnic, then read love poetry to each other until someone arrived to help pick up Mr. Douglas.

• Patrick Macnee, the actor who played the sartorially perfect John Steed in The Avengersand The New Avengers, once went on a cruise to St. Petersburg, Russia. Many of the passengers told him how much they had enjoyed his TV series. Mr. Macnee, who says that he is now old, fat, and grey (although his photographs show him looking very distinguished) says that many of the passengers recognized him by his voice.

• During the 1950s, an old man knocked on a door at Lancashire School and asked the two schoolboys who answered his knock if he could sit down in the room as he believed that long ago he had lived in this room at the school. After they had entertained the old man and he had left, the schoolboys were astonished to learn that their visitor had been the world-famous conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, who had attended Lancashire School as a teenager.

• A group of elderly Jews were discussing current world events and looking very worried. One man astonished the others by saying, “You know what — I’m an optimist.” “You’re an optimist!” exclaimed another man. “Then why do you look so worried?” “In today’s world, you think it’s easy to be an optimist?”

• For decades, Sir Thomas Beecham conducted from memory. However, in his old age he sometimes used a score while conducting. When Neville Cardus asked him about this, Sir Thomas replied, “I have been going through my scores recently, and I find that they hold my interest from the first page to the last.”

• When Sarah Bernhardt was 78 years old, she planned an American tour, and she told Alexander Woollcott, “Not a long tour this time. I am too old and frail to undertake one of those exhausting tours. Not a long one this time. Just Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Cleveland, Chicago and a few places like that.”

• Natalie Schafer, who played Mrs. Thurston Howell on Gilligan’s Island, kept her age strictly a secret. (When she died in 1990, she was 90 years old.) When her husband, Louis Calhern, was on his deathbed, he asked her to reveal her age to him. She looked her dying husband straight in the eyes and replied, “Never!”

• Conductor Arturo Toscanini was willing to admit when he had made a mistake. When he was old, he once told soprano Helen Traubel to change an emphasis in an aria, but then he reconsidered and told her, “You are right, and the old man, he is wrong.”

• When he was a quite old man and suffering from arthritis, Lionel Barrymore was asked by a reporter if acting was as much fun as it had much for him. Mr. Barrymore replied, “Young man, I am 75. Nothing is as much fun as it used to be.”

• When Harry Hershfield was an old man, he went to Paris for the first time, and he told a friend that he wished he had seen Paris 30 years earlier. The friend asked, “You mean when Paris was Paris?” “No,” he said, “when Hershfield was Hershfield.”

• Thomas De Quincey once attended a dinner party where an old woman talked on and on. His hostess apologized to him later, saying of the old woman, “She’s practically in her dotage.” Mr. De Quincey replied, “I would call it anecdotage.”

• “The only thing I’ve found in people who’ve had a lot of fun in life is that when they get old, they wish it hadn’t ended. They have no remorse except the passing of time. I’ve never met any one who ever regretted any sort of fun, even if it was sinful.” — Ben Hecht.

• A friend asked me recently what I liked best in the world. I answered, “Either cleavage or chocolate chip cookies. I must be getting old, because I find it difficult to pick which I prefer.”

• In 1962, when he was 70, violinist Mischa Elman said, “When I made my debut as a 12-year-old in Berlin, people used to say, ‘Isn’t he wonderful for his age?’ Now they’re beginning to say it again.”

• At the age of 76, Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel, returned from a trip abroad, then said, “I’ve learned that there are certain things you can do at 70 that you can’t so easily do at 76.”

• On his 75th birthday, Sir Winston Churchill said, “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is ready to meet me is another matter.”

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David Bruce: Old Age Anecdotes

• Because of British Broadcasting Corporation regulations, Sir Adrian Boult was forced to retire as conductor from the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1950 when he reached the age of 60. Sir Adrian resented his enforced retirement, which he regarded as being completely arbitrary. After his retirement, he accepted an invitation to serve as the orchestra’s guest conductor for a performance. At the beginning of the rehearsal, he looked at the clock and saw that its hands had stuck together. He then said, “Get the clock going, or I’ll stop the rehearsal in ten minutes’ time — when the clock says so.” BBC management took the threat seriously and removed the hands from the clock.

• When Emma Calvé first travelled to Paris to get singing lessons in preparation for an operatic career, she sat by an attentive elderly gentleman on top of a stage coach. Unfortunately, the elderly gentleman was a little too attentive, for when she fell asleep, he put his arm around her waist. This awakened Ms. Calvé, who slapped the elderly gentleman with such force that everyone in the stage coach realized what had happened. The stage coach stopped, voices were raised in discussion and argument, and a young man gave Ms. Calvé his seat inside the stage coach and took her seat by the elderly gentleman on top of the stage coach.

• As a young man, Benjamin Franklin visited Cotton Mather. Mr. Mather led him along a narrow, dark corridor which had a low beam, and he warned Mr. Franklin, “Stoop! Stoop!” Mr. Franklin didn’t understand what he meant, with the result that he banged his head against the beam. Mr. Mather then advised him, “Let this be a caution to you not always to hold your head so high. Stoop, young man, stoop as you go through the world — and you’ll miss many hard thumps.”

• In his old age, James M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, was forced by writer’s cramp to write with his left hand instead of his right. His secretary, Lady Cynthia Asquith (who got her job partly because she didn’t know how to type — Mr. Barrie disliked the sound of a typewriter) later wrote, “I remember his announcing this change quite formally, as though in dismissing his right hand he were giving notice to a servant of many years faithful service.”

• Throughout his life, Arturo Toscanini studied music. When he was an old man, he was found in his bed studying the scores of Beethoven’s nine symphonies, although he had conducted the symphonies hundreds of times and had memorized the scores. When his son asked why he was studying scores that he so intimately knew, Toscanini replied, “Now that I am an old man I want to come a little closer to the secrets of this music.”

• Benjamin Banneker, an African-American astronomer and mathematician, was born on November 9, 1731, and he accomplished most of his significant educational attainments in his later years. He first used a telescope when he was 57. He helped survey the site of Washington D.C. when he was 59. The first of six straight annual almanacs for which he made the astronomical calculations was published when he was 60.

• Comedian Robin Williams dressed in drag when the character he was playing in Mrs. Doubtfire disguised himself as an elderly nanny. The disguise was very effective. While filming in North Beach, California, Mr. Williams — dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire — stopped at a newsstand and looked through Playboy. A college student saw him and told a friend, “That old lady sure is hip, man.”

• While visiting China, African-American author Alice Walker met the great Chinese woman writer Ding Ling, who had been imprisoned for opposing the subjection of women. Although Ding Ling was still writing at age 80, she wished that she could have back the time she had lost while being persecuted. She told Ms. Walker, “Oh, to be 67 again!”

• When Martha Graham was nearly 80 years old, dancer Tim Wengerd saw her crying bitterly in the dance studio. She explained that she had had a dream in which she was dancing, then she had awakened and looked at her hands, which were badly crippled by arthritis. Knowing that she was incapable of ever dancing again, she had begun to cry.

• Silent-film comedian Ben Turpin was famous for his crossed eyes. He saved his money and had a happy retirement. When he was an old man, he enjoyed directing rush-hour traffic in downtown Los Angeles. With his crossed eyes and wildly swinging arms, he always managed to screw up traffic royally.

• As an old woman, Mae West still performed, but because she was getting forgetful, she used an electronic prompter. Unfortunately, during one performance, the prompter picked up parts of highway patrol broadcasts, so Ms. West found herself telling her audience about highway traffic conditions.

• Latin singer Ricky Martin, famous especially for the huge hit “Livin’ la Vida Loca” (“Living the Crazy Life”), sang when he was a teenager as a member of the Latin boy band Menudo, but he left the group before he turned 18. He had to — 17 is the group’s mandatory retirement age.

• Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had a feisty grandfather. At age 104, he ordered a new pair of boots and requested that the cobbler do an especially good job on them as “very few men die after the age of 99.”

• When cellist Pablo Casals was 95 years old, opera singer Plácido Domingo visited him. He was pleasantly surprised to find that Mr. Casals, despite his frail old age, was busy studying the score of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

• When Noah Webster visited John Adams, the aged ex-President told him, “I inhabit a weak, frail, decayed tenement, open to the winds, and broken in upon by the storms. What is worse, from all I can learn, the landlord does not intend to repair.”

• When playwright Lillian Hellman was aged and unable to climb stairs on her own she hired a strong UCLA student to carry her up and down the stairs of her home.

• “I don’t want a man my age. You should see them. They all look like hell.” — comedian Bob Smith’s mother.

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David Bruce: Old Age Anecdotes

What are the anti-aging secrets of top movie stars? How is an aging movie star able to act credibly in an action movie? Of course, diet and exercise help, although tricks can help, too. For example, wrinkles in close-ups can be eliminated through technology after the film has been shot. In addition, hemorrhoid cream can work well for short periods of time, according to award-winning make-up artist Daniel Phillips. An aging star can put hemorrhoid cream on the bags under his eyes, and for a couple of hours the skin will tighten—long enough to shoot some close-ups.

When the Greek tragedian Sophocles, author of Oedipus the King, was 89 years old, his son brought him to trial in an effort to have him declared incompetent so that he could seize his estate. At the trial, Sophocles said, “If I am Sophocles, I am not out of my mind; if I am out of my mind, I am not Sophocles.” To prove that he was competent, he read some passages of his latest play, a work-in-progress titled Oedipus at Colonus. The jury was convinced that Sophocles’s mind was as sharp as ever, and the case was dismissed.

In 1970, when Maggie Kuhn reached the age of 65, she was forced to retire by the Presbyterian Church, which gave her a sewing machine. Ms. Kuhn never even took the sewing machine out of the box, preferring instead to form the Gray Panthers, an organization dedicated to fighting ageism: discrimination against seniors. She believed that seniors have a lot to contribute to society, saying, “We are the elders of the tribe; the elders are concerned with the tribe’s survival and not their own.”

First-grade students often have a very poor conception of age. One first-grader asked his teacher — she was 22 — how old she was. In turn, she asked, “How old do you think I am?” He replied, “Sixty.” When she told him that he was wrong, the student asked, “More or less?” (In an Ohio classroom, a teacher told her students about General Sherman’s march through the South and the devastation he wrought. One of her students asked, “Where did you hide?”)

Professional violinists seldom like to give up their instrument even after their playing days are over. Josef Gingold met Joseph Szigeti after he had retired, and he noticed that Mr. Szigeti was carrying a violin case with him, so he asked him if he was still playing. Unfortunately, Mr. Szigeti had gotten so old that the violin strings cut his fingers, but he explained, “Since I was six years old, I’ve been travelling with the violin. It feels so nice to hold it.”

By the time of choreographer George Balanchine’s last bows on stage, he had grown frail and easily lost his balance. When he took a bow with the other members of the New York City Ballet, he whispered to ballerina Merrill Ashley as he took her hand, “I need to hold your hand. Don’t let go.” And when he later took a solo bow, he was discreetly holding onto the curtain to help him maintain his balance.

Middle-aged librarian Vera H. Henegar started a new job at an elementary school. One day, as a group of young students arrived at the library, Ms. Henegar bent over to pick up a book card from the floor. As she straightened up, she groaned and said, “I must be getting old.” One of the young students told her, “Why, Mrs. Henegar, you can’t be getting old! This is your first year here!”

Six months before she died of old age, Anna Sokolow was still choreographing, despite her need for round-the-clock care. Her caregiver, Jason, would watch her, and he knew that she was still creating steps: “Anna still choreographs, you know. She choreographs in her mind. At night I watch her eyes moving behind her lids. She sees movement. She hears music. Dance is her life.”

Rabbi Morris N. Kertzer once officiated at a wedding of elderly people. The 76-year-old groom, whose best man was his grandson, was hard of hearing, and in the middle of the ceremony he thought the blessing was over so he gave his 69-year-old bride a passionate kiss. The grandson whispered to Rabbi Kertzer that to people as old as the groom and bride, time was precious.

Italian Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola lived a long life, dying at age 93. In fact, she lived so long that she was forced to get a certificate of fides vitae to prove that she was still alive so that she could collect her pension. (She is known for painting people in happy moods, although the style of the time was to paint only people in somber moods.)

As everyone does who lives long enough, Marlene Dietrich aged. Her famous legs swelled because of circulation problems, so she designed boots tall enough to cover the swelling. Because the degree of swelling varied considerably, she had her boots manufactured in several different sizes so she could always find one pair that fit.

When theatrical maven George Abbott was 95 years ago, he had to get a pacemaker. When he asked about its disadvantages, the doctor joked, “You’ll have to have a new battery after 10 years.” As it happened, when Mr. Abbott was 105 years old, he needed a new battery. Eventually, he died at age 107.

Musicians can make good music well into their old age. Brass pedagogue Arnold Jacobs once attended an exhibition of new instruments when he was in his 80s. He picked up a tuba, and tested it to see how good it was. A crowd gathered around him because they liked the music he was making.

Sir Malcolm Sargent was witty. Asked what one had to know to play the cymbals, he answered, “Nothing — just when.” In his old age, when asked to what he attributed his advanced age, he replied, “Well, I suppose I must attribute it to the fact that I haven’t yet died.”

Even after Edgar Degas’ eyesight grew bad in his old age, he still collected works of art. Once he bought a painting at an auction and then asked a friend, “Is it beautiful?”

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David Bruce: Old Age Anecdotes

Mother Teresa once visited a magnificent home for senior citizens in England. Each of its 40 residents was well cared for by the staff; however, none of the 40 residents smiled. Instead, they kept looking at the door of the home. Mother Teresa asked a Sister about this, and the Sister replied, “The same thing always happens. They are always waiting for someone to come to visit them. They dream of a son or a daughter, some member of the family, or a friend coming through that door to visit them.” According to Mother Teresa, “The poverty of having no one coming to visit them is the poverty that older people feel the most.”

When William Griffin was in the air force, he was in an accident that left him in a coma for several days. When he awoke from the coma, the only way he could communicate with the people around him was through laughing. Fortunately, he was able to almost fully recover from the accident. Once, Mr. Griffin’s friend and pastor, the Rev. David R. Francoeur, complained to him about how slowly God moves in answering prayers and how quickly he wished that God would move. He asked, “Why does God move so slow?” Mr. Griffin replied, “Because He’s older than you are.”

Author Michael Thomas Ford once spoke before a class of children. One child asked him, “How old are you?” When he gave the answer — 30 — he shocked the children, one of whom marveled, “You’re older than my mom,” and another of whom said, “That’s old.” Afterward, the children’s teacher explained that whenever the children asked her how old she was, “I just tell them I knew God when he was a boy. That shuts them up — except for the ones who want to know if he was a good kickball player.”

Opera singer Mary Garden’s mother died at the age of 93, but she stopped counting how many years she had lived at the age of 35. She once told her daughter, “Mary, I was never 36 and I never shall be.” The two sometimes traveled together, but Mary was sometimes embarrassed because according to her mother’s passport, her mother was one year old when she gave birth to her.

When she was an old lady, former heartthrob Sarah Bernhardt had an apartment at the top of an apartment building. A former suitor visited her and, huffing and puffing after climbing so many stairs, asked her she had her apartment so high up. Ms. Bernhardt replied, “Nowadays, it’s the only way I am still able to make men’s hearts beat a little faster.”

The aged conductor Serge Koussevitsky disliked the spiritless playing of a musician, so he told him, “Don’t play like an old man.” The musician responded, “You are an old man yourself.” Maestro Koussevitsky replied, “I know that. But when I conduct like an old man, I will give up the job.” The musician thereafter played with spirit.

In Melbourne, Florida, a speaker at the weekly Men in Motion luncheon at Central Baptist Church talked about forgiveness. The speaker stated, “The Lord has given me the command to forgive the wrongs of others, but He has not given me the ability to forget them.” An older man in the audience called out, “Just wait a few years!”

When Sir Ralph Richardson was 74 years old, Richard Eyre visited him in his dressing room, where he was surprised to see Sir Ralph using makeup to put lines under his eyes, the way young actors do. Sir Ralph noticed the look of surprise on Mr. Eyre’s face, so he explained, “Ah, I’m playing an old character, you see.”

Sir John Gielgud was in his dressing room after a theatrical performance when a man came in to see him. Mr. Gielgud said, “How pleased I am to meet you. I used to know your son. We were at school together.” The man replied, “I have no son — it was I who was at school with you.”

Some cultures value old people. The Dalai Lama once attended a Buddhist-Christian conference. At the opening ceremony — a tree-planting ceremony — the Dalai Lama noticed a very old monk in a wheelchair. He went to the monk and embraced him, saying joyously, “Oh, he’s old!”

Caesar Augustus, when he was old, once had a hard time making himself heard in the midst of a group of young men. He told them, “Young men, pay attention to an old man who when he was young won the attention of his elders.”

Young people sometimes told the German-Jewish actor Fritz Kortner that he was unable to understand their problems. He always replied, “You were never as old as I am; on the other hand, I was as young as you are now.”

Sandy Koufax was one of baseball’s best pitchers, but he was hardly a hitter. Before an Old-Timers game, he barely touched the ball during batting practice, then told his friends, “The layoff didn’t hurt. I haven’t lost a thing.”

Myron Cohen used to tell a story about two old people talking about sex. She asks him how often he has sex, and he replies, “Infrequently.” She then asks, “Is that one word or two?”

Lionel Barrymore was asked in his old age if acting was as much fun for him as it used to be. He replied, “Look, son, I’m 75 years old — nothing is as much fun as it used to be.”

Cloris Leachman played Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. According to Ms. Leachman, there is a secret to growing old: “Never read women’s magazines. All that advice will kill you.”

Someone once told Zero Mostel that he had changed very little over the years. He replied, “Geez, if you start off fat and bald, what the hell else can happen to you?”

Thales was a wise man. When a man asked him about the oddest sight he had ever witnessed, Thales replied, “A dictator who reached old age.”

In a nursing home, an elderly woman was advised to get a hearing aid. She declined, saying, “At 91, I’ve heard enough.”

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David Bruce: Old Age Anecdotes

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Long after playing John Steed in The Avengers, actor Patrick Macnee was vacationing in California, where an elderly woman offered him a drive. Upon arrival, the elderly woman ran her fingers through his hair, pushed a button that lowered the backs of their seats, then, as Mr. Macnee writes, “She proceeded to behave with great mischief.” Afterward, Mr. Macnee was relaxing when someone pointed a gun at him through the car window. His naked partner looked up and asked, “Good evening, officer. How can I help you?” The police officer withdrew his gun, then told his partner, “Relax, Al. It’s only a couple of oldies having a final fling.”

In his old age, dancer Leonide Massine went to San Francisco to recreate his choreography of Le Beau Danube. During his stay at the Valley View Lodge, some videotapes of him giving lessons to several dancers were shown, causing some elderly residents to ask, “Did you ever dance, Mr. Massine?” He smiled at the question, replied, “A little,” then taught the elderly residents a few exercises to lessen their pain from arthritis. Shortly thereafter, the elderly residents came to Mr. Massine and thanked him for his help, saying, “I can move now. Thank you so much for your help — it is better than medicine.”

Humorist H. Allen Smith had a grandfather who was a volunteer fireman. One day the fire alarm began ringing, and Grandpa Cad Allen jumped up out of his bed at home and threw on his clothes. He was ready to run out of the house when one of his young daughters asked for a drink of water, so Grandpa Cad got it for her. Again, he was ready to leave when his wife asked him to turn down the lamp for her. Grandpa Cad did that, then at the door he turned around and sarcastically asked, “Now, if they’s anything else anybody wants, just speak up, because I ain’t in no goddam hurry a-tall!”

As an old man, Sir Thomas Beecham conducted a Sir Robert Mayer Children’s Concert. He slowly walked to the conductor’s chair, then spoke to the audience of children, saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, my slow progress to the conductor’s desk was due not to any reluctance on my part to conduct before so distinguished an audience. My slow progress was due entirely to the infirmity of old age. Our first piece is by Mozart. It was composed when he was at the age of …” — here Sir Thomas pointed to a small boy in the audience — “at your age, sir.”

Even as an old man, conductor Arturo Toscanini was known for his rages when things did not proceed to his satisfaction at rehearsals. After Toscanini flew into a rage at a rehearsal with his last orchestra, the NBC Symphony, one of the musicians asked first trumpet Harry Glantz, who had played under Toscanini earlier when he was conducting the New York Philharmonic, “Was he any worse in his Philharmonic days?” Mr. Glantz significantly pointed out, “He was 15 years younger.”

Black choreographer Katherine Dunham retired to Haiti, where she had a beautiful villa, with a swimming pool, large kitchen, many bedrooms, and a sunken Roman bath. Because Ms. Dunham was troubled by arthritis and excess weight in her later years — enough to be forced to use a wheelchair — Agnes de Mille once asked Ms. Dunham’s assistant how the great choreographer was able to use the bath. The assistant replied, “With difficulty.”

Barbara Klassen’s great-great uncle lived to be 106 years old. During that time, he was healthy and happy and he served as a chauffeur to help other old but less-healthy senior citizens get around. On his 100th birthday, his driver’s license needed to be renewed, but a clerk asked him, “You’re 100 years old. What do you need a driver’s license for?” He answered, “Somebody has to drive the old folks around!”

Natalie Schafer, who played Mrs. Thurston Howell on Gilligan’s Island, always kept her age a secret. Whenever she went to the doctor’s and the doctor asked her for her age, she always told the doctor to look up what age she had said during her last appointment. However, checking on her last appointment never revealed her age, because she been using that trick all her adult life.

Russell Johnson played the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. Years after the series was over, he went into a Chinese restaurant to pick up some take-out food, and the Chinese proprietor asked, “You the Professor from Gilligan’s Island?” Mr. Johnson replied that yes, he was, and the Chinese gentleman said, “Boy, you old!”

A young man was determined to tease Dr. Samuel Johnson. First he told Dr. Johnson to stop being glum and instead be gay like other people. Next, he asked, “What would you give, old gentleman, to be as young and sprightly as I am?” Dr. Johnson replied, “I think I would almost be content to be as foolish.”

Ballerina Madeleine Guimard (1743-1816) was often asked in her old age to dance with her husband for visitors. They would oblige, but being aware of her age, she would have her husband first hang up a curtain that hid all of her and her husband’s bodies except their feet and legs.

When he was elderly, Church of Christ preacher T.B. Larimore preached the same sermon two nights in a row. When his wife told him, “You preached that sermon last night,” he was unperturbed and replied, “It’s a good one.”

When Mark Twain was very old, he sometimes would reach for a doorknob but miss it. He then would turn to his secretary and say, “Just practicing.”

A publicist once wired Cary Grant’s agent, “How old Cary Grant?” However, Mr. Grant saw the message, and he wired the publicist back, “Old Cary Grant fine. How you?”

“I have grown old without being bored. Existence is still a strange thing to me, and as a stranger I find it welcome.” — G.K. Chesterton.

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David Bruce: Old Age Anecdotes

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When Ruth St. Denis was very old, she asked dance critic Walter Terry why a certain publication was always so kind in covering her activities. He investigated and discovered that an executive on the publication had had a romance with Miss Ruth long ago — a romance that Miss Ruth had totally forgotten but which the executive had never forgotten. Once, the executive approached Miss Ruth and Mr. Terry, and Mr. Terry just had time to whisper the name of the executive’s publication and the reminding phrase “night in moonlight California.” Miss Ruth looked into the executive’s eyes and said, “It has been so long ….” The favorable publicity continued.

Near the end of Ted Shawn’s life, Norbert Vesak visited him. Mr. Shawn told him, “Remember, I always said that my heart always beats in 3/4 time? Well, now I even walk in 3/4 time.” Mr. Shawn then used the furniture to help support himself as he walked across the room, saying, “You see? Chair, two, three / Table, two, three / Doorway, two, three / Banister, two, three.” Years later, Mr. Vesak saw Katherine Hepburn in the play West Side Waltz. At the end of the play, Ms. Hepburn’s character used a walker to get across a room — Walker, two, three / Walker, two, three — and said, “You see! Now I even walk in waltz time!”

The famed dance team of Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn almost never happened because Ms. Fonteyn, who was older than Mr. Nureyev, worried about “mutton dancing with lamb.” Fortunately for ballet, she overcame her hesitation. While rehearsing Swan Lake with Mr. Nureyev, they discussed some changes that he wanted to make to the choreography. At one point, objecting to a change, she said, “Rudolf, I have been doing this ballet since 1938.” He began to giggle, so she said, “I suppose that was before you were born.” He replied, “No — just exact year.”

Catherine Shipley was both a Quaker and a character. When she was old and living alone, her children became worried about her, so they hired a companion for her. Knowing that Kate didn’t want a companion, they told the companion not to leave Kate ’s home, even when requested to do so. The companion arrived at Kate’s home and was entertained, and she did not leave even when Kate requested her to once, twice, and three times. However, Kate was master of her own home, and she called the police, who carried the companion off to jail.

At first, Margot Fonteyn worried about dancing with Rudolf Nureyev because she was older than he. Fortunately, she overcame her worries about mutton dancing with lamb, and one of ballet’s great partnerships was created. Nevertheless, once a woman fan who had been talking in Russian with Mr. Nureyev in a restaurant suddenly noticed Ms. Fonteyn and asked Mr. Nureyev in English, “Who is that? Your mother?”

Ellen Terry (1848-1928) was a much beloved Shakespearian actress. Once, close to 80 years old, she was playing Portia, but forgot the words to the “quality of mercy” speech. She struggled to remember, could not, and then said to the audience, “I am a very silly old lady, and I cannot remember what I have to say.” The audience cheerfully shouted out the words to the speech, and Ms. Terry continued with her performance.

In 1997, Phyllis Diller, who is famous in part for her jokes about plastic surgery, celebrated her 80th birthday. She told her guests, “More men have worked on my face than on the Egyptian pyramids.” To back up her statement, she gave each guest a list of the plastic surgery procedures she had undergone — the list included 18 improvements to her face and figure.

Sam Mendes was very young — 23 years old — when he directed Judi Dench in three plays. During a conversation, they talked about some plays that Ms. Dench had starred in during the mid-1970s. Ms. Dench asked Mr. Mendes if he seen the plays, and he replied, “Well, no. I was 10 years old.” Ms. Dench screamed, then pretended to choke him.

When George Burns got old, he used to say that his memory was getting bad, so bad that he hired a secretary with a good memory so she could nudge him when someone was approaching and remind him who the person was. One day, the secretary nudged him and said, “The fellow coming your way is your brother Willie.”

While traveling in the Orient, American dance pioneer Ted Shawn watched Madame Katayama perform a geisha dance, in which she kneeled on the floor, then bent backward until her head touched the floor between her feet. When she performed the dance for Mr. Shawn, Madame Katayama was 88 years old.

When Pierre Monteux was in his eighties, he signed a contract that made him principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra for the next 25 years — but he insisted that the contract include an option allowing him to conduct for an additional 25 years.

When Margot Fonteyn taught, she would sometimes tell her dance students that she had created a certain role in 1855. Amazingly, her very young students — few of whom seemed to understand the difference between being 30 years old and 130 years old — laughed at the joke.

Olga Preobrajenska was a very strong ballerina and teacher of ballet. As an old lady, she lived in a nursing home, but whenever she was fed up with the nurses, she stacked all the bedroom furniture against the door so that they couldn’t come in and bother her.

A wealthy old man was interested in a young, beautiful gold digger. He asked his friends, “How old should I tell her I am? My real age of 70? Or a younger age of 60?” His friends advised, “Tell her you’re 90.”

A woman objected to buying a Renaissance painting of a young girl because it had been restored. Lord Duveen told her, “My dear Madam, if you were as old as this young girl, you would have to be restored, too.”

Ethel Barrymore was once told that a woman who had been at school with her wished to see her. Ms. Barrymore replied, “Wheel her in.”

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