David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Names

Names

• Being famous under a pseudonym can lead to problems. Eric Blair, aka George Orwell, once learned that Ernest Hemingway was staying in a room at the same hotel he was staying at. He knocked on Mr. Hemingway’s door and introduced himself as Eric Blair, and Mr. Hemingway asked what he wanted. Mr. Blair then reintroduced himself as George Orwell, and Mr. Hemingway said, “Why didn’t you say so?” Then he invited him in for a drink. Mr. Blair could have told Mr. Hemingway about some odd experiences. For example, Mr. Orwell once rented a room from a landlady who was proud because she had worked for a nobleman. She was so proud that when she locked herself out of her house, she would not let her husband and Mr. Blair go next door to borrow a ladder to get to a high window and enter the house because she was too proud to associate with the neighbors. Instead, her husband and Mr. Blair walked a mile and borrowed a ladder from one of her relatives. And while working as a dishwasher and a porter in a Paris hotel, he was once ordered to get a single peach because a rich customer had ordered one. Since the hotel did not have a peach on the premises, Mr. Blair was ordered to find one or be fired. The shops were closed, but he found a basket of peaches hanging in a window. Rather than lose his job, he broke the window and stole one peach.

• For a performance by ballerina Maria Tallchief and the New York City Ballet, Japanese stagehands waxed the stage floor. Of course, this resulted in dancers slipping, sliding, and falling. After that one ruinous performance, the stage floor was restored to its usual scuffed lack of splendor. By the way, at birth, Maria Tallchief’s name was Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief. She changed “Tall Chief” to “Tallchief” because she wanted to avoid problems in alphabetization at school — other students wondered whether her last name was “Chief” or “Tall Chief.” Her parents called her “Betty Marie,” but when famed choreographer Agnes de Mille suggested that the world of ballet already had lots of Bettys and Elizabeths, Ms. Tallchief began to use the name “Maria” instead.

• The first performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiahtook place 23 April 1742, at Neal’s Music Hall, located on Fishamble Street in Dublin. For this performance 700 people crowded into a space that was designed to hold only 600. The organizers of the concert realized that it would be crowded, so they bought newspaper advertisements asking gentlemen to leave their swords at home and asking women not to wear hoop skirts. By the way, the name “Fishamble” is interesting. A market used to be called a “shamble,” and Neal’s Music Hall used to be a fish market.

• Agnes de Mille was determined to succeed as a dancer. Once, another dancer accidentally kicked her and broke her nose during a performance. Ms. de Mille continued dancing. By the way, while rehearsing her ballet Rodeo, choreographer and dancer Agnes de Mille worried about details. Eventually, the dancers working with her changed her name from “Agnes” to “Agonize.” On 16 October 1942, Rodeopremiered with Ms. De Mille dancing the lead role of the Cowgirl. She was sure that the ballet had been a failure, but after taking 22 curtain calls, she finally believed that the premiere had been a success.

• When the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1867, he was named Frank Lincoln Wright in honor of the recently assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. He changed his name after his parents divorced, and he took his new middle name from his mother, Anna Lloyd Jones.

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David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Money, Movies, Music and Musicians

Money

• In 1957, dancer Anton Dolin had supper with opera singer Maria Callas at the Café de Paris. After they had dined, Ms. Callas told Mr. Dolin why she had chosen that particular supper club: “I was offered £1,000 a week to come here and sing.”

• Georgia O’Keeffe once offered Summer Daysto a museum for the price of $400,000, but the museum was reluctant to pay that price. No problem. She sold Summer Daysto fashion designer Calvin Klein for $1 million.

• Canadian painter Jean-Paul Piopelle once grew annoyed because art dealers priced his paintings by the number of square inches in them. Therefore, he created a circular painting to confuse them.

• Early in his career as a painter, Claude Monet suffered from great poverty. Once, a laundress kept the Monet family sheets because he could not afford to pay his laundry bill.

Movies

• When John Huston directed Beat the Devil(1954), he tore up the script, then invited Truman Capote to write new scenes. (During the filming, Mr. Capote spoke on the telephone each day to a pet raven. Once, when the pet raven declined to make any sounds on the telephone, Mr. Capote flew to Rome to see the raven in person.) In addition, Mr. Huston let the supporting actors — including, and especially, Peter Lorre and Robert Morley — make up their own dialogue. The movie flopped, but later it became a cult classic. As you would expect, Mr. Huston would have preferred that the movie be a success from day one. He said in 1975, “Of course it’s about as bad to be ahead of your time as behind it. It’s always nice when pictures are revived years later, it gives you the satisfaction of seeing them finally accepted, and God knows Beat the Deviland The Asphalt Junglewere no great shakes their first time around. But as far as the, ah, material rewards are concerned, it’s better to have a success from the first.”

• In the movie The Red Shoes, starring Moira Shearer, Léonide Massine played the Shoemaker. As a result of the movie, he received more publicity than he had ever received. After making the movie, Mr. Massine vacationed in Italy, and a real shoemaker in Positano told him that he was ready to take him on as an assistant.

Music and Musicians

• Choreography Hermes Pan once needed to work out a dance to some music by George Gershwin. He asked the rehearsal pianist in the studio to play the song, but was dissatisfied with it, so he asked the pianist to play the song at a slower tempo. Again, he was dissatisfied, and he said, “Gershwin or no Gershwin, I think this stinks!” Later that day, Mr. Pan was able to meet Mr. Gershwin and discovered he was the pianist at the rehearsal. Mr. Pan apologized to him, but Mr. Gershwin replied, “You know something? You might be right!”

• Billy Rose once tried to impress choreographer Agnes de Mille with his plans for an arts production. Among other things, he asked what she would think if Leopold Stokowski came out in his theater and conducted a symphony orchestra in Debussy’s “Claire de Lune.” Ms. de Mille replied that she would be surprised, as no doubt would Mr. Stokowski, since “Claire de Lune” was written for solo piano, not for a symphony orchestra.

• Sometimes symphony musicians don’t like the new music they are playing. At a rehearsal for the premiere of Claude Debussy’s La Mer, the musicians grew bored with the music. One of the musicians took the score, made a paper boat of it, then used his foot to push it along the floor. Soon many other musicians followed suit.

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David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Money

Money

• While he was still in high school, Navajo artist R.C. Gorman left several of his paintings at a trading post in Gallup, New Mexico, where he hoped they would be sold and he would make some money. After the summer was over, he returned to the trading post to see if the paintings had sold. The paintings had sold, all right, but when Mr. Gorman asked for his money, the white woman who ran the trading post told Mr. Gorman, “What money?” She then added, “I don’t know you.” Because Mr. Gorman didn’t have a written contract, he didn’t receive any money from the white woman.

• William Gladstone once saw a portrait of a nobleman that he liked immensely but which he could not afford to buy. A few weeks after seeing the portrait, he was invited to a house to dine, where he saw the portrait hanging on the wall. Noticing Gladstone’s interest in the portrait, his host said, “One of my ancestors.” Gladstone replied, “If the portrait had cost less, he would have become one of my ancestors.”

• Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury loved theater and produced several of his own plays. He did not make money doing this. When his wife was still alive, every few years he would say to her, “Is this the year we open the window and throw the money out?” She would ask, “You want to do another play?” After he replied, “Yeah,” she would say, “Open the window.” Mr. Bradbury said, “When I do a play, I throw the money out and it never comes back. And I don’t expect it to.”

• Igor Stravinsky once met Mrs. Vera Newman at a party, and he started kissing her hand. Suddenly, he dropped her hand and said, “Oh, I forgot — your husband doesn’t like my music.” By the way, some people felt that Igor Stravinsky charged very high prices for his music. He once explained why: “I do it on behalf of my brother composers, Schubert and Mozart, who died in poverty.”

• Père Tanguy owned a store frequented by artists, some of whom paid for their paints with works of art. After Vincent van Gogh died, Mr. Tanguy sold one of Mr. van Gogh’s still lifes for 42 francs. Asked why he had asked for that exact amount for the painting, Mr. Tanguy replied, “I looked up what poor van Gogh owed me when he died. It was 42 francs. Now I have got it back.”

• George Balanchine wanted a china silk curtain for his ballet Orpheusbecause it was beautiful and billowing. Unfortunately, it cost $1,000, and the ballet company didn’t have it. Therefore, Mr. Balanchine disappeared for two hours, and then he came back with the money in cash. When asked where the money had come from, he replied only that he had not robbed a bank.

• John Cage was usually a prolific composer, whether working with Merce Cunningham or on his own; however, Gordon Mumma, a composer for Mr. Cunningham, once noticed that Mr. Cage didn’t compose any music in 1964 and asked him why. Mr. Cage explained that he was too busy to compose that year because of writing letters to raise funds for Merce Cunningham dance tours.

• Pablo Picasso became very famous and very rich, and in his old age he didn’t care about money. When he died, his heirs went through his belongings. They discovered a box of gold coins that he had apparently forgotten, and in drawers and cupboards, they discovered bundles of banknotes.

• Oxford University once offered George Frideric Handel, composer of Messiah, an honorary doctorate. He was very pleased — until he found out that Oxford University was going to charge him £100 for the privilege. Handel decided to remain “Mr.” instead of becoming “Dr.”

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David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Money

• Soprano Emma Eames was often asked to sing at benefits, and occasionally she got annoyed at society ladies who expected much for charity from her but little from themselves. She once made a proposal to some such society ladies who asked her to perform free at a benefit concert: “I will, on one condition. You are all wealthy ladies, far wealthier than I. Now, my usual [fee for singing] is £300. I will contribute that by singing, on condition that each of you will sign for the same amount.” The society ladies said that they would think about it, and they did not bother her again. Music critic Henry T. Finck, a friend to Ms. Eames, wrote in My Adventures in the Golden Age of Music, his autobiography, “The charity of society women too often resembles Mark Twain’s climbing of the Swiss mountains — by proxy.” Ms. Eames was an independent spirit who was not afraid of offending people. She once said to Mr. Finck’s wife, “I love to give parties for the pleasure of leaving out certain persons who want to come.”

• United States painter and teacher William M. Chase knew art. A Congressman who did not know art went around telling people about a bad painting that he owned, “Isn’t that grand? A great bargain, too. Got it for four hundred dollars, and William M. Chase says it is worth ten thousand dollars.” A friend of the painter heard what the Congressman had said, and the friend asked Mr. Chase about it. Mr. Chase explained, “He cornered me one day and wanted me to fix a value on it, but I told him I couldn’t do it. He then came at me with a question I couldn’t dodge: ‘Well, Mr. Chase, how much would you charge to paint a picture like that?’ I assured him most honestly that I wouldn’t paint one like it for ten thousand dollars.”

• Soprano Kirsten Flagstad was good friends with her accompanist, Edwin McArthur, and often relied on him when she needed help. Following World War II, she left Norway and journeyed to Sweden, but she was not allowed to take much money with her. From the Carlton Hotel in Stockholm, she cabled Mr. McArthur, “I Am Here Without Funds. Please Do Something.” Fortunately, Mr. McArthur was able to arrange for her to receive money. By the way, the first time Ms. Flagstad heard Tristan und Isolde, she was very bored and could barely keep awake. Later, she became famous for her singing of Wagnerian roles, including the role of Isolde.

• John Phillip Sousa had a very difficult time selling his first composition. He trudged from one music company to another hoping to make a sale, but had no success. Finally, he made up his mind to either make a sale at the next music company, or give up entirely. He went inside, made his pitch to sell the composition for $25, but the manager said he would not pay 25 cents for it. Ready to give up, Mr. Sousa turned to leave, then noticed several dictionaries by the door. He asked the manager, “Will you give me a dictionary for it?” The manager was willing, and so Mr. Sousa sold his first composition for a dictionary.

• At the sale of the pictures that belonged to Henri Rouart, a journalist asked artist Edgar Degas, “Do you know how much your picture of two dancers at the bar, with a watering can, just sold for?” Mr. Degas replied, “No, I don’t.” The journalist told him the very high figure: 475,000 francs! Mr. Degas admitted, “That isa nice price.” The journalist then asked, “Don’t you think it outrageous that this picture will never bring you more than the five hundred francs you were paid for it?” Mr. Degas replied, “Monsieur, I am like the racehorse that wins the Grand Prize: I am satisfied with my ration of oats.”

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David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Mishaps, Money

Mishaps

• Irina Baronova was one of the three Russian “baby” (that is, teenage) ballerinas of the 1930s. Once she was dancing for the King and Queen of England. Being eager to make a good impression, she threw all her energy into a jump, turned upside down, fell on her head — and was knocked unconscious. Another baby ballerina, Tatiana Riabouchinska, finished the dance for her.

• Theodore Thomas was a conductor who did much to introduce Americans to good music. He enjoyed telling an anecdote about a near-sighted trombonist who made a terrible error during rehearsal. Mr. Thomas asked what had happened. The trombonist explained, “Excuse me! I didn’t have on my spectacles. A fly sat down among my notes, and I played him.”

• When Anna Pavlova and her company danced Don Quixote, a real horse played Rocinante. Although the horse was well taken care of, when it was made up for its role it resembled the broken-down nag Cervantes had written about. In fact, in Great Britain, members of the audience complained to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

• In Blackpool, England, during the days of the heavy bombing of London in World War II, the London Philharmonic Orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Unfortunately, when they used the sound effects of the firing of cannons, several members of the audience panicked because they thought the theater was being bombed.

• Two Italian laryngologists subjected Italian baritone Titta Ruffo to a number of scientific tests to determine the source of his magnificent voice. Scientific investigation can be painful. While connected to some scientific apparati, Mr. Ruffo hit a high A flat that made the scientists leave the room screaming because of aching teeth.

• Writing a comic strip that appears in foreign newspapers does have disadvantages. Rudolph Dirks, who drew the comic-strip The Katzenjammer Kids, invented a character that spoke in rhyme. Unfortunately, this drove the person who translated the dialogue into Spanish crazy, and so Mr. Dirks dropped the character.

• Ballet dancers may tend to stub their toes more often than other people because they aren’t accustomed to looking down at the ground. According to Alexandra Danilova, the proper look for a ballet dancer is a “little bit snooty” — ballet dancers should have a slight upward tilt of the head.

• In the mid-1950s, Gene Bozzacco, who was a musician with the Metropolitan Opera, remembered a funny performance of Forzain Brooklyn. Both men about to have a duel forgot their pistols, and they were forced to run off the stage in different directions to get them.

• In the midst of a ballet, a wigpiece worn by ballerina Karen Kain flew off and landed on stage. Because the wigpiece was small and grey, it looked like a mouse, causing the members of the corps de ballet great perturbation.

• Soon after John Barbirolli was knighted, opera/lieder singer Kathleen Ferrier made a charming mistake in addressing him. Instead of addressing him as “Sir John,” she simply said, “Hello, luv.”

Money

• Charles Dana Gibson received a lot of money for his illustrations. He once received a letter from a car company, which stated, “You are cordially invited to participate in our grand $100 prize contest. Each participant may submit one or more drawings advertising our automobile. The winner will receive a grand cash prize of $100. Drawings must be sent prepaid, and must be original, and all unsuccessful drawings will remain the property of the undersigned.” Mr. Gibson received much more than $100 for one of his drawings, so this contest was laughable to him. He wrote this letter in reply to the car company: “You are cordially invited to participate in my grand $10 automobile contest. Each participant may submit one or more automobiles and the winner will receive a grand prize of $10. The automobiles submitted must be brand new and shipped [at your cost to] New York. They must be fully equipped. The unsuccessful automobiles will remain the property of the undersigned. Charles Dana Gibson.”

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David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Mishaps

Mishaps

• 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 entrances 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.”

• A mishap occurred when Rudolf Nureyev toured with the Australian Ballet. Usually, when a mishap occurs, it is ignored, but Mr. Nureyev often chose not to ignore his own mishaps. The wooden floor was slippery, and during a solo, Mr. Nureyev ended up flat on his back. He got up, went off the stage, then returned and performed the solo perfectly, starting at the beginning. The audience cheered his commitment to perfection. By the way, after Mr. Nureyev had spent his first day as director of the Paris Opéra, Erik Bruhn called him to ask how the day had gone. Mr. Nureyev replied, “Just fine — I only got angry three times.”

• 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.

• Anna Pavlova expected a lot from her students, even the very young ones. Occasionally, she would become impatient and the students would begin crying. At such times, Ms. Pavlova’s husband, Victor Dandré, would calm the students by giving them peaches and taking them into the garden to look at Ms. Pavlova’s pet swans. By the way, even at age 14, Anna had presence of mind while on stage. At her first public performance, she pirouetted with such energy that she lost her balance and fell. She stood up again, curtsied to the audience, then continued her dance.

• Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch were a great ballet dance team during the 1950s, but even they occasionally ran into problems. While dancing together in the Black Swanpas de deux, Mr. Youskevitch became overly athletic in his lifts of Ms. Alonso, so she complained to him in an aside at the end of their dance that he had handled her as if she were a sack of potatoes. This image was so different from that of the swan she was supposed to be that they startled giggling and were just saved from ruining the drama of the dance by the fall of the curtain.

• In decades of performing, perhaps the worst stage that Alicia Markova ever performed on was in Mozambique in 1945. The floor of the stage was so rotten that a leg of a piano placed on center stage for a solo went right through a board. During their performance, Ms. Markova and her dance partner avoided the hole as best they could. Afterward, they discovered that the last time the stage had been used was when Anna Pavlova danced on it — in 1924.

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David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Language, Media, Mishaps

Language

• Sometimes, not knowing a language well may be an advantage. Arturo Toscanini was displeased with the performance of a musician so he ordered him out of rehearsal. At the exit, the musician turned around and shouted, “Nuts to you!” Mr. Toscanini remained firm and said, “It is too late to apologize.”

Media

• Famed conductor Arturo Toscanini disliked giving interviews and to get out of giving them, he occasionally played tricks on reporters. Samuel Chotzinoff, the music critic of the New York World, once had an interview with Mr. Toscanini, but he was surprised that the Maestro had only a very weak grasp of English. There was nothing to do but to give up on the interview and leave, which Mr. Chotzinoff did. Later, Mr. Chotzinoff found out that Mr. Toscanini spoke English much better than he had pretended. Eventually, the two men became friends, and Mr. Toscanini was pleased with Mr. Chotzinoff’s praise of his acting ability as demonstrated the first time they met.

• In January 1933, the great dancer Bill Robinson, aka Mr. Bojangles, was dancing at the Loews State Theater in New York, when a rat made its way onstage. At first Mr. Bojangles ignored the rat, but members of the audience began to see it and started screaming. Mr. Bojangles knew that the audience would panic, so he picked up a block of wood and began dancing toward the rat. In the middle of the stage, he threw the block of wood at the rat, wounding it, then ran over to it and brained it with the wood — to the orchestra’s long drumroll followed by clashing cymbals. The newspapers the next day gave much play to the story.

• Grandma Moses grew up in and loved the country. She once stopped in New York City on her way to accept an achievement award from the Women’s National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Reporters interviewed her, and she told them, “It’s nice to be here, but the city doesn’t appeal to me.” They asked, “As picture material?” She replied, “As any material.”

• 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.

Mishaps

• Despite his obvious high intelligence, Isaac Asimov could be absent-minded. When he was married to his first wife, he once took a bill to the gas company and complained about how much it was. He said, “We have never used enough gas to bring us up to the minimum. We have no children. We both work. We cook perhaps four meals a week. How can we possibly get a gas bill for $6.50? I demandan explanation.” The gas-company employee had a good explanation: “This is an electricbill.” By the way, television reporter Walter Cronkite once interviewed Mr. Asimov, who wanted to tell him, “My father will be very thrilled, Mr. Cronkite, when he finds out you’ve interviewed me.” However, he was afraid of sounding immature and so refrained from saying it. During a break in the filming, Mr. Cronkite said to Mr. Asimov, “Dr. Asimov, my father will be very thrilled when he finds out I’ve interviewed you.”

• While performing Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Götterdämmerungin the Vichy Opera House, Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence was determined to be on a live horse — something she had previously done to great effect at the Metropolitan Opera. However, the Vichy Opera House did not have its own stable, so an army horse with close-cropped tail and mane would have to play Grane. Because Grane must have a long, flowing tail and mane, an artificial tail and mane was used. At the performance, all seemed to be well. Grane swished its long, flowing tail around, and the scene seemed to be set for a magnificent departure from the stage. However, Ms. Lawrence heard laughter as she rode off — Grane had lost its artificial tail.

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David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Insults, Jokes, Language

Insults

• Sophie Arnould was noted for her ability to give witty insults, but occasionally she was the recipient of a witty insult. For example, when the Abbé Galiani was asked what he thought of Ms. Arnould’s singing, he replied, “It is the finest asthma I ever heard.” By the way, Ms. Arnould once met Voltaire, who told her, “I am 84 years old, and I have committed 84 follies.” She replied, “A mere trifle. I am not yet 40, and I have committed more than a thousand.”

• S.N. Behrman tells this anecdote about Oscar Levant: He was talking to Mr. Levant about a mutual acquaintance, and Mr. Levant said that he had walked with him recently and found him to be a good companion. This surprised Mr. Behrman, as Mr. Levant had previously said insulting things about this acquaintance. Mr. Levant replied, “Well, you know I hate ’em ’til they say hello to me.”

Jokes

• The wonderful comedian Jonathan Winters sometimes jokes about fishing with dynamite. Believe it or not, this happens in real life. Choreographer Léonide Massine bought some islands in Italy, and for a few weeks he was surprised to hear explosions near his islands. Eventually, he closely observed a fishing boat. One of the two men on the boat threw something overboard, there was an explosion, and the fishermen began gathering the dead fish. That was how Mr. Massine learned that they were fishing with dynamite.

• When lieder singer Lotte Lehmann was performing at the Hamburg Municipal Theater early in her career, she worked with two practical jokers: Max Lohfing and Bobby vom Scheidt. In the second act of Heimchen am Herd(The Cricket on the Hearth), they tied her to her seat with knitting yarn, then waited for the moment when she was required to stand up on stage.

• Sir Malcolm Sargent once made a concert tour in Israel during a time of hostility. While visiting the Gaza Strip, his jeep was shot at by the Arabs. Safely back home, he told his friend and fellow conductor Sir Thomas Beecham about the incident. Sir Thomas joked, “I had no idea the Arabs took music so seriously.”

Language

• Many musicians use language well: 1) Sir Malcolm Sargent was once asked what a musician needed to know to play the cymbals. He replied, “Nothing — just when.” 2) Sir Thomas Beecham was once asked what he would do after the opera season ended. He replied, “I propose to go shooting — shooting anyone who mentions music.” Sir Thomas also once scolded the choir at a rehearsal of Handel’s Messiah: “When you sing, ‘All we like sheep have gone astray,’ might we, please, have a little more regret and a little less satisfaction?’” 3) Arturo Toscanini was not shy in criticizing his orchestra when he felt the musicians deserved it. He once shouted at the members of his orchestra, “Assassins!”

• The Nicholas Brothers, an African-American dance act, performed in a show called “Babes in Arms” where they sang a song titled “All Dark People Is Light on Their Feet,” but their mother told them on opening night not to sing it that way, but instead to sing “All Dark People AreLight on Their Feet.” Afterward, the stage manager told them that they were singing it wrong and they should sing “is” and not “are,” but Fayard Nicholas said about the Nicholas Brothers’ version, “That’s the way I talk.”

• Marius Petipa choreographed Swan Lake. A Frenchman, he went to Russia, where he lived for decades but never mastered the language. To dancers who made mistakes in rehearsal, he said something in Russian, which, translated, was this: “Stop, stop, what miserable madam, what you are bad cucumber.”

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David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Husbands and Wives, Illnesses and Injuries

Husbands and Wives

• Often, people said to Enrico Caruso’s wife, Dorothy, “It must be wonderful to be married to the greatest singer in the world.” She always replied, “Yes, it is.” In her biography of her husband, she added, “And it was, but only because he happened to be Enrico. He was the greatest person in the world — and he sang, too.” By the way, Mr. Caruso’s vocal cavities were extraordinary. His wife reports that he could put an egg in his mouth, then close his lips, and no one would know the egg was in there.

• Dancer Isadora Duncan once propositioned playwright George Bernard Shaw, saying that they should have a child together because he had a wonderful brain and she had a wonderful body. Mr. Shaw turned her down, saying, “Suppose it has my body and your brain?” She also propositioned Maurice Maeterlinck, who also turned her down, saying, “I am honored, Madame, but you must consult my wife.”

Illnesses and Injuries

• Early in his career Rudolf Bing auditioned many opera singers as part of his job, and all of the opera singers thereafter felt entitled to stop by his office and ask if there was any work for them. This led to a problem because Europeans have a custom of shaking hands when they enter or leave a room, and in the summer Mr. Bing was shaking hundreds of sweaty hands a day. To combat this problem, he put up a sign on the door of his office: “During the summer months, it would be appreciated if you refrained from handshaking.” However, the union he worked with regarded his attitude as undemocratic, and the sign came down.

• Colonel James H. Mapleson once received word that mezzo-soprano Sofia Scalchi was ill and unable to sing in an opera scheduled that night. He and a physician therefore went to Ms. Scalchi’s hotel apartment to ask what they could do for her, but just before they arrived at her door, a dinner of roast duck and lobsters was delivered to her apartment. Colonel Mapleson waited for the dinner to get started and after hearing the sound of laughter, he and the physician entered her apartment. No longer able to claim that she was ill, Ms. Scalchi sang that night.

• In Havana, Pasquale Brignoli was disappointed with the audience’s applause one night and therefore decided that he would claim that he was ill and so could not sing the following night. A physician examined him, saw that he was not ill, and to teach him a lesson, looked very serious and told him that he had yellow fever. Frightened, Mr. Brignoli immediately said that he was not ill, and he went on stage and put on an electrifying performance that resulted in the kind of applause that he most desired.

• In 1992, Barneys window dresser Simon Doonan created a controversy when he used Magic Johnson as the subject of one of his celebrity windows. Magic had recently been diagnosed with HIV, and so the window focused on safe sex. People objected because a small Christmas tree used in the display was decorated with miniature basketballs and gold-wrapped condoms. Mr. Doonan defended the exhibit by saying that he and Magic were trying to save lives.

• Margot Fonteyn once was surprised to find out that a man she had thought was half-Oriental was actually 100% Panamanian. It turned out that as a boy he had lived in Japan. His face was injured in an earthquake, and the Japanese doctors performing plastic surgery on him had given him an Oriental appearance.

• In 1953, the National Institute of Fine Arts gave Mexican artist Frida Kahlo a one-person show — a great honor. She was ill at the time of the exhibit, but she attended anyway, arriving in an ambulance. Once inside the building where the exhibit was located, she lay on a bed.

• Dancers often are able to dance with injuries through a kind of mind-over-matter discipline. Oleg Tupine once had a broken kneecap as he danced the Prince in Swan Lake. During the performance, he felt no pain; after the performance, he couldn’t walk.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Gifts, Good Deeds, Husbands and Wives

Gifts

• Ronald Searle created cartoons for Punchand other media. As a boy, Gerald Scarfe, who also became a cartoonist, idolized him. Young Gerald found out where Mr. Searle lived, and he rode his bike there to visit him. Unfortunately, he was too shy to actually ring the bell and so he did not then meet the great man. Fortunately, as a married man, Mr. Scarfe was able to meet him. Mr. Scarfe explains, “A few years later, my wife, Jane Asher, organized a secret meal for my birthday at this exclusive restaurant in Provence. When we walked in, the only other people there were Ronald and his wife. It turned out they had lived in this town for years. A beautiful little package sat on the table, all done up with ribbon. I said, ‘Oh, is this for me?’ And Ronald said, ‘Yeah, it’s nothing.’ So I opened it, and there was a brass doorbell with a note saying, ‘Please ring any time.’”

• In 1939, soprano Marjorie Lawrence made a triumphant return to her native Australia. In an interview, she mentioned that while living abroad, she had missed eating a particular Australian dish — rabbit pie. In Melbourne, she was given an enormous rabbit pie that was so artistically wrapped up in cellophane and red ribbon that she was shocked when she opened it up and discovered what it was.

Good Deeds

• During the winter of 1882-1883, conductor Anton Seidl was asked to give a concert in Berlin, Germany, to raise money for the victims of a flood. He did, and some ladies of the aristocracy gave him a very expensive watch decorated with diamonds. The Empress Augusta Victoria also gave him a dedication in her own handwriting. Mr. Seidl said that the dedication was thanks enough to him and would be a family heirloom, but he requested that the watch be sold and the proceeds be added to the funds raised to relieve the victims of the flood. Mr. Seidl did other good deeds as well. He sometimes declined to be paid for his work if he felt that a certain concert had not raised enough money for the managers behind it. At charity concerts, he would conduct for free, but he insisted that the musicians whom he conducted must be paid. According to his wife, Auguste, Mr. Seidl gave away much money and clothing to those in need. For example, a person might tell him that he could get a certain job if he had better clothing, and Mr. Seidl would give that man some of his own clothing. His wife wrote about his clothing, “I was sometimes compelled, when all the half-used clothes had been disposed of, to give away even the new ones.”

• Conductor Artur Rodzinski got along very well with the musicians of the New York Philharmonic. When his wife returned from the hospital with their second child, several musicians played Wagner’s Seigfred Idyll, which the composer had written for his own wife and their new son, Seigfred.

Husbands and Wives

• After George Orwell’s first wife, Eileen, died, he kept her jewels and her jewelry box. Sally, the eight-year-old daughter of Susan Watson, the housekeeper he had hired, asked him what he was going to do with the jewels. Mr. Orwell replied, “I’m saving them for a rainy day.” Sally then asked what he would do with them on a rainy day. He thought a moment and said, “Why, I think I’ll give them to you, Sally.” And he did. By the way, Eileen had standards in her home life. During World War II, Mr. Orwell’s bad lungs and a previous injury kept him out of the army, but he did join the Home Guard to protect England. To educate himself, he studied explosives and weapons. Eileen told him, “I can put up with bombs on the mantelpiece, but I will not have a machine gun under the bed.”

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