• When Jerome Robbins decided to devote himself to dance, his parents opposed him. They strongly preferred that he choose a different occupation — even shoe making — and they sent him to talk to various relatives in an attempt to bring him to his senses. However, he declined to give up his ambition, and he even scrubbed floors at times to pay his dance tuition. Later, he became world famous as the choreographer of On the Town, The King and I, Peter Pan, West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Fiddler on the Roof.
• English entertainer Joyce Grenfell had a problem with amateurs stealing her material. Frequently, she received letters from people asking for copies of her sketches so that they could perform them before other people. Of course, as an entertainer, she made her living by performing that material, and so she used to write back, suggesting as kindly as possible that the amateur ought to write her own original material.
• Frederic Norton wrote the music for the successful British production Chu Chin Chow. After the show had ended, Mr. Norton went to the income tax office and asked how much he owed. The income tax man told him, Mr. Norton wrote a check, and as he handed the check over, he said, “It’s the last you will get because I am never going to work again.” True to his word, Mr. Norton never worked again.
• Choreographer Michael Bennett used to say, “Go with the talent,” although Tommy Tune worried that this advice could lead to “a chorus of misfits.” Nevertheless, Mr. Tune was grateful to Mr. Bennett for hiring him to be a member of a chorus. At one end of the chorus line was six-foot-six-and-a-half-inch Tommy Tune; at the other end was four-foot-eleven-inch Baayork Lee.
• Playwright Ferenc Molnar customarily slept late in the morning. One day, he was forced to rise early so he could serve as a witness at a court case. Standing outside his door, he was astonished at the hustle and bustle of people going about their business. “Great heavens!” he said. “Are all these people witnesses in this fool case?”
• Actor Hans Conried, a very talented actor with a very long resume, once went to a meeting with a young producer who didn’t even take his feet off his desk when Mr. Conried entered his office. The young producer said, “Well, Mr. Conried, tell me what you’ve done.” Mr. Conried looked at him and said, “You first.”
• Whenever playwright Eugene O’Neill wished not to be disturbed, he used to hang this sign on his door: “Go to h*ll.”
• Irish playwright Brendan Behan once collapsed on the street and was taken to a doctor, who gave him a cardiograph. As the needle of the cardiograph traced out on paper Mr. Behan’s faint heartbeat, the doctor joked that this was very likely the most important writing that the famous playwright had ever done. Mr. Behan replied, “Aye, and it’s straight from the heart, too.”
• Richard Brinsley Sheridan took a long time to write the final scene of his play The Critic. In fact, he still had not written it two days before the play was to open. Finally, friends locked him in a room with a supply of food and drink and refused to let him out until he had finished writing the scene.
• Following a stint as a playwright, Wilson Mizner became a Hollywood scriptwriter. One day, he told a plot to a producer, who said it had no audience appeal. Mr. Mizner replied, “The tale I just told you was The Deep Purple. It ran for two years on Broadway, and I wrote it.”
• After becoming famous for his G-rated stories about growing up, Sam Levenson was the victim of a bon mot by George S. Kaufman. Three little old ladies were walking down the street. Mr. Kaufman saw them and said, “Here come Sam Levenson’s writers.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
The Funniest People in Theater: 250 Anecdotes — Buy