• Ballerina Illaria Obidenna Ladré lived through interesting times. When the Titanic struck an iceberg in 1912, she saw a huge sign on the main street in Petrograd: “Titanic Sunk.” She also witnessed the Russian Tsar giving a watch to retiring actor Korgen Krukovskoy on February 18, 1917. It was the last watch the Tsar ever awarded because that night the Russian Revolution started. As Illaria left the theater with her mother, they heard shooting. Life during the Revolution was difficult. Illaria’s sister got tuberculosis, so their mother bought a goat for its milk. Because they lived in a third floor apartment, they arranged for another family to take care of the goat. Unfortunately, within three days the goat had disappeared — the other family had eaten it! Illaria and her family survived the Revolution, but at times the only food they had to eat was American kidney beans and Crisco. Sometimes, to get fuel to cook with, they were forced to tear up the parquet flooring from their apartment and burn it in a tin oven.
• Opera singer Leo Slezak was unable to leave Germany and Austria in World War II, although his son Walter, an actor, had become an American citizen. After the war was over, comedian Bob Hope helped convince the Allies to provide protection for Leo Slezak’s estate. In addition, Walter got the addresses of nearly 1,000 American servicemen stationed in the Munich area. He sent each of the servicemen a 5-pound package containing necessities and asked them to deliver the packages to his father. Of the 958 packages that he sent, his father received 457.
• Malcolm Glenn Wyer was a librarian who was interested in expanding his library’s holdings in the field of aeronautics. Therefore, in 1940, he asked Maggs Brothers, a London book-dealing firm, to ship a collection of aeronautical books to the Denver [Colorado] Public Library, where they could be inspected, and if found suitable, purchased. Maggs Brothers agreed and sent the requested books. Later, Mr. Wyer received a letter from Maggs Brothers, saying that the day after the books had been sent, the warehouse where they had been stored was destroyed by Nazi bombs.
• A Lithuanian farmer once found an ancient lamp in a field. Because it was dirty, he rubbed it — and a genie appeared and granted him three wishes. The Lithuanian thought a moment about his wishes, then said, “My first wish is for China to invade Lithuania. My second wish is for China to invade Lithuania. My third wish is for China to invade Lithuania.” The genie asked why the Lithuanian wanted China to invade Lithuania three times. The Lithuanian replied, “Because the Chinese Army will have to cross Russia six times.”
• While making a movie with Paramount Pictures, Victor Mature and Jim Backus were dressed as Roman warriors. Mr. Mature had business to attend to away from the movie studio during lunchtime; wanting company, he asked if Mr. Backus would go with him. Having completed his business, Mr. Mature and his guest stopped by a bar to have a drink, but the bartender — not being used to such guests — ignored their orders and stared at them. Mr. Mature then asked, “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you serve members of the Armed Forces?”
• Charles MacArthur promised Robert Benchley’s two sons that he would give them his war helmet. Unfortunately, he had tossed it into the New York bay, so he bought one at an Army-Navy store. For two hours, he and Mr. Benchley struggled to put “battle” scars on it — pounding it, denting it, and puncturing it. In addition, Mr. MacArthur dripped candle wax down its sides, so he could tell Mr. Benchley’s sons that he had used it as a candlestand while he wrote letters at night.
• At the beginning of World War II, Anna Russell lived near some retired British colonels, many of whom booby trapped their property in case of invasion by the Germans. One colonel put electrical wiring all over his property. In case of invasion, he was prepared to throw a switch and electrocute the enemy. Another colonel had trenches dug in his property, and then he covered the trenches with plywood and sod, creating tank traps.
• When David Niven enlisted to fight for the British in World War II, his boss, Sam Goldwyn, called him into his office, where he read him a beautiful, sentimental letter he had written. Then, with tears streaming down his face, Mr. Goldwyn buzzed a secretary, to whom he presented the letter and said, “Here’s something I’ve written to Davey. I want you should let it leak out to the press.”
• When World War I started, G.K. Chesterton wanted to fight for England, but an injury prevented him from raising an arm very high, thus making it impossible for him to join the infantry. In addition, his imposing weight made it impossible for him to join the cavalry. After taking thought of how he could serve his country in war, he said ruefully, “I might possibly form part of a barricade.”
• General Israel Putnam once told his troops during the Revolutionary War that he wanted only willing soldiers: “If there are any of you who are dissatisfied and who want to return home, they can step six paces out in front of the line.” General Putnam then added, “But I’ll shoot the first man that does step out.”
• World War I helped Cambridge University in an unusual way. The university owned some stock in a steel company that rose in value with the war. Selling the stock at a high price, Cambridge University used its war profits to renovate an apartment used by poet A.E. Housman, author of A Shropshire Lad.
• With Ballet Theatre, Alicia Markova toured several Latin American countries that were in the throes of revolution. While Ballet Theatre was in Bogota, Colombia, the British Embassy advised the dance troupe to stay in their hotel because “there is going to be shooting today.”
• When comedian Dick Gregory showed up for his Army physical, he was asked what he had been in civilian life. He replied, “Deliriously happy.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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