David Bruce: Weight Anecdotes

• For much of his career as a movie critic, Roger Ebert had a weight problem—he had too much of it. Once, he visited Sir John Soane’s Museum at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a museum that is known as “the most eccentric house in London.” Sir John was a collector, and he collected books, brass buttons, coins, drawings, etchings, furniture, mirrors, oils, pistols, rifles, rugs, statuary, swords, tapestries, stuffed heads, watercolors, and writing implements. When Sir John, a great 18th-century architect, left his home to England, his wife said, “Now let them dust the bloody man’s collection.” In Sir John’s breakfast room, Mr. Ebert saw a 17th-century chair, which was handsome and behind which (on the wall) was a card that said, “Have a seat on me!” Mr. Ebert prepared to take a seat, but a museum guard told him, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, sir!” Mr. Ebert protested, “But it says to have a seat!” The guard replied, eying Mr. Ebert’s sizable figure, “And so it does. But it’s not for the likes of you!” In addition, Mr. Ebert once visited Bangkok, Thailand, where he saw a tailor shop with this sign in a window: “Fine Linen Summer Suit Made to Measure—$80.” He went inside to inquire whether the sign were correct, and the proprietor looked at Mr. Ebert’s sizable figure and said, “Well … it 80 dollars suit, sure enough. But you—hundred dollar man.” Mr. Ebert says, “It was a great deal. For $100, I got a handsome white linen suit that fit me, and a story I could tell every time I wore it.”

• In December 2009, Alexandra Shulman, the editor of Voguein England, weighed about 10 pounds more than she wanted to, although this was not anything that she was really concerned about. However, excess weight is something that her father was prone to, and when she was young, he worried that she might become so chunky that she would find it difficult to find a husband. (Now she is divorced and has a child.) When she was attending St Paul’s Girls’ school, the headmistress announced publicly (all of Alexandra’s schoolmates heard the headmistress), “Alexandra Shulman’s mother has said she is not to have potatoes.” When her father was seriously ill, in the intensive ward, she visited him, and he called out to her in a very robust voice, “God, Alexandra, you’ve put on weight.” She immediately thought, “OK, he isn’t going to die yet.”

• A Monsignor was both overweight and the superintendent of some Catholic schools. One day, he sat in on a first-grade classroom where the Sister teaching the class was reading the children a story about a pony. After reading the story, the Sister asked the children if they thought the Monsignor had ever ridden a pony. The children all answered, “No,” but the Monsignor explained that he had ridden a pony when he was young. One little boy, unfortunately, said, “But you couldn’t ride one now, because you’d squash the poor pony.” Fortunately — and to the relief of the Sister — the Monsignor laughed.

• Salvatore Baccaloni, a comedian in basso roles, was a huge man, weighing in at 325 pounds. During the mid-1950s, he confessed that the saddest day of his life was when his doctor placed him on a diet that stressed consumption of fruits and vegetables. What was the happiest day of his life? When he went off the diet. On that day, he enjoyed himself by consuming four pizzas, a meal with three kinds of meat, and one-half pound of a dessert cheese — Italian, of course.

• In 1998, at the Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, Tara Lipinski won the gold medal. Her parents wanted her to enjoy all that the Olympics had to offer, so Tara stayed in the Olympic Village with the other athletes. She enjoyed marching in the opening ceremony and met such famous athletes as hockey’s Wayne Gretzky. In addition, the 79-pound Tara posed for a photograph with a sumo wrestler who weighed 516 pounds — six and a half times her weight!

• Ohio farmboy Denton Tecumseh Young had a fastball so speedy that he became known as “Cyclone” Young, which later was shortened to Cy Young. He was quite a pitcher, winning 30 or more games five seasons in a row, and winning 20 or more games 14 seasons in a row. When he retired, he had won 511 games. He could still pitch extremely well, but he decided to quit because he could not field bunts—he had grown too fat!

• Players did what coach Vince Lombardi ordered them to do. When Green Bay Packers linebacker Tom Bettis reported overweight to training camp, Mr. Lombardi was not pleased. He was also not pleased with Mr. Bettis’ reason for being overweight: “I’m built that way.” Mr. Lombardi told him, “Hell with your build. Get that weight off, or you’ll go home on the first plane out of here.” That week, Mr. Bettis lost 12 pounds.

• Pablo Neruda and Rafael Alberti were both portly poets. They used to take walks together in Paris along the Seine and would use a complete set of the works of Victor Hugo in a bookstore to measure their girth. Mr. Alberti might say, “Good Heavens! I have already outgrown Volume V of Les Misérables!” And Mr. Neruda might reply, “I haven’t put on weight. My paunch juts out only as far as Notre-Dame de Paris.”

• Tenor Luciano Pavarotti became quite fat late in his career, and people sometimes would ask him what he weighed. His usual reply was, “Less than before.” Occasionally, people would want to know what his “before” weight had been. Mr. Pavarotti would then reply, “More than now.”

• Anton Dolin once danced with Alexandra Danilova at a time when she was overweight. After he had lifted her several times in the Blue Bird pas de deux, he complained to her, “I am a dancer — not a porter!” Ms. Danilova began dieting immediately.

• Gay men can be judgmental. An overweight TV sitcom star once participated in a Hollywood Christmas parade that was televised. As she rode down Hollywood Boulevard, many gays greeted her by shouting, “Lose some weight, bitch!”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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