David Bruce: Create, Then Take a Break — Comedians and Humorists, Comic Strips, Conductors

Comedians and Humorists

• As a five-year-old child, Sid Caesar learned several words in foreign languages while helping out in his father’s restaurant. Many people of different ethnic groups came in, and they took great delight in teasing young Sid. The Italians would teach him a dirty word in Russian and send him over to the Russians’ table to say it, and then the Russians would teach him a dirty word in Italian and send him over to the Italians’ table to say it. This training in languages was of enormous help when Mr. Caesar began to speak foreign-sounding gibberish on his TV shows.

• Frank Aloysius Robert Tinney became a comedian in the early 20th century and stumbled upon his act almost by accident. One day, he was called upon to perform without his partner, so he was forced to use a badly rehearsed orchestra leader as his partner, and of course the orchestra leader muffed his lines. This made Mr. Tinney angry, so on stage he began to berate the orchestra leader: “Say, you’re crabbing my act. You hadn’t ought to of said that. You ought to of said ….” The audience felt that this was hilarious.

• Helen Traubel, who was a somewhat large woman and a very fine singer, and Groucho Marx once appeared in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado together. One day, Ms. Traubel arrived late for rehearsal and Groucho told her, “Hello, Helen, pull up a couple of chairs and sit down.”

Comic Strips

• In 1974, Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the comic strip Peanuts, was the Grand Marshall of the Rose Parade. His Peanuts comic strip of that time contains an in-joke: Linus walks into a room in which Lucy is watching the Rose Parade and asks, “Has the Grand Marshall gone by yet?” Lucy replies, “Yeah, you missed him … but he wasn’t anyone you ever heard of.” In one early cartoon, Charlie Brown worries that no one cares about him, and then he says, “I’ll bet that Doctor Spock cares about me.” Shortly afterward, Mr. Schulz received a letter from Doctor Benjamin Spock, author of a famous child-care book. The letter stated, “You can tell Charlie Brown that I care about him very much.” By the way, Mr. Schulz once said, “Cartooning is a fairly sort of proposition. You have to be fairly intelligent—if you were really intelligent, you’d be doing something else. You have to draw fairly well—if you drew really well, you’d be a painter. You have to write fairly well—if you wrote really well, you’d be writing books. It’s great for a fairly person like me.”

Conductors

• Oscar Levant told these stories about conductors: 1) Leopold Stokowski was acting as a guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic when he was annoyed by a musician who talked during a rehearsal. Maestro Stokowski ordered the musician to leave the rehearsal, but instead of being contrite, the musician said, “Thank you—I haven’t had a Thursday evening off all winter.” 2) Conductor Modest Altschuler of the Russian Symphony Orchestra once tried to get a more emotional performance from an oboist during a rehearsal of Scheherazade by pointing to the concertmaster and saying, “Here is the princess and you are making love to her.” Maestro Altschuler then stopped and looked at the poor complexion of the concertmaster, and added, “I’m sorry I can’t do better.” 3) Walter Damrosch was known for conducting with a slow beat. Once, a member of his orchestra threatened him, “If you bawl me out again, I’ll follow your beat.” 4) A musician who continually tuned his violin during each pause in a rehearsal annoyed Arturo Toscanini, who told the violinist, “It’s not the A that counts, but the B.”

• Arturo Toscanini made his debut as a conductor when he was 19 years old. He was a cellist in an orchestra traveling in South America, and in Rio de Janeiro the regular music conductor got into an argument with the manager. Because a conductor was needed for Aida, and because Toscanini was already known for his musical ability, he took over and conducted despite not having time for even one rehearsal—he even conducted from memory. The performance was electrifying, and a new star was recognized. By the way, Maestro Toscanini’s ears were very sensitive. Once, he listened to a broadcast by another conductor and was so upset that he knelt and begged, “Please, please! No more ritenuti!” Also by the way, while on tour in Rio de Janeiro, one of Maestro Toscanini’s violinists was killed by an autobus. Toscanini wept, created a fund for the violinist’s widow, and made a big contribution.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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