• Léonide Massine found it difficult to learn English; however, he was happy when he learned that in England it is possible to get almost anything you want by using the word “please.” By the way, Mr. Massine’s name was originally “Miassin,” but he changed it because Sergei Diaghilev felt that it was “too difficult” for audiences who spoke English. Also by the way, as a young man, Mr. Massine auditioned for Michel Fokine. Mr. Fokine asked him to study a mural on the wall, then imitate the poses of the characters on the mural. Mr. Massine did so, then Mr. Fokine asked him to jump over a chair that was three feet high to demonstrate his elevation. Mr. Massine did so easily—and passed the audition.
• Michael Stephenson and Diane Downes were dancing the Snow pas de deux from The Nutcracker. During several rehearsals, Mr. Stephenson had forgotten a certain step, so when they arrived at that step, Ms. Downes, trying to be helpful, whispered, “Effacé.” Unfortunately, Mr. Stephenson misheard the word and thought she was saying, “I feel sick,” so trying to be helpful, he whispered encouraging words such as “You’re doing fine” and “Hang in there.” After the dance was over and they were safely offstage, Ms. Downes asked him, “What the hell were you talking about?”
• Emmy Destinn was an opera singer from Czechoslovakia. During World War I, she suffered horribly while being interned in Austria, and after that experience, she vowed that never again would she speak German and she immediately dropped German operas from her repertoire. By the way, if you are in opera, you will mingle with many people from other countries, some of whom may not know English very well. Soprano Frances Alda was once toasted by her colleague De Segurola, who began by saying, “Alda, you permit? I speak on your behind ….”
• Thomas Beecham once conducted in a building in Lancaster, England, in which this sign was hung: “It is strictly forbidden to use in this building the words Hell, Damn, and other Biblical Expressions.” By the way, a sundial near Venice bears this Latin inscription: Horas non numero nisi serenas. (I count only the hours that are serene.) In other words, it counts only the hours that are sunny and pleasant.
• Sir Steven Runciman, a British historian, told ballerina Margot Fonteyn about a parrot that had been named a professor. An old lady who was one of the very few people left who could speak Cornish owned the parrot. After the old lady died, only the parrot was able to speak Cornish, so London University gave the parrot its Chair of Cornish Language.
• While in Germany, Percy Frosdick, a violinist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, tried to remain on his vegetarian diet. When a waiter tried to serve him a steak, Mr. Frosdick declined it, saying, “Nein, nein—ich bin Gemüse!” Unfortunately, that means, “No, no—I am a vegetable!”
• Irish playwright Brendan Behan often used the word “bejaysus” in conversation, causing many people to think he was being blasphemous. A man once asked Mr. Behan’s friend Liam Dwyer about this practice, and Mr. Dwyer replied, “It’s His friends who know Him by His first name.”
• Fern Helsher worked as a press agent for Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers. As a former newspaper woman, she had many contacts and was able to get Mr. Shawn more and better publicity. Once, she went into the newspaper of a major midwestern city with publicity material, and the editor, who was a friend of hers, took her to lunch, where he asked, “What the hell are you representing a bunch of faeries for?” She replied, “They’re not faeries, but let’s not talk about them.” She and the editor gossiped over lunch, and when she left, she gave the editor a package of photos, saying, “If you can do anything with it, fine. If not, OK.” The next day photos of Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers were splashed all over the front page.
• Alexander Woolcott used to tell this story: A city editor once sent a reporter to interview a man, but the man refused to be interviewed and threatened to shoot any reporter who rang his doorbell again. The alarmed reporter called his editor with this news, but the editor gave him this order, “You go back and tell that fellow he can’t intimidate me.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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