David Bruce: Create, Then Take a Break — Mishaps, Money


• African-American jazz great Duke Ellington once sleepily stumbled out of his sleeping car at a train station during a tour, then he joined a line of men climbing aboard a bus. The men turned out to be criminals, and the bus was taking them to prison. Fortunately, his road manager saw what had happened and chased down the bus with his car. It took a while, but eventually he managed to convince the driver that Mr. Ellington was not a criminal, but a respected music composer and conductor.

• Around 1914, while performing in New Orleans, Ma Rainey sang, “If you don’t believe I’m sinkin’, look what a hole I’m in.” At that moment, the stage she was standing on collapsed. (Fortunately, no one was hurt.) In 1935, after touring and recording for decades as a professional singer, Ma Rainey retired and lived in Columbus, Georgia. On 22 December 1939, she died. The coroner listed the great blues singer’s occupation as “Housekeeper.”

• At times, costumes create problems on stage. Ballet dancer Anthony Dowell was once dancing with Antoinette Sibley when the hook of his costume caught on her tutu. They had to run offstage to get unhooked. While he was dancing with Natalia Makarova, the same thing happened. Afterward, the stage manager said that he was tempted to pour a bucket of water over them because they looked like two dogs in heat.

• Actress Maud Gill once wore a large picture hat on stage. Before one performance, a mouse got into the hat, and Ms. Maud put on the hat and unknowingly carried the mouse with her on stage, where the mouse’s desperate attempts to escape entangled it in her hair. She was forced to take off the hat on stage, and the audience gasped at her taste in hairstyles.


• When Fred Smith was an undergraduate at Yale University, he wrote a paper for an economics class that proposed the overnight delivery service that became FedEx. The overnight delivery service would have its own planes, depots, posting stations, and delivery vans. His professor gave him a C and wrote, “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.” Mr. Smith started the company anyway, and like many or most beginning companies, it ran into financial difficulties. At one point, FedEx had only $5,000 in its checking account, and it had to pay a $24,000 jet fuel bill. Mr. Smith took the $5,000, flew to Las Vegas, played blackjack, and won $27,000. In 2012, FedEx was worth approximately $28 billion and Mr. Smith was worth approximately $2 billion.

• A maggid (a traveling teacher-preacher) spread the word that in the World-to-Come, those who are wealthy in this World will be poor, and those who are poor in this World will be rich. Hearing this, a poor man asked the preacher for a loan so he could start a business in this World, saying that since he would be rich in the World-to-Come, he would repay the maggid there. The maggid listened, smiled, then pointed out a flaw in the poor man’s logic: If the maggid lent the poor man money in this World to start a business and the business prospered, then he would be rich in this World, and therefore poor in the World-to-Come. How then could the man repay his debt to the maggid?

• Operatic tenor Leo Slezak bought and fell in love with a 200-year-old peasants’ cottage, which he had remodeled. At first, the architect tried to convince Mr. Slezak to tear down the peasants’ cottage and build a new house, but after the cottage was remodeled, the architect admitted that he had been wrong because it really did make a beautiful house. Still, the architect wrote in Mr. Slezak’s visitors’ book, “When a fellow’s got money, but the brains of a louse, / He’ll buy an old ruin to make it a house.”

• Some opera fans are impoverished. In New York, a group of fans desperately wanted to hear Adelina Patti (1843-1919) sing in La Traviata, so they purchased the maximum number of tickets they could afford: one. Each fan watched 20 minutes of the performance—the first used the ticket as he entered, then got a “pass-out check” as he left the theater and handed it to the next fan. To keep everyone honest, the fans agreed that whoever stayed longer than 20 minutes would have to pay for the entire ticket.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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