David Bruce: Don’t Fear the Reaper — Mishaps

Mishaps

• At one time, Chicago journalists would pretend to be police officers or other officials, either in person or on the telephone, in order to get information from crime scenes. Frequently, they would pretend to be Sgt. Francis “Jiggs” Donohue, the chief officer for the coroner’s office. Chicago Herald-Examiner reporter Harry Romanoff once telephoned a barroom where a murder had occurred. On the phone, he said, “This is Sgt. Donohue of the coroner’s office.” The person who had answered the phone said, “That’s funny. So is this.” Sgt. Donohue had arrived at the murder scene faster than Mr. Romanoff had expected. Once, Buddy McHugh of the Chicago American arrived very quickly on a murder scene (a house), identified himself as Sgt. Donohue, and told the person at the house, “If some newspaper guy shows up posing as me, give him the bum’s rush.” Soon after Mr. McHugh had left, the real Sgt. Donohue showed up, but the householder said, “Go peddle your papers. I’m wise to you. Sgt. Donohue’s been here.”

• The New York City Ballet once appeared in Bologna, Italy, where they hired an orchestra that had been put together from musicians who played in local restaurants. Unfortunately, this orchestra did not know the music the New York City Ballet was performing, so choreographer George Balanchine told associate conductor Hugo Fiorato to get a machine gun and shoot them all! Although Mr. Balanchine wanted to cancel the performance, it was sold out and management convinced him to soldier on. The New York City Ballet performed to the music that was easiest to play, but even so, during “Serenade,” the musical instruments stopped playing one by one. Mr. Fiorato sang the music for the dancers, and the musical instruments began to play again one by one — but the dancers onstage were laughing.

• In 1948 bodybuilder Kirk Alyn starred as Superman in a low-budget serial. Once, Superman had to rescue two people from a burning building. Mr. Alyn acted in the scene, and the director said to him, “That was great, Kirk. But could we do it again without you straining so much? I mean, Superman is super strong — lifting a couple of humans should be easy.” Mr. Alyn replied, “What do you expect? These people are heavy!” The director realized that he had made a mistake: “People? Oh, my goodness! I’m sorry. We forgot to get you the dummies!”

• Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova toured the world, bringing ballet to everybody. Of course, mishaps occurred during touring. In Birmingham, Alabama, Ms. Markova fell flat on her back during Act II of Giselle, lying with her legs and her lilies pointing straight up, while she giggled at the indignity of her position. In Dallas, Texas, the stage floor was so slippery that at one point Mr. Dolan told the audience, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are doing our best and trying to stand up, but neither Miss Markova nor I nor our group are billed as The Ice Capades!”

• In 1981, Leslie Woodies played Cassie during a tour of A Chorus Line. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Ms. Woodies was dancing at an “audition” in the play when smoke began to fill the theater. The play was stopped, and the audience, cast, and crew went outside, where they discovered the smoke was coming from a fire up the street. Eventually, everyone went back inside and picked up the play where it had left off. The next line in the play — “Well, this audition is really interesting, isn’t it?” — received an enormous response from the audience.

• On 9 March 1944, Russian-born ballet dancer George Zoritch received his America citizenship papers. He managed to become a citizen even after missing this question on his exam: Who was the first American President? Mr. Zoritch had answered “Franklin Delano Roosevelt” because, after all, he was Mr. Zoritch’s first American President. The examiner let the mistake go because Mr. Zoritch was young and would become better educated in the future.

• Giuseppe di Stefano sang the part of Alfredo in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La Traviata. In the second act, he was supposed to throw some stage money into the face of the character Violetta — a deadly insult. Unfortunately, once on stage he discovered that his dresser had forgotten to put the stage money into a pocket — any pocket — of his costume. Forced to improvise, he slapped Violetta. The woman playing Violetta never forgave him.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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