David Bruce: Don’t Fear the Reaper — Problem-Solving, Royalty and Aristocracy

Problem-Solving

• Jazz musician Louis Armstrong faced a problem after his recording of “Mack the Knife” became a huge hit. Audiences requested it, but the sheet music had been lost, so his band couldn’t play it. Fortunately, he solved the problem by taking the members of his band to a place with a jukebox. He kept pouring dimes into the jukebox, and as “Mack the Knife” played over and over, members of his band wrote down the music.

• Alexandre Danilova once lost her underpants while dancing the part of a rich woman in Leonide Massine’s Jardin Public. Ms. Danilova finished her dance, but left her underpants behind when she exited the stage. Tamara Toumanova, dancing the part of a poor woman, came on stage, picked up the underpants, then flung them offstage as if they were a symbol of what her character most detested — wealth.

• The music for the Merce Cunningham dance titled Springweather and People made heavy use of piano pedals. During a performance in California, the pedals came entirely away from the piano, so composer John Cage crawled under the piano and held the pedals in place so they could be played. According to Mr. Cage, the sound under the piano was excellent, but his arms got tired during the performance.

• Clara Louise Kellogg (1842-1916) owned her own opera costumes. While performing in La Traviata, she discovered that the co-starring tenor had chronically dirty hands and was leaving his fingerprints on her costumes. Ms. Kellogg spoke with the offending tenor, who offered to wash his hands before performances if she bought the soap — which she did for the remaining performances.

• Choreographer Paul Gerdt created a pas de deux for Alexandra Vinogradova and Nicolas Legat, in which Ms. Vinogradova was supposed to jump into Mr. Legat’s arms. Ms. Vinogradova was afraid to try this, so Mr. Gerdt — who weighed 170 pounds — demonstrated Mr. Legat’s strength by running several steps, then jumping into his arms. Mr. Legat had no difficulty in catching him.

• Mme. Pandit, Ambassador from India to Great Britain, once gave a dinner party at which the cook and servants had too much to drink. Checking on the dinner, she discovered that it was only half prepared and that the cook was dead drunk and lying on the floor. Very self-assured, she simply took her guests to a Chinese restaurant.

• Hugh Laing once was in the middle of a dance with Alicia Markova in Aleko when she fainted — she was so graceful that the faint seemed part of the dance. Mr. Laing did not stop dancing, but he gathered Ms. Markova in his arms, danced offstage and gave her to some people who could help her, then danced onstage again.

Royalty and Aristocracy

• Playwright Charles MacArthur had little use for snobbishness. At a fancy dinner with members of society, Mr. MacArthur had a few drops of hollandaise sauce on the front of his shirt. The snotty Grand Duke Dimitri of Russia told him, “You have some spots on your shirt.” Mr. MacArthur looked at the medals on the Grand Duke’s shirt and said, “I, too, am wearing my decorations.” The Grand Duke replied, “Possibly from the night before last.” At that, Mr. MacArthur called for the Garcon and ordered him to bring the Grand Duke’s “hat and kiddy car.”

• As a world-famous British ballerina, Margot Fonteyn sometimes met royalty. Once, she met 15-year-old Princess Margaret. While shaking hands, Ms. Fonteyn started to lose her balance, but Princess Margaret steadied her both “expertly and unobtrusively,” causing Ms. Fonteyn to think, “They must be trained for this from childhood.” Princess Margaret once told Ms. Fonteyn after a ballet gala that was televised: “I must be careful what I say about the programme while the TV cameras are running. Deaf people can often lip-read from the screen.”

• When King Edward VII of England fell ill of appendicitis, the entire country prayed for him. He recovered. At a thanksgiving service for the king’s recovery, a Church of England canon who was capable of wit used a hymn-book that had an appendix of hymns for special occasions. The canon told the congregation, “Let us all join in singing hymn number 102, ‘Peace, Blessed Peace’ — in the appendix.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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