David Bruce: Don’t Fear the Reaper — Valentine’s Day, War, Wit

Valentine’s Day

• Toni Dukes, an African-American, is a 911 dispatcher in San Francisco who uses her own money to give gifts to homeless and other needy people. In zip-lock bags she places a hat and gloves and a package of Kleenex. On the outside she writes in black marker “From the Heart.” She carries around many zip-lock bags containing gifts so that she can fulfill requests. She then will ask a needy person if he or she wants a gift, and if the answer is yes, she asks the person his or her size and favorite color. She does this a few times a month, and she notes that often the people are as grateful to have someone to talk to for a few minutes as they are to receive the gifts, hundreds of which she has given away. Near Valentine’s Day in 2008, she saw a woman and said to her, “Hello, ma’am. Would you like a pair of gloves and a hat?” The woman asked, “Free?” Ms. Dukes replied, “From the heart — it’s a Valentine’s present.”

War

• The United States military forces have sometimes worried about gay and lesbian personnel. (Many gays and lesbians are patriotic and want to perform military service for their country.) For example, during World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower worried about lesbians in the war effort. He ordered Sergeant Johnnie Phelps to find out which members of the Women’s Army Corps under his command were lesbians. She replied, “I will be happy to do this investigation …. But, sir, it would be unfair of me not to tell you, my name is going to head the list …. You should also be aware that you’re going to have to replace all the file clerks, the section heads, most of the commanders, and all of the motor pool.” General Eisenhower thought for a moment and then said, “Forget the order.”

• During World War I, Charles MacArthur, who was later a famous playwright and screenwriter, was forced to suddenly take refuge from the explosions of enemy bombs. Unfortunately, he had the bad luck to dive headfirst into an abandoned German latrine. Still, he was optimistic, thinking to himself, “MacArthur, this is the lowest point of your life. From here on everything has got to be an improvement.”

• Richard Wagner has the reputation of being an anti-Semite and an advocate of the Aryan race — Adolf Hitler regularly listened to Wagner’s operas at Bayreuth. For these reasons, after liberating Bayreuth in World War II, African-American GIs donned opera costumes and paraded down the streets dressed as such Aryan heroes as Wotan, Siegfried, and Parsifal.

• The characters in the TV series M*A*S*H sometimes showed inventive problem-solving. In one episode, a hawkish general who sends many young men needlessly to their deaths is stopped — the M*A*S*H surgeons fake a medical emergency and give him an unnecessary appendectomy.

• General Joe Wheeler had fought for the Confederates during the Civil War. Years later, he was fighting in the Spanish-American War at Las Guasimas. In the heat of battle, he forgot where he was and yelled, “Come on, boys, we’ve got the damn Yankees on the run!”

Wit

• Bob Denver appeared in the movie Back to the Beach, starring Frank Avalon and Annette Funicello. In it, he played a bartender who looked very much like Gilligan (Mr. Denver played Gilligan on the TV series Gilligan’s Island). In the movie, his character said that he once knew a guy who could build a nuclear reactor out of coconuts and pineapples, but the guy didn’t know how to build a boat.

• Fred Astaire danced in many movies with Ginger Rogers. When Ms. Rogers won the Oscar for her role in Kitty Foyle, Mr. Astaire sent her a very short telegram: “Ouch.” By the way, Mr. Astaire had a pet cockatiel that he named Gregory — after a famous movie star — because it pecked.

• Charles Talleyrand once was riding in a carriage with a bore who talked incessantly. Another carriage drew up beside them — inside it a man could be seen giving a huge yawn. Taking advantage of the situation, Mr. Talleyrand told his boring companion, “Hush — you are overheard.”

• Opera singer Eileen Farrell was a large woman with a sense of humor. She once joked, “They’re shipping my costume in a boxcar.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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