David Bruce: Don’t Fear the Reaper — Work

Work

• Fred Astaire was a hard worker who believed in practicing even things that weren’t likely to appear in his movies. While rehearsing for Funny Face, he was dancing with an umbrella, and director Stanley Donen asked him to open the umbrella and dance with it to see if any moves happened that would look good in the movie. Mr. Astaire opened the umbrella, danced with it, then closed it again — all impeccably. Mr. Donen asked him how he was able to do that so well, and Mr. Astaire replied, “I’ve practiced it.” According to Mr. Donen, that was part of the secret of Mr. Astaire’s success: “He would practice things that didn’t have any immediate connection with anything.” Mr. Astaire often kept on dancing during pauses in the shooting of his films. Co-star Leslie Caron remembers going out for some air, then returning back to the studio to see Mr. Astaire dancing with a coat hanger.

• The Hasidim loved Israel. Rabbi Velvele of Zbaraz moved to Eretz Israel, but money was hard to come by and so his wife became a washerwoman in order for her and her husband to avoid taking money from charity to live. Rabbi Yaakov Shimshon of Sheptivka came to visit and he saw the rabbi’s wife washing laundry in the yard. Believing that the rabbi’s wife would feel humiliated if she knew that he had seen her washing her laundry, he attempted to leave quietly without being seen. However, the rabbi’s wife saw him. She knew why he had attempted to leave before revealing his presence, so she said to him, “Do not be concerned, Rabbi. This is not my personal wash, but rather work that I undertake, and which ensures our livelihood. Thank God that we are able to live in Eretz Israel and to live off our manual labor.”

• Rudolf Bing knew a man called Childs, whom he described as the “perfect butler.” Childs was a butler to John Christie, and he also helped to take care of Mr. Christie’s guests. He knew Mr. Bing liked to sleep later than the other guests and skip breakfast, and one morning he woke Mr. Bing with the announcement, “Breakfast at eight-thirty, sir.” Mr. Bing then asked him the time, and Childs replied, “Nine o’clock, sir.” Once, Mr. Bing asked where Mr. Christie was, and Childs told him — it was a place that surprised Mr. Bing. He asked Childs, “How do you know he is there? Did you ask him before he left?” Childs replied, “A good butler never asks his master where he is going, but he always knows.”

• Fred Astaire used the phrase “a good deed” to refer to a good step in his dancing. Sometimes he would worry that he had not accomplished much while working on a dance, so he would call co-choreographer Hermes Pan and ask, “Did we get a good deed today?” Frequently, Mr. Pan was able to reassure him and mention a certain step that they had worked out together. Fred Astaire once gave Mr. Pan one of his shoes and a note that said, “To Pan, in memory of those thousands of rotten hours in rotten rehearsal halls.” Mr. Astaire was sensitive to language and refused to say certain lines in his movies. For example, a script called for him to say, “My feet hurt.” Mr. Astaire read the script, saw the line, and said, “I won’t say it. I would never say it. My feet hurt? Never.”

• Albert E. Kahn spent several months photographing Soviet ballerina Galina Ulanova, always being careful not to interrupt her in her practices, performances, or teaching sessions. Once, he did interrupt. Ms. Ulanova had been teaching 19-year-old Katya Maximova to dance Giselle, and at one point she had embraced her. Mr. Kahn had not caught the moment with his camera, so he asked her to repeat the embrace, saying, “It was such a beautiful moment.” She replied, “That beautiful moment is gone forever. Now you mustn’t interrupt us. We’re working.”

• Country music singer Willie Nelson used to work at Texas Power and Light Company trimming tree branches away from around high line wires. One day he tried sliding down a rope to the ground, but his hand got caught in the rope. Because the pain was unbearable and he felt as if he were losing his fingers, he ordered his partner to cut the rope and let him drop to the ground, hoping that he would fall between the wires and not on one. Luckily, he fell exactly between the wires. He then picked himself up, walked off the job, and never returned.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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