Anecdotes: Part One

I wonder how many know that while in Paris Hemingway was so poor that he was forced to catch pigeons in the parks, hide them under his son Bumby’s baby carriage blanket, and sneak them past the gendarmes to feed his family.

Things got better.

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While on a lecture tour of the States, a New York customs official asked if Oscar Wilde had anything to declare. “No, I have nothing to declare”–Wilde paused–“except my genius.”

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I have always liked the ancient little story of the creative writing class in England where the assignment was to write a short piece that included sex, the royal family, mystery, and religion. Some enterprising young student wrote simply, “My God, the Queen is pregnant. Who did it?!” [Contributed by Dorothy Higgins]

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Browsing a bookshop one day, Aaron Copland noticed a woman buying a copy of his book What To Listen For In Music, together with a paperback edition of a Shakespeare play. As the customer left the shop, Copland stopped her and asked “Would you like me to autograph your book?” Looking blankly into the composer’s beamng face, the woman asked, “Which one?”

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A friend was very upset at having to get rid of his cat. Dorothy Parker suggested, “Have you tried curiosity?”

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Maugham believed that early nights would keep him young, a habit his friend, the society hostess Emerald Cunard, found irritating. As he was preparing as usual to leave soon after dinner one night, Lady Cunard pressed him to stay. Maugham demurred, “I can’t stay, Emerald, I have to keep my youth.”
“Then why didn’t you bring him with you?” Lady Cunard asked, “I should be delighted to meet him.”
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There were two plays containing a character based on Dorothy Parker, one written by George Oppenheimer and the other by Ruth Gordon. Dorothy grumbled that she had wanted to write her autobiography but was now afraid to do so. “If I did, George Oppenheimer and Ruth Gordon would sue me for plagiarism.

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Henry Fonda was asked to say in one phrase the most important thing that any young actor has to know. Fonda answered, “How to become and old actor.”
This reminds me of the Air Force adage, “There are many bold young fighter pilots, but few bold old fighter pilots.”

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In 1955 John Kenneth Galbraith was in an airport bookshop. At the time his seminal tome on the Great Depression (“The Great Crash: 1929”) was a bestseller (it’s still a great read, as it explains why we are in a severe recession now). Inspecting the shelves of the small airport shop he was accosted by a clerk and was asked what he sought. As he tells it, “I passed over the name of the author and said it was a work called ‘The Great Crash'”. “Not a book you could sell in an airport,” she responded firmly.

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At a meeting of a Parisian literary society Franklin found himself a bit at sea as flowery compliments in French were exchanged. He decided that it would be safest to clap only when he saw a lady of his acquaintance applauding. After the gathering was over, Franklin’s little grandson said, “But Grandpapa, you always applauded, and louder than anyone else, when they praised you.”

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When the British admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane was about to attack New Orleans, he boasted that he would eat his Christmas dinner in the town. The remark was reported to Andrew Jackson who said, “It may be so, but I shall have the honor of presiding at that dinner.”

And

As his artillery pounded the British lines at the battle of New Orleans, Jackson stood beside the gunners to watch the effect of their fire. Not entirely satisfied, he gave the order, “Elevate them guns a little lower.”

And finally

Scandal broke out during Jackson’s first administration because of his friendship with Peggy Eaton, the attractive wife of Jackson’s secretary of war. This lady had a rather dubious background, and John Eaton’s marriage to her did not restore her reputation. All the Washington ladies boycotted receptions at which she was present and clergymen denounced her in public. Jackson called two of the latter into a cabinet meeting to discuss the question. The ministers admitted that there was no evidence of improper behavior on the part of John Eaton. “Nor Mrs. Eaton, either!” said angry president.
“I would prefer not to venture an opinion on that point,” replied the clergyman.
“She’s as chaste as a virgin!” snapped Jackson.
When this last remark was repeated to Daniel Webster, he paraphrased the line from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite virginity.” [The last word in the actual line is “variety.”]

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This isn’t about the author himself, but I thought I’d repeat this posting since it amused me when it happened. My wife brought my book “Truman” to the local bookstore where David McCullough was doing a book-signing. She brought along my 3-year old daughter. When my wife got up to McCullough and he asked what inscription she’d like, my daughter yelled out, “You never let ME write in books!” [Contributed by PaxtonReader]

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After suffering a stroke, Henrik Ibsen was forced to abandon his writing and spent the remaining six years of his life as a helpless invalid. One day he heard his nurse suggest that he was feeling a little better. “On the contrary!” he snapped, and promptly died.

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Jean Jacques Rousseau once sent Voltaire a copy of his “Ode to Posterity,” seeking his opinion. “I do not think,” Voltaire drily declared, “that this poem will reach its destination.” [Contributed by Carolyn Kephart]

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James Joyce had no patience with monuments. Valery Larbaud said to him as they drove in a taxi in Paris past the Arc de Triomphe with its eternal fire, “How long do you think that will burn?” Joyce answered, “Until the Unknown Soldier gets up in disgust and blows it out.”

____________

While a book reviewer for the New Yorker, Dorothy Parker went on her honeymoon. Her editor, Harold Ross, began pressuring her for her belated copy. She replied, “Too f***ing busy, and vice versa.”

____________

At one time Dorothy Parker had a small dingy cubbyhole of an office in the Metropolitan Opera House building in New York. As no one ever came to see her, she became depressed and lonely. When the sign painter came to paint her name on the office door, she got him to paint instead the word “GENTLEMEN.”

____________

William Randolph Hearst lived with his movie-star mistress Marion Davies in his spectacular castle, San Simeon. Hollywood personalities were frequent guests. Hearst always insisted upon the observation of certain rules. Despite his own irregular association with Marion Davies, one of these rules was that there should be no love-making between unmarried couples. Dorothy Parker broke the rule and received a note from her host asking her to leave. In the San Simeon visitors’ book she left these lines:
Upon my honor,

I saw a Madonna

Standing in a niche,

Above the door

Of the famous whore

Of a prominent son of a bitch

____________

A notoriously dissolute group of Parisians invited Voltaire to participate in an orgy. He accepted, giving such a satisfactory account of himself that the very next night he was asked to come again. “Ah, no, my friends,” said Voltaire with a slight smile. “Once: a philosopher; twice: a pervert!”
____________

Carson McCullers’s mother was on a bus en route to visit her daughter in New York when she fell into conversation with a lady of aristocratic mien who said she was fond of reading. The proud mother immediately began a lengthy monologue on her daughter’s extraordinary literary talents. After some time the other woman mentioned that her father had also been a writer. Carson’s mother asker her name. “Countess Tolstoy,” was the answer.

____________

When Ben Johnson asked his benefactor, Charles I of England, for a square foot in the hallowed Westminster Abbey after he died, that is exactly what he got. He was buried in an upright position in order that he take up no more space than he had bargained for.

____________

A lady sitting next to Calvin Coolidge at dinner tried to coax him into talking to her. “I have made a bet, Mr. Coolidge, that I could get more than two words out of you.”
“You lose,” said Coolidge

____________

As a young subaltern Churchill sported a mustache. At a smart dinner he fell into argument with a grand dowager who, thinking to quell him, snapped, “Young man, I care for neither you politics nor your mustache.”

“Madam,” responded Churchill, “you are unlikely to come into contact with either.”

____________

Before the first night of a Dumas play a pretty young actress rushed up to Dumas all aflutter with stage fright. “Oh, Monsieur Dumas,” she gasped, “just feel how my heart is beating.” Dumas, of course, was only too happy to oblige. “How does it feel?” she asked. After a pause Dumas replied, “Round.”

____________

Someone asked Cocteau what he would take if his house were on fire and he could remove only one thing. “I would take the fire,” replied Cocteau.

____________

Cocteau was once asked if he believed in luck. “Of course,” he replied. “How else do you explain the success of those you don’t like?”

____________

Cocteau’s publisher Bernard Grasset, had put forward the view that publishers are more important than authors. “In that case,” retorted Cocteau, “perhaps you ought to imitate the film producers. Announce a BOOK BY GRASSET in big characters, and then in tiny letters, ‘Words by Cocteau.’ “

____________

Harold Ross launched The New Yorker in 1925 on a shoestring budget. The magazine’s finances continued to be very shaky for some time, and its equipment and resources were minimal. When Ross asked Dorothy Parker why she had not come in to do a piece she had promised him, she replied, “Someone else was using the pencil.”

____________

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, overcome with grief after his wife’s death, put all his love poems in her casket. Nine years later, in order to bring out a collection of his poems, the coffin was dug up and the manuscript exhumed.

____________

Klemperer went into a music shop one day accompanied by a recording company executive called George de Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.

“Do you have Klemperer conducting Beethoven’s Fifth?” He asked the young man behind the counter.

“No,” said the clerk. “We have it conducted by Ormandy and Toscanini. Why do you want it by Klemperer?”

Replied the indignant conductor: “Because I am Klemperer!”

The clerk looked at him skeptically, then nodded toward George. “And that, I suppose is Beethoven,” he said.

“No,” replied Klemperer with a triumphant smile. “That’s Mendelssohn.”

____________

Oscar Levant, writer and piano virtuoso, was playing a difficult passage in concert when a telephone began ringing offstage. He played on but the ringing continued incessantly and the audience became increasingly restless. Without pausing in his playing, he glanced at the audience and said, “If that’s for me, tell them I’m busy.”

____________

Lunching with English friends at the time of her husband’s retirement, Madame de Gualle was asked what she was looking forward to in the years ahead. “A penis.” she replied without hesitation. The embarrassed silence that followed was finally broken by the former president. “My dear,” he murmured, “I think the English don’t pronounce the word quite like that. It’s  ‘appiness.’ “

____________

At an embassy reception, Ann Landers was approached by a rather pompous senator. “So you’re Ann Landers,” he drawled. “Say something funny.” Without hesitation, Ms Landers replied, “Well, you’re a politician, Tell me a lie.”

____________

C S Lewis had been on a walking tour. As he boarded the train for his return journey, his unkempt appearance startled an old lady in the first-class compartment. “Have you a first-class ticket?” she asked. “Yes, madam,” replied Lewis, “but I’m afraid I’ll be needing it for myself.”

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After Sinclair Lewis’s death in Rome from alcoholism, his body was cremated and the urn containing his ashes sent to the US embassy for safekeeping until their final disposal. A visitor was surprised to find one of the consular officials on her knees, busy with a broom and pan, an overturned funerary urn beside her. “Whatever are you doing?” he said. “Sweeping up Sinclair Lewis,” was the response.

____________

Shortly after the publication of From Here To Eternity, James Jones was known to carry around with him a pocketful of envelopes, each containing 67 cents, which he handed to friends who had bought a copy of his book. “That’s my royalty on each copy,” he explained. “I don’t want to make money on my friends.”

____________

Some readers insist on finding symbolism where none was intended. When the subject came up at a meeting of the Mystery Writers of America, Mickey Spillane quickly dismissed any profound conclusions associated with the drinking habits of his most famous character. “Mike Hammer drinks beer, not cognac, because I can’t spell cognac.” he declared.

____________

A young man looking loftily around at a party said, “I’m afraid I simply cannot bear fools”

“How odd,” said Dorothy. “Your mother could, apparently.”

____________

Gertrude Stein had a good opinion of herself, which gave rise to a number of pronouncements recorded by friends and associates. She told the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz that he knew very little about English literature. She was heard to ask him, “Besides Shakespeare and me, who do you think there is?”

____________

Five thousand copies of Steinbeck’s novel The Wayward Bus were destroyed by fire when the truck carrying them from the bindery was involved in a collision. The cause of the accident was a wayward bus, traveling on the wrong side of the road.

____________

So much for fame:

Herman Melville, despite writing an undeniably iconic American novel and other celebrated works, earned a total of about $10,500 from his writing. His was a constant struggle to provide for his wife Elizabeth and their kids. Melville died in 1891 with little notice, and his New York Times obituary called him “Henry” Melville. Even today he still can’t catch a break. On its first printing the title page of the second Library of America volume of Melville’s collected works bore the name, in twenty-four point display type, HERMAN MEVILLE.

____________

Ring Lardner was drinking at a club frequented by actors when an individual came in whose flamboyance of dress and hairstyle were remarkable even in those theatrical surroundings. Lardner scrutinized the man for sometime and then said to him, “How do you look when I’m sober?”

____________

In his last hours Tolstoy firmly resisted the efforts of those who tried to persuade him to reconcile himself with the Russian Orthodox church. “Even in the valley of the shadow of death, two and two do not make six,” he said.

_________

When the “Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” with Danny Kaye in the title role, became a hit movie, Sam Goldwyn decided that he would like to have Thurber as a permanent part of his team of writers. He tried to lure Thurber to Hollywood with an offer of $500 a week. Thurber, quite content to go on working for Harold Ross at The New Yorker, wrote back after a decent interval, declining Goldwyn’s offer with “Mr. Ross has met the increase.” Goldwyn wrote again, raising the offer to $1,000 a week, then $1,500, and finally $2,500. On each occasion the response was the same. Goldwyn decided to drop the matter for a while. Then one day he wrote again, but this time the offer had dropped to $1,500. Back came Thurber’s reply: “I am sorry, but Mr. Ross has met the decrease.”

____________

Sounds like Dubya ….

At a party a woman lurched drunkenly up to Thurber and told him she would like to have a baby by him. “Surely you don’t mean by unartificial insemination!” protested Thurber.

___________

At a cocktail party a woman waxed enthusiastic over Thurber’s work, saying that she found it even funnier in French than in English. “Yes, I always seem to lose something in the original,” agreed Thurber.

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Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 2:09 PM  Leave a Comment  
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