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French comic filmmaker Jacques Tati carefully observed people and things, as they gave him ideas with which to work. Before creating his movie Traffic, he went to a highway and observed. One of the things he noticed was that many people driving away on holiday do not look happy. He also noticed a car that contained a dog that stared at a field that the dog could have played in. (I highly recommend his M. Hulot’s Holiday, which, like his other films, doesn’t need dialogue.)
When war correspondent and photographer Margaret Bourke-White received permission to fly on a bombing expedition during World War II, J. Hampton Atkinson piloted her himself, saying, “I’m going to fly you myself because if you die, I want to die, too.” (Fortunately, neither of them died.) By the way, while photographer Ms. Bourke-White was attending the University of Michigan in the early 1920s, she kept something strange in her dormitory room bathtub—a pet milk snake.
Being a gorilla imitator can be a harrowing occupation, as during the filming of the Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Circus an actor portraying the gorilla fainted twice because the owner of the gorilla skin refused to allow ventilation holes to be pierced in it because it was so valuable. However, one day the owner of the gorilla skin noticed something strange—the actor had been inside the gorilla skin for three hours and hadn’t fainted yet. (Normally, anyone wearing the gorilla skin fainted after two hours.) Investigating, he discovered that the actor had taken an icepick and made several unauthorized ventilation holes in the skin.
Guardian journalist Oliver Burkeman once asked his 85-year-old grandmother whether her old age had brought her happiness in any way. She replied that her old age had made it easier to get rid of telemarketers. For example, if a telemarketer started telling her about “broadband internet,” she simply told the telemarketer, “I’m in my 80s!” The telemarketer would assume that she was too old to understand or care about the definition of broadband internet and so the telemarketer would hang up the telephone. (Actually, she understands perfectly well what broadband internet is.)
As coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Bud Grant lay down rules about what his players could eat and where they could smoke. Once, he even spent 30 minutes drilling his players in how to stand at attention while the National Anthem was being played. Some of his players regarded such rules as being “Mickey Mouse” rules, so they would whistle “Mickey Mouse” when Mr. Grant’s back was turned. (But once the team started winning—the once-losing Vikings won the league title only three years after he started coaching them—Mr. Grant earned the respect of his players.)
After graduating from Ohio State University, R.L. Stine, the author of the Fear Street and Goosebumps series of children’s books, taught at a high school in his native Columbus, Ohio. Whenever his students did good work throughout the week, he allowed them to read in class all day Friday. (Mr. Stine frequently spent his Fridays in class reading comic books.)
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Too often, Hollywood has stereotyped actors and actresses, sometimes because of their ethnicity. Anna May Wong played many, many Oriental stereotypes in the 1930s, something she disliked. So, of course, did other actors and actresses with Oriental features (or makeup that made them appear Oriental). Once, Ms. Wong said, “Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain? And so crude a villain. Murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass. We are not like that. How should we be, with a civilization that is so many times older than that of the west?” In 1960, after appearing seldom in movies for two decades, she played Lana Turner’s housekeeper in Portrait in Black. Again, the stereotypes came out, this time from the publicity department, which explained Ms. Wong’s long absence from the screen by passing along a proverb that supposedly had been taught to Ms. Wong by her mother, “Don’t be photographed too much or you’ll lose your soul.” Ms. Wong’s own explanation was this: “I was so tired of the parts I had to play.”
A dog named Max stopped by stable manager Liz Cochane’s home one day and stayed. Liz says, “He’s good at communicating what he wants. He will stare intently at a door, willing it to open (often it does), or at a potato chip, willing it to fall into his mouth (often it does).” Of course, he rewards Liz with love. A woman whom Liz knows says, “I only wish my husband would look at me the way Max looks at Liz.”
Kip Keino won gold medals in the Olympics in both 1968 (1500-meter race) and 1972 (3000-meter steeplechase). He never made much money from his running—approximately $20,000—but he used it wisely. He returned to his native Kenya, where he bought land and a house and started an orphanage. Another Olympic medal-winner, Native American Billy Mills, met him in the 1980s. At that time, Kip and his orphanage were taking care of 68 children, and 100 orphans had already grown up and gone into the world to lead their adult lives. As of 2007, Mr. Keino was still taking care of orphans.
© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved
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