How Do I Use “Than” and “Then”?

“Than” is used in comparisons: better than, more than.

“Then” is a time word: If this happens, then that will happen.

For a while, writers Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur ran a movie studio in which they produced their own scripts. They had a policy of not responding to letters, instead hiring someone to burn their mail each day, unread. However, they did read a letter from a movie theater owner in Iron Mountain, Michigan, which was printed in the Exhibitors’ Herald, a movie trade magazine. The letter complained that the Hecht-MacArthur movie The Scoundrel was bad for business and annoying to the Iron Mountain movie-goers. Hecht and MacArthur spent all day composing an insulting letter, saying among other things that the citizens of Iron Mountain were so backward that they lived in trees. After mailing the letter, Hecht and MacArthur read the reply in the next issue of the Exhibitors’ Herald. The movie theater owner had written, “Messers Hecht and MacArthur, I have received your letter, framed it and hung it in the lobby of my theatre, where it is attracting a great deal more attention than did your motion picture.”

Playwright Charles MacArthur was rewriting a speech in his play The Front Page when producer Jed Harris walked in, looked over his shoulder at the writing, said “That’s no good,” then yanked the paper out of the typewriter. Mr. MacArthur let out a roar of rage and started for Mr. Harris, who ran for his life as Front Page co-writer Ben Hecht restrained Mr. MacArthur. Later, Mr. MacArthur and Mr. Hecht added this scene to their play.

Frank Sinatra spent money freely. A valet once brought him his car, and Frank asked him what had been the biggest tip he had ever received. The valet replied that it had been $100. Frank gave him a $200 tip, and then he asked the valet who had given him the $100 tip. The valet replied, “You did, sir. Last week.” Sammy Davis, Jr., imitated Frank’s free-spending ways, with the result that he met with an accountant, who advised him to cut down on his expenses or face financial ruin. The next day, Sammy sent the accountant a gift: a gold Cartier cigarette case inscribed, “Thanks for the advice.”

Spike Lee made his first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It, for $175,000 at a time when the production of some TV commercials cost more than that. Money was so tight that he told his actors not to throw away their soft drink bottles so he could return them for the deposit.

Shirley Temple became a child star in movies before she learned how to read. So how did she learn her lines? Her mother read her the scripts of her movies at bedtime. In 1934, little Shirley won a miniature Oscar to recognize a major accomplishment: According to Hollywood, she had brought “more happiness to millions of children and millions of grownups than any child of her years in the history of the world.”

Part of Rudolf Bing’s job as a manager in opera was keeping singers happy. While working at Glyndebourne in England, he knew that occasionally Salvatore Baccaloni, who sang the part of Leporello in Don Giovanni, would angrily burst into his office and start shouting. Mr. Bing did not understand Italian, but he would listen until Mr. Baccaloni stopped shouting, then he would give him a £5 note. This always made Mr. Baccaloni happy.

In some ways, mystery writer Agatha Christie was old fashioned. Whenever she filled out a form that asked for her occupation, she wrote “married woman” rather than “author,” because she regarded her writing as a sideline, rather than a career.

Comedian Jerry Lewis once boasted about a one iron he owned that he said was the best ever made. Pro golfer Sam Snead heard the boast, and he invited Mr. Lewis to try his one iron. Mr. Lewis tried it, hit the ball further than with his own one iron, then attempted to buy the one iron from Mr. Snead. On hearing the first offer—$100—Mr. Snead said, “No, no.” On hearing the second offer—$200—Mr. Snead said, “No, losing that club would ruin my whole bag.” On hearing the third offer—$500—Mr. Snead said, “Run with it before I change my mind,” and so Mr. Lewis handed over the money and took off running across the golf course.

Comedian Bob Smith’s parents accepted his homosexuality. His father, a retired state trooper, once attended an Annual Policemen’s Ball where some men sitting with him and his wife (Sue) began to talk about “fags.” His father said, “You know, my son’s gay. And it takes a lot more guts for him to deal with being gay than it does for jerks like you to sit there talking with your mouths full and your heads empty. And I don’t have to listen to it. C’mon, Sue. Let’s sit somewhere else.”

Gracie Allen could make a stand when a stand was necessary. A dry cleaner ruined a dress that she had taken to him, but he refused to pay for the dress. That evening, in the middle of the vaudeville act she performed with her husband, George Burns, she told the audience about the dry-cleaning incident and recommended that they not patronize that particular establishment, then she went on with the act. The next day, the dry cleaner paid her the money for the dress he had ruined.

The very dignified Greer Garson guested on Jimmy Durante’s program. She didn’t know anything about comedy and asked Mr. Durante what would happen if the show wasn’t funny. Mr. Durante replied, “Then, Miss Garson, we’re all gonna be in the toilet together.”

Lucia Rijker is a European boxing champion whose nickname is “Lady Ali.” After winning a boxing match against a tough opponent, she ran over to her trainer and tried to jump into his arms, but he was a new trainer, and he was much smaller than her old trainer. So, to celebrate her victory, she picked him up and lifted him over her head.

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