David Bruce: Anecdotes About Fat People

Pope John XXIII was a humble man and disliked being carried in the “Sedia Gestatoria,” the sedan chair with which several men carried the Pope through great public gatherings. Besides humility, Holy Father disliked the “Sedia Gestatoria” for another reason. After making one of his first trips in it, he got down and said, “The motion of that rocking chair makes me dizzy.” Soon after his election, Pope John XXIII, who was a heavy man, inquired about the wages of the men who carried the “Sedia Gestatoria.” When asked why he was concerned about such a small matter, he replied, “They should receive a bonus to compensate them for the increase in papal weight.”

Opera singer Ian Wallace recalls the time when a very heavy Italian soprano played the part of Gilda in “Rigoletto.” In this opera, Gilda is murdered, then carried off in a sack by the character Sparafucile. Unfortunately, the singer playing Sparafucile was unable to lift the singer playing Gilda, so the opera director invented three new characters — burly men all — to help Sparafucile lift and carry Gilda off the stage. (This story may be why Sir Rudolf Bing once wrote, “The greatest singers in the world don’t fit easily into blue jeans.”)

Operatic tenor Leo Slezak was a big man — six-foot-four and 300 pounds. Once, while singing the role of Adolar in Weber’s “Euryanthe,” he accidentally stepped on a female singer’s toes. She had to stay in bed for a month and lost all the toenails on one foot. Whenever he saw the singer, Ms. Ludmilla, afterward, she always took one step backward, then said, “Take my soul, my life, my all — but for God’s sake take care not to tread on my toes, dear Adolar!”

British character actress Margaret Rutherford had clout as a result of becoming internationally famous in movies such as “Blithe Spirit.” Whenever she made a movie, filming stopped at 11 a.m. and at 3:30 p.m. so that she could have her snack — hot milk and buttered cookies. According to “Time” magazine, Ms. Rutherford — a heavy woman — “needs the sustenance as much as a lush needs booze.”

G.K. Chesterton was able to lose himself in a subject. A very overweight man, Mr. Chesterton was once sitting in a chair, discussing a subject, when the chair collapsed on him. He moved to another chair and continued the discussion at the exact word he had left off. The people present were convinced that he had barely noticed the collapsing chair and his move to a sturdier seat.

Many opera singers grow fat. One of Gioacchino Rossini’s star singers, contralto Marietta Alboni, grew too fat to sing opera because she couldn’t move and sing at the same time. She had to make her living giving concerts at which she sang while seated in an armchair. Mr. Rossini referred to her as “the elephant who swallowed a nightingale.”

Sir William S. Gilbert was funny in real life. Once, an obese lady attended one of his rehearsals. While his back was turned, she disappeared, so Sir William asked a stagehand where she had gone. The stagehand pointed to some scenery and said, “She’s round behind.” Sir William replied, “I asked you for her geography, not her description.”

“Fat. I presume you want to get rid of it. Then quit eating so much. No normally healthy person on the good green earth ever got thinner without cutting down on caloric intake. Do a few exercises, don’t eat so much, and you will lose weight.” — Richard Watson, writing in “The Philosopher’s Diet.”

Philosopher David Hume was thin as a young man. However, when he was in his twenties, he endured an emotional crisis because of his philosophical skepticism, and he ate so much that he gained 60 pounds in six weeks. For the rest of his life, he was a fat, but happy, man.

Drama critic Percy Hammond enjoyed eating, and his enjoyment soon showed in the stoutness of his figure. Mrs. Robert Mantell, the wife of a Shakespearian actor, once looked at him, then said, “Ah, that one so gross should write of Art!”

G.K. Chesterton, a much overweight man, once watched with amusement a private entertainment in which a man impersonated him, then he told the impersonator’s daughter, “Do you know, I believe your father is Gilbert Chesterton and I am only a padded imposter.”

Humorist Frank Sullivan once took a large second helping, which he couldn’t finish. He remarked, “My eyes were bigger than my stomach.” Then he eyed his stomach, which was becoming quite large, and added, “But my stomach’s catching up with them fast.”

People laughed at the opening of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.” One problem was that Fanny Salvini-Donatelli, a fat woman, played the part of a courtesan with tuberculosis. Whenever fat Fanny complained of wasting away, the audience roared with laughter.

Jackie Gleason, who weighed 280 pounds, once said that he was practicing to play a golf match with Toots Shor, who weighed 275 pounds. Bob Hope said, “If those two played on the same golf course, you wouldn’t see anything but shadows.”

William Howard Taft weighed more than 350 pounds. After he left office as President, Yale offered him a Chair of Law. Mr. Taft replied that considering his size, it would be more appropriate to offer him a Sofa of Law.

Hugh Troy once had a physician who grew angry at a woman who insisted on having a series of expensive tests done — tests that revealed nothing wrong. When the woman insisted on a diagnosis, the physician told her, “You’re fat.”

Humorist Robert Benchley disliked exercise. After his waist had begun to grow, he ordered a rowing machine that had the advantage of folding up very small. When it arrived, he put it under his bed and never saw it again.

Stubby Kaye was a fat comedian who played one of the troubadours in the movie “Cat Ballou.” (The other troubadour was Nat King Cole.) He was occasionally billed as an “extra padded attraction.”

“The righteous shall eat to their heart’s content, but the stomach of the wicked goes hungry.” — Proverbs 13:25.

© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

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