David Bruce: Anecdotes About Mishaps

Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine have performed all over the world. In El Salvador, civil war wracked the country, and three bodyguards with Uzi submarine guns protected Ms. Estefan. While they were performing, some explosions rocked the air above the arena and so they hit the floor of the stage. Fortunately, the explosions were fireworks set off to welcome them. They got up and dusted themselves off, and the crowd applauded them. When they had an English-language hit in “Dr. Beat,” they performed in Spain, where the promoters provided them with translators because they did not know that Ms. Estefan and the other members of the Miami Sound Machine were fluent in Spanish. Indeed, for most members, including Ms. Estefan, Spanish was their first language.

Conductor Serge Koussevitzky used to take classical music to parts of Russia where classical music — and its instruments — had not been heard before. One farmer was fascinated by the trombone, and at the conclusion of a concert, thinking that the musician had been trying to disassemble the trombone — and not succeeding — the farmer took the trombone and used his great strength to break the trombone apart. The farmer then handed the pieces of the ruined trombone to the astonished musician and said, “There you are, sir.”

Ballet stage managers sometimes have strange duties. While dancing in Jerome Robbins’ “Tyl Eulenspiegal,” Tanaquil Le Clercq released a helium-filled balloon into the air. Unfortunately, during the rest of the concert, the balloon lost helium and eventually made an appearance in a “Pas de Trois,” thus forming the fourth member of a “Quatre.” After that mishap, the stage manager was given the job of shooting the balloon with a BB gun after the curtain closed on “Tyl Eulenspiegal.”

Opera singers can be funny during dress rehearsals. At the Metropolitan Opera in New York, during a dress rehearsal of “Carmen,” the singer playing Don José was telling Carmen how much he wanted to passionately make love to her. Unfortunately, as he confessed his desire to make love to her he was having trouble loosening his scabbard so he could take it off. Marilyn Horne, who was playing Carmen, told him, “Sure, as soon as you get the sword off, honey.”

Louis Armstrong sometimes sang, and when he sang he sometimes scatted — he sang nonsense syllables instead of real words. For example, he did that on “Heebie Jeebies.” According to one story, the scatting came about by accident. While recording the song, Mr. Armstrong dropped the piece of paper with the lyrics on it, and he was forced to improvise. Supposedly, both Mr. Armstrong and fellow musician Myknee Jones reached for the piece of paper at the same time, and they bumped heads.

Even a major-league pitcher can get a hit, although he might be surprised when it happens. This happened to Sandy Koufax in 1961: He hit the ball sharply for what should have been a base hit, but he was so surprised that he just stood there. By the time his teammates (who were yelling “Run! Run!”) got his attention and he started running to first base, Frank Robinson had scooped up the baseball and threw him out.

Making movies can be hazardous. Joseph Fiennes, star of the movie “Shakespeare in Love,” also made the movie “The Great Raid.” For that 2002 film, which was made in Australia, he attempted to surf 15-foot waves, but a wipe-out ripped off one of his lips, an injury that necessitated a graft from one of his earlobs. These days, he is seldom photographed without facial hair.

Baritone Günter Reich once played the role of Scarpia on very short notice — so short that he had no chance for a rehearsal. When he lay dead, Tosca put a cross on his chest. Relieved that the scene was over, Mr. Reich got to his feet — only to find that the scene was not over. Knowing that the members of the audience had already seen him rise, he bowed to them, and then walked off stage.

Lord Snowden was a photographer. In 1957, he posed the Queen of England and her royal consort in an outdoor sporting situation. To serve as part of the scene in the photograph, he had purchased a few dead trout, but they didn’t appear in the photograph. On the day of the photo shoot, Lord Snowden’s housekeeper found the trout, cooked them, and served them to him for breakfast.

An amusing error appears in Alexander Theroux’s short biography of Edward Gorey, printed by Fantagraphics. At the bottom of p. 14, Mr. Theroux writes that Mr. Gorey “never sent thank-you notes.” However, at the top of the page appears a reproduction of a short note that Mr. Gorey sent to Mr. Theroux. The note says in part, “Thank you so much for the neat skull.”

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, is a computer genius, but even he had failures. The first Graphical User Interface computer that Apple rolled out was called the Lisa, but it cost $10,000 and was reviled for being s-l-o-w. A popular joke was this: “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” Wait 15 seconds, then say, “Lisa.”

When China created the Three Gorges Dam, the designers worried about congestion at the multiple series of locks at the dam; therefore, they ordered built a 16,000-ton cable hoist ship elevator. Unfortunately, the designers discovered that no cable ever existed that could lift a 16,000-ton cable hoist ship elevator.

Supposedly, to celebrate Kate Moss’ 22nd birthday, Johnny Depp threw a big party for her at the Portobello Hotel in Notting Hill. He even ordered that a bathtub at the hotel be filled with champagne. Unfortunately, while he was busy elsewhere, a chambermaid entered the room and pulled the plug in the bathtub.

Michael Benthall once criticized the extras while directing a production of “Julius Caesar” at the Old Vic, saying that they weren’t acting naturally. He told them, “Just behave as you would normally in a crowded street.” That night, while a crowd of extras exited the stage, one of them called out, “Taxi!”

© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

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