Mark Twain retained his sense of humor in his old age. When his wife, Livy, worried that his spending lots of time in bed reading and writing might sap his strength, she had their daughter Clara read him a biographical passage about the poet William Cullen Bryant, who at age 80 was still taking vigorous and invigorating early-morning walks. Mr. Twain said, “Mr. Bryant was wonderful to do those early risings, and all that at eighty. If ever I get to be eighty, I mean to do them, too.” When he was even older, and a widower, he built and lived in a house he called Stormfield. Quickly, burglars stole the silverware from the house. Also quickly, Mr. Twain posted this note on the front door of the house: “To the next burglar. There is nothing but plated ware in this house, now and henceforth. You will find it in that brass thing in the dining-room over in the corner by the basket of kittens. If you want the basket, put the kittens in the brass thing.” Before he died, he felt ill. Of course, he was widely loved by the reading public, and many fans sent him home remedies in hopes that they would make him feel better. He replied using this letter: “Dear Sir (or Madam). I try every remedy sent to me. I am now on no. 67. Yours is 2,653. I am looking forward to its beneficial results.” In his old age, Mr. Twain was also still capable of savage satire: He advocated the passing of a law that would forbid white people from lynching black people on Christmas.
Long-lived actor/director Richard Attenborough is a fountain of anecdotes. During the Second World War, his mother asked him and his brothers if it was OK with them if the family adopted two Jewish German girls. She told them, “It’s entirely up to you, darling!” Somehow, all three boys knew that she had already made up her mind to adopt the girls and that they needed to tell her that it was OK with them. All worked out well, and the girls became part of the family. Later, while they were making a movie together, actress Leslie Caron asked him if it was OK if she took a day off because of menstrual pains. He told her, “It’s entirely up to you, darling!” Somehow, she knew that she had better not take the day off. Another of his anecdotes concerns the great character actor A.E. Matthews, who lived long and prospered, working well into his old age. Someone asked him how he did it. He replied, “’I get up, I reach for the “Times,” I look up the obituary notices, and if my name’s not there, I get dressed.”
As you may expect, comedian George Carlin took many illegal drugs in his life. According to journalist David Hochman, when Mr. Carlin and Brenda, his 11-year-old daughter, took a vacation to Hawaii, she made him sign a contract stating that he wouldn’t snort cocaine for the duration of the vacation. Despite his illegal drug use, and despite his heart problems, he got old, something that really wasn’t a problem for him. He stated that “the richness of memory, the richness of acquired and accumulated experience and wisdom, I won’t trade that. At 67, I’m every age I ever was. I always think of that. I’m not just 67. I’m also 55 and 21 and three. Oh, especially three.”
Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, seems to have been always filled with good humor. When he got old, he joked that being age 82 had not changed his life: “I surf as much as I always have! I climb Mount Everest as much as I always have!” And his 45th book, “You’re Only Old Once: A Book for Obsolete Children,” appeared on his 82nd birthday. He attended a book-signing and signed books for a line of 1,300 fans, joking, “Thank God my name isn’t Henry Wadsworth Longfellow!”
Someone once asked Dodger Duke Snider what batting average Ty Cobb would have if he were batting against the pitchers of today. Mr. Snider replied that Ty Cobb would probably have an average of between .250 and .300. His questioner was surprised: “Why, Ty Cobb batted .367 lifetime over a 24-year career. You mean he’d only hit .250 today against modern pitchers?” Mr. Snider pointed out, “Well, you have to realize that Ty Cobb would be over 90 years old.”
Some female artists remain creative well into their old age. For example, in 2008 at age 73 Paula Rego was still active and still creating art, pointing out that being creative creates energy: “Even if I’m tired when I start working, by the end I have a lot of energy.” She will never willingly retire, saying, “Hopefully [my life] will end at my easel — I’ll just fall down sideways. Either that or in a drunken stupor.”
Joe Franklin frequently had British actor Arthur Treacher on his talk show; however, Mr. Treacher had absolutely no problem walking off the show if he ever felt bored. He would simply tell Mr. Franklin, “Ooh, Joe, the old man’s getting cranky now, the old man’s getting grouchy, the old man’s getting tired.” Then he would get up and walk off.
When comedian Eddie Cantor performed at Carnegie Hall, a very old man told him, “Mr. Cantor, I’ve been a fan of yours since I was a little kid.” Skeptical, the 60-year-old Mr. Cantor asked the very old man, “And how old are you?” The very old man said, “Ninety.”
Satchel Paige was still pitching at an advanced age, and he heard a lot of jokes about his age. One player asked him, “Satch, what kind of pitch was Connie Mack weak on?” Mr. Paige replied, “That was real funny the first time I heard it — from Abner Doubleday.”
When he was aged, Rabbi Eliyahu Lapian arrived home and saw that his maid was mopping the floor. Although he was arthritic, he removed his shoes — an action that took him 15 minutes — so the maid would not have to mop up his muddy footprints.
© 2015, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved
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