Henri Matisse worked long and hard at his art. He said to fellow artist André Verdet in 1952, “If people knew what Matisse, supposedly the painter of happiness, had gone through, the anguish and tragedy he had to overcome to manage to capture that light which has never left him, if people knew all that, they would also realize that this happiness, this light, this dispassionate wisdom which seems to be mine, are sometimes well deserved, given the severity of my trials.” Please don’t think that Matisse chose to talk about art rather than make art. Painter George L.K. Morris met Matisse by chance on a train and tried to start a conversation about art, but Matisse told him that “all artists should have their tongues cut out — then they’d have more time for work.” Matisse even stuck his tongue out at Mr. Morris and made a cutting motion with his fingers. One artist Matisse did talk to was Pablo Picasso, to whom he said, “We must talk to each other as much as we can. When one of us dies, there will be some things the other will never be able to talk of with anyone else.” (When Matisse died, Picasso said, “Now I have to work for the both of us.”) Matisse need not have a painter; other careers that he thought he would enjoy included actor, jockey, and violinist. However, when he was a child, he did not want to be a violinist. His father wanted him to take violin lessons, and to share the cost of the teacher he convinced the father of a boy next door to have his son take lessons at the same time as young Matisse. But when the violin teacher arrived at Matisse’s house to give the boys a lesson, young Matisse would climb over the fence into the other boy’s yard. And when the violin teacher went next door to search for the boys, the boys would have climbed the fence to get into young Matisse’s yard. By the way, at age 44 Matisse decided to study the violin. To avoid annoying his neighbors, he practiced in the bathroom.
Makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin is one of those people who are supremely competent at what they do. He once made up model Cindy Crawford for a photo shoot (to create a “Vogue” cover) during which she would wear a pink outfit and a beige outfit. Before starting to apply her makeup, he asked which outfit she would wear first. Hearing that she would wear the pink outfit first, he made her up accordingly (her hair and makeup took two hours), knowing that he would have to change her makeup for the beige outfit. Unfortunately, the beige outfit arrived first, and Kevyn said, “Oh, I thought we were doing the other outfit first. I’ll have to change a few things.” “Vogue” editor Polly Mellon asked how long it would take, and Kevyn said, “Ten minutes.” Polly then asked, “No. I mean how much time for a ‘Kevyn Aucoin’ makeup change?” Kevyn replied, “Ten minutes, Polly.” Kevyn was such a perfectionist that if he had needed more than ten minutes to change Cindy’s makeup, he would not have said that ten minutes were all he needed.
Danny Trejo, the star of Richard Rodriguez’ “Machete,” works — a lot. He appears in film after film. For example, he made the high-profile movie “Machete” at roughly the same time he appeared in a movie titled “Blacktino” — for which he made $100. This isn’t necessarily a sign of a need to work constantly. Instead, he says, “I like to do as many student films and [work with as many] first-time directors as I can.” His kids are getting involved with making movies as well. When his son Gilbert produced a movie titled “Skinny-Dip,” Danny jokes, “He better hire me. I don’t want to hear, ‘Dad, you’re too old for the part.’”
When author Lucy Grealy, author of “Autobiography of a Face,” was a skinny little girl, she used to work at a stable owned by a Mr. Evans in exchange for being able to ride the horses for free. She earned that right both for her work and for helping Mr. Evans whenever one of the amateur riders who paid to ride a horse complained when the horse wouldn’t go. Mr. Evans would point to Lucy and say, “I bet this skinny little girl could get this horse to go.” She would climb into the saddle and because she knew how to ride, unlike the amateur paying customers, she would get the horse to fly.
David Letterman is known for his wit. As a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, he once talked a fellow fraternity member into shaving his head and then painting it blue. Mr. Letterman then pointed out the fraternity member to other people and said that he was the world’s biggest ballpoint pen. And as a weather broadcaster in Indiana (early in his career), he once announced the temperatures of two cities — “Muncie, 42; Anderson, 44” — then said, “Always a close game.”
Veronica Lake was a film siren of the 1940s — the era of Rosie the Riveter. She was famous for a hairstyle in which her tresses fell over one eye, leaving only one eye for her to use to see. Supposedly, the United States government asked her to change her hairstyle because it was afraid that many industrial accidents would occur because so many Rosie the Riveters were imitating her hairstyle, thereby partially obscuring their vision.
Russ Westover, the cartoonist of the long-ago comic strip “Tillie the Toiler,” got his first drawing job at the “San Francisco Bulletin.” In those days, newspapers used drawings instead of photographs, and one of his first assignments was to go to the mortuary and draw a portrait of a recently drowned person. However, the mortuary was so dark and eerie that Russ left quickly and handed in a drawing of an imaginary drowned person.
Satiric comedian Lenny Bruce got his start by doing imitations of such famous actors as Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, and Humphrey Bogart — with a German accent.
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