Create, Then Take a Break: 250 Anecdotes and Stories

Actors and Acting

  • English actor Stanley Holloway, who created the role of Eliza Doolittle’s father in My Fair Lady on Broadway, almost didn’t. He felt ignored during rehearsals, although he later realized that that was a compliment. The director and everyone else were concentrating on Rex Harrison, who was unknown—at that time—as a musical comedy star. Knowing that Mr. Holloway was an extremely competent actor, they left him to his own devices. Mr. Holloway called the play’s producer, Herman Levin, and asked to be released from his contract because no one was even saying hello when he arrived at the theater. Mr. Levin talked him out of immediately quitting and the next morning when Mr. Holloway arrived at the theater, everyone crowded around him to say hello. Even though Mr. Holloway knew that it was a put-up job, he felt better.[1]
  • When Marilyn Monroe showed up to act the part of an aging jewel thief’s girlfriend in The Asphalt Jungle, she told the director, John Huston, how nervous she was. He replied, “If you’re not nervous, you might as well give up!” By the way, Ms. Monroe was known for being late everywhere. She once stopped to apply more lipstick—and missed her plane. Also by the way, one of the most famous scenes in Ms. Monroe’s movies occurs in The Seven Year Itch, where she stands on a grating above a subway on a hot night and the subway train causes a cooling breeze that makes her skirt fly into the air. This scene was filmed at 2 in the morning; nevertheless, over 2,000 people were on hand to watch it.[2]
  • John Barrymore was noted as much for his dissipation as for his acting. While acting in Hamlet after a night of revelry, he began the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, but in the middle of the speech found it necessary to retire to the side of the stage so he could vomit. Later, he was complimented for this innovation: “I say, Barrymore, that was the most daring and perhaps the most effective innovation ever offered. I refer to your deliberate pausing in the midst of the soliloquy to retire, almost, from the scene. May I congratulate you upon such imaginative business? You seemed quite distraught. But it was effective!”[3]
  • The famous actor Edmund Kean idolized fellow actor George Frederick Cooke. He even had a monument erected over Mr. Cooke’s grave in New York and carried away one of Mr. Cooke’s finger bones, which he displayed on a mantle. Mr. Kean’s wife, however, objected to the display of the finger bone, and so one day it became “lost.” Like many other actors, Mr. Kean studied life to gain effects to use in acting. Once, he was wounded while fencing, and he fainted. When he regained consciousness, his first words were, “How did I fall?”[4]
  • As a young actor, John Gielgud discussed his plans with Lilian Baylis, founder of the Old Vic. Anxious to impress, Mr. Gielgud, who had had a successful season at the Old Vic, told Ms. Baylis that he wanted to work there again but that he had many other engagements. Ms. Baylis put the young actor in his place by telling him, “That’s right, dear. You play all the young parts you can—while you’re still able to.”[5]
  • Actor Gene Barry, nee Eugene Klass, played Bat Masterson on television from 1959 to 1961. Once he stopped to buy a tallith (a fringed prayer shawl) for his son’s bar mitzvah. The man who waited on him at the store looked at his check, then asked, “Are you Gene Barry?” He replied that he was, and the man ran to the back of the store and yelled to his wife, “BAT MASTERSON IS JEWISH.”[6]
  • Natalie Schafer, who played Mrs. Thurston Howell on Gilligan’s Island, always kept her age a secret. Whenever she went to the doctor’s and the doctor asked her for her age, she always told the doctor to look up what age she had said during her last appointment. However, checking on her last appointment never revealed her age, because she been using that trick all her adult life.[7]
  • When she was an old lady, former heartthrob Sarah Bernhardt had an apartment at the top of an apartment building. A former suitor visited her and, huffing and puffing after climbing so many stairs, asked her why she had her apartment so high up. Ms. Bernhardt replied, “Nowadays, it’s the only way I am still able to make men’s hearts beat a little faster.”[8]
  • Sir Peregrine Plinge once gave a bad performance as Macbeth, so he told a fellow actor, “Give me £5.” When the actor asked why, Sir Peregrine threatened, “Because if you don’t, I shall tell everybody that you played Macduff to my Macbeth.” (Sir Peregrine even went to the box office and said that the play was so bad he wanted his money back.)[9]
  • Actress East Robertson once said in a play, “Oh, God, where will I be when my beauty fades!” A voice from the audience said, “In the gutter, love.” Ms. Robertson was well known for playing bitchy characters, and during another performance on stage, another voice came from the audience, saying, “I bet you are a bitch off as well as on!”[10]

[1] Source: Stanley Holloway, Wiv a Little Bit O’ Luck, pp. 72-73.

[2] Source: Katherine E. Krohn, Marilyn Monroe: Norma Jeane’s Dream, pp. 69-71, 86.

[3] Source: Ralph Berry, compiler and editor, The Methuen Book of Shakespeare Anecdotes, p. 130.

[4] Source: Edward Wagenknecht, Merely Players, pp. 40, 43.

[5] Source: Michèle Brown and Ann O’Connor, Hammer and Tongues, p. 165.

[6] Source: Tim Boxer, The Jewish Celebrity Hall of Fame, p. 38.

[7] Source: Bob Denver, Gilligan, Maynard and Me, p. 91.

[8] Source: Michèle Brown and Ann O’Connor, Hammer and Tongues, p. 104.

[9] Source: Richard Huggett, Supernatural on Stage, p. 210.

[10] Source: Robin May, compiler, The Wit of the Theatre, pp. 118-119.


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