Maximum Cool: 250 Anecdotes


  • On March 26, 1904, during a strike by miners in Colorado, union organizer Mother Jones was arrested on the orders of governor James P. Peabody, put on a train, taken to the border of Colorado, dropped off, and told never to return again. She took the first train possible back to Denver, then wrote Governor Peabody, “Mr. Governor, You notified your dogs of war to put me out of the state. … I wish to notify you, governor, that you don’t own the state. … I am right here in the capital … four or five blocks from your office. I want to ask you, governor, what in Hell are you going to do about it?”[1]
  • Maury Maverick, Jr., a lawyer and columnist, was a politician for a while and served in the Texas House of Representatives in the 1950s — the time of Joseph McCarthy, who used fear of Communism to censor people and keep them quiet. When a bill was introduced to invite Senator McCarthy to speak to the Texas legislature, Mr. Maverick introduced another bill that invited Mickey Mouse to speak — on the grounds that “if we are going to invite a rat, why not a good rat?”[2]


  • Some actors are modest about their success. When he was asked about the secret of his success, Alfred Lunt once replied, “I speak in a clear voice and try not to bump into the furniture.” Claude Rains, one of the wonderful supporting actors in Casablanca, once said, “I learn the lines and pray to God.” According to Boris Karloff, whose most famous role was Frankenstein’s monster, “You could heave a brick out of a window and hit ten actors who could play my parts. I just happened to be on the corner at the right time.”[3]
  • When Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell were invited to put their footprints in concrete outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Ms. Monroe noticed that Jimmy Durante had left an imprint of his famous nose and Betty Grable had left an imprint of one of her famous legs. Thinking of what she and Ms. Russell were famous for, she suggested that she sit on the wet concrete and that Ms. Russell lean forward and allow the front of her sweater to make an imprint. Unfortunately, Ms. Monroe’s suggestion was vetoed.[4]
  • Occasionally, actors do miss cues. Hugh Manning once found himself alone on stage after an actor missed his cue. The only available props were a piano, which he didn’t know how to play, and a vase of daffodils. He sat at the piano, ran his fingers along the keys, then smelled the daffodils. Not knowing what else to do to entertain the audience until his fellow actor appeared, he ate a daffodil. The audience laughed, and for the rest of the run of the play, Mr. Manning ate a daffodil on stage each night.[5]
  • When Honor Blackman, who played Mrs. Cathy Gale, left the TV series The Avengers, Peter Graham Scott directed the auditions for her replacement. He had met Diana Rigg, who became Mrs. Emma Peel on The Avengers, earlier at a New Year’s Eve party. The party was crowded, someone knocked a plate of sandwiches from his hand, he bent over to retrieve them, and lying underneath the piano was Diana Rigg, who said, “Hello. How are you?”[6]
  • Mrs. Patrick Campbell was very capable of being insulting when she disliked something, even while on stage. During the famous screen scene in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s School for Scandal, Mrs. Campbell felt that Fred Terry and William Farren were acting too slowly. Despite being on stage behind the screen in the role of Mrs. Teazle, Mrs. Campbell suddenly shouted, “Oh, do get on, you old pongers!”[7]
  • In 1940 at the Old Vic, Harley Granville-Barker unofficially directed King Lear, meaning he did the preparatory work but would not allow his name to be announced as director. John Gielgud played King Lear, and he read through the entire play for Mr. Granville-Barker. After hearing the reading, Mr. Granville-Barker told Mr. Gielgud, “You got two lines right. Now we will begin to work.”[8]
  • After Jackie Chan became a big movie star in Hong Kong, he went “Hollywood.” He wore a different Rolex watch for each day of the week, and to show what a big star he was and what he could get away with, he walked into an elegant Hong Kong hotel — wearing only his shorts.[9]


  • The late-night talk-show hosts are frequently witty. When Johnny Carson failed to properly make a pretzel out of a length of dough, the lady leading the demonstration handed him another length of pizza dough, saying, “Try this piece. I don’t think yours is long enough.” Johnny replied, “Yes, I think I’ve heard that before.” Michael Jordan once appeared with David Letterman after the NBA had banned his black-and-red Air Jordan basketball shoes because they didn’t have any white. David quipped, “Neither does the NBA.”[10]

[1] Source: Judith Pinkerton Josephson, Mother Jones: Fierce Fighter for Workers’ Rights, pp. 101-102.

[2] Source: Maury Maverick, Jr., Texas Iconoclast, p. 64.

[3] Source: Leslie Halliwell, The Filmgoer’s Book of Quotes, pp. 3, 4, and 111.

[4] Source: Michèle Brown and Ann O’Connor, Hammer and Tongues, p. 154.

[5] Source: Gyles Brandreth, Great Theatrical Disasters, p. 105.

[6] Source: Patrick Macnee, The Avengers and Me, pp. 62-63.

[7] Source: John Gielgud, Distinguished Company, p. 17.

[8] Source: John Gielgud, Stage Directions, p. 51.

[9] Source: Joe Bob Briggs, Profoundly Disturbing: Shocking Movies That Changed History!, p. 208.

[10] Source: Joe Garner, Made You Laugh, pp. 49-50.

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