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On Sunday, May 27, 2007, my friend Cliff Craft died in Athens, Ohio. Most people probably thought of him as a homeless scavenger, but people who knew him realized that he was a generous person. He lived in low-income housing, and he frequently allowed homeless people to stay in his apartment. Because of his illnesses, including epilepsy, he lived on a monthly Social Security check and whatever money he found on his frequent walks around town, but he was generous with the money he had. Each month, he deposited his Social Security check at Hocking Valley Bank, but not all of the money ended up in his own account. According to Hocking Valley Bank branch manager Kim Sparks, for approximately two years before Mr. Craft died, he deposited some of his money each month into an account that had been set up to help a girl who had been injured in an accident. Truly, Mr. Craft’s life shows that people don’t need to be wealthy to do good deeds.
“I Have Been Waiting My Whole Life to Pay Taxes”
Lewis Black is a comedian whose sense of social justice propels his comedy. A lot of his concern with ethical behavior comes from his Jewish parents and his grandfather, all of whom condemned Joseph McCarthy during his fight against free speech in the 1950s. During the Vietnam War, his father was so disgusted by the actions of the United States government that he told Lewis, “If I knew it was going to be like this, I would have stayed in Russia.” Mr. Black became very successful as a stand-up comedian and in the “Back in Black” segments on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. When he started making real money, his accountant told him things he could do to pay less in taxes. Mr. Black’s response was this: “I have been waiting my whole life to pay taxes. This is how it’s supposed to work. This is how we are able to fund the things that make this country work—like roads and schools.”
Repossessing the Teeth
W.C. Fields hired a dwarf named William Blanche to be his valet. One of the presents Mr. Fields bought Mr. Blanche was a pair of false teeth, but Mr. Fields sometimes repossessed the teeth when he wanted something difficult done that Mr. Blanche didn’t want to do. One day, Mr. Fields repossessed the teeth, then ordered two sirloin steaks: one for himself, and one for Mr. Blanche. After watching Mr. Fields savor his steak, while being unable to eat his own, Mr. Blanche said, “OK, I’ll do it, boss. Hand over the teeth.” (Mr. Fields did many kindnesses for Mr. Blanche, and when Mr. Blanche died, Mr. Fields bought him a tuxedo to be buried in.)
Being Cheerful and Funny
Bob Hope did a series of good deeds throughout his life by entertaining so many servicemen and servicewomen in so many wars. Of course, he took along many stars with him on these trips, including fellow comedian Phyllis Diller, and he ended up helping her as well. For one thing, he advised her that she was looking too morose when they visited badly wounded veterans in military hospitals, and that she needed to be cheerful and crack jokes because that’s what the soldiers needed instead of sympathy. For another, she quickly discovered that her material was not suitable for soldiers, although it was very funny for civilians back home. Mr. Hope came to the rescue by having his writers immediately create a brand-new routine for her and him to perform for the soldiers—and Mr. Hope let her have all the funny lines while he played her straight man.
Talking to Non-Celebrities
According to Gracie Allen’s husband, George Burns, Gracie always made an effort at parties to talk to non-celebrities. She realized that big Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable and Robert Taylor would not have any trouble finding someone to talk to, but non-celebrities would.
An Anonymous Gift
Early in her life, Whoopi Goldberg was on Welfare and in great need of money. Someone recognized that fact and sent her, anonymously, $300. She still doesn’t know who it was.
Getting Fontaine Off Drugs
One of the characters Whoopi Goldberg developed in her comedy act is Fontaine, a male drug addict. However, after Ms. Goldberg started to receive letters about the character from 10- and 11-year-old fans, she knew that she couldn’t let the character remain a drug addict because children might think being a drug addict was OK. After all, Ms. Goldberg knows that it is not OK to be a drug addict—many of the people she did drugs with when she was a teenager died before she became really famous. Therefore, she developed a routine in which Fontaine goes to the Betty Ford Clinic and gets off drugs. (Fontaine sometimes wonders why he got off drugs, since the world is so crazy.)
Comedian Jay Leno once noticed a man harassing a woman in a shopping mall, so he went over and pretended to be her boyfriend. The harasser ran.
Friends Who Have Cerebral Palsy
British comedian Benny Hill was friends with some fans who were handicapped by cerebral palsy. Two handicapped women were his special friends: Netta Warner and Phoebe King. He met Phoebe after she attended one of his shows, and he decided to surprise Netta (without knowing she had cerebral palsy) with a phone call after noticing her telephone number at the top of one of her letters to him. He often visited these women for a few days at a time.
“How Come It Doesn’t Cost Anything?”
Some people showed kindness to comedian Eddie Cantor when he was growing up. As a kid, he went to Surprise Lake Camp, a summer camp for slum kids, where one night he suddenly wondered, “How come we’re here? How come it doesn’t cost anything?” Another kid had the answer: “Oh, because somebody’s interested in us kids.” Later Mr. Cantor returned the kindness by raising many millions of dollars for charities, including a camp for underprivileged children such as he had been.
 Source: Nick Claussen, “Man who lived scavenger’s life remembered by friends as lover of books, generous soul.” The Athens News. 4 June 2007 <http://athensnews.com/index.php?action=viewarticle§ion=news&story_id=28430>.
 Source: Robert Lewis Taylor, W.C. Fields: His Follies and Fortunes, pp. 174-178.
 Source: Phyllis Diller, Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy, pp. 188-189.
 Source: George Burns, I Love Her, That’s Why!, pp. 184-185.
 Source: Mary Unterbrink, Funny Women, p. 207.
 Source: Mary Agnes Adams, Whoopi Goldberg: From Street to Stardom, pp. 22-23, 30, 60-61.
 Source: Bill Adler and Bruce Cassiday, The World of Jay Leno: His Humor and His Life, p. 59.
 Source: Margaret Forwood, The Real Benny Hill, pp. 82ff.
 Source: Eddie Cantor, Take My Life, p. 18.