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“Each of us has within us a Mother Teresa and a Hitler. It is up to us to choose what we want to be.”—Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
Snack-Size Portions of the Afterlife
In her book titled I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight, comedian Margaret Cho writes, “I believe that we get complimentary snack-size portions of the afterlife, and we all receive them in a different way.” For Ms. Cho, many of her snack-size portions of the afterlife come in hiphop music. Other people get different snack-size portions of the afterlife, and we all must be on the lookout for them when they come our way. And perhaps doing good deeds and experiencing good deeds are snack-size portions of the afterlife.
A Widely Loved Comedian
Comedian Jimmy Durante was widely loved because he was the kind of person who deserved to be widely loved. When Steve Allen was an unknown comedian, he had a chance to be photographed with the famous Jimmy Durante for some newspapers—good exposure for Mr. Allen. Unfortunately, a group of teenaged fans moved between Mr. Allen and Jimmy, separating them. Jimmy saw what was happening, yelled “Wait a minute,” and then moved to Mr. Allen and grabbed him by the arm so that photographs of him with Jimmy would appear in the newspapers. And when Jimmy’s friend and fellow comedian Eddie Cantor had a heart attack, Jimmy went to the hospital every day even though he knew that Mr. Cantor was not allowed visitors. He simply sat quietly for a while in a chair outside Mr. Cantor’s hospital room.
“You’re Almost So Good I Could Hate You”
Frequently, comedians go out of their way to help and support other comedians. After seeing David Brenner for the first time on TV, Buddy Hackett immediately called the entertainment director of the Sahara Casino in Las Vegas to say, “Did you see this kid? Get him in there—get him on the stage!” Mr. Hackett had never met Mr. Brenner. In addition, after seeing Mr. Brenner’s act for the first time, Jerry Lewis visited him in his hotel room to say, “You’re good—you’re almost so good I could hate you.” And even before Joan Rivers met Mr. Brenner, she told the Los Angeles Times in an interview that she knew of two young comedians who would make it big—David Brenner and Albert Brooks.
“You’ll Pay Him $1,500”
Totie Fields saw Freddie Roman’s stand-up comedy act and was impressed enough to want him to appear in Las Vegas. She called Juliet Prowse’s manager, who needed an opening act for Ms. Prowse at the Desert Inn. She also negotiated Mr. Roman’s salary. She said to Ms. Prowse’s manager, “You’re paying him $1,500.” The manager said, “I only pay $1,200.” Ms. Fields replied, “You’ll pay him $1,500.” He paid him $1,500.
For nine years, Edna Purviance appeared in silent comedies that starred Charlie Chaplin in his “Tramp” character. Other movie studios wanted her to work for them, and they would have paid her very well indeed, but she remained loyal to Mr. Chaplin. She retired in the 1920s and appeared in no more movies, but Mr. Chaplin rewarded her for her loyalty by keeping her on his payroll until 1958, when she died.
Rooting for the Acts to be Good
An act of great sensitivity occurred when George Burns and Gracie Allen played the Palace for the first time, in 1928: The audience applauded, and the comedy team was a hit. The Palace Theater on Broadway was important because if a small, not-famous act did well there, it could get better and more important bookings. According to Mr. Burns, the Palace was a “pushover” for acts such as Burns and Allen. Because the audience realized how important their applause was to small acts, they were rooting for the acts to be good. (I like that a lot. It’s similar to the audience on The Tonight Show rooting for a comedian during his or her first TV appearance.)
Entertaining the Troops
When beautiful actress Ann Jillian got breast cancer, several people sent floral arrangements to her hospital room. The “granddaddy”—Ms. Jillian’s word—of all floral arrangements came from comedian Bob Hope, with whom Ms. Jillian had worked on USO tours to entertain the troops. The card was signed in this way: “Hurry up and get out of there; they’re playing our cue. Bob Hope.” Of course, Mr. Hope did good deeds on a regular basis—he certainly spent much time entertaining servicemen and servicewomen, including those who couldn’t be present to see his show. For example, after doing a show at Fassberg Air Force Base in Germany, Mr. Hope went to Fassberg Tower, got on the radio, and started telling jokes to lots of pilots who couldn’t see his show because they were delivering supplies to Berlin. Mr. Hope also took good care of old friends. Dorothy Lamour was a big movie star, but even big movie stars hit a rough patch once in a while. When that happened to Ms. Lamour, Mr. Hope called his friend Joe Franklin and told him to have her as a guest on his show: “Give her a break, but don’t tell her I had anything to do with it.” Mr. Franklin put her on his show.
Encouragement After Bombing
Phyllis Diller’s mentor was fellow comedian Bob Hope, who met her after Ms. Diller bombed in a small club. When Ms. Diller learned that Mr. Hope had seen her bomb, she tried to sneak out by a back way, but he ran after her and encouraged her to keep working in comedy.
Money Versus Civil Rights
African-American comedian Dick Gregory was serious about the Civil Rights Movement. He made lots of money as a comedian, and he lost lots of money by marching in protests instead of entertaining in nightclubs. He once had $18,000 in cash, and his wife recommended that he save the money for their child’s college tuition. Instead, he donated it to the Civil Rights Movement so that buses could be hired to bring hundreds of people to an important demonstration. Obviously, Mr. Gregory was very involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, he had a clause put in his contracts saying that he could leave immediately whenever he was needed at a demonstration or a march.
Repaying a Long-Ago Kindness
Sometimes, kindnesses done long ago are repaid. When comedian Red Skelton was an impoverished kid, a vaudeville comedian named Ed Wynn (he played Uncle Albert in the movie Mary Poppins) gave him a free ticket to his show. Years later, Mr. Wynn had a prominent role in the live TV drama Requiem for a Heavyweight. To pay Mr. Wynn back for his long-ago kindness, Mr. Skelton played a small role, without pay, in the drama.
 Source: Margaret Cho, I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight, p. 87.
 Source: Irene Adler, I Remember Jimmy, p. 181.
 Source: Betsy Borns, Comic Lives, pp. 176-177.
 Source: Tim Boxer, The Jewish Celebrity Hall of Fame, p. 217.
 Source: Frank Manchel, Yesterday’s Clowns, pp. 54-55.
 Source: George Burns, Gracie: A Love Story, p. 80.
 Source: Richard Grudens, The Spirit of Bob Hope; One Hundred Years, One Million Laughs, pp. 83, 103, 132.
 Source: Susan Horowitz, Queens of Comedy, p. 58.
 Source: Redd Foxx and Norma Miller, The Redd Foxx Encyclopedia of Black Humor, p. 181. Also: Gerald Nachman, Seriously Funny, p. 497.
 Source: Steve Allen, More Funny People, p. 259.