David Bruce: Celebrities Anecdotes

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge was completed on May 26, 1937, and the following day was Pedestrian Day — pedestrians were allowed on the bridge. Hundreds of thousands of people showed up, many of whom did silly things. Officials at first thought that one woman was ill, but it turned out that she was trying to be the first person to walk across the bridge with her tongue sticking out. Other firsts on Pedestrian Day were the first person to walk across the bridge on stilts, the first dog to cross the bridge, the first sisters to cross the bridge on roller skates, the first twins to cross the bridge, and the first baby to cross the bridge in a baby carriage. The day after Pedestrian Day was the first day vehicles were allowed to cross the bridge.

In 1921, Marie Curie, winner of Nobel Prizes in 1903 and 1911, spent time in the United States, where she gave public speeches, met the President, accepted honorary degrees, and was quite the celebrity. At one point, she was forced to carry her right arm in a sling — the result of shaking too many hands. Even while traveling, she was a scientist. At one hotel, she was fascinated by a closet light. The light shone when she opened the closet door, but turned off when she shut the door. She looked for but couldn’t find the switch. When Ms. Curie failed to show up for a meal, someone went looking for her — she was still in the wardrobe, still trying to find the hidden switch.

During the late 1950s, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy worked together on the Senate Investigations Subcommittee, and they appeared on its televised hearings. After seeing them on TV, Kathleen Ann Corley, an eighth-grade student in Chicago, decided to write them and ask for autographed photographs. She sent her letter to John F. Kennedy, although it was addressed to both brothers. He quickly sent her both a letter and an autographed photograph, then he gave the letter to his brother Bobby, who also sent her both a letter and an autographed photograph.

Fame is an odd thing. Before the Winter Olympic Games held in Lake Placid, New York, in 1980, speed skater Eric Heiden, an American, could walk almost anywhere in the United States and not be recognized, but in Norway and the Netherlands, where speed skating is taken seriously, he was constantly recognized and mobbed. But after the publicity generated by coverage of the Olympics, and after he won five gold medals, he started to be recognized and mobbed in the U.S.

After the publication of her best-selling book, The Sea Around Us, environmentalist Rachel Carson became a major celebrity. During a lecture tour in the South, she stopped in a beauty parlor to have her hair done. Suddenly, her hair dryer stopped, and the proprietor of the beauty parlor said, “I hope you don’t mind, but there is someone who wants to meet you.” She did meet the person, although her still-wet hair was up in curlers and a towel was wrapped around her neck.

In 1990, after Susan Butcher won the 1,049 mile-long Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska for the fourth time, she and one of her husky dogs, Granite, went to Washington D.C., where they met then-President George Bush. Her dog was as much a celebrity as Ms. Butcher. Letters addressed to “Mr. Granite” were delivered to Ms. Butcher, and he drank expensive bottled water from France and ate his ground beef off a silver platter.

In 1953, both Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, co-stars of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, had the honor of being immortalized outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater by putting their hand prints and writing their autographs in wet cement. Ms. Monroe signed her name, then dotted the “i” in “Marilyn” with a rhinestone in honor of her song “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Of course, a souvenir seeker quickly stole the rhinestone.

Despite his remarkable success as a filmmaker, George Lucas (of Star Wars and Indiana Jones fame) leads a simple lifestyle. He usually dresses in jeans, tennis shoes, and checked shirts, and when he invited actor Mark Hamill (who played Luke Skywalker) to dinner, they ended up eating at the local Taco Hut. Afterward, Mr. Hamill said, “I should have known that George wouldn’t go to a place with tablecloths and waiters.”

While learning the scissors jump on a low tightrope, 10-year-old circus performer Maud Gruss fell and gashed her leg, requiring seven stitches. Two weeks later, as soon as the stitches were removed, she was back practicing the scissors jump, which she had never performed well before. Her first jump was perfect, and she performed 23 perfect scissors jumps within the next hour.

When geneticist Barbara McClintock won the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, she was surrounded by reporters who wanted to interview her. At a press conference, a reporter asked her, “What do you think of big to-dos like this, with all the attention that’s being heaped upon you?” The 81-year-old geneticist replied, “You put up with it.”

Following the War of Independence, General George Washington became a celebrity. Visitors came to his home, Mount Vernon, to see where he lived, and they sometimes knocked on his door in hopes of meeting him. When he became President, he and his wife sometimes held “open houses,” so that anyone who wanted to could stop by and meet him.

Many famous people have been gay or bisexual, including composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, painter Andy Warhol, playwright Tennessee Williams, tennis player Martina Navratilova, United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld, and writers Hans Christian Andersen, James Baldwin, Willa Cather, and Gertrude Stein.

After John Glenn had become the first American to orbit the earth, he went back to his hometown of New Concord, Ohio, to star in a parade. Although New Concord had a population of only 2,100, more than 40,000 people lined its streets to watch the parade.

As a young tennis player, Monica Seles liked celebrities. At her very first Wimbledon, she glimpsed Princess Diana in the stands. This awed her so much that she couldn’t concentrate on tennis and she was quickly defeated.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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