Off Base

1903 in the life of erratic pitcher Rube Waddell, cataloged by Cooperstown historian Lee Allen:

“He began that year sleeping in a firehouse in Camden, New Jersey, and ended it tending bar in a saloon in Wheeling, West Virginia. In between those events he won 22 games for the Philadelphia Athletics, played left end for the Business Men’s Rugby Football Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan, toured the nation in a melodrama called The Stain of Guilt, courted, married and became separated from May Wynne Skinner of Lynn, Massachusetts, saved a woman from drowning, accidentally shot a friend through the hand, and was bitten by a lion.”

And that was just 1903. In one game against the Athletics, Waddell was at bat in the eighth inning with two out and a tying run on second. The catcher threw to second, trying to pick off the runner, but overthrew, and the ball went into the outfield. The runner took off for home. As he rounded third, the center fielder hurled the ball in to home plate …

… and Waddell, to everyone’s horror, knocked it out of the park.

He was declared out for interference. “They’d been feeding me curves all afternoon,” he told a flabbergasted Connie Mack, “and this was the first straight ball I’d looked at!”


On the morning after Jack Benny died in 1974, his wife, Mary, received a single long-stemmed rose. Another arrived the next day, and the next. For the first few weeks she was too numb to wonder where they were coming from, but eventually she called the florist to inquire.

He told her that Benny had visited the shop some years earlier to send a bouquet of flowers to a friend. As he was leaving, he suddenly turned back and said, “If anything should happen to me, I want you to send Mary a single rose every day.”

She continued to receive them every day until June 30, 1983 — when she herself passed away.

Right of Way

In the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, Australian rower Bobby Pearce was leading in the quarter-final when he looked ahead and saw a family of ducks crossing his lane.

He leaned immediately on his oars and let them pass. This let Frenchman Victor Saurin catch up and then pull away to a five-length lead.

But Pearce rocketed after him and won by 20 lengths — setting a new course record and making him a favorite with Dutch schoolchildren.


One of Robert Benchley’s movie shorts required that he be suspended above a street in a tangle of telephone wires.

While waiting for the camera, he said to his wife, “Remember how good at Latin I was in school?”


“Well, look where it got me.”

The Tomahawk Story,_1956.jpg

When Alec Guinness was filming The Swan in North Carolina in 1955, someone gave him a tomahawk purchased at a local fairground. Guinness thought it too heavy to take with him, so as he was departing he paid a porter to slip it into Grace Kelly’s bed.

Years later, while performing in London, he found the tomahawk in his own bed.

This meant war. Guinness bided his time until the princess visited America on a poetry tour, then he contacted the English actor with whom she was traveling and persuaded him to leave the tomahawk in her bed. (“Do you know Alec Guinness?” she asked him the next day. “No, I’ve never met him,” he said.)

Guinness thought no more about it until 1980, when he visited Hollywood to accept an honorary Oscar and found the tomahawk in his hotel bed. He waited until Kelly’s next tour of England and arranged to have it left in her suitcase.

She died in 1982, so that was the last laugh. There was no one to share it with — in 25 years, neither of them had ever acknowledged that this was happening.

Why Can’t I Find Amanda Hugginkiss?

Imaginary patrons of Jersey City’s Tube Bar paged by owner Louis “Red” Deutsch at the request of telephone pranksters John Elmo and Jim Davidson in the mid-1970s:

  • Al Coholic
  • Al Kaseltzer
  • Al Kykyoras
  • Ben Dover
  • Butchie Pantsdown
  • Frank Enstein
  • Holden McGroin
  • Imov Irgin
  • Jim Nasium
  • Joe Mama
  • Mike Ocksmall
  • Moe Ronn
  • Oliver Closeoff
  • Rufus Leakin

Elmo and Davidson recorded Deutsch’s earnest pages and the wild, vituperative threats that followed when he realized he’d been had. In the 1980s the tapes began to circulate among professional sports leagues and eventually found their way to animator Matt Groening … who turned them into a running gag on The Simpsons.


‘Well, it was a quite shocking, I must say — there was blood everywhere!’ Alfred Hitchcock began suddenly from the rear of the elevator. We were in the New York St. Regis Hotel, heading down to the lobby. There was as light flush to his cheeks from the several frozen dauquiris he had just drunk in his suite. The elevator had just stopped and three people dressed for the evening had joined us, and immediately Mr. Hitchcock had started to speak, sounding as though he were in midsentence and projecting in that careful and familiar TV tone of his.

He went on, ‘There was as stream of blood coming from his ear and another from his mouth.’ The people had recognized him immediately, but now they seemed purposely to avoid looking at him. He went right on, gazing beatifically ahead of him as the elevator stopped again and another well-dressed couple came aboard: ‘Of course, there was a huge pool of blood on the floor and his clothes were spattered with it — Oh, it was a horrible mess.’

No one on the elevator, it seemed, was breathing. ‘Blood all around! Well, I looked at the poor man and and I said, “Good God, what happened to you?”‘ At that point the elevator doors opened onto the lobby, and Hitchcock said, ‘Do you know what he told me?’ and then paused. After a moment, and quite reluctantly, the other passengers moved out of the elevator and then looked back at the director as we walked away.

After several foggy moments, I asked, ‘Well, what did he say?’ and Hitchcock smiled benevolently, taking my arm, and said, ‘Oh, nothing — that’s just my elevator story.’

— Peter Bogdonavich, Who the Devil Made It, 1997

Sighs and Whispers

Frustrated with the intertitles in silent films, Charles Pidgin invented a better solution in 1917: The performers would inflate balloons on which their dialogue was printed. “The blowing or inflation of the devices by the various characters of a photo-play will add to the realism of the picture by the words appearing to come from the mouth of the players,” Pidgin wrote. Even better, “the size of the speech may be increased with the increase of various emotions depicted on the screen.”

It’s not too late to implement this.