Thursday, September 21, 2006

Invaluable in Small Parts

Several years ago there was a spate of premature obituaries.

A Republican, [Bob Stump], stood up in the American Congress and announced that Bob Hope had died. A hush fell on Capitol Hill followed by several solemn tributes. The trouble was, or the pleasant truth was, that Hope was at home in Los Angeles, munching his breakfast.

When the fact became known mourning gave way to mirth. His daughter said he was fine and people began quoting Jesse Jackson's famous line: "Keep Hope alive!" "Keep Hope alive!"

Then a week or two later, the news rippled across the stock exchange that Australia’s Kerry Packer had died. But, Kerry was in London doing business between polo matches. A spokesperson said, "The rumours are totally unfounded and that Packer was annoyed—how would you feel if somebody thought you were dead?"

Sometimes such mistakes have evoked humour as when Mark Twain said, "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

Sometimes they've led to a change of lifestyle. When an obituary was mistakenly inserted for Alfred Nobel instead of his relative, Alfred was shocked to see himself described as the explosives baron.

He didn't want to be remembered for inventing dynamite or sparking international warfare! So he set about investing his fortune in the most highly regarded award so that his name would always be associated first and foremost with the Nobel peace prize.

One other occasion, the American actor Charles Brookfield opened up the paper to read his own obituary. Again someone hadn't checked the facts. It was a salutary experience for there was one line he never forgot. His obituary read: "Charles Brookfield was never a great actor, but he was invaluable in small parts!"

I don't know whether Brookfield was flattered or flawed by this tribute but sometimes it seems that effective living is exclusively and wrongfully portrayed by the Hamlets and the Lears—in terms of the great actors playing out on some grand stage.

Geoff Pound

Image: Premature Obituary