☀ You can borrow and read Zanies: The World’s Greatest Eccentrics free below. ☀
A few of the profiles and exploits in Zanies: The World’s Greatest Eccentrics are more painful than fun to read, but mostly this collection of unstinting eccentricity, by Jay Robert Nash*, is very enjoyable.
fascinating profiles of eccentric people, both well-known and obscure
The dozens of profiles include many well-known people such as W.C. Fields, Henry Ford, J. Edgar Hoover, Nikola Tesla, and Edgar Allen Poe, along with people you’ve never heard of who have done zany things, such as Matthew (Lord Rokeby) Robinson, who spent every day, from dawn to dusk, immersed in the sea or, when the ocean grew too cold, immersed in an outdoor bathtub where he stood in unheated water up to his chin. Although he was considered a hermit, his servants stood by to throw food to him, and to rescue him when he fainted. He lived to be 88 years old.
Here’s an excerpt from the profile of John Barrymore:
That same year, Barrymore went back to the stage in Richard III, proving himself the greatest Shakespearian actor of his day. In 1922, he went on to perform Hamlet as it had never been acted before. Audiences and critics alike swooned with delight and praise over Barrymore’s Hamlet, first in America and later in England, where the critics were the most severe in the world. It was his greatest triumph; and yet, according to Barrymore’s statement years later, it was a masterpiece pickled in alcohol.
He had dallied with a British duchess, the actor claimed a few months before his death in 1942, having sex and drinking enormous amounts of champagne and brandy almost up to the hour of his London debut. “I arrived at the theater a half hour before curtain time and passed out cold in my dressing room. My man [valet] revived me as he put me into Hamlet’s clothes. He whacked me with wet towels, shoved lumps of ice into me and poured pots of coffee down my gullet.
“I was the first American to play Hamlet on a London stage — and I was also the first drunk to play it on any stage in the world. I reeled out of the wings barely able to stand on my feet. The heat of the footlights made me dizzy. I had to lean on Polonius to keep from falling on my face. I had to make several unrehearsed exists in order to vomit in the wings. I returned once barely in time for my soliloquy. Unable to stand, I sprawled in a chair and recited the goddamn speech sitting down and trying to keep from blacking out.
“Mark you, I was drunk as a fiddler’s bitch all through the five acts. But I missed no word of Will Shakespeare’s and I missed no cue. So much I will say for myself.
“The dramatic reviews the next day were … marvelous. They praised me as the greatest Hamlet of the age. Every one of my drunken staggers, my exits to vomit in the wings, my reeling into a chair to recite ‘To be or not to be,’ were hailed as brilliant artistic interpretations of Hamlet’s role.”
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