Throughout his life, Wilson mocked death. Whilst living in Palm Beach,
Addison delivered somber news to Wilson. Another Mizner brother,
Lansing, was killed in a traffic accident. Wilson's reaction: "Why
didn't you tell me before I put on red tie." Following a quarrel with
Wilson, a young woman committed suicide by jumping from the 11th floor
of a hotel in Palm Beach. Again, Addison bore the bad news to Wilson,
who immediately headed toward the door. "I'm going to place a bet on
No. 11. You can't tell me this isn't a hunch."
Whilst writing a screenplay in early 1933, Wilson learned that the
destitute Addison was gravely ill. "STOP DYING," Wilson cabled. "AM
TRYING TO WRITE A COMEDY." Shortly after Addison died, Wilson had a
heart attack at the Warner studio. Asked if he wanted a priest, Wilson
delivered another of his memorable lines. "I want a priest, a rabbi,
and Protestant clergyman. I want to hedge my bets." As an oxygen tent
was placed over Wilson's bed, he said "It looks like the main event." A
priest reminded Mizner that death could come at any moment. Wilson's
classic response: "What? No two weeks' notice?"
The primary source for this article was Alva Johnston's
book, "The Legendary Mizners" (Farrar, Straus and Young: 1933). The
book reportedly inspired Sondheim's interest in the Mizners several
decades ago (the composer has since said that parts of the book are
inaccurate). Though out of print, the book is worth seeking out,
partly for Ms Johnston's subtle, wry prose and partly for Reginald
Marsh's gently satirical illustrations.