You may have heard the punchline, “Ready when you are, Mr. DeMille!” Sometimes it’s abbreviated to, simply, “Ready when you are!” It’s dubious that it ever happened, and it’s not a parable—there’s no moral behind it. But it is a pretty good joke! In fact, it’s one of my favorites, and I’ve used the punchline many times.
For your dancing and dining pleasure, here it is:
Cecil B. DeMille (known as “C.B.”), the famed producer and director of cinematic biblical epics, was directing a massive battle scene that involved a vast set filled with thousands of extras and animals. The climactic scene involved a massive dam bursting and flooding a valley, washing away the battle and destroying the very large, very expensive set. (And don’t worry, the extras and animals were all stunt extras and stunt animals; no harm came to any person or creature.)
Even in the days of Hollywood’s great wealth and indulgence, it would be possible for only one ‘take’. There was no way to rebuild such a huge set. (And, of course, this was long before the days of CGI, so everything had to be actually built.)
So C.B. covered himself by having the final scene filmed by four cameras. Each camera was in a slightly different location. Walkie-talkies allowed the director to communicate with each one.
The moment came, and the scene went off without a hitch. Everything went perfectly!
The dust settled, the water drained away, the extras and animals were all checked to ensure they were okay. The set, the dam and the valley, were completely destroyed (as expected), and there was no chance the scene could ever be repeated again.
Mr. DeMille picks up the first walkie-talkie and checks with the first cameraman to see if he filmed the scene successfully.
“No, I’m sorry Mr. DeMille, I’m afraid not,” comes the reply, “There was a piece of film caught in the gate and it blocked most of the image. I’m afraid we didn’t get anything you can use.”
That causes C.B. some concern, of course, but he had three other cameras, so he picks up the second walkie-talkie and asks the second cameraman if the scene was filmed successfully.
“Oh, Mr. DeMille,” comes this reply, “I’m so sorry, but it turned out the battery pack was dead, and before we could hook up another, the scene was over!”
Now C.B. is starting to really worry. Two out of four cameras missed the scene, and he’s down to the last two. His heart pounding, he picks up the third walkie-talkie and contacts the third cameraman.
The reply caused sweat to break out on his forehead, “Mr. DeMille, I’m very, very sorry, but the film loader put the film in wrong, the film didn’t run and we got nothing.”
At this point C.B. is in full panic mode. Hands shaking so badly he can hardly work the fourth walkie-talkie, he calls the last cameraman. To give himself a chance to calm down he starts by asking a few questions.
“Have you checked the film gate to make sure it’s clear,” he asks? “Oh, yes, Mr. DeMille, it was the first thing we did,” comes the reply! This makes C.B. feel there is hope.
“And have you checked the battery pack to make sure it’s charged,” asks DeMille? The reply was heartening, “My assistant did that while I was checking the gate. Fully charged!”
Thinking this might work out after all, C.B. asks the final question, “How about the film, was it loaded correctly?”
Comes the immortal reply, “I checked that myself! We’re ready when you are, Mr. DeMille!“