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Archive for November, 2013

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I came home from a meeting one night and my then teenage daughter, Jennifer, told me that I got a call from a Jessica Tandy.  Jennifer thought she recognized the name, but she wasn’t sure the woman on the phone was the same woman who had been in Batteries Not Included. It was. And she had given Jennifer a number where I could call her back.

Since it wasn’t too late I called the number and Jessica Tandy answered.  She was on location filming Fried Green Tomatoes and was responding to a letter I had sent her.  In that letter I had asked what she thought about doing a joint biography with her husband, Hume Cronyn.

She liked the idea and did have respect for my abilities since we shared a connection with Broadway producer, Alex Cohen.  The fly in the ointment: her husband had just signed a deal for his biography (A Terrible Liar released in 1991). She told me that she would get in touch with me if she thought the time was right for her bio.  Even though she was in her 80s she had a few more films in her. She died in 1994…without an autobiography.

I first saw Jessica Tandy in The Gin Game with her husband in 1978. They gave an amazing performance in a play that traveled to the darker side of the loneliness faced by many of the elderly.

I had a chance to talk to both Jessica and her husband, Hume Cronyn during a Tony Award rehearsal.  She was every inch a lady.

Gin Game Harris Durning

 Nearly 20 years later, Anita Ross, a friend of mine from my days working at Fordham, was working at the Lyceum Theatre as the production stage manager on The Gin Game (1997) with Julie Harris and Charles Durning. She invited me to a Wednesday matinee.

Julie Harris and Charles Durning made no attempt to recreate the performances of Tandy and Cronyn.  Like all great actors, they made the play their own.  Whereas the Tandy/Cronyn version was deep and dark, Harris and Durning added a layer of vulnerability.

After the curtain came down, Anita brought me backstage where I had a nice meeting with Julie Harris. After a five or ten minute talk with her, Mr. Durning invited me to his dressing room where we talked for fifteen minutes or so.

Before I left the theatre I had a chance to see the play’s set up close. My hat is off to set designers and the people responsible for turning the stage into a real world.  So much attention to detail.

Jessica Tandy was 85 years old when she died on September 11, 1994. Her husband of 52 years, died at 92 on June 15, 2003. Julie Harris died on August 24, 2013. She was 87. Charles Durning died on December 24, 2012.  He was 89.  They all were fortunate to have  had long, productive lives and I was fortunate to have had a brief encounter with them. They brought much to the YBR.

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I couldn’t even begin to hazard a guess as to how many people I have encountered over the years along the yellow brick road. Sometimes you encounter people you never expected to bump into let alone have an experience as brief as it might have been.

Before my memory fades to black, I want to share some of those encounters in no particular order.

Marlo Thomas

Marlo

Of course I was familiar with her from her role as Ann Marie in television’s That Girl and I first saw her on Broadway in Herb Gardner’s Thieves (1974), but I did not encounter her until she was appearing in Andrew Bergman’s Social Security (1986) at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre with the late Ron Silver, a talented actor and Joanna Gleason and Olympia Dukakis.

I met her during the rehearsal for the 40th Annual Tony Award telecast. I was working in a minor capacity for producer Alexander H. Cohen relishing every minute of the process of putting on a major television event.

Ms. Thomas was the consummate performer. She had star quality. She didn’t have star attitude. And I had a chance to talk to her (briefly) while she was in the rehearsal studio with the other headliners for the show.

On the night of the Tony Award telecast I was “awarded” the position of helping get the cast from the Minskoff Theatre to the Tony Award party.

I was stationed in the area between 44th and 45th Streets when Marlo Thomas and her husband, Phil Donohue, came out of the stage door. She went one way and he started to go the other way. He told her their car was “this way.” Thomas shrugged her shoulders and as she passed me she said to me, “it’s the other way” and smiled. Less than a minute later they were walking back “the other way,” and I Thomas say to her husband, “I told you we were parked the other way.”

A few weeks after the Tony Award Show I was at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre where I was going to see Thomas in Social Security.  Thomas had agreed to meet me in her dressing room where she told me I could drop off a script I had written.

I knocked on her dressing room door and she told me to come in.  Her hair dresser was working on her hair. She had yet to have her make-up put on. She was wearing a robe…and she was eating an egg salad sandwich.

We talked for a few minutes. She took the script and I made my exit. I gave my ticket (the one I bought with my own money) and the usherette showed me to my seat in the nose bleed section. If I had been one more row back I would have been on the outside of the theatre. I thought that for people sitting in this part of the balcony they should have had flight attendants instead of usherettes.

The play was wonderful and Marlo Thomas was great. So was Ron Silver (1946-2009). I had a brief encounter with him during the Tony Award rehearsal. I rode on the elevator with him down from the rehearsal studio.  We had an abbreviated elevator chat.

A month after seeing her on Broadway I got a note from her agent saying that while Ms. Thomas enjoyed reading the play she was not interested in returning to the stage right away.

Oh, well.

Nonetheless I did get to meet someone who was nothing short of being an exemplary woman of grace, wit and kindness.

Marlo Thomas auto plus

Marlo Thomas signed my informal Tony Award autograph book (right side). Also on this page: Lily Tomlin, Colleen Dewhurst, Charles Durning, Debbie Allen Nixon,  Jessica Tandy, Tony Randall, Rene Auberjonois and David Birney.  (Some close encounter stories about some of these actors to follow.)

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Rockefeller_Center_christmas_tree

There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays

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winged monkey

The  August 18, 1939 review of  “The Wizard of Oz” in the New York Times listed the main characters. And while only a handful of Ozites might be able to name all the credited characters, there was one name…the last one…that gave me reason to pause.  The character was Nikko and he was played by Pat Walshe (1900-1991).

Doe the character’s name mean anything to you?  Here’s a hint. He was a winged monkey. Well, in fact, he was the king of the winged monkeys. I don’t ever remember hearing his name mentioned in the movie, but nonetheless, he was given “billing” in this classic movie that only listed 10 of the people appearing in the movie.

It got me thinking. Nikko is probably the most forgettable of the characters in the Oz movie. Listed with Oz names most of us remember…Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Margaret Hamilton and Frank Morgan, it should come as no surprise that most of us have no idea who Nikko was.

If life is a movie, I dare say that most of us are Nikkos in the major movies of world history. Most of us play very small parts in a much larger movie where only leading politicians, musicians, movie stars, billionaire entrepreneurs get to have their names on the movie marquee.

Most of us never get top billing. But in the end, does it really make a difference? It shouldn’t. Especially when you consider that we are leading players in our own story as it unfolds on the screen of daily living.

Our “home” movies might not get any Academy Award nominations, but that does not lessen the impact or importance of our lives.  Every day is a new day on the “set.”  Every day we have a chance to film the next scene.  And if it doesn’t go the way we wanted it to go, we can always shoot the scene over the next day. That is if we are smart enough to realize that life does, more times than not, give us a second chance…to make amends, to apologize, and to start all over again.

Here’s to Nikko. Here’s to us!

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