(The Penis Papers #3)
(Hirshfeld drawing from Billion Dollar Baby: Mitzi Green and David Burns) David Burns was the top comic in Ziegfeld Follies, and second banana to Phil Silvers in Do Re Mi. In my personal experience Burns was funnier and much zanier.
One day Dave mentioned that he'd played Radio City Music Hall. I told him that my most cherished memory of that famous venue was not the Rockettes but the first time I saw the symphony orchestra rise from below on a giant platform while tuning their instruments.
Whereupon Dave told me about a show in which two comics rode up on that same platform. As it began to rise one said, "Geez, I gotta piss!"
"Do it now!" said the other.
"Hold out your hand!"
And as the great orchestra rose into view, the audience was treated to the sight of one man pissing into the hand of another. (I've always wondered which one was David.)—Stuart Hodes.
Juki: an Irresistible Impulse
Milk and Honey, Martin Beck Theater, 1961. (Photo by Will Rapport: Lft, Stuart; Ctr, Juki; Rt, Penny)
Juki Arkin told me about a Paris drag club where he was smitten by one of the dancers.
"After show I want go back stage and take her home. My friend say she's man. I say impossible! He say they all men. I say she not. He drag me out."
"What if he'd let you take her out, and..."
"And I see that thing ...?"
"I go crazy!"
Everyone one liked Juki except Penny Ann Green, married to a big powerful guy who worked at the Israeli Embassy. She said Zvi had told her that in Israel Juki was always in trouble.
One day Juki says that every night in the wedding scene ending Act II, "I want kick Penny Ann Green in the ass."
I danced beside him and watched. The spotlight was on the stars, Mimi Benzel and Robert Weede, sneaking up a stairway for a roll in the hay while below a triple Yemenite wedding was in progress . Penny, dressed in ceremonial splendor, was one of the brides.
Shalom shalom, you'll find shalom -- chassé right, then left,
The nicest greeting you know -- right leg sweeps up and to left.
It means bonjour, salud, and skoal -- chassé left, then right,
And twice as much as hello -- left leg sweeps up and right.
On the last "hello," Juki's left foot ended inches from Penny's rear.
I told him not even to think about it, but kept an eye out. A couple of weeks passed and then one day before my eyes, Juki swept his leg a bit higher and "thwock!" not hard, but enough to jar Penny.
The instant the curtain came down she grabbed me. "Did you see that?"
"Juki kicked me!"
It was more like a nudge but I wasn't about to quibble. "You okay?"
"Of course I'm okay. The point is, he kicked me. Onstage! And you saw it. I'm going to take it to Actor's Equity! You tell Juki that! And tell him he's lucky I don't tell Zvi to knock his block off!"
Upstairs in the dressing room Juki was jubilant. "I so happy! I kick Penny Ann Green in the ass!"
"She's going to complain to Equity."
"So I apologize! But I still happy I kick Penny Ann Green in the ass!"
I don't know exactly what happened next but I was never contacted by Equity. And things between Juki and Penny seemed to simmer down.—Stuart Hodes
First Impressions, 1959. NYC. My lack of eagerness to become an actor was encouraged by my dislike of learning lines and reinforced by a knack for forgetting them onstage.
On for James Mitchell as Captain Wickham, I blanked mid-scene in a dialogue with Polly Bergen. Nothing is worse than nothing so I made up a line. Bergen smiled blandly, I made up another, and another, and another, waiting for her to say something, anything.
Finally, "What are you trying to say Captain Wickham?" and my line flashed back.
Next day I encountered director writer, Abe Burrows, whose only comment was, "Those were some interesting lines I didn't write."— Stuart Hodes ( Photo: Polly Bergen and Stuart Hodes in the fatal scene.)
Do Re Mi. 1961 NYC;. The recording studio and night club scenes called for on stage orchestras. Director, Garson Kanin, wanted them to be real and asked which chorus singers and dancers played instruments, adding that they'd join the Musicians Union, play onstage, and be paid extra. He lined up clarinets, trumpet, piano, trombone, bass, and me on violin. When the extra pay fell through we were mad as hell but not surprised.
In the night club scene, John Reardon sang Make Someone Happy, the show's big romantic ballad, which composer, Jule Styne, likely hoped would make it onto the charts. We began playing softly along with the pit orchestra and after a couple of months at the St. James Theater had worked up a very nice counterpoint using the melody of On the Street Where You Live from My Fair Lady which was playing not far away.
Only those sitting on the stage at nearby tables could actually hear, but it gave us a good feeling until star, Nancy Walker, who did the whole scene downstage left and nowhere near us, got wind of something, abandoned her marks and strolled over. After the scene I heard her screaming at a stage manager, "They're playing a song from My Fair Lady fuh Chrisssake!"
Next day when we took our places my violin had no strings, the clarinets no reeds, the trombone and trumpet no mouth pieces. Only the piano and bass viol were playable. But while it had lasted, revenge was sweet!—Stuart Hodes
A Most Clumsy Fella
The Most Happy Fella, Imperial Theater 1957. Hired as a replacement, I watched the show Saturday night, came in Monday and learned three numbers. Dance captain, Arthur Partington, said we'd do the others on Tuesday and I'd go on in the Wednesday matinee. If I blanked, the dancers would shove me through.
The "Young People" dance was important to the plot. Robert Weede played a middle-aged rancher who'd sent for a mail-order bride, but he'd lied about his age and before she arrived, he broke his leg. When Rosabella, played by Jo Sullivan, discovers that her husband is an old man in a wheel chair, she begins falling for Joey, a hunky young ranch hand played by Art Lund. Watching the swift graceful young people makes Weede feel hopelessly unfit for his young bride.
I opened that number by leaping from an upstage "stone" wall, turn back to catch Marcella Dodge, who followed closely behind me. For rehearsal, the wall, stored at the back, was shoved a few feet downstage so I could run behind it to a low spot, – made to look like a missing stone – onto which I jumped. I rehearsed the jump while "marking " the catch until Wednesday when Marcella came in early and did the simple basket catch into my arms.
But one detail had been forgotten. The wall was stored a dozen feet stage right of center. In performance it was moved downstage and left. I dashed out, leapt up where the low spot had been – but now wasn't. My toe caught the top, momentum carried me forward and over the wall. With one foot stuck behind me, I pitched head first into the floor, quickly scrambled to my feet and turned just in time to be smashed flat onto my back by Marcella, who ended up sprawled on top of me. A confused murmur rose from the audience. Weede in his wheelchair was facing upstage, so the audience could not see the expression on his face as the stage filled with other sprightly young people, whose joyful antics revealed how it was to be young. — Stuart Hodes
Arabian Nights, Jones Beach Marine Theater, 1955.
The Marine Theater is a man-made island in Zach's Bay with a twenty-yard moat between the stage and the audience. New Yorkers get a chance to cap a day at the beach with a glitzy extravaganza under the sky, a name star, production numbers, and variety acts. In the summer of 1955 it featured heldentenor, Lauritz Melchior and ballerina, Kathryn Lee. One of the specialty dance acts was Nirska, respected by the gypsies because at sixty-plus she was still out there.
Nirska's body still passed muster in a gold lamé leotard but it was her butterfly wings that caught the eye, yards of cascading white silk suspended on twelve-foot bamboo poles swirling and swooping while she did bourrés and pirouettes under multi-colored lights.
It was essentially a light show and somewhat languid so choreographer, Rod Alexander, brought her on with a high-energy dance for sixteen baby butterflies lending Nirska's appearance, twelve-foot wings a-tremble on high, baited-breath suspense.
In rehearsal, the women, madly tearing around the 80-foot stage, kept falling down so they demanded and got sneakers instead of dance slippers. Yet in any kind of wind and if the stage was wet, they were always skidding and falling. (Photo: Butterflies in rehearsal)
When it rained enough to keep audiences away, we got the night off. But one rainy gusty night, people planted themselves under umbrellas like at a football game, stage hands mopped up the puddles and the show went on. Watching from offstage, I saw a sudden gust take down an entire line, and as they staggered to their feet, others went down, gamely rising to tear around with wet bedraggled wings. It was pure chaos and I was laughing like a hyena when one rushing past yelled, "Wait ‘till you're out here!"
The end of Nirska's number was my cue to meet Kitty Lee and two other men for the jazz quartet. We entered through an archway upstage center after the circus parade, which ended with two elephants, a big one, then a baby holding the big one's tail in its trunk, accompanied by a creepy elephant guy, unshaven and scruffy in a greasy turban and pantaloons, constantly jabbing them with a steel-tipped prod.
Mid-summer, the TV show, Lets Take A Trip, visited Arabian Nights. It featured a boy and a girl about twelve years old who climbed onto the big elephant for a ride around the stage, led by the elephant guy. The show aired, the FBI recognized the elephant guy as wanted for auto theft, came to the Marine Theater and took him away in handcuffs. No elephants that night. It made the tabloids and was posted on the backstage bulletin board. Now, with a new elephant guy, the elephants stopped in the exact center of the stage. They were not supposed to.
"What's that dangling from the big elephant?" asked Stuart Fleming. A closer look revealed it was not dangling, it was gushing. The big elephant was calmly taking a piss.
"I thought they gave them something to prevent that!" said Fleming.
"He's pissing exactly where we dance!" I remarked.
"Magic time!" said Kitty, and out she stepped, us behind her splashing through puddles of clear rain water until we reached center stage where the puddle was foamy. And that's where we did our stag-jumps, knee-drops, and hip slides, slashing our bandannas into elephant piss, to rise and whip each other with piss-soaked bandannas, exiting finally into the wings where the butterflies were gasping and falling on one another, helpless with laughter.— Stuart Hodes
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