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CONTENTS Stars  

Lynne Fontanne
Martha's Rap
Ann Miller
Molly Picon
John Garfield
Steve Reeves
Molly Picon & Yonkel
Judith Jamison
Carroll Burnett
Polly Bergen
Gypsy Rose Lee
Ernie Kovacs
Farley Granger
Yul Brynner

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An Evening with Lynn Fontanne
by Martha Rofheart

 Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne    (Photo: Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne) "I'm a little woman now..." said Lynn Fontanne, with a tart sadness, as she looked up at me where I towered above her in my stiletto-heeled, rhinestone-strapped evening shoes. I towered over my six-foot tall husband, too; though I looked him in the eye, my hair was higher. We were in the crowded lobby of the Lunt-Fontanne theatre. A vision of many years ago, in another theatre, the Alvin, flitted swiftly across my mind; my teen-aged self, in my saddle oxfords, dwarfed by the thrilling presence of the great star for whom I had just auditioned. "Let me see you up close, dear," she had said, taking my face between her long pale hands. She put out her hand now, still long, still pale, and gripped my arm fiercely, so that I tottered, on my elegant stilts. "I'll just hold on to you," she said firmly, "so that I won't fall."
      "It will be the blind leading the blind– I can hardly walk in these shoes," I muttered, rather crossly, for it was by royal Fontanne mandate that I wore them, and wore, too, the strapless black sheath which covered all but their satin toes.
      ‘Wear something beautifully bare," Lynne had commanded. "I can't– any longer..." My own tanned, rather Egyptian, slender shoulders were no substitute for the smooth ivory cream perfection that was Fontanne's in her decades of glory. Still, thin is fashionable, and she smiled, ravishingly, her approval.
      She forbore smiling, however, at the awed throng which parted before us like the Red Sea as we made our slow, slow, slow progress across the lobby and into the theatre; all her plus-ninety-years energies were concentrated on her feet in their tiny jeweled ballet slippers. I concentrated, too, for, though tall, I am not sturdy; I had another vision, a horrid one, of us both crashing to the floor, and her beautiful, brittle, ancient bones snapping like twigs. But we made it, finally, to our seats– lovely ones, fifth row center, arranged for by the star of the show, Carol Channing.
      It was May 5th, 1978, the occasion, a joint one, the twentieth anniversary of the naming of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, and the anniversary as well of the Lunts' last Broadway opening, in Duerenmatt's ‘The Visit'. The play tonight was the musical, ‘Hello, Dolly', and it would be a full house. We were seated early, to facilitate Miss Fontanne's easy progress down the aisle, and the seats filled slowly around us; I felt a kind of charged radiance emanating from our little group– emanating from the presence in our midst– she all unaware of the curious glances, the thunderstruck looks.
     We were a small party– Dorothy Stickney, Miss Fontanne's hostess in New York, Charles Ryskamp, Director of the Morgan Library, my husband and I, and the lady herself. I sat on her left, Morgan Library on her right, and we fanned out from there. Almost immediately an usher arrived and presented Miss Fontanne with a gorgeous single long-stemmed rose, with a note. She took the note, opening it; I held the rose. She scanned the writing quickly, and folded it. "Never heard of the person," she averred firmly.
     "Heavens!" I exclaimed. "Look at that... she doesn't even need glasses!"
     "Indeed I do," she replied. "But I never wear them in the theatre..."
      Morgan Library took the note from her, opened her small beaded bag, placed it inside, and snapped the bag shut. "Read it later," he advised, "with your glasses. Perhaps you'll recognize the sender after all."
      She took the rose from me, and placed it upright in the small crevice between our two seats. Now we're in a garden," she said. My heart swelled with the beauty of her words.
      I was very sensible of the honor done me this night, of my inclusion in this party, on this occasion. For I was a ‘Luntian'– a word coined with facetious envy by a theatre friend who was not one. "A ‘Luntian" is someone who has played with the Lunts– usually more than once– over the long years of their reign in the theatre. Luntians began with Sydney Greenstreet, the Grand Visier of the royal entourage, and went on down through bit players and stage managers. I had played with them once only, in ‘The Pirate', but I did qualify, for I had been, years ago, Miss Fontanne's protegee. She had no doubt had others, in other times– but, in my time I was it... The Protegee.
      I had not seen Miss Fontanne for some twenty-five years, until now, until two days earlier, when we had taken tea together, a poignant reunion. We had corresponded of late, ever since, after the publication of my first novel, she had written me The Ultimate Fan Letter. My current novel, due to be published in the fall, and now in bound galleys, was dedicated to them, to Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt– she enjoining me not to use the word ‘late' of him. "For we are always together still, you know, Martha, dear..."
      I had known she was coming to New York at this time, but she had been vague about exact dates. When I arrived back on the Sunday after my weekend in the country, I found four telegrams, each sounding a bit more frantic, asking me to call Dorothy Stickney. "Where have you been?" demanded that lady. "Mis Fontanne has been beside herself– "
      "In the country," I answered weakly.
      "Oh," she said, mollified. "Well– wait, I'll put her on."
      Miss Fintanne, grandly, made no reference to the telegrams, but simply invited me to tea, and made this date for the theatre. "What does your husband do, Martha?" she asked. "He's not in publishing...?"
     "No," I explained. "He's an art director. In advertising, you know–" I explained further. She listened, then said, "Oh, well, that will be fine. We will have with us the director of the Morgan Library..."
      Over tea, taken in Dorothy Stickney's charming town house, we spoke of the theatre, and of long ago. "...and I always regretted not playing Elizabeth Barrett, you know," she said. "But Kit got it first..." She turned her dark stare upon me. "You can see what a compliment it was that that was the part I chose to coach you in... you were very good, you know..." I smiled, and blushed, for the first time in years.
     "But now," she continued brightly, "now– you're a great writer!"
      I began to deprecate, but she held up a majestic hand. "I know good writing when I read it!" she said. "You're every bit as good as Somerset Maugham!" I was reminded again of her very great age.
      She did not look it, truly. Except in a strange, surreal way. Her hair was a shining pewter now, dressed high in an elaborate knot on top of her head, and she was all fine bone and poreless ivory skin. She wore, daringly, a brilliant red dress, slim, high to the chin; her face floated, like a beautiful exotic bird, above it; her smile was the same.
      She changed the subject, swiftly– the vagaries of age, or royalty, or both. "I envy you your teen-aged son," she said, meaning it. "I always thought...you might have been our daughter..." She stared at me, thoughtfully.
     "I wish I had been," I murmured, throwing my whole heritage to the wind, recklessly.
     "Ah, well," she said, sighing, "we're friends...good friends." She held out her hand; I only just refrained from kissing it. "And now you must go, Martha dear...I grow tired. We'll meet again at the theatre."
      And so– here we were, waiting for the curtain, in the flower garden she had created from a single rose. I had crossed my legs; the rhinestone t-straps showed on my feet. "What beautiful shoes!" Lynn exclaimed.
     "Yes," I agreed, comfortable now that I was no longer standing in them. "Remember," I went on, "when you used to give me your old ones?"
     "Nonsense!" she uttered. "I would never have done such a thing! So vulgar! Why...why would I do that?"
     "Well, I couldn't afford such expensive shoes, you see," I explained. "I was a poor young actress...I only got Equity minimum–"
     "What was that?" "In those days– about sixty dollars," I replied.
     "Oh, well, then, perhaps I did give you my shoes...I was being kind," she agreed. "Did they fit?"
     "Oh yes...we wear the same size."
     "Big feet," she murmured, throatily.
     "Size eight," I agreed, laughing too.
     "What are you two girls giggling about?" demanded Morgan Library from the right.
     "Women-talk," said Lynn, gloriously coy.
      In the small silence that followed, Dorothy Stickney leaned forward to speak to me. She was lovely, still wearing the delicate grace, the wide-set eyes, the curving cheeks of Vinnie in ‘Life With Father'. "I'm halfway through your book," she said, bubbling. (She had been sent the galleys by my editor) "Oh– I love it!" she cried. It was a theatrical family saga [The Savage Brood, Ed ], so that was understandable; I thanked her.
      Lynns said, patting her piled hair, "I haven't had a chance to even look at it yet– though it is dedicated to us. Such an honor." she murmured. "But I've been so busy...I'm in such a whirl!" she finished, looking as serene as a swan. My eyes met Dorothy Stickney's, a fleeting twinkle.
      Lynn yawned, delicately. "I didn't get to sleep last night until three o'clock," she said, in outraged tones. I often didn't, but I clucked, commiserating, along with the others.
     "They let me sleep, though, till eleven..." Lynn said. My mind's eye saw a hundred courtiers tiptoeing past Majesty's chamber, and crossing halberds at the drawbridge against importunate subjects.
     "That was nice," said my husband, gravely. "You got eight hours."
     "You're very sympathetic," Lynn said, approvingly, reaching across me to pat his hand.
      The orchestra struck up, tuneful, loud; the curtain rose; a magnificent performance, a kind of glorious Channing circus. We did not leave at the interval, remaining in our seats, stared at. "She'll do it at the curtain," said Dorothy Stickney. "She'll introduce you then."
     "Oh– I hope not," protested Lynn. "No one will remember me..."
     "Oh, of course they will," said my husband, fervently.
      After the curtain call, Carol Channing stepped forward, smiling. I half expected her to go into, "Well, Hello Lynnie..." But she did not. She gave a charming little speech, explaining the occasion, and gravely, respectfully, gesturing toward Lynn. "...you asked me to call you Lynnie– so I shall, Lynnie dear," she said. "Ladies and gentlemen, Lynn Fontanne!" Thunder broke loose in the house, thousands of clapping hands. After a long moment, Lynn rose– without any help from me, or even from the arms of her chair– and stood, tall as tall, and bowed, graciously. The applause grew deeper. She turned then, slowly, and, facing the rear, bowed to the balcony. There was pandemonium, stamping feet, cries of ‘Bravo'. The house went wild– for a full five minutes, Lynn bravely and happily bowing.
     "You see," I whispered, as Lynn sank, finally, to her seat, "They did remember!"
     "It was for Alfred, too," she said, wiping her eyes.
     "Stay in your seats," enjoined Morgan Library. "They want the audience to clear out before they take Lynn backstage."
      As the seats slowly emptied, out of nowhere appeared a young man, standing in the row ahead of us. White-faced, with stars in his eyes, he stared at Lynn; if he had been a Turk, or if the seats had permitted, he would surely have prostrated himself at her feet.
     "Thank you Miss Fontanne," he uttered. "Thank you, thank you, thank you..." And slowly he backed away, out of the Presence; my throat swelled with fellow-feeling.
      Lynn turned to me, astonished. "Who was that?" she demanded. "I don't know him from Adam."
     "I rather think," I ventured gently, "that it is a young actor..."
      I thought she did not hear me, but, weeks later, in a letter, she was to write, "Yes, Martha, I think you were correct about that young man at the theatre. He must have been an actor..."
      Very soon then, we were ushered outside and to the stage door, Lynn leaning now very heavily on my arm, after exertions at the curtain. Dorothy Stickney, far younger and spryer, followed with our two personable escorts.
      It was only a step to the stage entrance, but the balmy May day had given way to a punishing chill rain– as it always seems to do on such momentous occasions– and, with our slow progress, we were drenched and shivering as we emerged onto the boards of the stage. Miss Fontanne, though, now feeling the familiar terrain under her feet, let go my arm and stepped forward, bowing to the stage doorman, smiling, and addressing him by name. We passed him by. A tremendous burst of applause greeted us; the cast assembled on the stage, glowing, worshipful, making their palms ache.
      Lynn embraced the star, uttering words of extravagant praise, introducing her guests, beginning with Dorothy "–whom you know, of course–" and getting my married name right for once– "Martha auditioned for me when she was young..."
      The huge, famous Channing eyes slewed over to me, a conspiratorial look. "Why, she's still young," she said; we are probably contemporaries.
     "And now," Lynn went on, unperturbed, "Martha is a famous author!"
      The cast stared at me briefly, a blank politesse; they probably believed it– actors rarely read anything but plays.
      Lynn introduced our two escorts, getting Morgan Library's right too– though it is a difficult one, Ryskamp– but calling him the curator! He chuckled softly beside me, and sent me a mischievous wink; Mr. Ryskamp, Director of the Morgan Library, turned out to be a blithe and bonny gentleman, a nice person to know.
      Miss Fontanne then turned to the cast, thanking them for a lovely performance, singling them out. One young woman who played a plump demi-mondaine– padded no doubt, and very pretty, like a ripe apricot, Lynn addressed in special tones, taking her hand.
     "My dear," said Lynn, "you must be the most ravishing fat lady who ever graced the stage!"
      The young woman glowed, crimson from her billowy bosom up. "Oh–" she cried. "I'll live on that for years!"
      We made our farewells, Lynn nodding and smiling to all the stage-hands, followed once more by applause.
      We parted on the wet sidewalk; Majesty had had a long day; she kissed me goodbye. I stood, huddled, in my scanty stole, against the wind and the rain, watching the limosine, a long, black, pumpkin, pull away. Like Cinderella– except I had my Prince.
      On Saturday afternoon, I called the Stickney house; Dorothy answered. "Where have you been?" she cried, once more. "We've been sending telegrams again!"
      I was again in the country, explaining that we went every weekend. "Oh, yes," said Dorothy, "I do too, usually..."
     "I thought I ought to call," I said. "I wasn't sure when Miss Fontanne would be going back to Genesee Depot–"
     "Oh, yes," she cried. "We're packing! Her plane leaves tonight!" I heard the suppressed hysteria in her voice; she was not used to playing Nerissa. "Oh– before I get Lynn," she said, hurriedly, "I finished your book last night in bed...I couldn't put it down! And– you looked so pretty last night–"
     "You, too," I said. "Oh– here's Lynn...and–thank you!"
      The wonderful voice of my memories came on then, and we talked a little, soft amenities. "I so liked your husband, dear," said she. "I'm glad you found someone so–" she found the word, "–so lovely. And– I'm so pleased with you, Martha. So pleased with the way you've turned out..." Silk purse from sow's ear? I wondered, but was silent. We spoke of the evening; I thanked her for it.
     "Oh, yes," she said. "It was quite the most wonderful evening I've ever spent in the theater," Lynn said, earnestly. "An evening to remember..."
     "For me it was, too," I said, softly, and the premonitory tears filled my eyes.


Martha's Rap
Stuart Hodes

There once was a lady named Martha Graham / She could dance and she could slay ‘em!
Ruth St. Denis said, "She's ugly." / Ted Shawn said, "That doesn't bug me.
We need Martha Graham, you see, /‘Cause I want a partner not as pretty as me!"
[2 beats ]
So Martha danced her heart's desire / And soon she set the world on fire
In Rite of Spring she wow'd ‘em all / At Radio City Music Hall
But Martha wanted her own dance troupe / Got a passel of gals and began her group
A guy named Erick, another named Merce / Expanded the whole dance universe!
She made a dance, Herodiade / Critics wondered why she had
Made a solo, Imagined Wing / And a cute piece called Appalachian Spring
Critics screamed "Desist and cease!" as / Martha became the dance high priestess.
[2 beats]
Lincoln Kirstein was horrified / Saw a Contraction and darn near died,
Said Martha's too brainy and over sexed / And even worse her feet are flexed
The folks in London said, "I say!" / "Shalom!" in Jerusalem and, "Oi vey!"
Tossed her roses in Japan / The Shah said, ‘Salaam,' in Iran
[4 beats ]
Now Martha's in Heaven and as we speak / She's teaching a class in Graham Technique
Emily Dickinson's doing Prances / Star-jumps elevate St. Francis
Agnes De Mille's in Lamentation / Medea's Cave Turns, a sensation,
Nureyev's Knee-crawls are lyrical / Joan of Arc's Back Fall, a miracle
Clytemnestra found Redemption / Lucifer's out of Detention
All the Angels are Diverted / Even Balanchine converted!
[4 beats].
Now every day on Celestial grass,
Heaven is taking Martha's class.


Ann Miller
By Larry Blank

Dominion Theatre, London. 1994. The International Arts Award was a charity gala honoring a host of famous stars including: Alan Bates, Petula Clark, Kirk Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Anthony Hopkins, John Mills, Diana Rigg, Anthony Quinn, and Ginger Rogers. It was the last time Ginger Rogers appeared on stage.
      The huge orchestra was on the stage, I was conducting and among the entertainers was Ann Miller, singing Everything's Coming Up Roses. I'd arranged it in her key so she had no vocal problems and sounded great. But she seemed preoccupied with her feather boa and insisted on doing it nine times. Other stars, including David Cassidy, Michael Bolton, Robert Goulet, and Elaine Paige had to wait.
     At 2 AM my telephone rang waking me from a deep sleep.
    "Larry... it's Annie. Y'know that feather boa? It's the wrong color. And it's not long enough!"
     "Annie, why are you calling me about this? I'm the music director."
     "H
oney, who else am I gonna call? I don't know anyone else. And wasn't it you who got me into this mess in the first place?"
    Coda: After the show Diana Rigg said to me: "The sight of Ann Miller parading across the stage in her boa made me laugh out loud
!"

Sugar Babies, 1983, On tour, Pantages Theater, Los Angeles. The stars were Mickey Rooney, 63, and Ann Miller, 60. Annie was warm and fun to be with and made jokes about her age. I was Musical Director.
      One day I walked into her dressing room and there was Ronald Field. I'd first met Ronnie in 1972 when I was a teen-ager hired as a rehearsal pianist for Applause. His hair had been thinning then but now it appeared thick and luxuriant.
      I said, "Ron Field, you haven't changed in the slightest!" He picked up the conversation as though I were still a teenager, somewhat flirtatiously, until Annie said, "Boys, stop that! And Ronnie, be nice to Larry. He's the only straight man on this tour and you will ruin his reputation."
     Then, almost as an afterthought, "Mine has been bricked up for so long there's a sign, NO VISITORS."
     One day Annie's hairdresser showed her a gay porn magazine and leafing through it she paused at a photo of a young stud whose member hung down to his socks. She gave it a bleak look and said, "If he doesn't have 10 million to go with that I'm not interested."

      When the tour reached Boston I invited Annie to be my date to see the pre-Broadway tryout of La Cage Aux Folles. It was obvious the show was a hit and after the big Can Can dance number, the entire audience jumped to its feet applauding. Everyone that is, but Annie Miller.
     "Annie, why aren't you standing?"
     "I saw the original Can Can."
     "You mean with Lilo and Gwen Verdon?"
     "No, with Toulouse Lautrec."
                                                    
 


Molly Picon

Molly Picon AloftJun 25, 2007  On Thursday the NY Public Library will host a panel show, "Molly Picon in Milk and Honey with as many ex-Milk and Honey cast as they can find, so far, only Donald Saddler and me.  I'll bring a blowup of the photo, "Molly Picon, Aloft." It was taken at dress rehearsal by Will Rapport. Today, The New York Times ran an announcement:
     "Molly Picon, the Sweetheart of Second Avenue, will be recalled from her days in Yiddish theater to her performances on Broadway and in Hollywood in an exhibition opening tomorrow at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Recordings, films, costumes, photographs, posters, and other memorabilia will be marshaled to tell her story in: "Molly Picon: Yiddish Star, American Star."Stuart Hodes

John Garfield Peer Gynt (Jan-Feb 1951) was an American National Theater and Academy (ANTA) production, a show for "art" in which everybody got the same salary, $75 a week. I didn't ponder how it attracted so big a movie star as John Garfield, assuming he simply wanted to do theater and work with director, Lee Strasberg.
      I knew that the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was methodically wrecking careers but did not learn for years that Garfield had just been added to its "list," making Broadway one of the few places he could work. Yet not a hint of these troubles were seen in rehearsals.
      He never acted the "star," permitted no deference whatsoever, yet in hindsight I realize that the Actors Studio actors, accepting his presence as the most natural thing in the world, were doing their best to soften the storms certainly roiling as he contemplated the end of his Hollywood career.
      I was a dancer hired by choreographer, Valerie Bettis, and although I never had a reason to speak to Garfield, I liked him. He seemed much like the characters he played, rough and tough yet warm-hearted and sensitive. A one-of-a-kind actor, when one of his movies shows up on TCM or FMC, I find myself drawn to it.
      After Peer Gynt's four-week run, he did another Broadway show, Golden Boy, the role written for him by Clifford Odets, about a boxer, a character he understood from having been one himself before rheumatic fever weakened his heart. It was his last role. Extra stressed, it is said, by HUAC's unAmerican activities, his heart gave out and he died May 21, 1952. I miss the movies he should have made.—Stuart Hodes


Steve ReevesSteve Reeves Kismet, Ziegfeld Theater, 1955. You won't find Kismet on Steve Reeves's resumé. Having been Mr. America, Mr. World, and Mr. Universe, when he set his sights on show business, playing a palace guard in a Broadway musical was not what he had in mind.
      Director, Albee Marre, kept the future star of Hercules and other Italian sword-and-sandal epics, swathed neck to ankles in a black caftan, perhaps not wanting to distract from his wife, Joan Diener, who played the siren, Marsinah, and was the show's prime exhibit of fleshly delight, although had she been accompanied by Steve Reeves in a loin cloth, the physique that had turned heads on California's Muscle Beach just might have stopped the show.
      In Kismet he was referred to simply as one of the "muscle men." Quiet offstage, I never once recall him volunteering, or anyone asking him to show off his awesome torso. But if asked he would demonstrate body-building exercises. One day he lay face down athwart a narrow table, upper body projecting over the edge, bending over at the waist until his torso hung down, face to the floor. With someone holding his legs, hands behind head, he raised his body to horizontal, repeating it twenty-five times ending in a sweat.
      He dared anyone watching to do the move even once. Bonnie Evans, one of three elfin "Princesses of Ababu," five feet tall, one hundred pounds, said she could do it more times than Reeves.
     "More than twenty-five? Never!" said Reeves.
     "I'll do fifty," said Bonnie, got up on the table, and did.
      But when she climbed off, her back stiffened into spasm. Reeves scooped her up and ran with her to a nearby hospital where they injected something that relaxed her muscles. Then Reeves took her home in a taxi.
      Next day she did the punchy Ababu dance number as usual. Reeves, now a serious Bonnie Evans fan, watched her every move.—Stuart Hodes


Molly Picon & Yonkel. Milk and Honey, 1961. (Photo: Molly Picon, Robert Molly Picon, Robt Weede, Mimi BenzellWeede. Mimi Benzell, and Goat) It was always a treat to be around Molly Picon, whose sheer charm drew everyone to her. And she never seemed to mind. One day, dancer, Susan May, asked for her secret.
     Molly said, "I have no secret. I act a little, sing a little, dance a little..."
     "And everybody adores you!"
     "Yes," she replied seriously, "I realized that the first time I ever performed."
     "How old were you?"
     "Three."
      Molly was 63 when Milk and Honey opened. During her big dance number she insisted on doing a cartwheel but the producer, terrified she'd get hurt, forbid it, so choreographer, Donald Saddler, had me pick her up at the waist and spin her, propellor-style, one complete circle
      Never far from Molly was Yonkel (Jacob Kalich), her husband. He'd been her producer when she was a top star of the Yiddish theater. Always impeccably dressed, he threw Molly a birthday party and invited the entire cast. There was music, dancing, lavish food and at the foot of each table, a case of wine. Toward the end of the evening, dancer, Mike Nestor, revealed that he'd sneaked a bottle into the sleeve of his overcoat.
      A few minutes later Yonkel announced, "There should be enough wine for everyone to take home a bottle. If not, there's more up here by my table."
     "He really knows how to hurt a guy," whispered Nestor.


Judith Jamison. Harkness House, East 77th Street, NYC. 1965. Ex-Ballet Theater star, Patricia Wilde, was sent to scour the U.S.A. for talented students to be offered scholarships, housing, even stipends. Among the stunning youngsters who showed up was teen-aged Judith Jamison.
      Watching her in class, especially when taught by one of the great teachers (Aubrey Hitchens, Leon Fokine, Patricia Wilde, Barbara Cole), was mesmerizing. After class one day, I joined her at a table in the Harkness canteen. She sat with a half smile while I raved about her dancing, finally said, half seriously, "Well, if you know any ballet companies looking for a six foot tall black ballerina, you can tell them about me."
     "You're going to be a star," I said seriously, no smile.


Carroll Burnett, Once Upon A Mattress NYC - The dancer I replaced had helped Carroll Burnett down from the six-foot high mattresses pile for bows at the end of the show, a job I took over, along with being understudy to The Jester. As long as I was in Mattress, it was my honor and pleasure, to hold Carroll Burnett in my arms for three seconds, eight times a week.
   Mattress had opened downtown, a limited run, but sold-out houses and demand kept it going in any available theater. The result was a show that "toured" without leaving Manhattan: Phoenix Theater, Alvin Theater, Winter Garden Theater, Cort Theater, St. James Theater.
   At a cast rehearsal, I told Carroll I had adapted a Groucho Marx idea to keep me from being nervous at auditions. My secret thought: "I wouldn't work for anyone who won't hire me." Carroll told me her secret thought: "I look out front and think, they're all sitting on the toilet."
   The Jester, who I understudied, had a song. One day, about to go on, I mentioned to Carroll that my throat felt sore. She ushered me into her dressing room, gestured toward her table and at what looked like a giant pharmacy display of throat sprays. "Take your pick!" she said.
   A year after Mattress closed, I was crossing Eighth Avenue in the 50s, and in the middle of the avenue met Carroll accompanied by her new TV troupe, half a dozen men in tuxedos. I smiled, she recognized me and stopped, troupe and all, to exchange greetings. The lights changed, nearby drivers gawked while those behind leaned on their horns. Not until the lights had changed again, did Carroll Burnett, to me already a legend, bid me adieu and continue on her way.


Polly Bergen. First Impressions. NYC  (Photo: Polly Bergen, Stuart Hodes) At the first full cast rehearsal, when Polly Bergen Polly Bergen and Stuart Hodescame in I recognized her perfume. "Aah, Vent Vert!"
     She stopped. "How come you know?"
     "It's my favorite. I bought some in Paris."
      I'd bought a bottle in Paris but had first sniffed it on Air France which had a full bottle in every john. I decided not to share that detail with Bergen.
     The next day when Bergen arrived she approached, leaned close, and said, "Okay, what's this?"
      I had no idea. "Chanel Number 5."
     "No."
     I took another sniff. "I got it! Pissoir d'amour."
     She gave me a faint smile. "You're quite an expert."— Stuart Hodes


Gypsy Rose Lee. Grand Ballroom, Astor Hotel, 1948. It was a one-day gig. I was one of four men holding Gypsy Rose Lee's fifteen-foot-long feathered train. We stood at the top of a flight of stairs built center stage and when her music began, the curtains would part and she'd make her grand entrance down the stairs, us hanging onto her feathered train. Half a minute before the cue, she turned back and swept up all four of us in her steely gaze. "Anybody drops this goddam thing, I'll brain ‘em!"— Stuart Hodes.


Ernie Kovacs. Esther Williams AquaSpectacle NBC-TV, 1958. Preparing for rehearsal, a prop man handed out big beer steins, the kind with flip-up lids, to Kovacs and other actors in the scene. Kovacs flipped his lid a few times then called back the prop man. Flipping open the lid, he said, "Get me a can of beer to put in here."
     I felt I had seen the gears turning in the mind of a comic genius. Stuart Hodes

Farley Granger. First Impressions, NYC 1959. Director, Abe Burrows, called him "Farfel," yet Farley Granger seemed born to play the aristocratic Fitzwilliam Darcy in the musical version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. He had no trouble learning minuet steps even though they needed to be coordinated with spoken lines, but when he had to waltz with Polly Bergen, he was stymied. We were sent to a small studio and given one hour. He seemed amused when I showed him how to put his arms around me, waltz style, but buckled down like a pro and an hour later was quite the waltzer.—Stuart Hodes


Yul Brynner. The King and I. NYC 1953. I was twice a replacement during two-week vacations. The men's moves could be learned in an hour but before I went on I was warned about meeting up with Brynner. If he was approaching I had to move to one side, especially if it was in the narrow hall outside the dressing rooms, Our cues made this a daily occurrence. Like in a tunnel with a train coming, when I saw him I flattened myself against the wall until the King of Siam Express charged by. I could have avoided him by waiting a few minutes except that I kind of liked the encounter, each time playing the King's fervent subject. If Brynner ever noticed I was overacting, he didn't let on.Stuart Hodes

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