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Today in My History

2000:  Crawling Home
2001:  No entry--in England
2002:  My Day in Numbers
2003:  Things That Go Bump
2004:  Hey, Look Me Over
2005:  Too Much Fun
2006:  This Day in the Life

2007: Google
2008:  Faw Down Go Boom
2009:  Seven Weeks
2010:  The Yuck List
2011:  Did You Ever Know that You're My Hero?

Bitter Hack
Updated: 4/30
"The Meaning of It All"
"Little Shop of Horrors"

Books Read in 2012
 Updated: 5/5
"A Pygmy Perspective"
"Stone Cold"

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Santa Barbara, April 2012

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Airy Persiflage

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mail to Walt


8 May 2012

I feel so fortunate to have had theater in my life...pretty much my whole life.  As I have said before, my grandparents met in vaudeville.  She was a chorus girl, he was the tenor in a barbershop quartet

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Though in her later years (before my birth, I'm sure) my grandmother seemed almost embarrassed to have been a chorus girl and made fun of my grandfather whenever he was asked to sing (very rarely), still I knew that they had been in show business and that my grandmother had friends who were still in the movie business.   I remember being taken to the premiere of the movie Stage Coach, starring Charlton Heston, Rhonda Flemming and Forest Tucker.  Its producer, Nat Holt, was a friend of my grandmother's and she introduced me to him after the movie was over.   The stars were also on stage following the screening, the first time I ever saw a real movie star in person.

Nannie often went to Hollywood to visit her friends and sometimes brought home autographed photos for me, of stars she had met while touring the studio.   The only one I remember was Martin & Lewis, though I know I had several at one time.

I was an avid reader of movie magazines, rushing to the corner drug store at the first of each month to check out the new issues. I was so disillusioned later in life to realize that these magazines were often more works of fiction than of fact.   (I don't think I really understood that until Rock Hudson died of AIDS.)

When I was in high school, I started ushering for shows (mostly musicals) that came to town and often waited outside the backstage door to get autographs of the stars (In later years, I really wonder what is the point of autographs!)

Back in the 1970s when I began my involvement with the Lamplighters I began to live on the edge of show business.  Most of the Lamplighters never became big stars, though some went on to impressive careers in show business.  But hanging out with actors and listening to them talk about past performances and people they knew was something I came to love.  Introduce me to a famous personality, and I will become tongue tied and stupid (like the time Jim Brochu seated me with Carol Channing for cocktails at an awards show and couldn't think of one single non-stupid thing to say), but let me sit in a group of actors, directors and choreographers and just listen to the conversation swirling around me and I love it.

It has been great fun, for example, being friends with Steve and Jimmy.  When I met them, I really didn't know much except Steve was this singer/songwriter living with AIDS who had written a musical.  Later I learned that Jimmy had grown up around Broadway theater, that his father's best friend was Ethel Merman's father, and that he spent nearly every day of Lucille Ball's last year playing backgammon with her. He performed in New York, was an accomplished actor and playwright and seemed to know practically everybody.  I loved driving around with him, listening to the tape of messages famous people had left on his telephone with regard to one or another production.

I love well written books about theater, like James Lipton's "Inside Inside" as well as a host of other people who have written interesting insights into their careers and their relationship with other performers (including Jimmy's own "Lucy in the Afternoon," about his friendship with Lucille Ball).

A few years back, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Mitchell Agruss, who was doing a play in Sacramento.  All I knew about Mitch was that when we first moved to Davis, he was the host of a children's cartoon program and was known as "Capt'n Mitch."  He was 86 years old when I interviewed him and learned of his fascinating 20 years in theater, knowing such people as Katharine Hepburn and a host of others.

We have become kind of casual friends, car pooling with Mitch and my theater critic colleague, Jeff Hudson, to stage shows in Sacramento.  Recently I joined Mitch and other friends at my new favorite place to meet -- Ciocolat.  During the delightful conversation, Mitch talked about some of his memories and we all said that he should write a book because his stories were such fun.

Well, it turns out he had written a book.  It's called "A Pygmy Perspective, 20 years of personal experiences with prominent figures of the American theatrical, film and television scene from 1941-61."  I mentioned that I would love to read it and a parcel showed up in the mail yesterday -- Mitch's autobiography.  Well, not so much a proper autobiography, but stories of his interactions with a host of famous names.  To give you a taste, this is from the "teaser" page before the actual start of the book:

Kate Hepburn treats me to vodka and tonic in a cut crystal glass.   Spencer Tracy phones.

Thornton Wilder attends my wedding and knocks rice out of my hair on stage.

Riding in taxis with Karloff and failing to amuse Legosi.

Jack Klugman credits me for his becoming an actor...

Moss Hart waits for me in the parking lot.

In 1948, Carol Channing tells me her intention to "quit the business."

Bert Lahr worries aobut underwear as we depart on tour.

There are lots more.  It's a delightful read, only 75 pages long, so I read the whole thing yesterday afternoon and just loved it.  It is filled with pictures of Mitch on stage in such productions as Much Ado about Nothing (with Hepburn, Alfred Drake, Sada Thompson, etc.), The Vinegar Tree with Shirley Booth, At War with the Army with Gary Merrill, and a host of others, as well as copies of the memorabilia I had admired in his apartment (such as an autographed picture of Moss Hart). 

I suppose I'm a theater slut.  I just love being around talented people, and even more, listening to them talking about theatre, which is why I so much enjoy the TV program, Theater Talk, especially when critics sit around and talk about theater.  I learn so much from these programs, as well as being happy that somewhere, a zillion miles away, I am sharing a little piece of their world.


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Beggars?  OUR dogs?  Nahh.


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