Lucille Ball Would Have Been Perfect in a Non-Musical Remake of “AUNTIE MAME”

Lucille Ball as the lovable character “MAME.”

Lucille Ball, they say, was terribly miscast in the title role of the movie MAME.  It’s been uttered so many times you’d think it was a universal truth.  “Lucy was too old.”  “Lucy couldn’t sing.”  “Angela Lansbury played it better on Broadway.”  I could  recite the list of reasons why they say she shouldn’t have done it the way she did it in my sleep.

And yet…

If you take away the distracting, and ridiculous, soft-focus shots they used to film her close-ups, which the movie could well have done without,  and if the singing numbers had been dubbed, what would you have?  The lady’s acting in the role of irrepressible, unconventional “Mame Dennis” can hardly be faulted.  She nails every scene, and not as a “Lucy Ricardo” type, either.  If I hadn’t grown up on “I Love Lucy” reruns, I never even would have guessed this part was played by the same actress.

Take the scene where she’s fired from the department store.  She’s tried on the roller skates to demonstrate them for her handsome customer, “Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside.”  She gets fired from the job.  She can’t get out of the skates because she’s knotted the laces.

What does Mame do?  Well, first let’s look at what she ought to do, what anyone else in her position back then would have done.  After all, it’s a scene set in 1929, she’s broke, the world is a different, stuffier place, and to be a lady accidentally on skates out in public in a store is supposed to be mightily embarrassing.  Yet watch the scene.  The character holds herself up high, as if being stuck in those skates is an honor, not a disaster.  She makes it look deliberate, a matter of pride, yet it’s all subtly done.

I imitated her stance for years, after seeing this movie as a child, whenever I got myself into a bit of a jam.  If life gives you lemons, stand tall, even if you’re five foot one, like me, and make some lemonade, folks.  Wherever you are, Lucy, thank you so much for that scene!

I only wish that Lucy had tried to make a remake of AUNTIE MAME, the non-musical movie version of the same basic story that was made in the 1950’s and starred Rosalind Russell.  Yes, Lucy in the musical was a mistake, but if she had starred in AUNTIE MAME, sans the unnecessary gauzy close-ups and songs, I think she’d have been remembered well for it, and rather than going down in motion picture history as something of a bad joke, it would be remembered as a good movie.

And let me add this: I hate it that Lucy took abuse for this movie!  Her version was the very first one I saw of this story, so Lucy was “my Mame.”  The joy and love and fun of this movie gave me a whole new perspective – and even got me through several godawful years at a terrible, abusive school.  Wherever you are, I say, BRAVA, Lucy!  Just wish I could have told you in person.

 

Stunning in every outfit: Lucy as MAME.

An Incredibly Fantastic Tony Awards Opening Saluting Theater Kids

Theater kids, I always say, are the same as any other kids anywhere.  We just happen to dance to a different beat.  Make that a happy, uplifting beat.  Take if rom me, Broadway music can give children the kind of boost that can provide them the impetus to rise above practically anything.

So many times, when I meet another adult and find out they were  a fellow musical-theater-lovin’ kid, it’s funny, but on first meeting I usually feel like I’ve known them forever.  There’s a distinct and glowing difference to these wonderful people, an “anything’s possible” attitude of positivity.  That’s especially true of those who love musicals like MAME, the story of a woman who embraces life to the fullest and the show I was in at twelve, in a theater workshop that changed my whole life.  I remember how much the theater meant to me when I was young, especially during the years I was attending a particularly nasty and miserably-run school.  I think a lot of kids, when surrounded by the ugly, reach for the good to counter-balance it, and we find it in the theater.  There wasn’t any place to be that was anywhere near as fabulous to me, especially then, as any seat in any theater, be it on Broadway or the nearest high school gym.

I have been watching The Tony Awards since I was twelve years old, and I’ve always loved them, the annual televised salute to the best of Broadway.  I especially love seeing the numbers from the newly nominated musicals, which help me decide which ones I want to rush right out and see, and which cast albums, I want to get, too.

This year, though, last night, the opening number was, undisputedly, beyond a doubt, the very best one of them all.  It was a salute to theater kids!  It was all about us, and how our love of the theater put so many of us onto our career paths.  Host James Corden illustrated what it was like for him to be brought to the theater by his parents, complete with a “Little James” character of his younger self.  Before I was the author of Mama Rose’s Turn: The True Story of America’s Most Notorious Stage Mother, once upon a time, I was a little girl sitting in a plush seat at the Winter Garden Theater, enchanted by watching Angela Lansbury in GYPSY come up the aisle, calling out, “Sing out, Louise!”    I’ve even got plans for a fiction book, a mystery, for middle school-age kids,  set during the era of traveling vaudeville acts, and you can be sure, the love I have for that long-ago time period that all began the day I was in that audience of GYPSY.

James Corden and anyone else involved in writing this phenomenal number should get a special award for it, not to mention a gold star in heaven, too.  Oh, and did I happen to mention, the nominees are in it?  Take a look!  Here it is, boys!  Here it is, WORLD!  Here’s the best Opening Number of the Tony Awards of them all.  This is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.  Enjoy!

 

 

Is This the Sign that Inspired The Book?

This may be the very sign that inspired my book, MAMA ROSE'S TURN.

This may be the very sign that inspired my book, MAMA ROSE’S TURN.

I was very happy to find this photo of the Winter Garden Theater in 1974 today online.

It’s not the clearest of photos in terms of the lettering on the sign, so I can’t be sure if it’s the one I saw, outside of the theater, the day I first saw the musical GYPSY.  I seem to recall it was up on a billboard, higher above the street.  This one is on the theater itself.

But if one of the things written on that sign is the words “A Musical Fable,” well, that was the line that put me on the road to writing MAMA ROSE’S TURN later.  I wanted to find out what the difference was between the real story of Gypsy Rose Lee’s family and the fable I’d just seen on the stage.

It must be on there somewhere because GYPSY couldn’t be advertised without it.

If anyone out there in cyberspace has photos of this show’s time at the Winter Garden, I’d so love to see them!

Quentin Letts: Biggest Twit of 2015!

Angela Lansbury looking spectacular, as always, at the Olivier Awards

Angela Lansbury looking spectacular, as always, at the Olivier Awards

Bravo to all those members of the Twitterverse who Tweeted regarding a vile Daily Mail reporter from the UK called Quentin Letts.  Letts got hammered on the social media platform in response to his unfair and ultra-vicious comments about Angela Lansbury.  He deserves it.  The comments are beyond the pale.  I won’t repeat what he said here, except to say this Letts is obviously a bully, and probably one of the jealous or unfulfilled variety.

I don’t read the Daily Mail – thank goodness, since if it published what Letts wrote, it isn’t overloaded with ethics.

I have never heard of this Quentin Letts character, who doesn’t seem to possess one shred of the best quality a human can have – namely, generosity of spirit – until this morning.

However, Angela Lansbury’s name is a household word.

Your name isn’t, Quentin Letts – but hers is.

Angela Lansbury has been entertaining the world since 1944.  She nails every role she gets.  Her “Madame Arcati” in Blithe Spirit is one of the funniest performances I’ve ever seen, and let me tell you, her “Rose” in Gypsy back in 1974 was one I’ve never, ever forgotten.  She deserved that Olivier Award, and I think that, at nearly 90, the fact she’s still working and doing such a great job should be regarded as an inspiration to everyone.

So again, Bravo to the Twitters! 

As for Quentin Letts, clearly, he’s merely a Twit.

 

The Broadway Performance I Wish I’d Seen: Angela Lansbury and Beatrice Arthur as Mame and Vera!

Every theater fan has a Broadway performance they wish with all their heart they could have seen live.

If I hadn’t been five years old in 1966 and too young to go to Broadway in Kindergarten, mine would have been the Angela Lansbury original Broadway production of Jerry Herman’s MAME.

In particular, I would have loved to see Angela and Beatrice Arthur perform this little gem on the stage: “Bosom Buddies.”  We’re all very lucky that they performed it two decades later on the Tony Awards and it was preserved. Still, to have seen this on the stage when the show first premiered certainly would have been wonderful.  Take a look and enjoy!

Hey, Hollywood: THE UPSTAIRS ROOM is Still a Hit Waiting to Happen!

Look out, world, here we come!  Author Johanna Reiss and Me.

Look out, world, here we come! Johanna Reiss, Author of “The Upstairs Room,” and Me on Governors Island.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the undiscovered Hollywood hit movie waiting to happen is the true story detailed in my friend Johanna Reiss’ book, The Upstairs Room.  I read it and loved it when I was a child and have always wondered just why it was never made into a movie – yet.

Johanna, called “Annie” as a child, and her older sister Sini had to be hidden as young girls in Holland because they were Jewish and it was World War II.  They were sheltered by a prosperous family named the Hanninks for a few months, but the Hanninks were helping a lot of Jews and grew nervous about keeping the sisters.  The girls were moved to the home of a local farmer, Johan Oosterveld.  Johan, his wife Dientje, and his mother, Opoe, kept the girls safely hidden.

Johan, Dientje and Opoe were true heroes in the way they rose to the occasion and sheltered Sini and Annie during the war.  They are also characters that are so unpretentious that they’re funny, on the one hand – and so ingenious in the ways they protected the girls that they’re absolutely brilliant on the other.  At one point, Nazis even took over another room in their house for a few weeks to use as an office, and…well, if you want to know more, you’ll have to read the book!  I can not imagine an actor or actress alive who would not want to grab the chance to play these fantastic real-life heroes.  Every Jewish person who survived the war has a story and this one, in particular, deserves to be told.

The two hidden girls, Sini and Annie, survived the war. That’s Annie, in the photo above, all grown up, with me, yesterday, pedaling a Surrey on Governor’s Island.  We’ve been best friends pretty much since the day we met about a year and a half ago.  She’s fun!  Getting that surrey moving was a bit of a challenge.  It got stuck in the cracks on a sidewalk when Annie was trying to drive it in a U-turn.  We had to bail out while I extricated the thing.  After that, I steered it.  I said, “This is like an I Love Lucy episode, say, ‘Lucy and Ethel Pedal a Surrey!'”  Annie taught me how to sing “Long Live the Queen” in Dutch and now I can’t stop bursting forth with it.  I recently gave her the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Mame so she could learn the song “Bosom Buddies,” since that’s what we are, sung by Angela Lansbury and Beatrice Arthur.

Speaking of Angela Lansbury…now there would be perfect casting for “Opoe!”

Anyone interested in making the book into a movie can contact the author through www.johannareiss.com.

 

Here’s My Episode of THEATER TALK

Here it is, boys.

Here it is, world!

Here’s my episode of THEATER TALK about Rose Hovick!  I come on fifteen minutes into the broadcast.  Enjoy!