White. A blank page or canvas. No matter how much I write, there is always more white. I have just about had it with this white, this blank page or canvas. I am getting perturbed at this white. I am getting irked. I am both perturbed and irked, or pertirked for short. Why do I have to write words? Why can't they just be there already like so much fish? Do you have any idea how many words it takes to fill a blank page? Especially one of Mr. Mark Bakalor's handy dandy white pages, which go on and on, ad nauseum and ad infinitum. Not only that, they just never end. It's one long blank page. Finally I have to say "enough" to said page. I have to say "I will write no more". It occurs to me that what I have been doing so far could best be described by the word "blabbering". Don't you just think that best describes this week's filling up of the white blank page or canvas? I am "blabbering" and I am not at this time bringing order to the whole. If only this dadblasted white were another color, like azure or burnt sienna. It's this confounded white, this blank page or canvas that is driving me around the bend. Have you ever been driven around the bend? What is the point? You get in a car and someone drives you around the bend. So what! What is so interesting around the bend? Around the bend is just more of the same. Where was I? What the hell am I blabbering about? Oh, yes, the white (not off-white, not beige, not cream, no, the white) blank page or canvas. This is what you get after forty-six columns.
That Miss Meryle Secrest. She just keeps on chipping away at the cement that has encrusted itself around my memory banks. She keeps thrusting under the surface to pull from said banks worthy deposits for her book on me. I'm amazed at the things she's making me remember. But, if you're going to write a comprehensive biography of a genuine enigma, this is the only way to go about it.
We are, Miss Meryle Secrest tells me, shaped by our childhoods. Mine was no different, I'm sure, than many others, except in the details. That's what makes all of us different, the details of our lives, the day to day as it were. That's what makes us unique unto ourselves.
It is hard for me to believe that as a young child I was enamored of professional wrestling. That's right, you heard it here, dear readers. My father's restaurant was frequented by none other than the legendary Gene LeBell. I know he was legendary because he never tired of telling us he was legendary. He was, I believe, a big mucky muck in the pro wrestling and boxing worlds. Do you suppose that Marky Mark was ever a mucky muck? Or that Mucky Mark was ever a Marky Muck? Stop me before I run amok. Do you think Marky Mark was a mucky muck who ran amok? I do believe I have exhausted this particular bit of business, don't you, dear readers? Anyway, as I was saying before, Gene LeBell (mucky muck extraordinaire) used to frequent my father's restaurant. He would give my father press seats to each Wednesday's big bouts at the Olympic Auditorium. I'd begun watching wrestling on Channel 5 around this time. It was hosted by the wonderful Dick Lane, who also hosted Roller Derby. Dick Lane had a great announcer voice and big thick black glasses. Every week he'd interview the wrestlers, and the "bad" guys would always take his glasses off and stomp on them. Apparently, Dick Lane had an inexhaustible supply of said glasses. I became obsessed with the wrestling show. To me it was the funniest program on television, and my best friend and I would never miss it. We became fans of all the wrestlers, cheering the good guys and screaming at the bad guys. At some point my father got tired of hearing said cheering and screaming and he began to take my friend and me to the Olympic Auditorium every Wednesday night, where he would drop us off, and we'd see the show live, from the first row. This was excitement! We saw all the greats. Freddie Blassie, The Destroyer (he wore a mask, about which more later), Mr. Moto (who would go on to play "Odd Job" in Goldfinger), Gorgeous George, Tricky Ricky Starr (wrestler and ballet dancer, I kid you not), and many many others.
Wrestling has always been one of the greatest of show business acts. Most of the spectators know it isn't real, but go along with it anyway. The ones who do think it's real are just as much fun to watch as the wrestlers. Back when I was younger it wasn't quite so dopey as it is now. I loved all the villains. Freddie Blassie (whose favorite thing was to call people "pencil neck geeks") was a wonderful performer. He was bad. There weren't many who were badder than Blassie. Except The Destroyer. The "masked" Destroyer. He was a great bad guy. He obliterated everyone he fought with his spectacular figure four leg lock. Well, being the precocious child I was, one fine day I was looking through a wrestling magazine at the market and I saw a picture of a wrestler named Rick Blair. As soon as I saw his mouth I knew he was The Destroyer. Before he came to LA he'd wrestled under his own name (as a good guy) in the mid-West. I bought said magazine and the next time I went to the Olympic Auditorium I brought it with me. Somewhere (along with my picture of me and The Three Stooges) there is a snapshot I took of The Destroyer as he's walking to the ring. He's looking at the camera with the meanest expression you've ever seen. That is because the moment before I snapped the picture, I'd held up the magazine with the photo of Rick Blair. He looked at it and snarled and said "You think you're smart, don't you?" Snap, and I had him.
I saw some great matches, but none greater than the one between Gorgeous George (he of the flowing blonde locks - he must've been sixty at the time) and Freddie Blassie. The deal was that if George lost he got his golden blonde locks cut off. Well, Blassie did his usual cheating and biting and gouging and won the match and Gorgeous George was shorn of his golden locks in front of the entire crowd. What a night! Another interesting thing is, that every week, sitting in the first row directly across from where I was, sat Jay North, who used to play Dennis the Menace on television. He was a huge wrestling fan, too, and never missed a match. And Tricky Ricky Starr? Ballet dancer/wrestler? You haven't lived until you've seen someone do perfect twirls across the ring and then dropkick someone. Pure heaven. Knowing this interesting page from my past, isn't it just too too obvious that I would grow up to love musicals and Stephen Sondheim? Doesn't it just make perfect sense?
Another thing Miss Meryle Secrest has helped me recall is My First Love. Yes, you heard it here, dear readers, The Real A had a Real First Love. I was ten at the time. I know it is unusual for kids of that age to be interested in such things as romance but I always have been, ever since I can remember. I was in grammar school, and every day I would moon over this person. I was positively goo-goo eyed over this person. This person was it. Oh, I had it bad for this person and I didn't even know what "it" was. We'll call this person "S". Everyday I could not wait to see S. At recess, at lunch, after school. I walked S home every day, as we ate our red licorice that we'd bought from Marty's Bike and Candy Shop. We had pizza slices at Big Town Market together. We shared so many Orange Julius' it wasn't even funny. While others were playing the usual childhood games, all I could think about was S, all I wanted to do was be around S. One day I walked S home after school, and being the precocious ten year old I was, I just up and kissed S right on the lips. Just a peck, really, but S pecked back and it was the highest moment of my life to that point. Better than Jujubees, better than a grape popsicle, better, dare I say, than a chocolate malt at Foster Freeze. Oh, I was one smitten ten year old. This went on for about three months, and then I got the disastrous news that S was moving away. Moving away! I was distraught, and I didn't even know what that word meant. Oh, there were promises of letters, but I knew that once the move happened I'd never see S again. On moving day, I went to S's house and said goodbye. We both swore we'd never forget each other. I don't know if S ever forgot me, but I can tell you here and now, I have never forgotten S or that first sweet kiss. Even at ten I knew that kissing was (in today's parlance) the bomb. I can remember all this as if it happened yesterday. I can remember how it was to walk home, holding hands (we did, you know), to talk long talks at the back door. We understood each other. And all this at ten. It would be years before anything could live up to that innocent but wonderful childhood romance, so perfect was it.
There, you see. You didn't get anything like that in Miss Meryle Secrest's biography of you-know-who, but that is because I am a willing subject, and, just like in my beloved wrestling, no holds are barred.
Yes, it's time for another wonder from the prolific team of Morty (Adolph) Gluckman and Herman Fitz. This was one of the songs that got a tremendous buzz going about the team. Sadly, another similar song appeared first, and it was a big letdown when their song hit the road to oblivion. But to rediscover this masterpiece is to see the great injustice the great Gluckman and Fitz suffered. It is a supreme pleasure to be able to present this song to you, dear readers.
THE BALLAD OF SEYMOUR TISCH
I thought for the next few weeks I'd devote My Favorite Things to My Favorite Songs. Songs that speak to me, move me, make me laugh, cry, go to the bathroom, have a stomach ache. So, I'll start with three songs that for various reasons meant a lot to me while I was growing up. Each of these is a simple, perfect gem. Each says what it has to say succinctly, with heart and with rare beauty. Why these songs would appeal to a very young person I have no clue, but appeal they did. These were also the first songs I learned how to play on the piano. I bought multiple recordings and listened to them over and over again. And in the subsequent years these three songs have never lost their allure for me. And they are:
WHEN I FALL IN LOVE
HERE'S THAT RAINY DAY
And yet the white continues. The blank page or canvas is taunting me, saying "fill me up, because if you don't I shall remain white and then what? There can be no order to the whole because the whole will be a white hole of white on white nothingness". Well, isn't the blank page or canvas just so erudite? Have I mentioned that we are nearing column numbers fifty and fifty-two? Our one year anniversary? Of course the column conundrum is that because of a technical website problem, we didn't have a column one week (well we had of a column) so this here column that you are reading should really be column 48, not column 47. Should we just pretend the Lost Week never happened? Should we just shine that lost column on? It's all so confusing and there is absolutely no order to the whole. Oh, wait a minute, I seem to have just gotten an e-mail. Let's see who it's from, shall we?
I know I haven't written in quite a while, but that is because you have not brought order to the whole. I'm quite busy and prone, still writing my new musical Wise Guys. While I enjoyed your treacly heartwarming and nauseating story of your first romance, I want to make sure that your calling your first love "S" doesn't lead people to believe that the "S" stands for Sondheim. I simply don't want people thinking that I was your first love (except artistically). I am very protective of my early love-life and don't want people who read this column to be led astray. I don't want people to think you walked me home from school and that we held hands. And that we had long talks at the back door (I'm not even going there). Other than that, your column, as always, eliminates most of the white, most of the blank page or canvas. Sometimes it's good to leave a little white, don't you think? Well, back to filling up my own blank page or canvas with musical notes and lyrics.
Mr. Mark Bakalor has informed me of an amazing thing. Said amazing thing is this: In the next few weeks (as we head toward our fiftieth column and one year anniversary) we will be receiving our 1,000th letter for this here column. That's right, you heard it here, dear readers, our 1,000th letter! As I've said before, what makes writing this column week in and week out doable are your wonderful letters. I have grown fond of each and every one of you who writes. I feel we have bonded. I feel we, author and reader, have become one. Well, two, if we count the bird, and I think we must count the bird, don't you, dear readers? We simply cannot leave the bird uncounted. After all, said bird is outside doing Who's Got The Pain (When They Do The Mambo) and not only is it singing the song perfectly, it is doing all the Bob Fosse choreography, too. So, yes, we must count the bird. Anyway, I feel you, me, and the bird have melded into a single whole. Yes, we are a whole, and isn't the point to bring order to the whole? One simply can't bring order to the half, one must bring order to the whole and since you, me, and the bird are a single whole, haven't we brought order to us? I have lost the point. Can one of you whole please tell me what the point was? Because I have lost it. I am sans point at the moment. Oh, yes, our 1,000th letter. So, Mr. Mark Bakalor has made an excellent suggestion, and that is that the person who sends in the 1,000th letter will win a prize! Yes, you heard it here, dear readers, the 1,000th letter sender inner will win a prize. And what will this prize be you might ask, and I might tell you because of the very fact that you asked. The prize will be a brand new pair of fish socks. These socks are beautiful, with a picture of a large salmon on each sock. And 100% cotton, too. That's the way we like our undergarments, you know. 100% cotton. Keep those letters coming, and who knows. You might be the lucky person to win their very own handy dandy brand spanking new pair of fish socks. Am I starting to sound like Bob Barker or Monty Hall?
Kristina is currently enrolled in Driver's Ed. I was once enrolled in that very same class, but Ed was busy so I was enrolled in Driver's Carl. Apparently Kristina's instructor Ed informed the class of a certain hand signal which involves the use of the middle finger. And when said signal is used drivers have been known to become enraged. This is a new one on me. I only know of one signal that involves the middle finger and it doesn't involve turning left or right or slowing or stopping. If you use the middle finger signal, does it mean you want to go straight forward? Or up? Perhaps Ed is having you on. Perhaps, you should demonstrate the finger signal in Ed's direction to see if you are doing it correctly.
Roy S. (from Merry Olde England) saw Stephen Sondheim's The Frogs. What Stephen Sondheim's Frogs were doing in England is anybody's guess. Perhaps they were bored of the States. In any case, Roy S. liked the show very much, but feels it may be just for the buffs. That means I would probably like it, too, as you are all well aware of the fact that I am buff and toned with abs and buns of steel. Roy S. also saw the Callaway Sisters (Liz and Ann Hampton) in their cabaret act Sibling Revelry, at the Donmar. He enjoyed that, too. It is a splendid act, and Those Callaways are superb singers.
mrsmig has found Louise the Tamagotchi! It transpires that Louise was found in the trunk of mrsmig's Nissan Sentra. Louise expired in that trunk, but the story has a happyish ending, in that Louise has a reset button which enables Louise to come back to life. Wouldn't it be great if we humans had a reset button? Maybe we do and we don't even realize it. Perhaps our belly buttons are really reset buttons. Next time someone dies, go and push their belly buttons and see what happens. So, Louise is alive and well but apparently morphing into something wholly other than what she was. There is no end to Tamagotchi versatility it seems. mrsmig is currently playing Charlotte in the Signature Theater production of A Little Night Music (and therefore will be singing my favorite Sondheim song, Every Day A Little Death). We wish mrsmig a wonderful run and are sure that she will do Charlotte proud.
Kate (a new dear reader - Hello, Kate!) recently stumbled into the SSS and found this here column. She thinks the site and this here column are "faboo" and therefore we think Kate is "faboo" too. Can you be too faboo? Since she likes the site and the column can we be two faboo? Well, just remember that faboo spelled backwards is oobaf.
Annyrose has finally broken the ice and written this here column a letter. C. If you wrote "C" isn't that technically writing a letter? And why did Annyrose find it necessary to break some ice before writing? Anyway, we are thrilled that she's written and hope she will continue to write and join our merry troupe of letter writers. Annyrose (a beautiful name, by the way) suggests that the next time I throw a Lemon Meringue Pie at someone that I substitue Lemon Meringue Pie Yogurt, which is cheaper and healthier.
Rafael (from the Philippines, named after the famous explorer Philip Eens) wants to know if I'm familiar with the cast album cd of Songs For A New World and if so what I think of it. Having seen the show and heard the album (the show was directed by Daisy Prince, daughter of Hal, and was written by Jason Robert Brown, who has done the score for Hal's latest musical, Parade) I wish I could say I liked it, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. It wasn't my glass of diet Coke. However, since Mr. Brown is an up-and-coming writer, you might want to give it a chance. I know a lot of people who like his songs a lot, so you may like it. I'm interested to hear more from Mr. Brown, but Songs For A New World just didn't do anything for me.
Josh asks what books I'd recommend by hard boiled noir writer Lionel White. I'm fond of three that have coincidentally been made into films: Clean Break (filmed as The Killing by Stanley Kubrick - and with screenplay by Kubrick and Josh-fave Jim Thompson), The Snatchers (filmed as The Night Of The Following Day, a very strange film, but a real guilty pleasure of mine - starring Marlon Brando, Richard Boone, Rita Moreno, and the divine Pamela Franklin), and The Money Trap (filmed as The Money Trap, starring Glen Ford). Any of those would be a fine introduction to White. How do you think Lionel White felt when he was faced with the white? The blank page or canvas. Would that be White on white?
sparkleneelysparkle wants to make sure I'm not making up the story of Behind The Great Wall in Aromarama. I'm not, I saw it at my beloved Four Star Theater on Wilshire Blvd. and ironically two blocks down the street from the Ritz Theater where Scent of Mystery was about to open. My first kiss, subsequent to the kiss with S (not Sondheim) was in the back row of the Four Star Theater during Where The Boys Are. Lastly, sparkle wants to know if our very own kittenish sleep-in-the-buff Tiffany watched Lolita on Showtime.
Carlton is back with us and had a swell old time in the big city of New York. He saw lots of plays (but not Cabaret) and, on my recommendation, ate at Joe Allen. He had the always delicious cheeseburger, and for dessert, the banana cream pie. He enjoyed them. He was seated along the "wall of flops" under the poster of Merrily We Roll Along. My table (Table 20) is under the poster of Dude, which depicts a man's butt cheeks in jeans.
Tiffany recently ordered Stephen Sondheim: A Life by Miss Meryle Secrest from the online bookstore Amazon.com. She likes getting packages (so do I) and was thrilled when it arrived. She is now on Chapter 5 and soon will be on Chapter 6. Tiffany will also be moving to a new residence. We will expect to hear all about said move when said move occurs. The big question is, will Tiffany still be able to sleep in the buff in the new residence or will she have to wear big pajamas?
Emily has sent another picture to share with us. It is a picture of Emily when she was two, and clearly shows that at that time her head was firmly attached to her body. Although, she does look like she might be holding her head precariously on her neck. Check out that curly hair, which Emily wishes she still had.
kokol wants to know if I like Mystery Science Theater 3000. I'm ashamed to say, dear kokol, I have never seen an episode of the show. Hence, I cannot answer your question.
Joel thinks I may have caused severe emotional damage to raw egg sucking Paul Needle by my stand-offish behavior to said sucking. Perhaps my friends and I should have been more nurturing and supportive and not looked so askance when he sucked them eggs. But since we don't know what became of Paul Needle, raw egg sucker, we have no way of knowing if said damage was caused. Joel also wants to know if I like Frank Zappa. I like anyone who would name a child Dweezil and Moon.
Robert, who is appearing in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has been saying "what is it, fish" to the person playing a guard. Said person, after enduring said sentence for quite some time, finally hit Robert in the stomach. He hopes no one in the audience saw it. Well, I've got bad news for you, Robert. Someone in the audience did see it and turned to their companion and said, "what is that, fish?".
Before we leave the letters section, let me just say that you, dear readers, still have not been sending me many pictures of yourselves doing activities. Mr. Mark Bakalor informs me that this may be because you do not have handy dandy scanners with which to scan said pictures and if you cannot scan said pictures you cannot send said pictures. That said, I want you all to try really hard to send some pictures, because I like the idea of putting them in the column. I think it will help bring order to the whole, frankly. As promised, here is a picture of my oil painting by J.C. Leyendecker.
You people are just too smart. Many of you guessed the correct answer to What is Sondheim's most recorded song. But it's only correct if it's a song that he wrote both music and lyrics to. And that song, of course, is:
Send In The Clowns
However, if you open up the question to include songs he only wrote lyrics to, then Clowns would be surpassed by: Tonight, Maria, and Somewhere.
This week's question has nothing to do with Sondheim: As we approach our fiftieth column, and our one year anniversary, the question arises - should we continue this column or end it on the one year anniversary? Be honest, whether it's yay or nay.
Trivia answers, questions, comments...
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...