Not only are we in the throes of October, I am in the throes of writing this here column, which, as you know, I am writing while we are in the throes of October. That sounds like a Ken Follet novel, The Throes of October. Frankly, I've had it with the throes, haven't you, dear readers? Let's throw out the throes, let's toss it hither and yon and also thither. One can simply not toss hither and yon and leave thither out in the cold. And speaking of cold, has anyone noticed that it's gotten cold while we are in the throes of October? Oops, I used "throes" again, when I was supposed to have tossed it hither and yon and thither. I know it is cold because the bird is up on a high tension wire singing Baby, It's Cold Outside (both parts). You don't believe me? Well, this time I have the proof! Here it is, dear readers, here is an actual picture of the bird sitting on the high tension wire and singing Baby, It's Cold Outside.
So, here I am, sitting on my brand spanking new couch like so much fish, drinking a Diet-Coke at seven thirty in the morning. And guess what? I happen to have an actual picture of said couch. Here it is.
I attended a revue last night, in which five talented performers sang the songs of a composer/lyricist named John Forster. Twenty- four songs these talented performers sang. All comedy songs. That is a lot of comedy songs, and while some of them are quite clever, it is hard to have an entire evening of comedy songs, because after a while one simply becomes numb to the comedy. Especially when the venue that you are seeing said revue in has the temperature at forty degrees. Nothing is funny at forty degrees. And of course, our table was directly under a vent and the cold air was wafting down on us with the force of a small gale. One of the people at the table finally stood up and closed the vent, which helped. It was still forty degrees, but the wafting air at least wasn't wafting. No, that wafting air went hither and yon, and let's not leave out thither, either, because we know how testy thither can get. Sitting at the table next to me was Mr. George Furth, who, as you all know, wrote the books for Company and Merrily We Roll Along and who, like me, is a close personal friend of Mr. Stephen Sondheim. And they say this column has nothing to do with Sondheim! Pish tosh, say I, even though sometimes I like to be contrary (like the bird) and say posh tish. "Pish tosh". Can you even contemplate the mind that came up with that expression? Where was I? Oh, yes, Mr. George Furth sitting at the next table. This is not unusual, this sighting of George Furth, because Mr. Furth will go to the opening of a door, if you get my meaning. I see George Furth all the time, every time I attend anything, there is George Furth. Whether in New York or Los Angeles, if there's an event there will be George Furth. Anyway, in one of those amusing life/art things, Mr. Furth had Company at his table.
Have I mentioned that we are in the throes of October? Has anyone else noticed how quickly this year has gone by? Yesterday it was January and today it's October. I know there were other months in there, but they just whizzed by. This is called The Whiz Theory and it seems to be getting worse as we hurtle towards the millennium. The Whiz Theory. Sounds like a novel by Robert Ludlum. I tell you, that bird is outside singing up a storm. One song after another, a veritable cornucopia of song. And not only well-known tunes, either. I mean, how many birds do you know who can sing Dinner For One Please, James? This bird deserves its own Broadway show, damn it. That show I wrote about last week, More To Love, has opened and closed (four performances) so the Eugene O'Neill Theater is empty. We can call it Bird On Broadway and I feel it can be a sellout from the get go. Yes, you heard it here, from the get go. "From the get go". Do we want to dissect that phrase? Do we just? Do we need to, or shall we just let its sheer inanity speak for itself? In any case, Bird On Broadway would be a smash from the get go. Aren't there any enterprising producers out there reading this here column? Jump on this, people! This bird is on the brink of big things. Well, it's time to end this section of the column, because frankly it's starting to feel like George Furth: All over the place. But enough about me.
I know that sounds like a Sidney Sheldon book, but it's not. It actually happened, this ordeal did, and it happened yesterday. But, before I get to said ordeal may I just say that October (which we are in the throes of) just runs hot and cold. First it was cold, now, mere hours later, it is hot (and a gloriously beautiful day, as opposed to yesterday when we had The UPS Ordeal), and mere hours from now it will be cold. This is an assault on the senses, this changing temperature is. It's what causes colds, which many of my friends have at this very moment. I have explained to them that their colds are the result of the hot and cold running October, but this causes them no comfort whatsoever. Does anyone have any idea what the hell I'm talking about? If you do, please let me know because I like to have a clue. Right now I have no clue and without said clue I am clueless. So, The UPS Ordeal.
When I arrived home on Thursday I found on my door a heinous (heinous, do you hear me?) yellow note from the UPS person. This note said that a delivery attempt was made and that they would return on Friday (although they couldn't tell me when) and that I had to actually be at home to sign for the package. Now, I don't know about you, dear readers, but I just don't have the ability to sit at home all day on a Friday waiting for the UPS to arrive at an unspecified time. And here is the kicker: The package which they attempted to deliver contains checks, checks which I need because I simply must have checks for without checks I simply cannot write checks and one must have the ability to write checks if one wants to and this has turned into one of those runon sentences and I'm trying to stop it but it's taken on a life of its own as runon sentences tend to do and so it's very difficult to stop them but I am putting on the sentence brakes right now. Whew, I thought that sentence would never end. So, I called UPS and I asked them to reroute the package to my office (yes, my office). I gave them the address and they assured me said package would be rerouted and that I'd have it the next day.
The next day UPS arrived in the morning and they did not have the package. Hence, I did not have the package. Hence, I was angry. And so began the all-day UPS ordeal. I called UPS and told them what happened. The person I was speaking to said they could see the rerouting order and that I should have gotten the package. I told her I hadn't gotten the package. She said I should have gotten the package. I said, we seem to be at a stalemate here. She said she would send a message to my local service center and that I would receive a call within the hour. I said, why don't you just give me the number? She said there is no number, they can only send an e-mail. I said, if there is no number how ever will they call me? She assured me they would, even though they had no number.
One and a half hours later I had received no call from the local service center without a number. I called back the 800 number and got a new person to speak to. She listened patiently as I explained the entire story over again. She told me the package should have been delivered. I told her it hadn't. She told me someone must have messed up and that she'd e-mail the local service center and that someone would call me within the hour. I told her that someone had already done that and that no one had called me. She told me that she'd add that information to her e-mail and that someone would call me within the hour. I said fine, that I'd wait by the phone.
One and a half hours later I had received no call from the local service center without a number. I was now livid. Not angry, but livid. I called the 800 number and got a new UPS person on the phone. He sat and listened patiently as I told him the ever lengthening story. He told me he would send an e-mail to the local service center and that someone would call me in an hour. I began to scream at him that I'd had it with the UPS and their attempts to turn my life into a living Kafka novel. I demanded a supervisor. After ten minutes on hold, I got one. She sat and listened as I repeated the entire story yet again. She told me she'd send an e-mail, at which point I interrupted her as loudly as I could that and said enough with the email already, I'd wasted too much time, and that she had to deal with it now with me on the phone. She then noticed in her computer that a second delivery attempt had been made at my home just moments before. I asked her why, as they were supposed to reroute it. She had no answer. I suggested the UPS Mongoloid Theory to her. She asked me to give her five minutes and that she'd personally call the local service center and clear things up. I told her they didn't have a number. She told me she had her ways and said she'd call me back in five minutes. She told me her name and that she was in the San Antonio service center. She finally called back a half hour later and told me that the driver had been contacted and that he would deliver the package within the hour. I thanked her and hung up the phone and had some Good and Plenty.
One and a half hours later the package had not arrived. I was now apoplectic. Not angry, not livid, not merely plectic, no, apoplectic. I called the 800 number and asked to speak to the supervisor I'd spoken to in San Antonio. The person told me I had reached Virginia and that she couldn't put me through to San Antonio. I asked her how I reached Virginia when I'd reached San Antonio before. She said it was random. I said it was like being in a living Salvador Dali painting. She said who? I said, Salvador Dali, you remember, it became a Broadway musical called Hello, Dali. She said oh. I hung up and called the 800 number again. This time I got Arizona. I said that I wanted San Antonio. She said that I had no choice, I got whatever State I got. I explained to her that I was in a state, a state of apoplexy. She offered to send an e-mail to the local service center and told me they'd call me within the hour. Luckily for all concerned, the package arrived at that very moment.
It had been an all-UPS day. By the end of it I was ready to fly to San Antonio and throttle that supervisor. But I'm sure had I done that I would have been told that there was no UPS service center there. But, all's well that ends well, and I have my checks, therefore I can write checks should I so choose. Wow, it took almost as long to write this story as it took to live it. I know it's not about Sondheim, but had it been him instead of me, perhaps he'd have written:
Attend the tale of UPS,
Was Miss Meryle Secrest a plumber before becoming a biographer? Because this woman is plumbing, plumbing the depths of my memory, using mind-Drano to unclog the pipes of my mind. And speaking of Drano, what idiot decided to take the name of a perfectly pleasant fruit called a plum and stick a "b" on the end of it and have a whole new word having nothing whatsoever to do with that nice plum (unless the plum remnants get stuck in your drain and then you have to plumb the plum). And the "b" is silent, so that is really stupidity to the nth degree. Where was I? Oh, yes, Miss Meryle Secrest and the plumbing. She asked me about my first work experiences, my first actual jobs. And this is what I remembered.
When I was about twelve, my friend and I somehow met someone who had twelve year olds go out and sell magazine subscriptions. I think the thought was that no one could refuse a sweet child standing at their door with a forlorn look on their face. My parents said "okay" to doing it (they said this without ever having met the person who'd be driving us to various neighborhoods to solicit the sales - unthinkable in the world we live in today) and so I had my first job. I imagined I'd be raking in the dough. And I, for some reason, got the prime neighborhood of Beverly Hills as my route. So, on a bright sunny Sunday morning I began. The first thing I learned was, that in Beverly Hills they don't fall for that sweet child standing at their door with a forlorn look on their face stuff. They just couldn't have cared less. After working six blocks I had received not one or two whits of interest about anything. The fact that the magazines I was soliciting were ones that no one had ever heard of did not help convince people to take the subscriptions. No matter how I spieled I was hawking things no one wanted. The high point of my selling morning came when I knocked on a door and was greeted by a beautiful older lady who saw that I was hot and tired and having no luck. She invited me into her Spanish-style palatial home to sit down for a minute. She went to the kitchen, and while she was gone I noticed several paintings of this pretty lady from when she was younger and even prettier. She returned from the kitchen with a tall glass of lemonade for me. She asked me all about the magazine, what I would make if she took the subscription and all about what things I liked. After I'd finished, she did take the subscription. As she filled out the form and handed me her money, I asked what she did, and she told me she was an actress, although she hadn't worked in a while. Her name was Corinne Calvet and indeed she'd appeared in lots of movies. She wished me well in my selling and in my life. As it turned out I was the only person who made a sale that day! And for my effort I received fifty cents commission. I realized that while that would buy me a lot of candy, it wasn't really worth the effort and rejection, so I quit that very day. But I've never forgotten the name Corinne Calvet or her kindness (and her lemonade was the best).
My next job was when I was seventeen and I worked briefly at the Broadway Department Store. But not just any Broadway Department Store, no, I worked at the brand spanking new Broadway Department Store which was located in the brand spanking new city known as Century City. That's right, you heard it here, dear readers. When the Broadway opened their doors in Century City, it was one of just a handful of stores there. Prior to it becoming Century City, Century City had been the back lot of Twentieth Century Fox studios. And now it was a city. And I worked at the Broadway in said city. That's right, at seventeen I made it to Broadway, just not the one I wanted to make it to. I worked in a section which sold knickknacks (shall we just kick the person who put those useless "k"s on knicknacks?). The problem with working in a section which sells knickknacks is that no one really buys knickknacks. They look, they admire, then they go buy sheets or underwear. Certainly this proved to be the case, because after three days (part time work - I was in high school) I hadn't made a sale. I would just stand there in my dressy outfit twiddling my thumbs (this column is just suffused with useless letters today - wouldn't we all be better off it was "thums"? - just kick that "b" right in the butt cheeks and get it out of there), occasionally writing brilliant notions on a pad I kept with me. Do you think if I'd worked in Notions that I'd have written brilliant knickknacks on my pad? What the hell am I talking about? Oh, yes, no sales, brilliant notions. In fact, it occurs to me, I was rather like Charles, the hero of Evening Primrose, a poet in a department store. Yes, the same Evening Primrose (story by John Collier) which would later be musicalized by someone named Stephen Sondheim. Anyway, there I stood in knickknacks, until one fine day in walked a man who I recognized instantly from the motion pictures. How could you not recognize Ernest Borgnine? In he walked, and he smiled and said "hello" while I gawked at him. He looked around and became very interested in a bird cage which had a mechanical bird inside. When you wound it up, the bird sang a song. Mr. Borgnine was delighted with this bird cage and its singing bird. Imagine how he'd feel if he saw my actual live singing bird who is, even as I write this, out there singing and dancing Who's Got The Pain (When They Do The Mambo). Mr. Borgnine kept winding the cage up and listening to that mechanical bird chirp whatever it was chirping. It made him smile, this mechanical bird did, and he came up to me and asked me all about it. I told him as much as I knew ("this is a bird cage with a mechanical singing bird in it - imported from Germany!") and he asked the price, which was in the fifty dollar range, pretty pricey in those days. I could see him thinking about it, and I began to think that I was actually going to use the cash register for the first time. Then a lady joined him, his wife Tova. I immediately took a disliking to Tova because I could see that she was not fond of that birdcage and she thought it was a dumb (yes, another useless "b") idea for her dear husband Ernest to buy it. She said things like "Ernie, where will you put it? Why do we need it? What good is it?" and all the while I'm thinking "shut up, you stupid woman and let the guy buy his bird cage if he wants to". In the end, Tova won. Ernest Borgnine rolled his eyes heavenward as they were leaving and said "women". I worked at the Broadway for another four weeks and never made a sale. By that time I was bored and I quit.
I later had jobs ranging from selling Bibles (I lasted exactly twelve minutes doing that!) to working in various movie theaters (always enjoyable because I got to watch the movies and got free passes to other theaters) until I finally began the journey which would lead me (a long and interesting and circuitous journey, I might add) to where I am today. And where am I today? Why I'm sitting on my couch like so much fish writing this here column, that's where I am!
What I am finding out as I go through the vast trunk of Morty (Adolph) Gluckman and Herman Fitz, is that there are certain themes that run throughout their work. Basically they had concerns and that is what they wrote about. They had a certain style and they stuck to it, even though it meant virtually languishing in obscurity. Here are bits I found from a song cycle they were working on. It's apparently about a Jewish man who marries out of his faith, but still manages to have his son circumcised. It appears this was quite daring material that may never have been performed, and it looks like these snippets are all that survive.
THE JEW WHO MARRIED A GOYIM
There are just so many songs I love, and I'm having the best time choosing them and sharing them with you, dear readers. Music, of course, is subjective, but if even one of you goes out and falls in love with any of these songs, then it will have all been worth it.
This week I start off with a song that I've always considered to be one of the best ballads ever written. I'm cheating a little, because way back when I already printed this lyric, and I can't even remember why. But it was way back in the beginning and we have lots of new dear readers, so I'm printing it again because I just love it so. The music is sublimely beautiful, and the lyric makes me tear up every time. I discovered the song when I saw the motion picture version of Flower Drum Song, and this song and the entire score remain favorites to this day.
LOVE, LOOK AWAY
IF LOVE WERE ALL
ANYONE CAN WHISTLE
Remember, dear readers, that Christmas will soon be upon us (yes, soon we will be in the throes of Christmas) and the twenty people who've written the most over the last year will be getting a special handy dandy surprise Christmas present at their very own domicile. Mr. Mark Bakalor will be compiling this information and will be e-mailing the lucky twenty for shipping information. So, keep writing, because I love hearing from you. I am a wee bit disappointed that more of you have not sent in activity photos, so to spur you on, here is another of mine. This is the view from my apartment in New York. It is located on the upper West Side and the view is looking south.
Emily tells me that she saw a production of Merrily We Roll Along in Allentown (as opposed to Williamtown or Guidotown) and that she enjoyed it. Despite said enjoyment, Emily is in a horrible mood because she is tired. Hopefully, when she arises from her sleep she will be in a delightful mood, because if you're in a horrible mood too long, your mood is doom, which of course is "mood" spelled backwards.
Tiffany has received her fish socks, sending of which was delayed by Mr. Mark Bakalor who is a busy beaver rehearsing for his new play Die, Die, Diana. Tiffany loves her fish socks and I, for one, am glad. They are tube fish socks and she thinks the fish that is pictured is an Eagle Lake trout with a mean expression. Tiffany wants to know if I will match myself up with any of you dear readers, and as I've already stated, I think that would be the easiest thing to do. You could all come to Los Angeles and we could have a love fest.
Stephen (not Sondheim) had a birthday on October 12th. Okay, everyone...
Happy birthday to you,
As a gift, Stephen was given a trip to New York
Tom read that a concert of Cole Porter's Jubilee was announced for October 10th (two days before Stephen not Sondheim's birthday), but hasn't seen anything else about said concert and was wondering if it happened and if it was recorded. It did happen, at Carnegie Hall with Bea Arthur and Sandy Duncan, but has not been recorded at this time. There is interest, but if they don't do it in a timely fashion, then the cast will disperse and it will be very difficult to get them back for said recording.
annyrose hasn't written recently because she is in the throes of rehearsals for, yes, you guessed it, Tommy. We hope rehearsals are going well and that once the throes have abated she'll be able to write more. Perhaps she'll even send us a picture of a rehearsal she is in the throes of.
Dan tells me that I am misinformed and that there is indeed a concert version of Sweeney Todd that is offered to amateur groups by Music Theater International. Why, it that's the case, I was misinformed! I hate when that happens. Dan also mentions that the complete Follies score is indeed still in print.
steveg tells me that I am misinformed about Barbra Streisand being the first to record Kander and Ebb's My Coloring Book. Now wait a darn minute. I was misinformed twice??? That is simply heinous (heinous, do you hear me?), this being misinformed. steveg tells me that the first recording of the song was done by either Kitty Kallen or Sandi Stewart. But Barbra was the first non-alliterative singer to record it. I am not misinformed about that, let me tell you.
Spock (yes, Spock) has the following query: If "Mr." is an abbreviation of "Master", then "Miss" "Mrs" or "Ms" must be abbreviations of "Mistress". What is the sense of that, Spock wants to know. Sense? You want sense from the English language? This is a language which includes the word "laundry". Need I say more? However, "Mr." is from Mister, while Master is normally spelled out. Master connotes a young person while Mister connotes an adult. And let us not forget that the English language also contains the word "connotes". Well, you say Master and I say Mister...let's call the whole thing off. As to Ms. everyone knows that comes from Les Miz (or to translate the French: The Miz).
Mordecai also has a query (that is two queries in a row, which becomes a quandry): Sondheim didn't write the score to The Last of Sheila (for which he wrote the script with Anthony Perkins). Moredecai knows who did and wants to know if I know. I do. One of my favorite film composers, very underrated, Mr. Billy Goldenberg. Mr. Billy Goldenberg also wrote the score for the Broadway musical (and its original incarnation as a TV movie) Ballroom. Very talented gentleman.
William F. Orr tells me that Steve Martin has just published a collection of essays entitled Pure Drivel. This is heinous (heinous, do you hear me?)! Who does this Steve Martin think he is? He comes here, reads this column and then thinks he can just up and use my word? This is outrageous. Wait a minute, I'm just getting an e-mail. Let's see who it's from, shall we?
Dear A Person:
Well, excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me! Do you think you own the patent on the word drivel? And while I think your drivel is choice, it is not as choice as my drivel. If you want to have a drivel contest, just meet me at the flagpole, buddy. Let us not forget that I am a big star. Okay, so I haven't had a hit in a while, but so what? I think there is room for two purveyors of drivel, don't you? You don't want to hog all the drivel, you've got to spread it around, like manure. I hope that you will purchase my book, Pure Drivel. If you do, I'll continue to read your column. Who knows, my next book might be a bio by Meryle Secrest.
grehf (who, in reality and non-reality is someone named Gavin) wants to know if I have the 20/20 video that was done when Smile, the musical, was about to come to Broadway. Yes, I have said video, and also a reviewer's reel of several of the musical numbers, which look pretty terrific. Gavin also wants to know if I am Bruce Yeko, the record producer. Let's take a look at our list of guesses:
male, female, gay, straight, Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters, Gerard Allesandrini, George Clooney, William F. Orr, Rupert Holmes, Young Simba from The Lion King, the Tony nominated Billy from Big, a cast member from one of Sondheim's shows, Michael Tough the singing janitor, Bruce Kimmel, Richard Christianson of the Chicago Tribune, George Furth, New Line Theatre's Scott Miller, Leigh's father, Waiting for Guffman's Corky, Mr. Mark Bakalor's word processor, Charlie Sheen, dear reader Matt, Pitgirl's physics professor, Michael Larson director at the Stagedoor Manor, and Yves of Finishing the Chat.
That is such a fine list and I would be more than happy to be any of those people. Could I be both Michael Tough, the singing janitor and Bruce Yeko, the record producer? That almost sounds like a vaudeville team, Tough and Yeko. Well, I certainly could be any of the people on that list and probably am. Gavin is currently in the throes of doing Pippin at his college. He may also be sharing a William Finn story with us soon. Hopefully it will be accompanied by an activity picture.
pitgirl's high school is doing Anything Goes, not Tommy, and last year they did Sweeney not Joseph.
Daniel heard that Smile, the musical was recorded but that the company who did it didn't release it. That is not the case. The show was recorded, but not by a record company. It was done with most of the original cast, but the accompaniment was all synthesizers. The recording was done to send out to people who were interested in doing the stock and amateur productions through Samuel French. I have it, and it's pretty good, but it is synthesizers, not an orchestra. Many of the songs from Smile have been recorded, though, and I find them delightful in extremis.
Anna asks what parts I played in The Crucible, A View From The Bridge and The Glass Menagerie. I played Amanda, Eddie Carbone, and Abigail. I was very versatile.
Seth would like to know which Chess concert I attended. It was the first show of a two performance AIDS benefit, which starred Christiane Noll, Michael Cerveris, Brian D'Arcy James and Alice Ripley.
Jon B. says that George Hearn can also be heard on the cast album of Meet Me In St. Louis.
Pat King (he of Wheaton North) is pushing for his school to do Merrily We Roll Along, but to no avail. What is a "vail" anyway? Is it like a "loof"? Hopefully, push will come to shove and he'll convince them to do Merrily.
Well, you smart, smart people had lots of smart, smart answers to last week's trivia question. I wasn't clear enough when I said "contemporary" and should have specified "living" composers who had written filmscores. Also, several people included composers who'd written songs for films, instead of dramatic scores. The following people all contributed good answers: Gavin, Mordecai, Louis, Sara, Daniel, steveyray, Rafael, Michael and Kevin. And some of those answers are (an amazing list when you think about it):
Stephen Sondheim (we knew you'd all get that one): Stavisky, Reds
John Kander: Places In The Heart and a tv movie or two.
Harvey Schmidt: Bad Company
Cy Coleman: Garbo Talks
Marvin Hamlisch: The Way We Were, Sophie's Choice, Ice Castles, etc.
Charles Strouse: Bonnie and Clyde, The Night They Raided Minsky's
David Shire: All The President's Men, Return To Oz, The Conversation, etc.
Michael Gore: Defending Your Life, Terms of Endearment
Andrew Lloyd Webber: The Odessa File
Alan Menken: Life With Mikey
There are others, too, but I didn't include people whose main thing was Broadway musicals, filmmusic people, for example, who wrote shows. And of course, in terms of people who are no longer with us, Leonard Bernstein and Richard Rodgers both wrote marvelous work, Bernstein with On The Waterfront, and Rodgers with Victory At Sea.
This week's trivia question should stump the best of you, but since you constantly surprise me, we'll just see:
Earlier I got an e-mail from Steve Martin. Can you name the film in which there is a character named Steve Martin, who played the character named Steve Martin, and why, in fact, there is a character named Steve Martin in the movie at all.
Trivia answers, questions, comments...
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...