Brief Encounter

I got to the Tony Randall memorial at about 11:00 AM, when the line was still short, near The Majestic Theatre.  A well-dressed, spry, silver coifed, 80ish woman got chatty with me, and I regaled her with celebrity sightings around us.  She was from Ft. Lauderdale, and comes up to New York City, for six weeks every year.

“Do you stay with relatives?”

“No.  I rent an apartment.  It’s expensive but worth it.”

I inquired further.  She was originally from New Jersey, where she and her late husband, had the VERY successful Abram’s Furs.  He came to the U.S. from Poland, at 17, with nothing, and due to the booming times during and after WW II, and before animal rights activists and red paint, was able to retire at 51.  “We got out at the right time!”

“We sold the business to a lousy Greek, who ran it into the ground! It broke our hearts.”  When women came to get their furs out of storage, they were told that there was a robbery, and it was gone, and that they should contact their insurance company.  Actually the furs were stolen by the owner and sold to a Greek company.  Eventually the scandal was exposed, and was in the newspapers, and the good name of Abrams was tarnished. By then, they were busy on the golf courses of Florida.

This year she rented a one bedroom on 48th Street between 1st and 2nd avenues.  Usually she takes a studio, but her grandson from Connecticut, said he’d visit with his girlfriend on weekends.  “He came once on Labor Day and that was it!  “If I’m still around next year it’ll be a studio!”

We also spoke of my activities.

When it came time to go in, I said I was going to run to run the men’s room and as it was very crowded, “If I don’t see you inside, it was very nice meeting you.”

“Oh, I was going to take you lunch after the show.”

“Then I’m not going anywhere.”

We watched the event from good seats, as she complained to the usher that she couldn’t walk up any more stairs to the mezzanine, where those without invitations where supposed to sit.  She is a big opera fan and was delighted by Marilyn Horne and Sherill Milnes, who performed.

After it ended, in the lobby, she extended her hand, “I’m Harriet.  Where do you want to eat?”

We crossed the street to go to Angus McCindoe, where we could watch the crowds outside from the large, front window.  I ordered a turkey wrap, and she a hamburger, while we chatted some more.  She was very encouraging but suggested shortening my last name, “It doesn’t flow…”

After lunch, there were farewells and best wishes outside.


“It says, ‘Tour guide gratuity is not included,’ so here you go,” twanged an older, Vickie Lawrence/Mama’s Family-type woman, after reading aloud from the travel company’s voucher.

Wanda then handed me a folded bill that I later saw was $10, at the START of a Sunday morning, Statue of Liberty Tour, in 2005.  We had already established a playful bantering when I checked her, and her companion in, so this premature gift was in keeping with the whimsy.

She was here from rural Texas, with her 14 year-old, well-mannered, quiet, blond nephew, Morgan.

“It was the only thing I could tickets to on short notice.  ‘Isn’t that a chick thing?’  He’s not so happy but it’s on Broadway.”  The 3:00 PM matinee of Steel Magnolias was their time constraint for the expedition.  “I thought everything on Broadway was a musical,” was the boy’s puzzled reaction when I explained that it was a play.

They had seen touring productions of The Lion King and Beauty and The Beast.  “Yesterday, he said, ‘Look, there’s more people on these few streets then in all of back home!’” was Morgan’s observation of New York City, versus his hometown of Jasper.  Wanda lives 75 miles away, in the comparative metropolis of Nacogdoches.

There were 15 other nice people on the tour, who had checked in by the departure time of 8:00 AM, at Paramount Plaza, but Wanda and Morgan, made the most impact.

There was the usual routine.  The R train from 49th Street, to City Hall.  Show and lecture of that, as well as The Brooklyn Bridge, Woolworth Building, the plaques in the sidewalks commemorating the ticker tape parades, St. Paul’s Chapel, The World Trade Center site, Trinity Church and assorted tangents to fill the time before Battery Park.

After I got the ferry and Statue of Liberty admission tickets from the box office, we then had to wait on the ferry line.  As usual, it was modest at that time, but seconds later, at 9:15 AM, there was the inevitable large, group of high school students and chaperones lengthening it.  We got swamped, but most of my bunch pushed ahead, led by Wanda.  Following the intense security check, we all got on the boat, and after 15 minutes it left at 10:00 AM.

I read the Sunday New York Times downstairs, and as per my directions, most of my charge went upstairs.  As we headed into Liberty Island, Wanda and Morgan emerged to push to the front.  “Look we have the matinee, so we’re just going to rush in and out.  Thanks!”  My standard directions are that we’ll all gather on the dock, so that I can explain things, etc., but I understood.  “Thanks very much.  It was nice meeting you!”

After gathering the rest of the group, and seeing them into the Statue of Liberty, I had lunch in the crowded cafeteria.  Eventually I headed to the dock to wait for the next ferry with the mob.  From the corner of my eye, I could see Wanda and Morgan pushing through the crowd.  “You didn’t think we were going to let you get away!”  We got into the boat and sat downstairs. They did not get out at Ellis Island.

“I’m going be 70, this year, and a few weeks ago I thought I should see New York, while I’m still able to.  I took him out of school for four days, so he’s happy!  It sure is SOMETHING.  I was an educator, administrator, and dean for 34 years, at a vocational high school for aviation. We taught them how to fix planes so they could fall back out of the sky again. What’s a good place to eat before the show?

“Are there any restaurants that you’ve heard of, or were curious about?”

“A lady in an apartment complex I once lived in, talked about The Second Avenue Deli.  She used to live around there.”  I gave her subway directions,  “Take the green #4 train from Bowling Green, uptown to Brooklyn Bridge, and change to the green #6 train to Astor Place, then walk down St. Marks Place, to Second Avenue…”

“Yeah.  Right.  I’m going remember all that!”

We were standing near the exit door of the ferry as we were pulling into Battery Park.  “Come on, I’ll take you to The Second Avenue Deli,” I said. Why not let this adventure continue, I thought,

No Lexington Avenue trains were running below City Hall, so instead of getting it at Bowling Green, we had to trudge back up to City Hall. We got the #4, that today was running local, to Astor Place.

We walked down St. Marks Place, past all of the exotic emporiums.  “Morgan, would you like to get something pierced?  Or a tattoo?  Your Mom would love that!  If we still had film left, I’d sit next to HIM for a picture,” Wanda said, while pointing to a quintessential, tattoo aficionado who had an inked faced, and was smoking, on a stoop.

At 12:40 PM, we got to The Second Avenue Deli.  “Of course you’re joining us…” By 1:00 PM, the wait was obviously still too long.  We walked over to the Ukrainian landmark, Veselka.  “About 15 minutes?”  “Yeah, something like that,” said the unconvincing hostess.  That’s Sunday brunch in Manhattan.

We looked around, and headed up 9th Street, to the restaurant Around The Clock, which had room for us.

“This is a very good sandwich,” Wanda said of her Portobello mushroom concoction.  “I was a big Anne Richards fan.  After the governor’s election, everyone in the state could see what was happening.  You all couldn’t, but we could.”  “You mean HE was running for president from the start?”  “We could see what was happening.”

Morgan had a turkey burger with fries.  I had a brunch selection of a bagel/lox/tomato/onion, with a Bloody Mary and coffee.

“I could put some grenadine in a coke…” said the pretty waitress after Wanda sniffed, “No Dr. Pepper?!”

The check for the three of us came to about what one meal would have cost at The Second Avenue Deli.  After looking it over, she took out money, and gave the check to Morgan.  “As for the tip, that’s your job.”  With his calculator he figured out 18%, and after paying we left.

It was 2:00 PM, and they wanted to go back to their hotel first, to get their forgotten digital camera to replace the used up, disposable one.  Wanda chatted with the East Asian driver, and we soon arrived at 31st between 5th Avenue and Broadway, where a small building with a functional sign announced “Herald Square Hotel”.   “It’s kind of nothing, but it’s clean, and the beds are so comfortable.  It got good ratings when I investigated it, and for $139 a night, that’s fine!”

Due to traffic and construction, we got out on the opposite side of the street from their hotel.  “Well, we’re over there.  It was very nice to meet you!”  We all shook hands, and they crossed over, and I headed to Broadway, to go home.

Frank Langella’s EAG Memorial Address

“I’m profoundly grateful I’m not on it,” said Frank Langella, during his moving speech at The Episcopal Actors’ Guild’s annual Memorial Service for deceased show business figures on November 13, 2016.

This crowded celebration was the centerpiece of an 80-minute inter-faith religious service that was held at the 400-seat Church of the Transfiguration. This bucolic landmark was built in 1849, and is also well known by its knick name, “the Little Church Around the Corner.” It has been a haven for actors since the 1870’s.

The Episcopal Actors’ Guild was founded in 1923, and its main mission is to provide emergency aid and support to professional performers of all faiths who are undergoing financial crisis.

A long-time lapsed Catholic, the 78 year-old, New Jersey born Mr. Langella explained that he had not been inside a church in many years. “Better an old habit should die rather then an old actor.” Aged but vital, this titan of the performing arts was serenely commanding.

“It petrified me,” he revealed of his personal brush with death earlier in the year and how that incident instigated his appearance at this event.

In the early morning of Sunday June 19th, he was taken ill, nearly died and was in the hospital for eight days. Without specifying his malady, he declared that he has since fully recovered.

The date was significant as that afternoon he was to give his final performance in the acclaimed Broadway production of The Father. His performance as a proud, elderly man beset with dementia was critically hailed as among the greatest of his renowned, 54-year career. He won that season’s Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play, for it.

His understudy, actor Anthony Newfield went on for him. Mr. Newfield is on the council of The Episcopal Actors’ Guild and urged Langella to deliver this year’s Memorial Address. Reluctant at first, he eventually agreed, “So Tony wouldn’t do it better then me,” he joked.

After quoting Noël Coward’s allusion to the dead as, “Blue Shadows,” he estimated that he personally knew 35, of the 250 individuals being commemorated. “Actors have always been my heroes. They’re so profoundly human.” He reminisced about a few of them.

“We were two impossible people,” Langella observed of playwright Edward Albee and himself. The two had a contentious relationship during the 1975 production of Albee’sSeascape, for which Langella won the first of his four Tony Awards. They had not seen each other in many years but had met again relatively recently. “He was shaky and frail. He kissed me on the cheek and said, ‘It’s all water under the bridge. Isn’t it?’”

“Peter Shaffer tried to pick me up in a bar in the 1970’s.” Langella was at a London bar with Mel Brooks. “He’s my boyfriend!” roared Brooks and mock threatened Shaffer. Some years later in 1981, Langella was appearing in the playwright’s Amadeus on Broadway. Shaffer had no memory of this incident, “It was the 1970’s. I was trying to pick up anyone I could!” They were never physical with each other because, “No sex. He’s British.”

“Alan Rickman was my go-to pal in London. He loved shopping for clothes and spending money.”

In the mid 1960’s, in Los Angeles, Langella befriended the young, future Oscar winning film director Michael Cimino. Cimino had written a script for a never realized movie that he planned to direct and that Langella was to star in in. “I was to be paid $1000 for the whole thing and would have been glad to have it!”

In 2003, he and Tammy Grimes were inducted into The Theater Hall of Fame. The ceremony took place at the Gershwin Theatre. Langella got wistful looking at their names painted in gold on the white walls. “Did you ever imagine when we were starting out in the early 1960’s that this would ever happen to us?” he said to Grimes. “They’d look better against a black background,” she quipped.

“A boy with a profoundly beautiful soul,” Langella remarked of Anton Yelchin, the 27 year-old actor who was crushed to death by his truck in a freak accident. The two worked together several times, and recalling this relationship, Langella was at his most emotional and thoughtful. He held forth about the reality that death might come at any time, and at any age.

“I’ll leave you with cheap sentiment,” he said at the end of his
17-minute address. He then recited a quotation from the 1948 film, Portrait of Jennie that starred Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten.

“There is no life, my darling, until you love and have been loved. And then there is no death.”

He then left the pulpit, and reflectively sat in the front row of the church as Elowyn Castle, the president of The Episcopal Actors’ Guild and Mr. Newfield read the names of the departed.

Earlier, the gregarious Ms. Castle joyously introduced Langella. “He was everybody’s favorite Dracula!” Castle recounted the highlights of his illustrious career. From Dropped Names, his book of memories of deceased celebrities that he knew, she quoted his personal summation, “I consider myself a work in progress.”

(Photo credit: Ahron R. Foster

Originally published on on November 14, 2016 

Miriam Colón 1936-2017

Miriam Colón died recently at the age of 80. She was a great actress who had a long and distinguished career on the stage, screen and television.

She arrived in New York City, from Puerto Rico in the 1950’s as teenager. Elia Kazan accepted her into The Actors Studio and she appeared on Broadway soon after.

Such are the vicissitudes of show business that her greatest recognition came for playing Al Pacino’s mother in the 1983 movie Scarface.

She officially founded the renowned Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in 1967, though its roots go back to the 1950’s. Tonight, her passing was noted there.

Colon candles

President Obama awarded her the National Medal of Arts in 2014.

One wintery night 10 years ago, I was walking down 52nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. Near the Post Office I saw a bundled up, older woman at the mailbox holding a large pile of yellow envelopes. I got a closer look at her.

“Miriam Colón!”

“Good evening!”

“Nice to see you! You’re sending out headshots and resumes?!”

She laughed. “Are you an actor?”

“I try. I’m in a little play now.”

“That’s great. Good luck!”

“Thanks. Very nice to see you.”

She continued mailing her envelopes and I went home.

Originally published on on March 6, 2017.


Anna Deavere Smith: My teacher in the 1980’s

“Hookers and drug addicts are all my agent sends me out for,” said Anna Deavere Smith to her acting class at New York University in 1983. Ms. Smith was articulating the reality of the lack of opportunities for performers of color in the entertainment industry at the time.

It was this frustration that led the African-American Ms. Smith to pursue creating the works of documentary theatre that she has become celebrated for, with the MacArthur Fellowship among her many honors. After recording interviews with people involved on a particular subject she would then fashion a script from these transcripts into a show where she would act out all the interviewees.

I was in that class where she vented and ever since, I’ve followed her rise in the world with great interest and admiration. She is now appearing in her latest solo show, Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education at the Second Stage Theatre in New York City through December 18, 2016.

“Acting for Non-Actors” was the title of the two-credit elective course that caught my attention in the class catalogue. I was majoring in Cinema Studies and due to shyness and uncertainty had previously suppressed my acting desires. I signed up for it and my life changed.

“How do you relate to authority?” Anna asked each of the students the first day. She was in her early 30’s, tall, lean, willowy with long flowing hair and radiant. Her expressive features had a warm roundedness with a beaming smile or a dramatic scowl. Her rich voice rang out loud and clear with staccato blasts of enthusiasm and feeling.

From our answers she would have a better idea on how to interact with us individually. “Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do?” was another of her purposeful questions. She seemed to be genuinely interested in our responses and genuinely interested in us.

That we were not drama students excited and challenged her. We were a cross section of mostly those from the arts and even some business majors. Before we got to perform scenes from plays or films, there was a series of exercises she put us through. Warm ups, mirroring the actions of partners, and telling stories.

One of those involved telling a story that wasn’t true and the class and Anna would analyze it to determine if it was true. I told an elaborate and detailed tale of how I had dinner with Jack Lemmon at a friend’s apartment who was acting in movie with her. Everything in the recounting was true except it happened to someone else. It seems I misunderstood the point of the exercise and Anna was cranky about this.

“Oh! I could work with you for weeks!” Anna said to me. As my totally untrained voice tended to be monotone and Bronx accented, she gave me a cassette she had compiled to keep and listen to. It had excerpts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty and other celebrities speaking. The idea was for me to hear and emulate vocal variety.

“You have to be like a cat ready pounce!” was her declaration about the need for energy in acting that she physically demonstrated with a crouching and attacking pose.

A scene from Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming was assigned to me and two other students. I was thrilled as it was one of my favorite plays. I was the crafty Lenny, a girl studying photography was the enigmatic Ruth, and a taciturn literature major was the passive Teddy. We were all too young and inexperienced for the roles but we ardently rehearsed and in performance achieved the necessary tension and mystery.

The scene in Annie Hall where Annie calls Alvy Singer on the phone to come over to kill a spider was assigned to an abrasive Quinn Cummings type girl and me. She had been a child performer so it was odd that she was in this class for beginners. She was also “difficult.” Anna had a personable film major direct us. The girl was quite resistant to his suggestions. Still, our performance was very good. My speech patterns perfectly matched Woody Allen’s dialogue and my idea of wearing colorful pajamas was greeted by laughter. Trouble occurred during Anna’s critique. The girl playing Annie Hall was prickly about criticism.

“Well, my objective was…”

“STOP!” Anna roared. “I have never used that word! I have never used that word because you all are not ready for that yet!”

The girl continued her offensive defense and there was back and forth.

“I don’t think you have anything to teach me.”

“WHOA! I don’t know who ever told you that you could act! Especially with that cutsey Patty Duke voice and mannerisms. You have a lot to learn!”

The girl did not quit the class and later was assigned a scene from Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. The male character of the lawyer George was changed to the female Georgia so she could play it. Anna wanted us to have the experience of playing to a real audience so she arranged for our program of scenes to be done in a small theater in the drama department instead of in a classroom. Flyers were put around inviting people to attend.

All went well until All My Sons. The young man and woman also in it delivered their lines and now it was time for Georgia’s entrance. There was no Georgia. The young man began ad-libbing.

“I wonder where Georgia is. Georgia must be on her way. Georgia?!”

From back stage the audience could hear nervous giggling.

“Get out there!” Hissed Anna. There was more giggling. “I can’t! I can’t!” “Get out there!” Finally the girl went onstage and did the scene as if in a trance.

Anna invited several students to participate in a workshop outside of class for a modest fee. We would rehearse scenes and perform them at a Soho art gallery in for one evening performance. I eagerly signed up and was put into Christopher Durang’s wacky Beyond Therapy with a young man and a young woman. It was exhilarating to perform in front of a real audience and I made great comic use of a spiral staircase in the space.

The evening was also revelatory as it was there that I saw Anna perform for the first time, and in the format that became her trademark.

Television journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault became a part of the Civil Rights movement in 1961 as one of the first two African-Americans to attend the University of Georgia in 1961. There was a lot of conflict and her story was newsworthy at the time.

Anna had interviewed her and performed a monologue about that situation that evening as Ms. Gault. I was familiar with her having seen her on The MacNeil/Lehrer Report. Anna’s performance was commanding as she echoed Gault’s speech patterns and mannerisms. More importantly it was a channeling of a real person rather than a strict impersonation. Gault was in attendance and spoke with Anna onstage afterward which added even more excitement to the event.

Several students from “Acting for Non-Actors” became fired up to want to pursue acting after they graduated. Anna was very helpful with advice and assisted them with applications to Julliard and other schools. Having taken her class twice, and participated in a few of her workshops as my own graduation approached, I too sought her counsel. We set an appointment for us to meet at a café near her Upper West Side apartment. She treated me to an ice coffee and gave her opinions.

I had talent but was very intelligent and that could cause conflicts with directors, as the ability to surrender one’s will was often required in the profession. My voice still needed work. She advised against graduate studies in acting and that instead I should take ad hoc classes and suggested a teacher.

There was then a crash course in breaking into show business. A headshot photographer was recommended. Buying Backstage every week and sending headshots to projects I was right for. Buying the Ross Reports that had the contact information for casting and talent agents and mail headshots to them.

“What can I really tell you? You could walk into the room and be exactly what they’re looking for.” Our meeting jovially ended.

About a year later I was crossing 57th Street and Sixth Avenue and someone was yelling my name. It was Anna. She was recently back from a stay at Club Med and was gleaming in a summery outfit of a halter, and gauzy skirt. We stopped at a corner and had a brief catch up. Then we went our separate ways.

Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities premiered in 1992, at The Public Theatre to great acclaim. In it Anna explored the Crown Heights race riots of 1991. Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, dealt with the Rodney King riots and was performed on Broadway in 1994. She was nominated for Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Actress and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for it. For both of these shows she won The Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance. The success of these works was followed by theatrical explorations of politics, the criminal justice system and health care in The United States and other topical subjects.

As her performing career ascended, she continued to teach acting at major institutions while also becoming a public figure. Besides numerous honorary degrees these theatrical achievements also led to a prolific career as an actress. There were roles in the filmsPhiladelphiaThe Human Stain, and Rachel Getting Married, and on television in The West WingNurse Jackie and Blackish. None of these characters were hookers or drug addicts.

Originally published on on October 17, 2016.

Aaron Frankel: A great acting teacher

“Speak up! Don’t look at the floor! When you’re onstage I want to see your talent not your training!” were among the sharp comments that Aaron Frankel bellowed at students as they performed during his acting class. “Do you think you’re worth $40?” That was the top price of a Broadway play at the time.

It was in the late 1980’s at HB Studio where I attended the most influential class that I’ve ever taken and experienced the greatest teacher that I have encountered.

A recent New York Post article ( triggered memories of my time with Mr. Frankel. At the age of 95, he is one of several New Yorkers portrayed in this feature story about long-time residents of rent-controlled New York City apartments. It was wonderful to learn that he is still around, and remains articulate and entertaining.

During his long career he was a stage manager for an Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne production. His sole Broadway directorial credit was the 1960 two-performance flop Viva Madison Avenue!  This advertising industry comedy starred Buddy Hackett and also featured Frances Sternhagen, William Windom, Jan Miner and Fred Clark.

Besides his acting classes at HB Studio, he taught Theatre Arts at Columbia University and playwriting at The New School. His analytical book Writing The Broadway Musical is highly regarded.

“Auditioning: Monologues and Cold Readings” was the name of this monumental class. It went beyond its stated purpose of honing audition skills. It was actually a course in what a life in the theater truly meant.

He believed in typecasting. We should find our type. Leading man. Leading lady.  Juvenile. Ingénue. Character actor. We should select material and go for roles that we could play right now based on our type. “You can stretch yourself later on when you’re a big star.”

Three students in succession would perform a monologue, or three duos that earlier received material, and briefly prepared would perform. Then they would all then sit in front of the class onstage. Each member of the class would then verbally vote on whether to call them back or reject them based on their performance. There were choruses of variations of “Reject. Reject. Callback” “I’d reject all of them!” Frankel would often proclaim and then give his reasons why.

This was all a heretical contrast to the common practice of having the classroom be a “safe space” to explore and experiment. With Frankel it was a battlefield on which to learn to be marketable as an actor.

His delightful personality, lack of malice, absence of favoritism, tremendous knowledge and experience infused his observations with solid objectivity and constructiveness.

Another of his heresies was not turning the class light on. Near the door, was a switch that when flipped lit a small red bulb outside. That indicated a class was in session and for latecomers or anyone else to wait until after it was turned off to enter, so as not to interrupt students who were performing.

“The world does not come to halt just because you’re acting! You’re going to be auditioning in offices and the phone may ring, or an assistant will to come in. You’ll be onstage auditioning, and they’ll be talking to each other, or their lunch will be delivered. People arrive late to the theaters and the show doesn’t stop. Get used to it!”

Invariably dressed in a turtleneck, trousers, a blazer and tennis shoes, he was then in his mid-sixties with crew cut white hair and eyeglasses. He looked like an acting teacher from central casting. Professorial yet impish, he spoke in a plummy voice with expert Borscht Belt timing, and his eyes always twinkled.

His sometimes-stinging remarks were good-natured, insightful and could be very funny. They were all imparted for our benefit to be realistic about ourselves. We were encouraged to bring in our headshots for him to critique.

“Well, if the Yiddish Theatre ever makes a comeback this picture would be perfect!” He said of a young woman’s who had a prominent nose. “This would be great if they’re casting a road company of The Boys in The Band!” Was his assessment of a young man’s. After these jocularly harsh statements he then offered more detailed feedback.

‘I’m 33,” said one of the male students during a discussion of his work. “No!,” he yelled, “Never tell your age! You look like you’re in your early 20’s. Always let them think you’re younger then you are.”

Though stressing the business aspects of the theater, Frankel was also concerned with actual acting. He didn’t espouse any particular method or theory but guided students with practicality. He could pinpoint what physically had to be improved and inspire students to work on what inner qualities needed refining with his perceptive comments.

“See as many Broadway shows as possible. You’ll learn from and be inspired by great performers.” In that era he had high praise for The Petition, a two-character British work that starred Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in their last Broadway appearances. The Mike Nichols directed production Social Security starring Marlo Thomas, Ron Silver, Olympia Dukakis was cited as a great example of a stage comedy.

His forte was comedy and he also taught another class, “Comedy Scene Study.” There he would assign scenes from enduring comical works such as those by Neil Simon. He would analyze these with gusto, adding physical business and pacing to what the students prepared.

An older gentleman and I were assigned a scene from the dinner theater staple, Norman, Is That You? That’s where hijinks ensue when a father visits his gay son who is still concealing this matter. Frankel added all sorts of staging and acting suggestions that improved the scene immensely.

“I can always see that you’re a very good actor playing a character but I also always see DARRYL REILLY because you have such a strong presence,” was his kind take on me.

“Don’t make this school your haven,” was his advice to us. “You’ll learn more about acting by being in  plays then by perpetually taking classes.”

To make that happen not only should we scour BackstageShow Business and The Ross Reports, we should “make the rounds.” That meant actually going to casting offices to ask if they were casting anything or to drop off our headshots even if they specified “Do not visit.” “They’re not going arrest you. You might get seen by someone who can give you a job.”

Most of us were young and not in Actor’s Equity. Still, we should go to the Actor’s Equity offices if there was a part we were right for, sign the non-union list and maybe we’d get to audition at the end of the day after all the union members had been seen.

“Make friends with fellow actors for support,” he urged us. “Your other friends and relatives will mean well but they won’t understand what you’re going through. You’re going to feel like banging your head against the wall, and screaming because you have talent and you do everything that you’re supposed to do, and nothing’s happening…”

For more information about Aaron Frankel visit:

 Originally published on on August 8, 2016.

Not Glad We Had This Time Together

The most embarrassing question I was ever asked? Did I have a sex change. That takes the cake!”

“Did you?”

Carol Burnett was in White Plains, on Friday April 17, 2015, to perform her show, An Evening of Laughter with Carol Burnett. Sadly there was not much laughter or much time together.

Having a capacity of 3750, The Westchester County Center is used for functions including basketball games, wrestling events, and concerts. We arrived there at 8:05, for the 8:00 PM show, due to parking issues. The packed, $10 per vehicle, municipal lot, was quite a distance away from the venue, plus there was a lot of traffic for the adjacent expressway.

The venue was packed with Ms. Burnett’s many fans. At 8:15 the lights darkened, a large screen was lowered, and video clips were played from The Carol Burnett Show. A montage of Tarzan yells, Tim Conway as a dentist cracking up Harvey Korman as a patient, Mrs. Miller grousing in the audience about wanting a better seat, Scarlett O’Hara wearing the curtain rod dress. For 10 minutes, with muddled sound, the audience was treated to these highlights, and the screen went dark and was raised.

Carol Burnett entered to tremendous applause. She was resplendent in a pink dress, and a glittering silver sequined tunic. Besides being stylish, her outfit was strategic as many of us were so far away and these vibrant colors along with her timeless red hair, aided considerably in proving that she was there. She explained about how her body microphone was positioned on her body. This was problematic, as due to feedback, wavering volume, and static, it was difficult to hear her. Despite this inept technical situation, it still allowed us to hear that she sounded the same as we remembered her.

After these brief remarks, she called for the lights to be, “bumped up.” For the next thirty minutes she took questions from the audience, as she used to do at the beginning of her television series. Standing at first, and then sitting in a chair that was brought out. She was wished a happy upcoming birthday, asked about Once Upon a Mattress, what her favorite Bob Mackie outfit was, and was inspired to tell a lengthy story about meeting Lady Bird Johnson at The White House, with Julie Andrews. The sound system for the audience was perfect, which contrasted with her often inaudible responses.

I wanted to ask her about the filming of Annie, and to hear her impressions of its director, John Huston. This proved to be futile. As it appeared that she was only calling on people in the first section. I marched from the rear to the back of the gated front section that was guarded by the venue’s employees. They were not helpful about my inquiry about the procedure for asking a question. I went to the other side that was not gated and again inquired. I was told to go back to the rear area that had a line of people to ask questions. There were a few people standing there.

“How can I ask a question?” I asked someone who seemed to be an official who had a hand held microphone.

“She has to call on you and an usher will give you a microphone.”

“I know that but she’s only calling on people in the front.”

“No, she’s calling on people in all areas.” She then left and went past the gate into the front section and never returned. At one point Burnett did point up to the balcony, but due to sound problems, she couldn’t hear the question, and so she continued picking only on those in front.

“We can’t hear you!” Audience members after 15 polite minutes began to shout. There was no improvement. Eventually the lights darkened, the screen came down and more faded clips were shown. These focused on presenting Ms. Burnett with prominent entertainers during the 1967-1978 run of her television series. Ethel Merman, Perry Como, Steve Lawrence, Bing Crosby, Ray Charles, Peter Sellers, Jim Nabors, Rita Hayworth, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lucille Ball were included. Just as a clip of her and Vicki Lawrence, doing a spoof of The Pointer Sisters began playing, my sister returned holding a piece of paper.

“Come on! We’re going! We’re getting a refund!” Exclaimed my sister. During the question session, she had left to go to the lobby to complain about the poor sound, as many in the audience were doing. By leaving now, after 45 minutes, the venue’s management offered full refunds. As the price of the tickets for our party of four was over $300, this was a welcome solution. The lobby was crowded with irate attendees.

Even if the sound were ideal, the show would still have been a great disappointment. It was odd that given Carol Burnett’s theatrical background and enduring career, that showing old television clips and taking questions only from the premium seated audience members, was what she deemed was enough of a program.

Nearly 82, she remains vital and capable of more. An opening autobiographical sequence based on her well-documented difficult early years, and personal, and professional ups and downs, with a few songs associated with her career, combined with some clips and questions, would have been ideal. Instead, she put forth a lackluster evening designed as a minor stroll down memory lane.

Originally published on on April 22, 2015.

Woman in the Auditorium

Recently on one of the NYC Subway Art Tours that I conduct (, the only attendees were 86 year-old Cynthia Wallace from Westport, Connecticut, and her younger cousin Marsha, who was visiting from San Francisco, California.

Halfway through the tour, I mentioned that I had been to Westport twice, each time to see Paul Newman in a play at The Westport Country Playhouse. The first time was in the summer of 2000. It was a major event, as Mr. Newman hadn’t appeared onstage in over 35 years. This was a reading of A. R. Gurney’s family drama Ancestral Voices that starred him and his wife, Joanne Woodward.

I told Cynthia and Marsha that two years later, my friend Kathy Fountain and I returned to Westport, when Newman starred as The Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic, Our Town, directed by James Naughton.

“Oh, Cynthia was in that,” said Marsha.

“What?!” I said.

So, throughout the rest of the tour when we were waiting for and riding on subway trains, the vibrant and spry Ms. Wallace recounted the story of how she made her Broadway debut at the age of 72.

Ms. Wallace, a long-time Westport resident, had been volunteering during the summer of 2002 at the camp Newman founded for children with cancer, The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp.

During a gala at the campsite in Ashford, Ct., she was working backstage and chatting with the theater’s artistic director Anne Keefe. Cynthia mentioned that she had been taking acting classes, now that she had spare time. She had also acted now and then in community theater over the years. Ms. Keefe remembered that conversation. Several months later, she called to ask Cynthia if she were interested in auditioning for a small role in Our Town. She was, and a few days later was notified that she had gotten the small part of the Woman in the Auditorium.

Cynthia Wallace

“’Is there much drinking in Grover’s Corners?’ I had only a few lines but that was one that I enjoyed most. One night I flubbed the line and asked Jeffrey DeMunn, who played Mr.Webb, ‘Is there ANY drinking in Grover’s Corners?’ Jeff, being the consummate actor he is, very smoothly ad-libbed to cover the mistake. I noticed Paul twinkling slightly at Jeff’s quick reaction.”

Near the end of the three-week run, Newman gathered the cast together and announced, “We’re working on something big. We’re not sure yet, but we’ll let you know.” That remark was about transferring the production to Broadway later in the year, which happened. “I figured they would get an experienced New York actress for my part. ‘No Cynthia, we want you!’”

“I didn’t join Actor’s Equity. Everyone was offered it and joined. I was the only one who refused. But I knew I wasn’t going to do anything more in the theater. I just didn’t have the fire in my belly at 72, to want to pound the pavements, and though I had some natural ability I guess, I didn’t have the training and experience. This opportunity was literally a plum that just fell in my lap. I knew realistically it could never be repeated.”

Wallace group
Jane Curtin: Mrs. Webb, Erika Thomas: u/s Emily Webb, James Naughton: Director

Instead of traveling back to Westport after performances in New York City, she mostly stayed at a friend’s apartment throughout the eight-week engagement.

“During one performance Newman got mixed up and skipped to the next scene. There was a flurry of confusion back stage, but the director reversed the sequence  (including sound effects) and the audience never knew the difference. The mistake created great energy and adrenaline and the audience felt it. At the final curtain that night, one man in the 3rd row was just beaming! When panic turns into victory it is so sweet.”

“There were memorable celebrities waiting to visit Mr. Newman backstage. His dressing room was just down the hall from mine. So when I opened my door one evening there were Ed Harris ,and Kate Winslet waiting patiently on line. I was stunned by how beautiful they both were. I was still in costume and they smiled broadly at me! I also saw John Travolta, who stood up and cheered for Paul as we took our bows, and Kirk Douglas looked like a kind of fierce lion with his mane of silver hair. There were many more who flocked to see Paul but I’ve forgotten the names by now.”

Our Town opened on December 4, 2002 at The Booth Theatre and closed on January 26, 2003, Paul Newman’s 78th birthday.

“When the final bow of that last performance came, the five understudies came on stage carrying hundreds of balloons while the cast led the audience in singing Happy Birthday.
Paul picked up his wife Joanne, spun her around and the whole theatre exploded!”

“I miss him. We all miss him. He did so much for our world.”

Originally published on on June 27, 2016.

Anne Jackson: A Personal Remembrance

“I’m Anne Jackson, I’m a great actress and I’m pushing a shopping cart with Lestoil and chicken breasts through Gristede’s!”

That was one of many funny outbursts Anne Jackson made that I recall from during the time I studied acting with her at HB Studio. She was joking about the contrast between her illustrious career and everyday life. Her death at the age of 90 on April 12, 2016, sparked many memories.

“I made Anne Jackson laugh!” was the euphoric finale to my story of auditioning to get into her scene study class in the early 1990’s. She sat at a small wooden desk in one of the creaky classrooms of the Bank Street building with her red hair and beaming face.

I performed my piece from Feydeau’s short farce, “Wooed and Viewed,” as a stuffy businessman and near the end I pulled out a concealed frilly maid’s apron and put it on. Hearing her laugh was tremendously uplifting and even more so was later learning that I had been accepted.

After studying with other teachers I was intrigued with taking classes with her as she was not only a working actress but was one I was quite familiar with. Her marriage to and performances with Eli Wallach were legendary. Her prolific career began in the 1940’s and included numerous stage, screen and television appearances. Most vivid was her small sympathetic role in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as the troubled child’s psychologist and I had seen her and Wallach in the Broadway revival of Café Crown.

“Oh stop it! You wouldn’t really pour tea like that!” she bellowed during a scene. The young woman performing was indeed being too actressy. That was characteristic of her style. She would interrupt when needed and even gallop up on stage to demonstrate how she thought something should be done as she had the authority to do so.

Margaret Webster, Eva Le Gallienne, Martin Ritt, Joshua Logan, Charles Laughton, Mike Nichols, Alan Schneider, and Gene Saks were among the notables who had directed her. On stage and screen she acted with Shirley Booth, Zero Mostel, Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson, Walter Matthau, Alan Arkin, and Frank Sinatra. Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando, Maureen Stapleton, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe and Tennessee Williams were friends of hers.

In the course of her lively critiques, instructional and inspirational anecdotes often involving one of those titans she had a personal history with were shared. She truly was a vessel to The Golden Age of American Theater and anyone who studied with her was enriched by that experience. There were additional tales of her husband and her children that were also insightful. Everything she said was delivered in a warm voice and with intense eye contact.

“You’re offbeat and that’s great but that can be a problem,” was her shrewd, kind and accurate summation of my work over the course of the year I attended her classes.

She was supportive, nurturing and critical when needed but never mean spirited as some other teachers at HB were. Comedic scenes were her specialty and it was like being directed by an old-time pro on how to get a laugh in the context of the material. She was equally adept at analyzing dramatic scenes without pretentious acting school clichés. Vibrant reality was what she extolled.

“Those are golden moments!” she declared when something went wrong and someone wanted to stop and start over. The reality of really acting in front of an audience was a key and vital lesson she imparted.

“You have the soul of a clown,” was the most memorable, and treasured complimentary remark that she said to me.

Originally published on on April 14, 2016.

Bryan Ferry in Pittsburgh: Reflections

Brian Ferry and his 10-piece band got about halfway through “Virginia Plain”:

Make me a deal and make it straight
All signed and sealed, I’ll take it
To Robert E. Lee I’ll show it
I hope and pray he don’t blow it ’cause
We’ve been around a long time just try try try tryin’ to
Make the big time

Then the sound went awry. A piercing blast, like that of a home smoke detector alarm was heard. Simultaneously, Ferry and the band’s sound ceased. He was singing and they were playing, but it was like they were lip-synching and miming.

This was at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, and was near the end of this North American tour, on April 1, 2017.

Ferry Tour

It was confusing, as one would expect that this malfunction would have been corrected. They played on, seemingly oblivious to the distortion, finishing the song, and then leaving the stage.

About 10 minutes later, violinist Marina Moore appeared and performed for a few minutes. Shortly after, Ferry came out with a microphone and delivered a brief, apologetic statement that was mostly inaudible. The band returned for bows and the show was over.


Luckily, the snafu came near the conclusion of the intended 24-song concert.   “Let’s Stick Together” and “Jealous Guy,” two of my least favorite songs were not performed, though it would have been nice to hear “Editions of You” again.

This off-kilter finale made an already vivid presentation even more memorable.

I’ve seen all of Bryan Ferry’s New York City performances since 1987, most recently at The Beacon, in July 2016. That one was bittersweet, as at nearly 71 years old, he seemed weary and his voice was whispery.

When tickets went on sale for this North American tour, I bought one for the closest city to New York. With my partner driving, and our dog in the backseat, I endured the eight-hour trek with stops, to be in Pittsburgh.

I had the gnawing belief that it could be the last time I would see him perform live. Based on his previous, sporadic touring schedules, he might not return to New York City, for another two or three years. Anything could happen in that time.

My minimal expectations were tremendously surpassed. Unlike that last concert, his voice was possessed of range and power. In contrast to the previous, large band, here he had a contained ensemble. Though Heinz Hall’s seating capacity of 2,676 is comparable to The Beacon Theatre’s 2,894, Heinz Hall’s stage configuration seemed smaller.

At the Beacon with a larger band, Ferry often seemed in the background, letting the musicians and backup singers shine. His keyboard that he played for several songs, was on a raised platform, off to the side.

At Heinz Hall, he was front and center, and the keyboard was level. He was more engaged. Not known for much stage patter, he was relatively chatty. There was praise for Pittsburgh, jokey statements and energy. “He’s up there in his little house,” he quipped about the drummer, who was raised up, and behind a small, glass structure.

The lighting was brighter, there were minimal effects including a mirror disco ball, a few swirling projections but nothing that pyrotechnical. In contrast to The Beacon, it was an uplifting revelation.

Perhaps performing New York City has more pressure, or he had a bad day. There was undoubtedly the residual anxiety that led him to abandon touring for several years.

“It was dispiriting to be told at the end of a show that, ‘We almost broke even tonight.’” In the 1980’s, after the popularity of Boys and Girls and Bête Noire, he toured with a large and expensive retinue of musicians, backup singers, and dancers. He was then understandably striving for mainstream pop acceptance in the U.S. It didn’t happen.

The follow up to Bête NoireMamouna took seven years due to his obsessive recording delays. It was not a success, but now seems wonderful. In between, there was the delightful collection of covers, Taxi.

His behavior was mysteriously erratic in that era. The most notable gaffe was being offered, and turning down the opportunity to record “Don’t You Forget About Me” for the film, The Breakfast Club. Simple Minds did.

A few years ago while reading a British publication’s profile of him, the missing piece of the puzzle was revealed for the first, and really only time. Deep inside the article was a brief, matter of fact mention of his cocaine problem in the 1980’s. I used cocaine at that time. Just about everyone did.  There’s a Japanese television interview of him back then where he is obviously and hilariously high. This disclosure explains so much of his activities and personality in that period. It also informs his triumphant return to prominence that began with 1999’s, As Times Goes By. For this gorgeous collection of popular standards, he received his first and so far only Grammy nomination.

In Pittsburgh, there was such a marvelous looseness. Another beneficial factor might be the euphoria of having attracted a large audience in a smaller locale. He routinely plays to crowds in the United Kingdom, and all over Europe, but has never been as comparably popular in the United States.

Eschewing the often-luxurious clothing he wore in the past, he had on a sober, basic dark suit, a tieless white shirt that later he changed to blue. Like his band, his guise was of stripped down simplicity. It was all visually and aurally compelling.

The set list was a familiar and straightforward assortment drawn from the Roxy Music and his solo work catalogue.

“The Main Thing,” “Slave to Love,” “Ladytron,” “Out of the Blue,” “Beauty Queen,” “Bitter-Sweet,” “A Waste Land/Windswept,” “Bête Noire,” “Zamba,” “Stronger Through the Years,” “Like a Hurricane,” the instrumental “Tara,” “Take a Chance with Me,”  “Re-Make/Re-Model,” “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” “If There Is Something,” “More Than This,” “Avalon” and “Love Is the Drug” were all sensationally performed.

Having come to music from an art background, Ferry’s songs have an abstract, passionate, aesthetic quality that make them ageless.  Many of the early ones were written in his 20’s, and singing them now in his 70’s, does not seem at all jarring, as they transcend time.

Sadly, he continued not to perform my all-time favorite song, “Do The Strand.” Having listened to it countless times, the finale of, “Lolita and Guernica…did The Strand!” with its pause after Guernica, still makes me bristle with delirious anticipation.

Also absent was anything from what is probably my favorite of his later work, 2007’s Dylanesque. That 11-song collection of Bob Dylan cover showcased Ferry’s voice and sensibility to profound effect. There were none of his quirky takes on popular standards as well. Many of the stops on this tour were to places he hadn’t performed in decades, or ever. Though slightly disappointing, the basic repertoire that was presented was pragmatic. It was exciting hearing the rarely done live “Like a Hurricane” by Neil Young.

The technical issue came near the end of what had been a thrilling experience. Then there was the exuberant spontaneity that superseded the audience’s anger over the interruption. It was an unusual spectacle spectacle, as Ferry’s shows are renowned for their perfection.  Now, there had been stage technicians  haplessly milling around and then the violinist’s mini-recital.

Finally Ferry’s addressing of the audience. This was the most stunning portion, brief but so effective. It was the first time I ever saw him speak at length extemporaneously to an audience. The sincerity and depth were palpable. It decisively demonstrated common sense.

Opening the event was the sultry, Welsh, jazzy vocalist Judith Owen. Her husky, expressive voice delighted the audience for 30 minutes. It was clearly evident that Ferry selected her for this tour due to her vivacious, and mature presence, and her affinity with his own tastes.

Ms. Owen’s program consisted of mainly her own appealing, compositions. Standouts were her slow cover of Roxy Music’s “More Than This” and a lively “Aquarius” from Hair. She announced that she’d be in the lobby during the break to sing her CD, Somebody’s Child.

Judith Owen

Bursting with enthusiasm I went out and bought it, and she soon appeared. We were both giddy as she signed my CD, as did the members of her outstanding band.

After it was all over, I went to the Tap Room at The William Penn Hotel, where I stayed on my previous visit to Pittsburgh, 19 years earlier, for a large, perfect, Grey Goose dirty martini and to take it all in.

William Penn Martini

“I went with friends to see Roxy Music at Radio City Music Hall,” said my ex, and first boyfriend Paul. It was the spring of 1983. We had been involved for a few months, drifted apart and occasionally kept in touch. His taste in music was impeccable and he had introduced me to several artists that I became enamored of. I had never heard of Roxy Music, and soon after his remark I bought their Greatest Hits compilation.

From the first notes of “Virginia Plain” I was riveted. Then it was on to “Do The Strand,” “All I Want Is You,” “Out Of The Blue,” “Pyjamarama,” “Editions Of You,” “Love Is The Drug,” “Mother Of Pearl,” “A Song For Europe,” “The Thrill Of It All,” and the roaring “Street Life.”

The unison of Ferry’s alluring voice with its melodious tones, that would shift from song to song, his dazzling lyrics that had the artistry of Cole Porter, conjuring up shimmering imagery, and depicting emotion, and the forcefully unique sound of the music, had me spellbound.  Years later I figured out that the beguiling, “2HB” was an ode to Humphrey Bogart.

The albums’ striking artwork with their glamorous photographs were equally enticing. The often-brooding images of the very handsome, perfectly dressed, and enigmatic Bryan Ferry added to the mystique. There was the overwhelming rapture of discovering something new and instantly significant.

In short order I bought all of the band’s and Ferry’s solo work, mostly on used LPs from Sounds on St. Marks Place. Buying the British publications The FaceMelody Maker and New Musical Express kept me well informed about him. I had gone from total ignorance to being an ardent devotee in a few weeks, spurred by Paul’s casual remark.

For December 6, 1987, I bought a ticket to the Ritz night club. Bryan Ferry was to appear as part of a charity lineup to raise money for an ailing musician. The night before, he performed on Saturday Night Live. This was during the Bête Noire period. He had an aloof but intense demeanor and wore an 80’s style, slightly oversized, black suit, and black tie white shirt and gleaming black shoes.

His five-song performance was sublimely galvanizing. The Ritz was primarily a dance club, so there was a dance floor and seats only upstairs. I had positioned myself very close to the stage and stood transfixed as he sang, “Slave to Love,” “Kiss and Tell,” “The Chosen One, “Avalon” and “Do The Strand.” Seeing him live for the first time was pure bliss, and this special situation made it even more vivid. Attending his often-infrequent concerts became an enriching ritual.

August 1988, at Radio City Music Hall for Bete Noire, then the periodic concerts at The Beacon, usually in support of his latest recording. November 1994 for Mamouna, November 1999 for As Time Goes By, November 2002 for Frantic, October 2011 for Olympia, October 2014 and July 2016 for Avonmore.

In July 2001, there was the monumental Roxy Music reunion tour at the Madison Square Garden Theater, and their return engagement in July 2003, at Radio City Music Hall.

I met him twice. In March 2007, I eagerly visited music stores in search of Dylanesque and was disappointed on not finding it. I was told that it was an import and wouldn’t be available for some time in the U.S. That meant ordering it from Amazon UK. When it arrived, I played it over and over. It had been five years since Frantic, and the excitement of hearing something new from him was tremendous.

In June of that year, it was announced that he would be appearing at J & R Music World, to promote its U.S. release. I anxiously got there an hour before the start time. The line of fans was in the store, and gradually went outside. He arrived, resplendent in a blue suit and looking smashing at nearly 62. There were the bursts of lights from photographer’s cameras. He sat at a table. I was close to the start of the line, but it still took awhile as several people had bags of stuff for him to sign, tour books, CD sleeves and the like.

It was my turn. I handed him my import copy, and he signed it. “I hope you enjoy it!” “Thanks so much!” From the pocket of my cargo shorts, I pulled out the rolled up, sepia tour poster for As Time Goes By. “This too, please.” He signed it, and I returned home exhilarated.

In February 2013, he was at the Union Square Barnes and Noble for the U.S. release of The Jazz Age. I also obtained that from Amazon UK, and bought another copy, so as to get into the signing, which I later returned. I got there over an hour before the start time and sat waiting and chatting with other fans. He arrived in a blue suit and accompanied by the bursts of lights from photographer’s cameras. He signed my copy. “I hope you enjoy it!” “This too, please,” as I unrolled the black white Frantic 2002 tour poster. He signed it.


There are a few other musical figures that I been consumed with, but Bryan Ferry has remained the most powerful one in my consciousness. This Pittsburgh expedition was the latest, and possibly one of the last chapters in our decades long involvement.

Here as I sit at this empty café

Thinking of you

I remember

All those moments lost in wonder

Ferry pose