Category Archives: Broadway

Thought of the Day 10.15.12 P. G. Wodehouse

“I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit.”“There is only one cure for gray hair. It was invented by a Frenchman. It is called the guillotine.”“I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don’t know what I did before that. Just loafed I suppose.”–P.G. Wodehouse

P. G. Wodehouse, Bolton's friend and collaborator

“I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit.”

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was born on this day in Guildford, Surrey, England in 1881. This is the 131st anniversary of his birth.

Wodehouse, called “Plum” as a child, spent much of his early life in the care of a gaggle of aunts and at boarding schools in England, while his parents lived in the Far East. Third of four boys, Wodehouse was close to his brothers.  He went to The Chalet School, Elizabeth College in Guernsey, Malvern House (near Dover) and finally at Dulwich College with his older brother Armine. He flourished at Dulwich where he played sports (especially boxing, cricket and rugby), studied the classics, sang and acted in the school’s theatricals, and of course, wrote.)

Psmith in the City

Psmith in the City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Upon graduation in 1900 ailing family finances meant he couldn’t go on to Oxford like Armine. Instead, Plum’s father got him a job in the London branch of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. He wrote about his experiences at the bank in Psmith in the City, but he said he “never learned a thing about banking.”  In 1902 he gave up the financial farce and dove into journalism  with a job writing a comic column at The Globe newspaper. He moved to New York and published his first novel, The Pothunters the same year.  A Prefect’s Uncle; Love Among the Chickens; The Swoop; Psmith In the City; Psmith, Journalist; The Prince and Betty; and  Something New followed fairly quickly there after.

The Prince and Betty

The Prince and Betty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He also wrote for musicals. He penned the book for Cole Porter’s Anything Goes; the Gershwin’ s Oh Kay . He worked with Ira Gershwin on the lyrics for Rosalie. And he wrote dozens of musicals — generically called the Princess Theatre Musicals — with Guy Bolton and Jerome Kern. [For a complete list of Wodehouse musicals go to The Playwrights Database at doolee.com]   The Princess Theatre Musical are generally seen as a stepping stone that took the best of vaudeville and operetta and blended them into modern musical theatre. They transitioned

“… the haphazard musicals of the past to the newer, more methodical modern musical comedy … the libretto is remarkably pun-free and the plot is natural and unforced. Charm was uppermost in the creators’ minds … the audience could relax, have a few laughs, feel slightly superior to the silly undertakings on stage, and smile along with the simple, melodic, lyrically witty but undemanding songs” [Bloom and Vlastnic Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time]

My Man Jeeves

My Man Jeeves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Starting with My Man Jeeves in 1919 Wodehouse published the series of books for which is he best known, The Jeeves and Wooster books.  Here’s a clip from the 1990 Granada Television production of Jeeves and Wooster starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry:

He also wrote the Blandings Castle series about a fictional castle with Lord Emsworth and his prize-winning pig, the “Empress of Blandings.”

Since he and his wife, Ethel Wayman, were officially residents of both England and the US they were being taxed by both countries. To alleviate the tax burden they moved to France in 1934. The Wodehouse’s remained in France when the Nazi troops moved in. Wodehouse was interned as an “enemy alien” eventually landing in Tost, Upper Silesia, Poland. He later quipped of  his ‘lodgings’ “If this is Upper Silesia, what on earth must Lower Silesia be like?” He entertained his fellow prisoners with dialogues and wrote during his two-year internment (he completed one novel and started two more). He was released just prior to his 60th birthday when a German friend from his Hollywood days, Werner Plack, approached him about doing a broadcast for the Americans describing his life as an internee.  America was not at war with Germany yet, and he had received many letters of encouragement from his fans in the US while in the camp. He saw this as a way to thank them. And, Wodehouse claimed,  he was simply reflecting the “flippant, cheerful attitude of all British prisoners.” [the Guardian]  in the broadcasts. But the British public didn’t see it that way, and neither did MI5. He was interrogated for suspected collaboration with the Germans — something that shocked the aging author. “I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions,” [ibid] Wodehouse maintained that he never had intended to aid the enemy. But the incident left a bad taste with both the Wodehouses and the British public. The author moved to the US in 1945, and never went back to England.

Wodehouse died in 1975.

books - wodehouse

books – wodehouse (Photo credit: rocketlass)


Thought of the Day 10.1.12 Julie Andrews

“Sometimes I’m so sweet even I can’t stand it.”
–Julie Andrews

[Image courtesy: NNDB]

Julia Elizabeth Wellswas born on this day in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England in 1935. She is 77 years old.

Her parents divorced when  Julie was a baby. Both parents remarried and Julie lived primarily with her mother and stepfather Ted Andrews, whom she called “Pop.” Julie’s last name was changed to Andrews to make the transition easier. According to Julie they were “very poor and we lived in a bad slum area of London,”

In the movie version of The Sound of Music she sings “Perhaps I had a wicked childhood / Perhaps I had a miserable youth / But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past / There must have been a moment of truth…” While those lyrics were written for her character, Maria, they echo a past that Andrew’s called “a very black period in my life.” Her stepfather was an alcoholic (so was her mother to a lesser degree.) Julie had to put a lock on her bedroom door after Pop tried, drunkenly, to get into bed with her, twice.

Both her mother and her stepfather were entertainers. Her mother, who had trained as a classical pianist, helped to make ends meet by giving lessons and accompanying vaudeville acts. Mom and Pop had their own act and at about 10 Julie began to appear with them on stage. Soon Julie joined the act on a regular basis. She’d have to take a nap in the afternoon so she could be bright and alert on stage late into the night. She took singing lessons and was said to have both perfect pitch and a four octave range. (She denies the perfect pitch.)

During World War II she lived through the Blitz.

She remembers spending some nights on the neighborhood subway platform, listening for unmanned bombers so that she could alert the neighbors of danger. Her parents once awakened to find an unexploded incendiary bomb in the tenement courtyard just outside their kitchen window. They once watched a mid-air dogfight directly above them. [Visions Fantastic]

She performed for King George VI’s family during the 1948 Royal Command Variety Performance in London. (She is the youngest performer ever to do so.) The Andrews act went on radio and TV. She was a cast member on the radio show Educating Archie from 1950-1952.

Julie Andrews in a introspective moment [Image courtesy: VisualizeUs]

At 19 she made her Broadway debut as Polly Browne in The Boyfriend. Next she auditioned for the new musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and created the role of Eliza Doolittle in Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady.

Andrews as Eliza in My Fair Lady circa 1956. [Image courtesy: The Seattle Times]

During her Broadway run of My Fair Lady she transformed from rags to riches again in the 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein television musical version of Cinderella for CBS TV.

In 1959 she married set designer Tony Walton.

Her next Broadway triumph was in 1960 as Queen Guinevere to Richard Burton’s King Arthur and Robert Goulet’s Lancelot in Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot.

She was terrific as both Eliza and Guinevere, but when it came time to make major motion pictures of the musicals the producers opted  for actresses with more proven box office success. Jack Warner gave Eliza to Audrey Hepburn. Vanessa Redgrave got Guinevere. Andrews returned to England to have her daughter Emma instead.

The Disney company thought Andrews would be Practically Perfect for their adaptation of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins and offered her the role in their 1964 film. Andrews won an Oscar for this, her first, major motion picture. In her acceptance speech for the Golden Globe Andrews, with a bit of whimsy, thanked the man who “made all this possible in the first place, Mr. Jack Warner.”

In 1965 Andrews stepped into the role of Maria Von Trapp for the 20th Century Fox movie of The Sound of Music. It went on to become the third highest grossing film ever made. The soundtrack sold more than 11 million copies.

United  Artists produced Andrews next movie, Hawaii based on the novel by James A Michener.  The film earned more than $6 million, and was 1966’s biggest box office hit.

Also in 1966, she co-starred with Paul Newman in Cold War psychological thriller Torn Curtain for director Alfred Hitchcock.

Andrew’s next movie musical was Thoroughly Modern Millie for Universal Pictures.

The 70s were quiet for Andrews. She divorced Warner and married director Blake Edwards. Although she continued to do television work — including a variety show, guest spots and specials — she focused much of her time during the disco decade raising her family.

In Edwards’s 1981 film S.O.B. she rather famously shed her innocent image by barring her breast. The next year she played dual roles in Victor Victoria and earned another Golden Globe Award.

The Princess Diaries gave her career yet another breath of fresh air as she co-starred as Queen Clarisse Renaldi with Anne Hathaway. She put on the crown again for The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagementt in 2004.  The same year she donned an animated crown was Queen Lillian for Shrek 2 (and the subsequent Shrek sequels) and she narrated Enchanted. She also voiced the character of Marlena in Despicable Me in 2010.

She was given the title Dame Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 for her work both in the entertainment industry and for her involvement in charitable organizations like Save the Children, the UN’s Fund for Women and the Foundation for Hereditary Disease.


Thought of the Day 9.26.12 George Gershwin

Life is a lot like jazz.. it’s best when you improvise.
 –George Gershwin
English: George Gershwin, 28 March 1937 Azərba...

English: George Gershwin, 28 March 1937 Azərbaycan: Corc Gerşvin, ABŞ bəstəkarı, 28 mart 1937 Español: George Gershwin, 28 marzo 1937 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jacob Gershvin was  born on this day in Brooklyn, New York in 1898. Today is the 114th anniversary of his birth.

His parents were Russian Jewish emigrants. He had three siblings, Ira, Arthur and Frances. His parents bought a piano and paid for lesson for Ira, but it was George who took up the instrument. At 15 he left school and began to work at New York’s Tin Pan Alley. (He changed his name George Gershwin when he entered the professional music world.) He sold his first song, “When You Want ‘Em, You Can’t Get ‘Em; When You Have ‘Em, You Don’t Want ‘Em,” for $5.

Music theatre folk-lore has it that one day Gershwin was performing his composition “Swanee” at a party when Broadway star Al Jolson heard it. Jolson added the song to his show in 1919 and it became his signature song. Gershwin rose in the ranks of New York City song composers.

Gershwin collaborated with Arthur L. Jackson and Buddy De Sylva on his first complete Broadway musical, “La, La Lucille” [American Masters; George Gershwin]

He worked in Vaudeville for a bit, and in 1920 he teamed up with lyricist Buddy DeSylva for a one-act jazz opera, Blue Monday.

opening bars rhapsody in blue - gershwin

opening bars rhapsody in blue – gershwin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At 25 his Rhapsody in Blue for solo piano and orchestra debuted in New York. It combined Gershwin’s twin musical loves a jazz and classical. Bandleader Paul Whiteman commissioned the piece  and it was premiered in a concert titled “An Experiment in Modern Music on February 12th with Gershwin at the piano. His other “serious music” includes Concerto in F, An American Paris and his Second Rhapsody (originally New York Rhapsody.)

In 1924, when George teamed up with his older brother Ira, “the Gershwins” became the dominant Broadway songwriters, creating infectious rhythm numbers and poignant ballads, fashioning the words to fit the melodies with a “glove-like” fidelity. [Gershwin.com]

George and his brother Ira worked together in 1924 on the musical Lady Be Good. The show opened at the Liberty Theatre and starred  Fred Astaire and his sister Adele and featured the songs “Fascinating Rhythm, “O Lady Be Good” and,  “The Half of It, Dearie, Blues.”  You can hear Gershwin’s complicated rhythms and the jazz chords that he would build on in later compositions like Rhapsody and Blue in this  early recording of “The Half Of It, Dearie, Blues“…

Oh, Kay! a musical about an English Duke and his sister turned American bootleggers opened at the Princess Theatre in 1926. It featured the dance number”Clap Yo’ Hands,” the love duet “Maybe” and “Someone To Watch Over Me“.

Funny Face opened in 1927, again with the Astaires in the lead. Songs included “S’Wonderful”, “My One and Only,” He Loves and She Loves” and “Let’s Kiss and Make Up.” An updated of Funny Face opened on Broadway as “My One and Only” in 1983 and ran for over 700 shows. And Hollywood made a move starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn in 1957 called Funny Face and using four of the songs, but with a different plot.

In Strike Up the Band America declares war on Switzerland. The original production only made it to previews in Philadelphia in 1927, but the Gershwins revised it and brought it to Broadway in 1930.  The songs “The Man I Love,Strike Up the Band,” “Soon,” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You  were added to the Gershwin Song Book from the show. [If you ignore all the other links in this post, do yourself a favor and click on I’ve Got a Crush on You — I pulled the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald’s smooth as silk rendition of the Gershwin classic… and no matter how crazy / busy your day is… you deserve this 3min. 18sec. piece of musical heaven.]

True to its name, Show Girl, is all about show business. It starred Ruby Keeler as an up and coming show girl Dixie Dugan. Other “A list” performers like Jimmy Durante and Eddie Foy, Jr. filled out the bill.  It  was produced by Florenz Ziegfeld. Songs includeHarlem Serenade,” andLiza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)” [– Ruby Keeler was married to Al Jolson and he used to come see the show several times a week and sing this, the last song, out loud from the audience, lovingly, to her. ]

In 1929 he wrote the score for the Fox film Delicious. His “New York Rhapsody” (which later became his “Second Rhapsody”) and a five-minute dream sequence was all that the producers chose to use of his score. Gershwin was disgusted.

In 1930 Girl Crazy hit the stage. It starred Ethel Merman, and made a star out of Ginger Rogers [to read the Thought of the Day Ginger Roger’s profile click HERE.]. The show was made into 3 movies,  and while the films shared many of the stage show’s  most popular songs — like “Embraceable You,”But Not For Me” and “I’ve Got Rhythm” — the plots lines deviated from the original.

Of Thee I Sing premiered in 1931 and became the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1932.
This all-American political satire focuses on the election campaign and Presidency of John P. Wintergreen, whose party, lacking a viable platform, runs on love, promising that if elected he will marry the partner chosen for him at an Atlantic City beauty pageant. When he falls for Mary Turner (a campaign secretary who bakes a mean corn muffin) instead of Diana Deveraux (the fairest flower of the South and winner of the pageant), trouble begins! [MTI Music theatre International]

His ground breaking, genre defying Porgy and Bess came out in September of 1935. George wrote the music, DeBose Heyward wrote the libretto, and Heyward and Ira Gershwin wrote the lyrics. It was based on Heyward’s novel Porgy  Gershwin intended it to be a folk opera.  Although it is considered a modern masterpiece now, the show flopped when it premiered on Broadway. It had revivals in 1942 and 1952, but it and didn’t get the recognition it deserved in the  opera world until the Huston Grand Opera staged it in 40 years later (1976). Songs include “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Bess You Is My Woman Now,” and “Summertime.”

Disappointed in the reception that Porgy and Bess received on Broadway he moved to Hollywood. He and Ira worked with RKO movies to score Shall We Dance, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’s 10th film. He won an Academy Award for his song “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” from the film.
Starting in early 1937 George Gershwin began to have blinding headaches and the sensation of smelling burned rubber. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died  on July 11, 1937.

Thought of the Day 9.16.12 Lauren Bacall

“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

— Lauren Bacall

(Photo courtesy: Tweedland)

Betty Joan Perske was born on this day in the Bronx, New York in 1924. She is 88 years old.

She grew up in a middle class family. Her father, William Perske, was a salesman and her mother, Natalie Weinstein-Bacal Perske, was a secretary. Betty’s father, an alcoholic, left when she was six. Her mother changed their last name to Bacall. (The Romanian form of her mother’s maiden name.)

Bacall loved to dance but was smitten by the acting bug too. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. And got some work in off-Broadway productions. She had her first paid acting gig in Johnny 2×4 it was a walk on role, she was 17. She ushered at theatres to make money. She also modeled and it was a modeling gig on a Harper’s Bazaar cover in 1943 that brought her to the attention of director Howard Hawks’ wife Nancy. Nancy convinced Hawks to give Bacall a screen test. Hawks liked what he saw. He offered her a seven-year contract starting at $100 a week.  He  got her to modulate her voice (so she spoke in a lower, more sultry, register) and to  her to change her first name to Lauren. Nancy Hawks befriended Bacall and helped her with matters of dress “elegance, manner, and taste.” [ Original Old Radio ]

The Harper’s Bazaar cover that started it all. (Image courtesy Noir and Chick Flicks)

Her first role was in To Have and Have Not with Humphrey Bogart in 1944. The movie is loosely based on a book by Earnest Hemingway, the screenplay was by William Faulkner, but the famous “whistle” line was written by Hawks for Bacall’s screen test. After seeing the test, he not only offered her the role, but he asked Faulkner to work the scene into the script. Bogart’s Harry addresses Bacall’s Marie as ‘Slim’, she calls him ‘Steve’ — the same nicknames Howard and Nancy Hawks used for each other. Her  famous “Look” was the result of nerves.

“I used to tremble from nerves so badly that the only way I could hold my head steady was to lower my chin practically to my chest and look up at Bogie. That was the beginning of The Look.” [Lauren Bacall as quoted on Brainy Quotes]

Movie poster for To Have and Have Not. (Image courtesy of: Dr.Marco’s High Quality Movie Scans)

Bacall was only 19. Bogie, who was a quarter century her senior, fell in love with the beautiful, talented, strong woman, and she fell in love with him. The two married in 1945.

The duo made The Big Sleep, Dark Passage and Key Largo together. By limiting the number of films she made she could choose her roles carefully. She’d made one flop, Confidential Agent following To Have and have Not, and  she thought her career never fully recovered from it. With her reputation as a solid actress — and  the security of being married to one of Hollywood’s leading men — she was able to turn down roles that she didn’t find interesting. Bacall averaged one film a year while she was married to Bogart.

She and Bogey had two children, Stephen and Leslie Bogart and enjoyed 12 years of marriage before Bogart died of Lung cancer.

Bacall returned to New York and  started the second phase of her career, this time focusing on Broadway.

“I finally felt that I came into my own when I went on the stage,” [bio.TRUE STORY]

In 1961 Bacall married again, this time to actor Jason Robards, Jr., and had third child, Sam Robards.

Applause Playbill (Image courtesy of: www.musicals101.com)

Bacall starred in Goodbye, Charlie (1959), Cactus Flower (1965) and had the lead in the musical adaptation of the 1952 movie All About Eve, Applause. The show earned Bacall her first Tony. Her second Tony came in 1981 for Woman of the Year.

She wrote two autobiographies, part one, Lauren Bacall By Myself, came out in 1978, the second part, Now, was published in 1994.

Both volumes openly discussed difficult parts of her life, including the alcoholism of both of her husbands, despite the fact that some of the topics were relatively controversial for the time. [bio.TRUE STORY]

She also tells about a time in her teens when she met actress Bette Davis in Davis’ hotel. Davis returned the favor when Bacall was giving new life to Margo Channing, the roll Davis’ originated in All About Eve.  Davis came backstage at the Palace Theatre after a showing of Applause  and congratulated Bacall on her performance.

Bacall was honored with a Governor’s Award for Screen Legends from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2009.

Lauren Bacall and her children, Leslie Bogart, Sam Robards and Stephen Bogart at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 2009 Governors Awards. Lauren Bacall was presented with the Governor’s Award.

Other Lauren Bacall quotes:

“I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.”

“Find me a man who’s interesting enough to have dinner with and I’ll be happy.”

“I am not a has-been. I am a will be.”

“I wish Frank Sinatra would just shut up and sing.” (They were briefly engaged. Sinatra abruptly broke it off when he found out that news about the engagement had been leaked.)

(Photo courtesy of: Doctor Marco’s High Quality Movie Scans)


Thought of the Day 7.16.12

“When two people love each other, they don’t look at each other, they look in the same direction”

–Ginger Rogers

Virginia Katherine McMathwas born in Independence, Missouri on this day in 1911. She would have been 101  years old today.

Her parents divorced when she was a baby and little Virginia, Ginger, stayed with her mother, Lela. When she remarried, Ginger took the name Lela’s second husband John Rogers. Ginger was introduced to the theater when Lela became a theater critic and took the girl to the shows that she reviewed. Legend has it that Ginger would hang out backstage picking up the songs and dances from the performers as her mother sat in the audience and took notes. One night while she was backstage at a traveling vaudeville show the act needed a stand-in, Rogers was tapped for the duty and had her first gig.

She was still in high school when she won  The Texas State Charleston Championship. The prize — a tour of theaters in Texas cities — was expanded to include  a wider tour of the Western US.. Ginger’s easy banter with the master of ceremonies was such an audience hit that it became as much of a draw as the dance routine.  At 17 she married vaudeville artist Jack “Pepper” Culpepper and the two formed the act known as “Ginger and Pepper.” The marriage was short lived, but Ginger’s career continued. She made it to New York where she had her Broadway debut in Top Speed in 1929.  Shortly thereafter the Gershwin Brothers picked Ginger to star in Girl Crazy along with Ethel Merman. The musical made a star of both actresses  and introduced Ginger to Fred Astaire who was hired as a dance coach. Ginger’s amazing renditions of  Embraceable You and But Not For Me in the musical helped the tunes become part of the American Song Book.

At 19 she switched to movies. Her breakthrough role was in Warner Brother’s 42nd Street. In 1933 she made her first film with Fred Astaire, Flying Down to Rio. The duo made nine musicals together, the most famous probably being Top Hat.

Dancing was only one arrow in her quiver, she was also an acclaimed singer and actor and her career went on long after she stopped making musicals with Fred. She won an Academy Award for Kitty Foyle in 1940.

She went back to the Great White Way when roles for mature women in film became scarce. Ginger took over for Carol Channing as Dolly in Hello! Dolly in 1965 and performed to packed houses for an 18-month run. She then took Mame to London’s West End for 14-months (and a Royal command performance.)

Ginger Rogers - 1920s

Ginger Rogers – 1920s (Photo credit: danceonair1986)


Thought of the Day 7.8.12

“He had delusions of adequacy.”

Walter Kerr

Walter Kerr was born today in Evanston, Illinois  in 1913. He would have been 99.

Kerr was a mid 20th Century New  York theatre critic, director and author. His sharp, witty reviews could make or break a Broadway show and he won a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Kerr also put his money where his mouth is– producing work for the stage as a writer and director. With his wife Jean Kerr he wrote Goldilocks, which won the 1958 Tony Award. Kerr directed the production. He also directed Touch and Go andKing of Hearts.

His books include How Not to Write a Play, Criticism and Censorship, The Theatre in Spite of Itself, and Thirty Plays Hath November.

In 1990 Broadway gave Kerr the ultimate honor. It named a theater after him. The old Ritz Theatre at 218 West 48th Street was renovated and reopened the Water Kerr Theatre. It opened to August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and has since house six Tony Award Winning Plays.

Marquee of the Walter Kerr Theatre, advertisin...

Marquee of the Walter Kerr Theatre, advertising Christine Ebersole in Grey Gardens 218 West 48th Street, Manhattan, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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