Julie Halston lives on a West 55th Street block that people in the neighborhood affectionately call the "Twinkle Light Block." That's because, during the holidays, the entire block is ablaze in Christmas lights. Her building is so chock full of Broadway personalities that its half joking-half serious nickname is "The House of Talent."
For a comic actress with a reputation of being a shining talent herself, it seems only fitting that she should live on that block and in that building.
Currently, Halston's making audiences laugh at her portrayal of a drunken diva in the Broadway revival of You Can't Take It With You. The commute is one of the best parts; the Longacre Theatre is only a short walk from her apartment. "It's perfectly located," she says. "I can't ever say I can't make a rehearsal because I live so close."
Halston and her husband, Broadcaster Ralph Howard, bought their Hell's Kitchen space in 2000. "They call it Clinton, now," she says, "but it's really Hell's Kitchen until 57th Street."
It's in a 1919 building that was converted to a co-op in 1972. "This is a beautiful building," she says. "It still has the original crown molding, arched doorways, French doors and beamed ceilings. And the thing we love about this apartment is that it has a loft-like feel to it."
It consists of 1,000 square feet, one bedroom, one bath, an open kitchen, a living room, and a full dining room. "The people before us made it into two bedrooms," Halston says. "But we prefer having a dining room."
The kitchen was closed off, and they knocked down a wall to open it up. Then they added black granite countertops and cherry wood cabinets, as well as new appliances including a top-of-the-line slim German refrigerator.
"We took out a kitchen door," Halston explains. "So that left us with an extra eight inches. I was like, 'We gotta do something with that eight inches.' Eight inches in New York City is another apartment I could get $1,000 a month for. But we settled for making a broom closet."
Howard vividly remembers the reconstruction: "The apartment was just a concrete pit," he says. "Julie was doing Shanghai Moon in Sag Harbor…"
"I left the minute construction started and stayed away for the three months it took." Halston cut in. "I just said, 'Sayonara.'"
"And I," sighs Howard, "was left in the living room with a toaster, a TV and a tent."
But the construction eventually came to an end and they started to think about decorating. "We were in the apartment for five or six years before we really decorated," Halston says. "And then we had help from a designer friend named Patty Langhorne."
They did it in all rich browns, reds, gold, olive and blue. "It's Tuscan," Halston says, "because of my Italian roots and because we visited Italy around that time."
So the living room couch is a deep chocolate brown leather, and there's a red silk cotton armchair that was custom made, a custom made rug of red and gold, a Stickley cabinet and window shades and valences throughout covered in lush fabrics in all the Tuscan colors.
And the walls are covered with posters and especially cherished photos. Howard has a beautiful collections of circus posters that fill an entire wall in the dining room. Halston has much loved poster of an Elizabeth Taylor movie — "The Girl Who Had Everything" — from the MGM vaults. Howard has a lush poster of Marilyn Monroe that friends, knowing he's a big Monroe fan, "liberated" from a Long Island Rail Road station. There's even a poster in the hall leading into the apartment of the Charles Busch play Psycho Beach Party.
And there are photos throughout of Howard when he was a young newscaster, of their 15-member family (including children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren), a very special signed Richard Avedon photo of Halston in Gypsy with castmates Heather Lee and Kate Buddeke doing "You Gotta Have A Gimmick." ("There are only four copies of this in the world," Halston says. "It's my prize possession.")
More prized possessions could be on the way, now that Halston is such a hit in You Can't Take It With You. Her funniest scene is when, completely drunk, her character tries to make her way up a long flight of stairs — crawling, pulling herself up one step at a time — all the while, reciting a limerick that begins: "There was a man from Nantucket…"
"Scott Ellis, the director, gave me such free range," Halston says. "He said, 'Come up with something.' About four days before the critics came, I decided to go up the stairs. Because when someone's that drunk they can't move very well. And when I did it, it really brought down the house."
The show is such a hit that its run has been extended through Feb. 22, 2015. Next up for Halston is a Dec. 1 show at Birdland with Julie Gold called Julie and Julie. Her annual "Broadway Belts" gala to raise funds for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, which will star Halston, Annaleigh Ashford, Randy Graff and many more, will be held Feb. 23.
But for now, You Can't Take It With You is taking her full attention. She's already won three MAC awards for her cabaret work. Is there a Tony in her future? "That would be wonderful," Halson says. "Every year, I'm up for something... Drama Desk, Drama League, Outer Critics. I have many nominations for many things. And I always lose. But I lose to Eileen Atkins, Edie Falco, Linda Lavin. So I lose to the best.
"I do feel very lucky, though. I started with Charles Busch and we had our own off Broadway theatre company. Then, when I did Gypsy with Bernadette Peters I became a Broadway person. I've always wanted to work with Scott Ellis, and now I'm getting that opportunity. I've done a lot of Kaufman and Hart, and I love their work so much. So for me to be part of this production is another plus. I'm having the time of my life."
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