PASSING STAGES -- April 1996
ONLY YESTERDAY: Carol Burnett, on hiatus from Moon Over Buffalo (which currently stars Lynn Redgrave and Robert Goulet) will return to Ken Ludwig's Broadway comedy on April 23. At a Playbill luncheon held in The Algonquin Hotel, Carol Burnett revealed that when she first came to New York in the 1950's "to be a star," she checked into that very hotel. "When I found out it was $9 a day," she said, "I only stayed one night."
She then moved to the famed Rehearsal Club (immortalized in the George S. Kaufman/Edna Ferber play and movie, Stage Door), which was only $18 a week, meals included. "When I left Oregon to come to New York," she added, "my grandmother made me promise that I would come home if I wasn't a star by Christmas."
Fortunately, she was a star by Christmas in her first Broadway musical, Once Upon a Mattress.
Asked why she took the hiatus she replied, "My daughter's getting married on the West Coast, and I'm needed to pay the bills."
SPOTLIGHT ON BARRYMORE: The late John Barrymore is being remembered onstage and on paper.
At the Belasco Theatre, opening April 17, Nicol Williamson is starring in a one-man show about the Great Profile called Jack A Night on the Town With John Barrymore. And 218 passionate and detailed letters written by the actor to his second wife Michael Strange (real name: Blanche Oelrichs Thomas, a Newport socialite, playwright and poetess) have been donated to the Billy Rose Theatre Collection of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
The letters, now available for use at the Library, provide a remarkable view of Barrymore's personal and professional lives, shedding light on his feelings about acting and his struggle between artistic achievement and the forces of distraction (drinking and womanizing), which he constantly battled. The Barrymore/Strange chaotic marriage lasted only eight years.
Typical Barrymore quote from the letters: "There is really something a little idiotic about acting. I haven't figured out just what it is and I'm too tired to attempt to analyze it. All I know is it gives me a pain in my own mean pointed behind."
WASSERSTEIN FOR TOTS: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein (The Heidi Chronicles, The Sisters Rosensweig, and the forthcoming An American Daughter) has written an enchanting book for children that even adults will find delightful. Called Pamela's First Musical, with beautiful illustrations by Andrew Jackness, the book follows nine-year-old Pamela's first visit to a Broadway musical with her zany Aunt Louise (not unlike Auntie Mame). Before the show the duo have lunch at the Russian Tea Room, and then on to a Broadway musical smash, where her aunt, who happens to be a top fashion designer, takes her backstage to meet the cast after the performance. Pamela's thrill at seeing her first Broadway show is vividly captured by Jackness's splashy illustrations (he actually designed the sets for Wasserstein's hit play, Isn't It Romantic?). The book, from Hyperion Books for Children, will be in bookstores in May ($16.95).
UPDATED CLASSIC: Mary C. Henderson's 1986 masterwork, Theater In America, has been updated with additional text and illustrations of productions that have opened on Broadway in the past decade.
This handsome, comprehensive volume covers 250 years of plays, players and productions and details how dramas and musicals actually get onstage. The more-than-400 illustrations include 127 plates in full color of original art for set and costume designs, candid onstage photographs, star and cast portraits and a wealth of never-before-published iconography.
A time chart shows what was happening and who was working on and Off- Broadway and in regional theatres during the decades between 1750 and the close of the 20th century (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., U.S. $60). -- By Louis Botto