DANCING LADIES: The 16th Annual TDF (Theatre Development Fund) Astaire Awards for "Excellence in Dance on Broadway" were recently presented to Chicago co-stars Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking as "Best Female Dancers" and to Ms. Reinking as "Best Choreographer" for that show. The coveted awards were conferred at a benefit luncheon at the Hudson Theatre. Attending the event, in addition to the two honorees, were former Astaire Award winners Tommy Tune, Savion Glover and Donna McKechnie as well as Mrs. Fred Astaire (who introduced a collection of film clips honoring her late husband) and Chicago co-star James Naughton, who acted as emcee.
The TDF Astaire Awards were established in 1982 by the Anglo-American Contemporary Dance Foundation in honor of Fred Astaire and his sister Adele, the famed dance team who appeared in 11 Broadway musicals. TDF took over administration of the awards in 1991. The award is a bronze and marble statuette of two dancers by sculptor Michael Cochran. This is the first time that there are two winners of the Best Female Dancer award. WAY OUT WEST: That sexpot with the hourglass figure -- Mae West -- has been brilliantly etched in an arresting biography called Becoming Mae West by Emily Wortis Leider. Credited with saving Paramount Studio during the Depression in a series of hilarious sexual films (Night After Night, I'm No Angel, She Done Him Wrong, My Little Chickadee, etc.), the late actress achieved international fame with her liberated performances and her legendary invitation to "come up and see me some time."
The biography is not only a vivid portrait of a one-of-a-kind talent, but a rich chronicle of the change in show business and morals in the early years of this century. A star of vaudeville and burlesque, Mae switched to writing and acting in salacious plays that landed her and her casts in jail. Long before the sexual revolution of the 1960's, West was writing about sexual deviants, drug addicts, prostitutes and criminals. Some of her quips became world famous, and at one point during her flamboyant movie career, she was America's highest paid woman. The author of her biography has wisely concentrated on West's formative years and the early influences that shaped her outrageous and humorous viewpoint on sex (Farrar Straus Giroux).
TEN MINUTES OF FAME: At a recent Dutch Treat Club luncheon at Sardi's, talk turned to the dolorous fact that many celebrated stage stars of the past are quickly forgotten. Mention Tallulah Bankhead, Ina Claire, Margaret Sullavan or Miriam Hopkins to the younger generation, and you often are rewarded with a blank stare. As a prime example, Wally Munro, Director of Planned Giving for the Actors' Fund of America, offered this incident. An out-of-towner, who passed the theatre on 46th Street where Titanic is playing, was puzzled. "What," he asked Mr. Munro, "is a Lunt?"
-- By Louis Botto