"Hey, Up There!": Broadway Babies Recall Theatrical Home, The Rehearsal Club

By Mervyn Rothstein
14 Apr 2013

During World War II, club residents went to the Stage Door Canteen in Times Square. The canteen needed hostesses, "and most of the girls went over, danced and sang," Kelley says. After the war, they went to Veterans Administration hospitals to visit the soldiers.

Getting into the club was often a matter of luck. There was a waiting list, but it could be ignored.

"I came to New York from Lexington, Massachusetts, a real small-town girl," says Kelley, who studied acting and dance, worked Off-Broadway, in stock and regional productions and became an acting coach. "I had $200 in my pocket. I knew nobody. But I had the dream. I stayed at the East End Hotel for women, in a shoebox of a room, in Yorkville.

"After a couple of months, I stumbled into a big cattle call. There were people everywhere. While I was waiting three or four hours to sing my 8 or 16 bars, I noticed some people from the Boston Conservatory. I had studied there, so I went over and sat down. I started talking with one girl – I didn't know her – and she said she lived at the Rehearsal Club, the famous Rehearsal Club.

"I said I had never heard of it. She proceeded to tell me the story of Stage Door and all the well-known occupants. And her next sentence was, 'My roommate is moving out; would you like to move in?' The next week, [I moved in]. It was $40 a week. Room and board."

Men were not allowed upstairs but, Kelley says, of course they sneaked in.

Sometimes the club would help the residents put on a show so they could get entertainment folk to come see them and perhaps offer them jobs, or at least to be their agents. As Burnett tells it in her book, one night in March 1955 she got her housemates together in a room and said an agent had suggested they do their own show. They chipped in for a rehearsal room, wrote a script, chose songs. They called it The Rehearsal Club Revue. Now they needed money for a hall.

"Miraculously, the rich ladies who contributed to the club came up with the $200 we needed . . . . We sent penny postcards to every producer and agent in town inviting them to our show, the postcard being their ticket."

Producers and agents came, "and after our two evenings, three of us got agents."

Residents could also hear from their clubmates what was happening around town, what shows were planning to open, where the auditions were.

"There was a very nice feeling of camaraderie among the girls," Blythe Danner says. "I think it's necessary for something like this to happen again."