DIVA TALK: A Chat with "Match Game" Star Brett Somers Plus Divas on Video!

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11 Jul 2003

Brett Somers on TV's
Brett Somers on TV's "Match Game."

Something happened to me for the first time this past week, diva lovers. I did a phone interview with actress Brett Somers — and it was actually a great, funny 30-minute chat — and when I went to transcribe the tape, it was completely blank! Not one sound! Not one word! What to do?!!

After about 20 minutes, I finally gathered up my courage and dialed Somers' Connecticut home again and explained what had happened. Well, I have to say that my own mother couldn't have been nicer about it. We actually laughed about the tape snafu, and then proceeded with our second interview of the day!

Somers seemed to be riding high after debuting her cabaret show — An Evening with Brett Somers — this past Monday night to a sold-out crowd at the intimate New York cabaret, Danny's Skylight Room. The cabaret stage is, surprisingly, a new experience for the actress, who has triumphed on the small screen ("The Odd Couple"), the silver screen ("Bus Riley's Back in Town," "A Rage to Live") and the stage (Happy Ending, Maybe Tuesday, The Country Girl, Seven Year Itch). "It never occurred to me in a million years that I'd be doing a cabaret show," Somers admitted. "I was standing backstage [at Danny's], and I thought, 'You're an older person. You should be lying down somewhere in a nice cool bed watching TV!' And I went out there, and I just had a great time. . . . Oh, you'll never get an audience like that as long as you live! They were fabulous! You couldn't make a wrong move. They were the best audience I've ever had in my whole life — they clapped, they laughed, they hooted. It was really just marvelous."

The road to the cabaret stage seems to have been equally wonderful. Somers penned the show with Mark Cherry, and she has nothing but praise for the pianist who also serves as the evening's musical director and arranger. "Mark's not only a marvelous piano player but a wonderful arranger and great collaborator. . . . I told him when you go home, don't ever tell your wife how hard you've been working because we have [all our rehearsals] on tape, [and] we've been doing nothing but screaming and laughing!"

Somers' musical memoir — which details her life in and out of show business — begins with her running away from her home in Portland, Maine, at 18 to head to the Big Apple. "I came to New York to be a great actress, but, of course, I ended up doing many other things before I got around to that." One of those "things" included a nine-year run on the classic game show "Match Game," hosted by the late Gene Rayburn. Her journey to "Match Game" actually began on a New York set with former husband Jack ("The Odd Couple") Klugman. "Jack and I used to do [the show] 'He Said She Said' in New York," said the veteran actress, "and most people would give very nice little answers like, 'Jim's so sweet, and when I met him, I fell in love,' and I would tell stories about how Jack was choking me over the hood of the car and some woman came up and asked for his autograph! [Laughs.] So they always got fan mail [when we were on]. So, when we got to California ['Match Game'] asked if Jack and I would do it. And I said, 'Jack's on the road,' so they said, 'Would you do it?,' and I said, 'Sure!' So I did it! [Laughs]"

When asked why she thinks "Match Game" is still so popular today, Somers paused and then answered, "Because of the fact that there was no structure to it. It was just six people having a good time and teasing one another. There was never any meanness. And people really sensed when Charles [Nelson Reilly] would jerk his head and go, 'She seems a little odd today' — they knew there was no meanness in it. And, Gene was the greatest straight man who ever lived. He would ask you the questions and would set it up for you. He was wonderful. And I think the relaxation of the atmosphere." And, does she get residuals from the show, which airs several times a day around the country? "Not a goddamn penny!" she laughed.

Though her two sons — David and Adam, then adolescents — were not thrilled with their mother being on a game show — "She's not my mother! I don't know who's mother she is, but she's not mine!" — they couldn't be happier about her latest gig, which also includes the actress' debut as a singer. "I've never even been in a musical," said Somers. "I've never sung in my life. I just started doing this. I said to Mark Cherry one day, 'Am I sounding better or am I just getting used to my voice?' He said, 'No, you're getting better, Brett. He's very supportive." Among the titles Somers interprets are "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love," "I Get Along Without You Very Well," "It Never Entered My Mind" and "I'm Beginning to See the Light."

Though Somers would like to perform her show elsewhere, "I don't want to do a long run like Elaine Stritch," she commented. "Oh God, I couldn't do that! But I would love to do it around New York. I have this wonderful friend who said to me, 'You should be at the Algonquin.' And I go, 'Yeah, yeah, sure. . . Danny's is just fine with me." In fact, her engagement at Danny's has already been extended through August 8.

I posed one final question to the outgoing performer with the distinctive gravelly tones: When people hear your name, what would you like them to think? Her answer: "I would like them to think that I gave them pleasure and joy." For those who have ever watched her outrageous and often hysterical comments on "Match Game" or her many riotous performances on TV's "The Odd Couple," they think that already.

I'll be at Danny's July 21. Come join the fun.

[An Evening with Brett Somers plays Danny's Skylight Cabaret (346 West 46th Street) July 14, 21, 28 and Aug. 1 and 8. Tickets are priced at $15 with a two-drink minimum; call (212) 265-8133 for reservations.]


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