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

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14 Apr 2013

Blythe Danner
Blythe Danner
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Playbill explores the rich history of the theatrical residence, The Rehearsal Club, whose many inhabitants included Blythe Danner, Carol Burnett and original Ziegfield girl Doris Eaton Travis.

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Blythe Danner was there in the mid-1960s.

"Girls were running up and down the stairs singing," Danner recalls. "Rockettes, opera singers, budding actresses. There was a great feeling of life. We were all there just to start our lives in New York." And "the rent was $30 a week, including two meals a day."

For Carol Burnett, it was the mid-1950s. She lived in a room for five women, with five cots and five dressers, one bathroom, one closet.

"I was given the corner cot and dresser," she wrote in her 2010 memoir, "This Time Together." "The bathroom always had newly washed stockings, panties and bras hanging on the towel rods. The closet looked like it had exploded, leaving skirts, blouses, coats, sweaters and shoes piled on top of one another from ceiling to floor."

Danner and Burnett are remembering the Rehearsal Club, two connected brownstone buildings on West 53rd Street in Manhattan that provided refuge for young women who had arrived in New York from all over the country with that dream of theatrical success, which has propelled countless thousands to a life of auditions in the big city.

The club closed in 1979, but since it traces its origins to 1913, a group of alumnae is getting together for a centennial celebration beginning June 27. On that evening at 6 PM, at the Bruno Walter Auditorium of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, at Lincoln Center, there will be a three-part event open to the public: the screening of a trailer, narrated by Danner, for a proposed documentary on the club; excerpts from a work in progress, Good Girls Only – The Rehearsal Club Musical; and a panel discussion on the need for affordable housing for young performers arriving in New York City.

Carol Burnett

On June 28 6 PM at the Museum of Modern Art, by invitation only, there will be a reception, a screening of the documentary trailer, and two short films about Rehearsal Club residents, Phyllis Jeanne Creore, the NBC Canteen Girl in World War II, and Doris Eaton Travis, the last of the Ziegfeld girls, who died in 2010 at age 106. On June 29 at the Players Club there will be a dinner for members of the Rehearsal Club and their families from around the country and the presentation of its Key Award to a young actress "who best exemplifies the Rehearsal Club girl." (For additional information visit rehearsalclubnyc.com.)

"It developed a reputation as a lucky club," says Lee Kelley, chair of the Rehearsal Club Women's Group, who lived at the club from 1972-74. And indeed, successful residents from decades past include such well-known performers as Lisa Kirk, Anna Russell, Ruth Hussey, Jo Van Fleet, Sandy Duncan, Audrey and Jayne Meadows and Bibi Osterwald.

Betty Lynn, Barney Fife's girlfriend Thelma Lou on "The Andy Griffith Show," was a resident, as was Donna Douglas, Elly May on "The Beverly Hillbillies," and Constance McCashin of "Knots Landing." Kim Cattrall of "Sex and the City" was there in the early 1970s.

Melanie Mayron, who played photographer Melissa Steadman on "Thirtysomething" and is now a Hollywood TV and film director, was there as well.

"I came from suburban Philadelphia right out of high school and went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts," Mayron recalls, "and I had to find my own housing. It was brownstones right across from CBS near Sixth Avenue, the most amazing location in the city."



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