"I didn’t take a breath. It was fantastic!" Lesley Ann Warren says of filming Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella when she was 18. Who can blame her? From earning the Theatre World Award for her turn in 110 in the Shade to making her television debut acting opposite a handful of Oscar-winning screen legends (including Celeste Holm and Ginger Rogers), Warren was in heady company. And that same fairy tale magic extends all the way back to how she landed the plum role.
"I was on Broadway doing 110 in the Shade, and I went and auditioned in a theatre for Richard Rodgers and [choreographer] Eugene Loring and Johnny Green, the musical supervisor—and I was so terrified," Warren says. "I was only 17 years old. And I was really terrible. I was awful! I was frozen. But the director, Charles Dubin, had seen me on Broadway and he was telling them you gotta give her another chance."
Not only did Warren get another chance, her second audition was held for the same group in Richard Rodgers apartment. "And Richard Rodgers sat me down at the piano bench, sat down next to me and played and taught me 'My Funny Valentine.' He has a very precise way that he wanted his songs to be sung, and he would sing the chorus and I would sing a chorus."
Warren landed the role that day, and it's hard not to picture her as Cinderella in that moment. The shoot was scarcely less magical.
"They actually had me take opera lessons before I started shooting," Warren recalls. "I was touring 110 and we were in San Francisco, and they set me up there with an opera teacher. It’s not that I was singing opera, but it gave me breath and control and I was being pushed to go so far past what I was going to be asked to do that it gave me a kind confidence in what I had to do."
Ultimately, Warren would go on to a career in film and TV (including an Oscar-nominated turn in Victor/Victoria, as well as the cult classic Clue) and the 1965 Cinderella would go on to run on CBS multiple times over the next decade, and held its place as CBS highest rated non-sports event until 2009.