A Night at the Theatuh

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Jon over at Give ‘em the Old Razzle Dazzle recently posted about the charming Yvonne De Carlo on her Sept. 1 birthday which  brought to mind the  magical evening some friends and I saw her in a bizarre live show in New Orleans in 1986 or ’87.

My friend Abby was house manager of the theater and had called to beg me to scrape up as many of my friends to come for free to the show because ticket sales had been so anemic she needed to paper the house.  A bunch of us agreed, which may have been a mixed blessing for Abby since we wound up laughing so hard we had the audience around us, composed almost entirely of Old Dears, glaring at us viciously.

I think the show was called something like “Legends of the Silver Screen,” but it lives on in memory as “Has Beens on Parade.”   I guess it might charitably called a “cabaret act.”  Besides Yvonne, it also trotted out Howard Keel, Katherine Grayson, Jane Russell, Mamie Van Doren (!) and Dorothy Lamour.

Each one would creak out on stage, fumble through a couple of songs and what they must have thought was patter and then shuffle off.  The whole evening carried with it a thrilling frisson that any one of them might actually die right there before us, onstage.  Surely that’s how troopers like this would want to go.

Mamie van Doren was tarted out (and I mean that in the most literal sense of the term) in a gown that looked a lot like it had been run up from a shower curtain.  As the designated chicken of the group, she flashed most of her still substantial cleavage in a manner that was awe inspiring.  Possibly a little scary, too.

Howard Keel came out with an oxygen tank and thanked Jesus for something or the other.  It wasn’t clear exactly what.

Howard was followed up by his old co-star Katherine Grayson who reminisced about her role in Show Boat (in her review of it, Pauline Kael referred to Ms Grayson as “the singing valentine”, a reference to the saccharine soprano she typically belted out.)  We all settled in expecting her to take a crack at “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” or maybe even “After the Ball ” (man, would that have been appropriate.)  Instead she launched into an astonishing cover of “Ole Man River.”  Apparently, her range had dropped into something approaching basso and she wasn’t about to raise her sights any higher.

We ran into Abby at the  intermission which everyone (including, apparently, the cast) spent getting as loaded as possible.  She apologized for getting us into what was rapidly turning into a theatrical disaster. We laughed, made some jokes about Madame Tussard and got more glares from the people around us.

Then we were back for Jane Russell.  All I recall about her was that she had some trouble with her props when she tried “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” (the nerve!) and that she looked a lot like a mean lesbian gym teacher.

Yvonne was up next and really was the most successful of the whole lot, mostly because she didn’t seem to be taking any of it too seriously.  She sang “Before the Parade Passes Me By” and got so tangled up in the last chorus, she finished a bar behind the band.  She just laughed and said “I guess that’s a parade that passed me by!”  Yukyukyuk.  What a gal.

Dorothy Lamour, who was born in New Orleans, was last and came out to a very warm hand.  There were people in the audience who obviously knew her from their long gone youth and she worked it, recalling watching vaudeville in the theater we were in.  By that point in the evening, she could have pulled out a reminiscence about seeing John Wilkes Boothe there and I doubt anyone would have batted an eye.   She sang something or the other, but so many people in the audience had fallen asleep, she could have gotten away with shadow puppets.

There was something like a curtain call when they all came back out.  I have never seen a cast taking their bows with so many of the audience determinedly making their way up the aisles.  My friends and I were probably some of the only faces they could have seen, and we were still laughing.

So hahahaha, and now I am slightly mortified to realize that even though they seemed so terribly ancient, I am now closer in age to these dinosaurs than the stoned and giggling smartypants I was then.   Wait, is that a parade I see passing by?
To put this in pespective, a similar show today might very well be composed of Neil Young, Micky Dolenz, Bette Midler, Henry Winkler, and Adrienne Barbeau.  Singing “Ole Man River.”  Actually, I would line up for that show. 

About mrpeenee

A former bon vivant and terror of a number of New Orleans bars in the mad, gay 1980s, I'm now quietly retired and widowed in San Francisco. I have a crooked nose due to an unfortunate Frisbee accident.

12 responses »

  1. Of them all, of course, only Mamie's still us, and still going strong, after a fashion.

    The only disasaster-in-motion (old star division) that I ever got comped into was Pet Clark on tour Sunset Boulevard. It would have been less painful with Adrienne Barbeau. Or Howard Keel, for that matter…

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  2. Heavens. Like Norma, I am cursing the fact that I never saw this show – oh for a time machine! The closest I came to such an assemblage of creaking hips was perhaps the West End tribute to John Inman in 2007 (in which I swore Danny La Rue had a stroke halfway through) or the 75th birthday gala for Stephen Sondheim in Drury Lane in 2005, featuring (among others) Sian Phillips, Eartha Kitt and Joan Savage… Jx

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  3. I’ve just read Dropped Names by Frank Langella.

    It’s full of juicy tidbits on famous figures including Yvonne De Carlo…

    Whilst filming a TV remake of “The Mark of Zorro,” Yvonne De Carlo played Langella’s mother by day, and by night treated Langella “like a pretty girl in the back seat of a convertible on a hot summer night.”

    I highly recommend reading it.

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  4. I may be showing my youth here, but the only one who I've actually seen in a film is Dorothy Lamour. Most of the rest I've only seen on TV shows or in clips. And for some reason, I've always thought Kathryn Grayson was the late mother of Bruce Wayne's young ward. . .yet Wikipedia says Dick's mother was named Mary. . . !

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