Saturday, November 13, 2010

"SOLD, to General Custer for One Dollar!"

This is going to be a bit more personally geared posting than regular visitors to The Underworld are used to, but, never fear. As is my goal in life, we’ll eventually get ‘round to plenty of celebrities!

I had an audition on Monday the 8th for Annie Get Your Gun. Coming off a (planned) one-year hiatus from performing, I had to audition now though the show won’t go up until March of 2011, which is exactly one year from previous show I did. Anyway, I wasn’t after any particular role. I wanted to work for the co-directors (virtual legends where I live), the theatre company (one that pays!) and just be part of a group of fun fellow performers that could help be get over the doldrums of mid-winter. Still, I had grown a full beard for Halloween and when that was over, I carved out a set of long sideburns and a goatee, thinking it would a) break up some of the fat on my face (Ha!) and b) provide a western sort of aura for my audition.

So Saturday morning, the 13th, I headed to an estate auction at a local home. I enjoy seeing what things will go for and the whole process and also am always on the lookout for rare/old books about movies and their stars. There were only two things I saw that I wanted. One was a set of The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast DVDs (!) sitting in a box on a table that had about twenty other boxes of various glassware on it in every shape and size imaginable. I had noticed a pair of guys annoyingly butting in to examine various things only to look them up on their Blackberries to see what they were going for on eBay (is nothing sacred?!) Anyway, the auction began with this table and the auctioneer said that the first bid would be for “choice” of any box on the table. Certain that the first bid would be for some of the glassware, I held off. The first choice bid went for $4.00!!! And it was the two assholes and they went over and grabbed up the Dean Martin DVDs!! I couldn’t decide who I wanted to kill the most -- them or me!

A long time later, the auctioneer finally got around to the other item I liked and was, by now, afraid of landing! He had been making amusingly snarky comments all morning. One guy behind me had on a red fleece and large sunglasses and when he won a bid, the auctioneer said, “SOLD, to Dale Earnhart in the back!” You can see where this is going. My item came up and I bid a buck on it and got no other competition, so the auctioneer hollers, “SOLD, to General Custer for one dollar!” (meaning me, of course, with my goatee and sideburns! LOL)

I cared not because what did I get for my lousy dollar?? A box full of vintage theatre programs from a once long-standing entity called Kenley Players, a theatre in Kettering, OH that played host to many name actors over the course of its existence. Imagine my delight when, for one measly dollar, I got a stack of programs and other material from the mid-70s that featured many of the celebs I have paid tribute to or otherwise mentioned on this site!

Take for example, the 1971 program for Send Me No Flowers, a Broadway comedy starring David Wayne and Nancy Olson, about a hypochodriac sure that he's terminally ill, that was then turned into a Rock Hudson-Doris Day-Tony Randall movie. This one was a Carol Burnett Show invasion! The primary stars of the play were Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner.

Now as my regular readers know, I have odd obsessions with certain things, chiffon, rushing water and strong wind among them, but I also have a thing about costars, meaning unusual combinations of people. Take for instance this program for The Moon is Blue, a once-cutting edge comedy whose movie version raised the ire of the Breen office over its attitude towards illicit sex and virginity. The film version starred William Holden, Maggie McNamara and Davin Niven. The Kenley Players version brought in John Saxon, Karen Valentine and Don Ameche! (I know that casts are always made up of new combinations, but these three seem like the least likely combo to appear together in anything - but they aren’t, as you will soon learn.) Incidentally, Don Ameche has the distinction of being one of a few stars whose name confused me as a child whenever I‘d hear it. I always thought that “Donna Meechee” was a female. It also took a while to figure out that “Yvonda Carlo” was Yvonne de Carlo… I never said I was bright. Oh, and the less said about Ellafitz Gerald, the better!

Another unexpected cast combo came with the production of a show called Finishing Touches. This one gathered together Barbara Rush, Lyle Waggoner and Robert Reed, TV dad on The Brady Bunch! Note the way these cast lists give the name brand actors ALL CAPS billing in the listings, no matter in what order they appear on stage. I didn’t scan the program of The Impossible Years from 1978, which reunited Paul Lynde and his sitcom wife from The Paul Lynde Show Elizabeth Allen.

A show I’d never heard of, Greenwich Village Scandals of 1923, had a potpourri of stars from various backgrounds. Cyd Charisse, Rip Taylor, Imogene Coca, Lee Meredith and that long-forgotten actor Carleton Carpenter (who had sung Abba Daba Honeymoon with Debbie Reynolds in Two Weeks with Love so many years before.)

Here’s another one (and I apologize that the scan somehow got messed up at the top…) Bus Stop with Karen Valentine in the Marilyn Monroe role and with costars James Naughton and Rose Marie! I can see Blanche Devereaux really liking a lot of these shows because they recall the infamous Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre productions she used to mention every so often on The Golden Girls. Of course, I would love to have attended these myself! I was born too late…

Speaking of Marilyn Monroe, there was also a production of Sugar, the musical based on the film Some Like It Hot. In the MM role (as she was in The Big Apple as well) was Elaine Joyce and the two band members on the go in drag? Try Mickey Rooney and Ken Berry. (Do we think anyone could look worse in drag than Mick?! I doubt, though, that Robert Morse, who starred on Broadway along with Tony Roberts, was any oil painting either.)

Now… Funny Girl, the role that really put Barbra Streisand on the map and whose film adaptation earned her an Oscar as Best Actress. Who are ya gonna get if she (for obvious reasons) isn’t available to reprise her stage triumph? The answer should be clear: Carol Lawrence!!!!!!!!! WTF?! Maybe I never caught Miss Lawrence on the right day or am still scarred from those General Foods International Coffee commercials, but I have a lot of trouble picturing this performance. (And, no, that is not a picture of a flouncing Merle Oberon in Carol's two-page bio!)

But picture this: William Inge’s famous story Picnic, about a group of small town inhabitants whose lives come to a fever pitch on the evening of the title event. There’s a lonely schoolteacher hoping to marry, but who can’t resist being drawn to a handsome local drifter. Then there’s the preppie college student who knows the drifter and whose girlfriend finds herself drifting his way, too! Even the girlfriend’s younger sister has her eye on the charismatic man. So what thespian marvel are you going to get to play this dynamic drifter, the catalyst for everything happening in the story? How about football player Joe Namath?!?! Another burning question is, why is this promoted as a comedy?! (Maybe, with Joe emoting, it was!) And, when you read this blurb as I know you will, do take note that his leading lady is Donna Mills!

Some of the pieces I didn’t scan include Howard Keel’s program for The Most Happy Fella and Harvey Korman’s Norman, Is That You? about a man discovering that his son is gay. There was also Ann Miller in Anything Goes opposite Bobby Van (!) and Kitty Carlisle in Mame. A production of Kiss Me Kate included among its cast Ken Berry of Mayberry RFD and Mama’s Family fame. The bio below his is for a young actor named DeVeren Bookwalter. In his squeaky clean bio, Bookwalter left out the fact that he was the star of the Andy Warhol short film Blow Job, a thirty-five minute opus focusing on his face while someone out of frame (reportedly a man) performs the title act.

I didn't scan Heaven Can Wait, featuring a fairly young Peter Strauss. There was also a program for Irene, which had starred Debbie Reynolds, but now had still-pretty Jane Powell in the title role. I scanned the page with Patsy Kelly on it because I figured some of my loyal readers would find her a tad more interesting/amusing.

Here’s another interesting tidbit. In 1977, Hal Linden was headlining Kismet. Thing is, also starring in it with him was Dolores Gray, a woman who had played the exact same role in the film version TWENTY-TWO years previously! God, I hope the lighting was good at this playhouse! Also, and I didn’t bother to scan it, her name was carelessly spelled Delores in the cast list found inside…

Do yourself a huge favor and click on this yellow insert. It displays much of the summer season lineup with its wealth of fascinating star combos and projects. You can’t make some of this stuff up. No one will believe you!

Even though he’s mentioned in the ad above, I had to include this blurb and campy artwork for Count Dracula starring John Gavin (!) and his costar Karen Lynn Gorney (so glad Saturday Night Fever ignited her film career….) and Victor Buono! I am assuming this was sold out for every performance?! Also dig the restaurant ad below it that promotes its "Beef & Booze!" I doubt that if "Helen Lawson" ever played Kenley that she ate here since "Broadway doesn't go for booze and dope!"

Some of the ads in the programs were hooty, too. Check out this coupon for $0.10 off a Frosty from Wendy’s. Actually, when the price of a Frosty was $0.39 to begin with, that’s quite a savings! What? About ¼ off? It’s comparable to having a $0.40 off coupon for a $1.60 Frosty nowadays, I guess? There's no expiration date on it. Anyone dare me to take this coupon in for a dime off my next frozen treat? Ha!

This spread of ads was probably my favorite, though, because of the gaiety screaming from the pages. Bottom left: Coiffures Designed by Mister Van, complete with scarf tied around his neck. Upper right: James of California wigs, falls and wiglets! This was in a program for a play called You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running, which starred Arte Johnson and now-forgotten 1930s film actor Chester Morris.

There were some other programs in the box from occasions when the people who lived in this house went somewhere besides Kenley Players. There was a program for 1776 with Joel Grey as John Adams. Then this one with Myrna Loy, doing dinner theatre at a place called Beef ‘n Boards. 1950s leading man Richard Egan also played this venue in something called Broken Up.

There’s a program for Sugar Babies, the Broadway smash that starred Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller, from the sizeable, ornate Taft Theatre in Cincinnati, but this time out, Ann has taken a powder and her role is being portrayed by (the approximately one decade younger) Carol Lawrence. This time I can see it a little more than when Carol was cast as Fanny Brice!

I always try to save the best for last, whenever possible, and this time I had to hold onto the wildest casting of them all for the finale… Here we have a production of the baseball musical Damn Yankees, a show that starred Ray Walston as a version of the devil and Gwen Verdon as Lola, his tantalizing minion. The folks at Kenley landed Vincent Price to play the old Walston part Mr. Applegate. I’m not gonna tell you here who played Lola. You can either see it if the picture comes up clear enough or click on it and get a better look. Let’s just say my jaw hit the floor when I saw this combo… If Blanche had referred to this pairing on The Golden Girls, everyone would have assumed it was a scriptwriter's creation and couldn't be real!

I definitely got my dollar’s worth at this auction and I hope you found some of this memorabilia as entertaining as I did! Oh, and in case anyone gives a hoot, my "western" goatee and sideburns were SO effective, they won me the unlikely role of Chief Sitting Bull!!!!!!!!!! Knowing that Larry Storch played the part on Broadway, I have to assume that there is comic potential in it that someone thinks I can draw out for this version of the show.


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