July 14, 2010

Chapter 7 of My Autoblography

Say what you will and you will anyway – there’s no place like “the Hamptons”. Take your finger off the delete button and read me out.

I spent the 4th of July weekend in Amagansett. A good friend of mine loaned me a perfect white cottage overlooking the bay with the perfect single white sailboat passing by just when you needed it most. No land line, my cell dates back to the Harding Administration and my computer is not allowed to travel on holiday weekends – so – you get the picture – (Warning, Description overload).

The first time I went to the Hamptons it was as a teenage actress in a play at Guild Hall. Since it was the weekend before Gutenberg invented the press, nothing remains that can remind me of its name or cast.

I stayed in a rooming house and walked back and forth to “work” – I had never seen such a concentration of beauty - in the bays, the ponds, the ocean, the luxurious houses, the trees, and of course that light that has attracted artists for so many years.

Most actresses remember the moment when they said “Broadway – someday my name will be up there in lights”. I said, “East Hampton – someday I’ll live in a beautiful house on a hilltop high with a husband and two children and if I can work – well that would be nice” – and it happened.

One summer while we were living there I got to be back at Guild Hall in Moss Hart’s classic play Light Up The Sky with Sylvia Sidney, Danny Aiello and Gloria Grahame – (remember how sexy and convincing she was in those films noir et blanc?)

She and Sylvia were mythic to me – those faces – those movies I saw as a very young person. Sylvia was all piss and vinegar with the throatiest cigarette voice ever. The first time we had a dress rehearsal and we were partially unclothed in the same room she said (and remember that voice) – “for a little girl you got some big ass”.
Gloria was quiet and delicate and completely friendly but she didn’t hang out – we didn’t know she was dying of cancer.

The run was a smash – Kitty Carlisle Hart costumed me from her closet and I was never as well dressed –

Kitty Carlisle Hart

We bought a house there in the sixties while I was in The Apple Tree on Broadway.

Alan Alda, me, and Larry Blyden

I was directed by Mike Nichols and everything good you’ve heard about him is true and then some. Of course, his work speaks for itself. There are a few seemingly simple directions and advice he gave me that remain embroidered in needlepoint in my brain.  Through the years, the many times I’ve felt insecure or dissatisfied with my work on stage, I picture Mike in the audience – not as a judge – but as a reminder of the possibilities of excellence, truth, originality and entertainment all wrapped up in one person. I try to push away the clichéd ‘remedies’ for the fears, and relax and soak up his aura, or vibes, or any other freaky new age sounding word. In this case I can’t think of a better way to describe how it works. Maybe by Blog Twelve my vocabulary will improve and if not – oh if not, see below – well worth more than a thousand words.

Mike Nichols

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Thanks again for sharing your memories with us, Phyllis. Already looking forward to the next posting.
1:00pm 07/19/2010
Pam G.
Always enjoy your posts. What a life

ps in town 7/30 - 8/3 whose performance shouldn't I miss Miss Newman?
1:00pm 07/19/2010
Matt L
I find myself looking forward to each new blog of yours. Your memories and observances are so vivid; they paint the loveliest pictures in my mind.
12:59pm 07/19/2010
You always write -- truthfully -- the lovliest remembrances of your friends and colleagues. So refreshing in this age of gossip and scandal-mongering. (not that you're above gossip & scandal-mongering)
12:43pm 07/19/2010
Nice entry. I rember seeing Sylvia Sidney in movies later in her life. And Gloria Grahame movies from the 50s on AMC.
12:43pm 07/19/2010