The Last Time I Looked: (Stories, Real and Unreal) -

July 1, 2013

Collage by Joe Brainard  
I woke up last Thursday morning like any other Thursday morning, I had my power breakfast, kale, day old spelt bread, raw ginger, washed down with white vinegar as suggested by the wizard OZ. Did twenty minutes of tai chi, mixed with weights and Gregorian Chants.

Then I was ready for my morning read of the N.Y. Times, which is seriously, one of the most engaging parts of my day. I was thrilled and very surprised to see a rave review and a big beautiful color picture on the front of the Arts section.

It was about a production of ON THE TOWN that was done at the Barrington Stage in Massachusetts. If you have time please read it…..I cried at the last paragraph, but then, I’m so connected to it and the kale was repeating on me.


What? Who? Why?.....well, my theater pals will know, but let me tell you that ON THE TOWN was performed in 1944 during the war And was the first show of my hubs Adolph Green, Betty Comden, Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins, and they were all in their twenties. It was a big hit, and a turning point for all those “kids”.

In 1971 there was a Broadway revival. Ron Field, the director and the rest of the gang thought I would be swell in Betty’s original part. Claire De Loone. Bernadette Peters and Donna McKechnie were playing the other female leads. 
I thought it was a terrible idea.

Bernadette Peters with Sailor, ON THE TOWN, 1971 

Why? You ask.

Sigmund Freud or any kid on the street could tell you it’s a no-win situation. Betty and Adolph wrote wonderful parts in it for themselves, The show was a triumph and they had that indelible memory of every moment, every laugh, and every line reading. Who could compete with that and who would want to?

Well, wife loves husband and show and is quite flattered by these brilliants begging her etc. etc. and I did get to sing the gorgeous song SOME OTHER TIME.

WHOA NELLIE!...Just realized I wrote all about this in my blog on August 9, 2010.  Please read that.  It explains what an uncomfortable experience it was for me. But the show remains simply wonderful. So I’ll wrap this part up with the sage advice via Thomas Wolfe...”You Can’t Go Home Again” or really, You can’t go to somebody else’s Home Again. (God, this is profound and mixed up for a simple blog.)

Now I segue seamlessly from last Thursday to Friday. I saw John Guare’s new work. 3 KINDS OF EXILE. I am a Guare Groupie. He’s so original and, surprising. I was particularly interested in this play. It is three short pieces about real people, two of whom I knew.

The first one was about Karel Reisz, the superb film director, probably best known for THE FRENCH LIEUTENANTS WOMAN. Please google him, his work in theater and film is superior. His friendship was in the same league. He and his wife Betsy Blair, (wonderful actress from MARTY and many other movies…former wife of Gene Kelly) were really close pals. They lived in London, and we stayed in each other’s houses so many times. His story of a 12 year old exiled to London and growing up there is told by John in a most unusual way…It’s symbolic and mysterious. I have no idea if the premise is based on reality or John’s imagination. I will find out or not.

John Guare Karel Reisz

In the second piece John Guare is an actor as well, and he’s alternately flamboyant and realistic as needed. He’s having a wonderful time and his fellow actor Omar Sangare is outstanding. It’s another true story about Elzbieta Czyzewska, a beautiful actress who was a big star in Poland. She met and fell in love with the writer David Halberstam, moved to New York, married him and sank lower and every way. A terrible cautionary tale of a woman we hung out with in the heydays of Elaine’s restaurant.

Now, don’t lose heart…a point will emerge.

Saturday night…Bette Midler as Sue Mengers in I’LL EAT YOU LAST. Another play about someone I knew eons ago when I was a young, young actress with a small theatrical agency Baum-Newborn representing me. Their receptionist/secretary/be all, was an adorable, hilarious, funny, fast talking, yup… Sue Mengers. Bette Midler is simply sensational sharing the dish, the dirt, the foul mouth. And what a pleasure to be part of an audience having such a good time. It’s exhilarating. Et alors….such are three days in the life of a well lived woman with a love of the lives of artists. (and the letter L)

Bette Midler as Tzeitel on Broadway in Fiddler On The Roof, 1967

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I very much enjoyed your impressions of I'LL EAT YOU LAST." I especially appreciated your reminiscence of your theatrical agency Baum-Newborn, with Sue Mengers, providing a certain "texture" and color. Working and living in that late 1950's/early 60's era of show business brings to mind a Rona Jaffe novel. With its requisite ambitious and aspiring actors, directors, and uber agents, someone like Sue Mengers was the ideal prototype of that not so long ago era.
11:12pm 07/20/2013
Richard Klein
Phyllis (and I feel entitled to refer to you by your first name because I've "known" you all my life), I just discovered your blog and I can tell that it will be my favorite reading material this summer. I saw the Barrington Stage production of On The Town the other day...and it is revelatory. A brilliant piece of theater, brilliantly realized. Many bravos!
8:37pm 07/07/2013
David Mayhew
I agree with John Campbell...the blog should become a book, too.

And the kale, ginger stuff is truly funny.

2:09pm 07/02/2013
Ron Barron
Speaking as a literary agent, I must ask you why you are not under contract to write your wonderful memoir? "Just in Time" is marvelous, but you should be recording your life as you think about it TODAY. Signed, John Campbell, literary agent of the splendid Bel Kaufman
12:29pm 07/01/2013