It wasn’t as if I had a background of musical comedy history. I didn’t. For me not to know who Abe Burrows and Frank Loesser were, (even though I knew all the verses to “A Bushel and Peck” which I sang to my mother to make her laugh) was in retrospect pathetic but hopefully, at the time, guileless. When I met Frank Loesser a few days later and auditioned for him I was much less sure of myself and had a terrible cold, but he gave a pass.
Frank was my idea of a real New Yorker. A little Jewish which was also a little Italian and a little Damon Runyon-esque. When you come from anyplace else, but hold out New York as your dream, New Yorkers are already fiction. He was a compactly built man who came just up to my shoulder. He wore good suits, nice cologne, his hair was slicked back and he seemed to always walk on his toes. He was like an animated spark plug. An inveterate schmoozer he loved actors.
Before we went into rehearsal I would meet him at the end of the day in his offices on 57th Street across from Carnegie Hall and he taught me the songs. “Like this,” he’d say pounding the keyboard and booming out a lyric. He made me feel like I knew exactly what I was doing. I didn’t. He would play a couple of his songs from other shows, “They told me I this interval would never work,” and then he played the change in “My Time of Day,”(…and it’s the only time I ever wanted to share it…with you.)
I was finally suitably impressed when I found he had written “Jingle Jangle Jingle,” “ Heart and Soul,” and “My Darling, My Darling.” I knew all the words to those songs. “Hey, I sang those when I was a little girl.” I heard them on the radio from the backseat of the car when my mother, my father and I drove across the country to race our greyhounds in the 40s and 50s. Then Frank would pour us a glass of scotch which made me feel tremendously sophisticated and offer me a ride home in his car if he was going to see his mother who lived in my neighborhood.
The show went to Philadelphia to the Shubert Theater for try-outs as did most shows, to work out the kinks and make changes. It was a heady time. My god, I had a hotel room all to myself. I wasn’t in it much for we rehearsed well into the nights and then ended up in the Variety Club, a private club for actors who were working on the road. Daily there were changes in the songs and scenes. “A Secretary is Not a Toy” made the rounds of several cast members until it found a home as a company number. The other day I found my old script which I didn’t know I had kept. Some of the onion skin inserts were still slipped in between the pages their edges curling. I laughed to see my handwriting of the stage directions. It was small and tight, timid. I must have been terrified at some level. I was grateful to Charles Nelson Reilly who kept me boneless with laughter both on stage and off. Sometimes I prayed that he wouldn’t look at me during a number because I would be sure to lose it.
Frank always looked out for those of us who were newbies. “Ever have Chicken Kiev?” he asked one night then took me to a Russian restaurant and ordered it. “You won’t forget this,” he said. When I put my fork into the chicken breast golden butter shot out. I just had to tell my mother about this to see if she could make it.
Looking back at the girl I was I see that I was skilled at putting up a good front. I knew how to act in groups, how to acclimate immediately. It came from a having lived an itinerant life seasonally crossing the country from dog track to dog track in the small carnival-like world of greyhound racing. I was raised squarely in the company of eccentrics, gamblers, the high falutin’ and the hoi polloi just like…well, the theater.