Jun 3, 2013

Humphrey Bogart, Burl Ives, and my father

 After sharing some memories about working with Marlene Dietrich and Burt Bacharach, my father decided to share this nice little story about meeting Humphrey Bogart. I can't help but giggle when I hear Bogart's voice in my head. Just amazing...

My father

In the 1950s and ‘60s, a period that has been called the Golden Age of the Broadway theater, out-of-town tryouts for new shows - before they opened in New York - were routine. In Variety, such productions were said to be “o-o-t.” An “out-of-town” show played for a week or two in cities such as New Haven, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Wilmington, and Pittsburgh, all within a few hours of Broadway. Trying o-o-t was critical to the success of any new show, whether it was a musical, drama, or comedy. Fine-tuning a production was essential before the show could be “brought in.“ On Broadway, it was possible to open on a Wednesday and– - if the reviews were bad enough, especially in the New York Times - a production could close on Saturday.

One result of shows trying out so near New York was that the show business crowd would travel o-o-t to see the production before it opened on Broadway so they could talk knowingly about it around town; in Sardi’s bar, for instance. Sometimes, however, even a playwright as successful as Moss Hart would turn out a flop, such as he did in 1952 with The Climate of Eden which opened on Broadway and closed ten days later.

The Climate of Eden had gone o-o-t to Washington DC where it received fatally bad reviews. Nevertheless, despite the show’s dismal prospects, the producers, as expected, threw a terrific opening night party. Trying to be helpful, Bernie Hart, one of the show’s stage managers, offered his brother, Moss, a suggestion.

“Let‘s close the show and bring in the party,” he said.

When Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof tried out in Philadelphia before its Broadway debut, the producers also threw an opening night party for the company, which included Barbara Bel Geddes, Ben Gazzara, and Burl Ives. The names of the guests at the party following the o-o-t premiere made it obvious that Cat would be a hit. As one of the stage managers I recall meeting such celebrated writers at the post-premiere party as John Steinbeck––who had just made the movie East of Eden with Cat’s director, Elia Kazan, and would win Pulitzer and Nobel prizes - Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers and other writer friends of Tennessee.

Burl Ives as Big Daddy in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
Cat opened to triumphant notices on Broadway on March 24, 1955 and ran until November 17, 1956. The show was successful not only in its original New York production but also as a motion picture and in six subsequent revivals in New York and London. It earned Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prizes, and Tennessee called it his favorite play.

An early measure of Cat’s success was the party following the New York opening where even Marilyn Monroe appeared, chatted with her friend, Tennessee, and shook hands with and smiled at one of the stage managers.

Not unexpectedly, during its original Broadway run Cat attracted many celebrities who paid their respects backstage after the show to friends in the cast.
Bogart: “Nice little show you got here, Burly.”
One night, I was talking with Burl Ives in his dressing room while he took off his makeup. There was
a knock on the door, which he asked me to open. I did, and will never forget that I found myself staring at Humphrey Bogart.

Lauren Bacall, Bogart’s wife, was with him. They had seen the show.

He looked ill; in fact, six months later he died of cancer. But what he said convinced me that he was never anyone but Bogey. Talking about the play that Tennessee Williams would regard as his favorite and would be revived on Broadway in 1974, 1990, 2008, and 2013 - Bogart‘s greeting to Ives was “Nice little show you got here, Burly.”

While Ives had removed his makeup and changed clothes, Bogart sat on the end of the bed where Burl napped between shows on matinee days. After he had removed his makeup and changed clothes he and his guests were going out for a drink.

I turned to leave and extended my hand to Bogart. “I’m glad to have met you, Mr. Bogart,” I said, as genuinely as I ever said anything before or since.

Bogart looked up and shook my hand.

“Yeah,“ he replied, with what, ever since, I have been sure was a hint of the famous Bogart snarl.


ellaLOVEtodo said...

What a nice little anecdote, it certainly was a precious moment. Thank you for sharing!!!

daisy said...

how interesting ... love the clips. Isn't it funny who crosses your path in life Mr Broun?

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