Tuesday, January 17, 2006


"STREETCAR"

I originally posted this on my Old Blog, before I had my scanner, so there were no photographs and only about 2 people actually read this, or, I should say, commented about this. and I have edited and somewhat re-written it and corrected most of the spelling, (I hope...)

So here is is, another chapter from my past....hope you find it interesting....


My first summer as an “Apprentice” in Summer Stock, at the Sea Cliff Summer Theatre... Sea Cliff, New York, I got my Equity card after being cast as Eunice Hubbell-(The Woman Upstairs) in the beautiful Tennessee Williams play, "A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE". This was an Original Production at Sea Cliff and not a traveling 'package', as so many Summer Theatre Productions were in those days…That is, shows cast with a “Star” and a few principle Players that went from one Summer Theatre to another each week appearing in a different place for ten or more weeks...(an unbelievably difficult and very grueling schedule for the Star & Principle Actors, to be sure....)

The reason I got cast in this play was because of the Musical "Pal Joey", (Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart) which had been the 5th production of that first season at Sea Cliff, and what an exciting week that was! It gave all of the 'apprentices' such a lift because there were lots of little fun colorful 'set' pieces that had to be built and painted---things that could be moved in and out of scenes very quickly, this being a musical with many many scenes. And, incidentally, this particular summer production of “Pal Joey” is what sparked the very first revival of this terrific musical on Broadway that following season---though not with the cast that was traveling with the show that summer.


Our cast was Carol Bruce as Vera and Bob Fosse as Joey! Fantastic together and alone! The whole cast was fun and the show was a hoot. These 'packages' of musicals always had more of a cast that traveled with them, than most shows…(but not nearly the cast size of a Broadway or Road production...these casts being cut way back because of costs)…. In this case there were four chorus girls and four chorus boys---that was it. All the supporting players who had musical numbers came with the package, too, but the rest of the cast was filled in by the 'Resident Company' and the apprentices. This show was a smash hit, wherever it went and Sea Cliff was no exception, and because our theatre was so close to NYC a lot of show people and agents and related celebrities would trek out to see their friends and clients...it was a very exciting week and everyone was psyched by the energy that was generated by this fantastically talented group of players, as well as the fact that it was a 'musical'....


I mean, Bob Fosse? Hello! He was a heart breaker if there ever was one as well as being one of the most talented Dancer/Choreographers, ever...everyone in the show was sharp and funny and absolutely professional and we all had a ball with them! I had actually seen the Original Broadway production of 'Joey' with Gene Kelly and Vivienne Segal....some people would say this was a strange show to bring a child to, (well...considering it was about a young opportunistic gigolo-type-man who persues an older woman who 'keeps' him....The song "Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered" is from this show, sung by the Older Woman, Vera)....but, I loved it and the only scene or song I had any memory of from all those years ago was The Pet Shop scene with Joey and a young innocent girl who falls in love with him, and the song I remembered was "I Could Write A Book"....the most innocent of scenes and songs. I was already a hopeless romantic... (You see, it just shows you that what you do not understand as a child just goes right over your head, at least I think it does, well...it sure did in my case...hmmmmm.) Anyway, back to how I got the really good part in “Streetcar”....the apprentices all got together during that week and did a late night take-off of "Pal Joey" and I played Vera, (all-be-it a rather pudgy one)....and whatever it was about what I did that night, the Producers immediately cast me in this wonderful part in "Streetcar"!



Louis McMillan, one of our Producers was going to play Stanley. He was an extremely attractive man and though I'd never seen him act, one just felt something from him---an animal magnetism---that made you know he was going to be a terrific Stanley. I loved this play and had seen the Original Broadway production, too, with Jessica Tandy as Blanche, Marlon Brando as Stanley and Kim Hunter as Stella...

Well...at Sea Cliff, that summer, Blanche was to be played by an actress named Helen Twelvetrees.
I was not familiar with her, but was told she had been a pretty big star in the 30’s in films and had also worked on stage in the theatre as well, and that then suddenly her career was pretty much over by the early to mid 40's.
Being very young and fairly opinionated about 'The Theatre' (not just because I was in Drama School, but I think because I had seen so many many plays and musicals on Broadway in my still very young life,) I thought, no one could possibly be a better Blanche than Jessica Tandy...Ahhhh the unbelievable confidence if youth...well, about some things, anyway....


That very first day of rehearsal, the whole 'Streetcar' company was on the outdoor back platform, behind the theatre. It was a huge space and it was where all rehearsals took place when it wasn't raining.
(With this particular play the actors had started rehearsals the week before…an unusual circumstance for Summer Theatre…but this particular Summer Theatre was an unusual place to be sure.) So, all of us were there and I was very very nervous. My part was a pretty big part for an apprentice---one that would have normally been 'jobbed in', so I felt a lot of pressure to be really good and was deeply afraid I was going to be very bad...In one scene, which took place offstage, I had to scream a truly blood curdling scream....my husband in the play, 'Steve', was an abusive wife beater and this scene was in the play to illustrate the fact that we fought like cats and dogs all the time and that the neighbors, (The Kowalski's--Stanley & Stella) could hear us. I honestly did not think I could do this scream, but was afraid to tell that to anyone. Our Resident Actor, (as he was known), George Mitchell, a dear dear man and a superb actor, was playing my husband, Steve Hubbell. And in the play as I said we lived upstairs from Stella & Stanley and 'Steve' was one of the poker players in Stanley’s regular weekly game.
It was the wonderful George Mitchell who coached me through the screaming and helped me to release these blood curdling sounds. No, he didn't actually hit me, but on one of those first days of rehearsals I shared with him my fear about screaming...(So ironic that not 20 years later I would be reaching down into my deepest feelings in something called Primal Therapy, where I had no trouble screaming at all, and still don't, but I was pretty repressed in those early days at Sea Cliff, and so very young, too, in experience) George and I were walking into the sleepy little town of Sea Cliff at a lunch-break, and I told him how scared I was that I would not be able to scream realistically. And this gentle man said, 'I'll make you scream...If you really believed I was going to hit you...', and he raised his hand in such a menacing way, that I screamed...tentatively at first, but it did get better and better as the two of us rehearsed on the way to lunch! (Whatever works, you know?) He never did actually hit me, but the threat of it was so real....it worked. And once I gave voice to that scream in a real way, I got over my inhibitions about it. It was a really terrific lesson for me that I was able to utilize as an actress long after that. So, once I conquered my fear of screaming, I could relax and move on to all my other fears!



So there, on that first day of rehearsal with the full cast, we waited for Miss Twelvetrees. This very lovely lovely actress and excellent writer too, Anne Marie Barlow, was playing Stella in this production, and of course she was already there, and in fact, everyone in the cast was there, already….Finally, we were told had that Miss Twelvetrees had arrived at the theatre and would be with us at any moment.
Shortly thereafter, this ethereal looking woman---blond and very pretty though in a faded sort of way, came down the path towards the back platform. She was wearing a very feminine white summer dress with flat shoes and she was truly 'a vision' right out of 'The Elysian Fields' . She looked quite a bit older than her actual years, particularly by today's standards---we are not used to seeing women of her age looking that dissipated these days (most of the time) because of Botox, and other things, as well....but alcohol and the pain of her life had taken it's toll on her I'm afraid.

She came closer to greet each of us individually, and as I was introduced to her I couldn't help but notice that she had the saddest eyes I'd ever seen. I thought to myself, 'My God, she is Blanche'. Everything about her was soooo 'Blanche'. She seemed somewhat fragile physically though one sensed great strength in her, too. But it was also obvious that she had an extremely fragile psyche....she was a sweet woman and a very nice person. And she was a truly lovely actress as it turned out....and she was the character of Blanche Dubois down to her marrow....you wanted to 'take care' of her. Something about her brought this out in all of us and almost as one person, we desperately wanted her to succeed, and succeed, she did.




It was a very exciting week for all of us, but especially for me. The production came together beautifully during that week of rehearsal. Louis was a wonderful Stanley… Ann Marie Barlow was a terrific Stella and Miss Twelvetrees was 'The Real' Blanche, in every way. I never did find out what her personal story was but it was certainly all in her face and persona, so that what she brought to the play was a unique quality. She didn't have to worry about 'acting', all she had to do was 'be', and it worked like gangbusters for this play... (she had some problems remembering lines...I recall one particular performance she skipped about seven or eight pages, but somehow we got back on track) But she was a 'professional', and because she was such an emotionally fragile woman her Blanche was deeply deeply touching. And in fact, it broke your heart. Like I said, she truly was Blanche.

This week of "Streetcar" was very successful for Sea Cliff and audiences literally ate it up! It was incredibly exciting for me to have my first paying job as an actress be in this great great play and with such a lovely and talented cast, particularly the tragic Helen Twelvetrees. It was a memorable week, in every respect.

Just seven years after that summer poor sweet shattered Helen Twelvetrees, died by her own hand. Whatever her demons were, (and I guess they were manifold), they seemed to overtake her as time went on and eventually she lost her battle with them….One wonders if at that time all the very wonderful medications that are available today had been available to her, perhaps she would not have killed herself but would have lived her life somehow not just barely treading water but with a certain joy, continuing to be a working contributing artist. We’ll never know. But her death was most certainly a terrible terrible loss.

And that particular few weeks of my life were terribly important to my growth as an artist and as a human being. To have the privelage to be in such a brilliant play was a true reward, in and of itself, plus the entire experience of working with such dedicated people who brought such care and "professionalism" to their work, was for me at such a young age, an exquisite moment in time. And the three summers I spent at The Sea Cliff Summer Theatre gave me a grounding in the seriousness of 'the work' and the great great rewards of 'the doing of the work for the works sake'....and that THAT was the greatest reward of being a creative artist in the theatre....

Lucky Lucky Me!











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27 Comments:
had this to say:

Wow, what an amazing story! Bob Fosse? Really?! You have such memories - no wonder you have a blog. You have many, many stories to tell! Thanks for sharing!

Michele sent me!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 3:20:00 AM PST 

Blogger mar
had this to say:

I always enjoy your stories, I am only afraid not to find the right words to say after such fine reading! I am so glad you have your blog!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 7:11:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I'm with Mar...what can a lowly commoner like myself add to something like that?! Holy cow, what a great post...that's about as good as I can do for now. =)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 7:14:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

What a rewarding, shine and amazing life and narrative, Naomi.

May I make a suggestion? Write a book! You have such interesting and vivid memories! I bet that your book will be a best seller!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 9:47:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Lovely story Naomi! How thrilling that must have been for you! You have led an exciting life. I look forward to reading each new post.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 9:50:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I am a first time visitor to your wonderful world. I truly enjoyed your post. I can't wait to read more.

Here's to "the great great rewards of 'the doing of the work for the works sake'"

Ciao for now...
Teri

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 10:06:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

You have such a rich treasure of experiences. I'm glad you no longer suffer from a fear of screaming.
(hee-hee)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 10:49:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I love your stories! I think I would have been very shy about screaming, too. Wonderful wonderful post.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 5:06:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

I so love your long stories Naomi, I always come away wishing you were my aunt or a relative of that ilk so I could listen to you tell you stories over and over.
I feel jetlagged today after watching far too many hours of E ! yesterday , I am always looking around in the background at the red carpet to see if I can spot familiar faces LOL

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 5:37:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Naomi, I really love reading your stories, which are immensely interesting to someone who had no hand in anything related to theater.

What I remember about the name Helen Twelvetrees is that Johnny Carson, in his movie skits, would always mention Helen Twelvetrees as one of the cast members. He used to crack me up - so I remember that quite well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 7:41:00 PM PST 

Blogger dan
had this to say:

I always loved that play.

Madness and desire and depression. It spoke of heavy things in only the way T. Williams could.

Outstanding.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 10:30:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

I bet you got horse practicing that scream!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 8:05:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Great post!
Michele sent me today!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 9:10:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I am truly in awe at this post, AND the one below it!

WOW. You are an interesting lady for sure.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 3:54:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Wow, it all sounds such FUN! I am so glad that you said what you said about being a child and seeing something that was fairly racy. I have always felt that children don't catch the verbal innuendo of quite a lot..

I loved the screaming story too and have this wonderful picture of you both walking to lunch and you making periodic screams along the way....

Thank you so much for sharing so much - it is a privilege to read it..

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 5:43:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Fascinating stuff!

Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 4:00:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

i love your stories!

here from micheles tonight

Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 9:22:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

You take so much time & care with each story you take. And I love the respect you've given to Helen Twelvetrees. Reading this posts is like reliving something that I haven't lived before. Isn't that odd? But you retell these stories that it feels I'm walking down memory lane, yet they aren't my memories. You just make them feel as though they are.

Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 11:00:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

What a great story!!! I recognized Helen Twelvetrees' name immediately (who could forget that name once you've heard it?).

I can totally relate to the fear of screaming (and find it fascinating that you did Primal Therapy. A friend of mine lived downstairs from a PT studio. Can you imagine?). Anyway, I think we're afraid to scream because of the complete "letting go"... for me it would feel like opening a floodgate and who-knows-what would come out afterwards.

Love the story, and thanks too for your comments on my 'spanking" blog entry. I'm mad as hell and have started writing letters to the Times and to politicians. I'm on a crusade, babe.

Friday, January 20, 2006 at 3:55:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Wow, what a fascinating story.
I love "Streetcar", I've only seen the film.
Poor Helen...

Friday, January 20, 2006 at 9:25:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

You even manage to imbue tragedy with a certain sense of hope and purpose.

Wow!

Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 6:33:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

I'm in awe that one of my favorite plays was so pivotal to your career. I'd adore hearing you tell these experiences in person. This is so generous of you to share here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 7:53:00 PM PST 

Anonymous Frank
had this to say:

It's a thrill to read your recollections of the Sea Cliff Summer Theatre. I remember the building well, as I lived a few blocks away, on the opposite end of Main Avenue.

Your photograph of the actors working outside the theatre is fascinating, and I recognize the theatre in the background. My memories date from my boyhood in the late 50s, by which time the theatre had been abandoned, and the building and its environs were overgrown. We used to peek through the windows into the rotting theatre and try to imagine it full of life.

Until now, I never knew that the Sea Cliff Summer Theatre was so vibrant and influential in its day.
To think that the Gabor sisters were jabbering away in Hungarian and Billy Strayhorn was playing the piano right down the street while I was playing stickball a few blocks away!

The Summer Theatre burned down later during my youth, and houses took its place. The next time I'm visiting my hometown, I'll make a point of waling down Main Avenue to revisit the neighborhood that you've brought to life so well.

Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 5:19:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

In case you should come back Frank..so very glad to hear from someone who actually grew up in Sea Cliff...Yes! That theatre was an amazing place and some of THE Greats played there and worked there, too...
I will be writing more about Sea Cliff and some of the wonderful experiences I had there, as I blog along...It was a very wonderful time in so very many ways...

Thanks for leaving a comment for me....I wish you had a Blog and I could visit you!

Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 4:47:00 PM PST 

Anonymous Frank
had this to say:

I hope you will write some more about your summer theatre experiences in Sea Cliff.

Sea Cliff was originally a church campground. You can click here for a link to some photos and history of the German tabernacle and adjoining building that became the summer theatre and living quarters for the summer staff.

You'll note there is confusion as to whether the fire was in 1956 or 1965. I'm confused too, but the pictures are good, as are the many others at this site.

Thanks for your memories.

Monday, January 30, 2006 at 9:55:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

This is for FRANK, once again..If you do come back...(And I hope you do...)


I LOVED those photographs of the Tabernacle/Theatre. I do remember being told that it had been a kind of Church...but I do not remember being told about the building where, indeed, all the apprentices and some actors as well, lived while they workd at Sea Cliff.( A few of us who lived close enough to Sea Cliff that first summer, commuted-- a wonderfully talented young man who lived in the same town as me, Great Neck....we both would commute together...with one of us driving the both of us..so we did NOT live in that old crumbling place...Thank God!).
I was at Sea Cliff for three summers altogether, two as an Apprentice and then the last summer, I worked in the Box Office....That Box Office almost did me in! So, that was my last summer there...

But I will definitely be writing more, Frank..So I hope you will come back...Here is my email, if you would like to contact me: myrtillo1984@yahoo.com

Do get in touch, and Thank You Sooooo very very much for that link! It was wonderful to see all those photo's and to read about the history.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 12:17:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Helen Twelvetrees was mobbed in Australia when she was imported by Cinesound Studios to be the star of their modestly budgeted epic, Thoroughbred, in 1936. She was overwhelmed by the adulation. I've wondered what became of her, after her Hollywood ambitions faded. Your story about Streetcar is fascinating, well done. Blogs like yours make web surfing worthwhile and rewarding.

Friday, July 6, 2007 at 9:35:00 AM PDT 

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