Thursday, January 29, 2009
broadway & bankhead

As I go on with my "B"'s.....(Oh , look at 'the Birds' in that picture of the 'b'......)...I said that BROADWAY was a bigger subject in my life than just a little paragraph....in fact, there may be a few 'Broadway' posts....time will tell.....The following story actually happened and it very very much involved "Broadway" and a Broadway legend.....But here is the background......There was a very famous, bordering on 'infamous', actress in Theatre, Film and Radio---and some Television, too.....named Tallulah Bankhead. She was a larger than life actress who worked in the New York Theatre for a number of years in the early 1920's, but who's reputation as a theatre 'star' and 'legend' was actually cemented on the London stage, where she spent eight years and starred in 24 plays. This brought her back to Broadway where she really hoped to shine---and she did: She then became a Broadway Super 'star' and her reputation as a witty eccentric outspoken and sometimes outrageous person, was established beyond doubt.

Tallulah Bankhead was born in Huntsville, Alabama and her father and her grandfather were both in The House Of Representatives in Washington, D.C.---her father serving as Speaker Of The House between 1936 and 1940, representing the state of Alabama.....Eventually, Tallulah Bankhead did Films and Radio, too. In November of 1950 she was the star of a wonderful 90 minute radio show called "The Big Show" on NBC every Sunday night. It was broadcast from a Beautiful theatre that was part of Rockefeller Center at that time, called, The Center Theatre....."The Big Show" was on the air for about two years and every truly important super star of Films, Stage, Radio, Television, etc. appeared on that show. (Lawrence Olivier and Vivian Leigh with Tallulah Bankhead) I actually got to see many of the dress rehearsals for that show, because The Feagin School of Drama & Radio...(Later adding Television to it's name) was in The International Building of Rockefeller Center and because of that, we students got to see all sorts of "special" theatrical happenings around the city, and most particularly in Rockefeller Center.....By the time I actually saw Tallulah Bankhead on the stage in a play, it was 1945 and I had not yet turned 14.....Remember, she was a huge huge star having created the role of Regina Gibbons in "The Little Foxes", (above) and then creating 'Sabina', in the great Thorton Wilder play, "The Skin Of Our Teeth", and so many more too numerous to mention, and, according to my research, Bankhead had already done 32 plays before she appeared in The Little Foxes' in 1939. An aside here: The character of Margo Channing in the movie "All About Eve"---probably the greatest film ever made about The Broadway Theatre and the characters who inhabit it---was modeled after Bankhead in some small degree.... (Even down to the dress and the pin and the hair.....The similarity was rather uncanny and pretty much undeniable, too......) Bette Davis played "Margo" and it is interesting to note that Davis just happened to star in a number of films that were adapted for films from some of Bankhead's greatest stage roles, including 'Regina', in "The Little Foxes".

So....now the stage is set.
I am 13 years old and have been going to the theatre in New York City since the time I was four years old. I usually went with my family or some of my family. And we saw just about every great great play and musical of the late 1930's and then throughout all of the 1940's and till the end of the 1950's.....

I was friendly with a girl in Junior High who I will call Dina...that was not her name but....well, I have no idea where she is now and I would not want to embarrass her in any way, because this story is really more about her.....She loved going to the theatre too, and often we would talk about what we had seen over the Summer Holiday or The Christmas Holidays, etc.....Anyway.......

This one day Dina mentioned how much she wanted to see Tallulah Bankhead in "Foolish Notion", a play that was playing at The Martin Beck Theatre on West 45th street, just past 8th Avenue....
I wanted to see it too, and so we made a date to go to a matinee....I don't remember who actually got the tickets, but we did get two tickets in the balcony....those were the only seats available, even though this play was not a success at all---Tallulah had such a huge following, people would come see her in anything, at least for a while.....Anyway, we were happy to get them! So, we met at the train station in Great Neck and took The Long Island Railroad into Manhattan. Then taking the Subway at 34th to Times Square, where we walked over to the theatre, which was the only theatre past 8th Avenue on 45th Street....all the other Theatres, The Shubert, The St. James, The Majestic, etc...were right there between Broadway and 8th.....The Martin Beck----now called The Al Hirschfeld Theatre after the great great New York Times theatrical caricaturist----was just past 8th avenue, kind of all by itself.....


Dina was very very excited and I would have to say, almost giddy....I was certainly thrilled to be seeing Tallulah on the stage, but I was not overtly hyper about it. My excitement was more contained. She did seem somewhat overly excited to me...but, that was okay. This was a big big deal. The houselights went to half and the audience quieted down and then the lights dimmed out completely and the curtain went up.....
The audience went wild the minute they saw Miss Bankhead.....Dina screamed with joy.....I applauded loudly....And the play began.

By the end of the first act, my right arm was getting sore because every time Bankhead said a line or a speech, Dina would elbow my arm with enthusiasm---making sure I heard each speech....as if to say, "Wasn't that great?"!

No one I had ever gone to the theatre with had ever done that before or had seemed so involved with the 'actress' more than the play.....This went on all through the play...As I recall, it was a three act play, as were most plays back then. In a way, I wasn't really able to enjoy the play itself or for that matter, Tallulah Bankhead's performance....I was waiting for each elbow-in-the-arm-blow and in some ways was sorry I had come to see this play with her. She was almost fanatical about Bankhead, and this was new to me. When the play was over she whopped and hollered and stood on her feet and kept applauding even after all the rest of us were done and Bankhead had taken her very last curtain call.....Dina kept saying to me.."Wasn't she wonderful? Wasn't she just Wonderful?" I agreed. She then said...."I have to see her. We have to go to the Stage Door...Come on, hurry...I have to see her...!" And though I really wasn't as enthusiastic as she was, I thought...Well, okay, why not? We got outside and it was raining....Not heavily, but it was definitely raining....We both had umbrella's because it had been sprinkling when we left Great Neck earlier in the day....But, I said....'Maybe we should just go back to Penn Station and go home'...."NO"! She insisted...."I have to see her....I HAVE TO SEE HER!"

We stood in the rain near the Stage Door of The Martin Beck Theatre.. There were maybe a dozen or so people besides us. A huge Cadillac Limousine was idling at the curb near the Stage Door....She said, "That must be her car. That means she is still in there...". She was almost crazed. But, I thought, well, okay. She really really wants to see her.....I thought, she wants to get her autograph, you know? And I understood that.....Other people from the cast came out, signed some autographs and went on there way.

It was raining harder now....I cannot tell you how much I wanted to leave......just get to the subway, go back to 34th street and get on the train to Great Neck....We waited. I don't really remember how much time went by, but it was almost dark by now and the rain was coming down more heavily.....Finally, the Stage Door opened and out comes a women in a cloth coat followed by another woman in a very long fur coat carrying a little dog in her arms, and a man walking next to the fur-coated lady, holding an umbrella, shielding her from the now, heavier rain....It was Tallulah. She went right past all of us, and hurried to the car, not stopping for anything, and with Dina screaming after her..."Miss Bankhead, Miss Bankhead" and trying to follow her---where, I knew not---I was deeply embarrassed, to say the least....Bankhead quickly got into the car and the door to the car slammed shut----all of a sudden, Dina ran over to the back of the car and got on it and crouched down on the back bumper.....!


I couldn't believe what I was seeing....I wished there had been a big hole in the sidewalk so that I could just fall into it and no one would know that I was with her or that I even knew her.....She was crouching there, prepared to hang on to the back of that car as it took off....From inside the car, this voice bellowed: "Get off there you little fool!". It was Bankhead, in that so recognizable deep whiskey voice......And the man who was carrying the umbrella came over to the back of the car and kind of forced Dina off.....And, then, the car sped away very quickly, down 45th street going toward 9th Avenue.....

I didn't know what to say to Dina or even to do. Nothing like this had ever been in my experience before, or since, I might add. And it all happened in less than a minute! People stared in disbelief and then slowly dispersed. I honestly don't remember what happened after that.

I know we somehow got to the subway and then to Penn Station and we got on the train and went home. Needless to say, I did not go to the theatre with Dina, ever ever again. I just didn't know what she might do another time and I guess, I didn't want to find out. She was a true 'fanatical fan' of Tallulah Bankhead, and seeing her get on the back of that Limo in the pouring rain is about the most Bizarre thing I've ever personally witnessed in regard to obsessive worship of a 'famous' person. Frankly, besides being terribly embarrassing, it was rather scary, too!.



Eighteen years later, when we were doing "Spoon River Anthology" at The Booth and then at The Belasco, there were 'fans' who waited at The Stage Door every night. They would ask for your autograph, and each night it would be the same people. Most of these people never saw the show. That's not what they did. I don't think any of these kinds of obsessed fans ever saw the plays that the objects of their obsessions were in. They just gathered every night and stood there at the Stage Door, and waited. (And there were certainly always people waiting by the Stage Door who had seen the show...and of course they were soooo very appreciated.) The "Group" of fans who never did see any shows always knew the time when the curtain went down on every show on Broadway that they were particularly interested in----well, I mean interested in the people in these plays. And they would go from theatre to theatre. I remember one particular woman...she was called "Broadway Celia". She was there every night. The first time she spoke to me she actually said...."Are you anybody?" How do you answer that? After a while she knew me and would always say 'hello', and sometimes ask me for my autograph, as did a number of other 'fans'. These 'fans' often ran in packs....the same people every night at different theatre's, all waiting at the Stage Door for 'the stars', like Betty Garrett. But over the years, I have never seen anyone do anything inappropriate or over-the-top, the way Dina had done.Of course, my teenage friend Dina was just 13 years old back in the day, and I have no idea whatever happened to her, but, as far as I know, Tallulah was her only passion. If there were other stars as well, I didn't know about them----and I didn't want to find out, either. (lol) This incident was my only experience with this kind of 'out-of-control-star-worship', and as I said, it was pretty scary.




More To Come........









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31 Comments:
had this to say:

wow! That would scare me too ! lol and it's exactly the type of thing that makes many actors not want to bother with fans!

those who would be at the back door but didn't see the plays most likely just couldn't afford to. And "some" I am sure, would be getting autographs to sell.

Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 4:04:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

You handled the Dina situation with much aplomb Naomi!

"Are you anybody?" Well - that is just plain rude!!!!!

Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 6:04:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Wow, stunning tale. I have to remind myself that she was just 13, overcome with emotion and hormones and wasn't really thinking, but I do hope sanity moved into her brain sometime soon after that event. I used to be a Donny Osmond fan during their heyday in the 70s. I remember being up front at concerts or by the gates where they entered and exited and remember getting pushed around by hysterical girls wanting a piece of them. I often wondered, just what they thought would happen if they did get a hold of them. I was devoted, but never rabid.

Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 8:34:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Wow Naomi, what a story....I am sure the only reason you didn't leave your friend there, and go home on your own, was because she was only 13 years old. I know I would not have stood in that rain and waited for her to come out......That is a long ride out from Great Neck to come in to town at such a young age...I guess, in those days, it wasn't as dangerous as it is today. I know that my mom would never have let me do it....Glad that the police didn't haul your friend away.

Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 8:40:00 AM PST 

Anonymous Anonymous
had this to say:

Hi Naomi, great story, thanks for sharing. I never understood, that kind of devotion, all though VV, and her mom, were both a little nuts over Donny Osmond, just never quite understood that. Maybe Neil Diamond might have done that for me, or Carol King or Carly Simon. Or Dreamy Richard Chamberlin. There are a lot of folks in my time that was impressed by, but life generally gets in the way of obsessions. Really injoy how you express your self, with discriptions of people and feelings etc.
Pat from NY.

Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 9:36:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I LOVE your story...it fascinted me right until the end! Looking forward to more:) What us crazy fans do eh? I'm not that crazy to risk my life for an actor. I think what I found so sad was this actress didn't have the time of day for Dina...I wonder if she got that. We tend to put these people on pedistals and they are only human like us-just with a different , public job! When I was at the Toronto International Festival in September "stalking" celebs-well actually looking for GEorge Clooney:) - we just stand back and wave to the limos , not crawl over them! Brad Pitt's limo was stopped right in front of me and I could have touched it but instead opted for a "welcome to Canada" greeting! He must have thought I was nuts!! Keep up the great storytelling! Karyne
PS What an incredible view you have from your house:)

Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 11:57:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Thank you for your comment! I do hear what you are saying. I think it is sad they are missing out on an incredible experience...the stories told in theatre/movies touch our soul don't they...well there are some that don't! To experience the gift of an actor making those stories come alive is amazing to me. I didn't realize there were so many out there who never step foot inside the theatre and only are at the stage door because they are obsessed with the actor/actress. My love for live theatre began in junior high and then I was in our high school musicals which reinforced this love. Sadly, I have never been to a broadway show. I was in NYC and almost got tickets for Les Miserables but my friends wanted to go to a Yankees game instead!!! One day I will see a Broadway show. We have great live theatre here in Toronto and I have seen many shows:) I've rambled long enough on your post! Thanks! Have a great night! By the way, I love your profile pic. I am not a fan of smoking but somehow you look so sexy in that pic!!:)

Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 3:12:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

What a fun story. Looking back now, you can laugh at her shenanigans, poking your arm and hopping on the back of the limo, but I'm sure that in the moment that whole evening was awful. Maybe "Dina" has calmed down a bit over time.
:-)
Are you anybody, Naomi?
I'm here to say YES, YES YOU ARE SOMEBODY!!
Somebody pretty darned special!!!

Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 3:16:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

What a great story...but scary too! Can you imagine if she had fallen off of that car - you would have been terrified!

Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 3:19:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Thanks for sharing such a great story. You captured feelings that many of us have as young teens, that feeling of wanting to crawl into a hole. And while this was completely YOUR story, it's one we can probably all identify with in some way or another. I loved it. So much that I read through it twice. It's amazing the things we remember from our youth, and many times they are moments and memories of things that embarrass us. Thanks again for sharing. It was a delightful read.

Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 8:06:00 PM PST 

Blogger Bud
had this to say:

Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories Naomi.....Bud

Friday, January 30, 2009 at 2:39:00 AM PST 

Blogger PI
had this to say:

A great post Naomi. I would have loved to see the great Tallullah live - I remember her in the film 'Life boat' and you're right- I'm sure she influenced Bette Davis's style. They sure don't make 'em like that anymore.
The experience with Dina must have been scary. I hope she didn't go on to be a stalker; let's hope she grew out of it. I once went to the cinema with a girl I didn't know very well and she nearly drove me batty by constantly opening and closing the metal clasp on her purse - but that was just annoying - not scary.

Friday, January 30, 2009 at 3:02:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Hey Naomi! Long time no blog (for me!)...I have been around and writing, just not blogging!! But I did want to send you a H U G E thankyou for the delighful calendar, which I received just before Christmas. My daughter was thrilled looking through all the pics with me, and especially loved the one of Sweetie at the end. You are so thoughful!! Thank you so much - we now have the calendar up in our new study!!

I read this post with some amusement - I had a friend once who I took with me to meet Tom Cruise (long story for another time), anyhoo, he was a very quiet, almost shy person, but soon as he laid eyes on Tom he literally did a 360 and turned into this utterly rabid 'fan' - omg, lol, I didn't know where to look and just wanted to crawl under something, and fast! Tom was very polite and accommodating (unlike your Ms Talluah) but yes, it's quite amazing how the myth of celebrity affects some people (not that I'd be entirely immune were I to ever have met, oh, I don't know, say, Elvis for example, lol - but probably would have been utterly lost for words more than a raving lunatic fool LOL). Anyway, great story and thanks for sharing! I love reading your blog, as always.

Take care!

Friday, January 30, 2009 at 5:10:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

a great way to start the morning! thanks for sharing the story, Naomi :-)

Friday, January 30, 2009 at 5:43:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

She's NUTTY! I'm fascinated by people who have such over the top obsessions with stars...so much so that they would do something like that. To be living a perfectly normal and sane life and then flip out over another human being in such a way that they put themselves in danger and embarrass the heck out of themselves and others? It's so bizarre and fascinating.

There is a farmer in Saskatchewan who has been obsessed with the singer Anne Murray for years and years. He's followed her everywhere and ended up in jail because of it. I know this happens regularly and we read about it often, but this one has stayed with me because I picture this gentleman farmer guy out in his wheat field in his tractor listening to Anne sing her warbling songs and he is zapped by some internal zing...and off he goes in search of???? he leaves his family, his crops, his dog, his life and goes off to follow a woman he's never met before.

What could that childhood friend of yours have wanted in the long run?

thanks for sharing this Naomi...you've given me a puzzle to think about this afternoon as I go about my day.

hmmmmm......now i'm wondering if there is anyone I would go to great depths of humiliation to meet? welllllll........maybe Billy Joel. hahahaha!

Friday, January 30, 2009 at 9:11:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

What she did was crazy, of course, but fairly tame for what obsessed fans do these days to the objects of their fanaticism!! I can't believe she was only 13 and did that, though. You were both lucky that she was found out before the car sped away.

See? I knew the letter "B" would be great for you!

Friday, January 30, 2009 at 3:41:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Naomi,
Hope that she was only a teenager and not thinking and grew out of it ! That kind of obsession must be frightening for famous people to witness/be the target of.

I've loved reading about famous people, but would never dare to approach them, feeling I had no right to, that it was violating their privacy/space.

I loved The Little Foxes. Saw it with Elizabeth Taylor in it and loved that version too...

Hope you had a good week, and have a nice sunny weekend ahead :)

Friday, January 30, 2009 at 7:34:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

I would have been mortified if I was with someone who did that, I hope it was just a 13 year old hormonal overload moment and Dina got over her obsession quickly lol.
Are you anybody why yes you ARE ! :)

Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 3:17:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Just reading about this frightened the hell out of me, that some people can really lose their minds over an obsession. It IS scary and embarrassing, disturbing...all those things.

One thing is to admire her work and tell her so if you happen to meet. It's another thing to invade her privacy, stalk her in the rain and jump on the back of her car. My goodness! I can't imagine what it must've been like for you to witness such a thing...and then have to ride the subway with a crazed fan!

I really like the black and white photos you included of Tallulah Bankhead. She'd be fun to sketch.

Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 5:22:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Interesting story Naomi. I know quite a few famous folks and have seen some odd and scary things as well. It amazes me how truth is stranger than fiction, particularly when it comes to actors/movie stars

Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 8:14:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Oh dear - bizarre fascination and all that!

Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 8:29:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I had to laugh to myslef when I read about the hangers on at Stage Door as I ahve witnessed the same thing over here adn also I have been asked more than once if I was anybody or if I was in the play! I have even had people offer me cash to get them inside the theatre (which I always declined) and on one memorable occasion someone offered money to use the same toilet as Michael Ball (big star of musicals over here)!!!

Great story Naomi. I don't think I would have gone back to see something with her either!

Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 8:41:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Fabulous post! And a perfect tribute for Tallulah Bankhead's 107th birthday which is today! The Dina story is priceless and should be in a screenplay. Am I the only one who admires her spunk even though she is clearly nuts? We must track her down and see what she remembers of her obsession. I guess I get such a kick out of her because that level of fan worshipping was usually reserved for some male heartthrob and I admire her for being so gaga over someone like Tallulah! Great story!

Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 11:15:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

What an interesting remembrance!

Thanks for sharing :)

Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 3:13:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

That was scary and actually I did have a similar experience but with my maid when I was around 13 or so. We went to a film premiere of a local film though I didnt want to go there but my maid wanted someone to go with here being that she is new to the place or the mall where the premiere was gonna be. I gave in and went with here which was actually a wrong move. We didnt manage to see the movie but nevertheless we caught glimpse of the actors/actresses on the elevator. So I told her that we should go home now since they're gone but my maid had to run to the stairs and follow the elevator down to the basement. I had to run after her and when I saw her there she actually climbed at the back of this car where the said actors/actresses were. It was definitely embarrassing!

Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 6:30:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Even at 13 I think I had more control than that. I've never been one to go overboard when meeting anyone. I see us all as people. Just some are certainly more glamourous and fascinating! And I think I would sweat if Depp walked in a room! Maybe I would be clinging to the back of his car, who knows:) But I can only imagine how embarrased you were!

Tallulah Bankhead is one of my favorites to quote. She was something else!

Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 6:46:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

That can't possibly be a stage name but I can't imagine it as a real name either: Tallulah Bankhead.

I'm not surprised you went on to be an entertainer considering your ealy life.

I felt embarrassed for you friend too and for Tallulah who also acted badly. I think if she couldn't stop she could have at least waved and not said "little fool."

Groupies I guess.

Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 9:53:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

How fortunate you were to get to see all those plays when you were a youngster! I love plays, especially comedy!

This was so interesting to read. I know some fans go overboard and cry and even pass out over the stars. Like for Elvis!! I would have been embarrassed with her too!

Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 2:36:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Hahahahaha! I can't help it. I just laughed til I cried, picturing your friend clinging to the bumper and what must have surely been quite an expression on your face!

Monday, February 2, 2009 at 9:46:00 AM PST 

Anonymous Anonymous
had this to say:

Oh, my God, I'm still chuckling at your story. What a character that Dina was! Now I know where the word "groupie" came from. Imagine being THAT obsessed with a star!
Wanted to ask you....do you still have all the Playbills from every play you attended on Broadway? Believe it or not, I've managed to keep ALL of mine. Have NO clue why...lol But they're very special to ME.
Terri
http://www.islandwriter.net

Tuesday, February 3, 2009 at 10:07:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I've never understood this celebrity obsession you describe, but climbing on the car is really over the top. Reminds me of a story about unknown parents of someone associated with a major L.A. awards show. He had obtained tickets for his parents to attend the awards. As they exited a limo at the red carpet where so many cameras were at the ready, a camera person shouted to the father, "Are you somebody?" The father quickly replied, "No, but she is!" referring to his wife. I don't know what the camera people did, but, of course, she wasn't recognizable either. I thought that was a smart funny quick retort coming from this older non-show biz person.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 1:26:00 AM PST 

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