Saturday, August 27, 2011

IRENE...And the world she inhabited.

Irene, a nobody, ends up at a charity ball and moves up in society when an attendee places her as the niece of Ireland's Lady O'Dare. When her true identity is revealed, she learns who loves her for who she really is and who for what they thought she was.

Based on the play "Irene O'Dare" by James Montgomery.

Happy Irene O'Day!

Supposedly, we are to start feeling the effects of Hurricane Irene around 6PM EST here in New York. While the rest of the world is focusing on a scary threatening Irene, I would like to focus on the complete opposite Irene! That would be the Broadway musical Irene which opened on Broadway in 1973.

Imagine the Broadway of 1973! Grease, Man Of La Mancha, That Championship Season, Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well Living in Paris, From Israel With Love, Neil Diamond One Man Show, 6 RMS Riv Vu, Pippin, The Sunshine Boys, Purlie, A Little Night Music, SeeSaw...and Irene.
Used with permission by Playbill, Inc. Playbill is registered trademark.

The Minskoff Theatre, perched on the third floor of One Astor Place, opened on March 13, 1973, with an elaborate revival of the 1919 musical Irene with Debbie Reynolds and Patsy Kelly. The theatre, with a spectacular view of The Great White Way, derives its name from Sam Minskoff and Sons, builders and owners of the high rise, which houses and runs it with James M. Nederlander.

Bill Biss said it perfectly in an article he wrote earlier this year, "Professional, humanitarian, Hollywood elite, mother, survivor, star, comedian, historian, grandmother and MGM golden girl, Debbie Reynolds is serious show business."

In movie theatres, people were flocking to The Exorcist, Serpico, The Sting.

For this child of 12 growing up in rural Conway, South Carolona, however, it was the world of television!
1973 might be considered the tail end of the classic TV era; the year the networks began to lose their grip. While audience numbers were hovering at record numbers, the networks were having difficulty providing people with the shows they wanted to see in primetime.

Saturday nights found me watching Sandy Duncan Show
Sunday 8:30pm / CBS
Funny Face was the number 8 show the previous season (thanks to lead-in All in the Family) when star Sandy Duncan stunned the network by bowing out to undergo an eye operation. When she returned, the format was changed and a new supporting cast that included M. Emmet Walsh along with The Dean Martin Show's Tom Bosley and Meriam Mercer were added.

Sandy Stockton was a UCLA student / commercial actress who worked for a talent agent; when she got home there were some typically kooky neighbors to contend with. The show was gone by January but inspired a punk band a few years later called Sandy Duncan's Eye!

ABC scored a major coup when they signed big screen star Julie Andrews for her own musical comedy hour. The stars lined up to be guests on the program - Tony Curtis, Diahann Carroll, Cass Elliot, Donald O'Connor, Robert Goulet, Steve Lawrence and the Disney theme park characters all shared the stage with the star of Mary Poppins.

We were watching The Partridge Family on Friday nights! The Partridge Family was atelevision sitcom about a widowed mother and her five children who embark on a music career. The series originally ran from September 25, 1970 until August 31, 1974, the last new episode airing on March 23, 1974, on the ABC network, as part of a Friday-night lineup. It had subsequent runs in syndication.

Created by Bernard Slade and produced mainly by Robert "Bob" Claver, the series was inspired by and loosely based on The Cowsills,an actual pop music family that had been famous in the late 1960s. In its early development, the Cowsill children were considered by the producers for featuring on The Partridge Family, but because they were not trained actors, Slade and Claver decided to abandon that idea.Shirley Jones had already been signed as mother Shirley Partridge and star of the show.

In the pilot episode, a group of musical siblings in the fictitious city of San Pueblo, California convinces their recently widowed mother, Shirley Partridge (Shirley Jones), to help them out by singing as they record a pop song in their garage. Through the efforts of precocious 10-year-old Danny, they find a manager, Reuben Kincaid (Dave Madden), who helps make the song a Top-40 hit. After some more persuading, Shirley agrees that the family can go on tour. They acquire an old school bus for touring, paint it with Mondrian inspired patterns, and depart to Las Vegas for their first live gig at Caesars Palace. The Partridge children were played by David Cassidy (Jones' real-life stepson) as her eldest son Keith, Susan Dey as Laurie, Danny Bonaduce as Danny, Jeremy Gelbwaks as Chris, and Suzanne Crough as Tracy.

Subsequent episodes usually feature the band performing in various venues or in their garage. The shows would often contrast suburban life with the adventures of a show business family on the road. After the first season, more of the show's action took place in their hometown rather than on tour.

At the end of the first season, Jeremy Gelbwaks' family moved out of the Los Angeles area, and the part of Chris was recast with actor Brian Forster.
A dog named "Simone" was featured in the first season, but was phased out during the second season.
At the beginning of the fourth season, a four-year-old neighbor named Ricky Stevens (Ricky Segall) was featured and would sing a children's song during each episode, but was dropped mid-season. ABC moved the show from its 8:30 p.m. Friday night slot to Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and after 96 episodes and eight Partridge Family albums, the show ended.

But first, of course, was THE BRADY BUNCH.
and Room 222

On Saturday Mornings, I was watching FAT ALBERT. Bill Cosby began an amazing 12-year run narrating the animated adventures of the North Philadelphia characters he made famous in hit comedy albums in the sixties. Each week Weird Harold, Mush Mouth, Bill, Dumb Donald and the gang wrestled with a problem, usually a moral issue, which they solved just the way you could at home.
Fat Albert was produced by Filmation and Cosby himself, who had recently earned his doctorate in education (specifically, children's educational TV). Bill Cosby also provided many of the character voices.

There was also The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters Candid Camera-like stunts and audience suggested improvisations from the undisputed TV king of improv comedy.
On the first episode, Sarah Vaughn and Debbie Reynolds were guests; Marian Mercer, Mary Gregory and the Soul Sisters were regulars.

Inflation had a significant impact on peoples lives around the world with the UK inflation rate running at 8.4% and the US running at 6.16% in 1973 . This causes problems in every aspect of peoples lives from the price of Gas, Food and Bills , which in turn causes higher wages and the spiral continues, much of this is caused by the Arab members of the (OPEC) restricting the flow of oil to countries supporting Israel as part of the Yom Kippur War. And the start of a Recession in Europe causing increased unemployment and a 3 day week in the UK. Meanwhile in the US two important cases dominate the news with Roe v. Wade making abortion a US constitutional right on the 22nd January and the start of the Watergate hearings in the US Senate, and due to price increase of gas the Japanese car manufacturers with smaller engines and more efficient have an impact of the US car industry.

World Trade Center in New York becomes the tallest building in the world.

Elvis Presley's Aloha From Hawaii television special is seen around the world by more than 1 billion viewers.

Richard Nixon was President of The United States.

On my birthday, February 11th, 1973, I turned 12 and South Carolina was hit with a blizzard! heavy snow fell across most of the state for a solid 24 hours. The snow came so fast and furious that thousands of motorists were stranded on interstates and highways and had to be rescued by helicopter. Unfortunately, 9 people lost their lives and thousands of roofs collapsed under the enormous weight of the snow. I remember my parents being home and us playing board games around the gas heater! One of my fondest family memories.

In 1973 in New York, there was a bomb plot that was a plan by the Palestinian militant group Black September to detonate three car bombs in New York City at the same time Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir arrived there in March 1973. The bombs failed to explode, but the main suspect, Khalid Duhham Al-Jawary, was not caught until January 1991. The attempted attack was the first such Black September operation within the United States.

August 27th 1973 was a Monday. So Broadway theatres, I think were they are tonight! But for very different reasons. Irene opened at The Minskoff Theatre on March 13th, 1973. It ran for 594 performances and it starred Debbie Reynolds, George S. Irving, Patsy Kelly, Monte Markham, Ruth Warrick, Carmen Alvarez, Bruce Lea, Kate O'Brady, Ted Pugh, and Janie Sell. Gower Champion was the director. He had already had done BYE, BYE BIRDIE, CARNIVAL, HELLO, DOLLY!, I DO! I DO!, THE HAPPY TIME, PRETTYBELLE, and SUGAR, when he got the call from Debbie Reynolds that the show was dying in Philadelphia. He and Debbie had worked together on Give A Girl A Break. How apros pro! This, of course, was a revival of a 1919 musical.
And the star, Debbie Reynolds (born April 1, 1932) was, of course a well known actress, singer, and dancer...and I think an incredible comedienne.

So in January of 1973, Gower left sunny Malibu for frosty Philadelphia to assess the $800,000 musical IRENE that had been getting equally frosty reviews since beginning its pre-Broadway in Toronto just weeks before.
With a book by Hugh Wheeler that made the heroine a piano tuner and added a good measure of Harry Tierney-Joseph McCarthy gems, producer Harry Rigby aimed for a hit as the previous season's No, No, Nanette -the phenomenon that had fuel the comebacks of Ruby Keeler, Patsy Kelly, and Bobby Van; the cash cow he had conceived, initiated, and ALMOST co-produced.

Rigby flew to London and finagled an audience with Sir John Gielgud, stating with charm, "I have Debbie Reynolds to star in a 1919 show called Irene, and I'd love for you to direct it." Peter Gennaro, who had worked with Debbie on THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN, was going to choreograph.

Rigby may not have had a nickle to his name, but he now had Gielgud and Reynolds, and, in short-order, backing from co-producers Albert Seldon and Jerome Minskoff to get Irene on the boards with an equally stellar supporting cast as stated above-Ruth Warwick, Patsy Kelly, Billy De Wolfe (later replaced by George S. Irving due to ill health), and Monte Markham.

The plot was much ado about nothing, the director was treating it like Hamlet, and the whole thing WAS becoming a comedy of errors.

At the disastrous Toronto premier, the lack of integration was obvious to all, especially the critics, who applauded the star, scenery, and costumes, but faulted Gielgud's slow-paced, unfocused direction. Four weeks later, the relentless pace of daily rehearsals atop performances caught up with the star...laryngitis! She STILL WENT ON!
In Philadelphia, the chaos grew worse and so did the reviews.

“I guess the show is hot copy, but I haven’t read any of those articles about the troubles we’re supposed to be having,” she said at the time, massaging her tired toes. "It’s been a killer of a day – beginning in the morning with backbreaking rehearsals and rushing furiously forward through a matinee and an evening performance, replete with chunks of revised dialogue and a tricky new production number requiring Debbie to dance atop a row of player pianos and spring joyously into the outstretched arms of the nervous chorus. “I did start to read one article, but it was so full of lies that I stopped in the middle. When you’re working this hard, it tends to break you down to read untruths. You don’t need outside sources who are striving to be cruel.”

Cuts that Rigby had cut had been restored by Gielgud, whom he impudently chewed out for insubordination.

Then Gower got Debbie's call and sped to the rescue!
Forgetting for a moment the more far-fetched of the rumors – such as the one about Debbie complaining bitterly that a minor player was dancing too well, and the one about the show getting ready to post its closing notice in Washington, despite having raked in over $1-million on the road – one must still face certain painful facts. For example, Billy De Wolfe – tailor-made for the part of prissy couturier Madame Lucy – withdrew from the cast, alleging poor health.
And there was the undeniable upset of seeing the out-of-town critics fail to confirm the producers’ fervent belief that they had another “No, No, Nanette” on their hands.

With Pamamount no longer interested in the film version of The Fantastiks, which Gower was working on the time, he was free to accept the challenge, but would do so ONLY on condition he be listed as production supervisor; Gielgud's name was to remain as director. (That would eventually change)

Postponing the Broadway opening, the producers brought the work-in-progress to Washington, D.C., where it was seen by President Nixon and his family.
Their declaration that Irene was a hit made headlines and spurred advance-ticket sales in New York City.

After thirteen previews, the show opened on March 13, 1973 as the inaugural production of the Minskoff Theatre, where it ran for 594 performances. George Irving won the Tony Award for his performance, the cast also included Reynolds' daughter Carrie Fisher. While reviews were still mixed, the all-important Clive Barnes of the New York Times described it as "raucous, frequently cheerful, and the best 1919 musical in town."

On February 7, 1974, Reynold's former MGM co-star, Jane Powell, replaced her.
"I'm Always Chasing Rainbows", which had been cut during the pre-Broadway run (although Reynolds' rendition was included in the original cast album), was restored to the score. Reynolds returned to play the final week in New York, then took the show on tour, playing for five months before being replaced again by Powell.

The Broadway revival led to an Australian production with Julie Anthony, who then went on to star in a 1976 London revival that lasted 974 performances.


Here's to the next 72 hours...May we ALL be safe!

Thank you for joining me on these nostalgic journeys! I've adding a new aspect to my blog.
Every five days, I answer a question on video that YOU send to me. You can ask me ANYTHING and I will answer your question on video within my blog. Send your questions to
Next question will be answered on Tuesday!

Thank you, Debbie Reynolds AND Gower Champoion for the gifts you have given us! I love you and I know that somewhere right now someone is watching you entertain as you did in your heyday!

Here's to an INCREDIBLE day for ALL!


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I gave it all that I had, and it's gratifying that others seem to be receiving it so well.
Debbie Reynolds


And help us get Carol Channing the 2011 Kennedy Center Honor!
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Richard Skipper,


  1. Richard,

    I love your blogs! They are so well written and filled with fascinating knowledge. They really bring one back to such wonderful times.

    I particularly enjoyed The Partridge Family piece. Of course I had a thing for David Cassidy as a youn boy (take that you people who don't believe we're "born this way"! I was very young so I believed they were an actual family. So, it's interesting to learn that David Cassidy was actually Shirley Jones' stepson.

    I don't know how you find the time to gather all of these photos and videos and compose such a well put together post every day, but keep it up!

    I find that if I'm a little distressed with present day life, your blog holds plenty to make me smile.



  2. Richard,
    I agree with Rob. They are always delightful and so full of interesting information. And this one is a trip down memory lane. I'd love to know all the changes that Gower Champion made to make the show a hit but we might never know. C'est la vie!!!