Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Other "Sides" Of Show Business!

"The only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show is Helen Lawson, and that's ME, baby, remember?"
-Susan Hayward as Helen Lawson in Valley Of The Dolls, 1967

Happy Tuesday!
I want to jump start your week by showing the underbelly of show business through some classic characters who have found their way into our iconic subconscious. In some instances you will see the lines are blurred by fact and/or fiction. . I'm going to start with two of the campiest characters to ever jump from page to screen. Helen Lawson and Neely O'Hara! Helen and Neely are the brainchildren of Jacqueline Susann.
Helen Lawson is a fictional character in the novel Valley of the Dolls written by Jacqueline Susann.
Lawson is described as having been a very successful Broadway star for many years (Lawson is said to be based on the real-life Broadway actress Ethel Merman).

Her age is never revealed, there are only vague hints, but she's probably supposed to have been born ca. 1900.
Her theatre history is described briefly; she has held the lead in many fictional musicals such as Hit the Sky, Sunny Lady, Sadie's Place, Madame Bovary and Nice Lady, having followed two years of vocal studying and overnight success.

Lawson soon becomes friends with protagonist Anne Welles(pictured above as portrayed by Barbara Perkins) and describes her life: she is Irish and Scottish, and her birth name was actually Helen Laughlin.
Lawson's personality can be described as borderline, commanding and selective.
She commands the directors in all areas, and is quite sexually active and man hungry. She has had numerous relationships, including several marriages (similar to the life of Ethel Merman).

Neely O'Hara (Born Ethel Agnes O'Neill) was played by actress Patty Duke in the first movie; and then in the 1981 remake by Lisa Hartman.
Neely is an actress and singer who first came to attention in vaudeville. She came from Pittsburgh, according to the movie. While working on Broadway, she worked in a musical with the legendary Helen Lawson. However Helen had her fired through jealousy and fear of being upstaged by the talented newcomer.
Neely's boyfriend was Mel Anderson and her best friends were chorus girl and fellow actress Jennifer North and entertainment attorney secretary Anne Welles. A very talented singer, Neely developed a stellar career and the massive ego that would later prove to be her downfall.
Neely married Mel and moved to California, where she became a successful movie actress.
However, she had began taking Seconal, the "dolls" of the title, in New York City, and her addiction worsened in Hollywood.
Along the way, she began to alienate everyone to whom she was close.
She drove Mel out by beginning an affair with a supposedly gay man named Ted Casablanca; and eventually divorced Mel.
Not long after her divorce, she married Ted.
Later on, however, Ted left Neely after she caught him swimming in their pool with another woman ("Carmen Carver" in the novel but unnamed in the movie), and her pills- and alcohol-fueled downward spiral surged on. Also, her conniving nature emerged more fully.
Neely went off to San Francisco, annoying her manager, Lyon Burke.
She also tried to break up his relationship with her friend Anne, which drove her to the dolls as well.
However, in the movie, Anne kicked the pill habit, threw out Lyon, and returned to her New England hometown, Lawrenceville, where she finally felt that she belonged--after a lifetime of wanting to break free of it forever.
After a stint at a sanitarium, Neely attempted a comeback; but by this time her ego had become worse than Helen Lawson's had ever been. In a ladies-room catfight, Neely exposed Helen's real age by snatching her wig off her head and attempting to flush it down the toilet.(See below)
Prior to her opening night in the fictitious play Tell Me, Darling, Neely had a vicious argument with Lyon about a girl named Allison whom she wanted fired because she was eclipsing Neely's "star."
She insulted everyone--including Anne, which truly infuriated Lyon (Anne had forewarned him about Neely's deviousness).

Neely declared arrogantly, "I'm not everyone! I don't have to live by stinking rules set down for ordinary people! I licked pills, booze and the funny farm! I don't need anybody or anything!!" Finally fed up, Lyon quit as her agent. This infuriated Neely even more; she called him "just an agent" and implied that she was better than he was because she was a star. Reeling from the vicious implied insult, Lyon replied angrily, "And you're just a Helen Lawson, and not even that! Because she is a professional." After he stormed out for the last time, Neely shrilled, "They love Helen Lawson, then they love Neely O'Hara!!"
After becoming drunk and strung out on dolls, Neely appeared in her second-act costume and the director ordered her out, replacing her with the understudy.
She went to a bar across the street. By the movie's end, she was all alone in the alley outside the theater, crying; totally alone, having driven out anyone she ever had hoped would care about her. She had finally hit rock bottom.

Jacqueline Susann (August 20, 1918 – September 21, 1974) was an American author known for her best-selling novels.
Her most notable work was Valley of the Dolls, a book that broke sales records and spawned an Oscar-nominated 1967 film and a short-lived TV series.

Valley of the Dolls was initially rejected by some publishers; however, Susann persisted, and when the novel was published on February 10, 1966, it was an immediate hit.
Neely O'Hara: I didn't have dough handed to me because of my good cheekbones, I had to earn it.

The subject matter was considered inappropriate by many people in the general public at that time, and it was a mixture of soap-opera style story-telling with bold, non-traditional characters. The story was a roman á clef of sorts, with characters in the novel reportedly based on real-life celebrities such as Judy Garland and Ethel Merman.

Valley of the Dolls broke some sales records with approximately 30 million copies sold as a novel. As popular as Valley of the Dolls was, many contemporary authors dismissed Susann's writing talents. The novelist Gore Vidal said, "She doesn't write, she types!"
Critics attacked her by saying Susann, "typed on a cash register." Susann responded to literary critics by saying, "As a writer no one's gonna tell me how to write. I'm gonna write the way I wanna write!"
Part of this novel's success stemmed from Susann and Susanne's husband, Irving Mansfield's tireless effort to promote it. The couple traveled worldwide (especially where English is the predominant language) promoting the novel and her following novels on talk shows and in hundreds of bookstores. Wherever Susann went on her cross-country tours, she signed each copy of her book that was available. She wrote down the name and address of every person she met and reportedly, later on sent thank-you cards to everyone.

In 1967, the book was adapted into the film of the same name starring Patty Duke, Barbara Perkins, and Sharon Tate.

Susann made a cameo appearance in the film as a reporter at the scene of Jennifer North's suicide.

Anne Welles: Neely, you know it's bad to take liquor with those pills.
Neely O'Hara: They work faster.

[on the phone with her mother]
Jennifer North: You told me Gramp's been sick, Mother, and I know about the oil burner. Okay, I'll pawn the mink. He'll give me a couple hundred for it. Mother, I know I don't have any talent, and I know I all I have is a body, and I am doing my bust exercises. Goodbye, Mother. I'll wire you the money first thing in the morning. Goodbye.
[hangs up the phone and starts performing calisthenics]
Jennifer North: Oh, to hell with them! Let 'em droop!

Valley of the Dolls was a widespread commercial hit, but the film was largely panned by film critics. Audiences laughed at some of the dramatic scenes. Susann herself hated the film, and walked out of its premiere.
Judy Garland was originally cast as Helen Lawson, but was fired. ;
Susan Hayward replaced her in the role after production had already begun. On July 20, 2009, Patty Duke appeared at the Castro Theater in San Francisco with a benefit screening of the film, and said that director Mark Robson made Garland wait from 8am to 4pm before filming her scenes for the day.

Helen Lawson: They drummed you out of Hollywood, so you come crawling back to Broadway.
But Broadway doesn't go for booze and dope. Now get out of my way, I've got a man waiting for me.

Here is a fusing of Judy and Susan together:

And speaking of Judy, that brings us to my number 2 and number 3 spots Vicki Lester and Jenny Bowman.
Vicki Lester (nee Esther Blodgett is the character Judy played in A STAR IS BORN which was a remake of The Frederick March/Janet Gaynor film of the same name.

In the original, Esther wants to become a dramatic movie star. Of course in Judy's version, they relied on Judy's immeasurable musical talents.
A Star Is Born is a 1954 American musical film directed by George Cukor.

The screenplay written by Moss Hart was an adaptation of the original 1937 film, which was based on the original screenplay by Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, and Alan Campbell.
In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

The film ranked #43 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Passions list in 2002 and #7 on its list of best musicals in 2006. The song "The Man That Got Away" was ranked #11 on AFI's list of the 100 top tunes in films.It still kills me that Judy did not win the Oscar for this! And shame on Jack Warner for allowing the butchering of this film!!
Star Judy Garland had not made a movie since she had mutually negotiated the release from her MGM contract soon after filming began on Royal Wedding in 1950, and the film was promoted heavily as her comeback.
(This is the amazing and Emmy Award winning Judy Davis in the made for TV movie, ME AND MY SHADOWS, based on Lorna Luft's best selling memoir of the same name)
Judy was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and NBC, which was televising the ceremony, sent a film crew to the hospital room where she was recuperating after giving birth to her son Joey in order to carry her acceptance speech live if she won, but she lost to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl.
Norman Maine is a former matinee idol whose career is in the early stages of decline.
When he arrives intoxicated at a function at the Shrine Auditorium, his studio's publicist attempts to keep him away from reporters, and after an angry exchange, Norman rushes away and bursts onto a stage where an orchestra is performing.

Singer Esther Blodgett takes him by the hand and pretends he is part of the act, turning an embarrassing and potentially destructive moment into an opportunity for the audience to greet Norman with applause.

Judy Garland also created the incredible Jenny Bowman in I Could Go On Singing. It was called The Lonely Stage in London.
I Could Go On Singing is a 1963 film starring Judy Garland (in her final film role) and Dirk Bogarde.
Although not a huge box office success on release, it won Garland much praise for her performance. In Bogarde's autobiographies and in the 2004 biography, it is recounted that Judy Garland's lines were substantially rewritten by Bogarde (with Garland's consent).
Judy Garland plays a superstar singer, not unlike herself, named Jenny Bowman.
She had met a man 15-16 years before, who was now a prominent physician, played by British actor Dirk Bogarde, and they had produced a child whom she let his father raise in England.
Jenny wants to finally see him, but in the end is left to her true home, the stage. Originally titled The Lonely Stage, it was renamed I Could Go On Singing, so that audiences would know it was the first time Garland sang in a movie since A Star Is Born in 1954. (Not counting Pepe and Gay Pur-ee)
The movie contains some thrilling Garland concert musical numbers including By Myself, Hello Bluebird, It Never Was You, and the title song.
All songs performed by Judy Garland.

And there is another famous Jenny, Jenny Stewart!

Then there is Daisy Clover from Inside Daisy Clover. Supposedly based once again on Judy Garland. Daisy, of course was portrayed by Natalie Wood who unfortunately had a tragic end to a wonderful Hollywood career.
Inside Daisy Clover is a 1965 American drama film based on the 1963 novel by Gavin Lambert. It stars Natalie Wood, Christopher Plummer, Robert Redford, Roddy McDowall and Ruth Gordon in her Academy Award nominated role.
Set in the mid-1930s, the plot centers on Daisy Clover (Wood), a teenage tomboy who lives in a ramshackle trailer with her eccentric mother (Gordon) on a California beach and dreams of Hollywood stardom.
She submits a song recording to the well-known film producer Ray Swan (Plummer), who puts her under contract. Ray and his wife Melora (Katharine Bard) foster Daisy's rise to fame by any means necessary, forcing Daisy to deal with the pressures of stardom and the Swans' manipulation of her life and career. Daisy reluctantly accepts the placement of her mother in a mental institution, to protect Daisy's reputation as "America's valentine", and is told to tell any interviewers that her mother is dead.
Daisy finds some relief in a fellow Swan-discovered star, Wade Lewis (Redford).
The two begin a relationship, though their heavy drinking and partying is not good for either of their reputations.
Soon they marry, to the dismay of Ray (whom Wade has nicknamed "The Prince of Darkness"), who fears that the romance will interrupt Daisy's busy schedule.
On their honeymoon in Arizona, Wade drives off while Daisy is sleeping, abandoning her.
Daisy returns to the Swan home and runs into an extremely intoxicated Melora who reveals to Daisy that Melora had an affair with Wade and that he is actually a closet homosexual.

The next morning, Ray tells Daisy that he knew about Wade's sexual orientation, but that she had to find out for herself, as did his wife.
Ray then scoops her into his arms and kisses her, which begins their affair.
Daisy takes her mother out of the mental institution and moves her into a beach house.
When her mother later dies, Daisy has a nervous breakdown at the studio.
She goes back to the beach house where she spends day after day silently in bed under the care of a private nurse.
Melora visits, assuring Daisy she is not jealous of her affair with Ray.
Wade comes to see Daisy, but the most he gets out of her is a smile.
Ray, impatient that Daisy is taking so long to recover, loses his temper and tells her she must finish the pending motion picture.
He also tells her that he has her under contract for five years, but doesn't care what happens to her after she completes this movie.
Ray fires the nurse and leaves the beach house.
Right after Ray's departure, Daisy attempts suicide by putting her head in the oven, but her attempt is interrupted by ringing phones and visitors until she finally gives up.
The next day Daisy cuts her hair, changes her clothes, and turns the gas oven back on.
She then lights a flame on the stove, grabs a cup of coffee, and strolls out of the house to the beach. The house explodes behind her. When a passerby asks what happened, she shrugs and replies, "Someone declared war!"
I think the film is worth watching to get some glimpses of the Warner Bros. studio lot as it appeared in the mid-1960s as well as the Santa Monica Pier.
Upon its release, the film was a box office and critical failure, however, the film later gained a cult following when it was shown on television and released on home video.

Directed by Robert Mulligan, Wood's singing voice was dubbed by session singer Jackie Ward with the exception of the introduction to the song "You're Gonna Hear From Me" (by Dory Previn and Andre Previn, who composed the score).
The song was later recorded by Barbra Streisand for the album The Movie Album (2003).

Vocal recordings completed by Natalie Wood of the film songs went unused, except as noted above, and were unheard on commercial recordings until the release, in April 2009, of the complete dramatic score and song score by Film Score Monthly.Wood plays a teenager in the 1930s with dreams of being a star. At the beginning of the film Wood walks into the old Merry Go-Round building found at the front of the famous Santa Monica Pier to make a record of herself singing. She later sends the recording to the movie studios hoping she will be noticed. Above is a screenshot of the building as seen in the film and below is the same building as it appears today - and it still has the merry go-round!
Santa Monica Pier as seen in Inside Daisy Clover

Above is another shot of the pier as it appears in the film. Below is the same building as it appears on the Santa Monica Pier today.
Ruth Gordon Jones (October 30, 1896 – August 28, 1985), better known as Ruth Gordon, was an American actress and writer.
She was perhaps best known for her film roles such as Minnie Castevet, Rosemary's overly solicitous neighbor in Rosemary's Baby, as the eccentric Maude in Harold and Maude and as the mother of Orville Boggs in the Clint Eastwood film Every Which Way but Loose. In addition to her acting career, Gordon wrote numerous well-known plays, film scripts and books. Gordon won an Academy Award, an Emmy and two Golden Globe awards for her acting, as well as three Academy Award nominations for her writing.
Gordon was born at 31 Marion St. in Quincy, Massachusetts.
She was the only child of Annie Ziegler Jones and Clinton Jones, a factory foreman who had been a ship's captain.
Prior to graduating from Quincy High School, she wrote to several of her favorite actresses for an autographed picture. A personal reply she received from Hazel Dawn (whom she had seen in a stage production of The Pink Lady) inspired her to go into acting.
Although her father was skeptical of her chances of success in a difficult profession, he took his daughter to New York in 1914, where he enrolled her in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Ruth Gordon began her career early, posing as a picture baby for Mellin's food.
In 1915, Gordon appeared as an extra in silent films that were shot in Fort Lee, New Jersey, including as a dancer in The Whirl of Life, a film based on the lives of Vernon and Irene Castle.
That same year, she made her Broadway debut in a revival of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, in the role of Nibs (one of the Lost Boys), appearing onstage with Maude Adams and earning a favorable mention from the powerful critic Alexander Woollcott.
Woollcott, who described her favorably as "ever so gay," would become her friend and mentor.
In 1918, Gordon played Lola Pratt in the Broadway adaptation of Booth Tarkington's Seventeen opposite actor Gregory Kelly, who later acted with her in North American tours of Frank Craven's The First Year and Tarkington's Clarence and Tweedles.
Kelly became her first husband in 1921, but died of heart disease in 1927, at the age of 36.
Gordon in 1927 and 1928, had been enjoying a comeback, appearing on Broadway as Bobby in Maxwell Anderson's Saturday's Children, performing in a serious role after having been typecast for years as a "beautiful, but dumb" character.
In 1929, Gordon was starring in the title role of "Serena Blandish" when Gordon's only child, a son, Jones Harris, was born out of wedlock from a relationship with that Broadway show's producer Jed Harris.Gordon continued to act on the stage throughout the 1930s, including notable runs as Mattie in Ethan Frome, Margery Pinchwife in William Wycherley's Restoration comedy The Country Wife at London's Old Vic and on Broadway, and Nora Helmer in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House at Central City, Colorado, and on Broadway. For an early look at Ruth Gordon's life, catch Jean Simmons in The Actress. I have just scratched the surface! Enjoy the rest of your week!

I own NOTHING seen in this blog! No copy write infringement intended. WIKIPEDIA source of MOST of this blog

Judy's daughter, Liza Minnelli, also gave us Sally Bowles (although she did not introduce that role) and Francine Evans (who she did introduce!). Jill O'Hara created the role on Broadway in 1966. Although, I understand that Liza auditioned for the role many times. Kander and Ebb wanted her. Harold Prince did not. Liza had the last laugh. Not only did she end up doing the film but she went on to win The Oscar in 1974. And the songs and role will always be synonymous with the one and only Liza With A Z! In 1974, she won the Oscar, the Tony, and the Emmy! Not bad for the daughter of two legends who wanted to leave her own mark and continues, thank God, to entertain!

It may be a cliché but some film performances have become so iconic that you cannot imagine anyone else occupying the roles. Bette Davis’ performance as Margo Channing in All About Eve is such a performance. Although the writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz originally wanted Claudette Colbert for the part of Margo Channing, and Fox producer Darryl F. Zanuck favoured Marlene Dietrich in the role of the great but ageing theatrical diva, Bette Davis’ performance in Mankiewicz’s dark and cynical melodrama of backstage backstabbing and rivalry remains an astonishing achievement. All About Eve was based on a short story entitled ‘The Wisdom of Eve’ by Mary Orr, and Mankiewicz adapted it to create an astonishingly touching and effective portrayal of what it means to be a woman as well as a star.

I am hosting a tribute to Jerry Herman on Saturday November 12th for The Sheet Music Society. Klea Blackhurst, Donald Pippin, Lee Roy Reams, Amber Edwards, and Miles Phillips are scheduled to appear.

Thank you for joining me on these nostalgic journeys! I've added a new aspect to my blog.. I am now answering 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 when I receive it

"Richard, for supporting the ARTS and calling attention to the STARS of yesterday. You are a STAR in your own right!! With admiration and friendship"
Arlene Dahl

Thank you to all who have encouraged me! Thanks to all who have tried to stifle my art. I have learned from ALL of you!
Here's to an INCREDIBLE day for ALL!


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Tomorrow's blog will be About Bullying


Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com

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