Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Happy Birthday, Abbe Lane and Patty Duke!

"The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be."
-Paul Valery, French philosopher (1871-1945)

Happy Wednesday!
The above quote was written sometime BEFORE 1945 and yet it resonates louder today than at any other time. Sometime ago, I heard some newscaster say that every generation has felt or haped that they would make the world a better place for the next generation. And for the first time, he, AND I, feels that we are letting the next generation down. I think about this daily. You would think that there would be advances but it feels like for every step forward, there are two steps backwards. Our social media are making more and more people anti-social.
People are on cell phones and texting as they walk down the streets, totally oblivious to the people around them. They are even doing this when driving. We ALL are playing Russian Roulette when we get into a car these days! People are doing the same in theatres, concerts, cabaret shows, restaurants...wherever they go!
Situation comedies no longer come out of the situation, but rather out of insult humor. ADULTS are attacking each other on talk shows. Joy Behar believes that being a comedian gives you carte blanche to say whatever you desire and because it comes out of "comedy", it is acceptable.Our song lyrics, if you can call them that, are violent and misogynistic. I think we have failed our next generation.  What happened to STARS? Today they are "personalities" And many of them owe their success to scandal. So today, I want to celebrate STARS from previous generations who have birthdays today who have a body of work they can be proud of. They had careers. They worked at their craft. And the basis of their success was not based on scandal.
The first is Abbe Lane who is 80 today.

According to my horoscope today,  I should seek assistance from people whose knowledge about specific topics is superior to my own. It simply isn't possible for me to know it all, so ask for help when I need it. This is true for me EVERY DAY. I learn from those who have gone before me.
I've written about this before, but when I was 13 and started studying privately with Miss Epps in South Carolina, she told me that EVERY time I step on stage, I am carrying the mantle of every great actor and/or entertainer who has gone before me. I have never forgotten that and I think about that EVERY time I step on stage. How many other entertainers think of that? They think of their niche in the world and nothing else. I learn EVERY time I am sitting in the audience of EVERY show I see I have also learned about what to do and what not to do with the examples presented to us. I grew up seeing Abbe Lane on variety shows and MOST other shows during the 70s. Both comedic and dramatic. She could easily poke fun of her image and always with class and dignity.
Born Abigail Francine Lassman in Brooklyn, New York, Lane began her career as a child actress on radio, and from there she progressed to singing and dancing on Broadway.
 Married to Xavier Cugat from 1952 until their divorce in 1964, Lane achieved her greatest success as a nightclub singer, and was described in a 1963 magazine article as "the swingingest sexpot in show business". Cugat's influence was seen in her music which favoured Latin and rumba styles. In 1958 she starred opposite Tony Randall in the Broadway musical Oh, Captain! but her recording contract prevented her from appearing on the original cast album of the show. On the recording, her songs were performed by Eileen Rodgers. Lane later recorded her songs on a solo album. The most successful of her records was a 1958 album collaboration with Tito Puente, who also lived here in Rockland County, titled Be Mine Tonight. Apart from working solo, Lane frequently appeared on talk shows with Cugat.
 She attracted attention for her suggestive comments such as "Jayne Mansfield may turn boys into men, but I take them from there" and also commented that she was considered "too sexy in Italy". Her costume for an appearance on the Jackie Gleason Show was considered too revealing and she was instructed to wear something else; however she appeared on the shows of Red Skelton, Dean Martin and Jack Benny without attracting controversy.


 In addition to her Italian films, Lane was a frequent performer on the television show Toast of the Town during the 1950s. She also played guest roles in such series as The Flying Nun (I saw this episode last week!), F Troop, The Brady Bunch (pictured above),Hart to Hart and Vega$.

She appeared in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) in the role of an airline stewardess.

 She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to television, at 6381 Hollywood Boulevard.

Today is also the birthday of Patty Duke!
She prefers to be called Anna, so I will refer to her as Anna.
The following is from Anna's website:
“I subscribe to the theory that says you're a product of all your experiences,” recently said Anna Patty Duke Pearce. And with a life that has been described as being close to one out of a Dickens novel, Anna Pearce, better known to the world as Patty Duke, has experienced more in her life than most heroines in classic novels do. Her story, as a woman, who has emerged from a person who was self-loathing and struggling with a mental illness and suicide attempts, to a mental health speaker and one of the most brilliant actresses of any generation, is one which could serve as an inspiration for most anyone.
 Anyone could look at her brilliant work in classic films such as The Miracle Worker, ground-breaking television like My Sweet Charlie, and the eternally fun-to-watch Patty Duke Show and Valley of the Dolls and think they know this actress known to the world as Patty Duke. But there is a lot more to her story than what is seen on the screen. The teenager, and later woman, who seemed to possess everything any American ever wanted: fame, fortune, and respectability, has lived a life far from most of the various characters she has played over the years. This is the story of a tortured young girl who beat all of the odds, to become one of the greatest survivors of our time. This is the story of Anna Patty Duke Pearce.
 Born in Bellevue hospital on December 14 1946 , Anna Marie Duke was the youngest of three children to be born to John and Frances Duke. The Duke’s lived on a modest income, with John working several jobs, most frequently as a cab driver. Anna’s recollections of her father are mostly positive. No matter what he was doing, he never went without a smile on his face. Frances , however, was suffering from severe undiagnosed depression. On top of her own mental disorder, Frances would frequently get fed up with John’s over-drinking and eventually kicked him out of the house around the time Anna was six.
 Anna Marie would rarely ever see her father again. But little did she know until many years later, that John would quit drinking and save up enough money to buy a “standing room only” ticket at Broadway’s The Playhouse Theatre, where The Miracle Worker, starring his twelve-year-old daughter, was playing. 
He watched his little girl brilliantly perform the role of Helen Keller on stage several times but because of his fear of interfering with her seemingly now-charming life, never did he go backstage.
  Anna didn’t start acting in The Miracle Worker until 1959, but it was around four years earlier, when her older brother, Raymond, was appearing in a play at the local YMCA, when talent managers John and Ethel Ross spotted him, thinking he had definite potential as an actor.
 The trio worked on several projects together, when one day they were casting a film about an orphanage in Upstate New York, and the Ross’s needed a little girl to play Raymond’s sister. Raymond suggested his sister and introduced the Ross’s to her and they immediately saw a spark in the precocious eight-year-old. There was only one problem: this little girl had a very New Yorkse accent, which would make it difficult to cast her in any type of role other than a New Yorker.
 The Ross’s wasted no time in correcting Anna Marie’s dialect and their work paid off, as Anna soon started landing jobs on shows which are now known as part of “the golden age of television.”
 Over the next few years Anna would appear along side some of the industries top performers such as Helen Hayes, Laurence Olivier, Gloria Vanderbilt and Richard Burton, among others. Her speaking voice was so good that she even played the part of the young British Catherine in Wuthering Heights on television.
    While still working steadily in television, feature film offers eventually began to pour in.
    She would appear, unbilled as an extra, in several films including I’ll Cry Tomorrow, starring Susan Hayward.
 She eventually made her film debut in 1958’s The Goddess, playing the title role at a young age before Kim Stanley took over as an adult.
    During the next two years she was also featured in The 4D Man, starring Robert Lansing, Country Music Holiday, with Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Happy Anniversary where David Niven and Mitzi Gaynor played her parents. But none of these roles in film would bring her to stardom the way the way the Broadway stage would.
 In the late 1950s, John Ross was looking through the theatrical magazine, Backstage, and spotted something about how a stage adaptation of the recent television hit, The Miracle Worker, about Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan, might soon occur. Even though nothing at this point was definite about this project, Ross made it his life’s work to train Anna for the part of the young blind and deaf Helen Keller. He would do things such as blindfolding her to see if she could find her way around the room without site and moving the furniture around while she was blindfolded.
This kind of intensive training would go on for over a year and finally it was Anna’s chance to audition for the part. Arthur Penn and Fred Coe, and show’s director and producer, were amazed at how well this twelve-year-old played the blind Helen Keller and eventually hired her for the part, opposite Anne Bancroft as Keller’s teacher, Annie Sullivan.
 The show opened in October of 1959 to some of the best reviews ever for a Broadway play. Walter Winchell called the show “An emotional earthquake” while The New York Daily News called it “a beautiful play, a lovely and loving play.”
Anna and Bancroft, as the two leads, were also singled out by many of the critics as the heart and soul of the play, with their amazing performances.

 In 1960, the show won more accolades as Anna was given the Theater World Award as “Most Promising Newcomer” and the show itself received the Tony Award as the best play of the year.

  By 1960 Anna’s career had skyrocketed from being a bit player to becoming the youngest star on Broadway. While her career was reaching new heights, her home life, however, was suffering.
Please visit Anna's website for more info.

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Horace: Advice is cheap, Ms. Molloy. It's the things that come gift wrapped that count! 

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Thank you, to all the entertainers mentioned in this blog! Thanks for the gifts you give to the world!
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