I survived The Grammys. Last night, I watched The Grammys for the first time in years.
What got me through the show was the ongoing commentary on Facebook and Twitter. THAT was far more entertaining. I wanted to see how they would deal with the tragic death of Whitney Houston.
Chris Brown, for instance, retreats when he is performing.
The dancers and special effects are all about facade rather than substance. With very few exceptions, I feel the same way about MOST that I saw in last night's telecast.
It is either about how loud they could be or how outrageous. I for one am not entertained. Why aren't the Lifetime Achievement Winners given air time or best cast album? THAT I would have loved to have seen. What we got was air time filler. All facade; no substance.
|Barbara as Molly Picon|
This morning I had breakfast with someone who is all about substance, Barbara Minkus. I remember Barbara from Love American Style and various commercials and television appearances from my '70s television viewing days. I first met Barbara several years ago when she was celebrating her birthday at Don't Tell Mama. Mama's booking manager, Sidney Myer introduced us. It was as if we were instantly old friends. Our paths have crossed several times over the years. I'm a huge fan of Barbara's and have wanted to do this interview for some time. Last week, I was invited to a read through of this last weekend's concert run of Boynton Beach Club: The Musical which Barbara was in. She performed in Florida Friday, Saturday, and yesterday. Flew to New York last night, met me for breakfast this morning, and flies back to LA this eve! Dining with Barbara is like going to a three act play. It was thoroughly entertaining and I hope that I can translate to this blog the life force that is Barbara!
|Barbara Minkus and Daniel Keough|
She was very little. She had a lady that used to take care of her and Barbara used to make her take her to The Chicago Theatre. At the theatre, they had stage shows and Josephine Baker was on stage. Barbara would make this woman who was taking care of her, her nanny, not only take her to the 10 AM show, but the 1PM, the 3PM, and the 5PM shows! Josephine Baker's LIVE act! Barbara figured out early on, that if she sat in the front row, Ms. Baker would bring her on. Josephine Baker noticed Barbara sitting in the front row and asked, 'Who is this cute little girl" and Barbara shouted out, "Barbara Minkus!" Josephine Baker brought Barbara o stage and Barbara said " I want to dance just like you!" And Josephine said, "Let's do a song together." Since Barbara had seen the show so many times, she knew the song. Barbara said it was a glorious moment and she knew from the age of four that THIS was what she wanted to be doing. Her grandmother was Florenz Ziegfeld's rehearsal pianist. Barbara's mother was a singer. From the time she was four years old, Barbara was singing. Her grandmother would play and she would sing. She sang for her first public audience, other than relatives, when she was seven years old. It was in her school's assembly and the song she sang was, "I Get The Neck of the Chicken." Her mother, who was not a stage mother but helped Barbara out as much as she could, cooked her an enormous turkey neck, not a chicken neck, which she held with a red ribbon as she sang this song. There were two assemblies. A morning assembly for the lower grades and an afternoon one for the higher ones. She decided that she was going to hide her Turkey neck behind the piano on the ledge of the chalkboard where the erasers go. She went home for lunch and ran back to retrieve her "chicken" neck for her big number. She put her hand behind the piano and the "chicken" neck was GONE! She is devastated. What is she gonna do? She can't sing without her "chicken" neck! She is running all over looking for the "chicken" neck. Finally, she goes down to Mr. Wolensky, the principal's office, down in the basement to get his help. She opens the door. There is Mr. Wolensky sitting on a stool eating her mother's "chicken" lneck! She grabbed what was left of that "chicken" leg and she ran up to the assembly just in time to sing holding a half eaten "chicken" neck.
"I get the neck of the chicken.
I get the hand me down shawl
I get the leaky umbrella
I get the couch in the hall
If I get the neck of the chicken
How will I ever get you?"
Barbara said she loved the song; she was hooked. Her father owned a department store. She was a little girl who had a Santa at Christmas time any time she desired to sit on his knee. Her father was a wonderful man. The department was named after her father's brother, Leslie's Department Store. Her mother had her own "little gift room" in the house. When her father couldn't find anything in the store, he would call his wife to see if SHE had it! Barbara has an older sister who is a director. They started out singing together. She never directed Barbara.
Barbara says she came to New York in a very strange way. She was signed at 18 years old to do The Playboy Club. The original Playboy Club was in LA and when she auditioned for The Playboy Club, for her friend Barry Fried, who was an agent; she sang Get Happy, the floor was very slippery and when she walked on, she fell.
Everyone thought it was so funny. She is singing " Come on, get happy!" and hitting the floor. That was her first professional job, however, she bought out her contract because she felt she just didn't belong there. She was overweight and out of sorts. She came to New York but she needed an act. She was a "short, fat comedienne". Maybe 185 pounds. She's very proud to say she's 105 now! Barbara's mother found a guy to write an act for her to do the playboys circuit, Philip Dellapenna. When she got into New York, she stayed at The Evangeline Girl's Club on 13th Street. It's still there.She would go to the Philip Dellapenna's three times a week and learn the songs. She had a great opening number, where she told the world she was going to be a star, and even talked about Carol Channing...and Judy Garland!
But remember the name Barbara Minkus! She says, "Needless to say, it wasn't the greatest act in the world. However, before she went back to bring this act to the Playboy Club, she met this agent, Gus Schirmer. He has since passed away. He said, "Sing for me" After she sang for him, he said, "I want Julius Monk to hear you." Here she was just getting an act together but she said OK. So she auditioned for Julius Monk. She said she could not understand one word he said to her but he was very elegant. He kind of had this phony English accent. Think the accent: "My darling, what are you going to be singing for me today?" Barbara says she was this little "hick from Chicago". She auditioned and went back to Chicago to do a Playboy Club. Opening night at The Playboy Club, which she says was AWFUL, she receives a telegram from the agent Gus Schirmer saying that Julius Monk wants her to come back right away to star in Bits and Pieces at The Plaza Nine.She feels The Playboy Club was probably thrilled to let her go. She was so heavy she wanted to have an instrument that she would play as she made her entrance that was proportionate to her body. So, she decided she was going to play the bass drum. When she came out, this was HER idea, the bass drum would spin, it also had a "trap door" and she would throw out hot dogs, and that she was a perfect opening
act for any occasion!
She would play, beating the drums, and then she would just stand there. Still beating the drum...she would spin the drum, beating the drum and then ask the audience incredulously, "What's the matter? Haven't you ever heard Feelings before?" Barbara says, "I was not right for The Playboy Club! My God, I was so big!" She couldn't wait to get back to New York and start work with Julius Monk. She used to go to The Upstairs/Downstairs and follow Clayborne Cary. She thought she was so fantastic. They became very good friends. Barbara says that when she came to New York, she lost 85 pounds in ten months. It wasn't that she was a starving artist. She learned that people here in New York ate three meals a day. Now, in her family, they sit down three times a day, but they continued to eat in between those meals as well.
She says the weight just came off of her. Of course, she was working a lot as well! While she was doing Bits and Pieces, Clark Gesner wrote her a song called "Our Trip To The Zoo". That went over real well and one night he told her he had a great idea for a record album, based on the Peanuts' Charlie Brown. He asked her if she wanted to do Lucy. She said, "Of course!" He put together the concept album and MGM Records picked it up. Orson Bean played Charlie, Clark played Schroeder, and Barbara played Lucy. "Whatever happened to your kite, Charlie, it looks like it ran into a brick wall!"
And that was the beginning of "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown!" While they were in previews, Zev Buffman offered her the lead in Funny Girl and she took it!
A decision she does not regret. Throughout her career, she has made choices that she says was right for her at the time. Reva Rose thanks her to this day!
Barbara continued her Broadway success in The Education of Hyman Kaplan, directed by the great George Abbott.
On television, she was a regular for six seasons of Love American Style and played Gittle the Witch in ABC's Curiosity Shop.
She made many appearances on The Tonight Show and a record twenty times on The Merv Griffin Show. Barbara has numerous film and voice over credits, including playing the voice of Ms Pacman in the ABC cartoon series Pac Man.
After taking time out to raise her family, Barbara returned to the theater at the Santa Monica Playhouse in Funny You Don't Look Like a Grandmother, and went on to star there as Molly Picon in Picon Pie, a role she helped research. She then reprised Molly Picon Off-Broadway. Barbara Minkus starred in Los Angeles and Florida as Jennie Grossinger in Stephen Cole's delightful musical Saturday Night at Grossinger's. She will return to play Jennie Grossinger again Off-Broadway in the summer of 2010.
Barbara starred December '08 in NYC in "Piano Bar". She also presented "From This Moment On – Minkus Sings Porter" at The American Jewish University in Los Angeles and returned there in January '08 to present "The Songs Of Irving Berlin". In the summer of 2008, Barbara played Miss Lynch in "Grease" at the Muni Theatre in St. Louis, and came back to The Muni and Starlight Theater in Kansas City, to play Yente in "Fiddler on the Roof". This past spring, Barbara starred in NYC in Saul Ilson's new Off-Broadway Musical "Don't Leave It All to Your Children."
There is MUCH more to our interview! However, I am off to see The Broadway Musicals of 1946 this eve at Town Hall and wanted to get this posted before leaving. Please visit Barbara's website and read more about this woman who has given so much to stage and television.
Thank you, Barbara for the gifts you give to the world! I cherish our time this morning. More could learn from you.
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Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com