Thursday, February 2, 2012

Barbara Van Orden!

with Ilene Graff and Barbara Van Orden
"You've got to keep moving; a moving target is hard to hit!"

Happy Thursday!

 Yesterday, I wrote about Amber Edwards and the work that she continues to keep the great American songbook at the forefront through her documentary on Jerry Herman, Words and Music by Jerry Herman and her PBS series following Michael Feinstein and his quest to preserve this music.

with Alison Arngrim
The subject of today's blog, Barbara Van Orden,  is also doing that and The Southern California Motion Picture Council will be honoring her as they present their 76th Annual Saint Valentine's Day Ball and Golden Halo Award Presentation on Monday night, February 13th at 7PM at The Waterfall Ballroom at the Sportsman's Lodge 12833 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA (Coldwater Canyon at Ventura Blvd.)
The SCMPC is a non-profit organization founded in 1936 to promote the best in entertainment. The Council encourages production of family oriented films and television programs; promotes civic-minded, educational and cultural programs of exceptional merit and presents awards for the best in movies, television, stage plays and the performing arts. Only the "Best of the Best" in movies and television, stars whose performances deserve special recognition or members of the industry whose outstanding contributions to the field of entertainment, are selected. The Golden Halo is the SCMPC's highest award. A partial list of past acting honorees includes Bette Davis, James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Robert Mitchum, Doris Day, and Charlton Heston.
Early Playboy Club image

TICKETS:    $35 and can be reserved at 626-794-1968

The Southern California Motion Picture Council (SCMPC) proudly presents their annual St. Valentines Ball with Oscar winning actress, Miss Margaret O'Brien, as the evening's hostess. The highlight of the gala will be the presentation of the 2012 Golden Halo Award to actress, singer and humanitarian, Ms. Barbara Van Orden.
Carol Channing was so inspired by Ms. Van Orden's story that she referred to her as “...a true Dolly Levi story,” having re-emerged, like Dolly Gallagher Levi, in Jerry Herman's hit "Hello Dolly!" to rejoined the human race after a devastating accident that resulted in 18 surgeries and years of rehabilitation to be welcomed back by audiences and critics alike in her touring cabaret show.  On Feb 13th, the SCMPC will honor Ms. Van Orden at the Valentine's Day gala for her example and inspiration to others.

BARBARA VAN ORDEN began in the Catskill Mountains at Grossingers Singers Hotel, opening for many of the greats, such as Milton Berle, Don Rickles and Red Buttons, to name a few. She went on to do all of the Playboy Clubs working with talents such as Buddy Hackett, Morey Amsterdam and Soupy Sales. A move to the West Coast was inevitable, and she assumed a recurring role in television's Welcome Back Kotter, shortly adding many TV films and series episodes to her resume. In between films and series, Barbara opened for many Vegas headliners. While in Vegas opening for Shecky Green, Frank Sinatra came to the show. After the show, she was thrilled when he asked her if she would open for him in the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel in New York.  In fact, Ms. Van Orden is featured heavily in the new book, "The Persian Room Presents," about her performances at the famous NY hot spot and opening for Frank Sinatra.  In addition, Ms. Van Orden has the distinction of having performed in every Playboy Club.
(Alison Arngrim, Barbara Van Orden, Davis Gaines, Harry Kullijian, Jackie Speier, Carol Channing, Rex Smith, Jonelle Allen and Kamilah Marshall)
Barbara sat down with me today to give me an exclusive look back...although Barbara is a woman who is too busy living in the present to totally focus on the past. The above quote that began this blog is a quote that comes from a woman who is not a victim of circumstances, but rather a survivor Let's go back to the beginnings The first show that Barbara remember seeing as a young girl was the original production of my fair Lady. She was able to describe in vivid details that night, but she especially remembers the costumes.Not surprising! Barbara is all about the glamorous life. 
Club 100 Center Theatre Group Los Angeles with Florence Henderson, BVO and Tippi Hedren

I asked Barbara if she was exposed to the arts growing up. She said, very much so. Both her mother and father were in show business. Her father was in vaudeville, part of a dance team called Van Tyson and Van. They were an acrobatic tap dancing team very much in the vein of the Nicholas Brothers. They played the Palace in 1929 and were making $2000 at the time!  However, because of an unfortunate accident when her father fell into the orchestra pit one night, he had to give up his career as a hoofer. Since he was already an accomplished sax player since seven years old, he took up the saxophone, becoming a sought after player. He played with Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman among others.  Barbara's mother was a café society singer. They lived in New Jersey, not far from the hustle and bustle of Broadway and New York City. Her parents were very much connected in the theatrical world, and there were many nights were she would go to bed, hearing the jam sessions that were going on in the kitchen with some the greatest musicians known to the world playing in the next room! Her mother was also the first woman to have her own live radio program broadcasting out of the Essex House in Newark, New Jersey which was the broadcasting mecca of that time. 
BVO on stage with Romi Dames, BVO and Kate Linder at Catalinas Jazz Club
As I do with all of my blogs, I asked Barbara, what she thought about the state of arts in education. She said it's very sad that there is no money for art education for kids growing up in today's world. Those of us of a certain age know how important the exposure to the arts have molded all of our careers. The arts are an incredible outlet to help kids get through life. Without that, what do they have beyond their studies?

I asked Barbara if she ever wondered if she was born in the wrong era, and if so, what other period of time that she related to and why. Barbara's response was "I love glamour, glamour,  glamour!" She would've loved to have grown up in the 1940s, dressing up, going to clubs like El Morocco and The Copa and the music that was being played at that time. When the 60s came along with this “Love in, Love out” uni-sexual world,  it was hard to decipher who were men and who were women. Barbara says," I've always enjoyed being a girl".

When I asked Barbara to give me her thoughts on Carol Channing, as I do with all my blogs, she said, it would take her 12 years to talk about what Carol means to her. "It can be summed up with the one question that I once asked Carol and that question is 'Do you realize how much pleasure you have given to the world throughout your magnificent career?'" And when it comes to the 2012 Kennedy Center Award, her response is: . Absolutely, positively, without a doubt!
Barbara's most recent appearance was at the Catalina Jazz club on Sunset in Hollywood. It was a star-studded event, Debbie Reynolds, George Chakiris, Romi Dames, Kate Linder were in attendance...Harry Kullijian and Carol Channing, Florence Henderson, and Gore Vidal were among the many to send congratulatory notes. There were production numbers, feathers, and once again, glamour!

We will be able to share in some of that glamour right here in New York next month. Barbara will be a New York to celebrate the release of Patty Farmer's The Persian Room Presents... There will be a red carpet event.
Also, Marge Champion, Barbara Van Orden and author, Patty Farmer will be together Wednesday, March 7th at 7:00pm at Barnes and Noble (82nd and Broadway).  A portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to Childhelp for the treatment and prevention of child abuse.
Keep following my blog for updates!
When I asked Barbara, what her biggest success was in show business, she said that was a very hard question. She went from modeling and print work to nightclubs. Then nightclubs and old Vegas eventually died out. She then went on to do TV commercials and sitcoms. She started her own production company called Cinequest. Lew Wasserman was responsible for and getting her started in that field. She produced several AFIA events (American Film Institute). She was producing events with CBS .
with Soupy Sales

When Barbara was a young mother, her husband was struck by a drunk driver and was killed. Barbara was all of a sudden a single mother. When her son was nine years old, the  unthinkable happened! One afternoon, she left her office and was crossing the street at Beverly Boulevard when an epileptic blacked out and hit her head on. She was run over and pulled for several blocks. That resulted in 12 breaks in her right leg, five breaks in the left, internal bleeding, crushed back, broken ribs, a fractured disc in her neck and a three inch gash in her skull. She spent two years in a hospital bed and three years of physical therapy five times a week. She remembers her son coming in one day and very upset by what he was seeing. She told her son that was nothing to worry about, that she would pull through this. Her focus could not be on herself, it was on her son. She was determined that she would pull through this… and she did. She was given lots of support by her own parents, who came in from New Jersey to help take care of her son and Morey Amsterdam and his wife, Kay. Barbara says she didn't have time to feel sorry for herself. She had work to do. 
Her son even helped her with her physical therapy. It was a long arduous process but she did it! What determination!

BVO with Anne Jeffreys, Carol Channing and Ruta Lee at the Pantages Theatre.
I asked Barbara, what one change she would like to see in today's industry. She would like to see an end to the stigma on age. Talent is talent, regardless of age. A friend of hers started an agency called GFA! Grecian Formula Agency!
Barbara's top five models and influences as an artist are in no particular order, Milton Berle, Morey Amsterdam, Frank Sinatra, Lew Wasserman and Martin Charnin.
I asked Barbara if she could not be in show business, what would she have liked to do. She said she's always been in love with jewelry and would be involved in that industry in some capacity. When asked if she is happy at this point in her career. She said she is thrilled to death. She never thought she would be doing this again, she has survived, she loves what she does in every aspect.

Do you feel you have achieved what you set out to do?
Do we ever? I'm a perfectionist. It can always be better

What do you do to remain positive when life's hiccups get you down?
After my accident, I knew there was nothing I couldn’t do

How on earth do you reach theatergoers now in today's  climate?
I know a lot of people. E-mail mailings. I'm out and about a lot.

A Genie pops out of the lamp. He grants you three wishes. What are those three wishes?
Peace on earth, good health and happiness for everyone and my family being and feeling wonderful

If you could travel anywhere in the world and spend some time there, where would you choose, and what would you do?
Italy! What do you do in Italy? You soak up the food the art. The wine!

What would you ask God if you could right now?
Why isn't there peace on earth?

What is the last show you saw local or professional?
Carol Channing: Larger than Life at the Paley Center in Hollywood.

If you could change places with anyone in the world for 24 hours, who would that be and why?
My grandson… Because I spoil them rotten!

When do you know it's time for a Barbara Van Orden show?
I'm always ready.

What you see for the future of Cabaret?
It seems to me that I'm seeing younger and younger audiences gravitating towards great songs. Just like during the depression and other difficult times in our world, people want to be entertained and to escape. I think that audiences will grow as long as they are aware that these shows exist.

I think Barbara for spending a little time with me this morning. We both have birthdays next week. She is the 10th, I am the 11th. Talking with her this morning was like talking with an old friend. I cannot wait to see her here in New York next month. I hope you'll join me!
The links to her shows at Catalina and Vitelos can be found on her website at

Here is the link to the February issue….you can touch the lower right corner and turn the pages.  Barbara begins on page 12.


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!
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Tomorrow's's blog will be... THE THALIANS! (Thank you, Daniel Gettleman for this suggestion)

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

  Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Now, GO OUT AND see Carol Channing: Larger Than Life in theatres January 20th!

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Richard Skipper,

Ruta Lee, Harlan Boll, Julie Newmar, Bruce Vilanch, Dori Berinstein and Rose Marie
                                This Blog is dedicated to Harlan Boll! Thanks for ALL you do!

1 comment:

  1. as usual, my friend Barbara Van Orden's article is top notch Richard. She is an old and dear friend of mine. We studied improv with Harvey Lembeck together. Please let me know if you receive this comment.