Saturday, March 3, 2012

Carol Lawrence!

Don’t Sweat The Small stuff-it’s all small stuff
Richard Carlson

Happy Saturday!
I am a huge Carol Lawrence fan. I always have been.  I, of course, grew up with the original cast album of West Side Story. Then there are the numerous television appearances.
I saw her on stage for the first time when she sang and spoke at Mary Martin’s memorial in 1991.Carol Lawrence and Gordon McRae performed the matinees when Mary Martin and Robert Preston did I Do, I Do in 1967. When Martin and Preston left the show, Carol and Gordon took over the roles.

Years later, I did the Condo Circuit in Florida.
On the flight down, I was reading Carol’s autobiography, The Backstage Story.
I almost plotzed when I got to the chapter about doing the condo circuit with Bobby Breen. You’ll have to read the book to see what she had to say about her experience. I had a similar experience, by the way.
The next time I saw Carol was in Mame  as the irrepressible Mame Dennis at The Helen Hayes Theatre here in New York with my friends Bill McCauley and Diane Findlay (as Vera) in 2000.
Lee Roy Reams says she's the best cook around!

Last month, I interviewed Patty Farmer in anticipation of her book on the famed Persian Room.
Patty arranged for to interview Carol in terms of the book’s release AND also to promote Ms. Lawrence’s appearance with Dancers Over 40’s benefit on March 12th. I will be at the book signing at Barnes and Noble on March 7th and Dancers Over 40 on the 12th.  I hope you’ll join me for both.
Last night, Carol and I had a wonderful conversation celebrating Carol Lawrence, arts in education, Carol Channing, and Larry Kert. This blog is the result of that conversation. I came away with the feeling that Carol and I were old friends. I say that because I was touched by her openness and her generous spirit.

The first live show that Carol remembers seeing as a little girl was Red Skelton at the Chicago theatre. He was doing his act where he ate and ate donuts. He did all those characters that he was known for. Carol said she loves being funny, loves making people laugh. When she someone who knows how to do it with such skill and charm, then she is in total awe and respect.
Many years later, later in his life, Carol had the amazing opportunity to work with him. He wrote songs for her and poetry. It was as if everything had come full circle. He always ended every show with “Goodnight and God bless”. Carol says that’s basically who Red Skelton was. He was what you saw. She says he is the sweetest man who ever lived.
She says she must have seen a lot of dramatics coming from an Italian family but Red Skelton was the first professional entertainer that she remembers. She loved the accents, the characters, Guzzler’s Gin.

When I asked who Carol’s favorite entertainer was and why, she said there are so many.  
One of them is Sir Lawrence Olivier because he was so unlike his persona in film and in acting.  Carol saw him do ‘The Entertainer’ and she was lucky enough to go to dinner with him after the Tony’s.  He awarded Oliver Smith, who was their set designer for West Side Story.
Oliver was in Calcutta doing another show and they said, ‘Carol, would you accept the award for Oliver Smith if he wins?’.  She said, ‘Of course, I will.  I would be honored’.  And who was handing it to her, but Sir Lawrence Olivier!  As he handed it to her, she said the biggest guffaw of all time. She said’ I am so tremendously honored to take this from your hand, and to touch you, as I know Oliver would’.  Well, Oliver was gay and the audience erupted into laughter and she didn’t know what she had said.  It never occurred to her that she was making such an obvious faux pas.
 Anthony Hopkins comes a close second as a favorite performer. 

What are your thoughts on arts and education?

I believe that arts and education begin in the crib. Probably its prenatal. I always played classical music close to my belly when my boys were inside of me.  They were treated to the classics very early.  Their nursery was full of that kind of music, day and night.  My Christopher could sing you every part of ‘Peter And The Wolf’ and loved it so tremendously that when he was six I went to Disney and asked if I could have the film of ‘Peter And The Wolf’….I showed it at his birthday party but it was very scary and he said I ruined his party!
  I believe that the arts must be as close to (children) as their skin and as comfortable to walk in.  So I am always working to teach them.  I have a whole show where I teach them tap dance, in their little sneakers.  It’s called ‘Tappy Taps’. 
 I love singing to children and getting them to sing back with me and learning about every art there is, from painting, writing music. Making sets to creating the costumes.  I was always a child who told stories to my buddies.  I got them to walk me home because I was the farthest from the school and as we would go along and their house would come up, they would say, oh we have to leave now, and we would be at a cliff hanger (in the story).  
 They would say, ‘how does she get out of the burning house?’ and I’d say, ‘you’ll just have to come along and find out.  I have a series of things called ‘Curtain Call Kids’ when I was working with  Robin Woods who is the most decorated doll designer in the United States, after Madame Alexander.   know, I hadn’t made it up yet!’

 Have you ever felt that you were born in the wrong era?

Yes!  Many times.  I should have been born about forty years before I was born.  Jerry Robbins always said that I would have been the greatest movie musical performer.  He hated when I did television.  But I said, ‘that’s the way of reaching so many more people than you could ever reach on Broadway’.  I think I would have had a far better time, with many more vehicles and more fun had I been born earlier.  Yes.

Charles Durning, Kaye Ballard, Carol Channing, Robert Goulet, Jerry Herman, Carol Lawrence, Patricia Morison, Janis Paige, Gretchen Wyler, Rick McKay

Getting back to arts in education.  I ‘ve been working with Carol Channing Foundation for the Arts for the last five years.  What are your thoughts on Carol Channing?

I love Carol Channing.  She’s a dear friend of mine.

I am campaigning for her to receive the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors.  Could you tell my readers why you think she should get that honor?

She should have gotten it twenty years ago, for Gods Sake!  Who epitomizes theatre, and film and television better.  She has, across the board, taken every award there is, and rightfully so.  She deserves to be canonized!. Sainted!. She is hysterically funny as a comedienne and also poignant.  I just adore Carol Channing and I have always modeled a lot of what I do on the stage after her.  All you have to do is see her do Dolly.  It’s a lesson in how to carry a show and how to lift the entire heart of the audience. 

Carol Lawrence told me a hilarious story that when she opened in The Unsinkable Molly Brown in Atlanta, that they followed in the theatre after Carol Channing had played there. The passarella”,the runway, was still up and Carol begged the producers to leave it up, that she would utilize it in the "I Ain't Down Yet" number. Opening night, the brothers pushed the pail on her head down so far that she couldn't see and she fell right into the orchestra pit in the saxophone section! They actually "broke" her fall using a few choice words that she said she knew I knew! As she climbed back onto the stage to wild applause, she thought she would put a mattress down and repeat it night after night. After examining her cuts and bruises, she thought better of that.  

What is your most recent appearance?

It was about two weeks ago at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert. It’s a show where they bring back the Four Aces, the String Of Pearls, various people who have hits with the Tex Beneke Orchestra.  I always close the show and do the last half hour with my act.   I do it again April first and again in May.  I’m also doing a benefit on the 28th of April doing original material done on Broadway. 

Tell me about you appearance with Dancers Over Forty on March 12th.

They are going to announce the formation of a brand new research foundation  to try to find a cure for AIDS. It  won’t take care of patients, it will work to find a cure. It will be in the name of Larry Kert, my favorite leading man.

DANCERS OVER 40 presents
"DO40 CARES: It’s Not Where You Start…"
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the NYC HIV Vaccine Trials Unit

Hosted by Carol Lawrence
Special Guest Chita Rivera and the merry murderesses
from the original 1975 Cell Block Tango Broadway production of CHICAGO,
in a first-ever reunion!
with Graciela Daniele, Candace Tovar, Michon Peacock,
Cheryl Clark and Candy Brown.
Featuring Broadway Gypsy Rachelle Rak in I Gotcha by Bob Fosse

music and lyrics Kevin Oldham (1960 - 1993)
Choreography Sasha Spielvogel/Labyrinth Dance Theater
Aviad Arik Herman, dancer; Jose Arturo Chacon, baritone; Mimi Stern-Wolfe, piano
performed this summer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Scotland to critical acclaim

also choreography by
Larry Fuller, JT Horenstein, Mark Stuart Dance Theatre, Thomas/Ortis Dance,
Amy Seiwert, Claire Porter, Joy Serio Dunbar and Bob Fosse.

Monday, March 12 @ 8pm
The Ailey Citigroup Theater
405 West 55th Street, NYC

For tickets call 212-239-6200
$30, $50, $100

tickets available at St. Luke's Theater Box Office (save $6 surcharge)
305 West 46th Street 1:00 - 6:00 daily

Carol says this evening will be a perfect alignment of all types of dance coming together. A lot of new companies with which she is not familiar. It is an opportunity to pay homage to all these new artists that are emerging. 

Carol shared with me the very moving story of her coming to be with Larry Kert, who of course was her Tony in West Side Story, the last week he was alive. 
It is heartbreaking and yet so moving. We all should have a friend such as Carol Lawrence. 

Carol was doing Kiss of The Spiderwoman, having replaced Chita Rivera. At the end of the show, they were raising money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. She shared with me what she shared at that time. Larry and Carol were two youngsters that were cast in this modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet (By the way, Carol auditioned 13 times before she got the part!) Jerome Robbins said to both Carol and Larry the second day of rehearsals that he would not accept them in these parts until they could convince him that they were in love. If they were unable to convince him, they would not be able to convince an audience. Also, if they were not able to convince him, their understudies would get a crack at it. She had three understudies and so did Larry. They knew there was certainly enough to go around. They looked at each other and said, "OK, if that's what you want." And they fell in love with each other, truly. She happened to adore Larry's sense of humor, his talent, his voice, his hard work, his willingness to do anything and everything to make the show work. Everything just made her adore him. After the show closed, they decided to do an act together.
In 1990, they got together to perform again at Rainbow and Stars directed by the brilliant Dennis Grimaldi. They felt that this show would be their annuity, their show to fall back on in their old age.To go on cruises, to take a small tour if they desired to. A great way to make a little extra money. Just to continue having the fun that they had always had together. In the middle of their rehearsal period, which was six weeks, (they didn't throw it together with "spit", according to Carol, they both came up with a million ideas). They hired the very finest people. She noticed that he was losing weight and getting paler and paler. She was cooking everything that she could think of that was Italian and that could fatten him up that he could eat. Nothing seemed to help. Finally one day, he walked up to her and said very quietly and alone, "I just got the worst news of my life and I want you to be the first to know. In case you want to pull out of the act, because I found out today that I have AIDS." Carol was absolutely stunned. She could not speak for a few moments. It was in the back of her mind what she had feared. She told Larry that they must do the show. People needed to see how fantastically talented he was. They would see it when he was standing alone on that beautiful stage with Central Park behind him. They would see it when she was standing next to him holding him in her arms. They did the act. It got rave reviews. They were reviewed on the front page of the theatre section of the New York Times.They got fabulous attention. Everybody went to see that show. They were there for six weeks. Then they went on to Vancouver, Detroit, and a couple of other places. She could tell that every time they did it, it was harder for Larry. Eventually, Carol went back to Los Angeles and got into General Hospital. He kept up his regime of medicines and help groups. She kept in constant contact with him. She was, however, very busy with General Hospital. She said you never know what you're going to be filming and when until each Monday when the schedule for the week is posted. Suddenly, she got a call from Ron Pullen, Larry's partner. He said, "I really hate to put this on you, Carol, but Larry's been crying and has really been asking to see you. The doctor says it might not be very long. He doesn't have a lot of time left." Carol told Ron that she would be there "tomorrow" if she could manage it. She would like to get on the next flight out, but that she couldn't predict what the next week of work held for her. Ron told Carol that he understood that and that he would try and explain that to Larry, but that Larry really needed to see her one more time. Carol went into the office of General Hospital,and went right to Gloria Monty, the producer, and told her the story and said, "If you can just give me one day to get there, I will spend one day with him, and I will get the earlist flight back I can. That will probably mean writing me out of two consecutive days. " Gloria took a long pause and said, "OK. You got it." Carol took the next flight out and went to see him. She brought him his very favorite Italian dish that she made for him so many times, an Italian Chicken soup, Stracciatelli Soup. She carried it on her lap all the way from LA. She arrived and walked into his room and Ron walked her over to Larry's hospital bed that was set up in the living room and he was so thin and gaunt. His eyes were closed and he was hanging on to a strap over his bed and Carol didn't recognize him. She said it could have been anybody. She touched his arm and said, "Larry, it's Carol, and I've brought you Stracciatelli Soup all the way from Los Angeles in my lap, I'll have you know." He opened his eyes and he smiled and said, "Oh, Carol. Oh, Carol. Thank you, thank you so much"  And that's when she recognized him. The smile. She spent the afternoon with him. She got to tell him how incredibly talented he was and gifted and how much he was loved. And that she was still in love with him on the balcony and anyway she could find him. He died very shortly after that. 

Carol is so thrilled that Larry is finally going to have this incredible foundation set up in his name for research to find a cure for AIDS. He deserves it. I never saw him perform live. One of my biggest regrets.

Carol says if you knew him as Larry, and then he walked out on stage, it was just more enhanced. She said he brought his whole heart on stage with him and he shared it with the audience. She said it was always thrilling to watch him. She misses him so much. Every time she comes to New York it intensifies, because when he was around they were always going out to dinners or she would cook for him. They would do something just hysterical. He taught her how to ride horseback. She was once thrown from a horse and dragged because she didn't know how to ride. Larry got the horse to stop as it was running away and pulling Carol behind her. Her left foot was caught in the stirrup. Larry was also a stuntman! Something I just discovered last night. He could ride Roman style standing up on two galloping horses barefoot. He and Carol used to go to dude ranches. Larry forced her to get back on that horse's back or she would never ride again. She said after what she had just gone through, she didn't care if she EVER rode again! He said, no, I'm telling you, you are getting back on that horse! He picked her up and put her on that horse. And slowly, they rode together. He restored her faith to ever get on another horse. Again, she says, he was an incredible human being. She said Larry was her first and favorite leading man. She has a long line of leading men from Howard Keel to Robert Goulet to John Davidson and a million others...they were all fabulous. But none of them had the heart that Larry had. To do a love scene with Larry was to be in love. She said she never got that from the others. 

When life's hiccups get her down, she prays. She says there's nothing else she can do. She says, "I am so Italian and emotional and involved in everything I do. Otherwise, I don't think you should do anything. Young people always come up and ask "Should I go into show business'? " Carol always tells them it is so hard. She tells them "If you don't NEED to be in this business as much as you need BOTH your kidneys...I don't mean one kidney, I mean both!...then do not, it's too difficult. Once you get in it, there's no getting out, because, it's an easy addiction. Once you get that standing ovation where they are all standing." Jerry Robbins said when you order the audience to stand up. Her opening night of West Side Story was something she had never heard before. The audience was stamping their feet, applauding, and screaming and crying at the same time. The cast just looked at each other. Carol stood there and cried. 

When she really gets depressed, and she does, she gets down on her knees because she feels there is nothing she can do about it without HIS help. Once HE enters the room, and enters Carol's heart, then there's nothing she CAN'T do. 

 As Carol said to me, "Show Business is a more intense powder of life. It's a powder elixir. It drives more people mad than anything else I can think of. Once you've tasted it, you desire more and more and more. Unfortunately, in this business, you can't get more and more unless there are more and more people who desire to see you. Audiences change and the whole tastes change. Look at the music world. Today, you can't even compare it to when West Side Story was on Broadway.  It's all rap, and funk, and junk today. So I have to find an audience that is with me or still enjoying what I do. I would love to do a show in Branson. I have a house there. I want to do more for children. I want to do something that will touch their hearts and make them want to go on stage and learn how to sing and dance and project and touch people's hearts. The Greeks always wanted us to come in as we are but to exit better. That has to happen in the world today. We have fallen as low as any society can go. Unless we turn it around, we are all going to be so 'dead'. It won't matter. Teach people with music, with enjoyment, and fun and laughter and they will never forget it."   

I'm a huge fan of Carol's. I love her even more after this. I cannot wait to see her on Tuesday night!
To read about Carol Lawrence at The Persian Room, order The Persian Room Presents

Meet Carol in person at The Dancers Over 40 Benefit on March 12th. (Details above). I'll be there! Hope you'll join me! 


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!

Tomorrow's blog will be... My Exclusive Interview with Bernard Frushpan, the new manager of NYC's The Metropolitan Room

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

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

Portions of The Persian Room Presents benefits ChldHelp, a cause dear to Carol Lawrence's heart.


Richard Skipper,
This Blog is dedicated to Larry Kert and the gifts he gave and continues to give to the world


  1. Richard you are and amazing writer! Bob Emmons

  2. I had the great pleasure of seeing Carol play the role of Aurora in Kiss of the Spider Woman in Chicago, she was marvelous. This is a great blog about her and her many efforts towards the nurturing and preservation of great art.

  3. Tomorrow being Easter...memories of Carol's Mother Mrs. Laraia cooking and baking for days getting ready for the Dinner. No One could make Pasta and Meatballs like she did. Wow i miss her.