Friday, June 8, 2012

Celebrity "Obsessions"!

My office: Celebrating Carol Channing
A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.
 - Fred Allen

Happy Friday!
I hope you have had a great weekend. Big weekend coming up for those who love entertainment. The Tony Awards take place on Sunday on what would have been Judy Garland's 90th birthday. Turner Classic Movies is pulling out the stops with a 24 hour retrospective. Some of those films will be introduced by guest programmer John Fricke, the foremost Judy Garland historian and a friend.

The first time I walked into his apartment, I thought I was walking into a shrine. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with The Wizard of Oz.  I lived for those annual the days where you could only see it once a year. I wish those days would come back. It's not quite the same since I now own it and can watch it whenever I like. Hardly ever, to be honest with you. 

When I learned that Dorothy Gale was actually Judy Garland, I became "obsessed" with seeing her films and having her albums. My love for her has never dissipated. 

I have been asked to host an event on Wednesday celebrating Cary Hoffman's tribute to Frank Sinatra. Read about that a little later in this blog. When Beck Lee, his publicist called me...actually to write about that event, I said yes, but also volunteered to emcee the event and they said yes! I hope you'll join me on Wednesday as we delve into the world of celebrity "obsession".

I reached out through Facebook, Twitter, and social media for people who were willing to talk with me. The word "obsession" actually turned some people off. 

Obsession means the domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.

I'll put the spotlight on me before I move on to anyone else and my trajectory with Carol Channing. I have written so much about it in the past that I'm going to give you a cliff notes account now. 

I first became aware of "Carol Channing" on The Lucy Show in which Lucille Ball impersonates Carol Channing. 
I was the type of kid that mimicked EVERYTHING I saw on TV. As a matter of fact, I used to give lunchtime concerts on the steps of Conway High School in Conway, South Carolina. A few years later, I saw my first Carol Channing television special, Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey on Broadway.

That was it! I was a fan!! (I now own the Cecillia Sisson Coat from that special). I watched everything I saw her do. I NEVER had any desire to perform as her. In fact, if anyone had told me that would be the direction my career and life would take me, I would have thought they were crazy. 

Move ahead a few years, I move to New York. When I was nineteen, I discovered the Piano Bar at 67th and Broadway at The Beefsteak Charlies led by Houston Allred and a cast of characters we will never see the likes of again. Every Thursday night was Broadway night and that became my Thursday night "obsession".   

One night, I had friends visiting from South Carolina, and we all went. Towards the evening, I got up and sang as "Richard" and got a great response. The crowd was asking for an encore which I did not have. Remembering my lunchtime concerts in high school, one of my friends yelled "Do Carol Channing!" Houston asked if I did and as I tried to get out of it, my friends gave a little background on me and the next thing I knew, I was performing as Carol Channing sans make-up. 
The crowd went wild. A wonderful lady by the name of Leola Harlow came over to me, she was in her YOUNG eighties at the time! She wanted to know what my "drag" name was and where I performed. I didn't even know what she meant by "drag name"! No, no, no when she explained...that's not me! She said if I ever changed my mind, to call her. She would costume me! From that point on, Houston wanted me to close the evening as Carol (still sans make-up). This went on for several months.

I guess about five months later, I went to an audition. When I walked in, they asked "Aren't you Carol Channing?" My heart stopped. I thought that I had ruined any chances of me having a "legitimate" career. Well, the funny thing is they were looking for a "drag queen" to sing the title song. They wanted to hear me do it as Carol Channing. I did, I got the part, I opened, I stopped the show, I got fired. The audience was asking for an encore as the scene continued on without me. The director and producer felt that the show would be about my performance instead of the play. But now I had a costume and for several years, I would only go out on Halloween and hit all the piano bars (there were several WELCOMING piano bars at that time). I would do one or two shows and move on. I was getting well known for this. In 1990, I did a play called Men of Manhattan by John Glines in which I played a character called Carl Channing who was "obsessed" with Carol Channing. In 1994, as Carol was making her way back to Broadway in the last revival of Hello, Dolly!,a friend contacted me and said that if I did not put a tribute to Carol Channing, I would be making the biggest mistake of my career. My first thought was what if she didn't approve. You see, I would not feel comfortable doing it if she didn't approve. I would not do it if she didn't approve. I wonder how many impersonators or tribute artists really care about the people they are portraying. As luck would have it, I had the opportunity to perform for Carol before I opened my show AND she liked it! She told me to take the gauntlet and run with it. Her endorsement opened that pathway for me. The greatest gift that has come out of the past twenty years is my friendship with Carol. I started collecting items related to and pertaining to her life and career out of research. I am very proud of my collection. The funny thing is that as I've gotten close to Carol and gotten to know her, my desire to perform as her has gone away. I no longer feel that I can live up to the real deal!

Now, I'm writing a book celebrating the rich legacy of Hello, Dolly! and I am collecting items having to do with Dolly!

Today, I am celebrating four people who idolize a certain celebrity each. Are they obsessed? YOU decide!

The first is Glen Charlow.  Glen is my designer and friend. He also happens to have one of the largest Lucille Ball collections on the "east coast". 
Ever since Glen started watching  I Love Lucy as an eleven year old kid, like so many of us, he fell in love with Lucy. 
He would watch her prior to dinner. His dad would sometimes have to pry him away from the TV. Glen was usually late getting to the dinner table so that he could see the conclusion of each episode.
Glen says there is an air about her, something she does when she performs. Lucy herself also said that she loved performing in front of an audience. She felt that she would not have been the same without an audience. He loved what that did for her. It gave her more energy. Of course, he gives her writers credit but Lucy projected an energy that made her situations work. That's what Glen caught on to besides Lucy being a beautiful woman.
I asked Glen what it is about Lucy that puts her above all others. He said that has always been a difficult question for him. He doesn't really have a very good answer for that.   
The first item Glen bought!
Becoming a "collector" came as a surprise to Glen. That did not happen until many years after leaving home. He was in the Village one day, passed a store with a picture of Lucy. He bought the picture, brought it home, and framed it. A few weeks later, he bought another item, framed it, and hung it on the wall. One thing led to another and the rest is history. 
He has a website Many items are listed there...but there is so much more. He doesn't have any idea how many items comprise this collection. His favorite item (pictured above) is a leather bound scrapbook from Lucy Day at the 1964 New York World's Fair. It was put together by her, then, publicist. It includes newspaper articles, her airline tickets, pictures of her and Gary Morton, news releases, her schedule for the day, passes for the day,  and photographs of her at the event and in her hotel room at the New York Hilton.  

He got that when he went to his first Lucy Convention in Hollywood. He went exploring around Hollywood and came upon this item. He went into a collector's shop and asked what they had on Lucy. They showed him a very pictures which truly didn't impress him that much. The owner then went in the back and came out with the scrapbook. Glen bought it and it has been his favorite item ever since. 
The MOST that Glen has spent on any one item of Lucy's was $2100.00. It was for an aqua chiffon caftan with big feather boa sleeves. Lucy wore this on a Bob Hope special.She also wore it at several awards ceremonies. Glen has several pics of her in this outfit. 
Glen does not call this an "obsession" is a love. He feel that other collectors probably feel the same way he does. "Obsession" to him has a negative sound to it. He thinks that is a big misconception that people have about collectors. When he has encountered some people and they find out about his collection, some have a knee-jerk reaction. 

Tomorrow afternoon, Glen will be performing his tribute to Lucille Ball at The Sheet Music Society. 322 West 48th Street at 1:45. Only $10.00 at the door for non members. 

Eva Heineman of Hi! Drama is "obsessed" with two of the greatest dancers that ever lived and they are at opposite ends of the spectrum: Fred Astaire and Rudolf Nureyev. Eva lives and breathes the theater. She has also done an amazing job raising her son Alfie as a single mother. 
Eve feels that each dancer, Fred Astaire in film, and Nureyev in ballet, were the best of their field ever. 
Nureyev also had an amazing life. He was the first to defect from Russia. She feels that he was the first to make people really take notice of the male ballet dancer. Prior to him, the focus was on women.  
She feels that Astaire did the same thing leading the way for Gene Kelly. 
Eva, unlike Glen, does feel that her love for these two dancers IS an obsession. 

The MOST that Eva has spent on her "obsession" is between $500-$1,000. She collects celebrity hats. In the case of Astaire, she got an autographed boater. 
She was competing with magician David Copperfield at an auction several years ago for a top hat owned by Astaire.She gave up at $10,000! She didn't really have the money and was going to rely on her credit cards to fund this purchase. 
Nureyev wearing the hat and "costume" that Eva now owns
She does own several hats of Nureyev that she has purchased from auctions. She was a phone bidder on a auction that took place in England several years ago. She did get a gold hat from Christie's and the rest of the gold costume from an auction in England to complete the set from the ballet, L' Apres Midi Du Faun (Afternoon of A Fawn).

Eva tells me that with Nureyev , there is a whole group of huge fans. They would wait backstage for him and send him flowers. They would go wherever he was. Once, a whole gang of Nureyev fans decided to follow him. He ended up going to O'Neal's at Lincoln Center and they followed him there. They followed him, applauding him the whole time. 
Eva got an idea to write a play for Astaire.
When Eva lived in Paris, she went to see a lot of Astaire films. A juxtaposition of the film Astaire and the "real" Astaire. Think Purple Rose of Cairo. She sent the script to Astaire. Astaire's assistant wrote back to her and said, "Mr. Astaire is not interested in your project. When his sister died, Eva sent a condolence card and his daughter, Ava, responded to Eva. It was a hand written card solidifying to Eva how classy they were. 
Eva tells me that Nureyev just loved his fans. 
I asked Eva where she would draw the line. She says they are both dead so there's not much she can do! She would never bother a celebrity when they are in a "personal" situation such as going out to dinner. She feels that the only time it is appropriate to approach a celebrity that you don't have a personal relationship is back stage or an awards situation. Otherwise, it is just rude. 
Eva first realized that she was "obsessed" with Nureyev was during his hey day. She would go to EVERY performance and she would stay up all nights just to get tickets. 
I asked Eva if she would have ever invited these men over for dinner. She said only if she was having a dinner party because that is the only time her house is clean!

The following is from a huge Bette Midler fan, Perry Balin:

 My long-awaited encounter with the Divine on Saturday night was so poignant that I decided I would not divulge all the details and just let it live in my heart. But, then, I thought that my nearest and dearest who have supported me and my infatuation all these years deserved to hear the tale. Plus, I have a big fucking mouth. How could I keep this to myself?
The answer to how this all came to be is not so spectacular: I paid a lot of money and bought myself a meeting with Bette. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do to make her dreams come true. I feared that this day may never happen on its own, so I had to grab a hold of the opportunity while it was available.

And my time with her, though brief, was truly priceless. Us "Smug Mutha Fucka" ticket holders were taken backstage, where I worked my dramatic ways to be last in line to meet Miss M. She took me with her tiny hand and first asked where I was from. Second question: "Are you a performer?" Okay, so PERHAPS it was the sequins (as some may suggest) that prompted her. But, I choose to believe that it was her Diva intuition telling her that I was her kind of people.

I told her, yes, that I was pursuing cabaret in New York City and she asked about the venues. I mentioned a few and that I had met her musical director, Bette Sussman, after seeing Christine Ebersole's act. We agreed that Christine was amazingly talented and she
asked if I'd seen Grey Gardens. I regretted that I had not, and she suggested I go to the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center to hear the recording. I told her that I go there all the time to copy music and she nudged me and remarked that she went there to copy her music too!

I mentioned a beautiful song that I just discovered and think she should record. It was written Amanda McBroom, who also wrote The Rose. She didn't know of it, but her tour manager asked the title and said he'd remember it for her.

I wanted to express my admiration for her as an artist, not just a personality. I told her how, when I was a little girl, my parents put a television in my room ("that was the first mistake!" she said) and that the moment I saw her on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, I knew what I wanted to do- I had "found my light".

I told her that I learned everything I knew about performing from watching her and that when she said, as the character of Soph, "they can't love you if they can't see you", it was as if she was talking directly to me.

She made eye contact with me the entire time, honestly engaged and interested in our conversation. She told me how kind and touching my words were to her and asked my name. "Perry", I said. "Perry what?" she asked. "Perry Balin". "Perry Balin", she repeated several times. "I'm going to look for you, Perry Balin".

She hugged me and we said goodbye. Then I went to Rao's for dinner and cried my false eyelashes off. How lovely to know that my instincts were right all along. She was warm and kind and genuine and divine. And I will NEVER forget.


Perry is a singer that hails from New Jersey and now lives in New York City. She premiered her first cabaret show this past fall. She is a comedienne and singer. 
As a ten year old only child, she was very nocturnal child and had trouble sleeping. 
Her parents gave her a television.  
She would stay up at night watching The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. 
She thought this was the greatest show she had ever seen. One night, Bette Midler was on, and transformed Perry's life. At that moment, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life and felt this connection. That's how it started.
She, too, hates the word "obsession" but believes that IS what it is. 
She has spent thousands over the years on this "obsession". 
She can show me receipts. In 2004 and 2005, Bette went on tour and Perry, at that time, had independent means to give into her "obsession" to see her as many times as she desired. In other words, a credit card. 
She saw the show as many times as she could and sat as close to the stage as she could. The tickets were around $250.00 each! She saw the show 17 times!!! Perry says she feels like she is a student of Bette's. When she sees her, it is a master class on how to be an entertainer.
I asked Perry where she draws the line. She says she never wants Bette to feel uncomfortable. She would never stalk her. As you can read above, she HAS met Bette.  Perry obviously would feel uncomfortable if anyone crossed those lines with her. 
Fran Leonardis
Meeting Bette was a terrifying experience for Perry, but Bette far exceeded her expectations. She was thinking when she met her, "What if you've invested 20 years into this person and she is not what you had hoped?" Perry feels that it is unfair to these people that we build them up to the extent that we do. How can they ever live up to that?    Perry says she was lovely and kind. She seemed interested in Perry.  

Fran Leonardis' "obsession" is Adrian Brody. I am a huge fan of Fran's. I even did a blog on her in March. She is a mother by day and an entertainer by night. The first time Fran saw Adrian on screen was in a movie called Dummy. She says he is the kind of an actor who really throws himself into a role. He really fascinates her. On a superficial level, she cannot get enough of him. There is something about him. She says it might be his eyes. Lately, she does consider what she feels for him an "obsession". 
She is lucky. She has been able to find a lot of his movies very cheaply, so she hasn't crossed the threshold that Glen, Eva, and Perry have. There also isn't a lot of merchandise out there. There are no Adrian Brody tee shirts. She does admit that she would pay for an autographed picture...within reason. 
The most outrageous thing that Fran has done because of her "obsession" is follow someone that she thought was Adrian Brody on Twitter and invite him to her show!
She draws the line at stalking. She would never camp outside of his apartment or anything that extreme. She wouldn't want someone to do that to her. She said she knew this was an "obsession" when she started reading Fifty Shades of Gray.  

Madeleine Sherwood
Barbara Kahn shared the following with me:  Years ago, I was working with Madeleine Sherwood at a rehearsal studio in midtown. When we left, there was a flock of autograph seekers in front of the building. I realized I forgot something, so I said goodbye to her and went back inside. When I came back outside, the flock was waiting for me and insisted I autograph their books. When I said that they didn't even know me and asked why they would want my autograph, they replied, "You were with Madeleine Sherwood, so you must be somebody."

Thank you for celebrating celebrity "obsessions" today. Please join me on Wednesday as we explore this deeper as we celebrate Cary Hoffman's "obsession" with Frank Sinatra. Wednesday, June 13, 2012 12:00pm
Cary Hoffmam

Off-Broadway’s “My Sinatra,” Cary Hoffman’s one-man musical about his lifelong obsession with Frank Sinatra, is hosting a Celebrity Obsession Contest. Anyone with an extreme attachment to a celebrity -- impersonation, memorabilia collecting or hoarding, reincarnation, etc. -- is eligible to compete for cash and prizes… and potential stardom.

Open-call trials for the summer-long competition take place on Wednesday June 13, from noon to 2pm, at Sofia’s Downstairs Theatre, 221 West 46th Street. At the trials, contest hopefuls will share intimate details about, and/or demonstrate their celebrity fixations.

I am hosting the initial round, at which Cary Hoffman and others (to be announced) will serve as panelists. “Artistry, colorful presentation, passion and even scholarship are important criteria,” Hoffman points out. “We treat our contestants with the respect, awe and curiosity they deserve.” In a final round later this summer, a blue-ribbon jury of celebrity experts will help select the grand prize winner, who, in addition to cash and prizes will earn a chance to be onstage for a paid appearance after Hoffman’s show.

“My Sinatra” is accepting online entries on its Web site

“My Sinatra,” the story of a nerdy Jewish kid from Long Island’s “weird and wonderful” (Huffington Post) journey of self-discovery through another man’s voice, began previews at the Midtown Theatre on June 4, 2011, and opened, after 10 months of previews, at Sofia’s on April 22. Known affectionately by his friends as Ol’ Jew Eyes, Hoffman admits, “The character I play, me, has grown -- and so has the show -- with the help of my team of psychologists who have helped me come to terms with my compulsion. This contest is for anyone, like myself, who develops a connection with a celebrity that is more than casual.”

In addition to making a career out of singing (and snapping) like Frank Sinatra, which has been both a meal ticket and an emotional albatross, Hoffman manages a short list of TV writers and was an executive producer of the Ray Romano television series Men of a Certain Age. For 21 years he owned the comedy club Stand-Up NY



(May 31, 2012) The dark-horse favorite “My Sinatra,” a one-man musical created by and starring Cary Hoffman, opened on Sunday April 22, at 3pm, after ten-months of previews and 72 years in development. Since its transfer to Sofia’s Downstairs Theatre, 221 West 46th Street, on January 18, Hoffman and his team -- music director Alex Nelson, Paul Linke (special material), script consultant Randal Myler and production designer Keith Truax -- worked to further theatricalize the show.  The production’s one-year anniversary on June 4 completes the show’s evolution from PBS concert special (2003), to cabaret act (Triad Theatre), to cabaret-musical revue (Midtown Theater), to intimate one-man tuner.

In “My Sinatra” Hoffman tells the “weird and wonderful” (Huffington Post) story of a nerdy Jewish kid from Long Island’s idolization of the singer Frank Sinatra, and of how this obsession, fueled by his uncanny ability to sound like the singer, would be both a meal ticket and an emotional albatross.

Hoffman’s journey of self-discovery through another man’s voice is filled with scenes and recollections of the 50’s and 60’s on the Island, in Manhattan, and the Catskills.  It also features an unforgettable score brimming with Ol’ Blue Eyes hits (15 in all).  Spoiler alert: these are not Sinatra jukebox replicas, although Hoffman’s voice consistently bears up well to comparison.  Throughout this deeply candid performance Hoffman illustrates how Sinatra’s honesty, charm, bravado, and machismo spoke directly to a lonely fatherless child struggling with self-esteem, not to mention a genetic block on the right way to snap.

“We all want to be someone else, to escape our own reality, it’s a basic fantasy,” Hoffman has said.  “I used Sinatra as a life raft for survival.  But I didn’t develop my own life raft, me, until later.” Hoffman turned 72 on April 24.

Says Hoffman, “Now that we’ve shaped this into a more theatrical production, we’re looking for an understudy.  Truth is we’re having trouble finding someone who looks like me!”

In addition to singing professionally in the Catskills, as a half-time entertainer, and headliner of various and sundry Sinatra-related events, Hoffman owned and managed the Manhattan comedy club Stand-Up New York for 21 years.  He wrote the hit Off-Broadway show “And Falling in Love.”  He still manages a short list of television writers and was an executive producer of the Ray Romano television series “Men of a Certain Age.”

“My Sinatra’s” performance schedule is as follows: Thursday & Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $60, available online at or by phone at 212/352-3101 Sofia’s Downstairs Theatre (below Sofia’s Ristorante, in the Hotel Edison), 221 West 46th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues).

Thank you to all who opened up for this blog to talk about their LOVE and/or "obsessions" attached to a celebrity!

With grateful XOXOXs ,
Check out my site celebrating my forthcoming book on Hello, Dolly!
I want this to be a definitive account of Hello, Dolly!  If any of you reading this have appeared in any production of Dolly, I'm interested in speaking with you!
Do you have any pics? If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at


Join me and Ron Young! (original cast of Hello, Dolly!)
June 29
In his new memoir, "The Only Boy Who Danced: A Journey from Oklahoma to Broadway and Beyond", Ronald Young details an eventful life in the theater. The Only Boy Who Danced: A Journey from Oklahoma to Broadway and Beyond.

Sometimes Broadway dreams do come true. Fresh from the obscurity of living in the small farming community of Grove, Oklahoma, Ronald Young, at 22, is catapulted onto New York City's "Great White Way"... BROADWAY. After arriving in Manhattan on a Friday, he auditions for his first Broadway show on Monday. Bingo! After three call back auditions he snags his first dancing role in the soon to be mega hit "HELLO, DOLLY!" directed and choreographed by Gower Champion and starring Carol Channing. Armed with three music degrees and lots of enthusiasm he embarks on his career on Broadway.
His resume includes working with some of the legends of the theater: Ethel Merman, Shirley Booth, Angela Lansbury, Tommy Tune, Bernadette Peters, Joel Gray, Chita Rivera, Sandy Duncan, Georgia Engel and many others. He appeared in a host of shows: "MAME," "GEORGE M!" "THE BOY FRIEND," "MY ONE AND ONLY," "A CHORUS LINE" and the films "HAIR" and "ANNIE."
"THE ONLY BOY WHO DANCED" is a series of compelling, riveting stories about Ronald Young's personal quest to make it on Broadway. If you or a friend have hidden aspirations to make it on the New York theatrical scene, you will enjoy his tips and suggestions on how to break through this tough barrier.
Richard Skipper and Ronald Young are sitting down for an exploration of Ronald's incredible career in show business. Email Richard at for more info

Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
M blog tomorrow will be..Peter and Pia Cincotti: How Deep is The Ocean?

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

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

Richard Skipper,                            

This Blog is dedicated to ALL THE DOLLYS and ANYONE who has EVER had a connection with ANY of them on ANY Level! 


  1. I wrote Overcoming Celebrity Obsession. It is distressing that a man named James Chapman with his celebrity worship syndrome, has the whole world in his hand over what is really a mistake. A man named John Matlby created the Ceelbrity Worship Scale, which is simply a scale to measure how many and the percentage of each level these experimental subjects celebrity obsess. Yet, we would rather listen to someone who got the whole Celebrity Worship Scale thing confused.

    As for me, I know as much about celebrity obsessions as Frank Lloyd Wright knew about buildings. I would like a chance to be heard. My book Overcoming Celebrity Obsession can be found on Amazon. I would really appreciate it if anyone could please comment on it please.

  2. I would love to talk with you. Please contact and let me do a blog feature on YOU!
    Richard Skipper