Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Happy Birthday, Julie Wilson!

Courtesy: Gui Castro Neves
"Julie Wilson looks the part. She has the humor, the tolerance, she loves doing it, and it comes across so
clearly." Bobby Short, singer/pianist.

Irving Berlin epitomized Jerome Kern's famous maxim that "Irving Berlin has no place in American music -- he is American music."
The same can be said of Julie Wilson and her position in cabaret. She IS cabaret. I think she should be dubbed the First Lady of Cabaret. 

She is the last of a breed. 
Many a cabaret entertainer could take major lessons from her, both male and female.
With her trademarked boa and gardenia, she epitomizes the glamor of a bygone era, the swank supper club. No one can get more out of a lyric that Julie. With her, it was about the interpretation and meaning of a song as the writers intended. Her goal is always to serve the song...and as a result, she best serves the audience as well. Although, at ninety, her performing schedule as slowed down somewhat, I refuse to put her in the past tense. She is still a viable part of the cabaret scene. 
Entertaining has never been an option for Julie. It was something she HAD to do. Over the years, there were many late nights I would see her on the subway with her cloth hat and a brown paper bag that had a beaded gown in it after returning from another gig. She would be on her way back home to her abode in Jersey City. 

I refer to it as her abode because her home is on the stage. 
Two great ladies, Willa Kim, the costume designer and LEGS DIAMOND star, Julie Wilson.
The first time I saw Julie was when I was just an eager starry eyed kid seeing her in Legs Diamond starring Peter Allen on Broadway. 
Legs Diamond is a musical with a book by Harvey Fierstein and Charles Suppon based on the Warner Brothers film The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960), with a screenplay by Joseph Landon. The music and lyrics are by Peter Allen.The show, unfortunately, was ill fated. 
The musical opened on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on December 26, 1988 and closed on February 19, 1989 after 64 performances and 72 previews (far more than the usual 16-24 preview periods). Directed by Robert Allan Ackerman with choreography by Alan Johnson, the scenic design was by David Mitchell, costume design by Willa Kim, and lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (Associate). The cast included Peter Allen (Jack Diamond), Julie Wilson (Flo), Randall Edwards (Kiki Roberts), Brenda Braxton (Madge), Joe Silver (Arnold Rothstein), Jim Fyfe (Moran), Christian Kauffmann
(Bones), Pat McNamara (Devane), and Raymond Serra (Augie).
I saw the show on Valentine's Day, 1989. It was in celebration of my 28th birthday. The guy I was dating at the time, Frankie, got us the tickets. It, unfortunately, would be the only time I would ever see Peter Allen LIVE. He would be gone three years later. The closest I would get to that experience ever again was The Boy From Oz in 2003.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding Legs Diamond. It was a HUGE production. The preview period extended over and over again. It was constantly being scrutinized in the media. It was the Spiderman of it's day! I can only imagined if it would have survived as long as it did if today's social media was in place at the time. I think the critics and media were out to get Peter Allen because he was a gay man playing this gangster who was also a womanizer. 
I remember the day we went to the Mark Hellinger as one of those crisp cold New York winter days. Crystal blue sky and the excitement of seeing a Broadway musical, especially this one!
It was at the Mark Hellinger theatre, a GORGEOUS Broadway theatre which is sadly now a church.
I actually loved the show. I also remember that Julie Wilson came perilously close to losing her life that day. 
Julie was standing on stage doing a scene with Peter when a cable holding a white grand piano in the wings snapped and came careening on stage! A fast thinking crew member jumped out and pulled Julie out of harm's way. Julie made a joke about it and the show went on as planned! Little did I know that THAT woman would years later become a friend and part of my life.
In 1995, I made MY official cabaret debut starring as Judy Garland, believe it or not, in a show I created along with Lina Koutrokos called Live From Television City in Hollywood. The premise was that the audience was invited to a taping of The Judy Garland Show, a 'ficticious" show that never aired. It was a bumpy road. Someday ask Sidney Myer to tell you all about it! I was constantly competing with Tommy Femia, who was already established in that department! Lennie Watts had the best response of all, "On an island with 50,000 gay men, there should be enough room for two Judy Garlands!" Alas, there was not...at least where I was concerned. I kept the show running as long as I could. What to do next?
Steve Ross, Jerry Laird, John Wallowitch, Linda Amiel Burns, Bertram Ross, Julie Wilson, Jane Scheckter, Lynn DiMenna, Margo Astrachan and others.
After giving it my all, I finally closed the show. In January as I started creating the next chapter in my life, I saw an ad in Back Stage for Linda Amiel Burns' The Singing Experience. I called her up and agreed to take the course.
There were some major plusses that came out of that decision, Linda Amiel Burns, Ivan Farkas, and Carol Shedlin all became good friends of mine and are till this date. I highly recommend this course for anyone who has ever desired a chance to entertain in a nightclub but afraid to take that plunge. For me, it was all about comradery of being with friends each week with no other agenda but to sing and I am grateful for the experience.
The "graduation" took place on by birthday at The Triad on 72nd Street. Special guest star that night was Julie Wilson. I sang Judy Garland's arrangement of  Almost Like Being In Love/This Can't Be Love. After the show was over, Julie came up to me and grabbed me. She said, "You fake! You cheated!" I was more than a little taken aback!
Karen Mason, Julie Wilson, Harold Sanditen
She went on, "Your stage presence! Your style!" You've been on stage before! Why are you here?" I explained my situation and she said, "Consider me a fan! Let me know whenever and wherever you're performing and, God willing, I'll be there!"
By God, she stuck to that promise. I have found her in the audience of my events and performances more times than I can count!
She is probably the most supportive person I have EVER encountered in this business. When she isn't performing, she is in the audience of so many in this business, regardless of what level they are at.
Today, I celebrate Julie Wilson! Did you know she was the first choice to lead the Australian company of Hello, Dolly! in 1965? If she had done it, she
would have been the second actress to take this role, after Carol Channing! Her husband at the time forbade her from taking on this role. Julie told me it was one of the biggest disappointments of her career.
Tonight will be a HUGE disappointment for me.A celebration of Julie Wilson will take place  with an all star line up including Ann Hampton Calloway and Corinna Sowers Adler lead an all star cast for the Mabel Mercer Foundation at their annual cabaret convention — perfectly timed for Julie's actual birthday at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. Tonight's show will be hosted by KT Sullivan.

"Cabaret is one-to-one, like a party, and you're the hostess who wants to please. Most of all you have to have a good time and hope your audience joins in the fun." - Julie Wilson

From Julie's website: When Julie Wilson's eyes slyly skim the room, her husky voice toying with Stephen Sondheim's,Can That Boy Fox-Trot wow, does she ever evoke that old Maisonette magic of the 'Fifties, when she reigned as hostess over the famed St. Regis Hotel club room. Tossing that scarlet feather boa around her shoulders, Julie can still wear those same signature slinky, silky sequined gowns; her hair is back in a sleek chignon; that white gardenia, a tribute to the late Billie Holiday, is still tucked behind her left ear. But except for that svelte figure, sculptured profile, and generous smile, Julie Wilson has journeyed a long way from her famed niche during the glory days of cabaret.
And today she's better than ever -- dramatic, wise and experienced. Regarding the Stephen Sondheim classic song from Follies that she made her own classic, I'm
with cabaret entertainer, Jerome Elliot
Still Here
, Julie says,
"That song is everyone's survival song."

A few comments
I was at Julie Wilson's table at the Laurie Beechman in October. She was so engaging and affectionate. Just a sweetheart. Her friend, Deborah Lynn, encouraged me to listen to her music and live shows on YouTube. I took her suggestion, and now I'm a lifelong fan!
-Craig Witham

  
I was in London at the same time as Julie in the early 90s and went to see her at Pizza on the Park.  Billy Roy had somewhere to be after the show, so he asked me whether I would walk Julie the four or five blocks home to the flat where she was staying.  Of course, I said yes.  :)
At the time, I was working at a job that I found frustrating, promoting some performers, many of whom did not sing as well as I do, and yet I was trying to get them jobs.  I found it soul crushing.  I told Julie this as we walked VERY slowly.  We walked slowly not because Julie was slow, but because when you're with Julie, even if you are in the middle of a crowd, you are, at that moment, the only person in the world because she gives you her entire focus, even if that means slowing down to a snail's pace in order to do so.  
The only other person I have met who has this same quality is Jeremy Irons.
At one point, Julie stopped dead in her tracks and said "Paul, life is a gamble.  Start taking some chances."
I think I floated home.  And I kissed a statue on the lips on the way.  (Okay, I'd have some champagne at the show.) Her words were so empowering.  I decided to quit my job the minute I got back to New York, and I did. I wouldn't say she saved my life, but she saved my spirit.
I love you, Julie.
-Paul Lucas

The following is from Patty Farmer, author of The Persian Room Presents...
Julie had become a cherished friend, but I must admit I felt a bit intimidated, when we met over lunch at the Russian Tea Room, for the first time. I say we met for lunch, but show-business
Ben Gazzara with Julie Wilson
people keep their own schedules. “Even though its 1 p.m., it’s breakfast time for me,” Julie pointed out. “After so many years of working till the early, early hours and then sleeping until the afternoon, rising late has become a habit.”

Looking every bit the gently aging siren, Julie informed the waitress that she needed black coffee, right away.

“Are you serving breakfast?” she asked.

“No,” the waitress replied,  “but we have a very nice vichyssoise—cold soup.”

“My dear,” Julie replied, delighted with the opening, “I like my men and my soup hot!”
with Glen Charlow
 
I believe Mae West delivered a version of that line, but Julie’s performance was uniquely her own—sweet yet haughty, accompanied by a coy flutter of eyelashes for maximum dramatic effect. The waitress paused, and then gave a good hearty laugh, as if she couldn’t believe the innuendo came out of the grande dame seated before her. She also knew she’d have a good story to tell later.

It only took a little encouragement from me to persuade Julie to share how her showbiz journey began. “I was born in 1924 and my baptism name is Julia Mary. For some reason, I fell in love with a popular song of the time, ‘Mary Lou.’ 
Patty Farmer with Julie Wilson at the New York book signing
One day, my mother went to a PTA meeting at my grammar school, and the teacher told her that Mary Lou was a very good student, helped the smaller children, and was just a well behaved little girl. At this point, my mother stopped her, said she was sorry, but the teacher must have mixed her up with another mother—her daughter was Julia. The teacher informed her that, from day one, I had told them my name was Mary Lou and the school had only ever known me by that name. My wonderful mother replied, ‘Well, if she wants to be Mary Lou, let’s let her be Mary Lou!’ Mother knew I loved show business and that she wouldn’t be able to keep me off the stage. Somewhere along the line, I went back to being Julia—or Julie actually.

“I attended college in Omaha in 1942, and I
with son actor Holt McCallany
remember the tuition was only $64.00—a big difference from today! I dropped-out before graduation because I received an offer to hit the stage.  What happened was that my favorite aunt, Aunt Nori, bet me, she actually dared me to answer an ad to replace a sick performer in this tour that was going through our town. The tour had been put together by a big producer from Hollywood, so it was getting a lot of attention. I found out he was also looking for actresses to train and take back with the show to California.

“When I called the number listed in the ad, the girl who answered told me that Mr. Carroll had already started his return trip. But I asked if there was anyone else I could speak with and she was kind enough to connect me to the manager, Joe. 
By the time his gruff voice finally came on the phone, I don’t know where I found the courage to ask
with Bob Egan
him if they were still looking for replacements, but I did. Of course, he asked me, ‘What do you do?’ To which I replied, ‘What do you want me to do?’What a leading line. I was so young and naive that I could have gotten myself in trouble, but he was very professional and told me they were looking for singers and dancers. So he told me to come down so he could take a look at me.

“All he asked me to do was a simple tap-step and then he sent me upstairs to Minnie the wardrobe mistress. Minnie picked out an outfit for me and had to put five layers of falsies in the bra. When I went back downstairs, Joe said, ‘Well, you don’t have much on top and you’re a little hippy, but you’ll do.’ I started the next day at $50 dollars a week, which was an awful lot of money in those days–the Depression was still going on. That was my start and I loved it. Show business was what I was made for!”

In her day, Julie has had a Sultan follow her around the world vying
My Carol Channing Days with Julie Wilson
for her favors. She told me, “He always bought me huge magnums of champagne at the best night clubs and wanted me to marry him—even though he already had a few other wives.” She was dubbed the Queen of Cabaret more years ago than she wants me to mention, and still attends as many cabaret shows as she can to encourage and support emerging new talent.

with entertainer Peter Rapanaro
Happy Birthday, Julie! Here's to the next ninety years!
Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,



 
Check out my site celebrating the first Fifty Years of Hello, Dolly!

NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!



Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
            
At a benefit concert at John Bowab’s house in the Hollywood Hills to benefit the Actor’s Fund in the '90s
With Glenn Rosenblum and Steve Fickinger

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

with entertainer Natalie Douglas
Be sure and Save The Date to see Kim Grogg on November 14th in Go Where The Love Is
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TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY


Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com


 


3 comments:

  1. What a beautiful story! This lady sounds like a veritable treasure! God bless her. ��

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  2. I first met Julie in 1977 through David Little, just before she began to work again in NYC. She was funny, brilliantly talented and a total lady. I have seen her in cabaret many times, once even in the wings of a swanky club. Nobody sings Sondheim like Julie -- in fact, nobody sings ANYTHING like Julie. Happy 90th, Julie -- you are in good hands with Richard Skipper!!

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  3. Beautifully written, about a great lady. Thank you so much, Richard Skipper!

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