Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella! Fifty Years Ago Tonight: A Lovely Night Then and Now

Lesley Ann Warren as Cinderella
“The World’s Most Beloved Fairy Tale Comes Alive!”
– Gene Siskel

Cinderella comes to life in this 50th Anniversary Edition of the most beloved fairy tale of all time. A sparkling fantasy of music, magic and romance, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella captivates from overture to finale with a delightful score and stunning performances from an all-star cast.
Academy Award® nominee Lesley Ann Warren is charming as the raggedy waif turned belle of the ball with Broadway star Stuart Damon as the Prince.
Also starring Oscar® nominee Walter Pidgeon and Academy Award® winners Ginger Rogers and Celeste Holm, Cinderella will waltz into the hearts of the entire family and live happily ever after as one of the most irresistible musicals ever made.
Featuring a new digital transfer from the original master, showcasing this treasured classic with the best picture quality imaginable. DVD includes special features including a 2001 Featurette on the making of the TV Special with numerous interviews.
This production is the basis for the hit musical now touring the United States. For tickets visit www.cinderellaonbroadway.com

Fifty years ago tonight, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella which introduced Lesley Ann Warren to the world aired for the first time on television.
The 1965 version was directed by Charles S. Dubin with choreography by Eugene Loring and recorded on videotape (at CBS Television City in Hollywood) for later broadcast. I remember we were at my paternal grandparents to watch it. They had a color television. From the moment that I heard the opening strains of the overture, I was entranced, transfixed, and I have been every since.I fell in love with the story. I fell in love with the music. Everyone has their own special Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. THIS VERSION is mine. For me, every time I listen to the cast recording, or watch the NEW DVD, it takes me right back to my grandparents home in South Carolina in 1965.
On September 24th, 2014, thanks to Douglas Denoff, who produced the recent Shout! DVD release of Cinderella and Steven Sorrentino of Barnes andoble, 86th and Lexinton store in NYC, I was allowed to interview Lesley Ann Warren at Barnes and Noble here in New York City! I say "allowed" because as soon as he mentioned that he was working on this project, I begged for the opportunity to interview her.
Photo credit: Stephen Moser
The planets aligned in September to make this become a reality. This blog today is a transcript of our interview. I hope all of you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed being able to share the stage with Lesley Ann Warren for one magical night!
Steven Sorrentino welcomed the audience to Barnes and Noble at the 86th and Lexington Store sharing in the same excitement that both Douglas and I shared. Only the baby boomers who grew up on the THREE networks can truly understand what a special time that was and the uniqueness of sharing in these television specials and spectaculars with our families. We didn't have the luxury of popping in a DVD every time we got the urge to see something. You saw it when it aired, or you missed out!
When we did our interview, she even sang a few of her songs from this telecast. It was the FIRST time she
had ever sung those songs publicly.
I am a TRUE Baby Boomer. Baby boomers are people born during the demographic Post–World War II baby boom between the years 1946 and 1964. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the term "baby boomer" is also used in a cultural context. I came in almost just under the wire and Cinderella's airing and impact came at the beginning of the next generation.
For those of us who grew up in the sixties and seventies, THIS version of Cinderella, along with the annual airings of The Wizard of Oz were EVENTS that we lived for each year. These were the days before VCRs and DVDs and video tapes.
I had a cassette tape recorder and years later, I recorded it and learned every song and every word of dialogue. Not only did I want to be the prince, but I also wanted to be Cinderella!
I also wanted to be the Fairy Godmother. This probably tells you more than you desire to know about my childhood.
Let's go back to the beginning... Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella is a musical written for television, with music by Richard Rodgers and a book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
Singer Peggy Eason meets Cinderella!
It is based upon the fairy tale Cinderella, particularly the French version Cendrillon, ou la Petite Pantoufle de Verre, by Charles Perrault. The story concerns a young woman forced into a life of servitude by her cruel stepmother and self-centered stepsisters, who dreams of a better life. With the help of her Fairy Godmother, Cinderella is transformed into a Princess and finds her Prince. (Source: Wikipedia)
In 1957, Rodgers and Hammerstein had been commissioned to create a made for television musical, preferably a fairy tale, after the success of Mary Martin's Peter Pan. The original 1954 Broadway production, starring Mary Martin as Peter and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook, earned Tony Awards for both stars.
It was followed by NBC telecasts of it in 1955 and 1956. (It would air again in 1960).
When Rodgers and Hammerstein were asked to create a Fairy tale, they thought, "What could be better than Cinderella?" In 1957, they created a ONE NIGHT ONLY event starring Julie Andrews and Jon Cypher. It was LIVE. There was also a kinescope which got transferred to tape and is now also available on DVD.
The film quality of that production, unfortunately, is not too great, although they have done the best that could possibly do with modern technology.
Luckily, for the follow-up repeat version with Lesley Ann Warren, it was done as a color television special.  
Because of the magic of technology, they have been able to RESTORE this DVD to look EXACTLY as I remember it the first time I saw it.
A friend of mine posted on Facebook today: Saw her do it. In my own little corner, in my own little room. Do I love her because she's
beautiful, or is she beautiful because I love her? Seems like ten minutes ago. Fifty years? Impossible.

So come back with me to February 22nd, 1965, for the first broadcast of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1965 version of Cinderella. CLICK HERE (Courtesy, Douglas Denoff).
You'll have to purchase the DVD to see the rest!

Before Lesley and I sat down to talk, she sang Ten Minutes Ago.
My entire childhood raced right through my head. She hasn't aged a bit as these photos from our night together will attest. It was a special moment. She had not sung any of these songs since 1965.
with Andy Einhorn (Musical director), Jeffrey Pew, Ann Harada, Lesley Ann Warren, Robyn Goodman (producer), Branch Woodman.
When I was doing my research for our interview, the one comment I kpt finding throughout the internet is that Lesley Ann Warren is OUR Cinderella. Lesley told me that she is so deeply appreciative of the outpouring of love from her fans. It means the world to her. The night before our interview, we were both at the Broadway production, thanks to the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization. At the finale, Lesley joined the cast onstage for a chorus of Impossible!
She said it was very moving to hear that score again. It was definitely moving for all of us who were in attendance.
Me with Lesley and Douglas Denoff
She got very emotional. She says it is a very interesting sense memory thing. When she hears the score, she goes right back to the emotional place that she was in when she did Cinderella.She goes right back to being that girl. She BELIEVED at the time.
The Broadway show (now on tour)was a VERY different retelling from the 1965 version. This re-make, commissioned by Rodgers (Hammerstein had died in 1960) and written by Joseph Schrank, used a new script that hewed closer to the traditional tale, although nearly all of
the original songs were retained and sung in their original settings.
Each version has been slightly different.
A new sequence opens this version: the Prince stops at Cinderella's house with his retinue for a drink of water after returning from his travels.
When Cinderella happened for Lesley, she was doing 110 in the Shade on Broadway. Charles Dubin, who would be directing Cinderella came to see the show.
with ME, Doug Denoff, Lesley, Steven Sorrentino from Barnes and Noble
Lesley's manager knew about the auditions for Cinderella. Lesley got an audition and auditioned for Richard Rodgers and Johnny Green, the conductor, Eugene Loring (choreographer), and director Charles Dubin.She was so nervous and so afraid. She was insecure and intimidated by all these people and, according to Lesley, she gave a really bad audition. Richard Rodgers said to Charles Dubin, "I don't think so." Because Dubin had seen Lesley on stage, doing what she does, he asked Richard Rodgers to give her one more chance. She was brought back, this time at Richard Rodgers apartment. Everybody that she auditioned for before were still there. He had her sing it the way he wanted her to sing it and that was that, she was Cinderella!
Pat Carroll as Prunella, Jo Van Fleet as the Stepmother, and Barbara Ruick as Esmerelda
Interestingly enough, it was not a difficult transition for Lesley to go from being a stage actress to playing before a camera. She had been studying at the Actor's Studio with Lee Strasberg.The way that she was taught was that you are authentic, you have a subtext, you have personalization, you do your homework on the character and then it is up to the director to modulate what is needed. Intuitively, she sort of knew what was needed for the smaller screen.
Lesley does not know if anyone else actually "tested" for the role. She did not do a screen test either. She just sat down next to Richard Rodgers and sang My Funny Valentine. She doesn't really remember the time frame from auditioning to getting the role, but she thinks it was pretty fast.
Ginger Rogers as The Queen
She had to leave 110 in the Shade temporarily to go out to California to CBS. They rehearsed and shot everything in three weeks.
Lesley had one of the most amazing "supporting" casts that any actress could ever dream of. She didn't know who was in place for all the roles prior to beginning work on this project.
Lesley had started out as a dancer so getting to work with Ginger Rogers, who Lesley grew up watching in the movies, was astounding. Then, being from the Actor's Studio, and working with Academy Award winning Actors Studio actress, Jo Van Fleet. Then there was the magnificent Celeste Holm. Lesley said, "I pretty much was just like Cinderella.: She WAS incredibly intimated trying to figure out where to go. It was an amazing extraordinary time.
The film process was not in a continuous process. It was broken up. There were a few logistical challenges, such as the horses on the set. They shot really long hours. At that time, she didn't think there were any AFTRA or SAG boundaries on the number of hours they could film.
with Stuart Damon
Sometimes they were filming anywhere from seventeen to twenty hours straight. They would send Stuart Damon, who played the Prince, and Lesley across the street to the Farmer's Daughter Hotel across the street to sleep for four hours (separate rooms, of course!) before returning to shoot some more. They were keeping crazy hours!
Believe it or not, Stuart was not the first choice as the Prince! It was supposed to be Jack Jones. Lesley had a week of rehearsals with Jack. 
Richard Rodgers was notorious for wanting his songs to be sung in the cadence and the rhythm that HE wanted. Jack came from the world of nightclubs and jazz. He was putting his own interpretation on the music. 
Richard Rodgers kept trying to give Jack Jones the opportunity to sing the songs as he desired them sung. It was too difficult for Jack. He was so used to his jazz riffs and he got replaced.
There is such a chemistry between Lesley and Stuart that it was meant to be.
Lesley had never met Stuart prior to their working together. She pretty much met everyone for the first time on that shoot.
Lesley has no idea how much her ball gown weighed, but she had to have shots administered in her shoulders due to the intense weight of the gown. It was so heavy and she was in it for so many hours. Her muscles were just tensing up just trying to hold up the dress.
Lesley is not sure of the time lapse between completion of filming and the first airing but is thinking that it may have been about a year. 
As soon as filming ended, Lesley went back into 110 in The Shade and was now doing the National Tour.
Photo credit: Stephen Moser
She stayed with the tour for about six months.
The first broadcast was on February 22, 1965, and it was rebroadcast eight times through February 1974.The 1965 debut had a Nielsen rating of 42.3, making it the highest-rated non-sports special on CBS from the beginning of the Nielsen ratings until 2009, and the 50th highest-rated show of any kind during that period.
She was known nationwide after that first airing.
She was so young and her entire focus was being the best actress she possibly could be, and sharing whatever talents she was blessed with. She wasn't thinking much about fame at that time. She was driven by the desire to be great at her work. Her focus was not on the celebrity aspect of it all. What she did feel after the initial airing was this incredible outpouring of love.
My Blog on Celeste Holm
It was astounding to her and still is. People have embraced this version and the interpretation they brought so much.
I asked Lesley if she remembers where she was the first time she saw it. She doesn't remember. I also asked if she kept in touch with anyone from this cast. Celeste was a dear friend of mine and spoke highly of Lesley on more than one occasion.
Just before my interview with Lesley, I spoke with Pat Carroll and she had wonderful things to say about Lesley. I am still hoping to interview her!
Pat and Lesley would go on to do Threepenny Opera together in California. Lesley adores her. They had a fantastic time together. Celeste and Lesley did remain in touch, although not frequently.
Stuart and Lesley stayed in touch. "Jo Van Fleet hated me, I'm sure!"
Charles Dubin and Lesley remained very close. She also remained close with Richard Rodgers. She has fond memories of him teaching her the songs. He was a constant presence on the set. He would be there every morning before everyone and remained straight through. She also stayed in touch with Johnny Green.
Lesley was surprised that it continued to run for the next seven years. Initially, she was still very young. However, as time went on, she didn't want to be pigeonholed as just Cinderella. She was worried about it. She thought, "Gosh! People aren't going to give me the opportunity to do something else. But I was wrong. They did." It did become a major part of her legacy. Sometime ago, there was a screening in Los Angeles, and Lesley received two letters. One was from director Rob Marshall. He wrote that he and his sister, Kathleen Marshall, would watch it every year and that was why he wanted to become a musical theatre director. Lee Daniels, who directed Precious, also wrote a letter to Lesley saying that he had a very painful childhood for he and his sisters. In My Own Little Corner.   It is sad, but it was so powerful for Lesley to hear that.
Thank you, Jeff Marquis for this collage!
There was a lot of chaos in their household. They would watch this every year and when things got really bad for him, he would go into the bathroom and sing
To realize that something that she was blessed to do, had that kind of hope for a young child. I don't believe there is ANYONE who has ever seen this version has any doubt that Lesley IS Cinderella, In my opinion, no pone has ever been able to wear those glass slippers, the way that Lesley does.
Nancy Anderson, Me Celeste, Frank Basile at The Iguana 11/11/2009
There was a huge disappointment, for me, when that ninth year and consecutive telecast didn't happen.
For a long time, so many people were so frustrated that they could no longer see it. Now, those from my generation are sharing it with their children and grandchildren.
When I first moved to New York, I looked Celeste Holm up in the white pages of the New York City phone directory. I found her listed under, "Holm, C.". I called and asked if she was the Fairy Godmother! She answered, "Why, yes, I am!" I asked, "What happened? Why aren't they showing this anymore?" I called CBS. I wanted to start a letter writing campaign. I was told that times have changed  and they didn't think "modern audiences" would tune in for it.I think it should be shown again in Prime Time! CBS, are you listening? Leslie is not certain about that prime time audience, but she does know that so many people have been longing to see it again. She has received so many letters over the years with so many requests to see it again. She gets letters from teachers of third grade classes who show it. Lesley believes that it will do well.
The costume designer, George Whittaker, had given the dress and crown to a dear friend of his in Virginia. She displayed it in her antique store. Children would come in and try the crown on.
Unbeknownst to Lesley, her husband saw on some site that she was looking to have the crown go home to its rightful owner. He contacted her and it turned out that she was very ill and she wanted the crown to go back to Lesley. He got the crown, put it in this glass dome, along with a picture of Lesley as Cinderella, and he sent her a thank you note just before she passed away.
She was so happy to have it go back and Lesley now has it!
Not only does Lesley not have the glass slippers, she has no idea where they went.
If she could go back, she would not change a thing when it comes to Cinderella and its legacy. She is so proud of it and it is just not a role she played. She BELIEVED in her story. She felt like that girl experiencing it all. She identified with those feelings. She didn't see it as a fairy tale, but a real story about a girl so down beaten and struggling.
Kudos to Shout! and Douglas Denoff for doing such an amazing job for allowing us baby boomers to revisit this classic and for the next generation and all that will follow. They have done an amazing job!
Looking forward, Lesley has been approached about a return to Broadway. Fingers are crossed!
We opened the floor to questions and a lady asked if the glass slippers were real glass. Lesley quickly responded, "No. That would have been impossible to dance in", to which I replied, "Impossible?", which brought the house down!
Julie Andrews, Lesley Ann Warren, Walter Mirisch, Blake Edwards
They were actually a "dancer's kind of plastic" making them easy to dance in.
Someone asked if, when she did Victor/Victoria, if anyone ever put that the two Cinderellas were appearing together. Her response was that Blake Edwards did. Julie Andrews was married to Blake who was directing it. When Lesley went to meet Blake for her interview, that was one of the things they talked about. They laughed about it. He even talked about Julie Andrews  going topless in S.O.B.
Lesley was brilliant in Victor/Victoria and even garnered an Academy Award nomination.
Lesley admits that she hasn't seen the Brandy version of Cinderella, but as I mentioned earlier, we both were at the Broadway production the night before our interview. She felt that the Broadway version was charming and beautiful. Keke Palmer gorgeously performed the role and was wonderful and beautiful. Of course, it was a very different retelling.

Lesley started as a ballet dancer in New York. She studied from the time she was six. When she was fourteen, a lot of her girlfriends were in Bye, Bye Birdie on Broadway. She would go and stand backstage and watch them. She thought, "One day, I can do that." She started to morph into musical theatre. She started studying acting and singing  and she slowly drifted away from ballet and started auditioning right away. She threw herself into that world and got her first show 110 in The Shade, when she was seventeen.She auditioned for Liesel in The Sound of Music film along with Mia Farrow. Neither got cast.Charmian Carr played eldest von Trapp daughter Liesl.

It took Lesley a long time to live Happily Ever After, but she HAS achieved that! It was a dream come true
for me to sit down and chat with Lesley about such an iconic part of my life and the lives of so many others.
Thank you, Lesley Ann Warren, for all the joy you have given all of us.
Check out Walter McBride's photos .
Thank you, Stephen Mosher for all your GREAT photos!
Thank you Lisa Ann-Eigidi for capturing this night!
Thank you to Barnes and Noble and the entire staff for helping to create a magical wonderful evening!.

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 legacy of Jerry Herman's 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!    
            
 Please join Richard Skipper in NYC February 25th!. He will be interviewing Lee Roy Reams LIVE ON STAGE to benefit The Spiral Theatre Studio at 300 West 43rd Street, 6th Floor New York, NY 10036 at 8PM!  The evening with Lee Roy Reams will begin with a Wine and Cheese mixer at 7:30 PM, and interview of Lee Roy Reams at 8 PM promptly. Call me if interested. 845-365-0720 $30.00 RESERVATIONS A MUST! Please reserve today!! SEATING IS LIMITED!
Photo credit: Stephen Moser


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


IF you like this blog, please leave a comment and share on Twitter and Facebook


Photo credit: Stephen Moser
Keeping Entertainment LIVE!
 
TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY

Reserve TODAY for the 30th Annual Bistro Awards at The Gotham Comedy Club March 4th! 
CLICK HERE FOR LIST OF 2015 WINNERS
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com
 
Thank you, Douglas Denoff for proving that Impossible Things are Happening Every Day






5 comments:

  1. A FANTASTIC BLOG ABOUT A MAGICAL INTERVIEW!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for sharing! I have often wondered why they don't air it any more! It was a tradition for me in the fall looking forward to Cinderella and the Wizard of Oz....how can we get them to air it again??? In my opinion it is the ONLY Cinderella!

      Delete
  2. I feel as if I have gotten to know Lesley through your piece. I was enchanted by this version of Cinderella as well, and went around singing "Impossible" for weeks. It still embodies a philosophy I try to share.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I feel as if I have gotten to know Lesley through your piece. I was enchanted by this version of Cinderella as well, and went around singing "Impossible" for weeks. It still embodies a philosophy I try to share.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wonderful article. This was my favorite as a child. Watched it every year. Nothing could ever beat that cast. Amazing. And of course I bet all fans can sing every word of the score. Pure magic.

    ReplyDelete