And what a joy to behold: It was Monday evening at the Pantages Theatre as “The Actors Fund, for everyone in entertainment” held a very special benefit with five special ladies of the theater. Ladies of an Indeterminate Age was a more-than-special evening which began with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and ended with desserts and theatrical chatter. In between we were wowed with “Five Grand Ladies of the Musical Theater” all together sharing the spotlight on one stage!
Patricia Morison, still radiantly beautiful as ever with her unwavering mezzo-soprano voice, held court front and center with her dear friend; stunningly gorgeous, Anne Jeffreys, along with fellow beauties and stars all unique; Jane Kean, Pat Marshall, and Charlotte Rae. Such a glamorous tour de force telling tales from their hit shows and sometimes outrageous co-stars such as Yul Brynner sitting naked in a lotus position when Patricia Morison was asked to his dressing room to discuss the show, only to discover he was soaking in pigment to darken his skin for his character. The pro she was, she nonetheless cut to the chase and discussed the show and then refused his dinner proposal. They remained great friends throughout their lives (even without dinner) and it is important to mention the great star, Gertrude Lawrence, who was cast in the lead role as Anna in The King and I, also winning the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. She was extremely ill and dying with cancer and told her producers, “The person I want to replace me is Patricia Morison, and to make my role her own!” Only hours before her death, she asked her manager, Fanny Holtzmann, to arrange for Yul Brynner’s name to be added to the marquee of the St. James Theatre in New York, where it had only held her name.
Unfortunately Miss Morison was on tour starring in Kiss Me, Kate with Alfred Drake and was unable to move into the role until her tour was complete. As soon as possible she moved into the role of Anna in The King and I and once again theatrical history was made as she and Mr. Brynner toured for two years plus and there are magic moments filmed from the show that live on.
You may remember the wonderful movie called Star about the life of Miss Gertrude Laurence, staring Julie Andrews, which was wonderful.
Here is a little touch of theatrical history Miss Morison shared with us. In one of her first Broadway productions, she was Helen Hayes understudy for Victoria Regina, also starring Vincent Price. Of course, Miss Hayes never missed a performance!
Often a guest at Ten Chimneys, the Wisconsin home of the famous acting team; Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Miss Morison never missed a single one of their Broadway shows.
The evening was filled with all “The Grande Dames” singing and sharing their remembrances from such hit shows as Kiss Me, Kate, Mr. Wonderful, The Three Penny Opera, Pajama Game, Lil Abner, and Three Wishes for Jamie, just to name a few of the many highlights of the night. When Miss Anne Jeffreys in her stunning white ensemble with diamonds and white fur sang “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera, well, tears were flowing; at least I know mine were! And then again when Patricia Morison sang “Brush up Your Shakespeare,” a song sung by two men from Kiss Me, Kate, which she remarked she would stand in the wings at every performance and watch, well it brought down the house as well!
Miss Morison will be in New York at the end of this month and will be present for a special tribute to honor Cole Porter at Yale University.
Jean Kean wowed us all when she sang not once, but twice, at two different tempos, “It Was Just One of Those Things.” You talk about music to the ears, the night was full.
Pat Marshall wowed us with her hits and lit up the theater like a giant spotlight, being reprimanded by director John Bowab, saying, “And I told you ladies not to overdress.” Like she would ever pay attention to her director!
On the other hand the stand up microphone was readjusted so many times that when Charlotte Rae stood up to sing her last number, she automatically said, “Will you lower the microphone?” only to discover it was already at her height. So she said, “It appears I keep shrinking, but at least I’m still above ground!” What a sense of humor and what a great, fun night to behold.
And when I said “Oh Joyful Night” I sincerely mean it was a joy and it is saved on film for all of us to remember. A very kind and generous thank you to the Actors Fund! Please join; they support all our wonderful actors in times of need.