Legends in Our Hood: Billy Barnes and Friends
I want to Talk about a triumphant tribute by the Actors Fund, a thrilling acknowledgment of the talent and artistic legacy of Hollywood’s master of music, composer and lyricist Billy Barnes.
Billy Barnes: It was heartening to be with him and hold his hand while he sat in the front row of the SRO audience for this Actors Fund’s benefit. The lobby of the famed Pantages Theatre was transformed into a showcase for this, a more dazzling than could be imagined evening. With the great Steven Smith at the piano, Barry Williams opened, then gave the spotlight to Billy’s Divas, Jo Anne Worley, Eileen Barnett, Carole Cook, Jane A. Johnston, Karen Morrow and Nancy Dussault — each exceeding their own fantastic-ness singing Billy’s songs and pouring out their love and appreciation for this darling and wondrous man. This group of dynamic performers, from our community, all top Musical Comedy and Cabaret Stars, gave their time and their infinity of talent to honor a mutual love, Billy Barnes. He deserves it, as Billy is both friend and family, and a springboard for so many entertainers blessed careers.
Fate crossed my life with Billy in 1956 and I somehow became a cast member of the legendary “Billy Barnes Revue”. Everything good that happened to all of us players was a result of being a part of his brilliant Revues. We’ve been close for over 50 years. It’s been exciting to observe, as Billy became a go-to special material writer for TV, creating songs for the Danny Kaye, Sonny and Cher, Cher, Judy Garland and Carol Burnett Shows. And he did opening production numbers for several Oscar telecasts. Most fun was watching Billy on camera, accompanying his compositions for many of show business’s greatest on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, including Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, Carol Channing and Angela Lansbury. So much for so many years. Such proud-ess for Billy’s hit songs: “Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair” recorded by Barbra Streisand, and “Something Cool“, sung by jazz vocalist June Christy
And yet, Billy is just Billy: He loves to go to lunch with pals, usually Chinese Chicken Salad. He just discovered Pop Corn Shrimp when we (Ken Berry, Billy and I) met last week. He lives in the Hollywood Hills and I was privileged to be the Maid of Honor at his wedding to long-time partner Richard Jordon. Happiness.
Sadness. Billy was also a friend to Barbara Stuart …
Barbara Stuart: With sadness I need to talk about the passing of Barbara Stuart, who lived in our community for many decades. Always beautiful, always funny and always working, Barbara will be remembered, by those who knew and loved her, as a loyal friend, a generous giver of her home and her heart, and a beautiful actress. As Bunny in Gomer Pyle, she was deeply adored by the Mayberry Fans. Give her a Google and see how Barbara Stuart entertained you in so many diverse ways.
We were strippers together in 1964, in a memorable Dick Van Dyke Show called “Dear Mrs. Petrie, Your Husband Is in Jail”. She was called Maureen Core, dressed in short military glitz, with a small working canon. I was her partner Alberta Schweitzer, wearing a leotard and a long veiled pith helmet. We both ended up in the clink along with Dick. So much fun! We were neighbors, friends and colleagues. And I need to offer a warm recognition to Barbara Stuart’s best pal, the exceptional Ruta Lee. When the chips were down, Ruta was a great example of what a good friend really is. Brava. A standing “O” for all concerned ….. we’ll Talk.