Thursday, August 6, 2009

"BREAK A LEG" SAID CLORIS L.

I needed money.

An agent from my Dance Drama Duo days phoned -- the midday show on WPIX TV wanted some dancing tomorrow -- two and a half minutes of dance before Cloris Leachman's spot on the show.

I said, "Uh-a-a- ..." Quickly explained that Mark Ryder wasn't available (we were divorced), but I could do a solo."

I got the booking. I had a solo, but it was "Ballad of the False Lady," not appropriate for TV, seven-minutes long, very "modern dance" in a long black dress.

Somebody said, If there's a will, there's a way ...

Sitting on the piano stool, I stared at my stack of records. (This was back in the days of 78's and the LP's.) I'd been single for a month. I'd been playing "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." The Woody Herman and his orchestra version was on my record player's spindle, echoing in my lovelorn brain.

I turned the record over. The other side, "Laughing Boy Blues." was a weird piece -- woodwinds, then laughter, probably the guys in the band doing the "ha ha ha ha" theme, while the drummer did a jazzy, rock and roll rhythmic improvisation.

So I whirled on the piano stool, did a bouncy, bent-kneed step in my bare feet, echoing it with floppy arms. I un-clipped my hair -- tossed my hair and head up and down with the laughter theme, each time wilder, and faster. When the woodwinds were doing their moan theme, I imitated it with shoulders, and mournful frowning face.

I whipped up a costume-- blue leotard top and short skirt I sewed on my sewing machine -- seams and the hem were crooked, but with me on the piano stool, who would notice?

Cloris Leachman, the guest star, was already a name in television, theater, and films. She attended North Western University with one of my sisters . She watched me doing my number in the rehearsal. The station's piano stool whirled more easily, and faster than mine, making my movements more exciting. The stagehands and camera guys gave me the thumbs up, and appreciative nods.

When I introduced myself to Miss Leachman, she murmured, "Yes, I do remember your sister, your younger sister of course."

"Oh no..." I corrected her. "She's my older sister ."

"Oh .. really?" C.L. murmured skeptically.

"I'm the younger sister. She's definitely my older sister."

C.L.. gave me a withering look and turned away. Had I offended her? Maybe she didn't want me to think of her as a contemporary of my older sister.

At show time, dressed in my costume I warmed up holding onto a chair.

"Stand by." called the AD.

Cloris Leachman leaned in and said, "My God, you're wearing THAT, that ratty thing? You look awful!"

"Places Miss F." The AD called.

Cloris L caroled sweetly, with marvelous diction. "Break a leg, dear!"

Her good luck wish is not what a dancer needs to hear, and "ratty awful" was echoing as I did my "Laughing Boy Blues" bouncing, whirling, hair flying. a big down-frown on my face.

It was a hit. WPIX asked me back to do it again, the following week.

I didn't watched Cloris Leachman on "Dancing with the Stars." I wasn't thinking "break a leg, dear" but I was kind of relieved when I heard that she and her partner got the lowest scores.

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