Sunday, July 27, 2014


Back in the days when John Cullum, my husband, was job hunting and I was nervously taking over as artistic director of my dance company, John and I biked everywhere.  Quite often on weekends, we went on excursions to areas of New York City that we'd never visited before.

It was a summer and fall thing to do. I loved the wind in my hair, and the exercise --  using my legs, my straight-backed posture -- tut-tut observing John, who rides his bike hunched over. I wanted my ex-tennis-champ husband to have a dancer’s posture -- he wanted me to bike like a biker, and stop worrying about how I looked.

Golly, I still remember when I was a little girl, what a big deal it was to learn how to ride a bike. Harder, even more important than learning to tie the laces on my shoes, riding a bike was a way of becoming a grownup who could head for the park where grownup, bigger kids were jumping rope and playing baseball.

Well, I did it -- learned, and it grew me up, like learning to drive a car did, when I was older. I had to learn to drive in order to be able to earn a living from performing on college campuses.

After John landed a role in Shakespeare in the Park, on our bikes, we visited all sorts of wonderful Central Park nooks and crannies. When John, who was understudying two leading roles in “Henry V” went on for the Chorus, and did the famous “Oh for a muse of fire” speech, he was discovered by Alan Lerner’s assistant.

While John was playing Sir Dinadan  in Lerner and Lowe's “Camelot," on his day off we rode our bikes up and down all the streets -- 41st to 50th street, stopping and studying the exteriors and backstage entrances of famous theaters, not realizing that John would be working on the stage in most of them someday.

Sometime around then, my second-hand pink bike (I’d painted it) was stolen. We’d been parking our bikes in the hallway of our building, where the main entrance door wasn't locked. We'd rented and transformed the 4th floor loft into a spacious home and dance studio, and didn't  have a buzzer that allowed us to unlock it for mail and package deliveries.

John’s blue bike (I’d painted it) was stolen when he was standing-by for Richard Burton in "Camelot," when Richard was off to Rome to co-star with Elizabeth Taylor in “Cleopatra” -- it changed their lives, as well as ours.

John’s rising income enabled us to install a buzzer system and buy a smallish Honda motorcycle from an actor pal, who was in “1776," when John was singing “Molasses to Rum.”

Though traffic and potholes scared me, while John auditioned for Lerner, over and over for a new show, working on the Viennese accent Lerner wanted the leading man to have, I started learning to ride “Harry” the Honda.  (That's what I called the Honda.)

Nevertheless, I usually sat behind John on Harry, clutching him as we explored NYC's downtown Jewish shopping district (open on Sundays) where I was shopping for fabric for 16 costumes for my solo performances at Lincoln Center.  Suddenly, “helmets” had to be worn. Golly, I hated the way my head sweated, when I wore a hard hat. John said, "stop worrying -- you look fine," but my hair looked lousy for hours, after a trip on Harry.

Also, Harry stalled sometimes, and there were skids -- a nasty skid hurt my collarbone, so Harry temporarily lived in the hallway. With John’s “On a Clear Day” earnings, we bought our building, also new bicycles, and baby furniture --  parenting's part of our growing up -- our little one, John David Cullum, was arriving.

As JD grew. we employed housekeeper-baby-sitters, and there were more jobs on Broadway for Dad, more prestigious bookings for Mom. We ventured out as a trio on Harry but it was nerve-racking, not safe -- city streets were getting to be very crowded. We gave Harry to John's understudy -- JC played Laertes in Burton’s “Hamlet,” and bought a tricycle for JD.

On Sundays, the three of us biked around the huge empty parking lot that's on our street -- us on two new bikes, JD on his first two wheeler -- then, a full-size bike -- wow, he was growing up fast.

When JC starred in “Deathtrap,” like rich folks, we commuted to a rented summer home in the Hamptons, exploring, on rented bikes, possible fabulous homes to buy. It was a fun game -- we weren’t rich, but a lot of things were in the offing -- meetings with Hal Prince about “On the 20th Century,” talk about John starring in a TV show, a tour for my adaptation of “Cyrano,” with John playing the part. All that, while I was on my way to London for a British Arts Council tour and JC was starring in “Shenandoah,” with JD playing a small role. No doubt about it -- the Cullums were in the busiest time, the prime of life. John bought a scooter but his producers objected, so he and JD traveled to the theater in the limo they provided.

Today, in NYC, there are bike paths everywhere, 290 miles of them have appeared under Mayor Bloomberg’s jurisdiction, and Citi Bikes -- thousands of bikes at 330 stations around the city, (around $9.95 per day.)

 I read recently that around 600,000 cars crawl into lower Manhattan each weekday; that 19,000 New Yorkers commute to work by bike. T'aint a friendly city these days -- car-guys hate bikers, bikers hate car-guys, pedestrians hate the cyclists whizzing the wrong way on one-way streets -- more than 500 people were injured by bikes last year.

Anyway, JD’s an actor in LA now, driving a fancy sports car, and our dusty new (old) bikes belong to a neighbor who has two rambunctious kids. Hey, if you want to ascend to a ripe and active old age, you live less dangerously. On weekends, if we’re not busy puttering and fixing worn-out things, JC’s on our treadmill in our studio, and I, being concerned with staying in shape, do my barre every day in my studio and practice standing tall.

I stand very tall, and so does John Cullum, when we go on one of our long, long walks.


Carola said...

Have you been to Amsterdam? The bicycles rule there. There are many more of them than cars and they are relentless. I got hit by a bicycle when I was there--she came around a corner really fast and without looking, and I was crossing the street. She was young. A nice older gentlemen just shook his head in disgust.

Sonnycole said...

I wish I could still bike...but I find I am challenged to keep my balance now on a bike...and I do have a covered up trike outside..but cant be bothered..I lover to walk...and walk...and walk...that is where I live in my life now.

I do miss at times my ride to the top of a very long steep I would have to get off the bike and walk for a good bit...then at the top I jump on and free ride down the hill...the wind whistling in my heart racing...blood pumping..there is no stopping this train...stay in your drive way dog! coming up the hill...the sports cars trying to make a flashing move around the slow pokes...No! you don't..Yikes!

I went airborne once...a car pulled out suddenly from a blind entrance on a rolling corner..I was flying like superman before I could even gather what happened...crashed to the asphalt and skidded like a cartoon character...long walk home with my broken bike...I think my pride hurt more than my injuries...almost!...LOL

So often while driving the bus I see people in my age group riding...and Ouch!..they suddenly flop to the the young I know it seems funny...but the brittle nature of not laughing matter...well?..if they get back up in one piece...Yes!...LOL

Laura Jensen said...

Thank you for the videos. I have a ticket from Hamlet 1964 and plan to view the disc from the library. My remembrance of the Electronovision play is limited. Thank you. I have seen some of the videos on You Tube and read the John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet also from the library.