TAMMY

Tammy Grimes

Tammy Grimes

I knew TAMMY GRIMES.
I had worked with her a bit, and kept bringing her in for Auditions over the years.
She was known for her eccentricities,
But invariably a constant Delight!

One of my first Jobs out of College was as Assistant to the Producer of SUNSET,
A Musical at the VILLAGE GATE
Which opened on November 7th, 1983
And closed on November 7th, 1983.
It was a Musical based on the film SUNSET BOULEVARD — an idea, clearly, ahead of its Time!
sunset-2
TAMMY was a STAR!
She had won a Tony Award in 1961 for her role in the Musical THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN, beating out CHITA RIVERA in BYE BYE BIRDIE,
and another in 1971 for her role in the revival of NOEL COWARD’s PRIVATE LIVES, beating out HELEN HAYES in HARVEY.
She was indelibly etched in the Golden Age of Broadway!
In 2003, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
Oxford Reference describes her as “a small fiery actress with a buzz-saw voice,”
and a New York Times Review described her singing voice as “a low, throaty quiver, a hum that takes wings”

The Stories are the Stuff of Theater Legend, and I was there for many of them!
During the Production of SUNSET, I had to talk with TAMMY many times.
I Loved her answering machine which greeted you in her unmistakable voice with an elongated, “Hellllllooooooooooooooo!”
Then a long pause, followed by,
“GooooooodByyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyye!”
Then a Beep — your cue to leave a message.

I called to let her know that we were now at deadline to receive her Bio for the Program.
“My Bio,” she told me quite definitively, “will be My Name [pause for effect] followed by a Long, Blank, Space!”
sunset
At the Invited Dress Rehearsal at the Village Gate, we had a good number of people, seated in rows at the long tables, cramped together, which were the signature set-up of that particular space.
The Overture played.
The silhouettes of the four characters appeared in Downward SpotLights — Well, three of them appeared.
The fourth SpotLight appeared with No One in it, and it was clear that TAMMY was missing.
Everyone wondered what was happening.
It was an Invited Dress — perhaps she was late due to a costume problem?
The Overture continued.
And we in the audience started having the backs of our chairs moved as a woman pushed through the audience, and a distinctive and unmistakable Voice whispered,
“Excuse me!”
“Excuse me!”
And then, “I’m supposed to be Up There,” pointing with her finger to the Stage.

She climbed onto the Stage, a Famous Stage with a notorious Large Pole, perhaps three or four feet in diameter, toward Stage Right.
She stood in front of it.
Stage Manager, DUANE MAZEY stopped the show at that point, to start again, calling to Assistant Stage Manager, JESSICA MOLASKEY, who was BackStage,
“JESSICA, please help TAMMY! She can’t see!”
TAMMY raised her hand and with the force and authority of a True Star, she corrected him, pronouncing, “I. CAN. SEE.”
Then she turned around and walked directly into the Pole.

She was Funny and Eccentric and Wonderful, as Stars of the Golden Age of Broadway all seemed to be!
There was a genuine Self-Effacing Humour which they all shared when you’d meet and get to know them.
They somehow didn’t take it all so seriously.
TAMMY was like that!

I heard a story of her starring in a Restoration Comedy at ARENA STAGE.
The Theatre also had a Second Stage, more intimate space.
Concurrently, they were running a Contemporary Black Play in the Smaller Space.
And weren’t Cast Members and Audience Members both surprised when a Famous Woman in Period Dress came through the fire door and walked across the stage in the middle of their show, on her way to her entrance.

A friend did a Benefit with TAMMY.
All of the Women shared the same Dressing Room for this event.
My friend arrived, and announced, somewhat shocked and appalled, to all of the women getting into make-up,
“I just saw a woman peeing on the street!”
The familiar husky voice of the Evening’s Star was heard to reply, without missing a beat, “Oh, I’ve done that!”
A shocked silence fell over the room, with jaws dropped.
Seeming unphased, TAMMY continued, “You know the secret to that is you just Keeeeeep Walking!”

Some years later, I brought TAMMY in for a project I was Casting for Disney.
It was just a meeting.
She was on in years now, but I thought a perfect Candidate for a Fairy GodMother-like Character.
She sat and talked and completely enchanted everyone in the room.
I helped her along reminding her of her Credits and things she had done.
The Music Director asked, “So ARNOLD says you recorded some Albums? That’s Wonderful! What kinds of things did you sing? Was it Standards?”
TAMMY was leaning back in her chair with her fingers laced behind her head — she looked blankly, then turned her glance toward me and asked, “Did I do Standards?”
I smiled warmly, for I adored her, and the Wonderful Impression she was Making.
“Yes,” I reassured her, “you did.”
She turned her glance back to the Music Director and replied, “Apparently, I Did!”

The Last Time I saw TAMMY, the YORK THEATRE COMPANY had produced a Mufti Revival of the Musical HIGH SPIRITS, with JANINE LAMANNA in the Role of Elvira which TAMMY had originated. TAMMY was present for a TalkBack afterward, and she and I got to talk and share some Delightful Memories.

Tammy Grimes

Tammy Grimes

I am Grateful to have known this Force of Nature, in all of her Quirky Brilliance and Stalwart Eccentricity! I wish we had more like her! She taught me that a great part of being a Star is not just Talent, but also to not take yourself So Seriously, and to Have FUN, because it all goes eventually, no matter how Famous you are! So You might as well have Some FUN along the way!
And we can all be Stars, with that attitude!


TAMMY GRIMES
January 30, 1934 – October 30, 2016

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/theater/tammy-grimes-died.html?_r=0

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2 Comments

  1. Erika Alvarez

     /  November 2, 2016

    That was a beautiful tribute, Arnold. Thanks for sharing. – Erika

    Reply

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