Embedded at Endgame – Opening

Charlotte Rae, James Greene, Endgame Photo credit above to Craig Schwartz

Today is the long awaited opening night of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. We are happy to have our niece, Martha here for the opening, who drove down from Los Osos yesterday, bringing her usual bounty of vegetables, or home-made breads to add to our larder. She arrived with a huge box of the biggest strawberries I’ve ever seen, some of which were quartered in a bowl on the counter this morning when we emerged from our bedroom at 9:15. Mind you, I was supposed to emerge at 7:00, so as to be ready to go to my YAS class at 8:30, but that didn’t happen. I swatted the clock onto the floor, coughed, donned my purple eye shades, and rolled over onto my side back into slumber.

This morning as we drank our tea and coffee, we talked about opening nights in general. Jimmie, in his long Broadway and off-Broadway career has had probably over 100 openings. I asked him what his favorite opening was.

The Iceman Cometh.

Which one?

Because he had done the revival in 1956 and again in 1985. Both times, as in Endgame, he played the same role, thirty years apart in time. In The Iceman Cometh, Eugene O’Neill’s four and three quarter hour masterpiece portrays the denizens of a dingy bar who clutch their “pipe dreams”, stories they tell themselves and each other about how they will one day emerge as successful participants in society. The play featured a startling Act IV confession by the character of Hickey. In 1985, it was the play that brought us first to Los Angeles, direct from the Washington DC performances at the Kennedy Center.

In 1956 when we went on stage in the semi darkness for the final act, the audience broke out in applause as we entered. Peter Falk (who played Rocky the bartender) leaned over to Jason Robards (Hickey) and said, “Don’t blow it now, Jason!”

James Greene recalling the opening night of the 1956 production of The Iceman Cometh

That production was done at Circle-In-The Square, a funky little cabaret space, which, in the set’s thrust configuration (David Hays), placed the audience elbow to elbow with the inhabitants of Harry Hope’s bar. Jimmie was working a day job as well as acting in the production – he got up early in the morning for his job at a cigarette store in the village during the day and frequently came to the theatre exhausted. During the first act, all the actors were discovered at their tables, many of them with their heads down, sleeping. Jimmie, who played “Jimmy Tomorrow,” would take advantage of this opening to take a nap each night, because a fight broke out near his table which would wake him up. One night, the fight woke him up, and immediately, (like me this morning when I swatted my alarm clock) he fell back asleep. Suddenly he heard another of the actors calling, “Jimmy! Jimmy!” He sat bolt upright, said his first brief line, then began shaking uncontrollably, appropriate behavior for his sodden character.

That opening night party took place at Jose Quintero’s Greenwich village apartment. They were very aware of the positive feedback of the opening. It had been an early performance, 5:00pm, which would have come down around 9:45pm. Someone would have been sent out at or after midnight to the back of the New York Times building to grab a paper and bring it back to report to all the results of Brook Atkinson’s review. This production, which was off-Broadway, ultimately garnered massive support both critically and via word of mouth, resulting in a run of 565 performances.

Jimmie talked about the opening 29 years later of the Broadway production of Iceman, again starring Jason Robards as Hickey and himself as Jimmy Tomorrow, again directed by Jose Quintero.

At Lunt-Fontanne theatre in 1985 – I could look out on the street from my dressing room. After Act II I remember looking out and seeing all the other theatres letting out, when we had over an hour left in the play.

That opening night would have taken place at Sardis, the old standard for opening night parties, where the ghosts of living and past performers past looked down from the walls covered with caricatures like the hallways at Hogwarts.

Many people have described the opening nights at Sardis before me, and better, but I had the privilege of attending Jimmie’s last opening on Broadway, for David Hirson’s “La Bête.” At that time, in 1991, the party was festive with an underlying nervous energy until someone arrived with the review of the play, and depending on the review, either an atmosphere of celebration or the miasma of disappointment would sweep over the party, causing an early closure to the party. All the photos in the montage below were taken before the review arrived, which sent us all scurrying to cabs. Need I say more? I was, in fact, so incensed, that I sent a poem to Frank Rich, at that time, the NY Times Theatre critic, entitled “Death by Cheese,” which was written in verse, like La Bête was. There was, in the play, a reference to that poem, but no poem itself. As Jimmie’s opening night present to the company, I composed the poem, which was hysterical, if I do say so myself. You’ll have to trust me on that because I did not keep a copy of it, and didn’t record it on a computer so it’s lost in the mists of time. I subsequently sent it to Frank Rich in protest for his tepid review of the play. Maybe he has a copy of it. Not even the glowing Sunday View by David Richards could save La Bête, which closed after only 25 performances.

Cut to 30 years later and the second iteration of Endgame for Jimmie. We all eagerly anticipate tonight’s opening. Regardless of what the critics deliver in praise or damnation, what the artists at the Kirk Douglas Theatre have achieved in this production is nothing short of extraordinary. It is, I am sure, the most august cast of actors working together in the country, if not the world. Their dedication to Mr. Beckett’s drama, and to their individual practices as actors, designers, stage managers and directors has been inspirational to this embedded soul on the outskirts of the process. And regardless of the reviews, I have confidence that the remaining performances (thru May 22) will be full.

Tonight’s opening night party may not be at Sardi’s, but I have no doubt that it will be equally as celebratory and raucous as that post O’Neill Greenwich Village gathering in 1956, or the 1991 Broadway opening of La Bête.

Embedded at Endgame

Tech began a week ago on Tuesday for Endgame. First came the barrel fittings. Speaking of barrels,  for me, let alone Jimmie, this whole month has been akin to climbing into a barrel and jumping into the water. April rushes by at USC with the ferocity of a Class IV- river.

Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. …Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult.

Wikipedia International Scale of River Rating

In spite of knowing the river quite well, there are sudden fast maneuvers under pressure that challenge even the best “kayakers.” We closed our last three shows last weekend, after 10 days of tech and dress for two of them and only 3 days for the workshop of a new play by MFA Dramatic Writing student Inda Craig-Galvan. As of now, we are out of the rapids for a while.

Meanwhile, Jimmie finished his tech rehearsals for Endgame, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, beginning previews last Sunday, April 24th.

Lindsay Allbaugh of  Center Theatre Group

The CTG staff, headed by Associate Producer Lindsay Allbaugh, have taken exquisite care of Jimmie and his fellow actors on the journey through rehearsals thus far. Production Stage Manager, Susie Walsh, and Stage Manager Brooke Baldwin treat the actors like royalty. There are special considerations that are not obvious when dealing with elder actors and she and Brooke have handled those, incorporating the accommodations into the daily routine without missing a beat. One of the first things she did was provide me with a backstage pass to be able to come in to rehearsals whenever I was able, so I could assist with getting Jimmie to and from the rehearsals around my work schedule. Tuesday, I took advantage of my embedded access to watch the barrel fittings going on.  I arrived just as Jimmie was finishing his 2nd fitting. There is a complex sequence of lifts and platforms  in the under stage area to get them into place so they can raise the lids of the cans. The crew was working hard when I arrived, talking the actors through the intricacies needed to position them for their scenes. John Iacovelli, the Scenic Designer, sat in the front row of the house with director Alan Mandell, Assistant Director John Sloan, and Lindsay, watching the rehearsal of the barrels. IMG_6081Costume Designer Maggie Morgan watched Charlotte and Jimmie working in their nightcaps, with the action of raising the barrel tops with their heads. Cambria, the wardrobe crew member, stood behind the barrels as I watched Brooke, head leaning into the barrel, murmur reassuring instructions to Charlotte, deep in her barrel. Nothing was rushed. No one hurried the actors through the complexities. As a stage manager, I appreciated the calmness and deft handling of all the actors. As a spouse, I appreciated the humanity of the care accorded my husband and the others.

After the tech rehearsal, which was executed after a dry tech (tech without actors) so as to not tire the actors; the actors had an unhurried 90 minute dinner prior to their first dress rehearsal. I had jetted over from work to pick up the dinner I’d ordered at Cafe Vida next door to the theatre, and the two of us ate shoulder to shoulder at the dressing table in Jimmie’s dressing room.

The experience kind of took me back to our courtship days, when, at the McCarter Theatre,

Els and Jimmie share a romantic dinner at the Kirk Douglas dressing room

Jimmie was playing Scrooge, and I was on the props crew, and we frequently hung out together with his professorial dog, Jasper, in his dressing room during the dinner hour. Jasper was an astonishing dog.  We never used a leash on that dog, and we lived on 71st and Broadway. We’d take him to Central park, and every time we got to the corner of Columbus, Jasper would sit down and look up at Jimmie. When the light changed, Jimmie would say ‘Ok,’ and Jasper would tear across the intersection, waiting on the far side. One day, when Jimmie was standing in line at the bank with Jasper, a woman said to him,

Your dog looks smart enough to do math.

I remember once at the McCarter Theatre, during Christmas Carol, one of the young child actors, a young girl of about 12, appeared at Jimmie’s dressing room door, there to visit Jasper, and seeing me there, asked sort of churlishly,

Why are you always here?

I imagine that the staff at the Kirk Douglas are probably thinking the same thing about now. But I like to consider my embedded status on Endgame as akin to those journalists in March 2003 who became embedded during the U.S. Invasion of Afghanistan. Well, of course, with much less danger involved.

There were a few friends watching the final dress rehearsal today. We sat amidst the tech tables, I house left to be better positioned to see Nagg and Nell’s action. The play began, punctuated by the sharp shutter sounds from photographer Craig Schwartz’s camera. I worried for a moment that it would prove a distraction to the actors. But soon the camera faded as I became mesmerized by scenic designer John Iacovelli’s penumbrous stone room. The world as created by John and lighting designer Jared Sayeg and sound designer Cricket Myers is impossibly confining, and Clov’s rhythmic shuffle around the room caused me to laugh out loud within the first few minutes. From the bloody “stauncher”draped over Hamm’s (Alan Mandell’s) face, to the jaunty straw boater perched on Clov’s (Barry McGovern’s) head for his final entrance, Maggie Morgan’s costumes convey the film of dust and grime implied in the impermeable prison that confines these four characters of “Endgame.”

Hamm’s cheery devil-may-care attitude about his own decrepitude, and Clov’s brutal intensity held our interest. Nagg’s and Nell’s scenes were heartbreaking, and Nagg’s final speech destroyed me.

NAGG:It’s natural. After all I’m your father. It’s true if it hadn’t been me it would have been someone else. But that’s no excuse.….I hope the day will come when you’ll really need to have me listen to you, and need to hear my voice, any voice.(Pause.)Yes, I hope I’ll live till then, to hear you calling me like when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark, and I was your only hope.(Pause. Nagg knocks on lid of Nell’s bin. Pause.)Nell!(Pause. He knocks louder. Pause. Louder.)Nell!(Pause. Nagg sinks back into his bin, closes the lid behind him. Pause.)

I think the most impressive thing I observed today was the excellence of all of the acting – all 334 years of acting experience, which is a lot of time to perfect one’s craft. But in addition to that, these are all extremely challenging physical roles. Not once did we stop because someone 89 was sore from being scrunched in a garbage can. In this age of inclusion and diversity and access, it moved me to see the entire cast navigate this play with good humor and the sheer will to make it as good as it possibly can be. After the run, I sat in Jimmie’s dressing room, cranking the monitor up so that I could listen in on the notes. A fly on the wall.

Later, as Jimmie and I headed out the stage door, we ran into Jason Martin, from the CTG press office, who had been there with Nancy Hereford for the photo run. I realized that I shouldn’t blog about any details of “Endgame” using any information gleaned during my embedded status without clearing it first with the Press office. I hope I have intrigued you enough to come check out the show.

Get your tickets now! 


Kobe’s and Beckett’s Endgame

I live in LA. Tonight, April 13, 2016, everyone, even those people who don’t care about basketball at all, like me, are watching Kobe’s final flings at Staples Center. Some of the fans have paid up to $55,000 for a pair of tickets. Not me. I’m sitting in my nightgown on the couch in our apartment. I’m pretending to watch the game, enjoying the testimonials from all of Kobe’s fans a little more than the game.

Today was my day off. It is tax season, as well as the middle of  major and important things happening at work. In April, we open 8 productions. We have, thus far, opened and struck 4 of the 8, with another 2 in tech this weekend, one play playing this weekend, and a strike for three shows next weekend, wrapping up our 13 play spring semester.  In addition to our fevered pitch of production, it is the season when accepted students are determining if they will come to USC.  It is always gratifying to see the prospective students come to the Open House, see the Spring Musical, and meet students and faculty to make their final decisions by May 1.

Last weekend, the weekend of the Open House, it rained, necessitating a complete reworking of the events, which were, of course, planned as outdoor events. Our tireless Director of Special Events, Marissa Gonzalez, in the span of 48 hours, totally reworked the events to happen in the North Gym of the PED building, nothing short of miraculous. The student Ambassadors were there, visiting with prospective students and sharing their good cheer with them.

Jimmie has been in rehearsals for Endgame for about three weeks now. He has had the service of daily drivers ferrying him from downtown to Culver City, both ways, and the rehearsal days have been short enough to not wear him out. I am his daily driver on Wednesdays, because I am not working that day and I take advantage of the ride to and fro to catch up with Jimmie and hear about the work. Today, after dropping him at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, I did some errands and then went back and got to watch a tantalizing little bit of rehearsal.

This morning, Jimmie had an appointment with his primary care physician, a soft spoken man we had met about a year ago at Good Samaritan when Jimmie had bad bronchitis. It’s hard to imagine going to the doctor when you are not sick, but when you get to the age Jimmie is, they want to see you every 3 months or so to make sure you are still going strong. Jimmie’s doctor reminds me of my childhood doctor in Pennsylvania, Doc McKelvey, who’s manner was kind and unrushed. When we first walked in today, he asked,

How are you doing?

I chose the moment to brag a bit on Jimmie’s behalf.

He’s rehearsing a play. He opens at the Kirk Douglas Theatre the end of April. He’s in an ash bin.

I reached for the script to show Doc C. what we meant by ash bins. His eyes widened a little more and he looked at me like I had told him I had just stuffed Jimmie into an ash bin.  We explained further. Samuel Beckett, “Endgame.”

Dr. C sat down in his chair and begin to quiz Jimmie about the preparation for the role. When had he started learning his lines? How much rehearsal did he  have? How long did it take to put something “like that” together? He said something about Jimmie’s optimism and I shared the fact that three of the four actors were over 88. I think we might be selling some tickets here.

Anyway, we left there and returned home where I paid the taxes, mailed my Dad’s birthday present, and checked on some prescriptions before driving Jimmie to Culver City. I decided I’d knock out the errands I had before picking him back up.

What does one do on a day off? Repaired a few watches. While those were getting repaired, visited Nordstrom’s Rack, where I found some cute tops, then stopped by Babies ‘R Us, first calling our son to determine the proper size of garments. On the way back to the Kirk Douglas, I stopped at my favorite place in Culver City – Orchid Fever, a low-slung non-descript building filled with the most gorgeous displays of orchids.

Having blown my budget on fun things to do, I texted Susie Walsh, the stage manager for “Endgame.”


I waited in the hall until Susie poked her head out  and invited me to come sit at the SM table. Jimmie and Charlotte Rae were in their rehearsal barrels, having just finished their scene together. Alan was giving them notes and I gathered that things had gone quite well.

Alan came over to say hi, and I got to meet Barry McGovern for the first time. Alan and Barry stood together in front of the table and discussed the fact that today was Samuel Beckett’s birthday, April 13, 1906. He’d have been 110 today.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Mr. Beckett’s birthday than to watch Kobe Bryant score 61 points to win his final game. Cheered to the finish line by the likes of Jack Nicholson, Shaquille O’Neal and Magic Johnson and even me, no longer pretending to watch, but genuinely involved in the theatricality of the event. That was quite an Endgame.

Meanwhile there are some very happy actors in barrels at the Kirk Douglas. We will get to see their Endgame soon.

James Greene in his rehearsal barrel. Doesn’t look uncomfortable, right? He looks happy as a clam.



My Nagg

Endgame Photo
1984 Production of “Endgame” at the Harold Clurman Theatre. L to R, Alice Drummond, James Greene, Alvin Epstein, also the Director, and Peter Evans


In the summer of 1984, as my fiancé, James Greene and I made preparations for our upcoming wedding, he was involved in a production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. It was produced in a small, off off Broadway theatre, The Harold Clurman Theatre, on 42nd St. west of 8th Avenue, and he was playing the role of Nagg. He had elaborate white chalky makeup to disguise his youthful 57-year-old features, and wore a jaunty night cap atop his head as he emerged from the ash can down stage right. His entrances were throughout the play, but he was able to retire to the comfort of his dressing room in between his perches, due to the escape stairs under his and Nell’s barrels. During the wedding week, when family were beginning to gather for our nuptuals, Jimmie showed his thoughtfulness when, on the evening that my Grandmother was coming to see the play, he moved quickly from his dressing table, where he sat, dabbing on his white makeup to across the street from the theatre at the West Bank Café, where he knew that my Grandmother Betsey, my father and his wife, Joan, and I were all eating a pre-performance dinner. Horrified that she might “meet him” for the first time when he emerged from his barrel as an 80-year-old man, he had quickly scrubbed off his makeup and run across the street to shake hands with her. For the rest of her life, she always remarked about how thoughtful that had been of him.

Standing under the sign for the Peace Forest, where the Endgame company planted trees in Alan Schneider’s memory.
The Cultural Center in Jerusalem where Endgame was performed in 1985.

The following year, in June of 1985, the production was invited to perform at the Jerusalem Theatre Festival. The production was supposed to have been directed by veteran theatre director, Alan Schneider, but he had been killed in May the previous year, while,  looking the wrong way while crossing the street in London, apparently on his way to mailing a letter to Samuel Beckett. The festival participants in Jerusalem went to a hillside, where we planted trees in Alan’s memory, prior to their performing Endgame for the first time. Jimmie and I both wore goofy white tennis hats acquired at the airport to ward off the sun while we planted the trees.

A dramatic photo of Jimmie taken backstage at the Gerald Behar Center.

The festival performances of Endgame took place in the Gerard Behar Centre, where Adolph Eichmann was tried and convicted; there, the historic status of the building and the location of the barrels down stage right where Eichmann’s glass booth had been precluded a trap door to the basement.  Jimmie and Alice crouched heroically for 90 minutes, clutching onto small metal handles attached to the sides of the barrels. Jimmie was still a runner at the time, so this did not pose the perils it would  if he were asked to do the same today.

Jimmie floating in the Dead Sea, blissfully unaware that he had just lost his wedding ring.

Another Israel episode was the day we drove down to the Dead Sea, behind some military trucks. We arrived at the edge of the sea, and Jimmie was first in, frolicking in the dense salt water, which would not allow you to sink, due to its viscosity. I approached the shore, bent down and touched the water, feeling how slimy and salty it was. I shouted out to Jimmie,

Did you take off your wedding ring?

Jimmie looked down at his hand in horror and the day was ruined, as we realized his ring had fallen to the bottom of the Dead Sea. This did not seem the least bit auspicious for the newlywed couple that we were, but we returned to New York and went back to the jewelry store to replace it. 31 years later, we’re still going strong, so I guess we survived the incident.

Alan Mandell, the director and Hamm of the upcoming Kirk Douglas Production of Endgame, called us several weeks ago, to see if Jimmie might consider standing by for actor Rick Cluchey, in the upcoming production. Alan was being cautious, he had spoken earlier that evening with a very weak Cluchey; he called to see if Jimmie might be interested. Jimmie considered the offer carefully, and when he called Alan the next morning at 10:00AM to accept, learned from a shaken Alan that Rick had passed away the night before shortly after Jimmie and Alan had hung up. Alan then offered Jimmie the role of Nagg. Jimmie accepted. Just last week it was made official. He is so pleased, but regretful he it was due to another actor’s death.

Jason Wingreen, b. October 9, 1920, d. December 25, 2015.

All of us in the theatre have had several  weeks of terrible loss, losing such theatrical giants as Rick Cluchey, Brian Bedford, Alan Rickman, David Margulies, and our dear friend Jason Wingreen.

Jason, whom I wrote about in a previous post, passed away quietly in his sleep on December 25, 2015 at about 11:00PM. The ideal way to go, if there is one, at the ripe age of 95, at home, having bid his son good-bye, and quietly without pain. We should all be so lucky. There is a strange limbo period between the time that an actor dies and the world learns of it. It was strange in the ensuing weeks, until the obituaries of Jason and Rick began to appear; for those few days the news had not hit the internet yet. It was almost as though they were still alive.  A Google search still listed them in the present tense.

Earlier this week my friend Lynn Johnson Minney, with whom I had stage managed a production of “Camping with Henry and Tom” at the Pasadena Playhouse called to tell us that she and her husband and daughter were going to be in LA, and she wanted to get together. It never occurred to me until much later in the week that she was coming to attend Rick’s celebration of life, until I remembered that she had stage managed a production of Krapp’s Last Tape also 20 years or so ago. She had met Cluchey when she was in her early 20s and had worked on numerous productions with him. It is startling sometimes how concentrically our lives revolve around each other. I thought of Lynn this morning as I did my yoga practice, because she practiced Bikram yoga when we worked together those many years ago, and frankly, I thought she was crazy.

Other circles – Jimmie worked for months with Brian Bedford at The Phoenix Repertory Theatre, in the 1971 production of “The School for Wives,”which began at the Lyceum Theatre in NY before touring to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. David Margulies had been in “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd” with Jimmie, and I had worked with him on “Conversations with My Father.” That’s how it works in the theatre – we drive around in our little artistic bumper cars, careening off and then back together. You never know when you will reunite with a former colleague and friend, but you know that when you do, for good or for bad, you have a deep connection. Our work is so intimate that it begets connections that are significant.

My thoughts drift to the current producers of Endgame, Center Theatre Group. They must be sobered by the fact that their cast members range in age from the youthful Irish Barry McGovern, 67, to Charlotte Rae, in her late 80s, and Alan and Jimmie at 88 and 89, respectively. When Jimmie got the call, my brain immediately kicked into production/stage manager mode, asking Alan,

Who are the Stage Managers?

They will need to have a special understanding of the needs and niceties for aging actors.

happy bus
Endgame’s senior happy bus

Jimmie doesn’t drive any more; the same may be true for the other actors.  I fantasized that the theatre would organize some sort of senior actor happy bus to shuttle around town to get the actors for their daily rehearsals? Would they modify rehearsal hours?  These are important questions when revving older actors up to an 8 performance week after a rehearsal and tech period. Alan already has tackled the issue of the comfort of the ash cans, remarking with a laugh that scenic designer, John Iacovelli, had responded:

They will be so comfortable they will want to move in!

After Alan’s call,  I drove to the Samuel French bookstore in Hollywood, to buy a copy of Endgame. Picking out the script, I went home and put it into Jimmie’s eager, outstretched hands. Later in the afternoon, at the nail salon, I turned to look at Jimmie, whose hands cradled the script, his face modeling the behavior I had fallen in love with those many years ago, that of an actor in complete concentration. He repeated the lines silently, gaze falling slightly down, eyes fixed alternately on the script and then at some vague point in the air in front of him. Anyone married to an actor knows this far-away-look in their partner’s eye. Jimmie used to pace around the room, or go outside in the back yard to speak his lines out loud. Just now, I found him pacing near the dining room table. This phase typically precedes the moment maybe a day later when said actor will turn lovingly and say,

Would you mind cueing me? I think I’m ready to give it a shot.

We have shared that moment so many times in our lives together, and Jimmie has practiced it for decades before we ever met. I don’t think either of us thought we would experience that again. I am so thrilled for Jimmie with this opportunity. He is so ready and willing to get back on the boards, back in the can, back in the saddle, whatever the lame metaphor I choose. He is, after all, my Nagg.


Dinner with Hal Holbrook- Talk about a Life In The Theatre!

Dinner with Hal Holbrook

Approximately eighteen years ago (gulp) , I had the honor of ASMIng on a national tour of Death of a Salesman starring Hal Holbrook and Elizabeth Franz, and many other talented actors, including Eve Rossen, Hal’s daughter.Hal Holbrook

I was initially contacted by the PSM of the tour, Rich Costabile, a NY based stage manager. I remember getting the call right after I had returned from an aborted assignment in San Francisco at ACT. While there, my body had gone into major systems failure, resulting in the ultimate removal of some major reproductive organs.

The squeamish among you are thinking – “Wow, this suddenly went somewhere I sure didn’t want it to go.” But such is life, and I remember that the call with the job offer came around the same time that my mother had come out to Los Angeles to support me post op, while I lay in the fold out bed in the living room, so I could watch TV while recuperating. I remember being grateful for her help, though at the time, her insistent wails from the kitchen about the location of things felt almost onerous – “this is help?” My memory is that I had just finished sobbing to my mother about  my lost reproductive faculties, to which she responded with helpless empathy, “Oh, Elsbeth, don’t do that.” Not because she reproved of my expressing my loss, but because she herself couldn’t bear my pain. The timing of Rich’s call may be gently corroded by the passage of so much time.

I do rememberer receiving that wonderful life affirming call completely out of the blue, and telling Rich that I was recovering from major surgery. His was an unexpected response, laughter, as  he recounted his own recent minor surgery. Never having met, we bonded in that instant about how the two wounded stage managers would be useless to Hal out on the road. About six weeks later when we met, we did bond tightly, working in concert to support a masterful production of Miller’s play, directed by Jerry Freedman and starring one of the true gentlemen of the American Theatre, Hal Holbrook.

Rich and I laughed a lot on the road with Hal, too. It was a magical 6 weeks, as we zigged and zagged across the country, starting at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida, and traveling  to Cerritos, and Boston, Nashville and Memphis. Foggy memory prevents me from detailing all the stops, but highlightspeabody hotel like watching the ducks at the Peabody Hotel make their way to the fountain in the lobby are vivid.

It was the first and almost last time I had toured, and leaving my husband and young son at home was wrenching, but as anyone well-worn by time will tell you, 6 weeks is a mere flutter of the eyelid in a life, and six weeks on the road ain’t nothing when you’re Hal Holbrook.

Earlier this weekend, my cell phone lit up with Rich’s name, and I was happy  to hear that he and Randy, his husband, were back out in Los Angeles, on another leg of the tour of “Mark Twain Tonight”, a job that Rich has been doing for about ten years. For Hal, it is a fifty year life journey which is beautifully captured in the documentary: “Holbrook/Twain:An American Odyssey,” which Jimmie and I saw last summer at its premiere screening during the LA Film Festival.

Rich had a generous offer. “Would you and Jimmie like to have dinner with Randy and me, Hal and Joyce on Monday night?”

“I would be thrilled,” I said, and so was Jimmie. Later we firmed up the plan to meet at Hal’s home for dinner. Joyce is Hal’s wonderful and longtime assistant; for 27 years she has supported his work and travels. I had also met her while on tour back in 1997.

Jimmie and Hal go way back. My six weeks pales in comparison with the experiences shared by these two theatre veterans. Both worked at Lincoln Center Repertory Company headed by Elia Kazan and Robert Whitehead. And over our dinner that night, they shared many funny and poignant stories about their experiences. It was fascinating to see that they shared a perception of the company as being an inhospitable environment for actors. Hal described it in architectural terms, by the long gray cement hallway leading to the dressing rooms, where one was not greeted by the others, and how he shared a dressing room with an actor who insisted on the cone of silence. Jimmie described it in more emotional terms: how he had bridled at having to check the other actors’ tights due to an added ASM duty to his contract. Hal and Jimmie,  and all of us at the table were rapt with the details of the legendary National Theatre that had been attempted at Lincoln Center.

Hal is a masterful story teller. Anyone who’s seen his Mark Twain, Tonight can attest to that. His eyes filled with tears of emotion several times during the dinner as he and Jimmie strolled down memory lane. He dabbed at them unapologetically with the French country patterned linen napkin.

I reminded him that during our time on the tour in Nashville, we had done a few student matinees. I think they were 9:00am shows. Brutal. “Death of A salesman” for 14-18 year olds at 9:00 Am on a Tuesday. Just take us outside and put us out of our misery. But this one show, we had heard the distinct cry of a newborn in the house. Hal had been really annoyed,  and asked us to check with the house manager about the crying baby, insisting that the little squawler be escorted out of the theatre. After a bit, the crying stopped and later, somewhat sheepishly, the house manager reported back that the baby had been animatronic, programmed to cry at random intervals. A student had received conflicting assignments: in health class to tend to the baby for 24 hours, and in English, to attend the performance at this ungodly hour when he should have been baby sitting. When the baby erupted with cries, the student had exited the auditorium and shoved the baby into a locker in the lobby. So much for Parenting 101. Hal leaned his head back and roared.

The evening was lovely. The table held many vases filled with yellow long stem roses, and ivory tapers infused the peach walls and our animated faces with a flattering glow. The food was wonderful, healthy and plentiful, though I felt guilty as our questions slowed Hal from eating. We all were enjoying ourselves so much.

Good news- for fans of Hal, he has been writing a book. First you have the treat of this upcoming documentary which is in the festival circuit now. It is the most important film I have seen about the life of an itinerant actor. Brutally honest and as I said to Hal, “it should be required viewing for all student actors.” And now, news of a possible book- we have so much to look forward to.

And Hal, with 11 more engagements on this year’s schedule, at nigh on ninety years of youth, shows no signs of withholding his generous tales. Thank you, Rich, for allowing us to pass the time with such an great group of folks.

I Wear The Legs In This Family



It occurred to me this week after a few events out with my husband, a life-long actor of outstanding repute and with a CV for days, that because of my long life with him, I have had many interesting and life-enhancing experiences. I have lunched with television comedy writers on a wisteria-enclosed porch in Williamstown; I have dined in New York with the former co-star of the same TV show. There have been many special moments.

And I have provided a few of the same events for him, where work has immersed me into heady collaborations with some famous people, both those with very big egos, the VBEs and those who are not, but are just VFPs, very famous people. We can eschew chummy companionship with VBEs because they don’t need us anyway, and breathe a more rarified air than we do.

The problem is, that when one sees a VFP, you can’t know if he or she will be a VBE. I am shy about approaching celebrities to tell them how much I enjoyed their work on such and such. First because I don’t think they care, and lately, because those such and suches are harder to extrude from my brain in a way that makes a dignified approach plausible or timely.

The one exception was the night that I was standing on the corner of Hope and 9th St., waiting to cross from the park. I think it was the night of the SAG Awards. A black shiny SUV pulled up to the red light, and the passenger window was down. Tom Hanks was in the front seat; I knew from  having stage managed a few events with him, that he was a really nice guy. I caught his eye and he smiled. I had just seen him do a reading of “Twelfth Night, Or What you Will” at the Geffen Playhouse, a fund-raiser for The Shakespeare Center, and so, I said to him, “I just saw you do that reading of Twelfth Night at the Geffen last week. You were wonderful.”  He beamed, because it was a completely unexpected reference. His shiny SUV pulled away, leaving me satisfied with the encounter. But I digress.

As my husband has aged, he’s lost mobility from pain in his knees. Whether from the many thousands of miles he logged as a marathoner, or arthritis, his walking has become very labored and painful. He recently graduated from a cane to a walker, so we don’t worry about how long he will have to stand. It’s been a great improvement, if the need for such a contraption can be seen in positive terms at all.

Last Friday,  we attended a screening of two films by Robert Downey, Sr. at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax. Jimmie had called me earlier in the week to ask me to look into tickets for the screening of “Greaser’s Palace” and “Pound.” Jimmie has talked about “Pound” for years, and I knew that he played “The Honky Killer” in the film. I had previously looked online to see about renting or buying the film, and had never been able to find it on DVD, so I was as pleased as he about the screenings, and secured two tickets for that night.

We arrived at the theatre at about 6:00PM; the theatre doors were to open at 6:30 and the film started at 7:00PM. There were already a number of people lined up when we arrived. We got into the line, and Jimmie had a seat on his walker.

We were surrounded by young, very hip looking people. Two hipsters with cameras soon emerged from the theatre and interviewed two young men at the front of the line, who were now eating pizza. “How long have you been waiting in line to see this film?” They responded as they continued to munch their pizza on camera. I tried to look blasé, but really wanted to say, “PSSST… Hey, back here! This is James Greene, who plays ‘the Honky Killer’ in “Pound.” But I didn’t. Jimmie is roughly the same age as the filmmaker, Robert Downey, Sr.; it surprised me a bit that they didn’t have the least bit of curiosity about him.

Older people are invisible to young people. Something about achieving the age of 80 plus, or even 50 plus, suddenly negates all your achievements as an artist. Your audience diminishes as you age, and unless someone guides the younger audience to awareness of your work, so does your relevance. In addition to losing your mobility, you also lose your street cred, in spite of the fact that you are sharp mentally, and your skills haven’t diminished just because the vessel that holds them has.  This is very frustrating and saddening.

In the past few years, I have become the legs in the family, not an entirely comfortable position for me. When we went into the theatre, it became clear because of the way the chairs in the aisles, that Jimmie’s walker was not going to be able to pass. I took his arm and guided him slowly to our seats in the back of the theatre. The theatre was extremely  dim, with  light at the front;  a DJ spun a record with music from “Pound” for the audience. There were a few directors’ chairs set up for a brief interview with Robert Downey Jr. and Sr. before the movie.

A tall, well dressed and sophisticated looking man entered the front of the theatre from a space off to the house right side. Jimmie perked up and had it not been for his damned legs, he would have sprinted to the front of the theatre. “That’s Bob, I think,” he said to me. “I’d really like to see him tonight.” And just as he said that, the man turned and made his way up the house right aisle to the lobby. I sprung into action.

“I’ll let him know that you are here,” I said.

Jimmie beamed gratefully. I leapt to my feet, nervous,  as I readied myself  to accost the evening’s celebrity honoree. I found him in the lobby outside the men’s room, at the front of the line, ceded this place no doubt by the young acolytes who respectfully waited behind him.

“Excuse me, Mr. Downey?” I stood at his feet, tilting my head back to take in his 6’5” frame, and feeling very small indeed. I was smack dab in that moment of not knowing if I had approached a VBE.

He swiveled his gaze down at me, implacable, no smile on his face. I braved on.

“I’m married to Jimmie Greene, the honky killer in Pound?” I paused, feeling slightly nauseous as he continued to gaze down at me. Silence. I was starting to break a sweat.

“He’s here tonight, and would love to see you, but has some mobility issues that will prevent his coming to the front.”

And then, just the hint of a smile, and “James Greene. I would love to see him.”

“Great!” I said, scuttling away from him and the front of the men’s room line and hurrying back to our seats.

This is what I mean by wearing the legs in the family. Often, Jimmie has the fervent desire to see and talk with someone but not the mobility and it falls to me, to my legs and my screwed up courage, to leave behind my ego and approach someone whom I would never approach in a hundred years were it not for my husband.

We watched the panel  of Bob Downey and several of his colleagues, director Paul Thomas Anderson, and actors Lawrence Wolf, Don Calfa and Pablo Ferro, who played The Indian in “Greaser’s Palace” talk about some funny stories related to the making of these two films.

Then we watched “Greaser’s Palace,” which starred among others, our dear recently-departed friend, Allan Arbus, as the Jesus figure. It is an amazing film, especially in the newly restored version, which was vibrant in it’s colors. Never having seen a Robert Downey film, I was pleasantly surprised at the soulful weirdness of the film.

Intermission came, and the entire audience (save us legless ones) moved to the reception area while we waited for the reason we had come. “Pound.”

I will cede this territory to Jimmie’s recall in a future guest post because it will be more relevant. But I will just say that after “Pound” ended, and we made our way up to speak to Robert Downey, after he and Jimmie had talked, Robert Downey looked at me and said “Thank you for making sure we got to talk tonight.” Which made it all worthwhile.

Other festivities  this week took us to the wrap party for Parks and Recreation, at a nightclub in Hollywood called “The Colony.” Again, were it not for my husband, I would not be spending time in nightclubs.

We snagged a great table right near the door, so were able to see as people arrived for the party. Before long, some of the other councilmen from the show, Jon Glaser and Kevin Symons gravitated to our table and were happy to speak with Jimmie.  I worked up my courage again and shot this photo of the three of them. After shooting it, Jon Glaser handed me his cell phone to shoot one for him.

Three of Pawnee’s Councilmen; Kevin Symons (Councilman Dexhart), James Greene (Councilman Milton), Jon Glaser(Councilman Jamm)


See, normal people, people. Not VBEs. And I was there because I wear the legs in this family.