InDepth InterView: Anita Gillette Talks Birdland Solo Show, THE FITZGERALD FAMILY CHRISTMAS, Broadway, Hollywood & More
Sometimes once is just not enough, so, today, we have a super-special encore conversation with a recent InDepth InterView participant who shares even more candid tales from her impossibly colorful, genre-spanning career on Broadway and in Hollywood - star of properties as diverse as the Broadway musicals MR. PRESIDENT, KELLY and THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG, to movies like MOONSTRUCK and SHALL WE DANCE to her numerous TV appearances on everything from MATCH GAME to QUINCY to 30 ROCK - chameleon-like comedienne and actress Anita Gillette. Discussing some of the more ribald and hilarious stories from her idiosyncratic showbiz career - such as the riotous backstage goings-on out of town at the tryout of one of Broadway biggest bombs, KELLY - as well as spine-tingling "you had to be there"-type memories of the Golden Age - like Irving Berlin stopping by the Winter Garden every Wednesday just to see her Act One showstopper in ALL AMERICAN - Gillette paints a vivid picture of an era gone by, and, also, looks ahead to exciting future endeavors - especially the upcoming Ed Burns-directed feature film, THE FITZGERALD FAMILY CHRISTMAS, opening wide later this year, and her solo show. Of course, Gillette returns to the NYC stage the next two Mondays - September 24 and October 1 - with her Birdland show, AFTER ALL, so in this all-encompassing continuing conversation we also discuss some of the themes, songs and stories we can anticipate from that intimate solo piece, as well, and she generously shares her recollections of working with some of the men who penned many of the sensational songs she will be performing and figure in to some of the tales she tells here and will tell at Birdland - Charles Strouse, Marvin Hamlisch, Jule Styne, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Stephen Sondheim, Hal Prince and the aforementioned Irving Berlin included. All of that and much, much more!
More information on Anita Gillette: AFTER ALL at Birdland on September 24 and October 1 is available here. Also, you can visit her official site here.
For even more, check out our conversation from a few months ago here.
Isn't She Something?
PC: You have recently participated in some exciting readings, but I was curious if you ever did readings or workshops for any great lost projects, way back when?
AG: Well, you see, back then when I did a lot of the things I did, we really didn't do readings and workshops so much as we would do the actual show out of town.
PC: The point was to get it up onstage and in front of an audience and see what works.
AG: Yeah! You know, you did it - publicly - and there were towns that welcomed you and people who put up the money for it all, too. Boston, D.C., Philadelphia - that's where we did our tryouts. So, I didn't do any readings way, way back in the day, but, since then - in the 80s and 90s and now - I have done a lot. There are millions of them all the time these days!
PC: They are ubiquitous.
AG: I guess that's what you do now to stay in Equity - you do either a workshop or a paid reading or something like that every once in a while. Now they even audition people for those things! It's like, "Huh?!" [Laughs.]
PC: No shame.
AG: Well, usually they would ask you to do it based on what you've done - I mean, I certainly wouldn't audition for a workshop or a reading at this point, I don't think! Also, I sort of hate when they call up and they say, "Oh, we want to offer you this reading," not "Will you do this reading?" I mean, you pour your heart and soul into this thing - it's not just an offer, is it?
PC: An illuminating distinction to make.
AG: About readings and workshops, my good friend Dick Latessa recently told me, "I just can't do them anymore!" You know, he would do readings all the time And Then They would just get some big star for the role he was playing when they actually went to Broadway. That's the way it is these days, though.
PC: Luckily you have been part of an iconic film, MOONSTRUCK, so many remember you from that to this day and recognize you.
AG: Let me tell you a story about MOONSTRUCK that ties in with all of those shows I did way back when: when Theoni V. Aldredge was designing my wardrobe for MOONSTRUCK, she finally told me the story about why my dress got changed so many times in MR. PRESIDENT, which she also designed. In the song "Laugh It Up", every time she would come up with a really nice dress for me to wear in it, Nanette Fabray would say, "No!" [Laughs.]
PC: How cotemptuous!
AG: Yeah, everybody thought she was just such a sweetheart and everything, but she did not want me in a dress more beautiful than hers - and, boy, Theoni had some really beautiful dresses for me in that show. She would just keep coming up with these beautiful, beautiful dresses and I would wear them for one performance And Then They wouldn't stay; they wouldn't stay, and, I'd say, after the third or fourth one, "Hey, what's wrong with that dress?!" [Laughs.] It was Nanette!
PC: Was it fun recounting the old days with Theoni when you re-teamed on MOONSTRUCK?
AG: Oh, yeah. Theoni and I talked about that whole thing when we were doing MOONSTRUCK - I remember she put me in this pink sweater in the film; you know, in the scene where Vincent Gardenia proposes to me in the restaurant?
PC: Of course.
AG: I said, "With that push-up bra and that angora sweater, I'm going to look pretty fat, Theoni!" and, she said, "Norman [Jewison] wants you to look, and I'm quoting him now, 'Like an overripe cannoli,' even if there is no such thing as that." But, that is exactly what he wanted and that's exactly what he got - it's a lovely description, nonetheless. [Laughs.]
PC: Tell me your memories of performing in THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG on Broadway in 1980.
AG: Oh, I had a good time. It's a hard show, though, because when there is only the two of you it is always pretty hard - Tony [Roberts] was right there working with me, though.
PC: He's very by-the-book, right?
AG: Right. I had worked with him before, though, and I just adore him - we did DON'T DRINK THE WATER together; with Woody Allen.
PC: What was the process of putting you into the show like for that particular production?
AG: Well, it took a while for everyone to settle in - it was a different balance; Tony had to adjust his performance because I was getting laughs that he wasn't quite ready for and the understudy didn't tell him all of the pauses to take and just things like that. We eventually got a great chemistry going between us and it was great fun to do the show - but it was a lot of work.
PC: Who put you into the show?
AG: Lani Azenberg, who was Manny Azenberg's wife at the time, she put me in - she was the assistant stage manager. Then, I worked with one of the dancers on the steps - the moves for the "They're Playing Our Song" dance mostly was all there was to the choreography.
PC: Did Neil Simon originally approach you to do the show given your history together?
AG: Yes. But, the thing that I said to Neil at the time was, "Thank you for wanting me to do this, Neil, but, to be honest, first of all, you know full well I am well past 32!" [Laughs.]
PC: You pulled it off, though!
AG: I said, "Since I am playing opposite Tony, who is in the same age range, should I still be saying those words?" And, he said, "Absolutely! I have no problem with it - and, believe me, I would tell you otherwise if I did." [Laughs.] That's what he said!
PC: You look fantastic in that costume.
AG: Oh, thank you! That was just the dress that was there - they didn't make it special for me or anything as far as I remember.
PC: It was one of the biggest hits of the era.
AG: It was. It was. It was a lot to fun to do - the audiences really responded to it.
PC: Does it feel much different to be in an established hit like that versus a flop?
AG: Well, I will tell you that after I did CHAPTER TWO I said that I would never take over in anything - I said, "I'm either going to create it or I won't do it from now on." But, you know, on that one I changed my mind - and it was the same way on BRIGHTON BEACH [MEMOIRS], too.
PC: What caused you to reevaluate your decision?
AG: I guess I had gotten to a different place in my life - there was a time when I really didn't want to take over for anybody anymore. But, since then, I changed my mind two times - the first was because Neil asked me on THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG and I just couldn't and can't turn him down. He said, "Please do this," and, so, I did it - it was the same both times I did it; both times I did it for Neil.
PC: Would you do any part he asked you to play still - in a new play or revival even?
AG: Yes. I would.
PC: What was working with Marvin Hamlisch like on THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG? Did you two work one-on-one at all?
AG: Oh, yeah! You know, when I was first starting out auditioning for things he was my accompianist - after CARNIVAL and all of that. His family lived on 81st, I think, and somebody recommended me to him back when he was in Juilliard - they said he was looking to play auditioning jobs and stuff like that. Stuff was starting to happen for me then - I was doing THE TONIGHT SHOW and I was starting with all the game shows - and so we sort of found each other and we got along great. Marvin was just the most incredible accompanist ever - as you can imagine!
PC: A true dynamo.
AG: Oh, yeah - and he was a real bullsh*tter, too! [Big Laugh.] You know, he would say, "Oh, this is what I'm going to do for Sam Goldwyn - watch this!" and, then, he'd get on the piano and [Mimes Piano Playing.] "Da-da-da-da-da" and it would be amazing! He said it was just some old gypsy song that his father used to sing that he was playing - you know, his father was a musician, too, and I think he played accordion; their house was just full of music. His mother was just wonderful, too - she was just great. I never went to his house where I didn't get fed something - usually a lot! [Laughs.]
PC: Did you stay in touch?
AG: No, unfortunately - and sadly - we did not, but we were good friends when we were in touch. I remember for a while I used to be his 2 AM buddy - you know, when he was out in LA with no one to call and he needed somebody to talk to; I was older than him and he would tell me about all his girlfriends and the women he was in love with and things.
PC: What did he say?
AG: Oh, for instance, he would talk about how he couldn't stop thinking of Liv Ullmann - he kept dreaming about her and he just had to try to get her attention somehow!
PC: What a great memory - Hamlisch and Bergman!
AG: I remember when he came by to see me in THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG he came backstage and we spoke and he said very nice things to me and that's the last time I saw him in person, I think.
PC: What was your favorite song to perform in the show every night?
AG: Oh, "I Still Believe In Love" - I do that in my show, actually. I love that. I love "They're Playing Our Song", too, but that's a duet. I had a lot of fun with the dancers in that show - the back-up singers - and that was a nice part of doing that show, too.
PC: CARNIVAL is another show from your past that relatively little has been written about. What was Bob Merrill like?
AG: Well, I was the understudy and in the chorus in that show, so I really didn't get to hang out with him like I did with Irving Berlin on MR. PRESIDENT and like I did with Charlie Strouse and Mel Brooks and Lee Adams on ALL AMERICAN - with CARNIVAL I was still a lowly gypsy in the chorus, banging a tambourine. I was never involved in any major discussions about the play or anything, but I remember whenever he would talk to me about anything he would say nice things. I didn't get to know him very well, though. I always thought he was a nice guy - people say, "But, he never made a pass at you?" and I say, "No!" So, I guess he might have had a bit of a reputation for stuff like that, but he never said anything to me like that.
PC: And if anyone would be worthy of his affections it would be you!
AG: Right! But, you know, in those days, it was not unusual for little ingénues to get chased around the piano, if you know what I mean… [Laughs.]
PC: Was that your experience with any names you'd like to name now?
AG: [Laughs.] Well, Irving Berlin was never like that, I can tell you that - Jule Styne maybe, though! [Laughs.]
PC: You would characterize your relationship with Berlin as a paternal one?
AG: Oh, totally. He really was like a father figure to me - and that's why I felt free to become friends with him and go to his office and talk about fishing and all kinds of things. He would show me his paintings, too - he was a wonderful painter. So, no, to answer your question, he showed me his paintings not his etchings, honey! [Laughs.]
PC: That's hilarious. Thanks for clearing that all up, too.
AG: No problem! [Laughs.]
PC: He was very protective of his material, apparently, as well. Do you remember him prohibiting the use of his songs? He famously wouldn't allow Steven Spielberg to use "Always" in ALWAYS.
AG: Oh, yeah. I know a story about Hilda Schneider, his secretary, [Thick Brooklyn Accent.] who was very overprotective, ya know?
PC: No - tell me.
AG: [Laughs.] I actually talk about this in my act - Mr. B and Hilda. One day she called and she said, [Accent.] "Anita, this is Hilda here - Hilda Schneider," like I didn't know who it was! And, she said, "Do you somebody named Diane Keaton?" And, I said, "Diane Keaton? Oh, yeah - she's very famous. She's a big star." And, Hilda said, "Well, if you know her, could you tell her to quit bothering us?" and, I said, "Why?" And, she said, "She keeps calling trying to get the rights to Mr. B's song - oh, you know the one [Sings.] 'Heaven / I'm in heaven,'" you know, "Cheek To Cheek"?
PC: A classic.
AG: Yeah - Hilda always used to call the songs by their choruses like that, not by their titles. [Laughs.]
PC: She sounds like she was quite a character.
AG: Oh, she was! So, anyway, about "Cheek To Cheek", she said, [Accent.] "Mr. B has plans for that song - ya never know! I mean, there might be another music box revue - ya never know! Diane Keaton cannot have the rights to that song, though! She cannot!"
PC: What did she intend to do with it as far as you know?
AG: I think Diane was taking a directing class at the time - at the American Film Institute - and she wanted the rights to that song to use in her movie, but she got refused. I remember telling Hilda before she hung up, "I don't think you need me to turn down Diane Keaton for you!" [Laughs.]
PC: You originally got to know Berlin working on MR. PRESIDENT, correct?
AG: Yes, that's how I met him. He used to come down and watch me do "Nightlife" in ALL AMERICAN from the back of the Winter Garden Theatre every Wednesday because his offices were above the theater and that was his favorite part of the show. That's how he knew me. And, then, when he was doing MR. PRESIDENT they asked for me to come and audition, so I went in and I got the job as the president's daughter. We became friends after that.
PC: What were your initial impressions of him?
AG: He just seemed so delicate to me - I sort of just worried about him and became like another daughter or something in some way; I really felt that way about him.
PC: What can we expect from his impeccable catalog in your AFTER ALL show?
AG: Oh, I do three of his songs!
PC: What are your favorites?
AG: Well, in the show, I do a medley of "How Deep Is The Ocean" and "Remember" that I really like - it's a tribute to Mr. B.. You know, when he had reached a certain level of success and people began comparing him to Berlin, Jerome Kern once said, "Irving Berlin has no place in American music because he is American music!"
PC: So true. What a great line.
AG: It's really a pretty special thing to say - and, yes, it's true, I think, too. [Pause. Sighs.] To me, nobody beats Mr. B..
PC: What would he think of "America The Beautiful" being such a popular song sung at events and games these days? He originally wrote it as a commission, I believe.
AG: Oh, he would love it! Love it! [Laughs.] As I say, "Right up your ASCAP," kiddo!
PC: Did he ever discuss with you his favorite songs that he had written?
AG: No. He never talked about his favorite songs that he had written as far as I know, but I can tell you that when we were all depressed and sad because of the bad reviews in Boston - the Elliot Norton headline in the Boston Globe was "Knee Deep Amongst The Corn" for MR. PRESIDENT and we were all very worried.
PC: Rightly so.
AG: I remember that we were walking across The Commons to the Ritz Hotel from the Colonial Theatre where we were - it was Josh Logan, Leland Hayward, Irving Berlin, Jack Haskell and me; we were on the way to go hear the new double-number because he didn't want to put it in for the opening because it wasn't quite ready yet. So, we were told not to talk about the reviews, so we were talking about anything we could think of so as to not to mention that headline, and, then, Mr. B. pops up in all of the idle chatter and says, "So, what do you think about the 'Knee Deep Amongst The Corn'?" And everybody tried to placate him and blah blah blah, but then he hushed everyone right up and said, "Listen, I know my songs are corny - 'White Christmas' is a very corny song; 'God Bless America' is a very corny song;" and he kept listing off these incredible, classic songs and we all ended up cracking up laughing. [Laughs.] It was such a big release for us all.
PC: What a wonderful memory.
AG: He said, "So you think my songs are corny? So is 'My Old Kentucky Home'!" [Laughs.]
PC: How do you look at Broadway now versus during that Golden Age era? Times Square must look like a different world through that lens; even 1980s Broadway.
AG: Oh, it does! You know, back then [with THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG], you couldn't really walk by yourself through a lot of areas because it was so dangerous - at least I wouldn't. We would all gather at the bus stop, you know - everyone would take the 104. THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG was at the Imperial Theatre, so that neighborhood was all right - although it was pretty bad back in the 60s when I worked there, though, I have to say.
PC: What made it particularly bad back then?
AG: Oh, there were a lot of porno movie theaters and strip clubs and prostitutes wandering around and all of that - right there in the whole Times Square area - so you had to be careful. My first show, GYPSY, was at the Imperial Theatre and I've done at least four or five shows there - CHAPTER TWO was there, too.
PC: What else?
AG: GYPSY, then CARNIVAL, then I did THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG there, then BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS - a lot of them. Before GYPSY, which I did in 1960, I did THE Russell Patterson SKETCHBOOK at a theater which was the beginning of Playwrights' Horizons, which is where I just did THE BIG MEAL, that we talked about last time.
PC: It's a small world!
AG: It is! It is - I so enjoyed working there on THE BIG MEAL, though. I just loved everything about that experience.
PC: Your solo show is your one of your first big NYC stage appearances since. What are the moments we can look forward to most of all?
AG: I would say the big moment of the show is "I Still Believe Love" that I combined with "Did I Ever Live?", which is this Albert Hague piece, and the two together bring you from birth to death and it's a really moving moment, I think. But, mostly, the show is funny - I try to give people a fun time. Also, "The Secret Service Makes Me Nervous" has actually become a song people are requesting - once they hear that vamp, I guess it's all over!
PC: There's nothing quite like a great Irving Berlin vamp.
AG: I also do a really fun version of "He May Be Your Man, But He Comes To See Me Sometimes" - I do that as an homage to MOONSTRUCK, because I think that's the song that Mona would sing if they ever did MOONSTRUCK as a musical. [Sings.] "He may be your man, but he comes to see me sometimes."
PC: You did a summer stock tour with John Travolta right at the start of his mega stardom, when he was in WELCOME BACK, KOTTER. What was your experience like working with him on BUS STOP? You two were ideally cast for that play, it seems.
AG: Oh, we did BUS STOP at the Pocono Playhouse. We did a long, eleven-week tour and Brian Dennehy was in it, too. Brian was actually staying with me because he couldn't afford to get a place of his own at the time, so he would bunk with my son Christopher in the second bedroom. But, as for Johnny, I remember he was doing Barbarino in WELCOME BACK, KOTTER and he was trying to get out of it so he could do that movie that turned out to be a huge flop, HEAVEN'S GATE...
PC: Directed by Michael Cimino.
AG: Yeah! That's the one! And, so, I said to him, "You know, Johnny, things happen for a reason," and he was very, very upset that they wouldn't give him the time off the TV show to do the movie. He was furious about it. But, thank God that's how it turned out, right?! I mean, everyone always used to tell me that when I was disappointed - "things happen for a reason" - and so I said it to him; and it actually turned out to be true!
PC: He dodged a bullet and he didn't even know it.
AG: He did! He really did.
PC: Treat Williams just did this column and said that it was instantly apparent Travolta would go on to be a big star even in the early days.
AG: Yeah, I agree with Treat. I remember that Johnny's two sisters were in the tour of the play with us and we would all go out and party after the show - and, whenever we would go someplace where there was dancing and start to let loose, people would be like, "This guy is something!" He was just so talented and so, so handsome. And, I remember they used to have security at the stage doors and everything because these teenyboppers would be hanging out there trying to see him or talk to him. The security guards would make announcements before every performance after a while, "No lining up during the third act," because BUS STOP was a three-act show and the girls would leave at the second intermission to get a better place in line. Then, they started lining up after the first intermission! That's how long the lines were - we'd lose half the audience by the third act! [Laughs.]
PC: That's so funny.
AG: They used to also have to say, "There will be no bubblegum permitted at this performance. Please throw away your bubble gum now," and I remember thinking, "This is crazy! I can't believe this!" [Laughs.]
PC: From the sublime to the ridiculous, what stories can you share with me about one of the most notorious bombs ever, KELLY? We didn't get to it last time, unfortunately.
AG: Oh, KELLY! It's one of the most famous flops for a reason! [Laughs.] I contributed to a book on David Susskind where I talk about KELLY and it's all covered in there, but there is a pretty interesting story about the guy who wrote that SATURDAY EVENING POST article about the show.
PC: That is covered in SECOND ACT TROUBLE by Steven Suskin, actually, as well.
AG: Oh, it is? Well, let me tell you about that guy who wrote that article: he was introduced to us by David Susskind, who was the producer and introduced him to all of us in The cast as one of his friends. He said, you know, "This guy is just going to hang out," and he did not tell us that this guy was writing down or recording everything like he was actually doing.
PC: So it was like having a spy on the inside.
AG: It was! We would be out drinking and having fun and he would be asking us questions. The things he must have seen! There was a big row between Michael O'Shaughnessy and Ella Logan at a bar one night - they were squaring off against Wilfrid Bramble, who was the original lead of STEPTOE AND SON in England. So, there was this huge brawl at the Variety Club - Ella Logan was getting fired from the show, and, so, Michael O'Shaughnessy, who used to be a boxer, is throwing a beer across the bar and trying to hit Wilfrid! And, so, I stood in front of Wilfrid, who was like my size and he threw the beer anyway! He missed, though - he didn't throw it far enough, so it just smashed and went all over the place.
PC: That's insane.
AG: It was! KELLY just provoked this emotion in everybody! Moose Charlap and Eddie Lawrence, the composers, were barred from the theater by David Susskind, so they would come into the theater wearing hats and mustaches and disguises and sit in the back of the theater trying to see what was happening with the show since they weren't allowed in. The producers were trying to get the script rewritten by all different people, so there would be all kinds of people coming in all the time - we would get new scripts and new scenes every day and we didn't know who wrote what; there were no authors even listed on anything. We were all so confused. And, then, we would tell all of this to this guy and share our frustrations with him - this writer from the SATURDAY EVENING POST. [Sighs.] Oh, man.
PC: What a mess.
AG: The article was an expose - it was a real hatchet job. I just can't believe it to this day - we all felt so betrayed! He quoted things we said in confidence, completely off the record. He wrote about the things Daniel Melnick said to him when he came in - he said to the writer, "You see those girls? Tell me which one you want."
PC: Scandalous. You couldn't write a story this wild.
AG: You really couldn't - it was so crazy.
PC: Herbert Ross was generally just at a loss in directing it, then?
AG: Herbert did his job as best he could, I think. You know, I wasn't a dancer, but I loved Herbert and he just loved me - he never forgot me, either; he directed me in CHAPTER TWO, and, later, he fought for me to get the part I got in the film he directed, BOYS ON THE SIDE, because the studio wanted a big star for the role instead of me; Shirley MacLaine or somebody like that.
PC: "Life Can Be Beautiful" from KELLY is a really catchy song.
AG: Oh, Ella was so great on that! Everyone loved that one. You know, my song in KELLY was on Stephen Sondheim's list of songs he wished he had written, though - I couldn't believe it when someone told me that!
PC: Have you ever had the pleasure of working with Sondheim?
AG: I have. I did the workshop that Hal Prince directed of what became BOUNCE, but it was called GOLD when I did it - and eventually it was titled ROAD SHOW. I did it with Howard McGillin and Tom McGowan and Michelle Pawk.
PC: You played Mama?
AG: Yes. I sang "Isn't He Something" - which was great.
PC: Was "A Little House For Mama" in the show still at that stage?
AG: No, that wasn't in that version of the show, I don't think.
PC: Was it a one-time workshop or did you have a few performances?
AG: Yeah, we just did it a couple of times for industry people and then that was it.
PC: What did and do you think of the show, then and now?
AG: Well, I think the same thing about that show as I do about all of Stephen Sondheim's shows: I think it is brilliant. I think everything he does is brilliant. I liked the show a lot and I wish I was offered the job, but I wasn't - they gave it to Jane Powell. I never saw the final version or the recent one because I just didn't have the heart.
PC: With Hal Prince and Sondheim in the room together again, you must have felt a special energy, no?
AG: Oh, I was in heaven! I thought the music was just fantastic and the show was really fun and interesting. I thought Michelle Pawk was just brilliant in it when we did it, too - it was a really wonderful cast; everyone.
PC: "Isn't He Something" would be a great encore for Birdland!
AG: It would! It is a lovely song. I actually did it in a show I was trying out with Penny Fuller a little while ago up at the O'Neill. It's a beautiful song - just like all of his stuff. In that same show I did "Everybody Says Don't" actually, too. I would love to work with him again someday.
PC: I wanted to touch upon a few of your TV projects - what can you tell me about the BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE TV series you starred in in the early 1970s?
AG: Oh, that was fun! I really wanted to play that kind of role - you know, one where I didn't have to be the ingénue for once.
PC: What was a very young Jodie Foster like onset?
AG: Oh, Jodie was a doll! I loved her. We kept in touch until a few years ago - I could still write her today and I bet she would answer. She was only 9 or 10 when she did that - she played my daughter. She was so, so, so good - and we only did twelve episodes and the pilot, I think. And, I mean, the pilot was four people swimming naked in a pool! [Laughs.]
PC: No way!
AG: It was! And, you know, I had never done anything like that. I remember going to Warner Brothers Studio and we all came out in bathrobes and we were all really, really nervous. I remember thinking, "Well, we've gotta take our robes off and jump in eventually." You see, they had put these little sort of band-aid-type pasties over our nipples. We all jumped in the pool after a few minutes and I remember Anne [Archer] sort of floated to the top because she was sort of top-heavy. She subsequently had a breast reduction, I know, but I remember her floating right to the top! [Big Laugh.] So, that really broke the ice for everybody and there were a lot of jokes going around about things shrinking in the cold water and all of that kind of stuff. It was fabulous. It was with Larry Tucker, the same guy who wrote the movie, and Paul Mazursky, too.
PC: Could you give me a few words on five of the most famous hosts you worked with over your decades in game shows?
AG: Oh, sure! Shoot.
PC: Dick Clark.
AG: The best. Dick was the best. He was one of the most even-tempered, well-mannered, intelligent, beautiful men I think I have ever met.
PC: So you never saw his allegedly hot temper?
AG: Never. He never, ever lost it that I saw. His producer, Bob Stewart, appreciated him tremendously and Bob passed away right after Dick, unfortunately. I went out there for Bob Stewart's memorial in June. It was a big blow to him when Dick died, even after all of these years.
PC: Richard Dawson.
AG: He was a different case. He was a little bit off - I mean, he was funny, but I never really got it or got him. I wasn't as fond as him as some of the other guys who hosted - I mean, he really did kiss everybody like that in real life and he was very, very funny, but I think he may have had some demons and some of his demeanor wasn't as genuine as it may have appeared; that's just my take on him. But, he was a really funny guy and people liked him.
PC: Backstage at the game shows were known to be quite a wild scene.
AG: Oh, honestly, I wouldn't know anything about all of that - when I was a little girl, my father scared the bejeezus out of me so I never touched any of the stuff that was going around. And, you have to remember that most of the shows I appeared on tended to be the more thinking-oriented stuff; you had to have your wits about you - you wouldn't want your brain affected by all that stuff if you really wanted to win. I guess maybe some people didn't take it so seriously, though. [Laughs.]
PC: Bert Convy.
AG: Oh, he was great! He was so Broadway, which I loved.
PC: The original Cliff in CABARET.
AG: That's right! He was a beautiful, beautiful guy and I just adored him. We did TATTLE TALES, I remember - that was a lot of fun.
PC: Steve Allen.
AG: Oh, he was such a talented man! I think he really was a genius. He knew everything.
PC: And you would know. He was on the level of Irving Berlin and Neil Simon and Sondheim, then?
AG: I think so. In his niche, yes. Neil and Mr. B are really special to me, personally, of course, but from my interactions with Steve Allen I thought he was really sharp and really smart and everyone else seemed to think so, too.
PC: What about Alan Ludden and Betty White?
AG: Oh, they were just lovely. I was always so impressed by just how much they obviously cared about and loved each other - and, how well they expressed it! Oh, God, they were so funny together - and I just love that. When I went to Bob Stewart's memorial, Betty White was there - they had been very, very dear friends- and I went over to her and knelt down on the ground and thanked Betty for this part of my career. I really think she has paved the way for all of us and they are hiring more older women now because of her - and I had to just thank her for that. We had a big laugh over it and had a little chat. She's just wonderful.
PC: One of your more recent films that is really enjoyable is HIDING VICTORIA. What can you tell me about that project?
AG: Oh, that turned out to be a really good movie - the guy who did it, Dan, is really talented. He wants me to do his next movie, too, but, like I said to him, "You better hurry up, honey! People are dropping like flies!" For three years he's wanted me to do his next film, THE BLUES MAN, this wonderful story, and he keeps saying we are going to be doing it soon. But, yes, HIDING VICTORIA is a really good story. It's a film about forgiveness, I think. The way it was done was just beautiful, especially for a movie on a budget. There's some really good stuff in that movie. We entered a bunch of film festivals and got good feedback, but we never got distribution.
PC: What can you tell me about your newest film that we briefly touched on last time, THE FITZGERALD FAMILY CHRISTMAS?
AG: Well, I actually just got back from the Toronto Film Festival where we premiered it!
PC: Were you pleased with how it turned out?
AG: Oh, I was - it's a really good movie! I was so happy. Eddie Burns is so talented and I was so proud to be in it. It was kind of nerve-wracking because that was the first time a lot of us had seen it, so, there we all are, sitting in a theater with a bunch of people seeing it for the first time, biting our nails - but, thank God, it was good; it really was. I mean, it's a little cinema verite, so there is no bounce board for the old bags under the eyes or anything! [Laughs.]
PC: Not a glossy SHALL WE DANCE-type thing.
AG: Yeah - that was very glossy! I looked pretty hot in that - pretty hot for an Irish mother of seven, at least, I think! [Laughs.]
PC: You can say that again! Like a fine wine.
AG: Thank you! Thank you. [Laughs.]
PC: Last question: will you be appearing in the last season of 30 ROCK, filming now?
AG: Don Scardino told me we all are going to be in the finale, but that's all I know right now. He told me that a few weeks ago, so we'll see what happens - I don't want to bother Tina, she is busy enough as it is! [Laughs.]
PC: This was so fascinating, Anita - you have some truly tremendous tales. Thank you, again. I hope the Birdland show is a big hit!
AG: Thank you, thank you, thank you, Pat - I really loved talking to you again and I hope we speak again soon! Bye bye.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro