Printer Friendly - re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?


Truth about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan (and "Pippin" love thread)
Posted by Paul W. Thompson 2008-10-28 22:53:45


OK. This issue has been bugging me for years, and I was wondering if someone could clear it up.

Irene Ryan was the original grandmother, Berthe, in "Pippin" on Broadway in 1972, singing the fantastic song, "No Time At All" and getting a posthumous Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical (she lost to Patricia Elliot of "A Little Night Music.")

All during the 70s and 80s, people would swear to me that Ryan (Granny from "The Beverly Hillbillies" and the benefactress of the Irene Ryan acting award) "just finished her number, walked off stage and dropped dead right there."

Or something to that effect. Or even that she had collapsed onstage during the applause and died barely in the wings, etc.

I recently did an internet search on the topic and found lots of discrepancies between the versions. (So, I'm hoping that no one will just do the same thing and post the results.....Bear with me here.)

Sources agree on the date of her death 35 years ago, and the place of her burial. That is all they agree on.

For you see, you will find that she died either in New York City or in Santa Monica, California.

Some sources say she died of a brain tumor, and some say she died of a stroke.

Some say she knew she had a brain tumor, and some say she didn't know.

Some say she collapsed on stage, some in the wings, and some say not at the theater at all.

Some say she died the very day of her collapse, and some say she died "several days later."

Does anyone know or remember EXACTLY what happened? Or do we need to contact the Irene Ryan Foundation and ask them? (She had no immediate survivors.)

The "romance" in all this, of course, is that the song she sang so brilliantly is a joyful paean to living life to the fullest each day (even including a sly reference to her "Granny" persona), and folks instinctively feel that it is somehow fitting or suitable that she died during the run of the show, which by extension or assumption becomes during a performance of the show.

But what actually happened? Can we put the rumors to rest? As a remarkable performer (she wasn't really like Granny Clampett, you know, she was ACTING), and as a humanitarian, Miss Ryan deserves better, don't you think?

Any assistance will be appreciated........




re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by jayclay 2008-10-28 23:33:14


Thanks for asking this question - it has bugged me for years too. I was a kid when I saw her performing in Pippin. At the time of her death I do remember hearing that she died back stage (I remember reading it in the paper or a magazine). But like you, when I recently tried to find more details I found all of the conflicting info. I can't help you, but I'm waiting to hear the answer!

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by dramamama611 2008-10-28 23:41:49


My guess is that you will probably not be able to find out. Unless someone here happened to either be IN hte show at the time or personally knew her, anything that someone says is still just hearsay.

But I'd never heard any of that story...so thanks for asking anyway!

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by miss pennywise 2008-10-28 23:56:45


I was a kid, too, when I first saw PIPPIN. I didn't want to see it, but my parents "forced" me and tried to engage my interest with the fact that Irene Ryan was in it.

Well, it turns out that we went to the evening performance following Irene Ryan's last that afternoon. I was so bummed! When I found out the understudy was going on for "Granny Clampett," I was rather disappointed and kept asking my parents "What happened? Why isn't she appearing in the show tonight?" I bugged them so much that finally they asked someone who worked at the Imperial.

We were told that she had had a heart attack after the matinee (the date March 12 comes to mind, but it was a long, long time ago, so I could be off by a day or two). Her death was not announced for a while after that.

That's all I can tell you. I know it help much, but it's sort of a little trivia tidbit.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Tom-497 2008-10-28 23:56:52


The New York Times/UPI story published on the day of her death says that she died in Santa Monica six weeks after having a stroke on stage in New York. She was in the Los Angeles area for treatment of the stroke.

While newspapers obviously don't always get everything right, it is unlikely that the Times article saying "SANTA MONICA, Calif ... Irene Ryan ... died today" was a month-and-a-half and 3000 miles off the mark.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Paul W. Thompson 2008-10-29 00:09:36


So if the NYT/UPI source is accurate, she died April 26, 1973 in Santa Monica, which is about six weeks after the March 12th date Miss Pennywise remembers (which is pretty WOW, if you ask me!).

But the papers said she collapsed "onstage" in New York? That's different than "after the matinee."

Were the ushers or other staff at the Imperial wrong about that? I can see that they may have confused a heart attack with a stroke, but why say "after" if it was "during?"

And where did the brain tumor or brain cancer reports come from, I wonder? That was not mentioned in the next day reporting?

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by splendero03 2008-10-29 00:12:39


I just looked up Irene Ryan's obituary from the April 27th, 1973 issue of the New York Times. It says she suffered a stroke on stage six weeks before and flew to Los Angeles for treatment on her doctors orders. I would assume that is the truth. The story I had always her was that they gave the curtain call at the end of a performance, the curtain rang down for last time and she dropped dead of a heart attack. It's a fun story but I'm not surprised to find out it is apocryphal. That's showbiz!

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Paul W. Thompson 2008-10-29 00:16:04


However, if she collapsed right after the last curtain call, that would be both "onstage" and "after the matinee," wouldn't it? Maybe both versions are correct!!! Hmmm

But March 12th was a Monday that year, I see. Could it have been Wednesday, March 14th? Or Sunday the 11th? Were they doing two show Sundays--doubtful.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by BrodyFosse123 2008-10-29 00:25:34


The myth of her death is right up there with Jayne Mansfield, Mama Cass Elliot and Karen Carpenter.

Jayne Mansfield was NOT decapitated in her fatal car crash, Mama Cass did not die chocking on a ham sandwich and Karen Carpenter did not die anorexic.

Mansfield's wig ended-up on the shattered windshield so spectators thought that was her head; Mama Cass died of a heart attack brought on by her excessive weight and Carpenter was already back to a normal weight -- her heart failure came from years of battling anorexia.





re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by ZiggyCringe 2008-10-29 00:38:13


I've wondered this for years!!!

Here's the thing. Everybody remembers something differently. I was working on a book where we tried to find out the truth of David Merrick ripping up the sheet music for "Meadowlark," and we talked to many people about it.

We got twelve different answers about something that happened once.

There were entertaining answers, there were boring answers, but no two people (who were all there for the event, thirty years ago), that matched.

Personally, I love the Irene Ryan story, and I HOPE it happened that way. I suspect it's mostly truthful.

But you never, ever know.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by miss pennywise 2008-10-29 00:51:12


If March 12 was a Monday in 1973, then I definitely saw it on Saturday, March 10, 1973. No question.

Who knows what really happened, but sometimes it's a very unglamorous ending that they try to make it out to sound so, oh I don't know, DRAMATIC! I mean, isn't it just so "perfect" for an actor to die "on stage"?

It's funny, but until tonight -- and this thread -- I never realized that my attendance that evening would actually help "solve" a mystery! All I know is that I've been carrying around this grudge for 35 years because I "missed her by that much"!

Maybe now I can finally let it go.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Paul W. Thompson 2008-10-29 01:00:50


Well, there's the power of the internet for you! Wow, ladies and gentlemen....

And while it very well may be that she was alert and directing her course of treatment for some of those six weeks, I hope that her last moments weren't sad or painful. I hope that she could remember the joy she felt on stage, and the joy she brought to audiences.

Who would ever think that we would be thanking Motown Records for contributing to an intriguing legend and, I guess, an urban myth with what I think is their only original Broadway cast album!

And, really, with a song like that, what a way to go out!

What I wouldn't give for some bootleg video footage of her singing it.

Wonder if Stephen Schwartz is a BWWer and has any thoughts on the topic? Somebody ask somebody to ask him! There must be people still around who were there.....where's Ann Reinking???

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by BrodyFosse123 2008-10-29 01:13:59


Unfortunately... camcorders weren't around until the early 80's so no bootleg video exists of anything in the 70's. Also, Bob Fosse wasn't keen on having ANY of his theater work archived so none of this shows (PIPPIN, CHICAGO, DANCIN', BIG DEAL, etc.) were ever archived by the Lincoln Center or anyone. His reasoning was that his work needed to be seen 'live' and not on some tape, etc.

This lack of visual archiving of his work is what prompted the creation of what became the revue FOSSE. Chet Walker and Gwen Verdon wanted to notate and document Bob Fosse's work before it was lost forever. This idea was thought up when Bob Fosse was still alive but didn't actually come into creation until the success of the revival of CHICAGO in 1996.

As luck would have it, the original Broadway cast of PIPPIN performed "Magic to Do" on the 1973 Tony Awards -- live from the Imperial Theatre. I have this and cherish it dearly as PIPPIN was the very first show I saw on Broadway. I was 7 years old.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by jayclay 2008-10-29 07:52:49


After I saw Pippin I wrote to Ben Vereen and asked for his autograph. He wrote "Long time sun be yours always". I've always loved that phrase and think of it often. It was the second autograph in my pretty decent collection - first was Jeff Fenholt from OBC JCS (my first B'way show). I was pretty upset at the time that Ben Vereen was not playing Judas the day I saw it, but I was thrilled to see him the next year in Pippin.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Paul W. Thompson 2008-10-29 13:27:09


I forgot to mention the most obvious thing of all--that the song refers to the singer's own death:

I believe if I refuse to grow old
I will stay young till I die

THERE'S the source of the legend. The MAGIC was provided by Miss Ryan's incandescent delivery of the number, complete with sing-along bouncing ball lyrics!

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Gothampc 2008-10-29 13:50:38


A question I have is why would they move her from NYC to Santa Monica? It seems like her health would deteriorate by having to make such a journey in poor health. The only reason I can think for the move is that maybe she wanted to be in familiar surroundings.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by CurtainPullDowner 2008-10-29 14:16:55


I wonder who will play Berthe in the Deaf West version?
Ryan is a tough act to follow, her rendition on the Original Cast Album is flawless.
Mimi Hines was wonderful in the LA production a few years ago.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by morosco 2008-10-29 14:35:54


A very different recording of Ryan singing...

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by noradesmond 2008-10-29 14:44:58


I've always wanted to know more about this as well! I seem to remember hearing that she always left the theater after her number and never stayed for the curtain calls. That would seem to indicate that if she did indeed collapse at the theater, onstage or off, it would have been during the performance.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by BrodyFosse123 2008-10-29 15:12:59


Thanks, morosco... for that link to the A&M promo single. As soon as she started singing the main first verse of the song, I was literally in tears. For some nostalgic reason, every song in PIPPIN always brings me to tears of melancoly. Its embarrassing to see me when the first chord of "Magic to Do" starts.

I'm back to being 7 years old all over again.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by JoeKv99 2008-10-29 18:19:05


I remember hearing as a child that she had finished her number and fallen ill and been unable to return for her curtain call. I have NO idea if that was true but it always seemed to be perfect.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Dancin Thru Life 2008-10-29 19:04:03


WOW!

Thanks for an awesome thread, PWT!

The discussion here serves as an absolutely fantastic tribute to an Actress and her talents.

I needed to read this today...and enjoyed the new info thoroughly!

The recording link really was the icing onthe cake!

God Bless Irene!

:)

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by hox 2008-10-29 20:47:06


Pippin was the first BW show I saw. I loved it, I was 12. It was in july so she wasnt in it but everyone else was I think. I was in NYC for a dance workshop at the Waldorf and the day after I saw Pippin Ben Verene came and taught a jazz class, it was sooo cool. I love corner of the sky song and magic to do.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by fashionguru_23 2008-10-29 21:16:45


I just posted the link of this thread on the "Ask Stephen" Forum on Stephen Schwartz's website. I asked if he could shead any light on the topic...Let's hope for a response!

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by TxTwoStep 2008-10-29 21:52:03


it also seems as if someone could ask Vereen directly, since he was there for the incident (unless, somehow, he was absent that performance and his understudy was on). Has Ryan ever been given one of those "video biographies" on the many channels that do that kind of thing? if so, lots of talking heads might weigh in.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Paul W. Thompson 2008-10-29 23:59:25


I'm loving the resourcefulness of our BWW posters. And I'm loving the love for Miss Ryan and for "Pippin."

But the big question: Can this show be revived? It's kind of getting obvious that it hasn't been.........

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by best12bars 2008-10-30 00:10:51


I assume most of you who have been in college theatre programs know about the "Irene Ryan Awards?"

She set up quite the scholarship fund via the Kennedy Center's American College Theatre Festival (with her Beverly Hillbillies earnings) to help young theatre actors who are starting out the biz.

When I was in college, two of our young actors won this prestigious award (it's a national "biggie"). Quite an honor, back then.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by H.Higgins 2008-10-30 00:36:00


best-

The "Irene Ryan Award" is, wonderfully, still important in the college theatre scene.

It was an honor to receive the nomination just a couple years ago!

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Paul W. Thompson 2008-10-30 00:37:49


Do today's Ryan Award recipients even know who she was? I'm curious.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by TxTwoStep 2008-10-30 08:08:13


PAUL W, when i adjudicate region-wide, i make sure the hopefuls do. Last year, our emcee/host for the acting finals did a very funny, very touching, "Granny" impression. Just the right tone/spirit. i also know the national coordinator at KennCenter from former mutual regional work with ACTF. He's a Ryan fan, so he probably makes sure, though i haven't been to national finals in about a decade. i'd love to go again. They are always thrilling.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Gothampc 2008-10-30 09:57:15


"But the big question: Can this show be revived? It's kind of getting obvious that it hasn't been"

I think it sort of has that 1970s sensibility to it, much like Godspell. So it might have to have some tweaking done to it. Maybe a reorchestration.

I also think it's one of those shows (like Hello Dolly) where a performer is so identified with a role that some people are afraid to remount it out of disrespect to the original cast member. Or possibly some people have such fond memories of Ben Vereen that they don't want to see another person in the role.

I think in today's Broadway economics, they would have to have a name in both the Pippin and the Leading Player roles.

That being said, how about Cloris Leachman for the grandmother and Meagan Mullally for Fastrada?

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by TxTwoStep 2008-10-30 10:02:55


wish i could have seen the Goodspeed tour version recently for casting alone, plus the Utah Shakes version (which i heard had a great visual concept). Looking forward to the Deaf West version, which like the LA REPRISE version, is likely to feature Michael Arden. Was Sam Harris also in REPRISE version?

Also i heard the PaperMill version was quite good (Jack Noseworthy).

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by TxTwoStep 2008-10-30 10:04:34


oh yeah, rumor has it Deaf West version will have the same "signing" lead as BIG RIVER, which Jeff Calhoun also did....the kid was also in THE FAMILY STONE, but i forget his name...Giordano, maybe?

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by LadyRosecoe 2008-10-30 13:40:28


Tyrone Giordano? I don't remember the last name, but I remember him from the 2003-2004 season

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Auggie27 2008-10-30 14:02:57


But didn't Kathleen Freeman finish her performance in FULL MONTY, walk offstage, take a cab to the hospital, and die there within 24 hours? Is that a legend, too?

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Paul W. Thompson 2008-10-30 15:00:23


A few idle "Pippin" thoughts:

When Irene Ryan sang the line:

And it's hard to believe I'm being led astray
By a man who calls me "Granny"

there must have been a defeaning ROAR from the audience every night! A huge, affirming, joyful cry of recognition and delight. I actually get teary-eyed if I conjure it up too clearly. Only live theater can provide those kinds of moments.

Wasn't "Pippin" the first Broadway musical to air TV commercials that included performance clips? I think it started with the hands in the light curtain.

Looking back, doesn't it seem really odd that John Rubinstein and Jill Clayburgh were in a Bob Fosse musical? I mean, really?

And was the video with Vereen, William Katt, Chita and Martha Raye shot at the O'Keefe Center in Toronto, the home of the legendary try-out of "Camelot?" I've always been under that impression.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Gothampc 2008-10-30 15:30:33


"A huge, affirming, joyful cry of recognition and delight."

While not a huge audience response, I've always thought the same about Follies when Yvonne DeCarlo sang "First you're another sloe-eyed vamp, then someone's mother, then you're camp..."

"Wasn't "Pippin" the first Broadway musical to air TV commercials that included performance clips?"

Yes I believe so. The commercial I remember had a tag line that went something like "we'll show you two minutes for free, to see the other 98 minutes come to the Imperial (or was it the Minskoff) Theater".

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Detroiter 2008-10-30 15:57:15


A long time reader of Broadwayworld.com, I registered as a member just now just so I could provide some info on Irene Ryan's death. John Rubenstein used to post on the usenet group rec.arts.theatre.musicals and back in August 1996 he posted the following, which I assume is pretty definitive since he was starring in the show at the time:

Dear Irene Ryan did NOT die during a performance. Nor did she finish her
contract. Here's the true story:
Irene was lonely in New York City. She missed her life and her friends in
LA where she had lived for many years, and the cold winter and the
eight-show schedule undermined her spirit somewhat. But, trouper that she
was, she never missed a performance. However, I started to notice that she
was beginning to look weak, or listless. I sat and watched her big number
on stage every night, and I saw that she began to cut down on her moves,
and to generally diminish the amazing energy that she would normally put
out every time (on opening night, she stopped the show cold, and I had to
stand there for about eight minutes waiting for the applause to die down
before I could go on!). One Saturday matinee, she looked particularly
drained, and I got worried that she might be sick. I was having dinner
with Fosse at my house between shows; so I went to Ben Vereen and asked
him to contact Stuart Ostrow (the producer) and have him come to the
evening show, and I would ask Bob to do the same. I told Bob that I
thought perhaps Irene needed a vacation, even though contractually she
didn't have one coming for some months; it might do her good to go to
California for a while, and then finish up her contract when the weather
was warmer. Bob said he'd take a look at her in the next day or two.
When I returned to the Imperial for the evening show, the call had just
come through from Kennedy airport: Irene was on a plane to Los Angeles.
She had had her bags packed before the matinee, and right after the show,
with the help of Walter Willison, my friend and standby, she had left for
the airport right after the afternoon performance. Her standby, Lucie
Lancaster, went on that night, and then continued to play the part until
Dorothy Stickney took over some weeks later.
Irene, upon landing in LA, was taken right to the hospital, diagnosed with
malnutrition!! We all called and sent her cards and love and wishes to get
better fast, but she basically wasted away over the next few days. I
belive she actually died about three days later of some kind of heart
failure.
I have always thought that her behavior was like that of an old cat, who
curls up under the bed and goes to sleep and just doesn't wake up. Irene
knew (either consciously or not) that it was her "time". She stuck with
her job as long as she could, and then, without fanfare, went home to die.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Paul W. Thompson 2008-10-30 16:18:56


WOW

Thanks for joining, first of all!

I don't know what to say. This story certainly confirms what we learned from Miss Pennywise, that the changeover from Irene Ryan to the understudy (now known to be Lucy Lancaster) was between a matinee and an evening performance.

And it also confirms how amazing and well-received her performance was!

But in other respects, this account raises more questions, in that it conflicts with the news media reports from the time, even as it acknowledges the existence of the rumors we have all heard.

The timing was not a few days, according to the NYT, it was six weeks, so I'm assuming that Mr. Rubinstein just conflated the timing. Pennywise placed the date as March 10, 1973, and her death in the media was given as April 26, 1973, "six weeks" after leaving the production.

If she left so abruptly, without giving notice, so to speak, that might have given rise to the impression that she had suddenly taken ill, but were the next day media reports of her passing wrong about her stroke, or misled in some way? And why would the theater staff tell a young girl's parents that she had had a heart attack--to cover her perhaps unprofessional-seeming action? (I'm not calling it that, but perhaps it looked that way to those who didn't know that she was generally wasting away, so to speak.)

Does this account help settle things, or does it raise more questions? It confirms that she wasn't doing well during that matinee performance, but doesn't talk about an "onstage" collapse or attack. And no word about a brain tumor. Hm.

Here's some thoughts: maybe she didn't know she was having a stroke during the matinee until the doctors told her about it later, and then determined the underlying cause. And having her bags packed already just confirmed that her decision to leave was the right one. And the rumors got started because she left so quickly, without an official goodbye. And because she had no family, perhaps her friends and representatives didn't handle the PR aspects as well as they should have, in hindsight.

Somebody get Stephen Schwartz's book and see if he talks about it!


re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by TxTwoStep 2008-10-30 16:52:19


i always had the impression that the Katt/Rivera video version was shot at the Kennedy Center, but i could easily be wrong.

Speaking of Ostrow, there is a great account of many things PIPPIN in his book....including the TV commercial's development. i recall him saying it kept the show from closing and even running quite a while. The book may be called A PRODUCER'S JOURNEY, but my memory may fail me. It's a great book in many ways!

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by LI Larry 2008-10-30 18:10:11


As far as there being a revival, when I was waiting at the stage door at Fosse for Ben Vereen, he finally came out and someone asked him if he would do a revival of Pippin. He said no but he would want to direct it. There was some talk a year or so ago about him directing a revival of it with Usher taking on the role of the Leading Player. I'm not sure what came out of it. I wish they would revive it. I saw the production at Bay Street Theater which completely redid the choreography taking out all the Fosse dancing. BD Wong was the leading player. I did not like it. It played like a bad high school production.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Auggie27 2008-10-30 18:22:20


The Papermill production was pretty routine, over-conceived (people arriving in a limousine, if I recall) and not thrilling in the casting, Charlotte Rae aside. Noseworthy had some vocal problems -- not just my opinion, discussed. He clearly recovered and sang better on broadway. But the NJ revival felt like a strained non-event, someone trying to find a clever way to reconceive a show tied to the 70s. Didn't work, and unless a NY revival is star-studded, I cannot see it selling tickets. The material is just too precious and of its time, no matter how tuneful the Schwart score.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by BrodyFosse123 2008-10-30 18:42:09


Gothampc -- PIPPIN opened at the Imperial Theatre in 1972 and transferred to the Minskoff in 1977, where it played its last few months.

And yes... that was pretty much what the commercial announcer said at the end of the the very first TV commercial for a Broadway show ever. The commercial was Ben Vereen and the 2 gals doing the now-famous Manson Trio dance.

Here's Jill Clayburgh's replacement: Betty Buckley:


re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by thenewmoon 2008-10-31 16:57:42


Great thread! The telecast of Pippin was, for some reason, the first and only video my family owned when I was a wee toddler, and it's always been dear to my heart. That being said, every live version I've seen-- at high schools, Papermill, and LA's Deaf West Players (they did an anime-redux version with Gedde Watanabe as Bertha!)-- has absolutely paled in comparison to the original. Still, we here in LA have high hopes for the upcoming Deaf West treatment, especially since it will play at the newly-renovated Mark Taper Forum, where musicals are so rarely staged. Ooh, I'm getting chills just thinking about it. I'm sure they're hoping for success on a "Big River" scale. And Tyler Giordano would be awesome, he's so hot!

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by miss pennywise 2008-10-31 17:27:31


Even though I was "dragged" to PIPPIN by my parents, it became my favorite show. I saw it many, many more times after March 10, 1973. I immediately fell in love with Ben Vereen. I thought he was the greatest musical theatre performer I had ever seen!

I'm going to try to remember who I saw in the show after the original cast left.

I saw Lucie Lancaster's very first performance!!! (She was really fun, BTW.) Then I saw Dorothy Stickney and Fay Sappington.

After Ben Vereen left, Northern J. Calloway took over, and I was surprised because he was excellent. ("Surprised" only because I couldn't imagine anyone being as good as Mr. V!) I believe Ben Vereen came back to the show after a while. (Corroboration, anyone?)

Following John Rubenstein's departure, I saw Dean Pitchford and Michael Rupert as Pippin. After Jill Clayburgh, I remember Betty Buckley and Joy Franz.

I don't remember Priscilla Lopez's performance at all because Leland Palmer was so extraordinary, everyone else's interpretation of Fastrada pales by comparison.

And of course I got to see Ann Reinking many times in the ensemble, along with Sandahl Bergman and Christopher Chadman.


re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by BittenByAZebra 2009-02-12 01:36:20


What a fascinating thread. It was like reading a good detective story!

The only reason that I'm posting this is to mention that Motown did record at least one other Broadway cast album: the 1970s revival of GUYS & DOLLS starring Robert Guillame (sp?) and Ken Page. To this day, it's still my favorite recording of GUYS & DOLLS. "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat" really ROCKS!

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by EricMontreal22 2009-02-12 02:14:55


I LOVE Pippin.

This leads me to two questions.

Why was Pippin such a huge flop in London (in a production that was the same as the US one)--I know Fosse back then never did as well in London but... from huge hit to huge flop?

Also, Brody Fosse says he has a private copy of the Pippin DVD that has the scenes that were cut (and the DVD company says are lost forever)--like I Guess I'll Miss the Man, the headless head talking, etc anyone know for sure?

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by EricMontreal22 2009-02-12 02:19:41


"I also think it's one of those shows (like Hello Dolly) where a performer is so identified with a role that some people are afraid to remount it out of disrespect to the original cast member. Or possibly some people have such fond memories of Ben Vereen that they don't want to see another person in the role. "

The bigger prob for me is Fosse. I think the score is underated actually (at the time critics DESPISED it, but they also didn't think much of Chicago's score...) However I still have never thought Pippin much worked without Fosse's amazing staging. I already think Sweet Charity sucks without his staging--like the recent revival (FOsse formed the entire show around his stagign and choreography afterall--writing much of the book himself pre Neil Simon etc) and Pippin is similar for me. They could do a Chorus Line I guess and largely recreate the original (maybe slightly updating the costumes/scenery to be less 70s--though that's kinda the point of the whole show) and I for one would love to seethat original staging live. But I doubt they'll do this, and it would take a true new vision to erase memories and comparisons to Fosse's

"I don't remember Priscilla Lopez's performance at all because Leland Palmer was so extraordinary, everyone else's interpretation of Fastrada pales by comparison. "

Leland of course retired not too long after (well after All That Jazz). I do love Chita in the video/dvd though (and I love Martha as Granny)

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by EricMontreal22 2009-02-12 02:28:14


"Also, Bob Fosse wasn't keen on having ANY of his theater work archived so none of this shows (PIPPIN, CHICAGO, DANCIN', BIG DEAL, etc.) were ever archived by the Lincoln Center or anyone. His reasoning was that his work needed to be seen 'live' and not on some tape, etc. "

Right though they have Big Deal in that privately recorded copy most of us collectors have. It is too bad--what i never got is why he didn't pul l a Jerome Robbisn and insist on people using his choreography in the copyright for revivals.

"i always had the impression that the Katt/Rivera video version was shot at the Kennedy Center, but i could easily be wrong. "

It was recorded at the Hummingbird Center (now Sony Center boo) in Ontario Canada. The production wasn't part of a tour but was staged and performed largely for the the taping.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by miss pennywise 2009-02-12 02:44:48


There is a production of it in LA right now. Sara Gettelfinger is Fastrada and Harriet Harris is Berthe.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by ken8631 2009-02-12 08:14:54


"I believe if I refuse to grow old
I will stay young till I die"

Thanks for the thread.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by WestVillage 2009-02-12 10:26:33


I attended the opening night performance of Pippin; I had to be about 15 or 16 years old, and was a huge Irene Ryan fan. John Rubenstein's account is correct ... she brought the house down after Time to Start Living ... I vividly remember her exiting the stage after the number to thunderous applause, and the applause kept going and going and going until she had to come out from the wings and take a bow. The audience cound't get enough of her. And yes, the opening night audience went wild on the "man who calls me Granny" line. It was truly an exhilerating night; I can't imagine any Broadway opening being more exciting.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Gypsy9 2009-02-12 13:36:17


I saw PIPPIN shortly after it opened, with my family; I remember being happy that my hard to please father really liked it. Irene Ryan was wonderful, as was Ben Vereen and John Rubenstein.

The West Coast production is reviewed in today's New York Times. It is mostly positive.

For some reason I don't own the CD of PIPPIN. I will rectify that now.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by AZActor 2010-10-07 14:43:35


I know I'm entering this conversation late, but I adore Irene Ryan's song from "Pippin" and the older I get the more I love it. I had heard the stories you've all recounted about her death.
This is what Wikipedia has to say, and it seems to cover the "collapsed during Pippen and taken to California" scenario:
In April 1973, Ryan suffered a stroke during a performance of Pippin. Earlier in the year, her friend and fellow Beverly Hillbillies cast member, Nancy Kulp, had tried to persuade her not to go to New York for the musical. She had been diagnosed with a brain tumor some time previously, but reportedly was never made aware of it. Several days after she fell ill, Irene Ryan died on April 26, 1973. She was 70. Pallbearers at Ryan's California funeral included Hillbillies co-stars Buddy Ebsen and Max Baer, Jr., along with Beverly Hillbillies creator Paul Henning. The funeral was also attended by Donna Douglas, Harriet E. McGibbon, Louie Nye, and others associated with the series. Her body was interred in a mausoleum crypt at the Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery in Santa Monica, California, beside her sister, Anna Thompson.

I have a video of a television production of "Pippin" with Martha Raye as Berthe; she's good (and the song is great) but she's not Irene Ryan.

The attached link is to a site that has the audio, but not the video, of the song.

Brooke

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Dollypop 2010-10-07 15:21:19


You know, there are plenty of people who were involved with the original PIPPIN who could be contacted for their recollections of the event. Michael Rupert was playing the title role and he Twitters up a storm. Jill Clayburgh is still very active on stage
and the same applies to Priscilla Lopez. If this matter means so much to you, why don't you contact them and get their take on what happened?

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Phyllis Rogers Stone 2010-10-07 15:31:40


You know, maybe if you weren't such a nasty cooze all the time you'd realize that this thread is two years old.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Dollypop 2010-10-07 19:36:47


And you still haven't contacted those people? What are you waiting for?

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Barbour Pole 2010-10-07 20:44:34


'nasty cooze' is hilarious

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Paul W. Thompson 2010-10-15 02:50:58


Is it true that the October 14, 2010 episode of "30 Rock" included a reference about this? I'm telling you, it just keeps going! For the record, let me state what we think we know for sure: Miss Ryan did not die onstage at the Imperial, she died in California.

That being said: I started this thread two years ago, and I have the utmost respect for Miss Ryan and for "Pippin." And no, I have never contacted anyone involved in the production itself. In fact, two years ago (those pre-Facebook days) I never dreamed I could. However, I did uncover an old Yahoo posting from John Rubinstein, which I took to be legitimate.

If anyone knows someone who was there, behind the scenes, that would be great if they could let us know what they remember. But I bet my bottom dollar that no one at the time really knew the whole truth, out of respect for her stardom and her privacy. And that, IMHO, lead to the creation of the urban legends we've all heard, fueled of course by her posthumous Tony nomination and by the song she sang so immortally.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by CockeyedOptimist2 2010-10-15 06:08:09


It is true that there was a reference on 30 Rock last night. I wasn't around here 2 years ago when everyone was first discussing this, but read through it all the other day and found it all fascinating. Can't help with any info but the 30 Rock reference. Sorry.

The reference was something like this: Jenna was mad that Tracy decided to use the live format to break character and she never broke character. She said something like, "I was in Pippin when Irene Ryan died and I just kept performing."

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by JoeKv99 2010-10-15 10:23:40


And it made me wonder if someone at 30 Rock doesn't read this board.

Too perfect that Jenna (Who lies about everything) would claim to have been onstage during this non-existent event.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Reginald Tresilian 2010-10-15 10:31:56


It would have been REALLY funny if they'd referred to someone as a "nasty cooze."

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by JoeKv99 2010-10-15 11:37:47


And can we have Jack say that, please?

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by twinbelters 2010-10-15 23:12:16


This thread is a riot. I like Rubenstein's testimony. It makes sense.

Reminds me about the myth of Walt Disney's cryogenic resting place. So many details at the time fired the public's imagination.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by Idiot 2011-09-22 18:01:24


Oh, Phyllis. You had me at 'nasty cooze'.

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by henrikegerman 2011-09-23 10:17:37


Does anyone know the whereabouts of Ryan Idol at the time?

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by themysteriousgrowl 2011-09-23 10:19:43



"What is the truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Ryrene Rydol?"

-- Scooby-Doo

re: What is truth vs. rumor about the 1973 death of Irene Ryan?
Posted by 3bluenight 2011-09-24 15:33:07


hey, i just discovered this post as well.

just wanted to answer a question that was posted, like, years ago.

the bob fosse edit of the katt/rivera pippin does include the song "I Guess I'll Miss the Man" and the floating head.

One more Irene Ryan mystery
Posted by WOSQ 2011-09-28 15:22:44


Irene Ryan's crypt is shared with one "Anna Thompson 1885-1966" and the marble nameplate has both individuals on the same piece.

Ms. Ryan's name appears on top as "Irene 'Granny' Ryan 1902-1973" and then underneath is carved the above data for Ms. Thompson.

Anna Thompson died first, yet logic dictates that the marker was made later after Ms. Ryan's death.

I don't know anything so I am not even saying anything.

Check it out on findagrave.com which is one of the more fascinating and slightly macabre sites out there.

One more Irene Ryan mystery
Posted by NoName3 2011-09-28 19:02:59


According to Wikipedia, Ryan was twice divorced and Thompson was her sister. (Of course, as someone once said, "I have known strange errors in that publication.")

One more Irene Ryan mystery
Posted by ChiChi 2011-09-28 21:06:45


I've always loved how she sounds on the cast recording. So cute.

One more Irene Ryan mystery
Posted by Paul W. Thompson 2011-10-18 13:46:02


Here is my BroadwayWorld review of the off-Loop production that just opened in Chicago last weekend. The show is extremely timely and relevant now!

http://chicago.broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Reviews-Bohos-PIPPIN-Does-The-Magic-At-Theater-Wit-20111018

One more Irene Ryan mystery
Posted by lovebwy 2013-02-20 17:56:28


"I attended the opening night performance of Pippin; I had to be about 15 or 16 years old, and was a huge Irene Ryan fan. John Rubenstein's account is correct ... she brought the house down after Time to Start Living ... I vividly remember her exiting the stage after the number to thunderous applause, and the applause kept going and going and going until she had to come out from the wings and take a bow. The audience cound't get enough of her. And yes, the opening night audience went wild on the "man who calls me Granny" line. It was truly an exhilerating night; I can't imagine any Broadway opening being more exciting."

This post made me cry. What a beautiful evening that must have been for Miss Ryan and all who attended. I noticed in the Martha Raye version the "Granny" line is taken out.

What a shame there is no video of Irene Ryan doing that song. I'd give my right eye to see it.

One more Irene Ryan mystery
Posted by goldenboy 2013-02-21 00:38:11


you would seriously give your right eye to see it??

One more Irene Ryan mystery
Posted by bradactor 2013-02-21 05:33:10


This was posted way back and I found it in my hotmail folders:
Newsgroups: rec.arts.theatre.musicals
From: ship...@aol.com (Shipshe)
Date: 1996/08/15
Subject: Answering PIPPIN questions

To set the record straight on several of the questions in a recent string:
The PIPPIN video was made in Canada expressly as a video, although it was
performed in front of an audience because there was so much "relating" to
the audience in that show. The video cast never toured or did the show
anywhere else. There was no album ever released as far as I know.
Someone put a "?" after Eric Berry's name, who played my pop Charlemagne
in the original company. He ws a very distinguished British actor who died
just about two years ago out here in California. He played his role for
the full five-year run on Broadway, and then did the entire National Tour.
PIPPIN bought him his country house and his beloved dog. One of the scary
joys of doing the show was the suspense about what he would actually say
during his number "War Is A Science"!!
Dear Irene Ryan did NOT die during a performance. Nor did she finish her
contract. Here's the true story:
Irene was lonely in New York City. She missed her life and her friends in
LA where she had lived for many years, and the cold winter and the
eight-show schedule undermined her spirit somewhat. But, trouper that she
was, she never missed a performance. However, I started to notice that she
was beginning to look weak, or listless. I sat and watched her big number
on stage every night, and I saw that she began to cut down on her moves,
and to generally diminish the amazing energy that she would normally put
out every time (on opening night, she stopped the show cold, and I had to
stand there for about eight minutes waiting for the applause to die down
before I could go on!). One Saturday matinee, she looked particularly
drained, and I got worried that she might be sick. I was having dinner
with Fosse at my house between shows; so I went to Ben Vereen and asked
him to contact Stuart Ostrow (the producer) and have him come to the
evening show, and I would ask Bob to do the same. I told Bob that I
thought perhaps Irene needed a vacation, even though contractually she
didn't have one coming for some months; it might do her good to go to
California for a while, and then finish up her contract when the weather
was warmer. Bob said he'd take a look at her in the next day or two.
When I returned to the Imperial for the evening show, the call had just
come through from Kennedy airport: Irene was on a plane to Los Angeles.
She had had her bags packed before the matinee, and right after the show,
with the help of Walter Willison, my friend and standby, she had left for
the airport right after the afternoon performance. Her standby, Lucie
Lancaster, went on that night, and then continued to play the part until
Dorothy Stickney took over some weeks later.
Irene, upon landing in LA, was taken right to the hospital, diagnosed with
malnutrition!! We all called and sent her cards and love and wishes to get
better fast, but she basically wasted away over the next few days. I
belive she actually died about three days later of some kind of heart
failure.
I have always thought that her behavior was like that of an old cat, who
curls up under the bed and goes to sleep and just doesn't wake up. Irene
knew (either consciously or not) that it was her "time". She stuck with
her job as long as she could, and then, without fanfare, went home to die.

One more Irene Ryan mystery
Posted by bradactor 2013-02-21 05:36:55


The message I posted was from a reply by John Rubenstein, the original Pippin in the musical. He use to post on the google group rec.arts.theatre.musicals as Shipshe
Hope this message helps answer the question posed.

One more Irene Ryan mystery
Posted by bradactor 2013-02-21 05:53:23


I just posted the same message without reading what had already been posted. Sorry about that. I think it is the truth.

One more Irene Ryan mystery
Posted by edelsohn 2013-04-30 13:29:35


Walter Willison, John Rubinstein's understudy for Pippin, posted the following on YouTube in 2011:

"From her the first preview performance in "PIPPIN" at The Kennedy Center to Opening Night on Broadway, which landed her a Motown recording contract the next day [at the time of her passing, under the guidance of producer Bob Crew, she had recorded half the songs for the unreleased album; two tracks, Stephen Schwartz' "No Time At All" and "Time" by Bob Crew, were released on 45 and became number one singles], to her final matinee six-months later, Irene literally stopped the show eight times a week, receiving the kind of tumultuous, five minute ovations reserved for only our most beloved stage performers. Three days after receiving her Tony Award nomination, though undetected by the audience, she suffered a stroke on stage during her final Saturday matinee performance. That evening she flew to Los Angeles and returned to her home in Santa Monica for one last day before being hospitalized that Monday, and operated on for a brain tumor a few days later. She watched the 1973 Tony Awards from her hospital bed, and passed away the following week. on April 26, 1973, just a month after her final Broadway performance." [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8z-qTG-Yt4]

The description above is the most plausible one that I have read and ties together the various rumors in a reasonable way. It is consistent with John Rubinstein's description. As Mr. Rubinstein wrote, Mr. Willison was the person who apparently helped her get to the airport and may have helped her pack.

In summary, she suffered a stroke *on stage* during the Saturday matinee performance. The audience probably did not realize it and Mr. Rubinstein only noticed that she looked drained. She immediately flew back to Los Angeles that evening, was hospitalized on Monday, and died a few weeks later.

One more Irene Ryan mystery
Posted by GavestonPS 2013-04-30 16:18:06


Thanks, guys, for the specific accounts.

One more Irene Ryan mystery
Posted by Paul W. Thompson 2013-04-30 17:50:25


I had seen John Rubinstein's post from the 90s, but I didn't know about Walter Willison's statement until just now. And yes, it does seem like it ties things up nicely. As the OP on this thread, I am grateful that the urban legend I heard growing up with an eye on the theater was indeed remembered by others. And I'm glad we have laid it to rest, with the truth about her amazing performance and sad decline here for all to see. When I started this thread, I certainly didn't know that a Broadway revival would finally come to pass! But yes, the show has never been dated in my eyes, and I always hoped that others felt the same way. RIP Miss Ryan.

Watching your flings be flung all over
Makes me feel young all over
In just no time at all...

One more Irene Ryan mystery
Posted by Paul W. Thompson 2013-07-26 19:03:17


Just to add a bit of clarity to the tale: the 1973 Tony Awards took place on Sunday, March 25, 1973, 15 days after we believe Miss Ryan left the production, and 32 days before her death. The show took place at the Imperial Theatre, where "Pippin" had opened the previous fall. On the broadcast, Ben Vereen and company performed "Magic To Do," which means that the legendary light wall of hands seen on the broadcast videotape must have been the real one used every night during performances!