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

Paul W. Thompson
Broadway Legend
joined:11/29/07
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.........
best12bars
Broadway Legend
joined:6/29/05
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.
"Jaws is the Citizen Kane of movies."
blocked: logan2, Diamonds3
H.Higgins
Broadway Legend
joined:1/18/05
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!
Paul W. Thompson
Broadway Legend
joined:11/29/07
Do today's Ryan Award recipients even know who she was? I'm curious.
TxTwoStep
Broadway Legend
joined:5/24/03
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.
Will: They don't give out awards for helping people be gay... unless you count the Tonys. "I guarantee that we'll have tough times. I guarantee that at some point one or both of us will want to get out. But I also guarantee that if I don't ask you to be mine, I'll regret it for the rest of my life..."
Updated On: 10/30/08 at 08:08 AM
Gothampc
Broadway Legend
joined:5/20/03
"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?
If anyone ever tells you that you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
TxTwoStep
Broadway Legend
joined:5/24/03
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).
Will: They don't give out awards for helping people be gay... unless you count the Tonys. "I guarantee that we'll have tough times. I guarantee that at some point one or both of us will want to get out. But I also guarantee that if I don't ask you to be mine, I'll regret it for the rest of my life..."
TxTwoStep
Broadway Legend
joined:5/24/03
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?
Will: They don't give out awards for helping people be gay... unless you count the Tonys. "I guarantee that we'll have tough times. I guarantee that at some point one or both of us will want to get out. But I also guarantee that if I don't ask you to be mine, I'll regret it for the rest of my life..."
LadyRosecoe
Broadway Star
joined:8/4/07
Tyrone Giordano? I don't remember the last name, but I remember him from the 2003-2004 season
Auggie27
Broadway Legend
joined:10/13/03
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?
"I'm a comedian, but in my spare time, things bother me." Gary Shandling
Paul W. Thompson
Broadway Legend
joined:11/29/07
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.
Gothampc
Broadway Legend
joined:5/20/03
"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".
If anyone ever tells you that you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
Updated On: 10/30/08 at 03:30 PM
Detroiter
Swing
joined:10/30/08
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.
Paul W. Thompson
Broadway Legend
joined:11/29/07
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!


Updated On: 10/30/08 at 04:18 PM
TxTwoStep
Broadway Legend
joined:5/24/03
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!
Will: They don't give out awards for helping people be gay... unless you count the Tonys. "I guarantee that we'll have tough times. I guarantee that at some point one or both of us will want to get out. But I also guarantee that if I don't ask you to be mine, I'll regret it for the rest of my life..."
LI Larry
Stand-by
joined:7/25/06
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.
Auggie27
Broadway Legend
joined:10/13/03
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.
"I'm a comedian, but in my spare time, things bother me." Gary Shandling
BrodyFosse123
Broadway Legend
joined:2/27/06
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:


So what does that make you, Brody? A zero-trick pony? - Wanna Be A Foster .........................The only power brody wields is in his own mind, joe. But it's amusing to watch him pretend nonetheless. - tazber
thenewmoon
Stand-by
joined:2/2/07
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!
miss pennywise
Broadway Legend
joined:4/7/04
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.


"Be on your guard! Jerks on the loose!"

http://www.roches.com/television/ss83kod.html

**********

"If any relationship involves a flow chart, get out of it...FAST!"

~ Best12Bars
BittenByAZebra
Swing
joined:6/30/08
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!
Swing
joined:12/31/69
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?
Swing
joined:12/31/69
"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)
Swing
joined:12/31/69
"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.
miss pennywise
Broadway Legend
joined:4/7/04
There is a production of it in LA right now. Sara Gettelfinger is Fastrada and Harriet Harris is Berthe.
"Be on your guard! Jerks on the loose!"

http://www.roches.com/television/ss83kod.html

**********

"If any relationship involves a flow chart, get out of it...FAST!"

~ Best12Bars
ken8631
Broadway Legend
joined:4/13/04
"I believe if I refuse to grow old
I will stay young till I die"

Thanks for the thread.


2
Page:

BROADWAYWORLD TV