Comic Actress Kaye Ballard Talks PETA and Doin' It For Love
Actress/singer/comedienne Kaye Ballard remains one of the great living legends of stage, screen and television. She did comedy and sang with bandleader Spike Jones. She was the costar of TV's The Mothers-In-Law and The Doris Day Show, and the very funny film The Ritz among many others and too many Broadway musicals and road shows to mention. This lady brings mirth and goodwill wherever she appears. Animals are close to her heart, so it is no wonder that she, Lee Roy Reams and Liliane Montevecchi are mounting Doin' It For Love, for two nights only at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre March 9 and 10 to benefit PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). In our chat she talks about PETA, her love of animals and offers choice bits about her accomplishments and costars.
Tell me about PETA.
First of all I love animals as much as I love people, and maybe even a smidgen more. I have four dogs and two rescue dogs, and I agree with what they're doing. They've got to change the laws. People don't understand that. I fight for abused animals. I would be the one to pull the lever on somebody.
Whenever I see infomercials on animal abuse, I tear up.
I can't take it either. Animals are little souls. Just like we have souls, if we do...I feel animals have them. When I look in their eyes, I can see it. I've got to spend the rest of my life trying to make money to keep animals.
Bless you! You are equally comfortable in a book musical and on the cabaret stage. Would you rather do your act or a show?
I'd rather do a show. I did a show five years ago with Sean Phillips, a Ronald Harwood play called Quartet. That was the most exciting thing I've ever done. I'd rather do a play or a musical...really a musical, than anything. If you are not on television, they think you are dead. I've never stopped working and I'm 86.
You don't look it. I've seen you twice in the Palm Springs Follies and you look sensational.
Thank you, Don. I use my Henny Youngman there (he was famous for one-liners, short jokes delivered rapid-fire), because that is so commercial. Every single word I've ever done on stage, though, is true. My two favorite comics in the world are Kristen Wiig from SNL (Saturday Night Live) and Bridesmaids, I love her. There are actually three. Catharine O'Hara and...I'm thinking as I'm talking... Melissa McCarthy. She's adorable, but the only thing is I wish I could say, "Don't go that far!"
How do you feel if you have a young audience and you're performing standard material. How do you grab them?
This is what we're going to find out, Donald. Like the Henny Youngman thing, if it's funny, it's funny, no matter how old it is, it's funny. I do a takeoff on Sophie Tucker that is funny, because she was the old sage. I'm going to find out because there are a lot of young people in PETA. I love them.
They don't understand the old stuff.
And they've got to be taught.
What's your favorite role on stage?
Without question, it's Quartet or Gypsy. I did that in Dallas in 1961-62 with the original company and got an award for it. Mama Rose...I guess I was 40 then. I also did it in San Diego for three months.
Do you have an icon, a favorite performer?
I've got a couple. Judy Garland, Martha Raye...and Bea Lillie. When I was at the Macambo, Judy Garland sat in the front row and she came in with Ethel Merman...how about that? She'd say, "Do me! Do me!" When I started out in show business, I did an impression of Judy Garland. I've been very fortunate. I've had wonderful contacts in my life.
I'm going to mention a show, film or TV show you've done or a celebrity you've worked with. Say the first thing that comes into your mind about them.
That was the happiest time for me. Eve Arden said, "Do you have a good side?" I said, "I don't know." She said, "Well this is my good side." Her good side was always showing, so there was never a problem. (we laugh)
The film of The Ritz.
The only thing that disappointed me about that is that they took really some of the good scenes out. It's a director's medium of course. I would like to do one movie where I can say "That's the best I could do."
Your personality never changes. You're always so warm.
Thank you. I'll tell you something. I was George Clooney's mother in one episode of The Law and Mrs. McGraw. Six months later, he got ER, and we know what happened. I just saw him recently, and he acted like he just saw me yesterday. It was so thrilling.
When you watch shows today, Molly wasn't so bad. The score was wonderful, but it was the wrong time. Everybody was curious about the set, because it was a depression set. They said, "It's too gloomy." And about me playing Molly Goldberg, "She's too Italian." Molly's son told me I gave the very essence of his mother.
The most fun. I'm lucky, I'm very lucky. It was wonderful.
Fun. It was not my favorite show, because you wear one costume. (we laugh)
The Full Monty.
I think that show deserved more than it got. What a beautiful score! ...You know one of the best things I did was Minnie's Boys. I did it with the original cast in Pittsburgh. Lewis Stadlen wrote in his book, "If Kaye had done the part originally..." Shelley Winters played it and she was a dear friend of mine. I loved her. It should have been called My Sons, The Marx Brothers, then I think it would have had a better chance. Shelley took out a lot of the songs that were wonderful, but I love her, so there you are.
The Pirates of Penzance.
That was the most difficult to do. (she sings the staccato lyrics) I talked like a typewriter in that one.
A House Is Not a Home.
That was fun. I never achieved what I wanted to achieve, but to think I had a scene with Robert Taylor. (I can sense her swooning as she thinks of him) It's so funny, because he was very nervous. I said, "You can't be nervous" and he said, "Oh, yes. I'm always nervous the first day of shooting." And I thought "Robert Taylor's nervous. I don't feel so badly."
She was one of the best Funny Girls. She didn't get the credit she deserved. She made it her own and she was great.
A class act! That's how I really gained weight. I'd see her eat a bagel or a donut and think, "If she can do it, I can..." She never gained an ounce. If I read a menu, I gain a pound. (we laugh)
Spike Jones was a musical genius. Everything was timed within seconds. What a pro!
My darling. We did Cinderella and we both took the same salary. Even the chorus kids made more than we did with the overtime...(she laughs hard)
She was wonderful to work with. She was so real, I didn't know if she was talking to me or doing the scene.
A wonderful actress! I did Alice with her one time, and she was having trouble with producers. I said to her, "Linda, you don't know this, but this is the best time you'll have in your life in show business." She was making so much money. A very talented lady!
Your costars in Doin It For Love: Lee Roy Reams and Liliane Montevecchi.
They are adorable. Lee Roy is the cutest white man...(she laughs)...I call him Baby man! He's like a little kid. If a light goes on, he does three numbers. Hilarious! He's staging part of the show. Nobody directs because this is material we've all done for years. I'v known Liliane for 40 years. We did Follies together at the Paper Mill Playhouse. It was called the definitive version. Ann Miller was in it as well. She'd come off and she'd say, "Oh, Kaye, I forgot the lyrics." And I'd say, "That's OK, don't worry about it. They don't understand you anyway." She was adorable! In this show Doin It For Love, we (Lee Roy, Liliane and I) do three numbers together and we each do our individual spots.
I love to hear you talk about your Nana.
I do that. That's an important part of my life; it's earned me my salary. And if it's real, it holds up. With the direction that comedy is taking...I mean I worked with some of the greats, and I think they'd be upset. Gross is not necessarily funny; it's an embarrassed laugh rather than a laugh.
One thing about Kaye Ballard. She knows how to make people laugh, and it's within the realm of wholesome good humor. What a warm-hearted and lovely human being!
Rember Doin' It For Love: one night only!