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YOU GOTTA GO TO PLACIDO'S: Some memories of my times with Hildy Parks

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by Glen Roven

To me, Hildy Parks embodied the uber-New York Woman, the career gal/mom who had it all long before having it all was in the American vocabulary. Think Rosalind Russell mixed with Holly Hunter when she's feisty; then add a bit of Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews for good measure and you have the whirl-wind I knew as Hildy Parks.

Every day, she got up at the crack of dawn to swim a few laps before breakfast. Then she'd rush to her office at the Shubert Theater to write a network TV special. At a time when there could be 10 to 20 writers on any given project, Hildy wrote the entire script (or the whole enchilada as she used to call it) by herself. Of course, Alex produced the whole enchilada by himself too, but that's another article.

After lunch she'd work with Alex on the creative side of producing Broadway plays and musicals. Whenever they would have a disagreement, she would look to the heavens for guidance and like a Mom scolding a petulant child she'd moan, "Jeeeze, Alex, what are we going to do with you?"

At night when she wasn't at the theater, Hildy had meetings with the local school boards, or the local community boards, or the landmarks commission, or worked with the World Health Organization or the UN. There was always something to do to make the world better. All this in addition to looking after her two boys. In the morning the exhausting cycle would start again. Exhausting to anyone but Hildy.

I worked closely with Hildy for about 15 years writing/arranging/conducting the music for her television shows. My phone would ring at 9 AM: "Hello, TC. It's Hildy." TC stood for Tiny Composer. I rather enjoyed being referred to as tiny by a woman who barely cracked 5 feet. "Listen, what are you doing today? You gotta go over to Placido Domingo's house and work with him." I was barely 21. Imagine getting a call like that. Throughout the next 15 years, there would always be a similar phone call with a different name: Julie Andrews, Patti LaBelle, Peter Brook. It was a very heady experience.

The first TV show we did together was called
Parade of Stars. I was hired to put together a Broadway tribute that was going to be performed by 35 stars.  I had some general meetings with Albert Stephenson, the choreographer, and we went into her office to discuss the number. When we got there she said, "Well, lemme hear it." I blanched and stuttered, "We need a bit more time." Hildy gave one of her "Jeeze, Alex" looks, threw a legal pad in the air and said, "We're shooting this next week. Let's do it now. What should Linda Lavin sing?" And led by this feisty spark plug, we finished the number in 15 minutes.

My friend Robin and I were on vacation in England once. Hildy called and said she was in town for the day and wanted to work on the Emmy show. I politely told her I was going to Glyndebourne, a country opera house that is sold out for years in advance. You have to go in black tie, take a train 2 hours outside of London, eat between acts, and then return. Very English and very exclusive. Hildy said she'd meet us on the train and come too. Robin was relieved because he felt she would never get a ticket on such short notice and he was confident we would continue our much-needed vacation.

Just as the train was pulling out of Victoria station and Robin was breathing a sigh of relief, the door to our compartment swung open and there was Hildy, in full evening gown regalia, but holding her legal pad. "But how did you get a ticket?" Robin asked stupefied. "Oh, I called Peter Hall. Now, what should Hal Linden sing in the Opening?"

I remember shows where we would shoot for 24 hours straight. Everyone was exhausted, but not Hildy. I once tried to grab a cat-nap in a dressing room when she walked in, "Oh, sorry. Didn't mean to disturb you. But as long as your up, have you thought about the closing of Night of 100 Stars III? And this years Tony's, let's do a tribute to Kander and Ebb. Think about it."

I was doing a production of my first musical in Cleveland. We were having our last dress rehearsal where nothing was going right. Actors were forgetting lines, dancers were forgetting dance steps, the usual. I was much younger then so I didn't quite know how to remain calm in the face of adversity. After one particularly bad flub I had had enough: I looked to the heavens and screamed "Jeeze" and threw my legal pad in the air. Everyone stopped. They had never seen me so upset. But my friend Robin easily broke the tension by saying, "Don't worry. He's just doing Hildy."

After doing the Tony for 25 years, Alex had some sort of problem and he and Hildy did not do the 1987 Tonys or any subsequent ones. This was very hard on both of them because the Tony's were their baby. This was the best award show on TV and the entire industry knew it was because of Hildy and Alex. We were all nominated for an Emmy for something else that year and gathered in their living room to see if we had won. The Tony Award show was nominated for Best Variety show and it won. Alex was very magnanimous and you would swear he was glad the show's quality would continue. But Hildy looked at me and she quietly said, "Oh well. You're worst nightmares do come true." I had never seen her so vulnerable before. That's the Hildy I remember most.


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