BWW Interview: THE SHOW GOES ON! Broadway,Television And Screen Icon Kaye Ballard Talks About Her New Documentary Film And More
On May 20, The Camelot Theatre in Palm Springs, presented by The Palm Springs Cultural Center, previewed an incredible new documentary, "The Show Goes On", about the life and career of Broadway, Film and Television Icon Kaye Ballard to a "more than full house". In fact, two theatres were opened for the screening since demand far exceeded the number of seats in the main house. With her typically self-deprecating humor, Ms. Ballard proclaims herself "The Greatest Star You Hardly Knew", and the beautifully constructed 90 minute film details her extraordinary accomplishments from Broadway's "Carnival", "The Golden Apple", "Molly" and "Pirates Of Penzance" to her stellar nightclub, film and television career including "The Doris Day Show" and the beloved and iconic "Mother's In Law" with Eve Arden. It highlights the extraordinary talents of Ms. Ballard and doesn't shy away from the disappointments and challenges along the way, featuring interviews with Woody Allen, Carol Channing, Hal Prince, Carol Burnett, Michael Feinstein, Joy Behar and more. Hal Prince boldly states "if Kaye Ballard had been cast as the mother in "Gypsy," "she would have made history." I had the chance to visit with Ms. Ballard at her home on "Kaye Ballard Lane" in Rancho Mirage (the home formerly owned by her friend and TV mentor, Desi Arnaz) to talk about the film and more. Here are a few excerpts from the conversation:
DG: How did the production of this wonderful documentary come about?
KB: There's a guy named Don Kane - he used to book the Merv Griffin Show - and he was just so close to me. He died and left me fifty thousand dollars. I never had fifty thousand in the bank. I never made money in this business because I would spend it as quick as I got it on either costumes or good material. Which was a mistake. Because other people do material for years but I kept changing it, That's the only way they remember you. So, I thought "what would I do?". I could go to the Agua Caliente (local casino) and gamble, I could take my friends out to dinner. No. I'm gonna do a documentary because I knew that's what he'd like. And so I was working with Dan Wingate who was working with Sony, and I told him about it and he said "Well. I'd like to do it". I said, "Do you think we could do it for fifty thousand"? Was I dreaming? (She laughs) He said, "Yeah. I think we could". So he concentrated on it for about six months and I gave him twenty thousand dollars - each interview cost three thousand - please!! But I was thrilled I did it. Because when I saw Hal Prince apologize to me, sixty years later, I cried harder than I cried when my mother died. He kept me from so many things. I never auditioned for Hal Prince. He accused me of having him fired. I was so insecure that young ... as Don Rickles used to say about me, "She asks a toilet if she can sit down". I said, how could you think I could do that?" But he put it in his book. That really hurt me. And then, I did a show with Jerry Robbins. It was his first show. And it was my first starring show. I had no business being there. And he had no business directing it. He never directed anything before. So, I was leaning against the wall, and Maureen Stapleton was with me. And Jerry said "Katherine, get your hand off the proscenium". And I said, "Maureen, what the hell is the proscenium". That tells you I shouldn't have been in that show. Although, I stopped the show twice.
DG: What show was that?
KB: Well, you'll see in the film. But I thought, between him and him, I couldn't get work. I had to go back to nightclubs. Which I hated. My dream was to do a Broadway show. As you'll see in this documentary it all happened in a strange, strange way. And a wonderful way. Even when I had the cover of Life (magazine) I couldn't get nominated for an Obie. I thought, there's something not right here. So, then I went to England and was very successful in a show called "Touch And Go" and it ran for ten months. You'll also see in this documentary everything that happened. So, it was just ... and, in an indirect way Hal had me do so many more things I would have never done. Does that makes sense to you? I did "She Stoops To Conquer" with Nathan Lane. I did wonderful things. I was lucky, but unlucky. But, I love show business. My favorite person is Carol Channing. I dedicated this documentary to Carol Channing. The thing I'm proudest of - I never made a penny in any other business. And that's for eighty years. I did my last show at eighty eight.
DG: What's the name of the documentary, and how did you come up with the title?
KB: It's called "The Show Goes On". It doesn't say what, or how, or why. You'll figure it out. I picked the right title. I think I picked the right title.
DG: After watching it through, are you happy with it?
KB: Yes. I made a living doing Judy Garland ... (the phone rings) "Shut up. Shut up. Shut up" (she answers and it's our mutual friend Teri Ralston. We interrupt the interview for a brief conversation ...)
DG: Tell me about Carnival.
KB: Interesting. James Mitchell, who I love, never spoke to me for sixteen months. He was too into the part. (she laughs) I said, "Why did it take you so long?". He said. "Well I had things on my mind". And it was difficult for me to sing "it was always, always you". It was hard. And I loved the little french guy, Pierre Olaf.
DG: What's it like, as an artist, singing a song for the very first time - originating a song and a role?
KB: It was thrilling. To me, the most wonderful part of doing a show was rehearsing. I love that. And the most thrilling rehearsal was for "Follies". Because, everybody was cast perfectly. Lillian Motevecchi, I dressed with her, and she'd say "Kaye, Kaye - I missed a lyric". I'd say, "Don't worry about it. The audience doesn't understand you, anyway." (she laughs) But it was so wonderful. And, Donna McKechnie who is my dearest friend - and Dee Hoty, It was a superb cast, We wanted to do it on Broadway. We didn't care about the money. We didn't care about anything. But Stephen Sondheim wasn't strong enough to stick by his guts. Ann Miller was destroyed that she didn't get to do that on Broadway. Nothing was more thrilling than looking up and seeing Ann Miller on top of the stairs. I've had such thrilling moments. And very hurtful moments. I'm going to let you hear my audition for "Mame". That show threw me over the top that I didn't get it because I was so right. I was the right age. I lost a ton of weight - I was thin, thin, thin. I bought a Givenchy suit and I sang brilliantly. But they wanted a different - they thought I could never convince anyone I was from Number One Beekman Place, which is just a joke. Because I'm an actress. I could never get a break in television for the parts that I deserved, you know ...
DG: So, speaking of television, how did your relationship with Lucy and Desi come about and then "The Mothers In Law"
KB: "The Mothers In Law" - I would have stayed with that show for ten years if I could. Eve Arden was the best to work with. She said to me "Do you have a good side?". I said, "I don't know". She said, "Good, because this is my good side". But it was fun. It was just wonderful.
DG: Did they find you for that role?
KB: Yes. Lucy saw me at The Blue Angel. And she said, "Hey kid, you think funny". And then she told Desi about me. And then he sent Bob Carroll over. I was there and did a show - four in the morning or something - and Desi said "you're perfect for this part". Ann Southern was gonna do it, but they were too much alike. Oh, Eve Arden was a joy to work with.
DG: What brought you here to the desert?
KB: Desi. He loaned me this house. And he says "I'm not giving you anything for Christmas". I said, "That's perfectly okay". He says, "But you can use the house for two weeks". And I walked in and there was a Santa Claus floating in the pool. And on the table there was a money tree. And in the refrigerator was champagne and caviar. You gotta love a guy like that. So, I fell in love with it. And most people say, why don't you get a bigger house. But this house has such good vibes. Everyone who's come here to see me - like Doris Day and Shelley Winters and all these people would come here to visit and they all wanted to buy this house. But I said no, no. No sale. And I bought it for forty thousand with everything in it. Those are his lamps. And this is his table. That I never could get rid of ... you know. So I was lucky.
DG: So, you came and you stayed.
KB: I stayed! Well, I went back to New York but rented this house ... then twenty years ago I came here for good. I said, I can work from here as well as ... cause my rent in New York was fifteen hundred... and then it went up to five thousand because I had 211 East Seventieth - but what a great address. I was lucky. Virginia Graham lived upstairs. Lena Horne lived downstairs. It was wonderful.
DG: I know you may be giving something away that's in the documentary, but what is your highest or most exciting career accomplishment?
KB: Well, when I did GYPSY. I won the award in Dallas ... over Carol Burnett, over Ginger Rogers ... that's the only time I've ever won an award. I guess that's because of Hal Prince. (she laughs). But, you'll see a clip of it. And even in this, Hal Prince said "if she had done the role in New York she would have made history". And, you'll see why. But I never got that opportunity.
DG: Who are a few of the people who do interviews in the film?
KB: I got Michael Feinstein. Hal Prince. He's got thirty Tonys. All kinds of people. Woody Allen - I loved him instantly. I was surprised he did this. Ann Margret. Jerry Stiller, who's been a good friend of mine. I talked them (Jerry Stiller/Anne Meara) into doing an act together because they'd start arguing and I'd be on the floor laughing. And I'd say "Do that on stage". "What?". "Just what you're doing now". And they did. I love to help people that I know have talent. I helped Joy Behar. You'll hear that on the film.
DG: You love young people! If you had a group of young people sitting in front of you now, that aspire for careers in professional theatre, what would you say to them?
KB: I would say that you've got to love it more than anything in the world. You're gonna have plenty of disappointments, and you're gonna have plenty of highs, and the highs outweigh the disappointments. And stick with it. That's the hardest part. And I never made my living in any other way. I went anywhere to perform. That was the advice that Shelly Winters gave me. And it was true. She was adorable. She learned to swim in my pool for Poseidon Adventure. I just admired everybody. And, I met everybody I really admired. Bette Davis became a very good friend of mine. You'll see in the movie. It's not really about show business - it's about camaraderie and friends. Just stick with it!