That first summer at Sea Cliff, we had a series of very interesting 'names', in mostly mediocre plays, (but not all mediocre). Most of these plays were chosen not just because each would show off the particular 'Star', but also they could be done more easily with this very difficult summer schedule, because Sunday night, after closing at Sea Cliff, the Star and his or her cast moved right on to the next theatre, arriving wherever, by noon on Monday, to begin this grind all over again.The 'Stars' were people like, Veronica Lake, Olivia De Haviland, Betsy Von Furstenberg, Art Smith & Kim Hunter, (a lot of women!!!) Joan Blondell, Lillian Gish, and the apprentices favorite that first summer, (NOT!) Miriam Hopkins, who upon arriving at the Theatre and walking through the play Monday afternoon, complained about almost everything! So furniture had to be recovered, yes...completely recovered!!!---the set had to be repainted---a Window had to be completely re-built----ALL before 8:30 on Tuesday night, and this, added to the fact that we had built a room 'upstairs' where Miss Hopkins could do her quick changes, which had to be lined with cloth so that none of her dresses would snag on any splintering wood......she did not endear herself to all of us, I can tell you, plus it was the Eleventh Week!!!! We were very very tired, to say the least. And on top of all that, we all worked the shows at night, too, in some capacity or other....I remember on that Miriam Hopkins play, I was working props, and I was so tired on that first Tuesday Opening, I lay on the filthy disgusting floor just off-stage, not caring about how dirty or hard the floor was, and fell asleep during the scenes and what would woke me was the curtain coming down and I'd scramble around changing props and then lay back down and fall asleep again, as the next scene began. What a great great time it was.
The true heroine of that summer, besides Eva Gabor, (I'll get to that later), was Lillian Gish. She was the easiest, best person to work with and her kindness and generosity to the whole company was legendary that summer. She left $30 for the apprentices. I know that sounds like nothing! But, it was a huge amount at the time, and with all of us feeling so much like used meat anyway, you know? I mean, the summer cost apprentices---room and board were your own responsability....we were not paid one thin dime, and in fact, at some Summer Theatre's the Apprentices were required to pay for the privelage of working 23 hours a day!!! So, Sea Cliff wasn't that bad. But conditions were pretty horrendous; most all these theatre's were very very old and run down; plumbing problems; roofing problems; no air-conditioning; dirt & dust problems; And we all LOVED every minute of it!!!
So $30. was like a fortune to all of us and the point being Miss Gish did not have to do anything! But she did. And after Miss Miriam Hopkins closed, we had a HUGE party, (yes, for $30!), and we finished our summer as apprentices with a bash to end all bashes! Ahhh to be young! But, the reason I started on this loooooong story was, Alcohol. Remember back that far? That third summer, working in the Box Office, one if the 'Original Productions' these terrific Producer's decided on was Ethel Waters in her 'One Wonan' show. Miss Waters had given the ten or so theatre's she committed to play that summer a choice of what they might have her do; either her One Woman Show, or "Member Of The Wedding". Well, Louis McM. & Tom R. wanted Miss Waters to do her One Woman Show, and Sea Cliff was the only theatre out of all ten or so that wanted her to do this show and not "Member". Miss Waters was etenally grateful because this was an evening that was very dear to her heart, and it turned out to be the pre-Broadway-tryout for the fall season in N.Y.....and the fact that Sea Cliff was the only Theatre that wanted this very special show, made her love these men and this theatre, and that included everyone----apprentices, staff, designers, etc. The only other cast member was Miss Waters accompanist, Regginald Bean. a brilliantly talented pianist, this Reggie; their musical communication was something to behold. His understanding of her and her talent; her utter confidence in his 'backing her up' excaly as she needed, was something to behold. She had been rehearsing this show for her long while, like her whole lifetime, you know, so truthfully, on the Monday Afternoon 'runthrough', she could have gone 'cue to cue to cue'....and not sung any song all the way through, except for songs where there were special light cues that were important within the song, but, because all of us who worked there were sitting all around the theatre listening and watching, she sang a great many of the songs all the way through. It was a stunning experience. Her signiture song, "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" was the closing number.....we were all bowled over. She was really something, this Ethel Waters person....all the pain of her life; all the struggles of her history; years of racism etched in her soul...all this was in every moment of her fantasic performance...."Suppertime", another signiture song; Lord, so moving, this is when you understood fully, that singing is acting in this finite and most difficult format; a song is like a little play; this song, "Suppertime", the story of a woman whose husband has gone out and has been lynched, is like Greek tragedy right here in your own yard. To say we were all in awe of her doesn't really describe what we all felt. I don't remember how old she was at that time, but not young, you know? She didn't have to sing ANY of these songs....she could do them in her sleep! But, she did them and sang the hell out of them! And it was, for us. Excited? We were all ecstatic at the privelage of being able to see her 'perform' for the next entire week; 8 performances, (Fabulous!!!!) well, nine really, because she would do a 'dress', that night. I was so excited I was beside myself with the awesome oportunity to witness this great great Artist for the coming week. I had always been very big on recording stuff at home, from the moment that reel to reel tape recorders were available to the general public....I talked to Louis & George, (his partner and our Stage Manager) about somehow getting my Wollensack Tape Recorder to the Theatre and like, wasn't there some way we could record this 'once-in-a-lifetime- theatre' experiemce? They got excited about the idea, but knew it was illegal to do this, but....but.... needless to say, we decided to try to do this, anyway, and not tell anyone and hide the recorder in such a way that no one would know, but us, and hide the micraphone, (and paranthetically, no one was miked in those days...not the performers or the orchestra's...it WAS better, folks, believe me!) and I would run the thing from my perch high up above the stage floor on 'stage left'. I don't think I ever had been as excited about anything, as I was about the prospect of having this incredible artist's performance captured forever on tape; recorded on my very own recording device, (WOW!) to listen to any bloody time I wanted! The night we chose to record just happened to be July 4th; we did not forsee that there would be fireworks down on the shore there in Sea Cliff, but there were a lot of booming and after-noise sounds from the fireworks....it was pretty extrordinary on "Suppertime" because it sounded like a war and that this wife-woman was singing during a bombing, so it worked in a funny kind of way, but it didn't work for the rest of the show. So, what was going to be only one night of secret recording, (OY), turned into two. The second night was sublime! Perfect. We now had this precious rare tape that no one would ever be able to hear, because we weren't supposed to be doing this recording thing, in the first place!
I just took a little break to cook and eat my lunch and I realize I still gaven't gotten to the 'alcohol' part! Well, I see what is happening; one thought leads to another and then and another and then I get involved with 'explaining' that stuff, etc. I promise I will get back to that part of this story that I began with, plus, I don't want to forget to talk about Helen Twelvetrees...! Look her up if you don't know who she is! So here it is, up to now; mistakes included! Later....