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Blogs by Robert A. Mills

NEW YORKM NEW YORK PART V (continued)
11/9/2009 2:16:08 PM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

The Music Box, like most New York Broadway theaters, was not located on Broadway; it was on 45th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue. Not being a New Yorker, I never understood the difference between Broadway and off-Broadway. This is because most Broadway theaters are located off-Broadway, anyway, in what is called “the theater district,” which is somewhere between 40th Street and 54th Street, running loosely from Sixth Avenue to Eighth Avenue—part of which is Times Square and referred to generically as “The Great White Way.” Go figure.

Anyway, I got directions from the YMCA’s clerk-in-charge and walked to the Music Box Theater. The first thing I noticed beneath the well-lit marquee was the poster with Paul Newman and Kim Stanley beckoning me to come on in, and once inside the lobby, already crowded with milling theater-goers, I became an instant cosmopolitan New Yorker and headed directly for the Will Call window.

“Oh, dear, I’m so sorry, sir,” said the most beautiful caged woman I had ever seen, with the most beautiful English accent I had ever heard, “there appears to be nothing put away here for a Bob Mills. Hold on—give me a moment and let me look under ‘Robert’.”

“Mister Newman said he—”

“I’m sorry, sir, I truly am—nothing under Robert, either.”

I asked if she could call backstage and ask Mr. Newman if he’d forgotten me, and she explained, “Good heavens, I couldn’t possibly do that—they’d have me bloody job! You could try the stage door entrance in the passage-way outside and see if he’s available.”

Back on 45th Street I realized I had no idea where the stage door entrance was. I approached a well-dressed gentleman in a Chesterfield; he was standing alone near the curb, and I asked him if he knew where I’d find the stage door. “I think it’s down that alley-way,” he indicated, over his shoulder, “but you’ll never find your seats from there.” I explained that Paul Newman was supposed to leave a ticket for me at Will Call, but he must have forgotten. “You a friend of Newman’s?” asked the gentleman.

“Well, no, not really,” I began. “We had our pictures taken this afternoon . . . ” I stopped suddenly, feeling foolish and embarrassed, trapped in the pedestrian position of explaining myself to a perfect stranger, a dead give away I was not from New York.

“How many tickets you need?” the gentleman asked.

“Just one.”

“Here’s four,” he said, handing me the ducats and walking away. “Enjoy.”

“Wait!” I cried. “I can’t afford . . . !” But with a wave of his hand over his shoulder, the Chesterfield walked away and melded into the crowd. “Wait . . . sir . . . !”

Ten minutes later I was alone on the fourth row aisle, in a choice orchestra seat, with three empty seats beside me, waiting for a tap on the shoulder from a six-foot-six-inch burly usher who would throw me bodily from the theater. He never came, and eventually the houselights dimmed. I was, for the next couple hours, transported by William Inge (and Janice Rule, Kim Stanley and Paul Newman) into the alien world of social and political conflicts.

During the intermission between Acts Two and Three, I was approached—but not by a mean and muscular usher, but rather by the gorgeous lady with the Greer Garson accent, escaped from the Will Call cage and now tapping me on the shoulder. “Mister Mills? I’m awfully sorry about the mix-up earlier—here’s a note from Mister Newman.” She handed me a small envelope and disappeared up the center aisle before I could muster anything more sophisticated to say but “Huh?”

“Bob,” the note read, “sorry I’m such a do-do. I had a reminder in my pocket to leave you a ticket, but I changed my shirt and lost it. I hoped they found you and fixed you up. If you get this, meet me at Leonard’s after the show, and I’ll buy you a drink. PN”

When “Picnic” ended (the actors got six curtain calls,) I tried to find my Will Call lady in the lobby, but her cage was closed and dark and I wound up asking a ticket-taker where “Leonard’s” was. “On 44th,” he told me. “Cut through across the street, it’ll bring you right out in front.”

It was not difficult to find, but it was crowded with customers I assumed by their clothes to be theatergoers. Paul Newman was nowhere in sight.

“Your name Mills?” the bartender asked. I nodded. “The gang from ‘Picnic’ is in the back.” He tilted his head to indicate a louvered door at the far end of the room. Before I got to it, it flew open; I found myself staring at Newman, in jeans and a plaid shirt, still in makeup. He had a drink in both hands, and a lit cigarette hung from his lips.

“Hey, Mills! Glad you could make it! You like Scotch? Come on back—someone I want you to meet!”

I quickly told him a man in a Chesterfield coat had given me four orchestra seats. “You have any idea who he was?”

“Not the foggiest.” Then as an after-thought he said, “Maybe it was Mister First-Nighter. He hangs around and gives tickets to forlorn Upstaters. Ha! Ha!”

The backroom was crowded with cast members—people I had just seen on stage—and others I assumed were employees and friends. He took me over to a frail, diminutive blonde he introduced as Jackie Witte, his wife. He also introduced me to Joanne Woodward, a lovely girl I soon learned was from Marietta, Georgia. (I wasn’t sure if any of us knew she would become his second wife a couple years later.)

“And this here,” he said, “is Rachael Winslow.* Even though she’s a Limey-broad, she’s auditioning next month for the Carol Lawrence part in ‘West Side Story’.” I turned and looked head on at the most gorgeous Will Call girl I’d ever seen. My first thought, improbable as it was, could she possibly know Aunt Dora?

* Not her real name. The lady, just shy of twenty back then, did not land the part in “West Side Story,” but she was discovered a year later by Columbia Pictures and became an international star of devastating brilliance. She is still alive, quite well and living with her third husband just outside London.



TO BE CONTINUED
Copyright©2009 by Robert A. Mills






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