Sunday, December 28, 2008

During the intermission of the "Nutcracker" by the New Jersey Ballet last week, five-year-old Maeve lined up with other little girls to have the Mouse King sign her program. One of the toy soldiers and the boy who danced the role of Fritz also scribbled their names. Watching Maeve, I thought of the number of times many years ago when I’d stood outside stage doors with my friend Carolyn waiting for actors to emerge. Our goal wasn’t so much the actual autograph as the opportunity to see our favorites up close.

In our early teens, Carolyn and I would take the subway from Flatbush into Times Square (It was even more seedy then!) on many a Saturday afternoon just to wander around the theatre district. We’d watch actors enter the theatre for matinee performances, then exit later and head for a local bar or restaurant for a between-performance meal. When “Picnic” was playing at the Music Box Theatre on West 45th Street, we were more interested in the star Ralph Meeker than we were of a young actor named Paul Newman who was third or fourth on the cast list in the Playbill. We’d see him, too, walking along the street and even got his autograph.

The ‘50s were also the heyday of live television dramas aired nightly on the three networks. In the lobby of the RCA Building– now the GE Building which still houses the NBC Studios - was Cromwell’s Drugstore. During rehearsal breaks, many of the actors sat at the counter in Cromwell’s and had their lunch. On one particular afternoon there was hardly a soul there when Carolyn and I went in for a soda. The only other people we saw were two guys at the far end of the counter. All of a sudden we realized it was James Dean and another actor, Nick Adams. Of course, we tried to be sophisticated and pretend we didn’t notice; we didn’t fool anyone. All of a sudden, James Dean had his camera out and pretended to photograph us. Of course, this got us giggling.

They were more innocent times. Today, I can’t imagine allowing two 15-year-old girls to wander freely around the theatre district, to take the elevator up to one of the floors of the Brill Building where they'd find the Four Lads in their agent’s office, or who’d be escorted by Mitch Miller backstage at the Roxy Theatre to meet their idol, Guy Mitchell.

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