JOY: THE LEGACY OF JERRY HERMAN

There’s just no tune,

As Exciting

As a show tune,

In 2/4.

Jerry Herman was born on June 10th, 1931.  At an early age, he fell in love with the musical theater.  Living near the NYC theater district his parents were frequent theater goers and when they came home they were filled with the music of the show they had seen.  Jerry’s parents were also amateur musicians and their home was filled with music of the theater.

When Jerry was old enough his parents brought him along on their theater excursions and much to their surprise on arriving home Jerry was able to play much of the score he had heard that night.  Jerry was born with Broadway in his blood.

The lyrics quoted above are a line from one of Jerry’s earliest songs.  In a way, it is the philosophy behind every song Jerry ever wrote.  To him, every song was about the character singing it.  And into each song, he infused joy and enthusiasm for life.  Even in his most grumpy characters such as Horace Vandergelder in Hello Dolly, you can’t help feeling that deep down he’s a cuddly bear when he sings “It Takes a Woman.

Jerry Herman began writing for Broadway at a time when Broadway was at its zenith.  The 50s and 60s brought show after show and each was memorable.  Many are still being revived on Broadway or are perennially used in community and regional theater.

This was the world of Rodger’s and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Meredith Wilson, Kander and Ebb.  A young Stephen Sondheim was just getting started and Ethel Merman and Mary Martin were both queens of Broadway.  This was the Broadway Jerry Herman entered.  Broadway would never be the same.

I came across Jerry Herman in an off-beat kind of way.  My mother loved musicals and would play records and sing at the top of her lungs every Saturday while cleaning.  These records were always musicals.  The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, Camelot, Funny Girl, and The Music Man were played almost every week but no Jerry Herman.  I was not fond of musicals at the time.  I was listening to The Archies and The Partridge Family.  The theater bug bit me in the 8th grade when I was cast as Harry Macafee in our school’s production of Bye Bye Birdie.  I heard applause for the first time, just for me, and it changed something deep inside me.

From then on my record money went to original cast recordings and Hollywood soundtracks.  Always looking for a bargain, I was a teenager on an allowance, I would delve into the bargain record bins at Jerry’s Records, a store in the Bazaar of All Nation in Clifton Heights PA.  One day I found a copy of the movie soundtrack for Mame in the bin.  I had never heard of it but it starred my favorite actress Lucille Ball and it was $1.99.  I bought it and ran home.  I played that record over and over.  Everyone was telling me that Lucy can’t sing but I only heard gold and though I knew nothing of the story I fell in love with the music and lyrics of Jerry Herman.

Mame was amazing.  I soon found a script for the Broadway show in our local library so I understood where the songs fit and knew the story.  Eventually, I was able to order the book the musical was based on Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis.  I had to special order it at Walden Books and I got it but nothing compared to the music and lyrics of Mame.

Mame is probably the most uplifting and life-affirming musical ever written.  Jerry had already had two successful shows on Broadway before Mame.  The first was Milk and Honey the musical, as I understand it was about a group of older American Jewish women looking for husbands in The Holy Land or Israel.  Two wonderful songs came out of that production, the title song Milk and Honey and a lovely ballad called Shalom.  All the songs can be listened to by following the Youtube links.

Shalom Shalom,

You’ll find Shalom,

The nicest greeting you know.

It means bonjour, salute and skoal,

And twice as much as hello.

It means a million lovely things,

Like peace be yours welcome home,

And even when you say goodbye,

You say goodbye with shalom.

After that Jerry was asked to turn  Thorton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker into a musical.  That musical graced the stage and won the Tony Award for best musical in 1964.  The show was Hello Dolly but more on that later.  Back to Mame.

Mame came to Broadway in 1966 and also won the Tony for best musical.  Mame was played by Angela Lansbury and is the story of Patrick Dennis an orphan who goes to live with his only living relative Mame Dennis in New York City.  The opening of Mame takes place in the streets of New York where Agnes Gooch, Patrick’s nanny, and Patrick are looking for Mame’s Beekman Place apartment.  They sing a prayer to St Bridget and arrive at Mame’s as she is throwing a lavish party.  Mame appears at the top of the stairs blows a bugle and sings It’s Today

Light the candles.

Get the ice out,

Roll the rug up,

It’s Today.

Though it may not be anyone’s birthday,

And though it’s far from the first of the year,

I know that this very minute,

Has history in it,

We’re here!

This song set the whole tone of the show and gives Mame’s philosophy of life.  In this song, she sings the spoken line that is in all of Mame’s stage and movie adaptations. “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Mame raises Patrick for as long as she can using this state of mind.  It becomes more clear in the song Open a New Window.  This song is a joyous anthem about taking chances and never saying no to whatever life offers you.  It feels good, it’s upbeat, and when you listen you want to go with Mame to wherever she leads.

If you follow your Auntie Mame,

I’ll make this vow, my little love,

That on the last day of your life,

You’ll be smiling the same young smile,

You’re smiling now my little love,

If you wake up every morning,

And you pull aside the shutter,

Ans promise me that these will be,

The first words that you utter.

Open a new window,

Open a new door,

Travel a new highway,

That’s never been tried before.

I could go on all day about the wonderful songs in Mame.  My Best Girl, Bosom Buddies, We Need a Little Christmas, If He Walked into My Life and of course the title song Mame.  But this whole blog would end up being only about that one show.  This was my first introduction to Jerry’s music and what I didn’t know was there was more.

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding Lucille Ball’s portrayal of Mame.  Some felt her voice and her age worked against her playing the role.  I’m not sure that’s all true.  My biggest problem with the film is the stuff they cut out and the script.  After finally seeing the stage production and hearing the original Broadway cast album a lot of the story was left out and or changed and this was not necessary.  The song That’s How Young I Feel was cut and it was key to describing Mame’s feelings as an older woman as she sings it when Parick has grown up.  The script just didn’t work for me in parts.  One change that I did enjoy was Lucille doing her best to get out of a store where Mame has been fired from wearing one roller skate.  It was hilarious and true Lucy antics.

For a long time, Lucille’s portrayal as Mame was all I knew and I loved it.  When VHS tapes came out and you could buy movies to own them for the very first time.  My first purchase was Mame.  The movie will always be dear to my heart.

I have to admit I keep hoping every year that NBC will decide to do Mame Live as they have done with The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, Grease, The Wiz, Hairspray, and most recently Annie.  NBC usually airs these television events at Christmas and Mame would be perfect, especially with a Christmas song embedded in the show.  That is also my hope for the next Jerry Herman show we’ll discuss Hello Dolly.

Hello Dolly opened in 1964.  It is the story of Dolly Levi a widow who has decided to “rejoin the human race.”  She decides to accomplish this goal by marrying Horace Vandergelder the leading citizen of Yonkers New York.  The musical takes place in 24 hour time period it has a prelude in NYC continues in Yonkers, goes back to NYC, and ends in Yonkers.  Not bad for a day.

It took me a while to catch on to Hello Dolly.  I wasn’t interested at all at first.  All I knew of the show was the title song sung by Louis Armstrong and recorded in 1964.  I was three years old and didn’t care much for it.  My grandmother would be playing it while we visited her and it wasn’t a kid’s song.  It took me a long time to find out where that song came from.

For a moment I want to take some time and talk about Jerry Herman the human being.  Jerry’s songs were always joyful and filled with life.  He came from a family that gave him that but he didn’t change when it came to being successful.  Some folks when they make it big in their chosen professions don’t have time for others but Jerry was not like that as illustrated here by my good friend Richard Tyley Jordan.  Richard has written the definitive book on the Character of Mame Dennis and it was over this book that Richard and I met.  He is also the author of The Polly Pepper Mysteries which are great fun and have been called a cross between The Carol Burnett Show and Murder, She Wrote.  Here is Richard’s story of his first meeting with Jerry Herman.

When I began writing my nonfiction book But Darling, I’m Your Auntie Mame!, I sent a letter to Jerry Herman requesting an interview. I didn’t actually expect a response. Why would the legendary composer of Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Mack and Mable, and La Cage Aux Folles, among other Broadway hits, deign to offer an audience to me, an unaccomplished kid (I was actually in my 30s, but I felt completely inferior compared to the great man)? I was equally terrified that he’d grant my request and find that I was an interloper in his rarefied world. I just happened to be in New York doing research for my book when I got the call. Yes! Jerry Herman would see me on Friday afternoon at 2:00! My world was spinning! 

When I arrived at Jerry Herman’s brownstone, I was greeted by his amiable assistant, who guided me to the left and down two steps, and into Jerry’s wood-paneled office. A set decorator couldn’t have designed a more perfect room for showcasing career memorabilia of Tony Awards, Grammy Awards, framed gold records, and posters from Mr. Herman’s many Broadway triumphs. The assistant asked if I’d like a tea or coffee (“No, thank you.” I was too edgy as it was.) and said, “Mr. Herman will be with you shortly.” And then the moment arrived! Jerry Herman … in-person … appeared in the doorway, brandishing a friendly smile and a warm handshake. I was immediately instructed to drop the “Mr. Herman” formality and call him “Jerry.”

Jerry sat behind his desk (with a portrait painting of Carol Channing as Dolly Levi looking down from the wall behind him), and I sat nervously in a brown leather wingback chair. Neurotic me was trying very hard to appear intelligent and sophisticated so that he wouldn’t realize I was just a fan on a mission to chronicle the success of author Patrick Dennis’ Auntie Mame character. What I remember most about that afternoon is how gracious he was to me. For those two hours, we talked about how much he loved Mame and composing the songs for that show and how it was actually one of the easiest shows he’d ever worked on. But we also talked about how deeply and personally disappointed he was with Lucille Ball’s film version of his hit musical.

I guess I did something right that afternoon because when we concluded the interview, it was Jerry himself who offered to write the introduction to my book! This amazing man, whose songs I had admired my entire life, offered to personally contribute to my labor-of-love project! I’m still overwhelmed by his generosity. That’s the kind of man that Jerry Herman was. I’ve rarely known anyone more magnanimous. I will always be grateful to Jerry Herman, not only because he believed in my book and penned the introduction to it, but also because he gave me the soundtrack of my life:

I Am What I Am

If He Walked into My Life

It Only Takes a Moment

It’s Today

I Won’t Send Roses

Put On Your Sunday Clothes

Time Heals Everything

Although my book is long out of print (maybe I should release an e-book version), I am forever and deeply indebted to Jerry Herman, one of the finest men and talents I’ve ever known.

I don’t think much more can be said of the man.  He was not only talented but he had a spirit of generosity to both see and nurture talent in others.This can also be seen in Angela Lansbury’s autobiography where she tells of Jerry so wanting her to get the role of Mame in the original Broadway cast that he coached her on how to sing the songs he wrote before she auditioned.  This is the kind of man he was.  Because of this generous, beautiful spirit music poured out of him.

Hello Dolly is a show about second chances.  It’s a show about coming out of the fog and realizing you’re alive and life is worth living.  It’s a show that tells you in no uncertain terms that you can begin again at any time of life.  I of course saw Dolly first as a film starring Barbra Streisand.  It may not have been my best introduction to the show but it was fun nonetheless and had a deep impact on my life.  The music and lyrics are just as amazing as what Jerry would soon write for Mame but the theme was different.  Mame is about knowing life is wonderful and teaching that lesson to the upcoming generation.  Hello Dolly is about forgetting that life is wonderful and having to relearn the lesson.  This didn’t mean much to me as a young man but it means a whole lot now.

In 2018 I had the privilege of seeing Bernadette Peters in a revival of Hello Dolly in NYC at The Schubert Theater.  Watching Miss Peters was a revelation of what this show means.  It’s for and about older people starting again.  Anyone can start again, but there are plenty of movies and plays about young people starting again, not so many about our older generation.  Right now, my generation.  I came away from that show not only singing beloved songs but knowing I could start again.  It took awhile but this blog is part of that second chance for me.

The songs of Hello Dolly are full of joy.  I Put My Hand In, It Takes a Woman, Put on Your Sunday Clothes, Dancing, Before the Parade Passes By, Etiquette, It Only Takes a Moment and of course the title song Hello Dolly.

Carol Channing the original Dolly in the musical tells the story of recording the cast album.  In the recording studio the whole cast couldn’t contain themselves and they burst into the kicks while singing the title song.  It has been said that the cast recording of Dolly is one of the few that makes you feel like you’re in the theater.

In the show Jerry’s Girls, the title song gives a list of many of the actresses that played in Jerry’s shows.  One of those names is Lucie Arnaz.  I reached out to Miss Arnaz about how she feels about performing the music of Jerry Herman.  Miss Arnaz replied:

“Jerry writes about joy and, as a performer, it’s a vacation to sing his music.”

And that is about the best thing that could be said.  Singing Jerry’s music can be a balm for me when I’m down.  The songs from Hello Dolly are infectious.  You can’t help singing along and if you have them in your heart you can’t help singing them when life has kicked you in the gut.

One such song from Hello Dolly is a sort of anthem for second chances.  The song is Before The Parade Passes by

Before the parade passes by,

I’m going to go and taste Saturday’s high life.

Before the parade passes by,

I’m going to get some life back into my life.

I’m ready to move out in front,

I’ve had enough of just passing by life.

With the rest of them.

With the best of them.

I’m gonna hold my head up high.

I’ve got a goal again,

I’ve got a drive again.

I wanna feel my heart coming alive again.

Before the parade passes by.

Can you think of better words to say to the world that you still have something to offer, that you still count, and that you are part of the parade ready to do your bit and find a full life?  In this respect, the roles of Dolly and Mame are very much alike.  Both women are driven to find the best out of the life that they have and to have joy in that journey.

After his stellar success with Hello Dolly and Mame Jerry would write several more shows for the Broadway stage some successful and some not so successful.  Even the shows that weren’t so successful had memorable moments and great music.  One such show was Mack and Mabel.

Mack and Mabel opened in 1974 and told the love story of silent movie director Mack Sennett and silent movie star Mabel Norman.  It opened with two Broadway legends as the leads, Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters.  It had wonderful music.  Movies were Movies, I Wanna Make the World Laugh, Look What Happened to Mabel, I Won’t Send Roses, Wherever He Ain’t and the ballad Time Heals Everything.

This show only played 91 performances which had to be a big letdown for the entire team.  I have read that the show’s ending with Mabel’s death due to drug addiction was hard for the audience to watch. With all the upbeat music the show brings you down in the end.  I have also read that the ending was reworked and is now not as dark.  I have never seen a production of this show but I would love to.  It does continue to be performed in regional and community theater.  The cast album is great and I enjoy listening to it.  No matter the ending you can’t help feeling happy while listening to the music.

Jerry’s Next Hit would come in 1983 with his show La Cage Aux Faux.  La Cage is about two gay men who have raised a straight son who now wants to marry.  I have not seen this show but the son wants his dads to act a bit more middle of the road which is hard to do when you consider that the dads own a club that features men in drag and one of them is the star performer.

The title in English translates to The Cage of Fools and it was originally a French film, but not a musical.  After the musical opened an American version of the film was produced called The Birdcage and it starred Nathan Lane and Robin Williams. 

La Cage Aux Faux was a big risk for Jerry and Broadway.  There had been plays about gay men before but they weren’t lavish musicals and this would be a big production.  It also opened at the beginning of the AIDS crisis and gay men were again being attacked for who they were.  But despite all of that La Cage was a hit and won the Tony award that year.  To add to its honors the show was revived twice in 2005 and 2010 and won the Tony for best revival both times.

There are two stand-out songs in La Cage.  One is almost a campfire song and Jerry himself describes it as such.  The song has a great melody and is easy to learn.  The song is The Best of Times.

The Best of Times is now,

What’s left of summer but a faded rose,

The best of times is now

As For tomorrow, well who knows

Who knows,

Who knows.

So make the moment last,

And live and love as hard  as you know-how,

And make this moment last,

Because the best of times is now

Is now

Is now.

The other song is an anthem for gay men and for everyone else who feels misplaced in society.  It is a song for the marginalized, for people of color, for the odd kid at school that gets beat up because he’s different.  The song is I am What I Am.

I am what I am

I am my own special creation.

So come take a look,

Give me the hook or the ovation.

It’s my world that I want to take a little pride in,

My world, and it’s not a place I have to hide in.

Life’s not worth a damn,

‘Til you can say, “Hey world, I am what I am.”

I am what I am,

I don’t want praise, I don’t want pity.

I bang my own drum,

Some think it’s noise, I think it’s pretty.

And so what, if I love each feather and each spangle,

Why not try to see things from a diff’rent angle?

Your life is a sham ’til you can shout out loud

I am what I am!

In 1996 Jerry Wrote the words and music for a Christmas television musical called Mrs. Santa Claus.  It was aired only once as far as I know but it had a terrific cast and storyline and of course incredible music.  The leading lady was Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Claus.  She feels neglected sometime around 1900 and decides she knows a better route for Santa to deliver his toys.  She takes the sleigh in order to go around the world only to be stranded in NYC on Avenue A where she meets and is befriended by many locals.  In the few days she’s there she reunites a family, softens the heart of an evil toy manufacturer, and strikes a blow for women’s rights.  All to the sound of some terrific and clever music.

 My favorite song from the show is Almost Young a declaration of you’re as young as you feel and Angela proves it to a bunch of children who work in the toy factory

I’m holding back the hands of time
And though a fool might say I’ve passed my prime
My heart has always clung to staying almost young

A few grey hairs, A few gold teeth
Can never hide the kid that’s underneath
The kid whose hopes are hung
On staying almost young

My walk is swift and sporty
My disposition is evergreen
Why say I’m over forty, I’m over seventeen

I’ll still have all the speed it takes
When all the others have applied the brakes
And when my knell has run

I’ll still be struttin’ and kickin’
Like some little chicken
I’m almost young

Considering Miss Lansbury was 71 when she made this musical you can see she was still pretty spry if you follow the Youtube link.

I haven’t said much about Jerry’s Love songs and there were a good many.  It Only Takes A Moment from Hello Dolly, Time Heals Everything and I Won’t Send Roses from Mack and Mabel, Loving You from the film version of Mame.  My favorite is from Mrs.  Santa Claus and it’s sung by a young couple who Mrs. Claus helps bring together.  It’s called, We Don’t Go Together at All.

{Sadie}:
Look Marcello…
A girl with a drive and a fellow with a dream
Are like pickled herring with vanilla ice cream
So, as unromantic as my words may seem
We don’t go together at all

My big loud mouth and your quiet ways
Are like August evenings with December days
Are like corned beef and cabbage topped with mayonnaise
We don’t go together at all

We’re like chicken soup
And a slice of ham

{Marcello}:
We’re the big bad wolf
And the little lamb

{Sadiе}:
Like a picnic lunch
That’s ruined by a sudden squall

{Sadiе}:
We don’t
{Marcello}:
No we don’t

{Both}:
No we don’t go together at all

{Marcello}:
Like an overcoat
And a hot July

{Sadie}:
Like a bowl of borscht
And a pizza pie

{Marcello}:
Like if I asked you
To come to the policemen’s ball

{Sadie}:
We don’t

{Marcello}:
No we don’t

{Both}:
No we don’t go together at all
{Sadie}:
An onion roll at a Mayfair tea
Like a march by Sousa in a minor key

{Marcello}:
So forget all the magic that was meant to be
We don’t go together at all

{Marcello}:
A stable boy and a suffragette
Are about as peculiar as a pair can get

{Both}:
So it’s, oh, such a pity
That we even met

{Sadie}:
We don’t go together at all


I love the cleverness of the lyrics to this song.  It also has a catchy tune and it’s fun to sing either the girl part or the boy part or both.

This is truly the longest blog I have ever written.  I hope I captured the joy of Jerry’s music and the inspiration he has given to…well too many people to count.  If you are unfamiliar with Jerry’s work the CDs are still available to buy and Spotify has all of his original cast recordings and soundtracks as well as many many different artists that have covered his songs in one way or another.  If you can catch a performance of any of his musicals spend the time and money it is well worth it.  Mrs. Santa Claus is available on DVD and well worth adding to your holiday film collection. The film Mame is available on DVD and electronically on platforms such as Vudo.  Hello Dolly is available on DVD and electronically.  It is also available to stream on Disney+.

I’m leaving you with Jerry’s first hit.  It was used in the show and to advertise lunchmeat and as a presidential song for Lyndon Johnson.  I don’t know if it helped but he won the 1964 election.  For the election it became Hello Lyndon, For Oscar Mayer it was Hello Deli, for me it will always be Hello Dolly. 

Hello, Dolly,
Well, hello, Dolly
It’s so nice to have you back where you belong
You’re lookin’ swell, Dolly
I can tell, Dolly
You’re still glowin’, you’re still crowin’
You’re still goin’ strong
We feel the room swayin’
While the band’s playin’
One of your old favourite songs from way back when

Golly Gee, fellas
Find her an empty knee, fellas
Dolly’ll never go away again.

It is my Hope Jerry Herman will never go away too.

It is my understanding that under The Fair Use Law it is legal for me to use partial lyrics for songs.  That is what I have done here.  For the full song use the links provided above each set of lyrics.  There are some terrific performances there.

Auntie Mame or Mame

Mame or Auntie Mame as she was originally called has had quite the impact on my life over the years.  Auntie Mame was originally a novel by Patrick Dennis, a pen name for Edward Everett Tanner, and  was published on December 1, 1955 to a grateful public.  To be honest the book itself is rather dark in places and funny yes, but at times black humor.  The novel came to the attention of Lawrence and Lee, playwrights, they saw the potential of the novel and turned it into a hit play starring Rosalind Russell which opened at the Broadhurst Theater on October 31st 1956.  It was a huge success.  Russel would go on to Hollywood to star in the film version of the play in 1958.  In 1966, Jerry Herman, after his major success with Hello Dolly, which was originally a play called The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder. Set his hand to turning Auntie Mame into a musical, he fought to have Angela Lansbury as his leading lady and won.  And as a song from Jerry’s Girls goes, “The Winter Garden was sell out, when she played the hell out of Mame.”  In 1974 Mame would have one more incarnation as a movie musical starring Lucille Ball.  This is where I come in.

No I was in none of those productions, but I would have liked to have been.  If I lived in a different world maybe my folks would have seen my talent at being an actor and started me early.  I could have played a young Patrick or even the older Patrick a few years later.  My folks didn’t think like that.  As I explained in another blog I came across the original Soundtrack album of Mame in the bargain bin at The Bazaar Record Shop. 

What was that question?  What’s The Bazaar? The Bazaar was a sort of a mall.  Built in 1960 it housed between curtained off walls many independent stores.  There was a shoe store and shoe repair store, there was a bookshop, a candy store, a fruit stand, an Amish Market, a bakery, toy stores and hardware stores and a pet shop and many more.  If you couldn’t find it at The Bazaar, honestly it wasn’t worth having.

I spent a lot of time at the Bazaar growing up as it was just up the street and short walk through the woods to get there.  At first it was the toy store and book shop.  I could get comic books there that were out of date, so they were half price.  As I grew older it became less the toy store and more the record shop.  Being an old soul, I found myself going thru the bargain bins a lot.  I’d find music by The Lettermen, Bobby Sherman others whose time had passed.  It was here that I found Mame.

Mame as noted above starred Lucille Ball, and I love that woman.  I make the claim that Lucy was my first babysitter.  Well… Lucy and Jack Benny.  After my brother and sisters left for school, to get her chores done, mom put me in front of the TV to watch these two shows.  I think they became part of my DNA because Lucy and Jack feel like family to me.  As I got older, I could start watching Lucy on prime-time TV and no one missed Lucy on Monday nights at 9.  I also found out that there was a whole era of shows I missed.  I had seen all of I Love Lucy and never missed an episode of Here’s Lucy, but The Lucy Show, which aired in those years I had to go to bed at eight, I hadn’t seen.  Thank God for reruns.  I was able to see The Lucy Show and much to my surprise there was an episode that guest starred Jack Benny.  It remains one of my great moments in TV history.  Fact, in real life Lucille Ball and Jack Benny were neighbors.

I bought that bargain bin album of Mame and brought it home.  I played it constantly.  Before the week was out I think I had every song memorized.  Jerry Herman’s music was fantastic.  It’s Today, Open A New Window, My Best Girl, We Need A Little Christmas and If He Walked Into My Life were songs that I felt deeply about and still do. I didn’t know the story behind the songs, I only knew the music and that was enough for that moment.

I would get the book, and as I said above, it was dark humor to me and I didn’t see how the music could have come out of that.  Eventually I would see the film starring Rosalind Russel and that made sense.  Here was joy and life and happiness here was a woman I wish I had as an aunt.

Auntie Mame is the story of a woman who is left in charge of her orphaned nephew Patrick.  Mame is not exactly the motherly type.  Her lifestyle was that of a rich flapper in 1920s New York City.  She gave elaborate parties and was friends with all kinds of people.  It’s into this world that Patrick finds himself.  He arrives in the middle of one of Mam’s parties.  Though a bit out of his depth Mame loves Patrick from the start and does her best to raise him, but her ways and the trustees’ ways are different.  Mame is a Modern and the trustee a conservative.  After Mame enrolls Patrick in a school where all the children and teachers are naked, the trustee snatches Patrick away and puts him in a boarding school.

At that exact moment Mame’s troubles multiply as the Wall Street Crash of 1929 wipes her out financially.  She can’t do anything about Patrick unless she can make some money.  She agrees to do a show with her best friend Vera Charles a current stage star.  Now this is where we will depart from the straight version and go to the musical.  Mame plays the one-line role of the moon lady.  She needs to sit on a quarter moon cut out and let her rise.  Between the costume and the seat, she begins to fall off the moon and when she finally gets settled she can’t remember her line.  So ends her career in show business.

Mame contuse to try.  She becomes a telephone operator and other jobs until she finally ends up at Macy’s selling roller skates.  She can’t do this right either as all she can make out is sales slips for Cash on Delivery payment.  Into Macy’s walks Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, a wealthy southern plantation and oil well owner.  He wants to buy a pair of skates and Mame gets caught modeling them for him.  She is fired.  In the film we see her trying to get thru Macy’s on one skate because the lace wouldn’t untie.  Miss Ball plays this kind of comedy well.

Mr. Burnside tracks Mame down to her apartment, feeling sorry for having gotten Mame fired, he invites her as well as the two servants Agnes and Ito and Patrick who is home for the holidays out to dinner.  Mame has found her man and her savior.

Our next scene brings Mame and Patrick to Beau’s Plantation where Mame dressed like Scarlett O’Hara meets Beau’s mother, family and his ex-girlfriend.  Mame is not well received by anyone and when she asked whether she rides, meaning horses, she brags that she does.  Not only does she ride but side saddle.  Beau’s Ex sees her chance, she knows Mame is lying to save face and so arranges a fox hunt for the next day.  Mame can’t even get her feet into the riding boots she is provided with but somehow, she gets on the horse and takes off.  Mame eventually falls off the horse but at the same time finds the fox sitting next to her she picks him up and nuzzles him.  Mame become the toast of the south.

Beau and Mame are married and spend many years touring the world with Patrick joining them during his summer breaks.  Patrick is growing up and getting involved with eligible society girls.  Mame is a bit put off by this.  She decides to go home and tells Beau.  It is at this point that Beau has climbed a little too high on the Mountain they were on he falls and is killed.

Mame comes home to NYC a wealthy widow.  She finds Agnes and Ito still there keeping it all going.  She finds Patrick engaged to woman that probably never had a thought of her own.  She makes up with Vera and together she and Vera team up on Mousy Agnes and turn her into a femme fatale.  The next time we see Agnes she’s pregnant.

It’s with Agnes that Mame makes her philosophy of life clear.  Agnes is afraid of the changes Mame wants to make in her.  Mame tells her to stop being afraid.  To Live.  “Live Live Live Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Agnes goes a little too far and get pregnant but that’s what living is about.  We make choices and changes and we have to live with the consequences.  That’s true for all of us.  But the choices have to be made.  Sure, you can stay in a safe little bubble, but what good does that do anyone.  So you go out and you do something and it falls apart, so what, you try again, and again or you try something else.  Live this life to it’s full potential.  Every person no matter how bad things get can make a choice to make it a little better.  Rich or poor, young, or old we can all change our lives and make them count.  That’s the message in Mame and coincidentally also the message in Jerry Herma’s previous hit Hello Dolly.

Mame does take on Patrick’s new fiancé and makes short work of her at the same time finding Patrick a suitable new woman.  All of this is done in funny outlandish ways.  At the end of the movie, play musical we see Mame now older trying to convince Patrick to allow her to take Michael, Patrick’s son, to India with her.  She wants to show Michael all that she had showed Patrick.  She wants her grandnephew to LIVE.

The story of Mame is funny, it’s a little irreverent and totally off beat.  Most of us though would feel lucky to have an Auntie Mame in our lives.  My cousin Joanne was like that to me.  She was about 18 years older than I and had endured the first open heart surgery in The United States.  She and her family lived next store and Joanne was always trying different things and going different places.  She took me to my first professional theater show which was The Wiz and also to my second which was 42nd Street.  She gave me the best Christmas gifts always to do with what I was interested in.  She was a devout Catholic and when Godspell became a film she took the whole neighborhood to that.

I would come home form school and go right over to her house.  We talked about everything, and she really helped me through my teen age years.  She was also the only person I ever knew who had real gold table wear.  The knives and forks and spoons all of gold.  It was only for formal dining, but it was amazing to me.

The songs from Mame encourage me.  Open a New Window.  An invitation to try something you haven’t done before and not to worry about what other people think.  We Need A Little Christmas, Christmas is the happiest day on the planet for most of us, and sometimes between January and November we need a little of that spirit in our lives.  In A Christmas Carol Scrooge makes it clear after his ghostly visitors that he would keep the spirit of Christmas alive in his heart all the year through.

If He Walked Into My Life is a song of regret.  And we all regret things we’ve done and said.  We wonder if we had the chance to do it all over again would we make the same mistakes, could we have done any better.  We have to examine our lives not only to see where we’ve been but to know where we will end up.  That sometimes means changing courses.

Mame said Life is a banquet and I believe it is.  I can back that up with Biblical text.  Jesus said “I have come to give life and abundantly.”  In other words, the man who I believe came to save people from their sins and from an eternity in hell also came to give abundant life.  He came to give a banquet one which everyone on this planet is  invited to.  They just must accept his invitation.  That abundant fulfilled life is not just what will happen after we die but its’s to be lived out here on earth.  Christians should be the most alive people on the planet and many of them are.  Some are not and they get all the negative media attention.  Christians should be alive and loving.  They should be in the moment as Mame Sings about in the opening song It’s Today!  Christians should be the front runners in science and innovation and social justice and loving our neighbors well.  Christians should be giving the best parties, serving delicious food and drink, Jesus went to weddings and parties and dinners all the time.  He also drank.  Not to get drunk but for the flavor and for joy of it. Christians should be opening new windows all the time.

Many of us don’t.  We live in fear of what may happen or if we will get it wrong.  I’m as guilty as anyone of doing that.  But I’m trying to change that.  I’m a writer and if I can’t get hired to write I’ll write this blog till someone sees it.  I’m an actor and director and it’s in my heart to produce and direct Mame on stage.  I don’t know how or where but I think it can be done if I don’t become afraid.  I must open doors and windows I’ve never tried before.  But this is life abundant, and this is life’s banquet.  It’s here, it’s now and it’s for everyone.

Angela Lansbury

Angela Lansbury started her career in 1944 in the film Gaslight.  She played a conniving maid who was helping to make Ingrid Bergman’s character think she was insane.  She would go on to play many other roles at MGM in many important and memorable films such as The Harvey Girls, Blue Hawaii and The Manchurian Candidate.  Though relatively young she was often cast as the mother of an adult child and never the star of the movie always the back up.  At least in the films she is most well known for.

I came to know of Angela Lansbury in 1971 when Disney released its now classic film Bed knobs and Broomsticks.  The film was a musical adaptation of the book with the same title written by Mary Norton.  The title was slightly altered by Disney.  The book is called Bed knob and Broomstick which is more accurate as there is only one of each in the book.

The score and the songs for the film were written by Richard and Robert Sherman the same two men who gave us the music for Mary Poppins.

The story centered around an apprentice witch, Miss Price, played by Lansbury, who is coming to the end of her mail in course on witchcraft.  At the same time she is forced to take in three war refugees from London. The film is set during WWII.  They find out she’s a witch and threaten to expose her unless she gives them something magical.  She enchants a bed knob which will enable the bed to take the children anywhere they wish to go.  At about this time Miss Price receives a letter from her instructor telling her that the school of witchcraft is closed.  Miss Price needs the next spell in the course, as she believes she can help the war effort with it.  She asks the children to allow the bed to take them all to London so she can get the spell she needs, and the adventures begin.

I was ten when this film came out and it was a delight.  My imagination understood more about good witches than bad witches.  I had grown up on Glinda from The Wizard of Oz and Samantha from Bewitched.  I could easily understand a witch wanting to help with the war effort.  I was also reading comic books at the time and Dr Strange from Marvel and Dr Fate from DC were both powerful sorcerers.  I reveled in the magic of Bed Knobs and Broomsticks, so much so that as soon as I got home, I tried out the spell that Miss Price used to bring inanimate things to life.  Much to my disappointment the spell did not work.

With in a few years of this, in the bargain bins at the Bazaar Record Shop I found the soundtrack for the musical Mame starring Lucille Ball.  Now I loved Lucy.  Still do, and though I knew nothing about the movie I bought the album and brought it home.  I loved the music and I loved hearing Lucy sing.  I had no idea of the story, that would come later, but I loved that album and wore it out.  Soon I was able to find a copy of the book the movie was based on Auntie Mame.  I had to special order it.  It may have been a best seller in the 50s but by 1977 it wasn’t sought after much.  I gobbled that down and then bought the original Broadway cast Album of Mame and Angela Lansbury was back in my life.

Angela opened in Mame in 1966 at The Winter Garden Theater in New York City.  She electrified crowds with her performance of Mame Dennis and brought the house down.  Miss Lansbury stayed with the Broadway production for 1500 performances and would head up two national touring companies.  In the 1980s she would bring the show back to Broadway for its first revival.

I love Lucy and I love Angela, but the truth needs to be written here.  As much as I love Lucy and was enchanted by the album of Mame because it was her.  She had no business playing that part, Lucille Ball was 62 when she played Mame.  To make her look younger they used filtered lenses on the cameras.  Mame could be played by a fifty something woman believably but not by a 62-year-old woman who was in fact showing her age.

Angela Lansbury should have taken the role to the big screen.  She had over 20 years of movie credits to her name when she opened Mame on Broadway.  People knew who she was and would have gone to see her.  The problem was Lucille.  Miss Ball bought the rights for the movie for herself and had every intension of playing the role on her own.  She basically stole that from Lansbury and the resulting film, though not totally horrible was mediocre at best.  When VCRs and VHS tapes became popular Mame was the first one I bought and though I love Lucy the film proved to be a disappointment.

Miss Lansbury was not in any way finished with her career.  Her next big stop would be, as far as I was concerned, as Mrs. Lovett in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.  She would engross audiences in song while she baked dead human bodies into pies.  Miss Lansbury would receive her 4th Tony Award for her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett.  The other three were for Mame, Dear World and the Revival of Gypsy.

After taking on the big screen and Broadway it was in 1984 that Miss Lansbury would conquer the small screen in the role of Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote.  It was at this time that Angela Lansbury’s career became a main interest to me.  I was able to watch her in all of her movie roles including Blue Hawaii which starred Elvis Presley.  Never being a Presley fan this one was hard for me.  I watched Murder; She Wrote every week.  It was one of the few shows my parents and I agreed on.

Murder, She Wrote became an important show for many reasons.  I think the first is that it settled around older adults.  The over 50 population had few shows they could relate to on TV.  Angela’s character of Jessica Fletcher was the first in a line of shows that spotlighted older adults as stars.  The Golden Girls would follow in 1985, Matlock with Andy Griffith in 1986 and Diagnosis Murder with Dick Van Dyke in 1993.  Angela paved the way for all of these shows to become hits.  All though Murder, She Wrote would go off the air in 1996 after 12 season Angela would reprise the role of Jessica Fletcher for four made for TV movies.

In 1991 Angela would come back to big screen but this time as an animated teapot in Disney’s animated classic Beauty and the Beast.  Miss Lansbury would sing the title song and generation of children would grow to love her character as the motherly Mrs. Potts.

Angela kept going.  So many wonderful projects would follow.  The Shell Seekers for The Hallmark Hall of Fame. Mrs. ‘arris Goes To Paris where she plays a char woman who dreams of owning a designer gown and sees her dream come true.  And Mrs. Santa Claus where she plays the wife of the great man himself in a musical with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman the man who wrote Mame.

She would go back to the theater and win awards for her supporting role in A Little Night Music and Blythe Spirit.  In her 90s Miss Lansbury toured Australia with   James Earl Jones in Driving Miss Daisy.  She would come back to the United States to play Aunt March in The BBC/PBS adaptation of Little Women and then play the small role of The Balloon Lady in Mary Poppins Returns.

I don’t know where Miss Lansbury will turn up next.  I do know that she has inspired me for years.  Her songs that are so heart felt have comforted me as she sings Beauty and the Beast or inspired me as she sings Open a New Window or It’s Today both from Mame.

Rosalind Russell played Mame first on stage in the n the non-musical version Auntie Mame.  She was the first to emphasize this life philosophy.  “LIVE LIVE LIVE, life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  But Angela would repeat that same philosophy over and over and then go on to live it.  She has proven that life is a banquet if we choose to see that way.  She has proven that at any age you can meet any challenge and still come out the victor.  She has proven that every day is a gift and to squander that gift is perhaps the greatest of sins.

I’m grateful for the talent of Angela Lansbury and I hope you are too.  I hope that her films and recordings will fill you with the same joy they fill me with.  And though in her 90s I hope that we will still see her grace our screens large and small.