"You know what they say, the first time is always the best. Except of course when it comes to making whoopee. Or, as the case may be (and is), when it comes to winning a Tony. In fact, the third time I won a Tony was the most memorable. It was a night filled with drunken recriminations, several murder attempts, and the inevitable tarring and feathering of celebrated flutist/ornery detective Jerry Orbach. But, as that particular night is documented so thoroughly in my groundbreaking 1978 show, Time to Pay the Piper: Conversations with Pol Pot, I won’t go into it here. But, on the Tony theme, I will tell you about my first..
The year was 1968, I was a young thing just out of
Well, as luck would have it, one of
Anyway there was a big time Broadway producer in the audience that night . After the show, I was going from glass to glass, drinking whatever people had left, and he sidled up to me and said, “You’re gonna be a star.” I nearly choked on the 28 maraschino cherries and 17 olives I had stuffed in my mouth to eat later. “Phhanks miffftah.” I said, as smooth as can be. Turns out he was producing what would later become one of my biggest hits, Kandor & Ebbs little known masterpiece, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, Pussy in a Cold Dark Basement. A young whippersnapper named Bobby Fosse was the choreographer and head queer (it was all very official back then, not like the fairy fest you have down on the White way these days.)
Well, needless to say, I was a hit, and come June was nominated for a Tony. It was a lovely ceremony that year, Abe Vigoda hosted, with musical numbers sung by a nearly comatose Vivienne Leigh, backed up by the Vienna Boys Choir. Their rendition of “Talky Talky” from South Pacific lives in infamy as the noise that scared Hal Prince straight. (For about a minute. I saw him and Fosse messing around in the ladies’ powder room during a commercial break.) Now I had had a little fun before the show started, and at the time that my category was being called, I was trying to coax a coat rack to buy me another old-fashioned. Suddenly I heard a great round of applause and some little lady ran up to me and said “Ms. Gomes you won! You won!!” I assumed she was talking about the Russian mafia’s numbers racket, which I still play every day, so I looked the girl straight in the eyes and said “Don’t take my numbers. They’re my numbers!” The girl looked very confused and ran off.
Well, just then I had the urge to run to the ladies room, but wasn’t quite sure where it was. So I began wandering around, and wouldn’t you know, ended up stumbling on stage with my unspeakables around my ankles. Boy was Al Hirschfeld surprised! Either way, I took the award, remembered to wipe, and promptly went to lie down on the set they’d brought out for a Carousel number. The spinning wasn’t all that fun, but the look on Vivienne’s face as I threw up on her dress and she finally woke up and realized that she wasn’t at home with the girls was priceless. She ended up running off stage and I did the rest of the musical numbers. I didn’t have anything prepared so I just sang off the cuff about whatever was on my mind. The crowd especially loved my piece called “Refrigerator Days” for which I had boys from the choir sing the angry Puerto Rican hooker part.
I knew I was in when the crowd gave me a standing ovation at the end of the night. Abe Vigoda felt a little upstaged, but I just patted his withered old head (it’s always been like that, ever since a horrible snow shoeing accident) and said “Get used to it, Abey. Get used to it.” Well, it turns out that I wasn’t talking to Abe Vigoda at all, just a pile of oily rags that someone had left backstage. But I think he got the message. Jimmy Tunes was there to congratulate me and
Most days I don’t give one look to old Tony sitting up there on the mantle. Why you can hardly see him amongst the numerous other awards, medals, medallions, empty gin bottles, and Peruvian shrunken heads I’ve crammed up there. He’s alone in a crowded world, just as I was when I moved up to
Man, Jimmy really hated that freezer."
(C) 2006 Gomes Group Inc.
"I’m sure everyone has at least one cherished family memory. Maybe it was a very special Christmas when daddy put down the bottle and picked up a Santa hat. Maybe it’s when cousin Jenny showed you how to fly solo all the way to tingly town. I too have some very cherished family memories. Now, I don’t mean my actual family. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I had a rough and tumble upbringing. More tumble than rough, as I had a debilitating disease that prevented me from properly descending staircases. Anyway, my father was an admiral in the Merchant Marines, traveling the globe protecting but more often accidentally slaying merchants. It was on his travels that he met my mother, the daughter of a Danish governor. They had a brief courtship and were soon married and living in
When I say family, I mean the extended network of friends that I have made during my years in showbiz. These friends include, of course, many beloved celebrities; Peebo Bryson, the late Alan Alda (mongoloid attack, I’m told), and TV’s first lady, Joy Philbin, but also my assistant Geoffrey and his dog Ethel Steinberg, and my lover for many years, Senator Strom Thurmond. Oh I have many lovely memories of this family, boating accidents in
At the time I was in the Big Apple wrapping up my one woman show “Crystal Can Can-Can, but Doesn’t Wanna,” a hilarious send up of the French told through song, dance, and ethnic slurs. Well, the night of my last performance, Geoffrey told me that Uta Hagen was in the audience, disguising herself as she often did as a Japanese business man. Uta and I had met once before, at one of Jackie Mason’s most horrifying Arbor Day parties on record, and I told Geoffrey to send a note that I’d love to say hello afterwards. Of course when she got the note she pretended to not understand “Eng-rish” and just shook her head, but after the show, there she was waiting at the bar around the corner, The Bloody Tap Shoe. We had a few drinks, a few laughs, and got to talking about our mutual friend Agatha Christie who had, for a number of reasons (a heavy gambling debt chief among them,) recently taken up both the bottle and the Communist party. Now before all this happened Aggie had promised Uta that she’d write her into her next mystery as a wise-cracking private eye named Uta St. Pierre, so Uta was a little worried that Agatha’s new political habits would get in the way of the book being written. I told her not to worry, that the same thing happened with Valerie Harper and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and everything had worked out just fine. Now what I didn’t tell her, but I will say here, is that I wanted Uta off the Commie subject fast. I was worried she’d start asking too many questions and would eventually find out that I’d been sending Chairman Mao three thousand dollar care packages every six months.
But that Uta, she was a tricky broad, and eventually in her quest to cure Aggie of her case of Pinko, she uncovered my various dealings with extremist groups, from Mao to the Simbianese Liberation Army (Patty Hearst had it coming. She knows why.) But now I didn’t know she had figured this out. So when Uta telegrammed a few months later to invite me over for a few glasses of sherry and some corn fritters, I happily obliged.
Now Uta’s house was a really wild sight. Candy wrappers and empty cans of Dr. Pepper everywhere. A very strange smell, something like gasoline and old gyros (a smell I’ve come to love later in life.) Patty Duke and Andy Griffith were passed out in her mudroom. But I figured what the hell, I’d stay and have a little sherry and then make my exit. Well, six glasses later, Uta and I were playing Chutes & Ladders and laughing our heads off. Then, all of a sudden, Uta gets this glassy look in her eyes and says to me “Oh Crystal, I’m sorry.” And I just said, “Sorry? Uta baby, for what?” And that’s when she told me that she had put rubbing alcohol in my sherry. She told me how she found out that I was giving money to Chairman Mao and that she just hated communists more than anything. I then told her that I wasn’t giving money to the Communists, I just owed the little chinaman for a bet we made about Judy Garland’s Oscar chances for A Star is Born.
But what I couldn’t figure out is why she put rubbing alcohol in my drink. Well poor Uta is very impressionable, turns out some of her students had been funning her, telling her all kinds of things when she asked about how to poison someone. Well one of them said rubbing alcohol would do the trick and that I’d never notice (that student was a young Carl Reiner!). Well, I sure didn’t notice, but like I told her, if rubbing alcohol was poison, Gladys Knight and all of the Pips would have been dead years ago. After that, Uta and I made up, had a few more laughs, a few more glasses of rubbing alcohol, and called it a night.
Of course Uta tried to poison me a few more times after that, the last attempt resulting in her own death. But, why you may ask is this one of my favorite “family” memories? Well, mainly because it’s one of the few that I can remember fully given that I only had sixteen glasses of sherry, but also because it reminds me of a simpler place and time, when poisoning someone was pretty run of the mill. When Agatha Christie was still alive and writing mysteries about Uta St. Pierre and her trusty Peregrine falcon Alfonso (Uta’s idea.) It was a different, better time, chock full of absolute crazies like Uta, people who aren’t with us anymore. And if that’s not what a family memory is all about, well then you can call me crazy. And pass the rubbing alcohol."
(C) 2006 Gomes Group Inc.