BACK TO BASICS

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Delightful Tony Memories

Here's another excerpt from America's favorite tell-all! Ms Gomes would also like to send the following message: "Dear Sir or Madam: It was not me who ran over your pet duck. I was nowhere near the scene and have not driven since that horrible incident with Princess Grace (she came out of nowhere, I swear!) I am terribly sorry for your loss, I'm sure he was a nice duck. Enclosed are two seats to my latest show, Back to Basics, which will be playing the Duane Reade stock room this coming Tuesday night. Warmest regards, Crystal."

And here it is...

"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 Tallahassee, with nothing but a dashingly drunk accompanist named Jimmy Tunes and a sack of oranges. Well, back then I was living in an old refrigerator on 145th St. Jimmy managed to curl up in the freezer on nights when he wasn’t staying at the Plaza with some dizzy dame. He and I were playing shows at Dinah Shore’s Hoedown Hut every Tuesday morning. The crowd wasn’t huge, usually just Dinah and a confused hobo or Dutch tourist, but we were living the dream. They paid us in refrigerator magnets, and I eventually got enough to put my name, address, and a warning to stay away from my sack of oranges on the front of my house.

Well, as luck would have it, one of Dinah Shore’s prize acts, Mandy Patinkin, who did sword swallowing and German burlesque, called in sick for the very popular Friday night slot. And who did crazy old Dinah call to fill in? That valium machine Debbie Reynolds. But, as luck would have it again, Debbie accidentally killed a dancer from 42nd Street and was tied up in legal ballyhoo. So we were on. What a rush. I wore my favorite denim pantsuit and soiled footy pajama turban. (Well, they weren’t my favorite, but they were all I had. Hell, Diller used to wear an old Chinese sailor suit when she first started.) Jimmy tore up the piano. Literally. It cost us 700 hundred magnets to replace it.

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 Dinah Shore sent a big bag of old cocktail olives to the refrigerator. Needless to say I didn’t stay there much longer; I found a place next to Mamie Eisenhower’s Summer Palace (as she insisted on calling it) down at 38th and 8th.

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 New York. Lost, alone, and surrounded by shrunken heads. But hey, at least he’s not living in a refrigerator.

Man, Jimmy really hated that freezer."

(C) 2006 Gomes Group Inc.


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