Every Act of Life: Terrence McNally

DATELINE: Surviving Show Business

 Terry McNally & Eddie Albee back when….

In all my connections to Broadway writers, Terrence McNally never came up much.

Now James Kirkwood would talk about everyone in show biz! We gossiped about them all. Yet, there is no memory of him mentioning McNally.

Oh, they knew of each other: gay writers winning friends in great theater. Kirkwood certainly knew Edward Albee who was McNally’s first important boyfriend, but McNally may have been too openly gay for Jim Kirkwood. It’s the only conclusion to make.

Every Act of Lifeis a documentary on the life of McNally who worked with every actor imaginable since the death of Jim Kirkwood in 1989, and that may be the survival of your reputation in show business. Richard Thomas, Nathan Lane, Rita Moreno, F. Murray Abraham, Angela Lansbury, all share memories of their careers and personal ties to McNally and his funny and varied plays.

All Jim’s closest actor friends, like Sal Mineo, are long gone. One young writer once said to me: “Wow, I didn’t think any of Kirkwood’s friends were still alive.”

McNally survived, though people like Robert Drivas, his tempestuous and exotic actor boyfriend after Albee, died of AIDS in 1985 in the first wave of notable show business deaths. Drivas was a closet case, and yet it was open and flamboyant McNally who still lives nearly forty years later.

There is no accounting for survival, but you have to admire it when it shows up at your door. The film on the life of McNally is likely a tonic and a fizz for gay people who need superior role models. If you die too soon, you can’t be much of a mentor. If Jim Kirkwood were here, I might say you should never have told me to write your autobiography and play coy about your gay life. Yet, he did.

McNally, had I known him, would never have said such a thing, but those plays and characters never quite grabbed like Jim Kirkwood’s creations.

Oh, it’s too late now to do much about it, but we can celebrate the life of Terrence McNally, albeit a tad on the late side.

 

Dr. William Russo wrote Riding James Kirkwood’s Pony, available in paperback and e-book on Amazon.

Hello, Carol Channing! Goodbye, Dolly!

DATELINE: Showy Biz

Cleopatra, Dolly, Becket  Cleopatra, Dolly, Becket.

Larger than Life is the subtitle of a look at the life of the grand star, Carol Channing.  Having recently died, we were drawn to this streaming video of her life; she was active at 90 and participated in sharing memories and activities when this documentary was made.

Channing seems to have been born big. Like a generation of vaudeville to TV stars, she had a personality that overwhelmed everything—and she was so kind and generous that she became a titan of beloved show biz.

From her days at Bennington College in the 1930s, she was no dumb blonde, but played one on stage constantly. Judy Holliday owed her persona to Carol who was a hit on stage and TV, but never in movies.

It seems the big screen could not contain her. It is reminiscent of Jimmy Durante, who also was too big for the film roles.

She knew everyone—and literally everyone who was someone came backstage to meet her in Hello Dolly—from Al Pacino to Elizabeth Taylor (pictured with Richard Burton).

She was a mimic, a raconteur, and comedian. She could sing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” with originality because she made the song famous on stage in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes—but the movie was always with someone else (Streisand, Monroe, etc.).

As a walking hyperbole, she was subject to female impersonation by drag queens. Once, with Rich Little, she was approached by a man who marveled at the best impersonation of Channing he had ever seen. He asked what he did in real life: never one to miss a beat, Carol said: “I’m a truck driver from Toledo, Ohio.”

Her first movie costar was Clint Eastwood! It was his first movie too, and they had a love scene which they rehearsed endlessly but was so bad that it ended up on the editing room floor.

This amazing documentary is filled with show biz nuggets and stunning old TV and stage clips. She missed one half of one stage performance in her entire life. Astounding lady.