Carrie Smith
  Seeing Anna in "Follies" 2002...

 

 

As much as I’ve complained about my job at my former high school, I never would have gotten to see Anna

in "Follies," had I not accepted the position.

 

About a week ago, Billy called me on my cell, after having dinner with his parents. He told me that as a

graduation present, they had paid for his trip to California. He immediately asked if I could go with him.

After telling me that Stacey had offered to pay for his theater tickets with her tax return, I knew I really

wanted to go, too. I missed Stacey, as I hadn’t seen her since our return from Spokane in September.

 

The next day, I scoured my finances with a fine-toothed comb; money would be tight, but I could afford to

go. Through a lucky email to my account at work, I learned that NYSUT (New York State United Teachers, the union to which I belong) offers discounted hotel and airfares. This was a sign, I thought, and immediately booked a seat on Billy’s flight to California. It wasn’t until later that I realized the trip would be exactly nine months to the day—right down to the same day of the week—of our trip to see Anna in

"Love Letters" in Spokane.

 

In the remaining days before our departure, I frantically raced to-and-from the mall, buying everything

from luggage to toothpaste, and everything in-between that I’d need for the trip. I’d even mastered the fine art of feigning flu-like symptoms in order to call in sick for the days I’d miss from work (it’s one of the

Seven Deadly Sins to be absent during Regents exams), and drove to Billy’s house with the confidence that

my students would pass their finals with flying (pardon the pun) colors.

 

That night, Wednesday, Billy and I were of course, very excited. We watched the episode of

"I Love Lucy" where they first arrive in Hollywood, all the while planning our itinerary. He and I had always dreamed of going to California, and couldn’t believe that our dreams were actually coming true! Seeing Anna while there would only sweeten the pot. Because of prior obligations, however, we knew our time in Los Angeles would be limited, and made plans that included the Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and taking a tour of celebrity homes. Amazingly, we did everything we had hoped, and more!

 

After rather uneventful flights—first to Pittsburgh and then to Los Angeles—we met Stacey and Laura

(a.k.a. Grit) at the baggage claim of LAX. Seeing Stacey again was wonderful and we met Grit after five

years of Internet friendship. We found our luggage and climbed into Stacey’s car, exhausted. Our first stop

was Denny’s; being a vegetarian, the choices of airline food are few and far between. We were able to get

acquainted, though, and with food in our stomachs, headed to the hotel, a Days Inn on Hollywood Boulevard. Luckily, it was nicer than we had originally anticipated. Beds had never seemed so soft, nor had pillows ever seemed so fluffy. At least to me.

 

I was awakened several times during the night, mostly because the greasy food from our fast food meal had

gone right through me. The last time, however, was due to a large clap of thunder, from the storm that had moved over us around 6:00 in the morning. By the time we were ready to start our day, though, the skies had cleared. The weather was very nice, cool and sunny, and we loaded cameras and bodies into the car. We drove the quick five blocks to the Walk of Fame, and immediately gawked over the stars of

Harry Ackerman (the producer of another favorite show, "Bewitched") and Jackie Gleason. At Grauman’s, we saw the footprints of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Gregory Peck, Shirley MacLaine,

Meryl Streep, and others. The Kodak Theater, home of the most recent Academy Awards, was in sight, as was the Pantages Theater, and many, many memorabilia stores. We were in Heaven!

 

We weren’t able to stay long, though, due to time constraints. We had a pressing lunch appointment with

Eddie Applegate (Richard Harrison from "The Patty Duke Show"), and didn’t want to be late. Again, we

piled into the car, and drove to his house in Chatsworth, in the San Fernando Valley. Along the way (I think we took the 405 Freeway), we saw signs for the Hollywood Bowl, a planetarium, Universal Studios, and other noteworthy sights. We continued to drive. After a few wrong turns, we found a Marie Callendar’s restaurant, where Grit made a pit stop after purchasing a "world famous strawberry pie" for our hospitable hosts. We called Eddie, who finally gave in and rescued us at a gas station that was only a few blocks away from the house. Once there, we exchanged hugs and kisses, and lounged at a table on his lanai, while drinking iced teas. He introduced us to his "other half," Betty, whom I must say, is equally as wonderful as Eddie. We told them both the story of how we all met, our trip to Jean Byron’s house, our trip to Spokane, and seeing William "Poppo" Schallert in a play in February. Quite amused, he told us what he has been up to since we saw him last on the set of the "Reunion" film. Eddie is quite the painter—he’s painted several landscapes that hang in his living room, and is an avid collector of H-O model trains. He maintains a large setup in his garage that he built himself over the years. He showed us the hallway that leads to his office and bedroom, which are home to a variety of pictures that document his acting career. Also interesting to note, Eddie is a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and each year is sent tapes with which he chooses his favorites for Emmy consideration! The next time your favorite actress is nominated, you very well may have Eddie to thank! (Note to self: ask Eddie if he’s ever voted for Anna’s nominations.)

 

As the clock ticked on into infinity, our stomachs started to growl. Eddie surprised us all by taking us to

lunch at a nearby restaurant. The food was delicious! While there, he told us all stories of how he got

started in show business, and gave wonderful advice to Stacey, our resident aspiring actress. Eddie actually

teaches acting classes at UCLA and the famous Chelsea Studios! Not bad, eh? After a sandwich lunch, he

took us to see the sights of Chatsworth. He showed us, among other things, one of Sharon Stone’s houses. It was huge! When we got back to his house, he signed a few autographs and posed for pictures with us, before sending us off with extra videotapes the Academy had sent him. After thanking Eddie and Betty profusely, we drove back to the hotel, to change for that night’s production of "Follies."

 

When we got back to Hollywood, we found a florist and ordered an arrangement of roses, lilies,

snapdragons, and alstroemeria for Anna. It was really beautiful. And heavy! Because it was so large, I had to carry it on my lap during the thankfully short drive down Hollywood Boulevard Upon our arrival at the hotel we chose our best outfits, showered and primped, and proceeded down Wilshire Boulevard to the

Wadsworth Theater in Brentwood. The theater was huge—much bigger than those in Manhattan—and was a beautiful Spanish-style edifice. To our surprise, there were T-shirts and autographed posters on sale at a concession stand, benefiting Actors Equity and the fight against AIDS. Of course, we each bought one.

Inside, we were handed programs and were ushered to our seats in the balcony. Because we all were on

budgets, we had agreed on seeing three performances, but could only afford orchestra seats for the last

show. That was fine with us!

 

For those of you who don’t know, "Follies" is approximately two and a half hours in length, and has a

wonderfully composed score by Stephen Sondheim. The play is about a handful of chorus girls who reunite

after thirty years as their beloved theater is being torn down to accommodate a parking lot. It was a bit

slow in some parts, but the actors—Mary Jo Catlett, Vikki Carr, Carol Lawrence, etc.—were all

breathtaking. Anna was gorgeous (of course). She wore a long, white evening gown, decorated with

rhinestones and sequins along the trim. Her hair had gotten long—reminiscent of the style she wore in

"When the Vows Break"—and she wore it pinned back. Her first song, "Waiting for the Girls Upstairs,"

was great! We scoured the audience during Intermission, in the hopes of seeing Anna’s husband, Mike,

and/or her son, Kevin. To our dismay, we later learned that they had been on too many roller coasters

that afternoon at Magic Mountain, and were still a bit under the weather. We did, however, see

George Newbern, who co-starred with Anna’s son, Mackenzie, in "The Evening Star" (he played Tommy). I looked right at him, like an idiot, and he stared back. It didn’t register that he was famous until after he left—with his girlfriend in tow. The second act was much more action-packed than the first, replete with two more songs sung by Anna. "Could I Leave You?," a song sung to her husband after having admitted to cheating with her good friend, Sally, was excellent. And her third number, "The Story of Lucy and Jessie," was AWESOME! She wore a short, red dress with lots of fringe, the kind a flapper from the late 1920s would wear. It was quite a tongue twister, though, with a LOT of lyrics. Although her voice isn’t what it used to be during the 1960s, she most definitely made up for it with her dancing. We’ve all seen Anna dance in "Billie" (which consequently, was co-choreographed by Donna McKechnie, a co-star in "Follies"), and of course, the opening credits of "The Patty Duke Show." Here, however, Anna had the perfect moves; she shook in all the right places, and looked right at home on the stage in front of a packed house. The crowd roared!

 

After the curtains came down, we waited for the cast at the stage door. Vikki Carr is a lovely woman, also

Anna’s height, with a nice signature. Mary Jo Catlett (of "Dif’rent Strokes" fame) is also very nice, and

posed for pictures with us. Anna finally emerged from behind a large crowd of fans—clearly the star of the

evening—and exclaimed how good it was to see us all again. She also said how exciting it was to be in a

production of such caliber. Because it was a night performance, we couldn’t stay long; the cast had an early

rehearsal in the morning (yes, even while performing at night). We said goodnight and headed back to

another night of greasy food at Denny’s.

 

Sometimes, it seems as though Manhattan is the capital of Starbucks, as you can find at least one on every

block. If that’s true, then Hollywood is the capital of Denny’s. Everywhere we turned, there was another

one! After the show, we went to the Denny’s on Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. While walking in

from the parking lot, we met three homeless men who were sitting on the corner of the street. Stacey,

being the wonderful person that she is, offered to buy them hamburgers. As we were waiting for the

waitress to bring them, I noticed from the window that we were next to Sunset Gower Plaza. I asked Billy

if that meant Sunset Gower Studios were nearby. "Golden Girls," "Empty Nest," "First Years,"

"Six Feet Under," and many other shows have been filmed there. After we ate, we went back to the car

and noticed that we were indeed parked right across the street from the studios! That was an unexpected

surprise! After gawking, we decided to go back to the hotel and call it a night.

 

For those of you who came to Spokane with us, you know that Billy, Stacey, and I have a very hard time

falling asleep at night when there’s so much excitement right at our fingertips. As expected, we didn’t get

to sleep that night until almost 4:00 am. Instead of sleeping, we watched part of the video that we filmed in our hotel room in Spokane, talked about what we’d do the next morning, etc.

 

Saturday morning came soon and with it came a tour of our favorite celebrities’ homes. We piled into the

car supplied with numerous rolls of film and Fun Saver cameras, and began our excursion. Before we left, I

had compiled a list of houses that I thought everyone would like to visit. Even though the list consisted of

about fifteen names, we were all amazed that each person’s house was on the way to another. First on the

list was the former home of Elizabeth Montgomery (one that she shared with her husband,

Robert Foxworth) in Beverly Hills. Actually, it was very close to the Beverly Hills Hotel. We took many

pictures, climbed over fences to get better views, etc. Since Elizabeth Montgomery shares the title of "my

favorite actress" with Anna, I felt the usual butterflies in my stomach. My trip was complete! Other houses on our tour included those owned by Bea Arthur, Cloris Leachman, Shirley Temple, Lucille Ball,

Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Agnes Moorehead, Joan Crawford, Helen Reddy, Anne Bancroft, and

Betty White. Each house was gorgeous and WAY out of the price range of anyone I know. Before it got

much later, we decided to stop for lunch in Brentwood, and recount the sights we had seen thus far. While

driving back to Hollywood from Betty White’s house (in Brentwood), we had to drive through Westwood.

Why not stop and take pictures of Anna’s old house? Although it took a few wrong turns to get there, her

house was worth the wait. It was beautiful: white walls, a three-car garage, what looked like lofty ceilings, and a very large kitchen. It wasn’t the quintessential "star’s" house; it was more of a simple, modest home—one that looked lived in. A large, green lawn emptied onto a not-too-high brick wall. We all immediately imagined Mack and Sean as kids, walking along the wall, performing a circus balancing act.

How cute! On the way back to Hollywood, we drove past UCLA (a VERY nice and VERY large campus),

and passed Marymount High School, the school where Mack and Sean went! Of course, we took pictures.

On the way back into Beverly Hills, curiosity got the better of us. Although we really didn’t WANT to see the house, per se, that Charles Manson and four of his followers murdered Sharon Tate in, it was so near by. We drove up the infamous Cielo Drive, after confirming the address with fellow list member, Tracy, and found the house immediately. Tracy had looked it up on the Internet for us, as she too was curious to know what it looked like. She told us that the original house had been knocked down, because it was becoming a tourist trap (oops!). It was rebuilt, though, and much to my surprise, people lived there! Even though it’s a different house, it’s still on the same site; personally, I could never live there. We just sat in front of the house for what was probably only two or three minutes, although it felt like thirty. Nobody spoke, nobody took pictures. I actually got goose bumps. It was really creepy and eerie to be there. The next thing I remember, someone’s phone rang and we all practically jumped out of our skins! Enough of that!

 

Before returning to our hotel to shower and change into nicer clothes for the second performance of

"Follies," we stopped at a local drug store to choose greeting cards and wrapping paper. Although we didn’t have flowers for Anna this time, we did bring along some gifts for her that we had chosen before leaving. We all pitched in on a few of them, as well as bringing gifts that were more personal. We found what we thought to be the perfect attributes, and raced back to Hollywood Boulevard to our beloved Days Inn. Before I changed, I went out to sit at one of the tables by the pool, so I could write a personal note to Anna inside my card. Without going into too much detail, I told her how much I appreciated all that she has done for so many people, and that because of it, I was able to make a very important decision in my life. As I finished, I stuffed the card into its envelope, and raced up the stairs to our room to change. We made it to the theater in record time, allowing us a few extra minutes to take pictures of the actual building. The performance was pretty much the same as that of the night before. During Intermission, though, we all raced outside to see if there was anyone famous in the audience. No luck this time, however, the meeting of David, another list member, surprised us. We knew that he was going to be there, but due to all the people that were outside, I never thought we’d actually be able to meet up. We said a quick hello before shuffling back inside. The second act was wonderful, as expected, and Anna looked wonderful. Afterwards, we again waited for her by the stage door, and were thrilled when she invited us to a late dinner at a nearby restaurant—as I’m sure you can imagine!

 

As Anna finished signing autographs for her patiently awaiting fans, she and Mike suggested that we (the

four of us plus David and his friend) caravan to Jerry’s Famous Deli, just a few blocks away. It was a very

nice place—there were posters of musicals all over the walls, and we even sat across from one of the other

cast members and her family! Due to either the late hour or the fact that there really IS such a thing as

The Patty Duke Diet (Billy, maybe we should patent it!), we didn’t eat much, even though the food was

delicious! If memory serves, we all had soup (Anna had the matzo ball soup), except for Grit, who had a

cheeseburger deluxe. While we were waiting for the food to come, we gave her the gifts we had brought

(everything from collectable pill boxes to 8"x10" glossy publicity photos which Mike had told us in Spokane

that she wanted). We took some wonderful pictures of Anna unwrapping everything, and the stories she

told us about each picture were priceless. I was lucky enough to find a picture on Hollywood Boulevard of

Anna with three teenage girls wearing school uniforms. Although it was obvious it was from the 1970s, we

couldn’t imagine what it could be from. Anna told us, though, that it was from an unaired pilot for the

"Facts of Life!" She had been up for a role in the show! How weird would that have been, considering

Mackenzie would later become a cast member? Anna discussed her role as Phyllis in "Follies," and said that

she was having a wonderful time doing the play. We got on the topic of the three songs that she sings, and I told her half-jokingly that for one of them, "Waiting for the Girls Upstairs," it should sound as if

Neely O’Hara (Anna’s character in "Valley of the Dolls") was singing it, because it was such a bitchy song.

She loved my suggestion, and actually said she’d use Neely as her motivation for the two performances on

Sunday. Look, Ma! I’m a director! After dinner, we posed for a few pictures, before Mike whisked her and

Kevin away into the night.

 

Sunday morning came quickly, as we were very absorbed in dreams of the previous night’s outing. We

dressed and piled into the car once again, in order to get some last-minute sight seeing in. We all agreed

that we couldn’t fly three thousand miles without seeing the famous Hollywood sign! We drove through the Hollywood Hills to get as close to it as possible, before posing for pictures. We knew we had to hurry,

though, as we had been able to get hold of tickets to see Valerie Harper’s play,

"The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife." On a personal note, I highly recommend this play. It’s currently touring the country; if you get the opportunity to see it, I guarantee you’ll laugh your ass off! For those of you who are theater buffs, The Ahmanson Theater, where Val was performing, was right next to the famed Mark Taper Forum. We were lucky enough to be able to meet Valerie after the show, and to pose for pictures while getting our Playbills signed. She’s such a sweet lady! Our trip back to Brentwood to see the final performance of "Follies" was rather uneventful—sans the outstanding road rage we all possess.

 

Once back at the Wadsworth Theater, I began to shriek as Billy and I had forgotten our theater tickets back at our hotel. We had thirty minutes until the curtain went up, and the hotel was a good twenty minutes in each direction! As we made our way across the parking lot in the hopes of explaining our situation to one of the stagehands, we all stopped dead in our tracks. Right there, in front of us, was none other but Sean Astin! I don’t know how Billy, Stacey, or Grit reacted, but my heart stopped beating, and my mouth hung open, much like a codfish. I was sure that if I opened my mouth, the only intelligible thing I’d be able to blurt out would be "A-S-T-I-N!" so I thought it best to keep quiet. Sean was…gorgeous! He was so tan, as he just arrived from New Zealand. His wife, Christine, and his daughter, Alli, were there as well, looking as lovely as ever. For the life of me, though, I’m not able to remember what any of us said or did. I just remember standing there, staring. Unfortunately, the Astin clan had surprised Anna at the matinee performance, and was just leaving as we were coming in the opposite direction. As Mike walked them back to their car, I remember someone saying they wished they could’ve found their camera in time to take a picture. Sean must’ve heard this, as he turned around, flashed a big, toothy grin in our direction, and kept walking.

 

Lucky for us, we were able to get in touch with Ticketmaster and were able to get replacement tickets for

the evening performance—just in time to see the curtain rise. Because it was the last performance, it was

of course, very emotional for all concerned. I remember in particular, during one of Vikki Carr’s songs in

the second act, I was moved to tears. I think it was due in part to it being a very beautiful and sad song,

Vikki’s wonderful voice, and knowing that we’d be flying home the next morning. I was also surprised that

Anna actually DID take my advice and sang her song Neely-style, and received a standing ovation. My idea

worked! Later, we were told that Justine Johnston, who reprised her original role from Broadway, was

retiring. The entire cast was emotional—especially Anna. One of the few things that still stick out in my

mind about this performance is the staging of Justine’s duet. The play operates in that while the actresses

act out their lines, versions of their former selves appear on stage, as a memory. After Justine finished the

last verse, her former self had joined hands with Justine and escorted her off-stage. Maybe the English major in me is reading too much into it, but I thought it was a very touching and symbolic way to represent Justine’s character’s death, as two worlds reunited.

 

After that curtain call, we resumed our regular spots by the stage door, to say our goodbyes to Anna. We

were all surprised to meet up again with the lovely Mary Jo Catlett, who said goodbye to us and thanked us for coming so many times. Anna’s neighbor from Westwood, Mary Lou (who wrote the forward to Anna’s second book, A Brilliant Madness), was there as well, but unfortunately had to leave before being able to say goodnight to Anna. Always the mother, when Anna did get a chance to talk with us, she asked when we were leaving, when our flights were supposed to get in, etc. That’s how lovely a person she is—she cares so deeply about everyone and everything in her life! Mike was anxious to leave, as they were faced with a long drive back to Idaho in the morning. We quickly exchanged hugs and "I love yous" before getting into our car and driving back to Hollywood for the last time.

 

It was quite sad to say goodbye to a city that had been so kind to us. As a special treat, we decided to stop at Mel’s Drive-In in Beverly Hills, the restaurant featured in "American Graffiti." The food was quite good, despite the long line to get in. Stacey, I could really go for another of the bloomin’ onions we had there! Before leaving Beverly Hills, we posed for pictures underneath the Beverly Hills sign on Sunset Boulevard. Either because of our ravishing beauty or the fact that we were making horses asses out of ourselves, several of the cars that drove by honked at us!

 

Back at the hotel, we took a few candid pictures, and packed our clothes and souvenirs away in our suitcases. Although we did have to get up early to make it to the airport in time for our flights, we had a very hard time falling asleep. We had so much to talk about and so little time! Nobody wanted to leave Hollywood; the weekend had been too much fun!

 

Our flights home were depressing, as we knew it would be quite some time before being able to see each

other again. We had become very close on this trip, and were sad to see each other off. Luckily, I was able

to sleep for much of the trip back east, waking only to see clouds of smoke from the wildfires in

Arizona—and there was a LOT of smoke! I didn’t make it back to my house until 3:00 the next morning,

but the trip was worth it. It didn’t compare to our trip to Spokane, although we did have the time of our

lives! I can’t wait to go back to Hollywood!

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