Life During Wartime
Volume 2 Book 9 Part 2 of "Living In The Bonus Round"
The Online Diary of Steve Schalchlin

[ Diary Index ]
[ Book 8 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Part2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ]

Early November 2001.
El Lay, Califonia.
For my blind readers, this picture is Rip Taylor wearing what can only be described as an American flag on his head. It's looks like it's waving. And he's wearing a red spangled coat.
Rip Taylor at the 75th Anniversary of
The El Portal Theatre.

November 1, 2001.
A Ripping Good Time.
Jimmy said to me, "Look, your only responsibility will be to take the car at 5:00 and go pick up Rip Taylor."

Wow, I said to myself, now THAT'S easy and it's so HOLLYWOOD. I mean how many people wake up and the first thing they hear is that they're going to chaffeur Rip Taylor? What kind of car ride would THAT be??

For weeks, Jimmy (and Pegge and Jay and all the others who slave away at El Portal) was working his butt off to get ready for the big event, the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the El Portal in North Hollywood. He -- again, in cooperation with the others -- has planned this from the word, "Go." In fact, my recollection was that he spontaneously announced it from the stage last season as the idea occurred to him, without forethought. He just opened his mouth and said, "We're going to celebrate the 75th Anniversary -- this building was built in 1926 -- of the El Portal with a silent movie and six acts of Vaudeville. And we're gonna give out dishes!"

But it all worked out in the planning. For instance, when he asked Jo Anne Worley to appear, she said her son-in-law shows silent movies with organ/piano accompaniment and a sound effects crew. Now they just had to round out the Vaudeville acts and find some dishes.

Jimmy got his start in Show biz after seeing Ethel Merman onstage -- and being introduced to her afterward. He went right home and, in the basement theatre of his apartment building in Brooklyn, at age *13*, wrote, produced, directed and starred in "The Flagcourt Follies" with all the little neighborhood girls. He even scandalized the mothers by choreographing a saucy can-can. (They even fired him, tried to do it themselves and then came crawling back when they figured out how HARD it is to create a night of magic, thankyewverymuch).

Slowly, he started putting the pieces together. But aside from figuring out the acts and convincing them to appear for free (it was to be a benefit), he and the others was also down there painting, moving furniture, rehearsing, designing the program, etc. etc. etc. He was determined to make this night a success. He also kinda kept me away from it. I was busy on my own music all day long and he would drop little hints about the show but I didn't know what I was gonna see. All I knew was that I was to pick up Rip Taylor.

Finally at five, I went over the hill and picked up Rip (who's suffering from an eye infection of some kind but heroically decided to go on anyway) with a friend of his who held his stuff and kept him relatively happy.

The first thing we did was take pictures of him in front of the El Portal marquee.

Rip Taylor in North Hollywood.

I brought Rip into the theatre and got him settled with the musical director, Chris Bennett. Soon, Bobby Morse came in to review his script so I took pics of him and Jimmy.

Robert Morse (of "How To Succeed...")
rehearses Jim Brochu's script.

My "date" for the evening was Shawn Decker's friend Josh D'Elia who just moved here. He's playing bass in a rock band called The Trace. I enjoy hanging with Josh because he has a very dry sense of humor; hardly ever says anything. (And girls, he's a straight boy. Line forms to the left).

The show itself was incredible. As soon as the silent movie started I felt like I was transported back to 1926. The music, the sound effects, the hilarious Willie Winkie (how many people remember her?) film and the coolest thing happened at the end. They flashed the image of one of the kids from the "gang" onscreen saying this man was present tonight.

And sure enough, it was the guy helping to do sound effects. He was the boy on the screen and said back in the late 20s, had performed his Vaudeville act on the El Portal stage (back when it was called the Lankershim Playhouse).

Rip came out between the movies wearing a miniature American flag on his head, reading wonderfully terrible jokes -- "They stopped a woman from getting on the plane with her knitting needles. They were afraid she was going to knit an Afghan" -- and handing out sets of dishes.

But it was Act Two that we saw Mr. Jim Brochu "in his element," as one person put it. He went from being the stand-up emcee to opening act! Well, let me just show you:

Jimmy and "his girls" singing "Come On In," a Cole Porter song.

The show just kept rolling with "Two Grandmas From Brooklyn" singing a medley of songs from 1926 and other acts such as the legendary Fayard Nicholas with his granddaughters and wife...

Fayard Nicholas singing.
Two Grandmas from Brooklyn with Chris Bennett on piano.
But the big moment, I think, for the crowd was when 93-year old Penny Singleton (remember her? Blondie from the movies in the 30s?) came out and sang for the first time in 20 years. She sang a song that was introduced in a show she appeared in on Broadway in the late 20s. The song? "The Best Things In Life Are Free."

She was so scared back stage she nearly passed out. But once she entered from the wings, the audience went stark raving nuts over her. She got a little tear/twinkle in her eye and then went into the song. It was like the years melted away and she was in her element. It was THRILLING. When she finished the song she got an extended standing ovation. The people CHEERED her.

Jo Anne Worley, Rip Taylor backstage

The show finished out with Jo Anne Worley doing her wacky thing and then the whole cast came out and, with the audience standing, sang "God Bless America."

By the end of the night we were all exhausted, so I piled Rip back into the car and drove him home, praising him all the way for making our night so successful. It was even more heroic considering he had had eye surgery just the day before. He couldn't even make rehearsal but he refused to let Jimmy and the theatre down. So by the end of the night he was in a lot of pain and I was more than happy to escort him home. Thanks, Rip.

(I compiled the images that I took from that evening and put them into a new album called "Images Of Hollywood."  Enjoy!)

For my part, the past week has been frustrating because my music computer totally crashed and I've been unable to work up here. I can work on the piano, of course, but I can't program any songs or experiment with arranging. I don't know if I've mentioned this but I hate songwriting. I love to HAVE WRITTEN but the process itself is very painful and exasperating to me.

I get ideas but it's in the development of the ideas that I start getting kookoo. I go into a slight depression, my inbox stacks up, people start asking me why I'm so "remote," I get lazy writing diary entries -- it's MADDENING -- and all because, instead of doing what I need to do, my brain is focusing subconsciously (and consciously) on two lines in the last part of a song that feels like it's never going to work even if I *DO* get the two lines rhymed and saying what I want them to say. Does that make sense? Is it any wonder writers go starkers so often?

I find myself investing hours in a song -- but in the back of my mind all I'm thinking is, "This song sucks anyway. Why are you working on it? It's never going to be any good. Try another song. Do something else..." It's like these voices just go round and round in my head till I go nuts trying to finish.

Why didn't I learn plumbing?

[ Diary Index ]
[ Book 8 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Part2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ]

[ Hannah, Hospice Social Worker ] [ Shawn Decker's ]
[ Jimmy's Sunday Sermons ] [ My Lynchburg Diary: Meeting Jerry Falwell ]

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© 2001 by Steve Schalchlin.
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