Friday, May 9, 2014

Friday Dance Party: A Girl Who's Merely She

Stepsisters, 1965: Prunella and Esmerelda
It's time to reignite the Dance Party!  And what better way than to make a bit of history while honoring three of my favorite character actresses?  This week's entry is a Double Header, that is, two clips for the price of one. 

Stepsisters, 1957:
Joy and Portia

We've had a few Double Headers in the past history of the Dance Party, but never one like this.  Both clips feature the same song, sung by different performers.  Not to worry, they both time out at less than a minute and a half, so no need to arrange a babysitter.

Our song comes from the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalogue, and features some wonderful character stars.  First up, the only one of these terrific ladies with whom I have actually worked.
Pat Carroll (and me), backstage at Volpone.
Pat has had a very long and varied career, and by the time I met her, I had been an admirer of her work for decades. 
Barbara Ruick played opposite Pat as
the other of Cinderella's stepsisters. She
had a previous relationship with R&H,
having played Carrie in their film of
Carousel. All I remember of her performance
in Cinderella is her blinking. She is not one of
my favorites.

Though I have since seen much of her previous work, I believe I first became aware of this hilarious dame in the very clip below.  Along with Barbara Ruick, Pat delivered one of the few Rodgers and Hammerstein songs which is flagrantly comedic.  These two ladies were not the first to sing this song, but they are the ones I most closely associate with it. 
Most of my castmates in Volpone recognized Pat from this
vocal performance, but I considered her the definitive
Stepsister. I think of Pat every year on my birthday,
and here's why.

The 1965 version of Cinderella, starring Lesley Ann Warren, is the one my generation remembers most fondly, as it ran on TV annually for a full decade. It was almost 40 years later that I worked with Pat, and by then, she had won acclaim playing Mother Courage, Falstaff, and Gertrude Stein, as well as appearing on plentiful game shows, feature films, and the first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  But sometimes the first memory is the strongest, and my first recollection of Pat Carroll was here:

You can see what's coming, can't you?  This 1965 TV production of Cinderella was a remake.  The original piece was broadcast live in 1957, and I wrote about that historical broadcast here.  The Stepsisters' Lament was handled on that date by two up-and-coming Broadway stars who would maintain careers for decades to come.  And both of them were favorites of mine.
Though never really absent, Alice Ghostley enjoyed a resurgence in her career as a recurring character on Designing Women.  I wrote about her when she died, go here for that obit.
Alice Ghostley's quirky delivery always cracked me up, and I was thankful to be exposed to it throughout the 60s and 70s in all the sitcoms of the day.  When Tom Bosley died, I wrote a bit about his episode of Get Smart, costarring our gal Ghostley, go here for those insights, and a quickie clip.
Alice was often compared to Paul Lynde, as they
had similar delivery and facial expression. They
both launched their careers on Broadway in New
Faces of 1954, but no, they were not related.
I love this serendipity. This screen grab is from the party scene in 1967's surprise hit, The Graduate.  We see Alice Ghostley as a party guest, as well as revered character actress Marion Lorne, who won the Emmy as Aunt Clara on TV's Bewitched during its early days. As Bewitched wound down, long after Lorne died, Ghostley joined the cast of that same show, as the maid Esmeralda.
But way back in 1957, Ghostley was chosen to create one of the original Ugly Stepsisters in Cinderella, along with another of my favorite gals:

Kaye Ballard first came to my attention when she costarred with Eve Arden in the 1967 TV sitcom The Mothers-In-LawI wrote about this series a while ago, when the cast showed up on the Dance Party.  When her sitcom hit the air, I had no idea Ballard was an established Broadway star, and of course had no idea that she, along with Alice Ghostley, were the first to introduce the Step-Sisters' Lament. 
Ballard hit the cover of Life in the early 50s,
while enjoying a burgeoning Broadway career
which included Carnival, costarring Jerry Orbach.
And a puppet.

Here is that very first public performance of the song, sung live to many millions back in 1957.  As you watch this version, take note that the later 1965 version has been expanded a bit, with another verse for Pat Carroll's character.  Cinderella is now on Broadway, for the first time if you can believe it, in a drastically rewritten version.  The Lament now being sung 8 times a week is delivered by only one of the step-sisters (and the ensemble chorus), in a dramatic departure from the originals. I haven't seen it, I doubt I will. Two versions of this lament are enough for me.