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An unexpected meeting with the star who turned me into a theatre lover
A few months ago when I first put out a call for personal essays for our Theatre Lovers series, I received this piece from longtime TDF member Kathy Love Quinn. While it doesn't fit the theme of theatre transforming personal relationships, it's too wonderful not to share. Consider it a holiday treat! If you've got a great theatre-related story you'd like to submit for publication consideration, please email TDF Stages.
In 1984, a few of us CBS program coordinators were invited to the upfront party in Studio 43. One of the sales coordinators who worked on primetime shows explained that the upfront was when the heads of CBS' Programming and Sales Departments put together a presentation of the new series slated to begin airing in September, followed by a big bash with food and drinks and celebrities. She said her group was always invited to the party, but after attending so many times, she found it boring and planned to skip it. I couldn't imagine being that jaded. I was so excited!
When my group got to the studio, everyone else made a mad dash to the bar, but I waited inside the door and looked around, taking it all in. The place was packed with people. Immediately, I could tell this was like no other party I'd ever been to. It looked like a movie set. There were bars and buffets set up in every corner, each with a different type of food, plus butlers walking through the crowd with trays of hors d'oeuvres. And, of course, lots of celebrities. I could tell where they were because they were surrounded by flashing camera lights and crowds.
I got a glass of wine from the nearest bar and began making my way through the room. I ran into my boss, who kissed me on the cheek and asked, "Have you had your picture taken with any celebrities yet?"
"We can be in pictures?" I responded. "I didn't know!" With all the famous people I had seen in my old department, we were never allowed to take photos. I wasn't even supposed to ask for autographs, though I did ask for Bette Davis' to give to my mother. To take an actual picture with a famous person from a current TV show would be incredible!
Before marrying and having children, I dated a guy whose name I've forgotten. While it wasn't a memorable relationship and didn't last very long, the one thing I do remember is that on our first date, he took me to a Broadway show. Even though I grew up in New York City, I had never been to a production on Broadway. With eight kids and two jobs, my parents didn't have the time or the money to splurge on theatre. The show what's-his-name took me to was a musical about a colorful bohemian woman raising her orphaned nephew. I absolutely adored it, and I especially loved the main character. I cried when she sang "If He Walked into My Life" about how quickly her nephew grew up and how much she had missed. The next day, I ran out and bought the original cast album and played it constantly. I even got my mother and father tickets to see the show for their anniversary. Because my mother's eyes were failing, I got front-row seats. My parents ended up loving the musical as much as I did, so they didn't mind hearing the songs played continually on our stereo. Seeing Mame changed my life and turned me into a theatregoer.
At the upfront party, as I searched the room to see which celebrities were taking pictures, my eyes fell on none other than Mame herself, Angela Lansbury, who was promoting her upcoming TV series Murder, She Wrote. I made my way through the crowd and soon it was my turn to take a photo with her. "Hello," she said, nodding her head graciously.
It had been almost 20 years since I'd seen her on Broadway, but she hadn't aged at all. I was in disbelief, but I managed to say, "Hi, Miss Lansbury."
"Oh, please call me Angela. Did you enjoy Murder, She Wrote?" she asked. I explained that I missed the screening because I had been working all day. "Well then, you'll have to watch in September," she replied. "It's quite engaging.""Okay ladies, look this way," the photographer said. We both looked up and smiled as the flash went off.
"Now, be sure you watch my show."
"I definitely will," I said. "Thank you so much!"
On the subway all the way home, I kept kicking myself. Why didn't I tell her how much I loved her in Mame? Or that I bought tickets for my parents? Or that I have two wonderful sons and I worried, just like her character, that I'd miss so much in their lives? Or that Mame turned me into a Broadway lover? Because of her, I joined TDF and took my sons to countless shows over the years. I took my parents, too. I remember I got my mom second-row seats to The King & I with Yul Brynner. At the end, when the king was dying just a few feet in front of us, she leaned over and whispered to me, "Do you hear those girls behind us? They're crying! It's only a show! It's not real!" And I sobbed back, "Yes... I... know," and then blew my nose!
All these wonderful theatre memories are because of Ms. Lansbury. If she walked into my life today, I'd say, "Thank you."
Kathy Love Quinn started working at CBS when she was 18 and spent 38 years at the company. Her first office was across the hall from where Ed Sullivan Show guests rehearsed, so she met a lot of celebrities at a young age. This essay is an edited excerpt from her self-published memoir All in the Family Part 1,, which is available on Amazon.com.
Top image: the author with Angela Lansbury in 1984. Photo courtesy of Kathy Love Quinn.