Auntie Maim

Blessed Mother of Maude Adams, what fresh hell is this?

From Variety:

‘[Director Luca] Guadagnino said he and Swinton aspire to remake “Auntie Mame” as a “rock-n-roll, super funny, super mainstream movie.”

They would set their “Mame,” which is about a boy growing up as ward of his dead father’s eccentric sister, in the present-day.

“This is an SOS for Warner Bros. to give us the rights for this remake, which only Tilda could do justice to,” he added.’

You know I have nothing against a revival of Auntie Mame and/or Mame. Or even a filmed remake of either property. However, this isn’t exactly how I pictured a re-emergence of the timeless character. In any incarnation, Mame is a period piece, and continues to work well in said period. Her effusive spirit is something that comes out of the Roaring Twenties, survives the Crash of ’29 and continues into the Big Band Era: living life to the fullest and fighting the Establishment and stuffy provincial bigots along the way.

Elements of Auntie Mame could work today, but I hardly consider her “rock-n-roll.” Mame Dennis Burnside is more than a character, she’s a force of life. A living embodiment of Bohemianism and sophistication that I think most people would love to have in their lives. Not to mention, Tilda Swinton strikes me as all wrong for the part. Swinton is certainly an eccentric personality as attested by her Hefty bag fashion sense on Oscar night, and she leads a rather Bohemian lifestyle as evidenced by her open relationship with both husband and lover. I am pleased that she considers Auntie Mame one of her favorite films, but there is no need for her to reinvent the wheel.

Is there anyone who could bring savvy sophistication like Rosalind Russell, Greer Garson or Angela Lansbury? It’s harder to cast the role of Mame because the character for all it’s glorious lines and costumes, is static. Mame never changes, which is essential to her Mary Poppins-esque way of popping in and out of her nephew’s life. The actress who can successfully play Mame should be patrician, open-hearted and sympathetic. It takes more than a good delivery of a zinger to make a Mame.

I would rather sit through the leaden 1974 film version of Mame with Lucille Ball than see the rape of a classic.

What’s My Line – Angela Lansbury

Thanks to the Game Show Network, I discovered a lot of old 50s game shows when I was living the life of a night owl at college. However, the one that I always found myself really fascinated with was “What’s My Line,” where a four person panel had to guess the occupation of ordinary folks. The regulars on the show were columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, TV and stage personality Arlene Francis (who brought warmth and charm to the entire series) and publisher Bennett Cerf. Many other stars made guest appearances on the panel, but these three were the mainstays for most of the original run. The host was John Charles Daly (no relation) who moderated all questions.

The special gimmick each week was to have a mystery guest appear on the show. The panelists would be blindfolded and they would have to guess which star was in their midst. Based in NY, the panelists and guests ran the gamut from A-list movie stars to noted politicians and diplomats – practically everyone you could think of appeared on the show during its run, including Eleanor Roosevelt.

For each question wrong, the guest would receive $5, with a limit at $50. For celebrities, their winnings would go to charity. I have to warn you, it’s very easy to get swept up in watching these clips. Sometimes I find myself spending an hour going from one segment to another – just so addicting and a show that I think could still work today, if any daring TV producer decided to revive it.

Anyway, while Angela Lansbury was appearing on Broadway in Mame, she made an appearance as the weekly mystery challenger. Enjoy.

Not "Today"

You gotta take the rough with the smooth…so here goes. We looked at Seth Rudetsky’s fantastic deconstruction of Angela Lansbury leading the company in “It’s Today” from the original cast album of Mame last week. Well, I just stumbled on this clip of the same number from the notorious film version starring Lucille Ball. The film does everything it can to cater to its highly miscast star, who apparently put up the money for the project. The keys have been dropped, the tempo is erratic and the orchestrations have been muted from their brassy highs. The emotions are forced, the energy lacking, plus Onna White’s choreography seems a bit much for such a cramped looking apartment. (I wonder how many people got kicked in the head during rehearsals/shooting). The most criminal thing: there is absolutely no joy. The only thing impressive about this entire mess is Lucy’s hitch kick toward the end of the number (well, she was 62 and recuperating from a broken leg…)

While I’ll always love Lucy, it will never be for Mame.


At Large Elsewhere: Kiley vs. Lansbury

I posted a few days ago that Peter Filichia recently pitted the winners of Actor and Actress Tonys against each other after discussing whether or not women should be called actors or actresses. According to Filichia, there was a three to one landslide in favor of Lansbury. Here was my response, which is surprisingly posted in its entirety:

This really IS a tough call! Both were giving career-defining performances. Kiley was anchoring the Best Musical winning juggernaut. Lansbury was a revelation as the star-turn diva carrying the latest Jerry Herman vehicle. Wow, I wouldn’t want to have had to choose!

However, I think that the votes would have had to go to Lansbury, as she had the bigger challenge, the bigger star turn, and the most to prove. Kiley was already renowned for his musical theatre work, but Lansbury only had nine performances as the third-billed star in Anyone Can Whistle, which wouldn’t have been seen by enough of the populace to make a lasting impression. For Lansbury, it was a total transformation from respected character actress into leading lady. Both roles are hard: Kiley had to enchant an audience while making up for a libretto and lyrics that fall short of the mark, comedy and pathos. Kiley’s transformation was incredible, too. However, Lansbury, sliding down the banister with a bugle, became the toast of New York with the magazine covers and spreads, and the incredible press and audience buzz. It was the start of Lansbury’s Act Two as a musical theatre star/legend.

Looking back on it, La Mancha was the musical apex for Kiley, who would never have another successful musical performance after it, while Lansbury as Mame was the first of so many diverse star turns. (Even Prettybelle in its out-of-town flopping, was important enough to warrant a cast album, and Lansbury cannot herself be faulted in the least for that show’s failure).

From a voting perspective, if you were going to vote Man of La Mancha Best Musical, you might be more inclined to vote for Lansbury in an attempt to honor her hard work, discipline, unexpected total triumph and also not let Mame go home without a major Tony. Thank God it’s merely speculation and that there is such a thing as an ‘actress’ or we’d have so much more agita than necessary in choosing the apples and oranges of who is the best of the best.

Seth Rudetsky Deconstructs "It’s Today"

Seth has been doing 30 reconstructions in 30 days for, and for April 17, he takes on “It’s Today” from the original cast recording of Mame, which introduces the audience and listener to Angela Lansbury as Auntie Mame (with that bugle blast and a slide down the banister). Even though it’s actually the second number of the show, I think this does more to establish the tone for the evening and ultimately is more of an opening number than “St. Bridget.” The original cast album of Mame is a joy to hear from those opening chords of the overture to the very last “Mame!” during the curtain call/finale. The album is one of my all-time favorites and one that I would cherish as a desert-island top 5.

Kiley vs. Lansbury

Peter Filichia was taken to task by some of his readers over the claim that Keith Carradine was the only person to have won a Best Song Oscar and to have been nominated as Best Actor in a Musical. They reminded him that Barbra Streisand is a Tony-nominated, Oscar-winning (for the song “Evergreen”) star. However, as he correctly points out that he said “Best Actor in a Musical” but not Best Actress. One reader pulled the PC card on him saying that it’s not actress, but “female actor.” The article then goes onto speculate which winner of the respective Tony races would take home the award if they were pitted against each other. At the end of the article, he lists what he considers the toughest call: Angela Lansbury as Mame or Richard Kiley as the Man of La Mancha. Be sure to check it out, and drop him a line with your opinion!

I’ll withhold my vote until he posts the results, but I’m sure you can guess…

Angela Lansbury as Mame

This was how she was billed when she took on her second Broadway musical in 1966. She fought very hard to even be seen for it, as the powers that be felt she was always playing “somebody’s mother.” It took a lot of hard work and effort on her part, but with the help of composer Jerry Herman, she won the role. It’s a well-known fact that Angela Lansbury didn’t get to make the film version of Mame in Hollywood. Lansbury, who won her first of an unprecedented four Tonys for Best Actress in a Musical, gave a star turn for the ages and she reached a new level of stardom in her career. But her performance, seen for two years on Broadway and later on national tour, wasn’t enough for her to land the part when Warner Bros. got the film up and running. She didn’t go down without a fight: some say her showstopping production number of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” on the ’68 Oscar telecast was an audition of sorts for the Hollywood establishment. Lucille Ball made the film, and the rest is unfortunate history (have you seen the film…? yikes).

In 1983, Lansbury revived the show for what proved to be an ill-advised and short-lived flop revival of her signature role. The show, with little fanfare, set up shop in the behemoth Gershwin Theatre for a disappointing run of 41 performances. Anne Francine (Bea Arthur’s replacement and a cabaret star), Jane Connell, Willard Waterman, Sab Shimino all reprised their original roles opposite Lansbury. While the response to the revival was tepid, Lansbury was nothing short of sensational. Have a look…

“It’s Today”


“That’s How Young I Feel”

“If He Walked Into My Life” plus the staged curtain call