It was March of 1953, and I was performing for the first time at The Empire Room of The Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, dancing with The Merriel Abbott Dancers. A dancer had not shown up for work, and they asked me to take her place, as I already knew the dance numbers. I was sixteen years old, a tall girl with long blond hair, quite attractive, a nice Catholic schoolgirl basically, suddenly thrust into the spotlight in more ways than one. The other girls had to show me how to put on stage make-up, fix my eyelashes with black wax to make them look thick and long, and put my headpiece on so it wouldn't fall off while I was dancing. That was the easy part. What happened next was something sudden. They asked me to walk out around the tables to the other side of the dance floor where we performed our shows, and wait for Miss Mary Meade who was the headliner.
They said, now just stand at the other side of the stage, and when she comes out, she'll hand you her black fox fur. You take it to the dressing room the same way you came out. This meant walking all the way around the tables and back again. They put me in a maid's outfit, with a little apron, black stockings and high heels. I looked like a pin up girl. Mary Meade was not that well known in Chicago, or anywhere else except Europe in the 1950's. She had been an actress in some "B" movies in Hollywood in the 40's, but for the most part, she was basically an unfamiliar face. She was quite beautiful, and she also had long blonde hair, just as I did at that time. We were both tall and blonde, and both pretty. So.......
The orchestra starts playing. I start walking around the back of the tables. The Master of Ceremonies introduces the star of stage and screen, the lovely Miss Mary Meade! And here she comes out of the same dressing room I came out of, only I reached the stage well before she did.
Just as they announced her, I stepped forward on the stage waiting dutifully for her to arrive with her black fox fur. The audience couldn't see her because she was on her way from the dressing room, making her way through the side tables. They took one look at me, and thought I looked similar to the picture on their table card, so they started applauding, loud and passionately, as good Chicago audiences were known to do. I smiled and grinned at the crowd which was staring at me, and then a somewhat irate Ms.Meade came strolling across the stage and handed me her fur with a cutting look I will never forget.
The musicians unfortunately started chuckling in the background, and the drummer made one of those stick on cymbal sounds they make at the punch line of a joke. I still had to walk all the way around the back tables. Ms. Meade started singing, but the audience continued smiling at me, as I walked fast to the dressing room. It was a story that went around town a bit, as the new girl who upstaged Mary Meade. She was quite unhappy about it, until they told her it was my very first night in show business, and I guess she decided to forgive me, as apparently it had been her idea to have a maid pick up her fur, and for some reason, somebody decided to have me do it. I'll never forget that night, as I didn't know whether to be elated at my sudden celebrity, or humiliated at my bold stance while I waited for her to appear. A charming memory now, but then, all the girls said, "nice going."
Thursday, January 15, 2009
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