Friday, December 7, 2012

December 8th - Christmas with Julie

I couldn’t wait to get to the studio. After speech class I rushed over to ABC. I had no problem at the gate, but when I reached Studio C, there was a big sign on the door that said, “No visitors, please!”

A page stopped me inside the door.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. “Do you work here?”
“No,” I told him, “Mrs. Priest has okayed my visit.”
“Who is Mrs. Priest?”
After I explained that she worked for Julie, he said,
“Okay, but don’t get into trouble!”

As I entered the studio, Alice Ghostley and Rich Little (as Jack Benny) were onstage. Of course, I wasn’t wearing my glasses and for a moment I really thought it was Jack Benny onstage!

Rich and Alice were performing a scene from Scrooge. A few minutes after I came in, Rich left the stage and came back as Charles Laughton playing the Ghost of Christmas Past. When Rich was finished, they took the different parts he had played and put them together into one scene.

My friend Vivien was there. I forgot to mention it was raining, and I was soaked when I arrived. Vivian had gotten soaked in the rain too. After a couple of hours at the studio, however, I decided to go back to my dorm and check on things.

Today is my mother’s birthday, so I’ll be going back to West Covina early. When I got to my dorm, there was message from my mother saying I would be picked up around 5:30 or 6:00. I called home and tried to convince my mom and step-dad, Ralph, to pick me up a little later, but they wouldn’t, so I decided to skip sewing class. That way I can see more of the taping. Having settled that, I hurried back to ABC.

Meanwhile, Julie had not shown up yet. In fact, she was not there for such a long time, Vivien and I could hardly stand it--we wanted to see her.

Today, the crew was very busy building the sets and putting up lights for various scenes. Early in the day, they had stand-ins for different stars standing in place while the crew set up some old fashioned house fronts onstage. Vivien started giggling when one of the stand-ins began singing in a very high voice. Once she started, I got the giggles too. While we waited, we talked about when we were little and how we made our stage debuts.

As we were talking, I happened to look around the darkened studio and said to Vivian, “Look at the audience!”
We turned to see ladies dressed in old fashioned gowns and big bonnets, standing in groups, chatting, swaying and knitting. The men had long tail coats and high hats. We felt we didn’t belong anymore; we had been transported to another time, the time of Dickens.

Onstage, the stagehands were busy building what appeared to be an old English house at Christmastime. There was a big tree onstage and a table set for dinner.

Julie’s stand-in, Sherri, and Alice Ghostly were sitting next to us. I kept looking over at Alice. Finally, I smiled. She smiled back and said “Hello,’ so friendly. Then, her smile left and she looked very serious, indeed, so serious that I wondered if she had been talking to me after all. I turned to look at Vivien and she looked away.

“Are they having a guest this week?” I wondered out loud.

“I don’t know but Cass Elliot came in with red knee socks a little while ago.
And Jimmy Stewart was locked out of his dressing room.”

“Oh!” I was surprised. I didn’t know Jimmy Stewart was there! That was exciting.

“Hello, Dan,” said the director. Dan Daily was there too!  It was neat having all these actors and singers who I had seen before back again, walking around, getting ready to tape the show. Carl Reiner showed up next.

Around this time, Sherri entered the studio with a huge bloodhound. She came down to the seats in front of us and sat down, but the bloodhound, whose name was Rex, dragged her right out of the chair! Then, he climbed onto a seat in the front row, went over the top of it and jumped! Sherri spanked him to try to get him to do what she wanted. Finally, she got him to sit in the chair in front of me.

Rex was sitting there, but not for long! He turned around, and his big head and long, floppy ears came over the top of the seat directly in front of me, so I petted him. He decided that he liked me; he liked me more and more until finally, he was came right over the top of the chair! He was ready to jump into my lap, when suddenly he fell backwards out of the chair and onto the floor!
A minute later, Sherri turned around and exclaimed,
“Get your hat, quick!”
I had put my warm rabbit fur hat under the seat in front of me for safe keeping. Sherri bent over, reached under the seat and came up with my hat, which she brushed off before handing to me. Rex had crawled all the way under the seat and was trying to eat the fur off my hat! He also tried to eat her rabbit coat. After that, Sherri got Rex and took him for a walk on the stage.

During this time, “Patty” came in and sat down in the front row. She told us she had been at the studio on Thursday (the day before).  Always one to find some quirk with things, she mentioned that Julie had read a poem written by her daughter, Emma, to Jimmy Stewart that day. After she read it, she said, “Isn’t that wonderful?” But Jimmy, she told us, said nothing.

From the author's 1972 collection
Meanwhile, since all the guest stars had arrived, they began to rehearse. Every-one had to sing two choruses of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” 

Suddenly, Vivian said, “Oh, my! Look who’s here!”

It was Julie, wearing an old fashioned dress and hat from the 19th century. She was standing on stage, right in front of us, talking. Now, the whole group of dancers in old fashioned costumes came up onto the stage as well.

They had some chicken on the table and (as I recall) people were eating it. Julie, who was sitting in her chair, bent over and said, “Oh, I’m so hungry, I’m starving,” but no one gave her any!

Vivian informed me that Julie’s dog, Crystal Klutz, was also going to be on the show. There was so much going on onstage today, it was difficult to keep track of it!

Bored with the long waits, “Patty,” who loves to talk about Julie and all the little gossipy things she knows, kept talking. Usually, the things she says don’t interest me. I’m not really interested in hearing about Julie’s husband, her marriage or any of the things Patty seems to feel we should be educated  about, though I find it interesting that she says “Star!” is Julie’s best movie. I have not seen that one.

Patty is friends with “Katrina,” the Swedish girl Julie’s secretary, Joan, hired to take care of her children while she works for Julie. Katrina lives with Joan and sometimes when Joan is not at home, Patty goes over to visit Katrina. Recently, the two of them went into Joan’s office and went through her paperwork for Julie.

On Christmas break, she told us, Julie, Blake and the children will be going to Switzerland for three weeks. Joan is doing some of the packing for Julie, and some of her things are at Joan’s house, along with the family’s passports. I couldn't help feeling rather disgusted to learn that Patty had been snooping into Joan and Julie's personal things.

When Patty talks about things, I usually try to ignore most of what she says, but on this particular day, she had some news that, if true, was going to affect all of us. It was about something that had occurred recently. (I will not repeat everything here the exact dialog that I recorded, but save it for another time.) According to Patty's story, one day while Joan was visiting Julie at the Edwards’ home, Blake came in raging with anger and announced that they are moving to Europe.

[This story seems to coincide with events later written about Blake Edwards’ life in a New York Times article. According to the article, in 1971, Edwards’ film, Wild Rover, was butchered by James Aubrey, then the head of MGM studios. In 1972, when he found out that Aubrey was about to butcher his new film, The Carey Treatment, he had had enough.

As for Julie Andrews’ history with James Aubrey, during the period 1968-1970 several wonderful musical films had been planned for her at MGM, but Aubrey put an end to these.

Interestingly, I had my own feelings about Aubrey. In 1971, as a young, idealistic high school student, I wrote a letter to James Aubrey, outlining my ideas as to how MGM could once again return to greatness. My friend, Alice, and I often discussed this subject during lunchtime at school. Coincidence or not, within about a week of sending my letter, Mr. Aubrey announced plans of his own for the studio, and to my young mind, these plans seemed point for point the exact opposite of those I had outlined in my letter. As a result, I had a small opinion of this man.]

Patty told us (the story supposedly passed from Joan to Katrina to Patty), that after Blake announced in no uncertain terms they were leaving the U.S. for Europe, Julie began to cry. She said she didn’t want to leave her home and all the people in her life here. Joan was also very upset and as the two women commiserated, with Julie telling Joan that she and her family could move with them, Blake swore something about “women” and stormed out of the room.

Patty had a few other things to say about Blake, but concluded that the story was indeed true because their house was now up for sale and so was their gold Mercedes.
“Let’s buy it!” said Vivien.
“$18,000 for a used car?” someone commented.
But look who has used it!” I wanted to say, but didn’t. 
Vivian told me that the sister of the woman who takes care of Julie’s money lives across the street from her.

While we were speaking, I noticed that Julie was watching us. At one point, she got up and started to walk toward us when a man stopped her and engaged her in a lengthy conversation. By the time they finished talking, a camera and ladder were between us. Julie went back and sat down in her chair. (I’ve often wondered if she really was coming to speak with us. Likely, it was Nick Vanoff who stopped her.)

I try not to stare at Julie too much, but only glance her way. Today, Vivian, Patty and whoever else was there were sitting in the front row. I was sitting in the row behind them. One time, someone (probably Patty or Kelly) turned around and said, “We are being watched.” She does notice us.

During this time, Julie left the stage and went back to her dressing room. A little while later, I noticed that she had returned. Entering the set from the back, she came running to the other side of the stage with a big book in her hands, which she delivered to someone. I felt very shy of her today. She was not Julie-the girl friend; she was more reserved.

(In hindsight, I realize that some of what I have described above was due to the fact that Patty and her friend Kelly were following Julie home at night. They had done so the previous night, and Julie was not happy about it.)


Meanwhile, everyone wanted to get into the Christmas spirit on the set. Julie had a scene where she waves in the snow. For this scene, snow was blown from the back of the set, over the tops of the buildings.

After they taped this scene, they changed the set to an interior scene in a lovely English mansion—the dining room had a fireplace, long table and portraits on the walls. There was what appeared to be a real fire in the fireplace and a huge Christmas tree with real candles that had glass covers over them. My mother had always told me that they had real candles on the tree when she was a little girl, but this was the first time I was actually seeing a tree like that.

“Quiet! Quiet everyone on the set!” yelled the producer. He continued,
“May I please have your attention! Joel Grey has to catch a plane at 4:30. It’s 4 o’clock now, so we have to get this film in the can.”

Joel Grey! Suddenly, it dawned on me that Joel was going to Vegas, maybe to be in a show with Liza Minnelli since Cabaret had just come out this year and they were all the rage. Of course, I was dying to meet Liza, so this was even more exciting to me!

At one point, Joel came to the front of the stage, looked out at the audience and said,
“Are you there?” They were calling for someone, perhaps the person who was going to take him to the airport. I really wanted to talk to him, but I couldn’t.

Then, Jimmy Stewart came down the aisle and onto the stage. I hadn’t even known he was sitting in the audience! How I would have loved to meet him.

They rehearsed the scene, and all the dancers skipped in. Cass Elliott came in with two men. They trimmed the tree and sang, “The Christmas Tree,” after which the dancers sang a song. Then, Julie, who had rehearsed coming in over and over and over again, stood on the side with Jimmy Stewart. Each time during rehearsal, as her cue came up, she grabbed Jimmy’s hand and, together, they ran -with her skirts billowing and he trying to keep up – to the entrance of the room. It was so funny; she was like a child playing, and it seemed he enjoyed the happiness and ease of the set and the beautiful singing.

“Everybody, I brought a guest for Christmas dinner, Jimmy Stewart,” Julie said.
Then, she would take him around the table, and Alice Ghostly would begin singing, “Consider Yourself.”

Jimmy seemed to get a little tired as they practiced this entrance repeatedly, but he did like it. Then, everyone, except Jimmy, skipped around the table singing. It was so much fun! Julie was laughing, looking at the Christmas tree and patting it.

Joel Grey had his little solo section. He was so adorable in action. His eyes were the same as in “Cabaret.” After Joel’s solo, Alice Ghostley brought the turkey in. She had to keep carving it while they were filming. It was after 4:30 now so Joel did his part and then stood in another spot to sing his verses of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Julie said, “Thank you for coming, Joel! Have a Merry Christmas! Do your song, Joel!” She was so excited.

Joel Grey sang the old Christmas song with such style and simplicity, all in one take.
“Thanks, Joel,” yelled Julie, jumping up and down, clapping her hands.
“Come on everybody, yeah!!!” she said, clapping. I guess we were surprised by her excitement. “Merry Christmas, Joel,” she called as he left.

After he was gone, they did the scene again, this time with a stand-in for Joel. I could tell Julie wanted this show to be just right. “Lots of Merry Christmases! Lots of Christmas spirit!” Julie instructed everyone.

Then, all the lights, except for the candles, went out and Julie said a prayer speech about peace and sang an old English song. How I wished I could spend Christmas with Julie and it was the old days in England. She is so lively and young. She has something that few people have now-- even children are so, not the way they used to be, but materialistic.—I want this and this and this….
I didn’t want to leave the studio; the spirit was so beautiful there. It didn’t seem like a studio and the set onstage didn’t seem like a set —it was real.

I left with only a quick glance back, and ran through the dark, ‘running from Julie again,’ I thought. What a bright heaven I had been in. I was so lucky to be taken back to the old days.

Ralph was waiting when I arrived at International House and when we got back to West Covina I didn’t tell Mommy where I had been. We had her party and I gave her my gifts.

                                                         ~ ~ ~

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COMING NEXT:  Eighteen Hours with Julie and Keith Michell

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