Sunday, April 19, 2015

SEEING THE SOUND OF MUSIC AFTER FIFTY YEARS

This week, Sunday, April 19, 2015, through Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies has hosted the showing of THE SOUND OF MUSIC in theaters across the USA.

At this point in time, there are many who have seen this film yearly on their televisions screens. If you have not seen THE SOUND OF MUSIC on the big screen, then you really have not seen it. It is magnificent, a fact that hit me once again today. The makers of the Sound of Music were truly  inspired men (and women if such is the case). Each scene is a brilliant work of art. Salzburg is really another character in the film.

In a day and age where we look for bigger highs, more shock, more violence, pain and outrage to shake us up, The Sound of Music shocks us because of how different it is from all that. The film harkens back to a day when excellence and inspiration were the true goals of the top filmmakers.

The Sound of Music qualifies as a great film because we have many of the opposing qualities we find in reality.. We have gorgeous scenery and a troubled girl, great music and unhappy children getting happy, love against a backdrop of evil as the Nazis move in. We know that the face of the world is about to change forever, even as love triumphs for this couple and this family.

That the music of the film, written by the brilliant Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II makes the film goes without saying. It was great on Broadway, but again, the way the filmmakers have meshed the music with the actors and the landscape of Salzburg brings out it's true grandeur. And again, they could not have chosen a more perfect Maria than Julie Andrews.

In 1965, Julie Andrews was a fresh-faced young woman with an amazing voice. Although she was fairly well-known at that time, The Sound of Music would hurl her into the kind of fame where people can't get enough of you. Christopher Plummer, although handsome, seems rather churlish in a good portion of the film. It is Julie as Maria, who can't help being attracted to him and falling in love with him, that makes us believe he is a decent fellow. The children are brilliant as well. When one takes a simple song like Do-Re-Mi and sees how grand and wonderful it can be, it brightens your entire aspect on life!

I'm not saying I can write anything half decent on this film. It has been written and written about - both as great and as too sweet and silly, but maybe those watching it this week on the big screen, after all we have experienced in our world during the last 50 years, will see it with fresh eyes and find it is a necessary value in our world. We need this joy!

(c) Michelle Russell, 2015

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Meeting Julie Andrews Again and, Finally, Thank You!

In the years following my meeting with Julie Andrews, I went on with my life. Julie was living a new life herself, as a wife, mother and film star. And as far as I knew, she spent most of her time in Europe. My memories and mementos of The Julie Andrews Hour were packed away in a closet in my parents’ California home, where they remained for the next 30 years.

Whenever I saw a mention of Julie’s success, I felt happy for her. In the late 70s, when she toured the country, singing in concert, I traveled to Westchester, NY to see her onstage. I was thrilled by her ease and beauty before an audience, receiving the applause she so richly deserved. The nay-sayers of Hollywood had been left far behind.

OLD FRIENDS

By now, life for me was about performing and, like many young artists, surviving on little money. The only people from the ABC studio days whom I kept in touch with were mother and daughter, Ruth and Vannie Schaufelberger. From time to time, Ruth wrote me long, handwritten letters about her life and Julie’s career. She’d made friends with a woman who knew Blake Edward’s parents, and once in a while, Ruth sent me copies of a few photos the Edwards’ had shared with her.

Ruth and Vannie at ABC Studio in 1972
Sadly, Ruth’s association with the fans from the studio was not a good thing for her life. After inviting the “fan club president” (See “Put Out” blog) into her home for a lengthy visit, the girl convinced Arthur,  Ruth’s husband of over twenty years, that she was in love with him and would kill herself if he did not marry her. Arthur was a generous man with a good job, but, for whatever reason, he found it impossible to extricate himself from the girl’s grasp. He divorced Ruth, and married the girl, then tried to run between the two. A few years after this disastrous second marriage took place, Arthur died of a heart attack.

During this time, Ruth also kept me informed on the whereabouts of the fans who had caused trouble at the studio. It seemed they were still causing trouble, even following Julie around Europe.

In time, life I lost track of my old friends. Eventaully, when I tried to find them, I found that Ruth had passed away. Vannie, however was about my same age and I hoped to find her. Sadly, after many months of searching, I found that Vannie had passed away the previous year.

***

LOSS OF VOICE

Singing at "The Bushes"
Park Royal Hotel around 1977
Although, I auditioned a lot, I never “made it big,” as they say. In time, I found it more to my liking to create shows and sing on a more intimate level in clubs.

Eleven years after moving to New York City, I moved back to California. Later, I moved to Washington, DC where I worked for the U.S. House of Representatives, a life changing job which broadened my view. After quite a few years on the Hill,  the call to theater and music was strong and I returned to my performing arts roots by going to work at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

After leaving New York, I lost my singing voice. I believe this occurred partly through misuse and partly because of emotional problems over certain in my life. I had all of three notes. The rest was broken. And when I tried to sing, it as if someone had their hands around my neck. Finally, I looked for a way to regain my voice.

***

A NEW VOICE

My first attempt was unsuccessful. Then, by luck I found an amazing teacher named Don Zuckerman. Don taught singing using the Alexander Technique, as a basis, along with breathing techniques taught by an Olympic atheletic coach and a certain amount of pyschology. 

The Alexander Technique in short may be described as
:
 "… a way of learning how you can get rid of harmful tension in your body."

The “technique” was founded by an Australian actor, Frederick Mathias Alexander, around 1900. Mr. Alexander suffered chronic vocal problems as a result of his work onstage.  After much study and analysis of his problem, he came up with a theory on relaxation, posture and movement that rids the body of tension, and allows efficient, free use not only of the body, but of the voice.

 Using these techniques Don taught helped me change habits and thoughts that were holding me back. I learned to laugh at myself and not to be afraid of any unpleasant sounds I made in the process of retraining my voice. I also learned to become aware of when my vocal production felt right, rather trying to listen to myself and create a sound I thought was good. None of us hear ourselves as we sound to others.

Humbled by the fact that I could not sing at all if I didn’t listen, I followed Don Zuckerman’s instructions to the letter. Like a baby learning to walk. I learned how to breathe and how to make sounds all over again Over the next three years, I began to be able to sing again. For the first time in my life, I knew this was my true voice, but more than that, I was feeling it and feeling the beauty of music. Though it would take many more years, I was finally beginning to be free to express what I had been longing to express.

***

JULIE’s CAREER

In the late 1980s. Julie went on tour with a show about her life. In it, she performed some of the greatest songs from her films including, "The Sound of Music" and "Bubbling Bertie." I attended her performance at Wolfe Trap, an open air theater, just across the river from Washington, D.C. I was so moved by Julie's great performance I sent her a letter. As a result I received a response from Claire Priest, Julie's fan club secretary who had been instrumental in getting me into to see the closed set tapings of The Julie Andrews Hour. 

VICTOR/VICTORIA


In the mid-90s, I moved back to New York. I had to sing and there was far more opportunity in New York than inWashington, DC. When Julie Andrews starred on Broadway in Victor/ Victoria, I attended the show. It was thrilling to see how she filled the stage with her presence. Julie is one of the few who has true star presence on stage. Seeing her there, I could not help but feel happy for her.

Once again, I really wanted to talk to her. After all the years, I felt maybe, finally, I could hold a decent conversation, but it soon became clear that this would not be possible. I remember handing a note to a stage door man who looked something like Fagin in Oliver.

One night, I stopped by the theater and watched as Julie left, looking as beautiful as ever. She was rushed to the car and did not stop. “No,” I thought, “she is far too big a star for me.” At that moment, I decided to accept the fact that I would never speak to Julie again. What was past, was past.


***

After both appearing in my own cabaret shows and producing others with numerous people, I moved to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. My new project, a book on Judy Garland’s family history, took me to many states. During this time, Julie’s autobiography, “Home,” was released. When I learned that she was going to do a book signing in Philadelphia one weekend, I considered driving down to see her, but money was tight and my dear 18 year-old cat, Sabrina was not well. I decided not to go. I didn’t want to leave Sabrina alone for that long, and I doubted I’d actually get to talk to her.

***

"HOME"

For eight years, my life was focused on writing my book and surviving. Life was a new adventure every day. There was no time for anything else. Meanwhile, my best friend from high school, Alice, who had known me during the ABC Studio days, sent me a copy of Julie’s book, Home, as a birthday present. The book sat on the shelf for three years.


Finally, the day after I completed the second volume of my 500 page book, From Tennessee to Oz, I picked up Home and began to read. I recognized the voice in the book. It was Julie. While some may have been surprised by the stories in Home, for me, it was a revelation and explanation of the woman I’d already spent so much time with. I felt as if Julie had taken me by the hand, and led me on a journey into her life; I felt I understood her better. And I felt grateful.


TO WRITE A BOOK

When people began asking me what my next book would be, I had no answer. I was dead tired. Writing is not an easy task. You sit long hours and become possessed by words, ideas, shapes, facts; working and re-working them. But writing is addictive. What would be easy to write, I wondered. Home made me think of Julie at the studio, and I began to wonder about those old diaries. What was in them? Was there a story there? After I finished reading Home, I took them out and began to read. I was on the edge of my seat; I knew what happened, but I didn’t remember all the details. That happened? What did she say? What happened next? What?!!!

The idea grew, and I followed the same method I’d used with my Judy Garland family history book, however I soon learned that talking to Hollywood people is not at all like meeting and talking with your average person. You have to be on our toes and get what you want the first time, as likely there will be no second chance.

Julie rehearsing for a number on The Julie Andrews Hour
Perhaps what surprised me the most in my research on The Julie Andrews Hour was that nothing had been done with the show. Many television shows had come out on DVD, but not Julie’s. I wondered why. It seemed a great loss. Whenever I approached people who had worked on the show, whether technical people or talent, they were all eager to talk about what a great show it had been. And all of them felt frustrated that the show was not available to be seen, even by them. One reason for this may be that The Julie Andrews Hour's ownership resides with one of Sir Lew Grade’s former television companies in Great Britain.

As the months passed, my research, letters and phone calls to those who had worked on the show began to pay off. People began calling me. It was an exciting time. Through my memories, I had returned to the time when I was a shy young girl, sitting in the front seats of ABC studio and  watching all these people; director, producer, cameramen, dancers and stars working up on stage. Now, they were calling me to talk about the show they had helped create.  It seemed that life had come full circle.

Finally, there was one person left to talk to and that was Julie. I tried what I thought were the proper channels to reach her, but eventually I reached a dead end. When I finally reached a person at the top of the Julie list, I was told, “We don’t do that.” I wasn’t sure exactly what they didn’t do, but the door was obviously closed.

As the months passed and I interviewed more people, I couldn't help wondering what Julie would think if she heard about my project. Would she think I was rude or just sneaking around behind her back? I needed to talk to her!

The opportunity came soon enough. Julie was going to be in New York with Emma Kate Walton, signing their new “Very Fairy Princess” book. Dare I go? Would I have a chance to speak to her? I was scared, very, very scared, but finally came to the conclusion – this might be my only chance.

I confess, by now I was a little wound up. Even though I knew Julie didn’t sing anymore and forty years had passed since the studio days, reading my old diaries had taken me through the door into the past and all the emotions of that time. I had to see her! I was picturing the Julie I knew then and listening to all my favorite recordings, especially the ones she did in the early 60s, which I absolutely love -- the English songs she recorded. By now, having worked as a singer, my appreciation for what Julie did with a song quadrupled.

Suddenly, I was a teenager again and all that had happened in life that was sad was gone. I was thrilled – beyond thrilled – that finally I was going to speak to Julie, Julie, the real person. I didn’t want the star or the image people were talking about, but the woman I’d seen working hard at 2, 3 and 4 in the morning, for whom I had the highest esteem.

***

SEEING JULIE AGAIN – 37 Years Later

The day arrived, April 17th, 2012, and I was ready. I’d been playing a song Julie sang on one of her early records, “How can I Wait ‘til Tomorrow Comes…” and now it was here! I drove to Jersey City, parked near my old apartment and took the train into the city. I bought two “Very Fairy Princess” books for my nieces (only one could be autographed), and received a ticket which would allow me to get in and have the book signed.

(Note: Much of the original blog has been removed for copyright and other reasons) 

Julie was delayed and for a long while, I sat on the floor waiting, while I watched parents, also seated on the floor, reading to their children. 

Julie arrived with a number of people, including her daughter, Emma Kate. As she walked through the front door, for a moment my heart stopped. In the distance, it seemed as if Julie from 1972 had  just walked through the door. Finally, she and Emma were seated in a small alcove to the side. The table at which they were seated was behind a bookcase. There would be no seeing Julie (aside from the signing) or photographing her. Ten people would be taken into this private area  at a time.

The line began to move swiftly now. Ten, and ten, and ten. Even writing this, I can feel how quickly my heart was beating. I was strangely calm, but very thirsty. As we went in, the girl in front of me said, “I think I’m going to faint.” I wished she hadn’t said that because at that moment I felt I might faint too.  Seven people in front of me, five, three. I saw how swiftly they were moving, how quickly a few words were spoken. Now, there was one person in front of me, then only me--it was my turn to walk up to Emma Kate.


My greeting to Emma was swift, stating that I'd last seen her when she was eight years old at the Julie Andrews Hour. When she commented on how long ago that was, I said “Yes," but thought to myself that it didn’t seem long at all.

.....
“Hallo,” said Julie, looking up at me through her reading glasses.
This was it, and there she was after thirty-seven years. I felt as if someone had pushed me out onstage.
“Oh, Julie, you’re so beautiful.” I head myself say. 
Where had that come from? I never would be so bold. Of course she was and is beautiful, but one doesn’t SAY that and not so boldly as I’d heard my voice say it.
Julie put her head down and began signing my book, and I, like an actor who has flubbed his lines and must carry on, carried on. I began to tell her how I had attended The Julie Andrews Hour some forty years earlier and was intending to write a book about the show.

Julie conceded that's she'd heard about my book. Some things went well between us, but throughout, I found things coming out of my mouth I didn't expect to say. Why? I was bubbling over, nervous and feeling as if I'd waited 40 years to have a conversation with her. 

Meanwhile, I gave her a gift - a special photo taken the night of the last show with two of the photographers... I was glad I had something to give her.

I stepped back as two more people spoke to her briefly and got their books signed. All this time, watching Julie, I knew she was a woman on a mission; she’d come to sign books and she was going to sign books! But for me, it was not so strange to be standing there, talking to her as she worked. I’d spent all of my teen years following my mom around the kitchen while she worked, talking to her, reading to her. She might be busy, but I knew she was listening, and it was no different with Julie.

Now there was a momentary lull as the last girl had her book signed and they prepared to bring in the next ten. 

After a few more minutes, the gentleman standing next to the table said, “I think we’re going to have to move on now.” Of course, I knew. I’d gotten at least 3 -5 times more time than anyone else. A few more words were spoken... Then I reached out my hand to her. Earlier I’d seen a girl do this and now it seemed the best way to end. I needed one last moment, one clasp of hands, because this might be the only time in my life that I would ever see her again. She took my hand.
“Thank you for my present,” she said, meaning the picture. Her hand was warm and she gave me a little extra clasp before letting me go. Then, it was over.


***


Later that day I went to visit my old friend, actor, singer and playwright, Michael Bruck. I was feeling quite giddy and wound up. In fact, I really wasn’t sure what had happened. Had it been good or bad?

In the following weeks, I found it had not been bad, quite bad. Getting back in touch with my Julie contact, he let me know how bad it had been by deeply insulting me. I could only surmise that Julie was not pleased. I was horrified. For the next two weeks, I spent hours in the small cubicle of my new job,  crying my eyes out.

In the midst of all this, I called my good friend Richard Skipper. Richard is a phenomenal performer on his own, but aside from that he is also a writer and had interviewed hundreds of Broadway and film performers. When I told him my story, he listened carefully and then said, “Well, the first thing I can tell you that you did wrong was bringing up your book. Julie was there to sign her book and no one wants to talk about something else when they are doing that. You could have spoken to her and given her a letter.”

I agreed with Richard but added,

“I realize it wasn’t the right place but I tried to contact Julie and I believed it was the only way I could ever tell her what I was doing. I felt I had no choice.”

Richard conceded that he knew a star who’d once tried to contact Julie. This star had actually worked with Julie in a film, but even this star had been unable to reach Julie, so I could have a point.

SHAME

In the long run, I figured out, in part, the cause of my problem. I'd been taking a medication for my breathing - a medication closely monitored because it contains elements to make speed. Being sensitive to medications, I am easily sent over the top and it appears I had been. I was extremely thirsty, wound tighter than a top and spewing out any thought that came to mind. 

My sorrow and shame knew no bounds. Against advise, I attempted to reach Julie to apologize, but that was no possible. Accept it, my friend Richard advised. In the end, I had no choice. Yet, in the midst, I realized my greatest reason to feel bad. There was something I'd always wanted to say to Julie and had yet to -- Thank you!


***
Dear Julie,

When I came to ABC Studio in 1972, I wanted nothing more in the world than to sing. There was music in me that wanted to come out, but everything was locked inside. My mother, a dancer, believed hard work was 90% of her craft, but in singing she believed you either had it or not. She said singing lessons would be a waste of money for me.

When I watched you on the stage at ABC, you worked hard. Even though you were obviously brilliantly gifted and had studied music your entire life, you sang your scales and you did all that you were trained to do to be the best you could be. You were simply doing your job, but you impressed on me, a young, dreaming girl the value of hard work. You made me believe that maybe if I worked hard, I too could sing. Because of you, Julie, I took my first singing lesson. It took many years to get where I wanted to be, but I did learn to sing and because of that I have been able to bring joy to others as well. For many years I did not realize that you were the catalyst to my being able to do what I wanted to do – but you were. With all the performers I loved and was inspired by, you were the one that made something very important happen for me at the right moment. 

Julie, I thank you with all my heart. 


***

A NOTE TO PERFORMERS

For those who are young aspiring singers and actors, and performing artists, I would like to share something else here. For many years, I felt I was a failure because I did not “make it big” on Broadway or anywhere; because I did not become famous. Fame is sometimes the reward (or some might say – double edged sword) that comes to those with great achievement, but one should never place the value of what one does on fame or money – difficult as that may be in our society. I cringe when I hear of camps where child performers learn to be stars—as if that is what would make them valuable. Singing, acting and all great art is not about being a star.

Art is meant to better the lives of our fellow human beings. I can only say to all of you out there, if you love something, do not give it up because you can’t make tons of money or be famous. Does it make you happy? Can you make others happy by doing it? Can you make the world a better place?

For fourteen years now I’ve gone to senior centers and retirement homes and sung for people. They are old now, but only in appearance. They were once the people who made this country. Go to your community center, hospitals, retirement homes, schools, wherever you can made a difference and share your talent with others. Use it for good and you will be doing what you were meant to do.

***
 IN CONCLUSION

Returning to my story. For a while after the events spoken of here, I gave up on my book. Then, I went ahead. There were so many people who had worked on The Julie Andrews Hour, who continued to generously share their stories. They believed in the show, loved it as I did and I could not tell them no.

As everyone knows, Julie is out and about these days, celebrating her great achievement in The Sound of Music, fifty years after it first came out! My friend Ruth used to say, “Julie doesn’t get what she deserves.” Well, it looks like finally she is.

In the following weeks and months I will be editing the 300 plus pages already written about what some have called, “the last great variety show,” THE JULIE ANDREWS HOUR. If you have something to share, please contact me.

Thanks so much!


Monday, March 30, 2015

Meeting Julie Andrew - April 1975

Note: This detail in my story is only possible due to the fact that I kept a very detailed diary at the time!



It was March 26, 1975, and I’d just returned from acting class. The bell in my little 7’ x 10’ room buzzed, signaling that there was a call down the hall for me. I went out the door and walked to the closet telephone booth. I’d been living in New York City for a little over a year, working as a waitress during the weekdays and studying acting and voice at HB Studio on the weekends.

I picked up the phone. It was my friend, Michael Bruck. Michael was the brother of my Julie Andrews pen
Sir Lew presenting Julie Andrews with her Emmy for
The Julie Andrews Hour. Blake Edwards on the right.
pal, Dennis, and my first New York friend. He’d helped me find a place to stay the day I got off the plane. Michael had some surprising news—Julie Andrews was coming to town. She was going to be one of the stars appearing in the Sir Lew Grade Tribute which would be filmed and televised later. Of course, Sir Lew Grade had been the producer of The Julie Andrews Hour.

Hanging up the phone, I hurried back to my room. As soon as the door was closed the door, I began jumping up and down, “Julie’s coming! Julie’s coming,” I exclaimed like a child who has just heard Santa will soon arrive.  That night, in my diary, I wrote, “Julie’s coming. Oh joy!”

***

Fifteen days later, April 10th, to be precise, Michael called me again. He’d been in touch with a friend, Jeanne Barber, who was a big fan of Julie’s. We had a few moments of general conversation. Then… 

“Julie’s been in New York since the 8th,” Michael informed me.

“That’s what I was waiting to hear.”

During the next few days my mind went back to the days two years earlier, when I’d spent time watching Julie rehearse and film “The Julie Andrews Hour.” I realized that I had this burning desire to speak to Julie, not only because she was a singer I loved, but because of those days I’d spent around her –over eighty hours – and I’d never spoken to her. Deep down, I had an overwhelming gratitude to Julie. It wasn’t clear to me what I would say – I just needed to connect.

In my spare time, I tried to figure out where Julie was staying, but to no avail. By now I’d met a lot of stars, including one of my favorites, Liza Minnelli. As the days passed, my time was dwindling.

Thursday, April 17th was it. This was the day before the Sir Lew Grade Tribute and I had to meet her! That morning I got up early and dressed in my best – a new white suit and red scarf. After all, it was spring. To make good use of my time, I also decided to look for a new job before I went to meet Julie. After I checked into a few restaurants, I headed over to the Hilton Hotel. By now it was 10:15. Downstairs I found a schedule board for the Hilton which stated “Sir Lew Grade Musicians – 2nd Floor Rhinelander Room.” Going up the escalator, I found the room open with a bunch of musicians warming up. People were running every which way, so I decided to go downstairs and ask a bell boy to deliver a note for me. I didn’t even give him a tip!
In the outfit was I wearing when I met Julie - around 1975, Greenwich Village.

The bell boy soon returned with the message that Julie would not be in until sometime between 10:30 and 11:00. I returned upstairs where there was a long line of phone booths – the kind you could sit in and close the door. I went in and prepared to call my job and tell them I was sick. By now I was so breathless and nervous, I convinced myself I was sick. In fact, by the time I got off the phone, my boss, Clara, was actually worried about me! After that, I sat there and read my mail and, finally, just waited. I had always been so shy of Julie, so intimidated by her. Of course, that had worked well at the studio because she was the star and we weren’t supposed to speak to her.

During the time I waited, I saw Blake Edwards come in and go out. A lot of the people working on the show came by and all said hello to me. Time passed slowly. I was extremely nervous because I knew any moment, Julie might come out.

Then, finally, I heard that lovely, very familiar English voice. She was with a man and wearing dark glasses and probably would have escaped my notice if it were not for that voice. I rose quickly out of my seat and walked across the floor.

“Julie,” I called.

“Yes?”

If only I could describe what those few seconds meant to me. How many times had I listened as director Bill Davis and others called Julie and she answered them, but now I was the one calling and she was answering ME! Then, without thinking I said,

“Do you remember me?”

She looked at me for a moment.

“I’m afraid I don’t,” she said kindly. “Could you please enlighten me.”

No one spoke like Julie.

“I used to come to the studio every week when you were doing your series.”

“In LA?”

“Yes.”  I was hoping she did not confuse me with the other girls.

“Uh-mmmm. Well, it’s nice to see you again.”

“It’s nice to see you,” I said.

“Goodbye,” said Julie, and off she went.

As short and simple as it was, I was in a whirl. I was to tell Jeanne if I saw Julie. She planned to arrive at twelve – her lunch hour, but now everyone was gone and there would be no more rehearsal until two. After that, I walked around with Jeanne, looking at flowers. While we were walking she told me a story. When she was four, she’d been in a store, running around with her arms full of toys and she’d run right into a lady. “Oh, I’m sorry,” the lady had said and when she turned around, the lady was Julie! Pretty amazing.

After walking all those blocks in my high heels, my feet were killing me, so I went back to Jeanne’s office and we looked at some things she had on Julie. At 2:20, I left.

By now I’d decided I wanted Julie to autograph a picture for me. I’d never been much on autographs, in fact I thought they were rather stupid. Who wanted writing over their beautiful picture, I thought. But Julie was different – I’d spent time with her. The store I went to was around the corner from the Hilton and had mostly rather sexy photos of Julie. I decided that wasn’t quite appropriate or what I wanted, so I settled instead on a photo of her as Mary Poppins. Anyway, I liked Julie as Mary Poppins.

Returning to the Hilton, I fixed myself up in the ladies room and then settled down in my phone booth and listened to the music coming from the ballroom rehearsal. A man came by and said, “I’m just curious – are you a big fan of hers?  Or do you want to get her autograph or what? You were here all morning.”

“Well, I saw her this morning,” I said. “I used to see her almost every week when she had her television series in Los Angeles.”

Later, another man came by and asked if I was a journalist, waiting for an interview. I guess that was because I was so dressed up. When I asked one man if Julie was still rehearsing inside, he said,
“She is but she should be out in the next five minutes.”

Now I waited and watched and true to what I’d been told, a few minutes later two people came out. Once again, I heard that English voice saying, “I don’t think….” If she hadn’t been talking, I might have let her pass!

“Julie,” I called once again, walking across the wide expanse of floor. “Excuse me. I’m sorry to bother you, but could you please…”

When the man said she was coming out, I’d gotten my picture out and pen all ready as well as a little net bag of lavender in a sandwich bag that Jeanne had given me for her.

“Oh, my friend wanted me to give you this.”

“What is it?” asked Julie.

“Lavender.”

“Oh, tell your friend ‘thank you,’” said Julie.

“Could you please autograph this picture for me.”

Julie had her arms full with what was probably music.

“To?” she asked.

“Michelle.”

“Two l's?”

“Yes.”

Then, everything in her arms began to slip!

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to….” She began to say.

The man tried to help, but his arms were full as well, so I held my hands beneath the picture and Julie wrote. Then, I told her that a friend of mine wanted to send her some flowers but didn’t know where she should send them.

“Oh how lovely,” Julie said, “But she shouldn’t do that.”

“Oh but she wants to!” I said.

“Well, I’ve got a room upstairs here.”

I was rather shocked Julie was telling me this. I thought then that she was staying at the Hilton and I felt rather protective about her giving me that information, so quickly I said,

“Would the Grand Ballroom be all right?”

“Yes, yes, that’ll be fine, I think.” Then Julie turned the subject to me.

“Are you staying in New York now?” she asked.

“Yes, I said, “I’m studying singing.”

“Oh, lovely,” said Julie in a way that can’t be described.

“What kind of voice do you have – high, soprano or – or,,,"

I wondered why people were always asking me that. I wasn’t at all a technical person and while I had a high voice, I didn’t sing high notes well, so I considered myself rather a middle of the road singer. Meanwhile, I was a rebel, not wanting to be pinned down. Even after all these years, my answer makes me cringe at my stupidity.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Julie walked a few stops and got on the escalator, heading up to the next floor.

“Did you bring the baby,” I asked, referring to the new baby she and Blake Edwards had recently adopted from Viet Nam.

“No, no, I wish I had,” she said. Then, turning back and looking down at me, she called, “Goodbye, thank you!”

“Thank you!” I responded. Then I stood there, watching as she disappeared to the floor above.

I walked home, treasuring the picture which Julie had signed to me, “To Michelle, with love from Julie Andrews.” It was my proof, my memento of all those hours in Hollywood. I was not sure Julie knew who I was when I first saw her that morning, but in the afternoon, with the kindness she showed me, I was sure she remembered me.

The next night I returned to the Hilton, where one of the musicians had offered to get me in to hear Julie sing. In the midst of the show, he arranged for someone to come out and get me. It was thrilling to see her on the large stage, singing so beautifully for a huge audience, though my friends who had paid big bucks to get in were not too pleased with me.

So that was my big adventure. Although in the following years I would see Julie quite a few times on stage, it would be more than thirty years before I spoke to her again.

(C) Michelle Russell 2015



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Julie Andrews, Lady Gaga and The Sound of Music - A Glorious Celebration

Salzburg, Austria
This month, The Sound of Music celebrates the 50th anniversary of the film's release and Julie Andrews is top news. The big stories began with Lady Gaga’s grand appearance on the 2015 Academy Awards. For months, she had rehearsed songs from the much loved film. That night, dressed in a dazzling white ball gown, Lady Gaga stunned and then thrilled the audience with her superb, heartfelt tribute to Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music. As the audience responded with a standing ovation, nothing could have topped that moment except the presence of the original star, Julie – which is exactly what happened. Ms. Andrews appeared on stage and embraced Lady Gaga. Thrills and tears.



This week, fans waited impatiently for Diane Sawyers’ ABC special, “The Untold Story of ‘The Sound of Music.’ In the special, Diane visits Salzburg, Austria where she meets Julie Andrews, and together the pair travel to many of the film's sites, where Julie recalls events that took place during filming. Christopher Plummer is also interviewed and many, many rare pictures and film clips are shown. There is also a visit to the real von Trapp home, not used in the film.

Watching Julie Andrews and listening to her behind the scenes stories is sure to bring back fond memories of our own. Each person who has seen the film has their own very personal memories of where they were in their life when they first saw the film. Those of us who love it remember as well how it inspired us and affected our lives. Without a doubt, it is one of the most loved films ever, and a large part of this is due to the greatness of Julie Andrews’ performance. She brought passion, insecurity, humor and love to her portrayal of Maria, as well as that glorious voice, which touched us all.

I have my own memories of seeing the film for the first time. My grandmother and Great Aunt Dora took me to see "The Sound of Music" shortly after it opened. I was eleven years old at the time, and Aunt Dora, who had seen the Broadway production, thought I should see it. Of course, like most kids, I longed to be one of the children in the film, but being from a theatrical family, I also dreamed, not just of living the story, but of working with a group of children like those in the film and a singer like Julie. But who is like Julie? No, of course, I dreamed of working with Julie herself, humbly. And for the first time in my life, I thought about singing, not just as a child or a popular singer, but as a singer who could do something much finer, like Julie Andrews.

Only seven years after the release of “The Sound of Music,” I had the opportunity to watch Julie Andrews at work in-person, and I took advantage of it that opportunity as my blog tells. Now, seeing the clips of the film and Julie at that time makes my memories real. Indeed, it is time to tell the rest of my story, and in the next few weeks, I will.

To learn more about ABC’s Special, visit:

http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/journey-meadow-filmed-opening-scene-sound-music/story?id=29698288

(c) 2015 Michelle Russell

All photos and links here for entertainment purposes only.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Crazy Trip to Beverly Hills

This tale is not one of the proudest moments of my life, but it continues the story. It is without doubt the wildest thing I did in my teen years which consisted of helping my mother and babysitting my little brother.
                      
                                                                       ***
      By September 1973, we knew that Julie Andrews had finished filming "The Tamarind Seed" with Omar Sharriff and settled back in England. In addition, she had scheduled a grand concert at the Albert Hall in London and all the fans I knew were very excited about it. Many of them were planning to travel to London to attend the event.

Ruth and Vannie in Florida, whom I'd met at ABC studio the previous year, were also in contact with me, and through their letters, I knew that Patty and Kelly were already in London. They hadn't gotten over our being put out of the studio and were intent on following Julie around.

Meanwhile, my young friend Vivian missed Julie a lot. Determined not to be left behind, that September
Vivian called me to let me know that she was going to fly to London. She'd done a lot of babysitting and had the money. Focused on my acting and singing, I was not interested in tagging along after Julie, but nevertheless, Vivian and I agreed to meet before she left. Before she left Vivian wanted to take one last trip to see Julie's Beverly Hills home. She also had a story regarding that home to tell me.

Julie Andrews and Blake Edward's home at the time of
The Julie Andrews Hour - approximately 1972-73
It seems that some time  before I met Vivian at the studio, (she was about 15 at the time) she'd had her 18 year-old brother drive her to Julie's house so she could see it. The pair had parked the car down the block from the cul-de-sac street and walked down to look at it. On returning to the car, they realized that they'd locked themselves out. Meanwhile, Julie had come out of the house, gotten into her car and was driving away. Blake was also in the front, just getting into his car as they arrived back in front of the house. Vivian's brother approached Blake and told him that they were locked out and asked if he had a wire hanger they could use to open the car door with.

Blake said he was leaving, but suggested they go through the garage to the back of the house. They could knock on the door and tell the butler to give them a hanger. When they got to the back of the house, Vivian told me, they saw the garden and, as Vivian described it, there were so many beautiful flowers back there, it looked like there was going to be a wedding. Vivian told me she just had to see that garden again!

So, it was agreed that autumn that we'd go to Beverly Hills. I often when there on the weekends when I didn't go back to West Covina. I liked to walk around the lovely neighborhoods; it rather reminded me of Pasadena where I grew up.

On the day Vivian finally met me in Hollywood, we took the bus to Beverly Hills, since neither of us drove. Vivian had a good memory and, as I recall, it wasn't a long walk once we got there. The only thing that made me confident about going to Julie's house was that fact I was certain she had moved and was far, far away!

On arriving at Julie's address, the first thing we realized was that there was no easy way to see her back yard. However, it didn't take long to realize that the house was right up against the Beverly Hills Country Club. As a result, we decided to take the long walk around and cut through the green where members were playing golf. There we were, Vivian in dungarees and me in my bright red granny dress, which was the nicest thing I had for causal wear. We must have stuck out like two sore thumbs, but we just started walking.

After getting almost all the way across the course, we came to a big green hill. Our minds thought alike and immediately, I began twirling around, singing, "The hills are alive!" as Vivian chimed in, "With the Sound of Music."

Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little golf cart pull up with the word, "Security" written on it. "Hello ladies," said the driver.

Vivian and I didn't even dare look at one another.

"Would you like to get in?" the driver asked.

We did without a word.

"No one is allowed to walk across the green that's not playing golf," the security fellow told us.

"What are you doing out here today," he asked.

"Enjoying the weather," I said dumbly.

For all he knows, I couldn't help thinking, we might be some movie star's kids.

By now, we were back where we started. He dropped us off and it was clear we shouldn't try that again, so we trudged back down a path, leading us past a house which looked like something out of Dracula. Then, we went back to Julie's street.

I would have been happy to give up and go home, but Vivian was determined. Standing at the entrance of the street, there a huge chain link gate with barbed wire on top, separating the street - and us - from the Country Club. Vivian declared, "I'm not leaving here until I see that garden."

Try as I would to dissuade her, I could not. We argued, but it was no use. "I'm going over," she told me and before I knew what was happening, Vivian had climbed the fence and was maneuvering herself over the barbed wire. Once she was over, she jumped the 8 or so feet to the ground!

"Come on, it's easy," she told me.

As I looked about 1973. I'm wearing the red granny
dress here, though you can't see it.
As I saw it, I had little choice. I couldn't stay standing there, waiting for her. The police came by periodically and would ask what I was doing. I could go home, but that didn't feel right either. Vivian was younger than me -- a minor, and I felt somewhat responsible for her. After all, I 'd agreed to come here with her. So, reluctantly, I said, "alright" to her urging and climbed the fence in my long red dress. Once over, we ran as fast as we could across the stretch of weedy green and into a group of trees. My heart beating fast, I was sure that at any minute the security guy in the golf cart would be back.

Vivian was eager to run down along the wall about five lots to Julie's home, however she was wearing khaki colored jeans and neutral colors. I, however, was dressed head to toe in bright red. Although there were a few bushes in the line of trees, I as sure I'd be a sitting duck in my red dress. I crouched behind a bush.

"Come on," said Vivian, but I refused to move.
"You go on," I told her, "I'll wait right here."

She was annoyed but went ahead telling me I was going to miss something special. Meanwhile, I sat there for what seemed forever, my heart pounding at the sound of each falling leaf, each crunch in the landscape. It seemed that Vivian was gone a long time. Meanwhile, it was getting dark. If we didn't get out of Beverly Hills by dark we were likely to be picked up.

Finally, Vivian arrived. Now, the trick was getting out of the Beverly Hills Country Club without anyone seeing us. Vivian was full of excitement at seeing Julie's garden again. I can't remember if she said it had changed, but nevertheless, she had seen it and accomplished her goal. We ran back to the gate, falling in gopher holes and picking ourselves up like some crazy slapstick comedy. I think Blake Edwards would have appreciated it.

Vivian vaulted over the fence, but I, in my long granny dress, had a more difficult time. And I was sure that any moment security would arrive on one side, or a police car on the other and take us away. Meanwhile,I caught my dress and tore two holes in it. I was quite upset.

Julie signing autographs in London
around 1973
Vivian accompanied me back to my dorm room, where I changed my clothes while she laughed at my distress. I could only think of what my grandmother, who was quite proper and knew a few stars, would have said to me. My mother would have been none too pleased either. She already thought I was too crazy about Julie.
                                                                 ****
Vivian went to England in the next month and attended Julie Andrew's grand concert at the Albert Hall. It
was months before I heard from her. She was thrilled and told me she had also spoken to Jenny Edwards while she was there.

My other friends from the studio, Ruth and Vannie, had traveled to England as well. Much later, they told me they had seen "the fan club president," Marsha, as well as "Patty" and "Kelly." Apparently, they were still angry about being put out of the studio and blamed Julie. "Marsha" had confronted Julie with this - not at all pleasant thing. I felt sorry for Julie and truly glad that I was thousands of miles away from those girls. From now on, I would concentrate on my career. My goal - New York.

(c) Michelle Russell