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.