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.

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.

“Are they having a guest this week?” I wondered out loud to my friend Vivian.

“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, "Quick, get your hat!"

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!

....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. ...

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 (not included here) 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.”

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.
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. ….

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.   
What a bright heaven I had been in. I was so lucky to be there.

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.

                                                         ~ ~ ~
This blog has been edited down toward the release of a new book.

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COMING NEXT:  Eighteen Hours with Julie and Keith Michell

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