I always find it fascinating to hear how people view themselves at various stages of their lives. During the early years of the AIDS crisis, many young gay men stubbornly asked "With a body like this, how could I be sick?"
- A group of young gay men who are palpably fat phobic describe how they shop for clothing and discuss their questionable approach to nutrition.
- A handsome African American model who added 50 pounds of muscle to his physique describes how, even when he looks in the mirror, he still sees a skinny man.
- A fitness trainer describes how he originally thought an expensive car (for which he could barely afford the monthly payments) would solidify his image.
- A skinny performer describes how he came to understand the value of being the person who went to the front of the line outside a nightclub instead of the person who was always left waiting on line.
- A handsome man who won the Mr. Hotlanta contest describes how, when he later came down with hepatitis, none of the people he thought were his friends would have anything to do with him.
- Another man, who loved to attend circuit parties (where he could ingest lots of drugs and dance with all the handsome boys) recalls what it was like to start brushing his teeth one night and watch them all fall out out of his mouth.
- Others describe how, as their looks started to fade, their so-called friends ditched them in order to align themselves with better-looking men.
- At 84, Angela Lansbury is currently finishing up a Broadway run in her third Stephen Sondheim musical, A Little Night Music.
- At 82, Barbara Cook is appearing at Studio 54 in a new musical revue entitled Sondheim on Sondheim.
- At 88, Betty White recently hosted Saturday Night Live.
- And, having recently turned "eighty-fucking four," Cloris Leachman is appearing in her one-woman show at the Rrazz Room.
- Ethel Merman was one of Broadway's biggest stars.
- In 1953, to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ford Motor Company, she co-starred in a nationally broadcast television special with one of Broadway's other big stars: Mary Martin.
- Mary Martin was in the original cast of South Pacific, which opened on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre on April 7, 1949.
- Mary Martin's understudy (and subsequent replacement) in the original cast of South Pacific was a 23-year-old blonde from Des Moines, Iowa named Cloris Leachman.
As she describes what it was like to audition for Rodgers & Hammerstein (or to leave Katherine Hepburn stranded onstage during a performance of As You Like It because she missed her cue while primping in front of a mirror), Leachman looks back with a quiet wonder at all of her hard work and good fortune.
Now a great-grandmother, she recalls her mother's advice to "Bluff for a chance to deliver -- and then deliver on your bluff" -- words of wisdom that served her well during her early days in New York when she performed in the The Crucible (Arthur Miller's drama about the Salem witchcraft trials in which she took over the role of Abigail Williams from Madeleine Sherwood), Jean Kerr's comedy, King of Hearts, and A Touch of the Poet (the Eugene O'Neill drama in which she took over the role of Sara Melody from Kim Stanley).
As an artist who has never wanted to be pigeon-holed, Cloris Leachman's one-woman show offers an experience more akin to a visit with a beloved relative. Her posture at the piano was a quick reminder that, as a child, she took her piano lessons seriously. The fact that she is still in demand for film and television roles is a testament to her ability to transition from a Hollywood starlet to a character actress of remarkable depth.
My only regret about Leachman's appearance is that she did not show any clips of her cruel and hilarious appearances as Grandma Ida on Malcolm in the Middle (a characterization which, to my mind, is every bit as outrageous as Frau Blücher). For those who didn't catch the movie New York, I Love You (in which Cloris appeared opposite her old friend from The Actors Studio, Eli Wallach), here is the segment directed by Joshua Marston in which two old actors show film audiences what craft is all about.