Illusions: without them most of us would have little will to live. Poor Judy Garland, nearing the end of her troubled existence, there she was, all alone curled up backstage in the womb of a theatre dressing room, unable to get up and leave and go out and face the real world. Remembered talk show host Dick Cavett, on whose morning program Garland had just appeared, “I couldn’t get her out of the dressing room. I left the theatre and later walked back well after tape time. And she was still there.”
Still lost in her life-saving fantasies. Judy survived on them just as we the audience do. And so she clung to the world of make believe. Clung to the stage, the dressing room. “She was home in those two places,” remembered Cavett. “Leave them and you are back in so-called life, where it seemed poor Judy made only false moves.”
Poor Lucille Ball, who had to suffer husband Desi Arnez’s numerous affairs. Nearing the end of their successful TV run, Ball all but admitted that only when she was filming another “I Love Lucy” episode did she feel a semblance of love between herself and her estranged real-life husband. How sad that what she felt was scripted.
Performer and spectator are sometimes never very far apart ... When we watched Lucy every Monday night in the fifties, we believed that she and Ricky were a happily married pair. So too, while the show was being filmed, did Lucy.
Ricky Nelson, who in better times enjoyed record sales second only to Elvis Presley, could not stop flying across the country in dinky little airplanes to dinky little night club dates where a handful of “fans” might show up to cheer the aging rocker on. I ask you, who was more lost in their illusions — guitar player or small crowd of devoted acolytes? Nelson died in a plane crash daring a dangerous storm to make another token appearance. He couldn’t let go ...
They all live for applause, for a packed house of happy enthralled fans. From Broadway to big tops, everything else in between is just a waiting game. We dream of the next big one, and when it comes we believe in our illusions all over again. For after all, without them, what drive would there be to succeed? As Oscar Hammerstein II put it, “If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?”
Showbiz Snaps: Both Cirque du Soleil and Big Apple Circus sporting ads in today's New York Times . Cirque's full page heralds the return of Wintuk, while Grandma’s Big Apple ad, much smaller, touts its next offering Play On! ... On the radio, news of Vegas hotels reporting a 15 percent drop in reservations. So maybe what Nancy Gaona told me is spot on ... Don Marcks (as did Dory Miller, if I am not wrong) used to say that presidential election years crimp circus business ... in the Bay Area, according to one source, some blogs reported the Circus Vargas cast outnumbering the folks in the seats. I surely hope not ... Why is big top biz, overall, never reported or known, unlike virtually all other avenues of entertainment? The old Billboard once did a worthy job, week by week ... Not a very cheery Sunday report, this? ... Okay, everything’s coming up straw houses again, promise you, once I release my ground-breaking Recipe for Revival. Sure. Ooops, are my own precious illusions showing? Please close the door on your way out and let me stay here in my private dressing room ... I can't bear reality right now ...
First published September 7, 2008