Early 1975, I found myself newly pregnant, in a bitterly cold Chicago about to do ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, with the two Gabor sisters Eva and Zsa Zsa, John Carradine, lovely character actor Phil Leeds and a very good young actor: Rick Lenz, with whom I became fast friends, as we barricaded ourselves behind a wall of semi sanity against all the madness that went on. I learned to play a pretty good game of gin rummy from Rick…we played every night as we waited for our cues to go on. Up till then poker had been my game…I used to play with David Hemmings and on certain Sunday evenings with Christopher Plummer at his house in Hampstead, when I was doing THE KINGS MARE, the Anita Loos play. But I digress. I had often heard about prima donna/ outrageous demanding and difficult behaviour by “stars”, but, up until that point had been lucky enough not to run into it. The Gabors made up for my lack of experience. If you ever saw the very early film of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, you might remember the two murdering old ladies, were two rather sweet old women who had the bad habit of murdering people for charity. The Gabors playing old loveable, sweet old aunts ……hmmm? What do you think? John Carradine played their equally mad homicidal brother. Rick played their nephew, trying to contain and control the madness of the house and I played his fiancee…not a terribly challenging part…but worth doing for the extraordinary experience and working on a stage in the round, a first for me. I enjoyed myself.
I have since met up again with Rick and met his lovely wife Linda after many years…he is a talented published writer as well as actor and to follow is an extract from his book NORTH OF HOLLYWOOD, which gives you an idea of the Alice in Wonderland world in which we found ourselves!
The Gabor sisters… seemed to have a sort of love/hate relationship, with hate being the stronger of the two emotions, Rick writes about one rehearsal, which I remember very well…it was beyond belief.
“Rehearsals are a wearying nightmare of celebrity aggression. One day the sisters scream at each other in Hungarian, then Eva faints and the stage manager calls 911. A handsome young paramedic revives Eva, Under other circumstances she would no doubt be flirting with him. She regains consciousness and is beginning to lift herself to one elbow as she hears him say into his radiophone “White Caucasian female”. There’s a short pause, then everyone hears him say “Middle-aged.”
Not a smart thing to say about a Gabor sister, ever.
Eva swoons again.
I am later told the reason she fainted the first time was that she’d found out that Zsa Zsa passed herself off as Eva, then charged a few thousand dollars worth of clothes to her in a Chicago department store”
So friends as you can see these ladies were not a barrel of laughs…the only time I saw them calm down and behave themselves, was when their mother, Magda, turned up to watch the show. “Mama’s in the audience!”
I used to have breakfast often with dear old John Carradine, who sailed through all of this with a wearying air…and I always remember us eating our toast and marmalade together…butter on the side, (not melted into the toast, which creates a soggy mess) and him saying “I love the taste of the smooth butter on my tongue”….
That’s all for now ..