Friday, January 23, 2009

Moms Mabley

The first time I saw Moms Mabley I was 15 on a date. She was the opening act for The Temptations at Madison Square Garden.

It was also in the middle of the famous 1968 New York City garbage strike. We were sitting on the top level at The Garden, and Moms walked on stage to a thunderous cheer. Then she told this joke:

"I have the solution for this damned garbage strike. I want all you brothers and sisters out there to go to the hardware store and buy some white spray paint. Then go spray all your garbage white. When you've done that let me know and I'll call Governor Rockefeller and tell him to get all this white trash outta here".

Less than I year later, I am working at the David Frost Show. A group of us are outside the studio, and a brand new Rolls Royce pulls up. Out comes most elegantly lady I had ever seen. She was wearing a full length mink coat and a very large diamond ring with a pearl necklace. I had no idea who she was. At 16, I was still a few beers short of a six pack. At first, I assumed she was going to Sardi's, but she turned and walked into the studio.

My assignment that night was the dressing rooms and make-up. I was to escort the stars to their positions on stage. I loved that part of my job, because I got to hang out with two incredible women, Franny Barbero and Bobbi Armstrong. Franny was the wardrobe mistress and Bobbi was the make-up artist. There are some really interesting stories to tell about them, but we'll save that for another time.

Anyway, I go into the dressing rooms; and there is Franny, Bobbi and the woman who drove up in the Rolls Royce. They're all old friends and just talking away. They sat down to play cards. They introduced me to "Jackie" Moms Mabley. The expression on my face was: 'no way, impossible...can't be. I just stood there and watched as these three old show biz friends played cards and enjoyed each other's company.

She told them about the Rolls, which was a gift from Tom Jones. I just could not believe that this elegant woman with the jewels, fur and Rolls Royce was Moms Mabley.

Franny gave her the 30 minute warning, and she went to her dressing room. The elegant lady with the fur coat, diamonds and pearls emegred a few minutes later.

She was transformed...and there was Moms Mabley standing right before my eyes. She took out her dentures, took off the rings and was sitting there in her housecoat and slippers while Bobbi did her make-up.

She went on stage and had the audience in the palm of her hand. I don't think David knew what to do, but he tried his best to interview her. It was obvious who was in control of the audience that night.

The world needs more performers like Moms Mabley.

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