Friday, January 9, 2009

My encounter with The Great One!

Which Way Kid....

There is nothing like Broadway.

And I was working there.Everyday I left school early to catch the 2:36 train in Baldwin to get to my job as a page for The David Frost Show at The Little Theatre on 44th Street. I was like a sponge, absorbing everything I saw and everyone I met. I have so many memories and stories from those days...this is one of my favorites!

It was a typical day. Everyone was getting ready for another night. Tony, the doorman at Sardi's was enjoying his early afternoon dinner. The box offices were busy selling tickets, and the offices above the theatres were humming with activity. A few doors down was the loading dock of The Times. They were getting ready for the midnight load when the big trucks carrying these enormous rolls of newsprint would be lining up to drop off their loads for the midnight print run of tomorrow's New York Times.

I was backstage at The Little Theatre, home of The David Frost Show where I worked as a page and cue card writer, when word came down from upstairs that Jackie Gleason was coming in from Florida to be the only guest for the entire show.

Jackie Gleason. The Great One would soon be walking through the door. For only the second time I could remember, David was on time because he knew better than to keep the Great One waiting.

He was so much more in person than I had expected. It was like watching the cover of Life magazine jumping off the page. He wasn't a big man, but he was larger than life. He had such a command of the room that nothing else seemed to matter. He was dignified, elegant, and smart.. he was The Great One. I could just imagine someone coming up to him and calling him "Jackie" and then walking away headless.

This was the second time that David had interviewed him, and he seemed to really enjoy doing the show. He wore a three piece suit and had his cigar. He was accompanied by his girlfriend...and they made quite a couple.

So now the show is over and it started to rain. Mr. Gleason arrives in the lobby from backstage. They are going to see a show at the Royal Box on 45th. I am standing behind him and he turns around and says 'let's go'...looking straight at me. I look at my boss, Jim McDonough with a 'go I go?' look in my eye and just grabbed an umbrella. And I am now walking behind the Great One (and his girlfriend) as they walk into Shubert Alley. The street was full of people, but no one bothered him.

We reached 45th Street and it happened.

He stopped and turned around and looked at me and asked: "Which way kid?"

You know how sometimes it seems like everything freezes in slow motion. That was what I felt like.

Then I heard words come out of my mouth, "Left, Mr. Gleason". We walked another 30 feet, I closed the umbrella, he said 'thanks', and they disappeared into the theatre.

I walked back to the Little Theatre, just glad that I remembered that the Royal Box was to the left.

And I went to school the next day walking just a bit taller.

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