JFK on Broadway

by

04/10/2005

230 w 46th st ny 10036

Neighborhood: Midtown

Eventually everything is history – even one’s own life. I once caught a glimpse of President John F. Kennedy in the flesh – and that image, so radiant and energizing – has stayed with me for over 40 years. I saw him when I was an actress playing in a comedy called Mary, Mary on Broadway. Next door to my theater (the Helen Hayes) was the 46th Street Theater where the great musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying was running. It starred Robert Morse.

One afternoon in mid November 1963, I ran into Bobby on Times Square and he told me excitedly that the President was coming to see his show that night and maybe – since my show ended before his – I could sneak back stage and watch the finale from the wings.

I did just that. As soon as my play finished, I raced through curtain calls – threw a coat over my costume and sprinted next door. I could hear the music from the finale swelling up from the orchestra as I slipped into the wings and watched Bobby strutting around center stage as he joined the chorus in the rousing number The Brotherhood of Man. Sweat streamed from his face; he was singing his heart out, directly to the President.

Suddenly it was over; the house lights went up and I recognized the President sitting amidst a sea of pink faces in the center of the house. He looked tanned and incredibly handsome and then he jumped to his feet and was applauding Bobby who was bowing and applauding back. At this point Kennedy seemed enveloped by an absolute roar of love and yearning as the entire audience rose up and applauded him. The emotional intensity contained in that theater was palpable.

A week later I was having coffee in a Greek diner on West 44th Street when I heard the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.

Every actor on Broadway assumed he or she would not play that night; we were sure our shows would be dark in tribute to our fallen leader. But as dusk fell over Times Square we were all ordered to “go on.” The shows were going to stay open in spite of the nation’s huge grief.

And so we performed – but we all wore black arm bands – some of us more defiantly than others – since there were certain producers who didn’t want us to wear them.

As soon as my play ended, I ran next door to watch Bobby – the great trouper. I reached the wings just as he finished belting out The Brotherhood of Man. He was giving it his all but he had tears streaming down his cheeks.

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