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Shubert Memories

Photo by Alan Light • Click to enlarge

Funny how a picture on the Internet can jog your memory…and with me, one jog always leads to nine others. When I tell anecdotes, I have been known to stray wildly from topic to topic with no apparent connection…but there's always one somewhere in my mind. It may be underwater but it's in there.

I recently came across this image of the now-eradicated Shubert Theater in Century City which I used before on my site. I found it back then on the web and looked to see whose it was so I could write for permission to use it on my site. To my surprise, it turned out to be someone I knew: Alan Light, founder of the The Buyer's Guide to Comic Fandom…a publication for which I'd written and one that is still being published by others as the Comic Buyer's Guide. Alan graciously okayed my borrowing and I ran it…but didn't look that closely at it.

If I had, I would have seen — as you will if you enlarge it — that the show then playing at the Shubert was Beatlemania, which would place it around early 1978. At least, that's when I saw Beatlemania there. You may recall the show which starred four men who looked and sounded a lot like John, Paul, George and Ringo if you half-closed your eyes and had forgiving ears.  They performed an hour or two of Beatles' hits, morphing in style and dress through the era when them guys was fab. For most attendees, it was kind of like, "What would it be like to attend the ultimate Beatles concert?" and I could certainly understand and even savor a bit of that fantasy. I wasn't a maniacal Beatles fan (like some people I know, Shelly) but I certainly liked most of their music.

What I couldn't understand was why the show's cast recording sold a single copy.  It reportedly sold quite a few.  At the time, there were many record albums — yes, record albums — which collected actual Beatles hits (meaning: performed by the Beatles)  in various aggregations.  There were even a couple that contained all the same songs that were replicated in Beatlemania. So you could buy the real Beatles performing those tunes for $6.98 or you could buy the recording of four actors and a bunch of musicians trying to sound just like the real Beatles for $9.98.

Okay, explain to me why anyone would opt for the latter. I'll wait.

I went to see Beatlemania because a friend of mine named Valerie Klemow wanted to see it…and she wanted us to pretend we were seeing the real Beatles. The premise of our evening was that from the moment I picked her up, all through dinner and the show and going home, we would pretend those were the real Beatles up there. I was to say nothing to destroy the illusion..and I did a good job of it except for the moment when I muttered something about "Paul's" accent sounding more like liverwurst than Liverpool. But I'll tell you what else I remember…

Earlier that day, my agent had sent me out to meet a nice lady named Bonny Dore, who was in charge of development or production or something (I suspect, everything) at Krofft Entertainment. That's "Krofft" as in "Sid and Marty Krofft." I didn't meet Sid and Marty that day but I met Bonny and she interviewed me for a staff writing position on an upcoming series.  I always go to such meetings with an attitude of, at the outside, "Gee, it would be nice if I got this but it won't bother me much if I don't."  That's the most I ever feel in terms of hopeful expectation.  Sometimes on the way out, it's "Gee, I hope they don't offer me that" or "If they do offer, I'm saying no."  But I never think that life as I know it will end or even be much worse if they opt to hire someone else.

…though I admit I did want to work for the Kroffts.  I didn't like all their shows but I liked enough of them.  And even the ones I didn't like looked like they'd be fun and educational to work on. Also, I'd recently separated amicably from my writing partner and this, if I got it, would be my first-ever TV writing job being hired as a solo. So on both fronts, it was kind of a big deal or at least as big as I ever allow these things to get.

At intermission at Beatlemania, I went to a pay phone in the lobby (remember pay phones?) and used a beeper to access my Phone-Mate answering machine at home.  Remember Phone-Mate answering machines — the kind you couldn't access over the phone without using a little beeper? I used mine and heard a message from my then-agent, Bernie Weintraub, telling me, "Congratulations! You start Monday working for the Kroffts!" Come to think of it, remember when all agents were named Bernie?

I've had hundreds of jobs and professional associations over the years, some lasting a few days; others, a few months.  I've had four or five that have lasted a few decades and working with Sid and Marty is/was one.  I say "is/was" because though it's been a few years, Marty always has a dozen projects soon to blossom and I expect to be involved in one or the other…maybe. Anyway, it all started that evening.

I also have this memory of that night: Valerie was a talented but then-largely-unknown actress-singer. At one point, she pointed towards the Shubert proscenium and said, "Someday, I'll be performing on that stage."

Usually, you hear that kind of talk and you think, "Uh-huh, yeah, well good luck to you with that one." That's probably what I thought that night. But not all that long after, I found myself sitting in the Shubert Theater watching the first L.A. production of the Andrew Lloyd Webster musical Evita and the woman on that stage playing Evita was, yes, Valerie.  This would have been a good enough story if she'd been in the chorus but no, she had the lead role and I wasn't the only person who thought she was incredible in it. Critics concurred.

By then, she'd married someone else, taken his surname and become Valerie Perri. She's married to another someone else now but she's still indecently talented. Carolyn and I ran into her and her spouse last week when we went to see that great new production of Follies and I immediately asked her, "Why aren't you in this?" And then I answered my own question by saying, "Oh, I know. It's because you're not old enough!" Which she isn't but someday she will be and she'll be great in that show. Here's her website. If you ever see her playing in anything near you, order tickets immediately.

I have other special memories of the Shubert.  I'll post a few more of them in the days to come.