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Life Upon the Wicked Stage

My pal Bob Claster just sent me a link to a treasure trove for fans of the Broadway stage. The late Dorothy Loudon was a major star of that stage and her personal papers and memorabilia were deeded over to the New York Public Library which has put them online.

I haven't had the time to go through much of it but there are some very interesting items…her contract for the 1983 smash hit comedy, Noises Off, for instance. It's always intriguing to look at something like that and see the kind of things that you wouldn't expect to find in such a document. There are scrapbooks of reviews and photos from her various projects.

Ms. Loudon was in a number of hits but also in several flops, the most notable of which was the 1969 show, The Fig Leaves Are Falling. The show was about the sexual liberation of that decade and it had a book and lyrics by Allan Sherman with music by Albert Hague. Some of you may know Mr. Hague from his on-camera role in the movie and TV show, Fame, but more of you know him for writing the music for a number of great cartoon specials including the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

And of course you know Allan Sherman from his famous song parody records. His one effort for Broadway folded after four performances and Sherman folded not long after that. The show was probably doomed from the moment the New York Times review by the notoriously inept Clive Barnes hit the streets. He said, in part…

There is nothing much wrong with The Fig Leaves Are Falling…that a new book, new music, new lyrics, new settings, new direction, new choreography and a partially new cast would not quite possibly put right.

Reviews don't get much worse than that. The cast featured along with Ms. Loudon, Barry Nelson, Jenny O'Hara and David Cassidy. Also in the cast was one of the top dancers of Broadway, the stunning Charlene Ryan, who is now married to cartoonist Sergio Aragonés. George Abbott was the director. They were all stunned and saddened when the show closed so rapidly but Sherman was especially depressed.

His life was already in turmoil as his marriage of 21 years had ended in '66, the divorce being a major point of inspiration for the Broadway show. His recording career was also pretty much over. In 1962, he'd had the fastest-selling record album of all time with My Son, the Folk Singer and a huge single hit in 1963 with "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh." But by 1967, his records had stopped selling and his company didn't want him to make any more.

It was an amazing success story, the success coming as it did so sudden…and at age 39 after years of being an oft-fired TV producer. One day, almost out of nowhere, he suddenly became a major comedy star. And almost as suddenly, it all went away.

After Fig Leaves, he fumbled about, trying to turn himself into some odd combination of Frank Sinatra and Hugh Hefner. He wrote a book called The Rape of the A*P*E, which was just unreadable. If you ever want to show someone what it looks like when a male goes through a mid-life crisis and desperately seeks the sex life he wishes he'd had when he was younger, give them this book and ask them to imagine the person who'd write it. He died not long after its publication and failure in 1973. He was 48.

Why I mention all this is that I'd always wanted to read the book of The Fig Leaves Are Falling…and there it is online in the Dorothy Loudon collection: The entire script. When I get some time (ha!), I'll give it a read. I do have a demo recording of the score and some of the songs are quite good. We have here a video of one of them sung by, of all people, Pat Paulsen on his short-lived variety show…