“Why Some Star Actors Are Worth Weight in Gold”

The Evening Independent – Feb. 27, 1948

By: Billy Rose

[only portion referring to “Lady in the Dark” and Danny have been included]

In “Lady in the Dark,” as you and several million other customers remember, Gertie [Lawrence] played the bosslady of a slick fashion magazine. The plot of this musical concerted itself with her neuroses which were sprouting neuroses. Moss Hart fashioned this libretto with the English star in mind, and the sainted Sam Harris, who produced the show, had to guarantee Gertie $5,000 a week against a double helping of the gross. Like Cornell and Hayes, she was the show, and was in a position to call all the shots. And from what I heard around Broadway, Gertie frequently called them at the top of her voice.

During the last week of rehearsals, Moss got worried. Miss Lawrence had some cute songs, including the one about her ship having sails of silk, but no slam-bang comic song had been written for her. On the other hand, a kid out of the Borscht Circuit named Danny Kaye had been handed a clever ditty called “Tshaikowsky.” The script called for Danny to sing this song in Act Two while Gertie relaxed in a swing upstage. Well, Moss knew his show business well enough to know that the star wasn’t going to sit by happily while a newcomer with hair like a Popsicle took the theater over. “Tschaikowsky” was a cinch to be yanked right after the opening performance out of town.

The worried Moss cornered Kurt Weil and lyricist Ira Gershwin, locked them in a room and stood guard. At 6:30 next morning, the boys emerged with a multi-versed little number called “Jennie.” Hart didn’t think too much of it, and when it was played for her that afternoon, neither did Gertie. The star pointed out it was only moderately funny and not her style. It might do for a shouting songstress like Sophie Tucker, but after all, Gertie was a lady.

“Look, my pet,” Moss pleaded, “we’re going up to Boston to try things out. Learn the song and see how it goes. If it doesn’t click, Kurt and Ira will write another for you.”

And then came opening night at the Colonial theater. In act one, Danny Kaye gave a good account of himself, but Gertie was the star and the audience was given no chance to forget it. But down in act two, Danny stepped to the footlights and let go with “Tschaikowsky.”

The lyrics of “Tschaikowsky” were too hot to be cooled off, and Kaye had too much of what it takes not to give. When he finished the funny tongue-twister, the crowd applauded for two solid minutes—practically a lifetime in the theater. The distressed Danny tried to shush the audience, but this was mistaken by the customers for modesty and they clapped all the louder.

In the back of the house, Hart, Weil, and Gershwin gave each other the old “that-does-it” look. Moss was already speculating on what he could substitute for Danny’s show-stopping specialty.

And then “X” took over.

When the applause finally tapered off, Miss Lawrence slipped down off the swing, saluted Danny with a deft gesture, took stage center and went into “Jennie.”

Suddenly Gertie stopped being Miss Lawrence and became Sophie Tucker, Fanny Brice and Gypsie Rose Lee. As she reached the end of the first couplet of “Jennie,” Gertie let go with a Beale street bump. During stanzas two and three, she did things with her aristocratic derriere which had the audience in a wall-eyed trance. And down near the end of the song, the star went into the most magnificent mock strip-tease ever seen inside the theater or out.

Well, when Gertie finished they had to do everything but turn on the sprinkler system to quiet the crowd and get back to the plot again. And “Jennie,” the song nobody liked, went skyrocketing into theatrical history.


- Home -