Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mimi Meets Angela Lansbury


Summer before last, Mom, my niece (Kelly), and I ventured to the City That Never Sleeps.  As I studied the Broadway offerings in preparation for the trip, I laughed out loud when I saw that Blythe Spirit was playing.  I squealed when I saw that Angela Lansbury was playing the role of Madame Arcati!  I quickly purchased 3 tickets and, then, settled down to type a letter to Ms. Lansbury to let her know who would be in the audience on June 23, 2009.


Angela Lansbury
c/o The Shubert Theatre
225 West 44th Street
New York, New York 10036

Dear Ms. Lansbury,
As you perform on stage each night, you may, perhaps, gaze out into the audience and wonder about the sea of faces before you.  I'm writing to tell you about the little 83-year-old lady who will be sitting in Row BB-Seat 101 on June 23rd.  What brings this octogenarian all the way from Waco, Texas, to Row BB-Seat 101 in the Shubert Theatre?  Why is she taking up her binoculars from time to time to carefully study all of the faces on stage?  That woman will be Helen Williams Kinzbach, my mother.  I thought that you might enjoy learning about her trek from Central Texas all the way to NYC to see Angela Lansbury play the role of Madame Arcati in Blythe Spirit.

As a little girl, I had no idea what a Blythe Spirit was, but I knew that it was something special.  On numerous occasions, I heard my mother tell of the time that the made her stage debut as Elvira in Blythe Spirit while she was a co-ed at Stephen F. Austin State Teachers College in Nacodogoches, Texas.  The year was 1946 (a time she still fondly refers to as "after the boys came home").  Anyone who has known my mother for even an hour or two will undoubtedly be initiated into the Friend of Helen Kinzbach Club with the tale of the time she spent treading the boards as Elvira.  "was the Blythe Spirit!"  "I was THE Blythe Spirit!"  "I was the BLYTHE SPIRIT!"  "I played the TITLE ROLE!"

It was her grand debut.  It was her swan song.  And yet, it continues to be one of the highlights of the life of this retired school teacher - never to be forgotten due to her frequent enthusiastic reminders of her successful, albeit short-lived, stage career.

For months, we have been planning a trip to NYC.  When I told my mother that Blythe Spirit was playing on Broadway, her face lit up!  When I told her that Angela Lansbury was in the cast, she clasped her hands together and gasped!  Part II of this story is that my mother is a huge fan of yours.  During the mid 80's each Sunday she religiously attended the 8AM church service and then tuned in to channel 3 at 8PM to watch Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote.  "Can I call you back?  Murder, She Wrote is about to come on!"  "I have to be home by 8:00 for Murder, She Wrote!" 

Whether I had or had not seen the week's episode, she dutifully outlined each plot for me...play by play.  Sometimes, she familiarly referred to you as "Jessica."  Other times she reverently called you "Angela Lansbury."  Never "Angela" or "Ms. Lansbury."  Always "Angelalansbury."  As she carefully unfolded each story, she marveled at Jessica's keen ability to solve crimes by noticing the teeniest of tiny clues:  an extra wine glass carelessly abandoned on a mantle, a telltale paw print left by a poisoned dog, or a missing earring found in a potted plant.  "Even the police overlooked that earring!  That Jessica Fletcher is so smart!  She can always solve the crime!"

Row BB was the very front row!!
So, the story began in 1946.  When you and Judy Garland worked together on the set of The Harvey Girls, Helen Williams Kinzbach was wowing the "Lumberjacks" of Stephen F. Austin as Elvira.  (I must mention that the production received rave reviews in the campus newspaper, The Pine Log.)  A short 63 years later there in Row BB - Seat 101 my little mother will be sitting, simply giddy as she awaits your appearance on stage.  Please let Ms. Eversole know that on June 23rd when Elvira appears from beyond, a former Elvira will be in the audience reliving her glorious few nights on the stage so long ago.  Next to her in seat 102 will be her daughter squinting her eyes trying to envision her mother as a pretty, young 20 year old who, even then, was creating memories for her future children and grandchildren. 

"was the Blythe Spirit!"  "I was THE Blythe Spirit!"  "I was the BLYTHE SPIRIT!"  "I played the TITLE ROLE!"

I sent the letter in early May unsure that it would ever reach the hands of Angela Lansbury.  Then, low and behold, I received the following email:
On June 12, 2009, at 5:13 PM, Maevefiona Butler wrote:
Dear Ms. Lackey:
Thank you for your letter.  If you would like to bring your mother backstage for a brief hello with Ms. Lansbury following the performance on June 23rd, I will put your name on the list with the security man at the stage door.  (Forgive the "brief" but as I'm sure you can understand, it's always important for actors to get home early before coming back for the two show day on Wednesdays.)  Directly after the curtain calls, if you come to the stage door located in Shubert Alley just on the side of the theatre, your name will be on the list and the stage door person will direct you backstage.
Have a good trip.
All best,
Maeve


My response:
Dear Maeve,
I just screamed out loud!  Just today I was wondering if the letter ever actually made its way to Ms. Lansbury.  How wonderful it will be to have this opportunity!  We will, indeed, be brief!  We are keeping this backstage "hello" a secret from Mimi.  She will just D-I-E die!  Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!
Carolyn


After the curtain call, I suggested that we wander over to the stage door to try to get some autographs.  Kelly and I were grinning like monkeys.  There were probably 50 fans pressed up around the stage door barrier gates.  We waited until a man with a clipboard came out and began to allow a few chosen people in the door.  It was all about having your name on his list.  I turned to Mom and said, I think that I'll just trot over there and tell him that we came to meet Angela Lansbury.  "OK!" she said.  Sure enough, the guy said that we were allowed to come in, and I motioned for Kelly and Mimi to follow.  He took us onto the actual stage back behind the closed curtain where we waited for a few minutes.  Then, a door opened and out came Maeve who escorted us in to meet Ms. Lansbury.  That night will be one of the highlights of my life because it will forever be one of my mother's favorite memories.
So, we re-enacted the meeting...

Afterwards as we wandered across the street to Sardi's still laughing about the surprise meeting with Angela Lansbury, Mom assured us that her portrayal of Elvira was much, much better than Christine Ebersole's.  Mm.  Mm.  Mm.  You might want to keep that to yourself, Mimi.  Yep.  Keep that to yourself.



By the way.  Angela Lansbury has still got it goin' on.  She is one amazing woman!

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