I wander back through all the could-have-beens of my so-far-not-so-brilliant career
in showbiz, panning for that real Fool's Gold I first set out to seek in them
thar hills...lo, those many years ago now, rose-colored glasses epoxied to my
nose...and sifting through fields of passive-aggressive, exhaustive-depressive
frustration, I do, yes, aha!, retrieve a speck, a sliver, and, now an all too
rare again, a shining nugget of a moment, and -- not unlike the pot-bellied old
quarterback reliving the perfect play of the homecoming game -- I give the battered,
limping Pollyanna within me a little something to roll around in the palm of her
hand, and smile back on:
1987. I'm playing Maleficent, Mistress of All Evil, in the Disney Summer Spectacular
at Radio City Music Hall. A rottenly written theme park transplant, spilling over
with every conceivable Disney character ever invented or stolen, all played by
terrific singer-dancers, a few kid-actors, me, and the one and only Radio City
Music Hall Rockettes -- all shmushed into a manic, forty-five minute revue, 21
shows a week, like vaudeville.
to Oz is the movie they run along with us, that dazzler of a Disney flick
that opens with little Dorothy getting electroshock treatment. Appalled mothers
with wailing children run from the theatre in waves; I write to Michael Eisner,
I implore him to pull this horror trip, to put in something tried-and-true like
Dumbo, or Pinocchio, but oddly, he doesn't respond...
Radio City resents the hell out of Disney: Disney's relentlessly breathing down
their necks like Radio City has no idea how to put on a show and behaving as if
their beloved, historical home is just some really big rental space. Also, they've
sent much abused, crappily built sets and costumes that the crew spends all its
definitely unpaid extra time just to keep from being lethal.
singer-dancers resent the hell out of Disney because they're hauling ass in used,
smelly, hyper-heavy animal costumes and blowing their teensy paychecks at the
chiropractors. The Rockettes resent the hell out of Disney because they're forced
to wear mutant eight-foot Broom costumes in the Sorcerer's Apprentice. You never
heard such curse words coming out of a broom.
yes, and me -- I resent the hell out of Disney because I'm green.
in some stupid stone manual, it had been carved, and probably misspelled, "All
Evil Witches Must Be Green."
matter that, in the city-block-long cavern that Radio City is, you can't see my
face past the tenth row anyway -- that, by all accounts, being green, it's just
a gray splotch -- no matter that the movie
Maleficent morphs through many
a skin tone, no matter that I'm the only person trapped in the theatre in between
shows, that I can't ever seem to get all the green off, so even when I'm not green,
I look seasick.
no matter that the rest of my getup already over-does the trick: I mean, I enter,
rising from below the stage, evil-ly laughing -- pretty pathetically, I might
add -- but there's thunder, there's lighting,
there's a pyrotechnic thing
-- I got the big black horns, I got the big fuchsia-Elvis-collar attached to a
black body suit, I got the over-the-elbow evening gloves with three-inch red nails
on 'em, I got the massive black velvet cape, heavy as a goddamn fire curtain,
and I also just happen to be wearing a nine-foot high motorized black velvet skirt
-- driven expertly by a great guy named Nick...well, expertly, except for the
rare, but interesting occasions when he falls asleep. Nicky and I, understandably,
bond. But, really, the green's gotta go.
one of the more angelic characters of the summer, Ken, happens to work for the
other side. Ah, life is never simply good or evil, black or white, green or flesh
tone, is it? Anyway, Ken is our company manager, the liaison guy, the bridge between
these two warring American Institutions, and, as such, he's inscrutable, but he's
been a Broadway stage manager for most of his life, so Ken gets what needs to
be gotten; and he nobly, steadily goes to bat for me, eventually eroding the theretofore
unalterable Green Witch Policy. Yes, I do believe that it's just as I begin to
crack from cabin fever, and, on a dare, go, in full green face, to the Clinique
counter at Saks Fifth Avenue to buy moisturizer, that Ken brings me news of my
freedom from green, my freedom to join my pals at Woolworth's in between shows
for chocolate cake and chocolate sundaes.
Disney happens to have this other written-in-stone policy that I laugh at and
mildly ponder the effects of, but don't mind much, and that's this: "Evil
Characters Don't Get Curtain Calls." Mice, dogs, ducks, humans, yes -- witches,
no. Okay, whatever.
during the curtain call finale, I climb down the ladder from my skirt, I hang
out with Nicky and the crew, I watch from the wings, and I try to never miss the
one truly sensational thrill of the show: the vast Radio City Music Hall Orchestra
climbs a few tantalizing keys, breaks into a fantastically Broadway-ized version
of -- okay, "Zip-idee-doo-dah" -- but --
in all their silver-sequined, silver tap-shoed glory, in the undisputed mother
of all kick lines, those Rockettes rise majestically up out of the floor and well,
I usually tear up a little... and somehow, I can't help but begin to dream that,
maybe, some day, somehow, maybe I could, nahhh -- but, aw, gee, maybe, just once,
just one show, wouldn't it be swell if I could -- nahhh, everybody'd just say
no, and it's too conceited too ask for, nahhh...but it sure is nice to dream,
anyway, waiting in the wings.
then get a small, but significant gift from the gods, which comes, as they so
often do, disguised as a slap in the face. Never -- especially if you're afraid
to want too much, or to aim too big -- never underestimate the motivational value
of a direct insult:
perfectly moronic bearer of this little divine awakening has the distinction of
being one of the first truly monumental schmucks of my career. The program says
he's our producer, but he's Disney Quality Control. In his powder blue suits and
shiny print shirts and huge aviator glasses and sprayed comb over, he shows up
to cluelessly scrutinize and otherwise fuck with all elements of the show, to
make fascistically sure no one is being photographed without their animal heads
on, to give performance notes with his astonishing artistic acumen, and to leave,
in his ignorant, assholic wake, a sea of cursing, spitting red faces and five
suicidal stage managers. His name is Dennis, and he is a poisonous pimple on the
ass of our planet.
between his last haunting and this one, I've added three tiny dim-witted new lines
that have been handed down through the Disney hierarchy to Ken, and then, to me.
comes up to me after the show and says, with a smile, but he's serious:
-- always so absolutely On It when someone fires such a toxic Stupid-Bullet into
my head, I fire back, on a dime, and I say,
lines you said," he says, "have you been drinking? Are you drunk?"
I'm so shocked and so furious, that, of course, I laugh. And then, insanely, I
explain, completely reasonably. Oh, sure, please, of course, I would love to have
done the movie version -- slowly I turn, and I say, "How I get through twenty-one
shows a week of this warmed-over, pureed shit WITHOUT DRINKING is a fucking MIRACLE,
and you should get down on your pathetic combed-over powder blue stupid fucking
knees and kiss my -- "
but, no. I digest the inanity, and my system, instead of taking the usual rageful
nap, converts this poison into fuel -- to turn a wisp of a daydream into a deliciously
wicked scheme, like every good witch oughta:
Policy. I was gonna kick policy's ass but good. And I was gonna be wearing a pair
of silver tap shoes to kick it with.
my plan to Nick: On the very last show, when all the Disney brass
is there -- fuck 'em -- I would take my goddamned well-deserved
21-show-a-week evil-ass curtain call, and I would put an exclamation
point on the end of that sentence by kicking in the goddamn center
of line with the goddamn Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, goddamnit.
Nick is ecstatic. He figures they'll dock my pay, which scares the
hell out of me, I need the dough, and this is the first real paying
gig I've landed in all these years -- but he tells me not to worry
-- if they do, the guys'll chip in and pay my salary themselves.
Course I'd never let 'em, but it gives me guts to hear. He tells
me I need to go to the Head Rockette Lady and ask permission.
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