Articles

Backstage With Barbara Ann

Even our famous B.A. has to go through the tough grind of a star's buildup. Olympic medals cut no ice on Broadway

EVA-LIS WUORIO February 15 1949
Articles

Backstage With Barbara Ann

Even our famous B.A. has to go through the tough grind of a star's buildup. Olympic medals cut no ice on Broadway

EVA-LIS WUORIO February 15 1949

Backstage With Barbara Ann

EVA-LIS WUORIO

IN THE half-light of a Manhattan dawn last December a slender girl, her blond hair in pigtails, walked across Lexington Avenue from a small residential hotel to a small all-night restaurant for breakfast. It was too early for the hotel coffee shop to be open.

She was carrying a skating costume in a rawhide overnight bag and a pair of skates in red leather bags, and with her was a straight-backed, middleaged woman in a grey English flannel suit, a tartan bonnet and a long tartan scarf.

Their footsteps echoed on the empty street, for even the raucous traffic and shrill taxi chorus of New York awaited the cockcrow.

Barbara Ann Scott and Mrs. Clyde Rutherford Scott were preparing for the professional debut of the world’s premier woman skater. The reason for the early rising was the fact that throughout the preceding weeks another show was on the theatre’s small ice stage and if Barbara Ann wanted to get any practicing done on the strange ice surface she had to do it before the show troops for the day turned up.

Barbara Ann Scott, Canada’s bright young joy and the World, Olympic and North American skating champion, recently made her professional debut at New York’s Roxy Theatre, the second largest theatre in the world.

On the same program was the film, “That Wonderful Urge,” starring Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney, and the usual cartoons and newsreels. Also featured with Barbara Ann were the Roxy Skating Bells; Ming and Ling, two Chinese in a Scottish act; and Gautier’s Steeplechase, which presented dogs riding ponies with the climax of a monkey riding a dog who was riding a pony. Preceding Barbara Ann’s eight-minute “Babes in Toyland” number were the Roxyettes, an ensemble of gals with belts of bells of varying pitch tied about their middles, which they wiggled to a seasonal tune.

A tightrope artist followed. Then came Bob Evans and his dummy, doing a ventriloquist act reminiscent of Charlie McCarthy; Gae Foster Roxyettes and Escorts; Bruce and Van skating a simple routine; and girls in glamourized oldfashioned costumes spotlighted in the audience while a tenor sang a tremulous song.

Even our famous B.A. has to go through the tough grind of a star's buildup. Olympic medals cut no ice on Broadway

Barbara Ann had the finale—“Ave Maria” (Schubert) to music by H. Leopold Spitalny’s choral ensemble.

It was quite a change from the wind-swept Olympic ice fields.

The event made no more ripple on Manhattan’s sensation-scarred surface than a fly crossing Fifth Avenue on a summer’s day. There wasn’t a mention about it in any of the New York papers the next day.

In Canada, papers from Halifax to Vancouver were getting, and using, a couple of Canadian Press stories a day on the debut. The Toronto Globe and Mail and the Montreal Standard sent reporters and photographers to cover the event. Medicine Hat Daily News gave Barbara Ann a whole page as its Christmas-issue feature. And Canadian sports writers chose her, for the third year running, as Canada’s outstanding female athlete.

By Dec. 30, a week after her opening, Variety, the show-business weekly newspaper, recognized her appearance. It reported that Barbara Ann “gets little chance to show off her more accomplished trick-skating routines due to the confinements of the ice area.” But added, “The show is brightly costumed and built in a way that makes her an easy candidate for Hollywood.”

Barbara Ann, at 20, a blond, blue-eyed, kindhearted, well-mannered, healthy young thing, had not wanted this career. Her widowed mother, Mrs. Clyde Rutherford Scott, didn’t particularly care either way. But there were many advisers and loquacious friends.

They pointed out the obvious fact that Barbara Ann, who had spent her life on perfecting the art of her silver blades, had at this tender age got as far as she could go. As an amateur. There were no more championships for her to win. She’d won them all. She preferred competition to professional skating, always had, but there was no one to compete against any longer.

The advice went something like this. Think of the work, the time, the patience of yourself, your mother, your trainers, that have gone into your life of skating, Barbara Ann. Remember the parties you’ve missed because you went to bed early. The normal fun at school you haven’t had. Why, the advisers said, suppose you had educated your son to be a doctor and he just threw it up when he graduated, how would you feel? Awful waste, there, wouldn’t you think?

Perhaps, too, Barbara Ann remembered herself at the age of nine when she gave up going to school to have more time for skating. She’d get up at six and practice all day at the Ottawa Minto Club.

Most people would be settling down to their dinners before the small girl would trudge homeward.

There was a time, when she was getting advice about her future, that Barbara Ann used to say, “But you know I’d just like to get married, and learn to cook, and have children.” Or, again, “Why couldn’t I teach skating to other people, or to children?” It was then pointed out to her that certain obligations always lay heavy on shoulders of those who have risen above their fellows by some gift or ability.

People said, too, “You can make a lot of money.”

“I haven’t noticed that money makes you particularly happy,” she answered.

“But,” they said, “the things you could do with it.”

That statement was the catapult that landed Barbara Ann Scott on the Roxy stage on a blustery December night, her face more heavily greasepainted than it had ever been before, on her shoulders a marabou cape and, instead of the little skull cap she’d always worn, a marabou-trimmed bonnet on her head.

Movies, Television

THE first pay cheque from the Roxy for an eightweek engagement, according to Roxy manager Sam Rauch, was about $80,000. This money Barbara Ann did not get. For she’d taken to heart the words about “things you can do with money” and founded the St. Lawrence Foundation to help crippled and underprivileged children. She chose the name in memory of her own happy childhood summers near Brock ville, on Canada’s great river.

The foundation is her employer. All her earnings go to it direct. Its officials pay her expenses and a salary. The directors of the foundation are J. S. D. Tory, Toronto lawyer, H. H. Caldwell of Prescott, Charles F. Lindsey of Ottawa, and Robert V. Hicks, Toronto.

In the entertainment world the foundation and Miss Scott are represented by Musical Corporation of America which takes 10% of all earnings for ils services. It is at the moment considering movie offers from a number of major studios including 20th-Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; it arranged for the Columbia short “Rhapsody on Ice,” which was running at the Astor Theatre concurrently with Barbara Ann’s Roxy appearance; and has signed her up for some television shows. Some of the officials seem inclined to favor personalappearance offers in preference to movies.

Barbara Ann’s first yearly salary, her taxes and

expenses, cannot be tabulated until her first working-year engagements are more definitely decided.

When the first professional offers were made her (one of them from Hollywood for $7,500 weekly to Barbara Ann and $3,000 weekly to Mrs. Scott), the Toronto Globe and Mail reported Mrs. Scott saying, “Barbara Ann is not considering any contracts. She considers herself a good Canadian but sees no reason why she should work terribly ; hard and then have to turn most of her earnings over to the Government.” Under the present arrangement it is possible most of her earnings can . go, tax-free, to the St. Lawrence Foundation.

When Barbara Ann turned professional she lost the sunlit world of ice fields, spontaneous adulation, spirited competition. In ils stead she stands a chance to make a lot of money. She is a member in three affiliated unions of the Association of Actors and Artists of America, the American Guild of Variety Artists (to cover such appearances as the Roxy one), the American Federation of Radio Artists (which will take care of her television and radio performances), and the Screen Actors’ Guild (she is considering offers from film studios at the moment).

She also got herself a retinue of employees, headed by a Canadian law firm. Her agent is Morris M. Schrier, of M.C.A., who, being an important man in the

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organization, allots other M.C.A. officials often to look after Barbara Ann. Her publicity agent is George B. Evans, (who thought up Sinatra’s bobby-sox campaign), who also has people from his office double for him at times, Twentieth-Century Fox representatives also appear on the scene as escorts or advisers.

These men work on the theory that even if you are the world’s best skater you aren’t a Broadway star overnight, though your name glitters on the marquee Long before Barbara Ann’s first night a lot. of finigling had gone on behind the scenes.

George Evans had arranged for the young Canadian girl to be met on her arrival by New York’s deputy mayor and given the key to the city. He’d arranged invitations for her to dinners, receptions, and photographing orgies which later blossomed out in papers across the continent. He’d planned radio broadcasts and interviews. As well as a few “you-pat-my-back-andI’U-pat-yours” occasions such as the party by juvenile expert and syndicated columnist Betty Betz, at her studio, which publicized the hostess’ trip to Europe, Al Capp’s Schmoos (as balloons, soap, candy and toys) and Barbara Ann. *

It’s Not Easy at the Top

Having a star’s dreasing room and a weekly salary in five figures doesn’t really add up to either glamour or an easy life.

Here’s a day, typical of those intraining-for-profession times. There’ll be many days like this between shows and appearances.

This particular day Barbara Ann got up just before seven. She wanted a chance to practice on Roxy’s ice cube of a rink. She had a glass of orange juice, a piece of brown toast, and a glass of milk for breakfast. She helped a breakfast guest into her coat, held the door open for her mother and, carrying her valise and skates, beamed at the doorman. A cab took her to the theatre, where she tried to glance at her mail while changing into a brief pair of grey shorts and a crisply clean blouse for practicing. Her pianist stuck his head in and announced that he was sleepy but ready.

The mail this morning included a picture from a boy in Willimantic, Connecticut, a poem from a Midwestern poet, 17 requests for autographed photographs from children to young boys to elderly men, a Christmas card from a real-estate salesman, a request for $3,(XX) from a Quebec woman, a long letter from a child minding a store in a Nova Scotian village, who wrote, “As soon as mummy comes home and can take over I’m going to go out skating so I thought I’d write you.” There was a handkerchief from an invalid farmer, a letter from a boy in boarding school saying thanks for the photograph, it won him a bet from the other guys.

All letters have in common a peculiar familiarity of tone as though the writers were old. close friends of Barbara Ann’s.

Barbara Ann reads every one of them with obvious interest and pleasure. Every single one is answered.

When she is about ready to go on ice word comes that a photographer from a Sunday paper Is in the theatre. Would she wear something dressy? There have been other sessions for newsreel men when for as long as four hours Barbara Ann has repeated her whirls

and airy skimmings until all were satisfied with their shots. This time it is for a color shot.

Again and again Barbara Ann jumps, spins, leaps, spirals, over the spot the cameraman has marked, to the tune of “Look, honey, just do it again, let’s go honey, just once more.” In the rococo dimness of the cavernous Roxy, workmen are touching up the gilt, a stout Negro woman is sewing up a rip in the carpet.

On the ice stage, diminutive behind the vast spread of the front stage, the slender blond girl goes over and over the fleet, graceful movements. In the dimness a yawning usher words the opinion of most of blasé Broadway, “She oughta make it look more difficult. That just looks too darn easy.”

She is hot and perspiring but still cheery when it’s over. By now the curtain goes down and the early theatregoers fill in for the first show. Behind the thick curtain Barbara Ann prepares for her practicing. The pianist takes his head from his arms and shakes his head drowsily. As the movie blasts out the girl and the pianist try to concentrate on the routine. You can hardly hear the piano.

A Time writer has turned up and shouts at Mrs. Scott above the noise. “Has she always skated?”

“Always,” Mrs. Scott says. “I sometimes wonder why she didn’t take up the piano. Easier.”

By now the ballet mistress has turned up. She watches Barbara Ann skate and calls out, “You don’t make it dramatic enough. Put more PUNCH into it. Lift up your arms for your last bow.”

Mrs. Scott explains to the Time writer, “In competitive skating you are never supposed to have your arms above your hips. That’s what the child’s been used to.”

The pianist beats a tattoo on his forehead and calls out. “I can’t even hear myself think.” The movie blares on. Barbara Ann practices lifting her arms.

There is hardly time for lunch before an appointment for a broadcast at Radio City. Barbara Ann says wanly she doesn’t want any lunch. Mrs. Scott insists on it. It takes 15 minutes with another publicity man on tab for the next step. There is always a representative of M.C.A., 20-Century E'ox, or the publicity office, with Barbara Ann wherever she goes.

Invitation to Dinner

It’s a radio program for rebroadcasting with Tex McCrary and Jinx Falkenberg for a Sunday-morning breakfast show. Barbara Ann turns, unexpectedly, at the mike, from a quiet shy child into a very self-possessed, amusing raconteuse.

The two good-looking veterans of the air are delighted. They say. “Come and visit us. Come for dinner sometime.” “Oh, thank you,” says Barbara Ann, “I’m so glad to have met you. I’ve listened to you for such a long time and enjoyed it ever so much.”

Now the taxi beats through trafficjammed streets to Brooks Costumers, on Sixth Avenue. Up a dingy staircase to a well-lit room where designers, seamstresses, hangers-on, costumiers and Canadian newsmen wait.

James Stroock, handsome, hooknosed, grey-haired proprietor of the place, lets it be known that Brooks (trade name for the Stroock enterprise) has “costumed Sonja Henie.” The dress has an immense marabou trim, the bonnet is a vast halo of marabou. Barbara Ann’s face looks small and peaked underneath it. Mrs. Scott suggests something a trifle simpler.

“We are more accustomed to something simpler,” she says.

“This is a different thing,” Mr. Stroock says. “It’s for the gîfFs own good. We must glamourize her.”

“We were asked to stay the same,” Mrs. Scott says. “Don’t let them change Barbara Ann, everybody always says to me.”

“The Roxy stage is a different thing from a skating competition,” Mrs. Stroock points out. “Miss Joan Personette has designed some of the best Roxy effects. B.A. would look like a pygmy in too simple a costume. The public expects an ice queen to look like an ice queen.”

There are little huddles of conversation in the room. By the mirrors, between the seamstresses, under the hot bright lights Barbara Ann turns this way and that. “I like quite simple things,” she says in a small voice.

“You can’t always wear the same things,” the designer says crisply.

In the end, for the opening, though the bonnet is not Barbara Ann’s own skullcap, it is one third the size of the original.

It’s getting on toward late afternoon but there is still an interview with Earl Wilson, the Broadway columnist, at George Evans’ office. He is a stodgy little man with a cynical lift to the corner of his mouth.

He closes himself up in a room with Barbara Ann, shutting out Mrs. Scott and George Evans. About an hour later he emerges looking dazed. Says he, “She’s the widest-eyed, blue-eyed gal I ever met. And 1 fear she’s real.”

George Evans says to Barbara Ann, “Don’t forget the Freedom Train Meeting. At eight. Somebody will pick you up.”

What About Sonja!

So Barbara Ann has a couple of hours to herself. The doorman at the hotel greets her warmly. The desk clerk has her mail ready with a smile. The elevator operator hopes she’s well.

Up to her room, 16 floors above Fiftieth Street, where the shrill wailing of taxicabs caught in traffic jams rings clearly. Out of one window a glimpse of the East River presents a lighted ship in the early dusk. In her room, Junior, the toy koala bear which, as a mascot, has followed Barbara Ann throughout Europe, stares beady-eyed at his mistress. Pictures of friends are on the dresser. Tidiness rules the room.

“I think I’ll just have some corn flakes up here for dinner,” Barbara Ann says, “and wash my stockings, and lie down for a bit.” Which she does.

The Freedom Train is a United States movement to stress the country’s heritage and freedom—among school children by rallies, among adults by a train which carries historical documents from city to city. This is a meeting ata public school.

Besides a short program of folk dances the occasion serves to have Barbara Ann Scott present certificates to the best citizen boy and girl.

During the presentation the master of ceremonies turns to Barbara Ann and interviews her over the loudspeaker.

“And what do you think of Sonja Henie?” he booms.

There is a pregnant silence. “I admire her very much,” Barbara Ann says very firmly. “I’ve always admired her.”

Afterward the kids mob Barbara Ann. They stand on chairs and benches and push forward. It takes two big men to get the slight girl to the comparative safety of the platform.

And then the day is nearly over. The great city bursts into its nightly jeweled glitter. And its newest star, weary and sniffling a little with a cold,

climbs a stool in the drugstore of a small hotel and says, “Could I have a hot lemonade, please?”

“Look, honey,” says the counterman, “you need a bun. I’ll toast you one.”

He looks so delighted at this idea that Barbara Ann nods.

A swarthy, small man on the next stool turns around. “Are you Barbara Ann Scott?” he asked. “I’m from Persia.”

While the girl drinks her lemonade and eats her bun the two strangers in Manhattan talk. It sounds easy and friendly. It ends with the Persian getting off the stool and informing the drugstore generally, “I go to Roxy to see this girl skate. If you smart, you go too.”

Ponies, Dogs—and B.A.

Or it’s a day during an engagement.

Take last Christmas Day for example. While the rest of us were carousing about the tree, stuffing ourselves with turkey and visiting friends, young Barbara Ann spent from 11 a.m. to long after midnight at the Roxy, in her dressing room, backstage, on stage, giving five shows.

It’s a 10-minute cab trip, across town, from her hotel to the unostentatious stage entrance of the Roxy. At the door the cadaverous but friendly doorman hands her a stack of mail and telegrams. She flips through it quickly to see whether any are from friends.

At the end of the ground-floor corridor there is a small elevator which stops just outside her dressing room.

Ernie Adler, the make-up man, comes in while she is still opening her mail and starts to make her up.

“Don’t make my mouth so large, Ernie, please,” Barbara Ann says. “Don’t make my eyebrows so dark.”

“You have to, for the lights,” the stocky man insists in his lisping voice. “You aren’t an amateur now.”

Backstage, later, he said, “What, that girl doesn’t know about the theatre could fill a book. I’ll have to help her quite a while yet. She hasn’t come up the harsh way that teaches you what’s what, like the rest of us.”

Meanwhile Barbara Ann would be putting on her net; stockings, her brilliant-studded, pale-blue, maraboutrimmed, $9,000 costume for the first number, and her skates.

Then she would stand backstage in the wings, a slender, shiny figure, her eyes wide, surrounded by the performing ponies, the wise little dogs, and other variety artists. She’d go on into the bright lights, and from the vast dark hollow of the theatre would come applause, muted by the wide stage, j She concentrates intensely on the moment. But out there in the seats they would see only her flashing, smallgirl smile, her easy grace.

Ten times that Christmas Day she changed, laced on shoes, unlaced shoes, tramped up and down between stage and the dressing room.

It was a different Christmas from the year before in snow-glistening Davos, amid the Swiss Alps, the world championship in her pocket, and days of sunshine in open air ahead of her. Today she lives in a tinseled makebelieve world where she is advised to forget many of those very arts that won her the right to be a star. Now she is told: “Put more oomph into it. This is show business.”

And then, as for many nights to follow, as the shows on Broadway began to close and night clubs filled with festive patrons, the young girl and her mother walked home to the hotel, down New York’s winter-slushy streets, welcoming the air, and the quiet hours ahead, until tomorrow. if