Photo of the day: AS THE WORLD still TURNS with EILEEN FULTON – Sometimes being a bitch pays off, just ask Eileen Fulton! – Before there was Erica Kane/Susan Lucci on All My Children, Amanda Woodward/Heather Locklear on Melrose Place, Abby Ewing/Donna Mills on Knotts Landing and certainly Alexis Carrington/Joan Collins on Dynasty – – there was Lisa Grimaldi/Eileen Fulton in 1960 on the classic TV soap opera “As The World Turns“. Being a bitch certainly offers job security, Eileen played the roll for fifty, yes fifty years!
On February 16, 2014 Sunday night, Richard Skipper: entertainer, charity fundraiser, Carol Channing’s champion and a well loved friend and historian of the entertainment community, hosted an evening’s conversation with soap opera legend Eileen Fulton at New York’s Metropolitan Room. One of many celebrity interviews in the ‘Richard Skipper Celebrates…’ series. A charity event with all proceeds going to president Jimmy Carter’s ‘Habitat for Humanity’ at the request of Eileen herself.
Richard’s warm and listening manner lets his guests free flow with the room and the audience loves it. Eileen’s zesty charm took over the room immediately. She looked absolutely stunning with her blonde curls tossed on top of her head, wearing black feathers and diamonds just as a soap opera queen should! So how do you get a job that lasts 50 years? You bang down doors. No…I mean that literally.
On a hot summer’s day in 1960, Eileen was treading the pavement going from agents office to agents office. After her bluff did not work at the William Morris agency that “I have an appointment with Mr. William Morris”, she went on to the next name on her list, William McCaffrey. When knocking on the door yielded no results, she knocked/pounded a little harder therefore knocking the door off it’s hinges (well…it WAS being repaired and so therefore loose). That accidental stunt landed Eileen her first agent. Shortly thereafter she landed the role of Lisa Grimaldi ‘for just a few episodes’ on ATWT. Her Asheville, North Carolina sweetness connected with the viewers but not with Eileen. Eileen didn’t like being the ‘good girl’ Lisa Grimaldi – too boring. So she schemed to spice things up. When not allowed to change the plots or staging directions, she changed her character simply by using her voice. She said the same sweet dialog “but as I said it, I thought the nastiest dirtiest thoughts and the words just came out differently – with a whole new meaning. It was live television, what could they do?” she recounted to Richard with a sly grin. The rest is television history.
Eileen’s determination is also show business legend. At one point Eileen held down three acting rolls at once. ATWT soap filming live, then 3 matinees of “Whose Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” and then evening performances of “The Fantastiks”. She had a speed record of getting from the CBS Grand Central Broadcasting studio to the Billy Rose Theater (now the Nederlander) on West 41st street in five minutes. Talk about determination! It’s a feat of determination that Elaine Stritch still talks about in her act today. Why did she stop? “I was exhausted!”.
Over the decades CBS tried to replace Eileen’s character of Lisa with another actress, but the viewers would not have it. “You can’t lie to the audience” Eileen passionately insists. Lisa/Eileen’s audience was so wrapped up in the nastiness of the character, Eileen was slapped by a Chanel wearing patron at SAKS Fifth Avenue and she also had to hire body guards because people simply couldn’t separate real life from fiction as they would try to slug her in the street. Well, Eileen slugged herself all the way to the banks with 5 lp recordings and two autobiographies under her belt, night club acts, movie rolls as well as many murder mystery novels to her credit as well.
Sunday night under Richard’s loving guidance, two passions in acting came to light. Eileen strongly feels you can’t fake emotions and don’t glorify violence against women even in jest. When a scene came up that her character was to be taken across her husband’s knee and spanked, she refused to play the scene insisting to her directors “that’s abuse whether you realize it or not.” Eileen got her way and kept a high standard on the show for a long time.
Any ironies in her life? Yes. As a child she was fascinated that ivory soap bars would float on the water in the tub, “just like a piece of wedding cake.” Being left alone in the tub one afternoon as a child, her mother returned to find little Eileen had bitten away the edges of the tasting looking soap bar as she ‘foamed from the mouth.’ “Isn’t it ironic that for fifty years I had Procter and Gamble/Ivory Soap as my sponsor?!” she laughed.
Any grudges or unhappy memories? Yes, one. Eileen is not a great fan of Carol Burnett. There’s a grudge there. Seems Eileen came up with the idea of the comedic take-off on Carol’s show “As the Stomach Turns” yet she was never once asked to appear. But when Carol did the comedic take-off of “Sunset Boulevard/Norma Desmond”, Gloria Swanson was asked to appear. “I think it was jealousy” Eileen still quickly insists.
Eileen has played through fifty years of history, fashion fads, political turmoils and every heinous plot you can think of on TV soaps but on September 17, 2010, the “World” no longer turned to the heartbreak of the legions of fans of “As The World Turns.” All the more reason this rare intimate night with this TV icon was such a treat thanks to Richard Skipper.
Richard doesn’t just “read the book” as some interviewers may do, he gets to really know his guests and hence the magic of the evening is born. Many of her fans and also former cast member Colleen Zenk who played Barbara Ryan from 1978 till 2010 where in the audience. When asked during the question and answer part of the show if she still recalled her full legal show name, Eileen shouted: “Of course! I was married eight times, divorced three times and widowed four times. I’m Lisa Miller Hughes Eldridge Shea Colman McColl Mitchell Grimaldi Chedwyn!” (Take that Alexis Carrington!)
Richard Skipper’s web site: http://www.richardskipper.com/index.html
TO THE GRANDE DAME OF BROADWAY – HAPPY BIRTHDAY CAROL CHANNING ♥ !
Photo of the day: HELLO DOLLY!!! – There are certain voices that when you hear the first note you know it’s them. At the top of the list is Carol Channing. Yes, there’s Cher, Bette Davis, Hepburn, but Carol’s voice and accent is absolutely irreplaceable. Who else can go from a squeaky inquisitive voiced googely eyed girl to a jazzy baritone in a split second. No one, period – Carol Channing can.
Monday night, January 20th, that unmistakable charming infectious voice filled the Town Hall on Broadway in a dual celebration of the 50th anniversary of opening night of the classic musical “Hello Dolly” – the role she originated and played uncomplainingly over 5,000 (yes…5,000) times AND her upcoming 93rd birthday on January 31st.
Hosted by performance artist Justin Vivian Bond, it was a love fest that likely will not be equaled for a very long time. To have been there was a privilege that will not ever be forgotten. The star studded audience included Folies Bergère/musical “Nine” star Liliane Montevechi looking absolutely stunning in her bright red fur coat, Carol’s dear friend and champion Richard Skipper, Sandra Bernhard, John Cameron Mitchell, Alan Cumming, Jackie Hoffman, divine John Lypsinka Epperson and Lady Bunny, Michael Musto (of course) as well as countess LuAnn de Lesseps and none other than Sir Ian McKellen.
Her entrance on stage in her crisp white pantsuit resulted into thunderous applause that would not end, no matter how they tried to start the show the audience persisted with their enthusiastic welcome. Upon first sitting down in her chair she was concerned that there was a microphone on a stand next to her and tried to grab it, it wouldn’t release. Justin explained it was ‘a back up mic.‘ “Oh! A bAAAAAAAAAAckuuuup mic!“ she exclaimed setting of a gleeful roar in the audience. No one can say “back up mic” and be heard all the way in San Francisco! San Fran is also, btw, where she wants to be buried, between the Curran theater and the Geary, she has already gone and measured and it seems there is just enough room in the narrow alley between the two theaters. “There are fire escapes there – but they’ll have to get rid of those.“ Another roar. She’s as sharp as tack, when she can’t recollect a name or story she will digress into another story with glee. She has no filter, she just blurts out her truth. When Justin intimated she performed 5,000 times in Dolly for the love of it, she interrupted him, looked down and said “noooooo, I wanted the money too.” Hysterical laughter and applause.
In one not technically well functioning segment with taped video questions for her, Carol didn’t catch on there was a giant video screen behind her and was startled by the booming voice overhead. As Justin explained it was a video she said with great relief, “Oh, I thought it was God” (perhaps eluding to her age). Each time a video segment came on, Carol just flung herself sideways in her arm chair, legs over the side and sat there like a little schoolgirl of seven years old.
She told of Sophie Tucker teaching her songs and sang ala Soph, excusing herself saying “I can sound nicer, but that’s just not how Sophie sounded!” In baritone voice she sang an ethnic milkman’s song as well. When asked about her pairing with Mary Martin in the ill fated show “Legends” she just drawled “it was a terrible show!”, thought a moment and added, “that was a bitch remark.” More gleeful roars. If any fan or Justin brought up highlights of her long career, she would always (feign) be astonished “”you remmmmmmberrrr…..were you there?!” One of the most touching answers she gave when asked what she would want for her 93rd birthday, she quickly answered “David Merrick.” Nothing more needed to be said.
When it was time to bring the program to an end, Carol recited her closing speech from “Hello Dolly”, in which she asks the spirit of her beloved late husband, Ephraim Levi, to “Let me go!” so that she might fully rejoin the living and marry again, there was not a dry eye in the house. As a ‘thank you’, the audience spontaneously broke out into “Hello Dolly” led by a high school group in the balcony. The (mostly gay/theatrical) crowd sang the song to Broadway production perfection! The magic of the moment was, when the part came for Carol to sing “wow, wow, fellas, look at the old girl now!“ the audience instinctively lowered their voice in wait for her refrain – it was absolute theater magic that no flash mob could ever replicate. When ever are you going to get another chance to stand in a theater and serenade Carol Channing with “Hello Dolly“?! I’ve not seen so many beaming faces with joyful tears in an audience since I can remember. She was deeply moved, and in one very rare split second she let her guard down and looked as if she would break down and cry, she quickly caught herself and the beaming Hirschfeld Carol returned to take it all in, her eyes even bigger than usual, if that is at all possible. (Carol also has the distinction of having been drawn more times by Al Hirschfeld than any other personality ever.)
As she was led off the stage, the audience was not ready to let go of her, and quickly broke into a strong “Happy Birthday” song. She turned around and the look on her face as she took it all in, is one of the most priceless gifts she has ever given to me or an audience, it is a magic moment that flares for those brief seconds in a theater, you and the artist sharing this heartfelt strong love and you are the richest person on earth for having caught it. We are all richer for having Carol Channing in this world. Raspberries !!!