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Tom Bosley Remembers

Happy Days dad Tom Bosley talks to Filichia about his stage career, including his current stint in Cabaret. logo
Mein herr:
Tom Bosley with Carole Shelley in Cabaret
Went to see Tom Bosley as Herr Schultz in Cabaret. Loved his performance, but also loved what happened when he made his first entrance. For suddenly I could hear the audience start buzzing. "Wait a minute! Isn't that...yes, it is! 'Mr. C' from HAPPY DAYS! Ohhh, I didn't know he was going to be in this. We're seeing a star!"

When I mentioned this to Bosley over lunch, he told me that he hears the buzzing in the audience, too. "The reason," he explained, "is that Cabaret doesn't give you a program until the end of the show." When theatergoers finally do get that program, they see that Bosley's bio lists every Broadway show he's ever done. The list starts with Fiorello!, of course, and then goes on to include Nowhere to Go But Up, A Murderer Among Us, Natural Affection, Catch Me If You Can, The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N, and Beauty and the Beast. Granted, Fiorello! was a smash, and so was Beauty and the Beast. But there aren't many performers who would bother to mention the other five shows, which ran a grand total of 178 performances. I asked Bosley, now 75, about each of them.

Fiorello! (Bosley did the entire 795 performance run in 1959-1961): "An agent saw me Off-Broadway and thought he might be able to get me in as the understudy. [Co-producer] Bobby Griffith told me that when the agent called him, he was at that moment going through the players directory where they have all the actors' photos and resumes and he'd put his finger in it to know where he'd left off on the page. When the agent said, 'Did you ever hear of Tom Bosley?' he noticed that his finger was right on my picture. They wanted Eli Wallach but he really couldn't sing. He would have got the job if he could, and he's never forgotten what happened. When I went to see Paul Newman in Our Town, I saw Eli and [wife] Annie [Jackson] there, and when I went to say hello, the first thing he said to me was, 'You know damn well, if I could sing I would have had that part.' I told him 'That'll look good on your tombstone.' I had a good time playing the mayor of New York, and in the mayoral election of 1960, I'm told I got about 200 write-in votes."

Nowhere to Go But Up (1962): "Martin Balsam and I played Izzy and Moe, who during the Prohibition took on many disguises to fool the bootleggers and bring them to justice. We were in Philadelphia when Mel Brooks came to see the show. After the performance, I was sitting in the dressing room with Marty and in rushed Mel, who pulled our suitcases off the shelves and threw our clothes in them. 'With a show like this,' he said, 'you guys gotta get out of town right away. It's hopeless.' The next morning, [producer] Kermit Bloomgarden introduced Mel as our new director. I said to him, 'But you told us it was hopeless,' and he said, 'I need the money.' All Mel did was make what was working work better, but he couldn't help us with the material that wasn't. And I'll never forget the performance when Marty and I went off stage to change and we heard absolutely nothing from on stage. Nothing! Nobody on stage knew what to do next. We lasted nine performances. The show's composer eventually had a complete breakdown and went to a sanitarium; I don't know how long he was there, but I know he went to one."

Natural Affection (1963): "The playwright, William Inge, wasn't around much. The director, Tony Richardson, was an Englishman who didn't think much of American actors. The producer's name I don't remember because he took his name off the poster before we opened. And then there was Kim Stanley, the only actress I ever had a problem with -- as great an actress as she was. Everything had to be her way. The stage was divided, with a bedroom on one side and a living room on the other. I had an eight-page speech that I delivered in the bedroom and she could never understand why she had to sit on the other part of the stage doing nothing. She always raised hell about that. I told her, 'Well, I'm going as fast I can.' What a difference from Geraldine Page, who was the greatest and most cooperative actress I ever worked with."

A Murderer Among Us (1964): "The biggest disappointment in my theatrical career was working for a man who had been an idol of mine: Sam Wanamaker, whose movies I'd loved. Now he was going to direct me in this little French play, which, if he had done it right, would have been funny. But the day of the opening, he got us all on stage and said that he'd directed it all wrong. He didn't even come to the opening. Why did we have to be there and pay for his sins? We opened on a Tuesday, and on Wednesday I was doing an interview at Sardi's and I said, 'I have to cut this off because I have a matinee.' I went to the Morosco and the sets were already gone. My wife was in the dressing room packing my suitcases." (Mel Brooks was not there to help.)

Bosley (left) in Beauty and the Beast
As for Catch Me If You Can (1965), a comedy-murder mystery, I asked Bosley about an item I remembered in a newspaper gossip column. Seems that, the day of the out-of-town opening, co-star Bethel Leslie's jewels were stolen from her dressing room and whoever stole them left a note saying, "Catch me if you can, ha-ha-ha." Even though I was just a teen, I smelled a publicity stunt. Bosley said, "Gee, I remember nothing about that at all." And given that his memory is so good about everything else, I'm going to infer that that the devilish press agent Saul Richman concocted the story to publicize the show, which wound up running 103 performances.

The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N (1968): "Funny you mention it, because Barbara Minkus, the show's leading lady, just left a card for me backstage asking if I wanted to play Hyman again at a reading at Jewish University. I told her they'd really have to get a younger man. This is the show about which I remember the least because what happened in the world on opening night overshadowed everything else. I'd been friends with Mayor John Lindsay, and when on opening night I heard at intermission that he had left, I couldn't believe or imagine that he would do that to me. But then I heard that the police came down the aisle to get him and I knew something was up. It was, of course, the night that Martin Luther King was assassinated. The next night, he came back to see the show. Afterwards, he came into my dressing room, and we stayed there till one in the morning getting blind."

Beauty and the Beast (1994): "The biggest thrill was having my grandchildren see me in the show. I want to keep going until all seven of my grandchildren see me on stage."

Cabaret (Now!): "Hal [Prince] wouldn't come see our production because, he said, 'They didn't bother to talk to me beforehand.' I told him, 'Hal, your show was the right show for that time. You couldn't do then what we do now. Come see us.'"


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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