Camp vs. Kitsch: Wishing You A Joyous Life Day

Originally published on Camp vs. Kitsch

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars Holiday Special, the timeless classic in which Han and Luke help Chewie return home to celebrate “Life Day” with his family on his home planet. The special starred all the original Star Wars actors, plus Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, Jefferson Starship, and she who had yet to become everyone’s favorite Golden Girl, Bea Arthur. The special is best remembered for introducing the character of Boba Fett in an animated sequence, and worst remembered for generally sucking in every possible way.

I was only eight months old when the special aired, so I can’t speak for what the hooplah around its original airing might have been. The special has taken on an unintended life as an object of fascination in part because it seems to be the only Star Wars artifact that George Lucas will not exploit to enlarge his coffers. So the question that plagues me is this: was the special originally created as a cash-grab to milk the then-new Star Wars phenomenon, or was this actually an attempt at artistic expression by Lucas (in which case, none of us have anyone to blame for our surprise at the suckitude of the prequels except for ourselves). In other words, does this qualify as Camp, or was it only ever intended to be kitsch?

And then there’s Maude…
What could possibly hold up in competition against this… whatever it is? Clearly, I needed to go back to the well of Christmas Specials, and to level the playing field, I thought it would help to focus on pop culture obsessions of the late 1970s. And next to Star Wars, what was the biggest pop culture obsession of the late 1970s? Annie. And luckily, the original Broadway cast of Annie also produced a Christmas special. I’ve seen less of this one than the Star Wars special, but there’s a clip on YouTube featuring the late Dorothy Loudon, the Tony-winning actress who created the role of Miss Hannigan, trying to coax the orchestra into playing at the Christmas party.

Friends of Dorothy?
So here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure the Annie Christmas Special was definitely a cash grab, or at best a sort of infomercial for the show. But for my money, I’d say this clip is far classier and more entertaining than anything in the entire Star Wars special. To be fair, I am pitting what is likely the best moment of the Annie show from what is among the worst moments (of a show full of worse and worse moments). But, it’s my blog so there you go. Want to argue? Click on the comment button. And whatever you think, cast your vote!

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Fynsworth Alley: Dorothy Loudon: She’s Still Here

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

dorothy loudonWe often hear stars referred to in hyperbolic terms, but Dorothy Loudon is the real thing: a Broadway legend. Best known for her Tony-award winning performance as Miss Hannigan in the original cast of Annie, Dorothy’s career has spanned radio, television, cabaret, theatre, and film. Recently, Dorothy shared with me some of her showbiz memories and discussed her track on THE STEPHEN SONDHEIM ALBUM, “I’m Still Here.”

David: How did you get your start in show business?

Dorothy: After my sophomore year at Syracuse University, I left – on the advice of my drama coach – and came directly to New York City. I lived in a girls’ club and auditioned for anyone who would listen. My first job was in a tiny club called “Jimmy Ryan’s,” where I sang and accompanied myself on the piano. One night, Jackie Gleason came in with his musical conductor, Ray Bloch. I guess they were impressed, because Mr. Bloch put me on CBS radio, where I was heard nationally every Friday night. From that time on I never stopped working. That was before television. That was fifty years ago. I was a very lucky girl.

David: You were a fixture of the 1950s cabaret scene in NY. Has the cabaret scene changed much? How? What was it like back then, doing shows in the boites?

Dorothy: The cabaret scene has changed tremendously since the fifties and sixties when I was there. People “dressed up” for the occasion. Tuxedos, gowns, “the works”.

On a typical night at “The Blue Angel,” I would appear on a bill with Johnny Mathis (opening act), Jonathan Winters, Phyllis Diller, Mike (Nichols) and Elaine (May) – and Bobby Short was playing in the lounge!

Television came along and literally wiped out the supper clubs. Now, people could sit at home, turn on their sets and see all those people in their own living rooms. What’s more, they could watch in their pajamas, and there was no cover charge.

David: How did your role on the Garry Moore show come about?

Dorothy: One day I got a call from the Garry Moore Show – Gwen Verdon was to have been their guest star, but she had the flu and couldn’t make it. It was two days before the show and they were desperate. I had auditioned twice for the show — and was turned down. I jumped at the chance. In two days I learned the sketches, songs, choreography… and went on for Gwen. That night, after the show, Garry offered me a three year contract.

David: Was that your “big break”?

Dorothy: It turned out to be the biggest break of my career.  Continue reading