Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dear blog followers,

Please visit the permanent home of my "autoblography" on my website: www.phyllisnewman.com. All new chapters of my blog memoir will be posted there.

Phyllis Newman

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chapter 7 of My Autoblography


Say what you will and you will anyway – there’s no place like “the Hamptons”. Take your finger off the delete button and read me out.

I spent the 4th of July weekend in Amagansett. A good friend of mine loaned me a perfect white cottage overlooking the bay with the perfect single white sailboat passing by just when you needed it most. No land line, my cell dates back to the Harding Administration and my computer is not allowed to travel on holiday weekends – so – you get the picture – (Warning, Description overload).

The first time I went to the Hamptons it was as a teenage actress in a play at Guild Hall. Since it was the weekend before Gutenberg invented the press, nothing remains that can remind me of its name or cast.

I stayed in a rooming house and walked back and forth to “work” – I had never seen such a concentration of beauty - in the bays, the ponds, the ocean, the luxurious houses, the trees, and of course that light that has attracted artists for so many years.

Most actresses remember the moment when they said “Broadway – someday my name will be up there in lights”. I said, “East Hampton – someday I’ll live in a beautiful house on a hilltop high with a husband and two children and if I can work – well that would be nice” – and it happened.

One summer while we were living there I got to be back at Guild Hall in Moss Hart’s classic play Light Up The Sky with Sylvia Sidney, Danny Aiello and Gloria Grahame – (remember how sexy and convincing she was in those films noir et blanc?)

She and Sylvia were mythic to me – those faces – those movies I saw as a very young person. Sylvia was all piss and vinegar with the throatiest cigarette voice ever. The first time we had a dress rehearsal and we were partially unclothed in the same room she said (and remember that voice) – “for a little girl you got some big ass”.
Gloria was quiet and delicate and completely friendly but she didn’t hang out – we didn’t know she was dying of cancer.

The run was a smash – Kitty Carlisle Hart costumed me from her closet and I was never as well dressed –

Kitty Carlisle Hart
We bought a house there in the sixties while I was in The Apple Tree on Broadway.

Alan Alda, me, and Larry Blyden
I was directed by Mike Nichols and everything good you’ve heard about him is true and then some. Of course, his work speaks for itself. There are a few seemingly simple directions and advice he gave me that remain embroidered in needlepoint in my brain.  Through the years, the many times I’ve felt insecure or dissatisfied with my work on stage, I picture Mike in the audience – not as a judge – but as a reminder of the possibilities of excellence, truth, originality and entertainment all wrapped up in one person. I try to push away the clichéd ‘remedies’ for the fears, and relax and soak up his aura, or vibes, or any other freaky new age sounding word. In this case I can’t think of a better way to describe how it works. Maybe by Blog Twelve my vocabulary will improve and if not – oh if not, see below – well worth more than a thousand words.

Mike Nichols

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Last week I went to the Paper Mill Playhouse and saw a wonderful production of Peter Pan. My husband, Adolph Green was one of the writers of the original show which starred Mary Martin. It has become a classic and is constantly playing all over this and other countries.
After the show Margaret Styne (isn’t there another word for widow? – I hate it!) who was married to the marvelous composer Jule Styne, and I went backstage to congratulate the talented company.

Standing (L to R) Glory Crampton, Douglas Sills, me, Margaret Styne.
Kneeling (L to R) Hayley Podschun, Nancy Anderson.
As I stepped into that narrow narrow hall with its uncovered light bulbs and the cell-like row of small small dressing rooms, a tsunami of joyful memories washed over me. (A trifle overwritten – but it’s a blog for God’s sake). Suddenly I was back in 1975 playing ‘Annie’ in (no, not Annie) – mais Annie Get Your Gun.

All of the photos below were taken in that same place – another heady time – nothing here is a result of photoshopping – it’s just name photo dropping.

Leonard Bernstein; Tony Walton and Sidney Lumet; Lauren Bacall
(Click on the image to view larger photos.)
I honestly don’t know how to describe the feeling when you play a great character whose songs go beyond what you think anyone is capable of expressing. Here you are surrounded by talented professionals – and in front of you is a superb conductor and musicians. You work hard and then you let go and trust the instincts and talent of Irving Berlin and his colleagues – Okay, now I can use the hyperbolic tsunami image.

Another major Paper Mill moment was a glamorous – marvelously cast (please look them up) production of that Goldman and Sondheim stunner Follies. In my not at all humble opinion (and that of The New York Times) – we should have gone right to Broadway.

Well I could write about that experience until they find another word for blog.  My roomie in that teeny tiny dressing room – was the other divine Miss M. – Ann Miller and her wigs. Yes, all the stories about her are true, and she was a terrific dame.

In the Dressing Room
Ann Miller, Alexandra Schlesinger, and me
On Stage
Ann had her five or six jet-black wigs in her signature hair style on the ledge above our hanging costumes and clothes.

We never exchanged an unpleasant word – honestly. She named all of her wigs with a childish euphemistic variation of the word (and place) ‘vagina’. When I moved in she proudly pointed to each one and in her inimitable trumpet voice declared – “She’s ‘Twat’ – she’s ‘Pussy’ ....” And well you get it, and lest there are any kiddies out there I go no further. I had my pitiful short “natural-like” red wig trying to hold its own. She asked, “Phyl – what’s yours named?” I shrugged – where do you go from there? I laughed mirthlessly.

About an hour later I turned to her and said, “Cunterella, that’s her name – Cunterella – but for short we call her.....”

Right after the show closed I gave a swell party for the cast at our apartment, which is really lovely and has a beautiful big terrace overlooking Central Park West, and a cinemascopic view of the city that is spectacular.

Ann walked in, looked around and said to me, “Well, kiddo – you sure dipped your ass in a honey pot!”

And now the final piece in the puzzle. I went to see Alan Cumming perform at Feinstein’s Thursday night. He is original, talented, political, funny and fierce. I’m a huge fan needless to say. One of the stories he told was about performing with Ann Miller at the Hollywood Bowl. She sang ‘I’m Still Here’ from Follies. He mentioned something she said which included the word “pussy”. Afterwards I told him my Ann stories and he told me his.

And so – I realize what a lucky, beautifully maturing woman I am – those ‘good old days’ blend in and out of these goods new days.

I’m stimulated by all of it and having a damn good time!

Monday, June 21, 2010


I’ve never met a Sunday I liked. I realize that somewhere there are people who go to church, chat with their neighbors and friends, go home and have a fine big lunch with meat, read the papers, watch some sports on TV, snooze a little, dangle a grandchild, and thus are content with their Sabbath.

Somewhere else there are young couples going to malls with their cute kids, buying things they can make, or wear, stopping off at a fast food palace….driving home in the late sun, bedding down the kids, watching TV, having a fight and then making love.

And I guess right here in New York….there are people who happily sleep a little later than usual, read The Times….take a shower (and sometimes forget to give it back!)….dress in appropriate Sunday gear - unisex Juicy Couture knockoffs in amusing colors…have a nutritious fun filled brunch of ethnic variety…go to a late afternoon movie…come out to an early Sunday evening….take home a little Chinese take-out…put the leftovers together in one carton in the fridge….wash their own or each other’s hair….have some wine, watch a DVD, wrinkle tomorrow’s outfit and call it a day……okay….they’re right….it’s a day. So why do I want to commit mass murder when my Sundays roll around?

Let me tell you about this last Sunday. It was pretty nice actually, weather-wise. I made the bed, ate a bagel, read The Times….and stared…“Oh do not stare,” I said to myself….“Go out, take a walk….avail yourself….avail yourself.” All righty…. I walked on my familiar Upper West Side….nodding to no one in particular….and thought maybe it would be pleasant to hit a movie…………sold out…never mind…I can buy a DVD….hire a security guard….and watch it in my own bedroom.

No good – I’ve seen them all.

Basking in the glow of frustration I decided to take the crosstown bus home and start again….so there I was on Seventy Ninth and Broadway….bright sunlight…people to and froing….when I saw a man squatting up against the bank on the corner….no, actually first, I saw, what I thought, was a man pulling his running pants down over his legs. Then I saw that he was squatting bare assed, but covered from his knees down. Then I saw him pull up his pants. You see I didn’t just keep looking at him. I was too embarrassed and shocked, but I sneaked glances along with everyone else waiting at the bus stop. I wanted to see…no don’t look….my head swiveled one hundred and eighty degrees like Regan in The Exorcist. He gathered up his paper bag….muttering all the time….and when I looked next….I saw a mound of steaming hot bright yellowish colored excrement..……………That man doesn’t like Sundays either….but at least he knows what to do about them.

Monday, June 14, 2010


After my beloved Adolph died and I found myself a “Broadway widow”, I tried many paths. I wished that there was a book “Aging For Dummies” – maybe I’ll write one – maybe I’ll share my wisdom – maybe I’ll lose twenty pounds (that’s definitely another blog).

Here’s what I know about being a ‘senior’ actress. All the parts you’re offered either have Alzheimer’s or live in Boca and are looking for a man and, if they find one – he gets a heart attack in Act II. Or she’s a Mother Superior. End of story.

I’ve never jumped on a bandwagon in my life – but Betty White has beaten the odds and given alter cockers everywhere a glimmer of hope.

NOW – BACK TO MY PREMISE – (I know, I know – I don’t have one).
But I DO have a soupçon of advice. NYC is the place to be – at any age – because within the last two weeks I spent one night in Alice Tully Hall sitting in a seat next to the esteemed Professor Stephen Hawking in his remarkable special chair on wheels fitted with a very large computer screen facing him. The occasion was the opening night of the World Science Festival. The first act was a performing arts salute to science. A talented group, some of whom were Yo-Yo Ma, Kelli O’Hara, Alan Alda, Rebecca Luker and on and on – at the end of which Professor Hawking was wheeled to the front of the orchestra floor and the whole width of the stage arose, with him in the center. He spoke through his computer. His voice sounded relaxed, his words were grateful, graceful and witty. It was a never to be forgotten moment. Please find out more about him. In President Obama’s words, ‘…he’s led us on a journey to the farthest and strangest reaches of the cosmos. In so doing, he has stirred our imagination and shown us the power of the human spirit here on Earth.’

A couple of nights later I found myself (I have no idea how I got there) in a humongous line of young women and some men – munching on the $50 size popcorn sipping a $15 diet coke waiting to see ‘Sex and the City’. I saw, I stayed, I conquered – I really liked it.

Well you get it – a lot of experiences all within twenty blocks of my apartment. NY, NY is a helluva town. It levels the playing field of age.


Adolph’s opening night….the first….with no Adolph.
No buzz buzz in our house.
No A in his skivvies showing me and then asking me about where he cut himself shaving.
No calls back and forth and more with Betty.
Very few packages, flowers, notes being delivered that I’d read to him.
“Oh how nice….isn’t that nice! How do I look?”
“Like a Greek god.”
“Really Adolph you look so handsome and distinguished….black tie really suits you.”
And it did….he was meant to be out….on the town in a tux and he was.

I take a nap and pretend I’m looking forward to going alone to….alone to….no I won’t! I’ll find a pill….an oxyanything – and see if that does anything. I’ll lie down, sit up, wash my hair, rob a bank….I’ll call Adolph.
I don’t think so.

I taped this photo of Adolph to an old pin and wore it on my fancy embroidered opening night coat.
I wound up taking Adolph to his opening night.
Corny? Sure. But he would have loved it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

You know the old saw “some people see the glass as half full….others see it as half empty”? Here’s my dilemma….I see no glass.
What does that mean? Am I a nut job or just a lazy beauty?
Here I am happily writing to you in paperless cyberspace in my bed from whence all good and bad things come. I’m looking at the anemic, thin copies of my beloved newspapers and magazines scattered all over the covers. Oh how I used to love those overstuffed periodicals full of varied manipulations of paper that would produce smells, scents, odors, sometimes even creams.

Many years ago at the height of this olfactory madness, Adolph and I were chatting over our ritual breakfast of All-Bran and instant decaf. I said:
“Do you notice anything unusual?”
“Yes, you’re talking to me.”
“No…seriously sweet pea, I’ll give you a hint. Sniff.”

I thrust his nose into the magazine spread across my lap.
“You’ve spilled perfume on your tatty night dress.”
“You’re getting warm…so let’s pretend we’re in the doctor’s office…it’s stuffy, you’re nervous and I want to distract you. The only magazine there, is an old copy of FIELD AND STREAM.

“Baby…look at this. Most magazines give these free whiffs just by doing odd things with pieces of paper.”
“But surely, my little heliotrope, it would be cheaper and less of a fire hazard, just to buy some bottles of perfume.”
“It’s that kind of thinking Adolph, that has kept you from being with it, for it, and at it. It’s why FORBES won’t even let you subscribe. Hand me that new issue of DER SPIEGEL.”

“You’re always right my passion flower. Are there any aimed strictly at males that I might inhale?”
“Here, try this copy of MANHATTAN MACHO.”

“Well, what do you think now?”
“My clever calla lily. I smell better and my hostility has abated considerably. But it has given me more of an appetite.”
“What do you feel like my gentian violet?”
“How’s about some nice chicken soup?”
“Hold it a sec, while I leaf through my new batch of mags….ah, there it is. The premier copy of FOWL TODAY. I’ll have it ready in a jiff.”

But that was then – what about now?
Hold the phone! I mean literally – I’ve got it! by George I’ve got it!


Wednesday, May 26, 2010


On Monday, May 10, I went to the Roundabout Theatre at Studio 54 for a celebration of the life of the beautiful actress Natasha Richardson who died too young. I knew Ms. Richardson but I was not a close friend. Her aunt Lynn Redgrave died about a week prior to the celebration, and she was very dear to me – we were both trustees of the Actor’s Fund and when I had health problems she took care of a lot of events for the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative writing me beautiful letters all through. She was an exceptionally sympathetic, smart, talented and loyal pal. So I very much wanted to be a part of the gathering of her family and friends.

Back to Studio 54 – The house lights dimmed and a spot picked out a man in the audience dressed in a black leather jacket and boots. The spot followed him as he went on stage, turned around and sat on a stool. It was Bono, he sang a cappella in that unique husky voice of his. The song was “Amazing Grace.”

The following Monday, May 17, I went to St. Ignatius Loyola Church for the funeral of Lena Horne. My husband Adolph lived across the street from Lena and her husband Lennie Hayton who had won an Academy Award for Adolph’s movie On The Town in 1949 many moons ago when they were all working at MGM. They remained friends and I was happy to get in on their world some years later.

I honestly worshipped Lena the entertainer (and the activist) and like so many others I saw her one-woman show countless times. I was such a groupie that I bought two of her costumes from that show at the "Lighthouse's Annual Vintage Sale." As I was reading her full page obituary in The New York Times I noticed that in one of the pictures she was wearing "my" kimono. I went into the stuffed closet of clothes I'll wear when I lose a few hundred extra pounds - and took out the purple shiny kimono and spread it on my bed – it still had the red tag "Donated by Lena Horne - $200."

In the 1960's her beautiful and gifted daughter Gail married our good friend, the brilliant director Sidney Lumet. I've remained very close to Gail and their daughters Amy and Jenny.

Now – are you following? Are there too many names and cross relationships? – I can't help it – it's the way it is.

Another connection. In 1963 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement Lena did a concert at Carnegie Hall in which she sang a new song – a Civil Rights anthem called "Now." The music, based on a Jewish folk song "Hava Nagila," was by Jule Styne, the lyrics by hubs Adolph and Betty Comden. Lena sent her proceeds to the Gandhi Society for Human Rights.

Back to St. Ignatius Loyola - the funeral:

The amazing Audra McDonald walks onto the altar and in her perfect voice sings – wait for it – "Amazing Grace."

So much talent, so much beauty, so many memories of then – so much happening now – let's think about them all and revere them.

Lennie Hayton, Lena Horne, Adolph Green