My 24th Birthday
I loved dancing in the chorus of some of the great movie musicals, like WHITE CHRISTMAS, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, BRIGADOON, and more. Working for great choreographers like Jack Cole and Robert Alton was just fantastic. That were pioneers. But with the advent of television the Hollywood movie musicals were basically coming to an end. Not a lot of work.
I thought it was time to go to New York.
I bought a one way ticket. I had friends who had already made the move, and they put me up on the couch in their living room.
They knew everything that was going on. West Side Story was just coming to the end it’s first year. It turned out that they were looking for replacements for the NY Company, and also forming a company for London. My friends told me to go to the Wintergreen Theatre where WSS was playing, and to ask for Ruth Mitchell, who was the stage manager. She told me I should read for the role of Bernardo, gave me a script, and set up a time for me to audition for Jerome Robbins.
He was rehearsing BALLETS USA at the Alvin Theatre. I auditioned for him during their lunch break. He then asked me to look at the role of Riff. They gave me twenty minutes or so, and then I read the role of Riff. Jerry then asked me to learn “COOL”, which is sung by Riff in the theatre version. I had about a week to work with a pianist before coming back to again audition, this time for RIFF singing COOL. They said “thank you”, and I went home.
About a couple of weeks went by, and the morning of September 16, 1958, which was my birthday, Ruth Mitchel called that morning to tell me I had the role of Riff in the London Company. OMG!!! So amazing!!! And that same day I received seven checks from my California unemployment, $35 each. It was a fantastic birthday!