Here she is, boys! Here she is, world! Here’s Lane Bradbury!
She hasn’t made a Broadway appearance in fifty-three years, but many musical theatre aficionados immediately recognize her name. Bradbury was, after all, the original Dainty June in Gypsy. On the (absolutely great) original cast album, she can be heard in “If Momma Was Married” and “Dainty June and Her Farmboys.”
Last month, Bradbury returned to town in a cabaret act that she and writer Doug DeVita called Let Me Entertain You Again. She must have enjoyed returning to New York after spending decades of doing nearly five dozen spots on TV shows, for she sang “Gee, but It’s Good to be Here.”
It’s a song that Ethel Merman, about whom Bradbury had a lot to say, introduced in Happy Hunting. Bradbury even embellished the song with a little French – real French, not the type of “French” that Merman would routinely use before she might have been expected to say “Excuse my French.”
From the stage of Don’t Tell Mama, the Georgia native told us of her mama, who told her early on to smile a great deal (just like Madam Rose’s “Smile, baby!”). After Bradbury became the youngest person to ever be admitted into The Actors Studio, she landed a small role (“Seven lines!”) in Elia Kazan’s Tony- and Pulitzer-winning production of J.B. Then she auditioned for Gypsy’s director-choreographer Jerome Robbins – and didn’t get the role.
Robbins instead opted for Carole D’Andrea, who’d be Mrs. Robert Morse from 1961 to 1981. D’Andrea had an advantage over all comers for she’d already worked with Robbins as his original Velma (and Anybodys understudy) in West Side Story.
So D’Andrea was Dainty Claire, and, yes, you read that right. My Gypsy program from New Haven proves it. June Havoc, Gypsy Rose Lee’ sister, at first didn’t want her name used in the show. Just before the Philadelphia tryout, Havoc changed her mind and the character got the new name as well as a new actress. Twenty-one-year-old D’Andrea gave way to fifteen-year-old Bradbury, for Dainty June must be younger if she’s even going to try to convince Miss Cratchitt that she’s nine.
Bradbury could do the dancing and singing required for “Dainty June and Her Farmboys,” but the script demanded that she twirl a baton, too. That she didn’t know how to do; the intense crash course didn’t allow her much time to get to know bookwriter Arthur Laurents, composer Jule Styne and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
However, she had plenty of stage time to get to know Merman, but didn’t feel she ever really did. “At every performance, Miss Merman would never look me in the eye but would just stare at my forehead,” Bradbury said, adding fuel to the long-raging fiery opinions that Merman was far more of a performer than an actress.
At least The Merm was looking in her direction while on stage. After Bradbury made the same mistake more than once in the Chinese restaurant scene, Robbins marched her to the star’s dressing room to apologize. Merman wouldn’t listen and closed the door on her.
“It had to do with a teapot, and Robbins made a tempest out of it,” Bradbury said. She then quoted what he’d said to her in language that, to quote a hit that was running concurrently with Gypsy, would make a sailor blush. Robbins wasn’t through; he sabotaged Bradbury by removing her batons just when she needed them for the Farmboy sequence.
And yet, years later, Robbins invited her to audition for his upcoming Fiddler on the Roof. “I just couldn’t,” she said mournfully.
By then, she’d had two other Broadway experiences. First came The Night of the Iguana, which starred Bette Davis. “I walked in on a rehearsal,” recalled Bradbury, “and I saw her and Patrick O’Neal really making sparks fly. But after the scene was over, Bette Davis complained that O’Neal was too strong and that she wouldn’t get the attention she felt she’d deserved.”
One time when Bradbury was sitting offstage, she would feel Davis’ terrible swift vocal sword. The star sauntered by and roared with more power than Mama Bear in Goldilocks when demanding to know who was sitting in her chair. Poor Bradbury was unaware that she’d been resting in a hallowed spot; she was merely seeking an out-of-the-way place where she could go over her lines when Davis spotted her and gave her holy hell.
Bradbury’s last Broadway appearance was in Marathon ’33, a play that was written and directed by – yes – June Havoc. One might think that Havoc, considering the star’s mixed feelings about Gypsy, might not want to hire anyone who’d been associated with that production.
“She knew that I’d essentially played her, but it didn’t seem to bother her,” said Bradbury before thinking a bit and saying “Although we never got close. I wonder if my playing her in Gypsy was the reason why.”
At Don’t Tell Mama, she once again did June’s numbers, inviting Meg Flather to come to the stage and play Louise in “If Momma Was Married.” Flather towered over her by at least a foot, for Bradbury is petite, perhaps not even a hundred pounds. Her face and smile rather resemble those of one of her early idols: Gwen Verdon. By the time she got around to a galvanic “Everything’s Coming up Roses,” I was indeed glad that I let her entertain me again.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.