IT'S A FABULOUS DAY AT THE FOLLIES
From 2003 through 2014 I was an administrative aide with duties that included: Receptionist; Human Resources and Purchasing Agent assistant. Early on I worked briefly one summer downstairs
as one of Mr. Markowitz' assistants. I had been warned about the high turnover rate of employees at the Follies but I always wanted to be in show business (even it was backstage) and the Plaza Theatre was special to me since it had been historically
designated when I was on the Historical Site Preservation Board. I knew that a downtown developer had his eyes on the location prior to the Follies moving in and making its home there for the next 23 years. What follows are some of the many treasured
thoughts I gathered over the years prior to the closing of the Follies, forever.
My Follies memories are unique and strange. If I were to choose a favorite it would fall under auditions. I could always expect the unexpected during the time leading up to the auditions. How can I forget the identical twin gymnasts perform their routine for me at the Reception desk complete with back flips and handstands . . . or the young teenage girl who escorted her grandfather to audition and graciously played a few tunes on his harmonica. Not to be forgotten was the woman in a floor length blue-sequined evening gown dragging a silver fox fur behind her and who had every intention of auditioning that day for the Follies based on a promise to her dying sister. I alerted the house manager and the ushers kept a close eye on her throughout the show. I could always expect a call in May from Eli in North Carolina, a Follies wannabe, making reservations for the summer audition - that she never attended - maybe it was the thrill knowing that her name was on the audition list - she called after our closing was announced and voiced her disappointment. I remember one time when a husband called to see if the production could use his wife on stage - just standing there looking pretty - I explained to him that that position was already filled by Mr. M. Needless to say I’ve spoken with many personalities across the country and overseas – each with their own personal history and the eager willingness to share it with me.
Other great memories would have me speaking
with so many legendary entertainers when they'd call the administrative offices including: Kaye Ballard; Hugh O'Brien; Leslie Gore; Lou Christie; Tab Hunter; John Davidson, and Peter Marshall; among others. I looked forward to each season with great
anticipation - you could feel the excitement in the air growing as the opening date drew closer. Rehearsals echoed throughout the building, costumes were being built; props prepared; lighting and audio cues finalized; marketing was in full swing; and
the reservations and groups departments were filling orders and mailing tickets as fast as they came in. It was gloriously chaotic but the "Follies Way" kept everything moving in the same direction - Mr. M ran a tight ship and there were
many military aspects to his authority. I respected him for his ability to keep order with so many departments going in different directions all working on the production. Mr. Markowitz and Mary Jardin created a very special magic for downtown
Palm Springs with show-stopping headliners, incredibly beautiful costumes, talented performers - and people came by the bus loads to see the new show for the season. A documentary film about the Follies was made called, "Still Kicking" that was nominated
for a 1997 Oscar. The Follies provided older performers the opportunity to continue in the entertainment industry and prove that age is just a number. Audience members marveled at the agility our cast of senior citizens presented on stage with
intricate dance numbers and sophisticated choreography.
The Follies filled my days. I will miss the camaraderie and banter. I will miss seeing Hiroko (purchasing agent) and using the Japanese phrases I know. I will miss Jermain (bookkeeper) and her squirrel recipes and certified letters. How can I forget Vincent (H.R. director) and his bowtie collection! Or the very dapper Greg (media specialist) . . . or Judy (marketing assistant) and her steady stream of projects; or Kate (house manager) and the deliveries to be inventoried. And, then there’s Katy (facilities manager and HR coordinator) with those infernal schedules, personnel badges, medical files, and employee handbooks. Not to be forgotten are the spreadsheets, surveys, rewards cards, gift bags, Dolores (sales director) with her mugs and candy and Red Hat preparations. Todd & Rusty (reservation managers) and the 100s of VIP & Executive Platinum gift bags that would need to be prepared & wrapped complete with a huge colorful handmade bow. I will miss Deidre and Trish (Mr. M's assistants) and their words of encouragement and gratitude. I will miss seeing Mary in a stunning new outfit conducting marketing and management meetings. And I will miss seeing Mr. M on the monitor enjoying himself at the expense of some of our patrons. I could continue for pages . . . but, I will truly miss saying, “It’s a fabulous day at the Follies!”
I will miss greeting all the employees - especially on paydays when I was the most popular person in the building. In 2006 the Follies nominated me for the Outstanding Front Line Employee award and I was honored at a luncheon hosted by the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority. I remember my throat tighten with emotion as I thanked the Follies for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to do what I love - work for the community.
For the last eleven years I have been part of the Follies family. The Follies was there when my mother passed away in 2004 and then my sister in 2011 and most recently my soul mate, Bill in 2013. The Follies gave me a reason to get out of bed and get dressed even when my life was falling apart. Presently the Follies provides for me a place to go during the day and play gatekeeper - I told Mr. Markowitz during my interview that I always wanted to be in show business and the Follies fulfilled my wishes for which I am grateful.
The Follies brought life to Palm Springs. When it opened 23 years ago it gave people a reason to come downtown, see the show, have lunch or dinner and help the economic growth and stability of the city. Palm Canyon Drive was packed with pedestrians. The City of Palm Springs was silently slipping into obscurity and when the Follies appeared on the scene it brought with it a special vibrancy and resurgence to the town. Demonstrating that age is just a number, The Palm Springs Follies has been an inspiration to so many people . . . to so many generations! The Follies serves as an example to everyone that age does not matter and anything is possible if you believe in yourself – of course it helps if you have a really large headdress. I urge you to visit the Follies Legacy Website at www.psfollies.com to see what made the shows truly FAAAABULOUS!
FOLLIES - BACKSTAGE
My first year had me working with Sales Director Terry Jardin (Mary's sister-in-law) and Purchasing Agent, Kip. Being kindred spirits due to Kip's Hawaiian heritage and our shared lifestyle - he demonstrated his quick wit and sharp tongue when he told me to check out the flip side of the Follies newsletter for my photo - I reminded him that was a racial slur! One memorable time he doubled over in laughter after overhearing a fellow employee ask me if he bothered me - I responded, "Let me count the ways." The Purchasing Department was a whirlwind of activities during the summer months. Production plans were close to completion - the Follies worked one year in advance - theme, guest star, musical numbers, solo spots, choreography, costumes, scenic backdrops, comedy acts, etc. And this is just the production side of the Follies - Reservations & Groups Departments, Marketing Department, Media Relations & Publicity, Wardrobe Department were equally busy preparing for the new season. The intricate planning, organizing and marketing the Follies were Mr. M and Mary's world of expertise. A season would begin with the May auditions - cast members fitted and called back as needed. Building hundreds of costumes for the cast of 16 was monumental - wigs, shoes, jewelry, props, etc. The Wardrobe Department would place Purchase Orders for thousands of feathers, scores of thread spools, mountains of rhinestones, 100s of bolts of silk, cotton, lame materials, buckets of buttons & zippers, props, hundreds of hats, miles of braids, thousands of needles, multiples of assorted hat forms, etc - kept the IN BOX constantly filled - not to mention the audio engineers, lighting techs, stage mangers, dressers, and their orders for equipment and supplies. Administrative Department equipment and supply orders were important so that the Follies Way would have no obstacles - Mr. M and Mary's postings and orders had top priorites. Phones ringing, deliveries received inventoried & recorded, returns prepared, weighed & shipped, tracking urgent or late deliveries, registered & certified letters, calls to suppliers - repairmen - airlines, fax transmissions, etc. - that was the Purchasing Department. Hiroko replaced Kip the last few years - she was surprised when I greeted her "Good Morning!" in Japanese - during my UCLA summers, I had a Japanese dorm roommate who taught me a few phrases.
Josiah Bartlett was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. It was ironic that a Follies group representative was related to him - J. Bartlett was my pen name when I wrote stinging criticism in
guest editorials regarding Palm Springs & Cathedral City political antics in The Bottom Line - having chosen my alter ego's name from said document years ago. We called out valley mayors and council
members by name and questioned their agendas and priorities. Bill even suggested we print his column in red ink with a warning because of his caustic tongue. The column was called "Strange Bedfellows" and caused a buzz not only around town but
city halls as well. Any official that crossed the line soon found themselves the target of J. Bartlett's sting and he was tenacious! There goes that Scorpio rebel blood again!
Scroll past the cover image to read my personal memories of the Follies
MY FOLLIES . . .
FOREVER . . .
Mr. Markowitz was aware of my activism in the gay community and reminded me that the Follies is not political. Within a week of starting at the Follies Mr. M visits our office and looks at me and says, "We'll it's about time you joined us!" My reply, "I didn't know you were waiting."
Terry Jardin was married to Mary's brother, Dan. She would represent the Follies at trade shows across the country. I remember assisting in the preparations for her trip to NYC my first year, and presented her with a box of See's chocolate telling her to "Give my regards to Broadway." I appreciated how she recognized my work habit - she would tell people, "I give Jim a project and then get out of his way!" On departing the Follies upon moving back to the bay area she confided that I was the best employee she ever hired - a memorable statement from a warm and gracious lady. During my interview with Terry she asked me what would I bring to the Follies. I replied: my energy; my enthusiasm; my loyalty; & my sense of humor - I don't think I disappointed them.
A week after my flu shot that first year at the Follies, I came down with a serious cold and had Terry worried when my nose started to bleed uncontrollably. After some 45 minutes it began to easy where upon she asked if I wanted to go because my eyes looked glassy - I explained, they always look that way, I wear contacts! Kate stifled a laugh while Terry walked back into her office with her concerns. The bleeding was due to the nasal spray I was using & soon dispensed with the half full bottle. I've worked through worse!
The flu shot was administered by Jeanne Reller, RN & P.S. councilwoman - we briefly reminisced about years past. For motivation talks the Follies had the Chamber of Commerce leader, David Aiken speak - David & I went back years when I was appointed to the P.S. Museum Advisory Board - he was pleasantly surprised to see me working at the Follies. On their way back to administration, Jill corrected Mary when she said - Jim knows everyone - with "Everyone knows Jim!" It's difficult to live 20+ years in the desert & not be known especially when you're an activist & rebel!
That first year saw a fierce rain storm pass through the desert over the weekend and on Monday I received a call from the female half of our British comedy act who were staying in one of the Follies condos alerting me to the fact there was leak in their dining room and wanted Mr. M notified. Kip was in charge of placing guest stars in condos rented to the Follies and spoke with the owners almost daily. After trying his extension I sent an email regarding the leaking roof. Later that day Terry emerges from her office and asks if there was a call about a leaking roof. I replied yes. Where upon she questioned, did you notify Mr. M. No, I replied, I didn't expect him to get on the roof with a bucket of tar - he has more important things to worry about - but I did notify Kip by email. Only after said email was forwarded to Terry and Mr. M did they see that I had placed LEAKING ROOF in the subject line and mentioned that the performer wanted Mr. M to be notified did the possibility of my termination fade. I applied the chain of command as the situation warranted.
Tina was the Human Resources Coordinator with duties to keep track of employees, maintain their personal records, and direct the House Crew in their daily chores, among others responsibilities. One morning I overheard her describing the new house crew member to our Accountant and used her phrase minutes later when said crew member asked to speak with her. Punching in her extension I announced that Lance was here to see her - her reply was a long drawn out L-A-N-C-E as if deep in thought - at which point I reminded her "Yes ma'am, you know the strange little one." - that was soon followed by a resounding "yelp" that echoed down the hall emanating from her office. She would admonish me when Szabi the Stage Crew Lead would visit and I would remind her who Szabi was by singing his name to the song "Swanee River" - followed by my "never-mind" - reminiscent of Gilda Radner's character on Saturday Night Live, Emily Latella - with her correction. I had fun at Reception - of course it was enhanced with Tina's middle eastern belly dancing as she made her way down the hallway to her office.
Everyone who wanted to speak with anyone in the administrative offices had to be announced and then either sent back to the intended office or asked to wait at Reception or in the Conference Room. My first week Trish, one of Mr. M's assistants rushed in to speak with the accountant. After trying that extension a number of times Trish exclaimed that she was going to walk back without waiting to be announced. I cheered her on as she rounded the corner down the long corridor with a, "You go girl!"
One Saturday Reservations Manager Todd Webster had a major problem when his key broke off in the front door lock and Mary & John were called - upon searching for options they were able to gain entrance to the alarmed Follies administrative fortress by means of an unused outside door leading to her office - while maneuvering over desks, display shelves, cabinets, chairs and bookcase, Mary was able to disarm and unlock the administrative offices before the alarm sounded. Mary kept herself in top physical shape with diet and regular exercise.
Saturdays gave me the opportunity to organize the front office. When I came in for orientation I was aware of the difficulties Tina from HR was going through with the 72 page handbook, forms
to be signed and setting up the TV for the screening of Sexual Harassment - contacting stage managers; production manager; Technical Director, Wardrobe Director; House Manager; Ambassador Director & Sales Director; Groups Supervisor; Reservations Manager
- to name a few of her duties. Over the next few months I was able to accomplish my goal. I labeled cabinets & drawers; Conference Room storage spaces organized for: recycled supplies; trade show & marketing items; stacks of the current
Follies program; hundreds of past programs and news clippings; new supplies & Follies stationary, envelopes, postcards, stickers, brochures, plus thousands & thousands of Follies buttons - not to mention reorganizing the copy room & consolidating
the shipping department. My weekly walks to the Amado post office provided the opportunity to enjoy leisure strolls on Palm Canyon & Indian Canyon Drives. The postal workers soon came to recognize me - waving me through, knowing I would be
sending pre-stamped, registered, certified letters & their stamp of acceptance was all that was needed - we never ran out of postal supplies. I would be able to tell production assistants & dressers the exact cabinet & shelf when searching
for: desk accessories, sealing & gaff tape, legal & letter manila & hanging folders, ring binders & tab dividers; shipping boxes, copy paper, & other needed supplies.
One of the standard practices when an employee was to be terminated was to take the "Walk of Shame" to the HR Director's office and then be ushered out the backdoor. Another practice was to be escorted from the building by the director never to be heard from again. There were many times that I wanted to wish the departing employee "luck", but felt it would alter the sombre mood of their termination.
Eric followed later by Brent were two of our talented IT people you would notify through a Help Desk form that would be electronically sent from your computer each time the toner or staple cartridges had to be replaced, the waste disposal box or hole punch bin needed to be emptied, or major misfeeds & malfunctions bring a sudden unexpected and inconvenient pause to your print job. A number of times I'd rush to Groups and have them send the work order when my computer did strange things. How they were able to connect everyone in the administrative offices, the backstage, cast dressing rooms, audio & sound booths, box office, Reservations, Groups, Wardrobe departments and keep them running through miles of cable is a miracle - that's not counting Mr. M's office, his assistants offices, the Green Room and guest stars dressing rooms. The copier was linked to our computer system and was capable of printing on both sides, 4-color copies, hole punching, stapling and collating. It was especially inconvenient when you're printing scores of a multi-page double-sided employee handbook requiring punched holes and the toner dies - resulting in jobs being added to the steadily growing number waiting in the queue until the cartridge was replaced.
When Reservation agent Don & his partner Bob returned from NJ having liquidated Bob's late mother's estate, he noticed that the new multi-media specialist, Avi, was not very talkative, short in responses & overly
reserved in manner - asking inquisitively, "Is it me?". . .where upon I confirmed his worst fears & agreed. . ."Yes, yes it's you!" Avi was a quiet person by nature but made the Follies online presence come alive with movement, annimation & music
creating an outstanding visual presentation making the Follies look fabulous!
Opening days I could expect to be inundated by tons of floral arrangements. With cast members and guest stars receiving multiple arrangements each the Reception lobby soon was overflowing with flowers and scented the air - Ah! The sweet smell of success! I remember when a presentation bouquet was delivered for Ms. Ballard - just beautiful. The sorry part was that her allergies kept her away from flowers. Ms. Ballard had a nickname for me - Sugar!
During one of my routine rounds I found a dog wandering loose in the Green Room. Being a dog-lover I knelt down to pet her - soon to be asked - who are you? Of course I told Ms. Gore, you don't have to introduce yourself - but she did introduce me to Billie - as in Holiday.
Shari was our Group Sales Director with a background in radio broadcasting. Returning to her office one afternoon she recognized Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers at the Reception Desk and struck up a cordial conversation. You never knew who was going to walk in or call - I enjoyed the excitement of being a part of the entertainment industry.
"Give 'Em What They Want" was our theme
celebrating Burlesque for Follies 14 Season and created quite a reaction when members of church groups would call and complain. I remember one caller expressing her shock when she heard the word "Erection" used 37 times by the emcee. My explanation
to her that bawdiness and risqué language were trademarks of Burlesque didn't satisfy her. Why do you go to a show saluting Burlesque and then complain that it was smutty and filled with fowl language? People never cease to amaze me!
Mr. Blackwell was very proper - I remember his companion assisting him during his visit to Reception. Mr. Blackwell was escorted to a seat while his assistant spoke to me - Mr. Blackwell sat unaffected and oblivious to the flurry of activity of delivery people, production crew, interviews, repairmen, job applicants all converging on the Follies Mission Control Center on their way to Purchasing, Accounting, HR, Marketing, House Manager office, IT, Bookkeeping, Reservations, or Groups. But he probably didn't notice the steady stream of reservation agents on their way to or from the box office and group leaders coming to make arrangements or payments and set dates for their next excursion to the Follies. It was controlled chaos but it all worked - The Follies Way!
Plaza Las Flores had great acoustics and often I would hear John Davidson warming up for his act with vocal scales and exercises. Songstress Judy Bell found that the downstairs restroom provided a great echo chamber and Peter Marshall & Leslie Gore would walk their dogs in the courtyard we shared with the Welwood Library.
Each time cast member Wayne would call I would use the words "inimitable" or "incomparable" when announcing his call to the intended party. Our German cast member Natascha would always send holiday postcards featuring her Follies Pretty Girl costume. Hank & Dick provided the Follies with their drag numbers - Carmen Miranda & Cher, were popular roles soon to be followed by Richard & his Dancing Queen of ABBA fame. At the Follies Blow-Out sale I was able to purchase the porter's hat Richard wore in the 40's Chattanooga Choo-Choo number with Leila during the Follies 14 Season - complete with identity label.
Judy was Marketing Coordinator and Mary's assistant. She would provide me with projects ranging from
the preparation of guest star presents to proofreading ads, newsletters, press releases, & Follies programs. She had an authoritarian air about her reminiscent of a warden at a women's prison or the mother superior at a convent of cloistered
nuns. Soon after joining the Follies she stood over my shoulder - instructing me on computers and the project I would be completing - I reminded her that Mac & me go back 25 years after she became alarmed at my use of key cap commands.
Susan Anton was my favorite performer. She radiates warmth and charm. Each time we'd cross paths she was friendly and personable. At the Closing Night Party she insisted on having a photo taken with me to commemorate the final curtain call of The Palm Springs Follies.
There were always surprises at the front desk. Reservation Manager Todd loved to bake and bring in pastries, cakes, cookies and other treats to share with his co-workers. I remember when he brought in his holiday Bourbon Balls - Mary confiscated the few left after she found out that he poured most of a bourbon bottle as a final touch - what a great way to start the day! Lead Usher Erwin once brought in a box of chocolates & I was able to consume four of the tasty treats before Mary found that each little foiled wrapped chocolate bottle contained whiskey, rye, rum or bourbon - that was an eye opener! Reservations always featured something to eat - agents would bring in appetizers, dips & chips, cookies, canapés, cakes, pies, casseroles - it was an ever changing banquet of delicacies.
Special treats were offered by Ambassadors Barbara & Marilyn with homemade lemon bars & assorted cookies, muffins, and breads - I would bring bushel baskets of oranges, lemons & grapefruits - sending an email announcing that we had "Fruit at Reception!" Boxes of chocolates would always be a prized treat and soon vanish with the steady stream of passing employees. George Papas, one of our dear patrons always hosted a pizza & pie party and an ice cream soda social for the Follies people. He had recently been widowed and enjoyed the company of our staff while he booked a number of groups to upcoming Follies performances - his generosity would usually have him paying for the tickets that he freely handed out at senior centers & mobile home parks. His excursions included performances at the McCallum & Annenberg Theaters where he enjoyed the shows with his chosen family members - what a guy!
Members of the Follies staff were trained in First Aid procedures in preparation for accidents & medical emergencies. My first year, I remember Kate walking in during the show's intermission announcing, "Well, we had our first heart attack!" The Follies employees were ready and willing to offer assistance when needed and provided comfort when necessary - your actions & dedication were heroic to a number of our patrons.
Every Follies 23rd season poster signed by the cast & available at the concession stand carried a "Thank You" message written by me. If you're lucky to have one of these mementos you may not have my signature but it has my fingerprints all over it!
Dolores once asked me what disappointments I had when we sold the business in 2000 - without missing a beat I exclaimed, "Employees!" We had gone through armies of: account executives; press operators; delivery people; office help; typesetters; graphic designers - and there was only a handful that were worth their weight in gold. It was no wonder that the Follies had such a high turnover rate of employees - with some lasting only a couple of hours or a few days - it wasn't that the work was difficult - it had to follow policy & procedure - and any variance of the Follies Way - could ultimately lead to termination - and it often did!
Mr. M was never short on words but I saw that he was visibly moved during the memorial service for one of our cast members who died within a day of the season's final show. For weeks she had been taking lay-down breaks during performances, to conserve her strength & appeared for her baton twirling and acrobatic dancing numbers when called. A real trooper who did what she enjoyed doing - right up to the end - Maxine Asbury - what a performer!
On Fridays I would send an email to Mark who handled the reception desk on weekends. Normally, I would let him know what things needed to be done and give him an update on whatever projects were at hand. Entering the time clock codes for each employee was his main task. I would write the codes next to each day of the week for each worker. His job was to enter a code for each day - tedious and detailed. It was great when we started addressing messages alluding to a number of musicals and include banter between the two characters in the play. One week he'd be Mayor Shin & I'd be Prof. Hill from "Music Man" or I'd be Auntie Mame & he'd be Patrick Dennis . . . Madame Rose & Louise (Gypsy) . . . Golda & Teveya (Fiddler on the Roof) we kept this going right up to the end.
When President Clinton had lunch at the restaurant in front of the theatre everyone was wondering what he ate and if it was on his diet. I didn't see him but the Secret Service had a presence that afternoon.
Surveillance cameras were installed throughout the administrative offices and we were told that they would record the everyday activity at the Follies. I made it a point that upon entering the Reception lobby to greet the camera's lens with a full stage bow followed by the queen's wave (remember, hand not above the tiara). Often, I would remind fellow employees of the camera mounted on the wall and they would provide the recorder with gestures complete with their own personal theatrical flair and bravado - or dance routines that demonstrated their old hoofer days long gone. Reservations agent Renee was especially keen with her facial expressions and one finger salutes.
Delivery people would make frequent daily stops at the Follies office. One FedEx man had remarked on my show-day glitzy cuff-links & was speechless when upon delivering two pizza sized boxes I announced that my new set of cuff-links arrived - actually they were cybals that were props for one of the ensemble's dance numbers. David our UPS driver was incredible - the service he provided the Follies was outstanding - he would go that extra mile knowing that many of our deliveries were overnight express & time sensitive for the production to proceed without any unforeseen interruption to the Follies Way.
When John Davidson would visit the administrative offices he always would shake my hand and remind me that he's John Davidson.
He had a definite effect on the Red Hat Society women when he joined them for lunch at Matchbox restaurant looking dashing in his red fedora.
When I received a call from a movie producer wanting to speak with Mr. M regarding the making of a "feel good" movie based on the Follies, my mind raced as to who I would want to appear in such a film. I pictured the movie's cast to include a feisty Rita Moreno (a mixture of her streetwise role of Anita in "West Side Story" and her comedic disillusionment of Googi Gomez in the "The Ritz." Whoopi Goldberg could reprise her role as an aging Dolores of the "Sister Act" movies plus the tenacity of "The View". Shirley McLain would lend her matriarchal role of "Terms of Endearment" with the dance energy of "Sweet Charity" to bring the production to life - what a movie that would be! Of course, the role of Mr. M would have to include an actor with the cutting wit of Don Rickles, the suave delivery of Bob Hope, and the comedic timing of Robin Williams - a tall order for the casting agents.
The Follies final season had a number of interested producers calling from Houston, Portland, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas regarding the fate of the Plaza Theatre. Actor Hugh O'Brien having seen the Follies on a number of occasions, voiced his concern about the production and its announced closing. I even hoped that local resident, Barry Manilow and Bette Midler would take over the theatre and reprise their musical act that they perfected together many years ago. That would be a hoot!
As the closing
date approached the Reservations Department loosened their grip on office decorum. One of the agents brought her high heels in for another agent to wear to the Closing Night Party - I found it strange that the men took turns walking in them - parading
around the Reception center - wondering how women could walk in such footwear!
The elevator would malfunction every now and then - one time one of our stitchers was caught between floors. I called down to her, "Don't worry, you're on the clock!" Another time, one employee who started at 7AM was held captive until others arrived - luckily, she was salaried.
Shadowing is when an employee follows an assistant stage manager backstage during a performance. You really get to see and appreciate how they pull off flawless shows in such an antiquated and inadequate facility. They literally are creating magic on stage. The Plaza Theatre was built for movies and as such there are no wing-spaces; dressing rooms; light or audio booths; and storage space. It was normal procedure to hang the headdresses & 40 pound backpacks overhead in what little room there was or store them in the Green Room until the next show. My hat's off to production manager Leah and all the stage mangers, stage crew, and dressers for doing the impossible. Your teamwork was inspirational!
Valor Medallions and Service Bars were presented at the end of each season to employees personally by Mr. M & Mary as they verbally thanked each one and extended a heartfelt handshake or a warm embrace for a job
well done. To quote the letter that accompanied the award at the final season, "The Follies Medallion Service Bar is a symbolic remembrance that harkens back to year one of our journey and of our heartfelt appreciation for your commitment to
excellence and dedication to this international theatrical legend you have helped create." Luckily, as a child I assembled rosaries and the techniques I honed were useful in the preparation of the awards at the end of each season (those little
jump rings between the bars can be tricky). I was even able to practice & perfect my gift wrapping, ribbon curling & bow making abilities consistantly with trade show gifts, Ambassador give-a-ways, promotional items, presentation gifts,
VIP and Executive Platinum gift bags, appreciation presents, prizes, table centerpieces for the Red Hat luncheons - to name a few of my responsibilities. In my childhood, mother placed me in charge of the wrapping of all gifts and presents since I demonstrated
a creative flair at an early age.
While assembling the Valor Medallions & Bars for the last time, Vincent passed my desk noting that I looked like I was having fun - I lamented after him - darn, I was going for insipid! It was always fun no matter what I was tasked with - remember, we make our own reality and suffering is optional!
One season Mary requested my help with the lobby holiday decorations. She had a decorator come in and finalized the design and it was my responsibility to create the area where the Christmas tree would stand. Yards and yards of silver Mylar, miles of mirrors on strings, bolts of silver lame brought the corner to life and even surprised me at how good it looked. When working at the Follies you never know when Fairy Dust will be called for - so I kept a large supply on hand at all times.
Dolores was Sales and Ambassador Director - not only did she oversee Groups & Reservations but directed a team of representatives in their presentations throughout the local region at country
clubs, senior centers and retirement compounds. Knowing of my teaching background, Dolores asked my advice for her daughter, Natalie who was studying to be a teacher - I told her to have her buy a flak jacket & get a tetanus shot. Natalie was
one of the recipients of a DBA scholarship years before and is currently employed in Las Vegas as a high school instructor. Tons of office supplies, furniture and equipment were given to her for classes & departmental needs when the Follies liquidated
their inventory. A number of local charities, schools, and thrift stores benefited with their growing inventory of donations and the many community organizations, youth groups & senior centers welcomed the Follies generosity with open arms!
The Event Coordinator at the Follies choreographed meetings between individuals and departments to ensure the Follies Way was running smoothly. I remember once Mr. M strolled through the offices and came across her elbow deep in meeting schedules - and remarked to him - How did Ziegfeld do it without computers and spreadsheets? - that's a mystery still to be answered.
& Loretta were our street ambassadors - their job was to stand in front of the Plaza Theatre during the weekly evening VillageFest & afternoons encouraging passers-by to see the Follies. Allan had the charm of a snakeskin oil peddler of the old
west as he ushered scores of people to the box office for tickets & information all the time non-stop with a steady stream of banter ending with him introducing the agent manning the box office to the soon-to-be Follies ticket holder. I remember
when our theme was "Gotta Dance" - I had a number of usher applicants worried when I asked them if they wanted to be in a tutu, mantilla or grass skirt since we were carrying the show's theme to include many schools of dance expressions. Loretta would
refer to me as "Fabulous Jim" since my phone personality earned me the unofficial title of "the voice of the Follies!" - & my collection of colorful dress shirts & ties that I would sport each show day added to the smoke & mirrors - Presentation
Kate was House Manager and directed as many as 36 ushers - each uniformed & supplied with flashlights to aid in seating patrons. Inventory of concession stand supplies was a weekly affair & take hours of counting & sorting of each holiday ornament, candy bar, size & color & amount of t-shirts, sweatshirts, Follies & guest star's CDs, guest star's books, Follies: cups, popcorn bags, backpacks, mugs, postcards, posters, buttons, etc - a number of times I helped with the tedious task. Jill replaced Kate upon retiring which was great - Jill was the one who taught me the switchboard & the Follies Way. I remember my first day she came up to me and inquired how things were going, I responded, "I'm having too much fun!" In childhood my nieces & I would role play: office workers, investors, policemen, bank tellers, shoppers, sales clerks, cashiers, job applicants, bosses - perfect training in preparation for my role at the Follies. Kate returned for season 23 and it was good to see her resume her old post and share the final year of the Follies memories with me!
The grand finale at the Follies would include a huge inflatable - after a brief blackout on stage a large American eagle would appear sporting Mr. M's face and Mr. Markowitz would relish in the moment with the audience - arms raised above his head in victory - similar to the pope's gesture but with clenched fists not opened hands. The eagle's wings stretched across the entire stage as if to embrace the cast gathered in front making their final curtain call bows. Confetti would spray from the air cannons and later replaced with hundreds of balloons dropped from the ceiling after the singing of the Star Spangled Banner - Wow! Our patriotic finale would bring audiences to their feet with sustained standing ovations. The Follies would leave them with lasting memories especially when our cast would personally thank the attendees on exiting the theatre lobby. The Follies was a first class, top-rated production and attained international fame that proved the early critics wrong, including Sonny Bono - people will pay to see old ladies legs!