THE FOLLIES MISSION CONTROL COMMAND CENTER
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!
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!