Bill Ayers...The Best Second Actor I Ever Met!
Bill Ayers is long gone from this world. I met him in 1976, and even then he was an old codger, maybe about 75 years old. He worked in vaudeville and after that died, he travelled America in touring companies as a stage manager or any kind of work he could get in the theatre. He loved Broadway more than anyone I have ever known. He also knew everyone on Broadway and he knew everything about the theatre.
We hung around a gypsy bar called Jimmy Rays on Eighth Avenue and Forty-Sixth Street. (It's burned down since) Bill never, ever, had any money, but he was a generous soul. We met daily at Jimmy Rays or Sardi's for a beer and to talk theatre. He would get me crazy auditions or run over to Equity during the day to see what was being cast and the latest on theatre news. I never knew what second acting was until I met Bill, and he was the king of second acters, and he never got thrown out of a theatre. One day, he asks do I want to go see some musical? I say sure. He says, well, let me tell you the storyline of act one. He does, and then at around nine P.M., at intermission, we walk to the theatre. He knew every single house manager and usher on Broadway. He would walk up to them and they would hand him two programs with the seat numbers on them. I can't tell you how many times we did this, but it was a lot of fun. Still, I am curious to see act one of Hello Dolly to this day.
Bill also taught me to play bridge, and we had games with fellow gypsys that lasted eighteen hours, or even longer. He once cooked sauerkraut and pork for a bridge game and the smell of it permeated the halls of my apartment building for days. I can still smell it! Shelly DeSai was one of the players. Bill and I were so proud of Shelly when he landed a role in A Talent for Murder on Broadway starring Cluadette Colbert. And Shelly was good, well, from what I saw anyhow, in the second act. ; )
Bill died about ten years ago in his sleep. He was in his eighties. The memorial service was held at some church in Hell's Kitchen on West Forty-Sixth Street. A gathering of actors came, and told their tales of the great Bill Ayers. I talked about bridge and the King of the second actors. The service closed with a lovely young voice singing a capella.
But that was long ago and it seems so far back in time. Yet, each time I am in New York, I drop by Barrymores on Forty-Fifth. I order my glass of Becks from the pert and smiling bartendress. And every time I see her, I am transported back in time, for it was her beautiful voice that is forever etched in my memory. I can still hear her singing:
And that's my home
Next time you are hangin' around B'way, head over to Barrymores and say hello to Suzy. Tell her V.J. sent ya. I guarantee a smile.