Dancing Through Broadway's Golden Age


Paula Lloyd was a Broadway dancer during the "Golden Age of American Musicals". She appeared on Broadway in Annie Get Your Gun, Hello, Dolly!, Anyone Can Whistle and others. She has great stories about Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Mary Martin and others.

If you thumb through Playbills from many of the major Broadway shows of the 1960s - including Hello, Dolly!, Take Me Along, Anyone Can Whistle and 110 in the Shade - chances are you'll encounter the name Paula Lloyd in the dance ensembles.

Now living in Ventura, California, Paula Lloyd Atkin took time to remember her part of the Golden Age. She has the moves of a dancer - grace and agility - and her eyes light up when she talks about her time as a "gypsy" on Broadway.

"The last time I was in New York and I was going to get some tickets for a show, I thought David Merrick's office was in the building across the street. When I went in, the doorman said Merrick hadn't been in the building for quite a few years. We talked about the shows I was in and he said, 'Oh, you were in the Golden Age.' "

Paula started taking dancing lessons very young. She joined the Ballet Ruse de Monte Carlo. "When they needed dancers for the movies, they called us. We were only 14 and 15 years old." One of the movies was Mae West's The Heat Is On. "She didn't want any of the females on the set when she was doing a number. It could only be men. You couldn't even stand and watch. She didn't want ANY women around watching her."

In South America, with Eliso Lonso and the Cuban Ballet Company, Paula went to Mexico and they did very well - until the company manager walked off with the money. Then the company went on to Panama, Costa Rica and Chile.

Paula remembers, "We never got paid for two years. We never got new toe shoes, so we took the airsick bags and put them in the end of the shoes. The shoes got so worn that sometimes the paper would go flying out during a performance. We'd go to one town, and one poor man named Aristotle with the company would have to stay behind until we could pay the hotel bill. Lucky for us the hotels were continental, so we got meals with the room."

Paula's mother became ill, and Paula left the ballet to help care for her. "While I was in New York, I did Radio City and television. I did the Garry Moore Show, Jack Carter's show, and, of course, we all did Ed Sullivan because he always had the Broadway shows on. I used to go to Radio City, and I was amazed at how they could all kick like that; each was a difference height, a different age - there was even a mother and a daughter - and the illusion was that they all kicked the same height. I did a ballet at Radio City on Labor Day Weekend once. Although everyone else had the day off, my partner and I had to do five shows that day. I had bleeding toes when that was over!"

On Broadway

"My first Broadway show was Annie Get Your Gun, where I met my husband, who was stage manager for Rodgers and Hammerstein, and they produced Annie (Get Your Gun).

"I replaced one of the girls who went to Italy. So I went in for three months from the ballet. It was nerve wracking. Luckily, the dance captain was a man I knew from the ballet company. I had inside of a week to learn the role and only one time to dance with the ensemble. Ethel Merman was marvelous. She was really good. She was a natural singer - no mikes. Anybody who had lines or had anything to do with her had to rehearse with her just before the show. She always had to be introduced to everybody new. You had to go to her dressing room. She didn't want to be on stage with someone she didn't know."

"The shows couldn't go past 11pm because the stagehands and musicians would get overtime. But out of town you would rehearse, do the show, and then have rehearsals afterwards until three or four in the morning. Then the next day you would get new dialogue or new numbers. You got more money if you had something special to do. I understudied small parts. Merman never got sick."

"During a run you'd get home around 11:30pm or a quarter to twelve. I'd watch Johnny Carson and go to bed at one or two. Then I had to get up at six to get my little boy to school. Then I'd go back to bed. On matinee days, I used to go home and cook dinner between shows."

"Quick changes in the wings were always a problem. There was no place to go sometimes. Sometimes you have to go down to the basement to cross over. The Shubert only had two dressing rooms near the stage. So you had to change in the wings, right where you where, hoping you had the right clothes on! The stagehands were right there changing the scenery while you were trying to change your clothes. In Annie Get Your Gun, they had a terrible time with the scenery. We couldn't do a show for two days".

"Stage managers can make the show or not, how they give the cues and keep a show up. I still get Christmas cards from some of the stage managers I worked with. Sometimes we'd have to vamp while they were changing the scenery. Sometimes for a long time".

"I was in a show called Love Life with Nanette Fabray and Ray Middleton. We were doing all these previews for the backers, and once one of the boys had more to drink than eat. He picked up Melissa Hayden and had her on his shoulders, swung her around, and her leg hit Nanette and knocked her out cold. That, of course, was a disaster. Luckily, it wasn't anything serious, but, for a moment, it was disaster".

"I don't know why that show didn't make it. Maybe it just didn't have enough zing to it. Three of us dancers gave our notice opening night - which was a no-no - because we wanted to go to Cuba. But we didn't know from Broadway!"

"Alan Jay Lerner, who wrote the lyrics and book for Love Life, was a wonderful person. Not temperamental. Really nice. The dances in that show were tough".

"I was in the revival of On Your Toes. George Abbot directed it -and he was great. He had this incredible energy. All he wanted to do after the show was to go ballroom dancing with the all the girls. He'd always ask us, 'Do you want to go dancing? Do you want to go dancing?'"

"I think one of the harder Broadway shows I did was Anyone Can Whistle. It was a great show, and, of course, we all knew it wouldn't last because the dressing rooms were absolutely fabulous and we all had solos, and it was a great creative group - Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Herb Ross. Angela Lansbury, the star of the show, was an absolute darling. Dancers used to do what we call a bar warm-up before every show. And Angela would come down every night before the performance and do a bar with me. I don't think many people know that she was that dedicated as a dancer."

"Audiences liked the show, but it just didn't have it. We loved it. It was a little experimental - like another show, Christine. About that show, people would say, 'How can you start a show in a cemetery?'"

"The 'Cookie Ballet' in Anyone Can Whistle was fun. We played inmates from an insane asylum, and we all had solos, which are always nice to do on Broadway! (Choreographer) Herb Ross was a doll. I knew him from the ballet. (Composer and lyricist) Stephen Sondheim and (librettist) Arthur Laurents went all the way back to West Side Story and were great to work with, too. NO temperament."

"The last performance of that show - and any show - was really sad. Every show is like a family. You're really close. Sometimes you're up all night long rehearsing new dances and songs. Even though you had your own homes and families, you always had parties together on the weekend. And then the show closes, and you never see each other again. You keep going and everybody goes their own way, doing their own thing. It was constant work just keeping up with the people you knew."

"Last shows are really emotional. But, actually, I didn't do that many because David Merrick was always pulling me out of one show to do another!. I did openings - not closings!"

The mega-hit Hello, Dolly! with Carol Channing is also on Paula's resume: "I didn't do Dolly! in Detroit during the first tryouts. I joined the company in Washington, pre-Broadway. I had to swing the show because people were getting sick. I took it into New York. I knew Dolly! would be a hit because of the music, the dances and the reception out of town. I don't think we knew just how big of a hit it was, though. How many people did it? Ethel Merman, Mary Martin..."

"The Broadway company was just great. Charles Nelson Reilly was Cornelius Hackel. I knew him from New Faces - and he was a darling. In Dolly!, the ensemble's first big number is "Put On Your Sunday Clothes", and it stopped the show. In a Broadway show you would never come back and do an encore - in a ballet you could do a little reprise. On Broadway, if the number ends, and it's supposed to go into dialogue you just have to stand, and stand and stand... which happened with "Sunday Clothes". It was exciting."

"With long runs, like Dolly!, there's still that excitement when you hear the overture, and the curtain goes up - and there's always somebody really spontaneous in the cast to keep you on your toes."

Paula also appeared in the Jackie Gleason hit Take Me Along. "Initially, Jackie Gleason wanted to be the highest paid star on Broadway. Toots Shore used to always send him cakes and pies, and Jackie would call me up and say, 'I'm not eating or drinking. I'm on a diet.' So he'd give the food to us - the singers and dancers. It was fun. He was really, really nice. Very comfortable. I was also dance captain on this show, and if I had to give him corrections for a dance number he would take them."

"He and Walter Pidgeon, his co-star, worked fine together. It was a nice show. Onna White did the choreography. There was a ballet that Herb Ross did, and he never got credit for it. Once, Johnny Nolan had to go on when there was no one else who could fill in for the dance part - of one of the hookers. The audiences never figured it out. I had to do the same thing once in Cuba. One of the boys got sick, so I had to do his part. I nearly couldn't walk for two months after doing that."

"During Jackie's big entrance number, "Sid Old Kid", his entrance was supposed to be from stage right, which meant than he had to cross behind the scenery and come on a trolley. One of us always made sure that he wouldn't trip because it was dark back there. He started getting bored and started drinking and wanted out of the show, and he just couldn't make it. So we had to put him on stage left. The boys didn't know where he was coming from, and they'd look here and there - and then there he was. Once he did the whole number off the trolley! He was such a nice person and very talented. When he did the number "Little Green Snake" - when he was supposed to be drunk in the play - he was brilliant. But when he actually drank, it was terrible."

Paula remembers that once during the title song in Take Me Along's second act, a man got into the theater during a matinee at the Shubert: "The boxes were close to the front of the stage. One of the stagehands saw this man sitting in a box pull out a gun. So the stagehand ran around and grabbed him and pulled him out. The sad thing is that they had to let him go - just walk down the street. We didn't know about it until we saw the stage hand run off."

Choreographers

"I worked with Jerome Robbins in London in Fancy Free. In the ballet, Anthony Tudor was my favorite. On Broadway, I guess I would have to say it was Jerome Robbins. He was very, very difficult. He's a perfectionist. He doesn't even want your finger bent the wrong way. And he makes you look good. What's good for you is good for him and good for the show."

"Agnes De Mille wrote about me in two books. She's very stylized. You have to do exactly her style. I enjoyed working with her. If she didn't think you were right for the show, she'd say, 'Oh, this show isn't right for you.' I knew her from the ballet. I worked with her on my last show, 110 In The Shade, and I went with it on the road.

"Carnival! brought Gower Champion out from Hollywood. The show wasn't so much like chorus dancing, there were individual carnival roles. The stars we re Anna Maria Alberghetti and Jerry Orbach."

"I didn't work with Bob Fosse, but I knew him. He was more of a perfectionist than Jerry Robbins. He never asked anybody to do anything he couldn't do, which was good."

Original Cast Albums

"Albums were recorded all day long on a Sunday from 9am. The pay was very good. We got a week's salary for one day. How long you stayed at the recording depended on the show. If there were lot of chorus numbers you could stay the whole day. Recording Anyone Can Whistle, we did our numbers first. We still got paid for the whole day. Sometimes they wouldn't let you leave in case they wanted another take. Sometimes you had to do numbers again and again - four, five, six times."

"We could listen to the playbacks. It was fun and relaxing. We had to pay for our own copies of the recording when they came out. And the only time you got free food was in the movies - unless Gleason gave you food."

"I think they did a good job of capturing the shows. But a lot of numbers weren't recorded - like the ballet in Take Me Along and some of the dance numbers in Anyone Can Whistle.

"It was fun to see the performances offstage and out of costume. The composers and musical conductors were always there, and if they didn't like a level or a take they would have a say so. It was hard not to dance when they're recording the dance numbers because we had to stay near the mikes. But you found yourself doing a movement to emphasize a note. You went through it with your mind. They would make little changes, but not enough for you to notice."

"Sometimes temperament would come in if the stars didn't like the way they sounded. They'd ask to re-record it."

Today

"The dancers in those days were so marvelous, and it was so much fun. They were your buddies and your friends, and we reminisce that the shows aren't what they used to be. There was a show, Steel Pier, that I saw last year, and it had the same kind of dancing element that they did years ago."

"Merman used to say we were the frame and she was the picture and without the frame you don't have a picture."



The preceding interview was contributed by John Arnold. I'd like to thank John for sharing the conversation with Paula with those of us at Talkin' Broadway. Thanks John and Paula!


See you Sunday!

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