A Stint in “Take Her, She’s Mine” on Broadway – 1961-62

In the summer of 1961, after sophomore year at the University of Notre Dame, I landed a lead role in Take Her, She’s Mine, by Phoebe and Henry Ephron, with Art Carney, Phyllis Thaxter and Elizabeth Ashley, under the direction of George Abbott and produced by Hal Prince.  I got the role Of Alex Loomis, a sarcastic Harvard guy in love with Mollie Michaelson, the role played by Ashley.

Art Carney

It didn’t last long, folks, because I got fired midway through the second act rehearsals in November (Richard Jordan took over the role).   I did get back in the show the following summer, however, after returning to Notre Dame to catch up with my classes.

Elizabeth Ashley

It had started after a wonderful agent named Hilary Holden, at the Deborah Coleman Agency, got me the audition that summer.  I recall standing in line with dozens of other guys in the stage-door alley of the Biltmore Theatre on 47th Street.  When it came my turn I went out on the stage and read a short scene with the stage manager.  For some reason I caught onto the sarcasm in the lines and, to my surprise, I could hear Abbott and Prince laughing out there in the darkened theater.  The next day Hilary telephoned me to say I’d gotten a callback.  And so it went, several times, until I actually got the role.

We began rehearsals that fall and I figured things were going pretty well.  The stage hands were laughing at my lines, a good sign.  But I was just turning twenty at the time and Liz Ashley, though just a few years older, was far more mature and sophisticated and confident that I was.  And of course she was a terrific actress on her way to becoming a great star.  And I could feel the end was coming…

George Abbott

We were in the middle of Act Two rehearsals.  The scene was a pizza parlor with Carney, the father; Ashley, the daughter, working there as a waitress; and me, the fiance.  I had a line to say and Carney was to ask her, “What’s so funny?”  But every time I said my line, Ashley stared back stone-faced until Carney shouted to director George Abbott, “How can I say my line unless she smiles?” At which point Liz turned to me and snapped, “Well, make it funny!”

That was it.  Producer Hal Prince called a break and bounded up on stage to tell me they were giving me two weeks’ pay.  “She has a run-of-the-play contract,” he said, referring to Ashley, “so obviously we have to let you go.”

Johnny Weissmuller as Jungle Jim with Marty Huston

I was crushed, of course.  Devastated.  Suddenly one of the cast members, Martin (Marty) Huston (who as a youngster had played Jungle Jim’s son in the TV show) came over and put his arm around my shoulder and shouted that he thought it was wrong to fire me and he was taking me across the street to the bar to get drunk.  And that is what we did.  I never forgot that gesture from Marty, who had been a child star and had enough stature to know he could get away with it.  We remained friends for a couple of years afterward.

(The television series of Jungle Jim, produced in 1955, starred Johnny Weissmuller; and Marty, 14, played his son Skipper.  He and the chimp “Tamba” were friends and played together like kids during rehearsal breaks.)

(During those rehearsals for Take Her, another young actor, Barry Primus,  also left the cast.  If I recall correctly, he just wasn’t right for the role in which he’d been cast; but in fact he continued on with a solid career, proving to be one of the best actors of his generation.)

Take Her, She’s Mine opened at the Biltmore on Dec. 21, 1961 and it would run for nearly a year.  In the spring, Judy Abbott called to ask if I wanted to return to play another role.  I was grateful, but had to wait until my classes at Notre Dame were over in June.  Then I did get into the play, in a very small role.  It was an interesting summer, however, to be racing around New York City taking classes in singing, Yoga and creative writing while also acting on Broadway.

By that time Marty Huston had replaced Joel Gray across the street as Buddy in Come Blow Your Horn, the hit comedy that was Neil Simon’s first play.  On those hot summer nights, Marty would dash out the stage door of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and we’d play stick ball with the stage hands right there on 47th Street.  Suddenly one of the guys would yell, “Marty, you’re on!” — and he’d race back through the door and keep running right onto the stage and back into the play in front of a huge audience.

He was an amazing guy, rough around the edges, full of life and laughter, never taking himself or anything else too seriously — and I should add that the girls always seemed to fall for him.  (Marty died of cancer in August 2001, at age sixty.)

There’s much more about all this, but that’s it for now.

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