Movies, Television and Broadway
I had completed, Ask Any Girl at MGM and Career back at Paramount when I received a call from Frank Sinatra. "Hey kid, I want to do Can-Can. I like this! Do you like the music? Do you like Cole Porter? Do you want to dance"? My response was, oh my God! Yes!
What Frank didn't know was that the night I replaced Carol Haney in Pajama Game on Broadway was the night I had planned on quitting the show. Carol's record of durability was well known on Broadway and because of this I felt I would never get the opportunity for a starring role, so I had planned on going down to the Schubert theater that evening and applying as an understudy to Gwen Verdon. In fact, I had my notice in my pocket when I arrived at the theater and was informed that Carol had gone down due to an ankle injury and, as her understudy, I was immediately thrust into the starring role. I knew Can-Can front and backwards. I knew the Adam and Eve ballet, the French Lido numbers and I knew that there were two separate parts to the story, so Can-Can meant a lot to me.
"Oh my God, Frank! Yes. I will do it! How much time do we have to get ready? Two weeks, but what I want to do is play both parts". "You got it kid", Frank said. He immediately called up Buddy Addler, head of the studio and told him that I would do it, but they would have to combine the two parts for me. So the writers only had two weeks to get it together. I went into the rehearsal studio and it was pure murder trying to get back into shape.
Frank was a night person and would never shoot before noon which was fine with me. ('French hours' is what they call that type of schedule.) It worked out well, except during the World Series when we would all sit around the set wondering where Frank was and then we would spot him on television sitting in box seats at the fall classic. Whatever Frank wanted, Frank got. When the series was over we worked on French hours... twelve noon to 7:30 PM, which was great because if afforded me a life outside films.
I introduced Frank to Juliet Prowse, a beautiful, tall and fabulous dancer from South Africa and watched that love affair blossom on set and pretty soon they were engaged. I had introduced Mike Todd to Elizabeth Taylor while filming Around The World In 80 Days and they were married. So as a 'Matchmaker' (pun intended) I was batting 500... Frank and Juliet never consummated their engagement through marriage.
Frank never rehearsed, never shot a scene twice and rarely ever did more than one or two takes. So you had to be prepared when you did a scene with Francis Albert Sinatra, otherwise you might only get one chance. But, Frank was fun - on and off the set.
During filming I chewed gum excessively and I was always searching for a place to put my gum before I did a scene. Frank had noticed this and said, "Hey kid, put it here behind my ear. It'll help both of us". Very few people knew that Frank had been a forceps baby and had a large graphic scar behind one ear and was subject to makeup before his close ups. So the gum would serve a dual purpose and nobody was any wiser.
Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev came on set with tons of bodyguards... his and ours and a slew of politicians, US officials and studio heads who had already ordered us to do an entire can-can number for these elite guests. There was only one problem. The costumes were genuine French velvet and weighed a ton. We had to do these splits, turns and jumps in one full take with no breaks in between. I thought I would die! I was sure my heart would give out, so I can easily say that it was indeed a work of will.
The film would receive world-wide publicity because of Khrushchev's visit and the next day's newspapers carried an interesting quote from him. When asked what he thought of Can-Can, he replied, "The face of humanity is prettier than it's backside". The press asked me what I thought of his comment and I said that I thought he was just jealous and mad because we were wearing panties.
Skouras was head of 20th Century Fox and he was honoring Khrushchev. Both were from the Ukraine and they got into a heated discussion as to who was the better Russian. Skouras stood up and said, "I am a Russian from the Greek sector and I came to this wonderful country and I am head of a major film studio". Khrushchev retaliated by saying, "Look at me. I'm from the Ukraine and I am head of a wonderful country".
I liked Khrushchev and apparently the feeling was mutual, because right after I finished my next film, The Apartment, I was having lunch at Sardi's in New York and he was there, also. He sent a note to my table that read, "I have seen The Apartment and you have improved".