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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The "Oklahoma" Battle-Axes.

The 1943 Broadway musical "Oklahoma!" begins with the curtain going up revealing an old woman sitting on a stool, churning butter.
In 1943, this was considered revolutionary.
Before "Oklahoma!", virtually every Broadway musical began with the curtain going up revealing a group of singing and dancing chorus girls.
Not "Oklahoma!".
An old woman, sitting on a stool, churning butter.
Then a young cowboy ambles onstage and sings "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'"
To the old woman, sitting on the stool, churning butter.
The simplicity of this overwhelmed it's 1943 audience.
The old woman was named Aunt Eller.
She was "Oklahoma!"'s battle-axe.
The first Aunt Eller was an actress named Betty Garde.
Betty Garde was a formidable figure.
She was nobody to be messed with.
I was way too young to see Betty Garde as Aunt Eller.
But I know that she was nobody to be messed with.
Because I remember her in a memorable episode of "The Honeymooners", in which the Kramdens hired a maid, because Ralph got laid off from the bus company, and Alice got a job, leaving Ralph unable to handle the housework.
That maid was played by Betty Garde.
Ralph Kramden decided to mess with her by requiring her to respond to any of his requests with "Very good,sir".
He never got his "Very good sir".
All he got from Betty was "O-kay", which made Ralph fume.
It was priceless.
The battle-axe who played Aunt Eller in the movie of 'Oklahoma!" was Charlotte Greenwood, who was quite charming in "Oklahoma!"
She was noted as a singer and dancer.
Particularly for her high kicks.
Where she was really a great battle-axe was in the 1943 movie "The Gang's All Here", where she played the hen-pecking wife of Edward Everett Horton, who was not at all resistant to the wiles of Carmen Miranda.
The scenes the three of them had were a major hoot.
She was also a great battle-axe Juno, in the Broadway musical "Out of This World", where all the characters were Greek Gods and Goddesses.
This made her the only battle-axe Goddess on record.
Andrea Martin played the same role in the City Center revival.
The 1979 Broadway revival of "Oklahoma! had Mary Wickes play Aunt Eller.
Mary Wickes.
Tons of battle-axe credits.
Nurse Preen in the play and movie of "The Man Who Came To Dinner".
Miss Cathcart on the "Dennis the Menace" TV series.
Liz, Danny Thomas's press agent on "Make Room For Daddy".
Tons of credits.
All battle-axes.
She kind of phoned it in with "Oklahoma!"
At least the night I saw it.
She was also the "Meet Me In St. Louis" battle-axe.
Not the movie or the stage show.
In life.
Years ago, I was changing planes at the St.Louis airport, on my way to Los Angeles.
I get to my gate,and immediately spot Mary Wickes sitting across from me, also waiting to get on the plane.
I immediately approach her and introduce myself, knowing her name, and using it, "Mary Wickes!!", complimenting her on her career profusely.
She looked up at me and literally, derisively, replied "Hhmmpphh!!!!
I didn't brandish myself for invading her privacy.
I simply regarded her as a major battle-axe, and actually far worse.

Andrea Martin also played Aunt Eller on Broadway.
I told you that you haven't heard the last of her.


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*****

2 comments:

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    ReplyDelete
  2. You might be qualified to get a Apple iPhone 7.

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Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at macchus999@aol.com. Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."