MIRACLE ON 44th STREET (Excerpt of "An Italian Immigrant" soon to be published)
Ever wonder about the little old lady behind the counter at the corner drugstore? Where did she come from? What kind of life did she lead? Lisa Jey Davis takes you on one such adventure, in the person of Nereide Francis Padalino – her mother – an Italian immigrant. Extend your circle, as you enjoy Nereide’s brief journey into show business, during World War II. http://www.extendedcircles.com/circlearchive.htm
Walking by the Astor Hotel on Broadway, I picked up a copy of Actor's Equity, a theatre trade magazine, which told of rehearsals and upcoming auditions. I noticed that a talent agency was auditioning for some plays on the 7th floor of the Sardy building on 44th street, across from the Shubert Theatre, so I went to check it out. I quickly learned that all the auditions were for summer stock up in the Catskills, and my heart sank. I couldn't go up to the Catskills, work for free, and support my mother at the same time!I got in the elevator to go down, and at the 5th floor, everyone from the audition got out. I thought I'd better get out and see what was happening! I followed everyone past a secretary into a huge waiting room. We waited, and waited. After sitting there for two and a half hours, I finally got the nerve to ask an old gentlemen next to me, "Pardon me, but who are we waiting for?"He said, "We're waiting to see Mr. Simpson"I replied, "Is anybody going to see him?"He said, "You're new. Why don't you go see the secretary and see if you can see Mr. JJ?"I didn't know who Mr. JJ was, but I figured he would be a good person to start with. I went over to the secretary, and asked her about it. She took my name "Nereide Padalino," and disappeared.
Ten minutes later she called my name and took me down a maze of passageways – lined with movie and theatre star photos. She led me into an impressive office with windows overlooking 44th Street. "Mr. JJ" was none other than JJ Shubert, and was sitting at his desk in his shirt sleeves. He stood up immediately and apologized, explaining that he tore his jacket on a nail and sent it down to the tailor to be fixed (in those days it was impolite to be in the presence of ladies without wearing your suit coat). "Well, Miss Pah-dah-lino," he attempted, "What can I do for you?" He smiled nicely.
"Well that's just it Mr. JJ. I sure hope you can do something for me! I have to get a job to help my mother, but I want to get into show business!" I blurted.
"Well, what can you do?" he asked.
I eagerly offered, "I had the lead in the high school play, and I sing in the church choir." Talk about an inexperienced, ingénue, country girl!He was sweet, nonetheless, as he said, "Come with me."
He stood up, took my hand, and led me down the hall to Simpson's room, where old Simpson was sitting there with a big grand piano. The big boss Mr. Shubert, told this schnook, who kept all those people waiting in the other room, "Simpson, play a few notes for the young lady."
Simpson played a few notes, and I did some trills for him, "Tra la la la." Mr. JJ said, "That's just fine." He took my hand again and led me back to his office. We sat down and he looked at me and said "Let me see what I can do for you. Why don't you give me your phone number and I will call you in a couple of days if I can find something." And that was it!I went home to Aunt Lib's house. It was already after 6pm and she was furious!"Young lady! Do you realize what time it is!? Where have you been!?" she screamed."
I was with Mr. JJ Shubert." I replied.
"Come off it!" she retorted, "You're in New York now! Who do you think you are, you hillbilly? Somebody just told you he was JJ Shubert! There are a lot of con artists out there now!""I swear! It was Mr. JJ!" I defended. I relayed the whole story about his office and where it was located. So, she called her best friend Eva. Eva had a niece who was one of the famous Rockettes.
She hung up the phone and huffed, "Eva said there is no way on earth you got in to see Mr. Shubert. Her niece said he is the hardest man in show business to get to see!""Well, he told me he's going to call me in a couple of days. He's going to see if he can find me a job." I responded.
"We'll see about that! You gotta be careful who you talk to!" She snapped.
After a couple of days, and no phone call, I went down to see Mr. JJ again.
I said directly, "Mr. JJ, you said you'd call me. I've been waiting! I've got to get some work!""You know Nereide," he said kindly, "This being June, there are no shows opening at all in the summer, except the summer stock in the mountains."
"Well, I can't wait. I have to get a job now. I have to help support my mother." I pleaded."
Well Nereide, what else can you do?" he asked hopefully.
"I took short-hand and typing in school. I can do some secretarial work," I said enthusiastically.
He called his secretary in. "Give this young girl a pad and a pencil," he said. "Take this down," he said in his dictation voice. He proceeded to dictate a very short letter of about three sentences. I was so nervous, I had to memorize it! I couldn't even write."
Okay. There's a typewriter out there. Type it up and bring it to me," he said in a mock-authoritative voice.
I went out and typed it. Would you believe I made three errors on it? I took it into him. He didn't say a word, he was so kind.
He asked, "How much were you making at your last job?" I only made eighteen dollars a week, but I lied and told him twenty. "Alright" he said, "You can start working here."
I should have been thrilled, but I was relentless. I reminded him "But, I want to get in show business."
"Well, nothing starts rehearsing until September. So, until then you can work here in the office," he answered me, closing the deal.
I settled quickly into my new job. I was responsible for typing the re-writes for the man who revised the operettas into modern language for the librettos. JJ was always sweet and very polite. He was like a father to me.
As time passed and summer was coming to a close, I asked, "Mr. JJ, when are they starting rehearsals? I am doing all the scores for these plays and things."
He asked "What do you want to do? You want to go with the cast of The Student Prince, Blossom Time, The Merry Widow or Gilbert and Sullivan?"I was so green, I said, "Well, who are Gilbert & Sullivan?"He said, "It's a repertory company. They do about eight to twelve plays."
I thought for a second and replied, "That sounds interesting, because then you wouldn't be bored with the same thing every night! I think that sounds like the one I want to do."
He smiled, and asked, "Are you sure my dear? It's a very hard life in show business."
I quickly replied, "I know but I've got to try it. I'm dying to get on the stage!"It was settled. Mr. JJ sent me to Murray Korman Photography Studio to get some professional photographs taken. He even had Murrary Korman send him the bill. I said goodbye, and I never saw Mr. JJ again.
I walked right into the chorus line of the Gilbert and Sullivan Repertory Company. I never even had to audition. My friends in the chorus later told me "We heard there was going to be an office stooly coming in." They soon learned I wasn't. I was so thrilled to be a part of it all and to live my dream. I worked very hard, and loved every moment.
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