Monday, August 23, 2010

Mae West: Kathleen Freeman

It was 23 August 1922 when The Clipper announced that MAE WEST had returned to vaudeville and would be opening (again) at Proctor's Fifth Avenue Theatre starting that Monday. This was the same venue that had booked "Mae West and Sister" in its charming auditorium steps from Madison Square Park.
• • A laugh-getter who appeared with Mae in "Myra Breckinridge" [released in the USA on 24 June 1970] also had ties to variety. Chicago native Kathleen Freeman made her vaudeville debut at age 2, becoming a part of her parents' act.
• • Born on 17 February 1919, the heavy-set comedienne portrayed Bobby Dean Loner in the screen version of Gore Vidal's bestseller. The UCLA graduate's first goal had been to shine as a professional pianist but, after thoroughly enjoying her work with several stock productions, she changed gears. Kathleen Freeman once said: "I think comedy is more powerful than drama in the long run. Comedy is more difficult. It's very easy to make people cry."
• • She made her first motion picture appearance in 1948 at 29 years old. The reliable character actress was used as a comic foil by Jerry Lewis in several of his films. Her stocky figure, expressive face, energetic laugh, and supple voice-craft served her well, keeping her in demand and busy juggling parts on the silver screen, TV, and also on Broadway.
• • Kathleen Freeman, 82 years old, was cast in a Broadway production when she died in New York City during the month of August — — on 23 August 2001 — — of lung cancer. Engaged on stage until the very end, the octogenarian had given her final Tony nomination performance for her role as the piano player in Broadway's musical hit "The Full Monty" on August 18th, and five days later she was gone.
• • John Garcia, Executive Director/ Producer of "The Column" Awards, created an award in her honor. This prize is given to individuals who overcome personal, physical, or other major problems in their lives and continue to work in theater, whether behind or in front of the curtain. Kathleen Freeman embodied the true spirit of the Broadway gypsy: "The show must go on." Applause!

• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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