By Don Klein
I arrived at the local medical laboratory to have a blood test, It’s nothing special, I’ve been doing this routinely for years. Nevertheless the occasion this time brought back ancient memories.
It’s funny how life is. You are doing one thing and it reminds you of something completely unrelated and soon you are wandering in that pleasant old neighborhood: Memory Land. That’s what happened the other day.
After a short wait a receptionist called my name and led me into the catacomb-like sanctum of the hospital lab. She took me to a small room with a desk and a computer and pointed to a young woman who was waiting for me, The escort said, ”This is Amy. She’ll take care of you.”
At the sound of the name Amy I broke into a silly rendition of that old favorite of mine, “Once in Love with Amy, Always in Love With Amy.” The clerk behind the desk who was preparing the papers for me to sign before having my blood drawn was much too young to have remembered Ray Bolger in “Where’s Charley,” but she started to laugh at my singing. That happens a lot. I asked her, “Have you ever heard that song before?”
“Many times,” she answered pleasantly, but with a hint of the forbearance of a person who was listening to a repetitious old joke. I decided I had to better my status with her by asking, “Do you know where it is from?” She had a puzzled look on her face, “What do you mean ?” I responded “What show the song came from?”
She was about 30 years old and of course didn’t know. It was a hit song in show that was last performed on Broadway some three decades before she was born.
“It was sung by and danced to by Ray Bolger. Do you remember him?” I said. Her answer was expected “I think so. Wasn’t he the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.”
Of course she was right, but my memory of Ray Bolger is a bit different and her name resurrected memories. It goes back to Christmas time 1950 when I was a recruit taking basic training at Camp Edwards army base at the foot of Cape Cod near Hyannisport.
Because it was holiday time rigorous basic training was suspended and half the recruits were on leave during Christmas for a few days and the other half got New Year’s off. Since many of my Christian buddies wanted to spend time with their families during Christmas I volunteered to wait for a New Year’s leave.
At the same time “Where’s Charley” starring Ray Bolger was in the midst of it’s pre-Broadway run in Boston and someone associated with the show thought it would be a good idea to invite a group of GIs as guests during the holiday season. I guess there were many empty seats at that time.
“Where’s Charley” was a spoof about college life at the turn of the century in which someone had to impersonate an absent rich aunt. This version included music by the famous Frank Loesser and was destined for Broadway fame. “Once in Love with Amy” was a show stopping sequence performed by Ray Bolger, who won a Tony for his efforts.
When word got out I joined about thirty soldiers for the free show. We had early chow and left before 5 pm for the 2-1/2-hour drive to Boston. Curtain was at 8.30 in those days.
As luck would have it we started off in cold clear weather but we weren’t on the road very long when it started to snow. Soon we were in the midst of a mini-blizzard which covered all road signs and left crossroads unidentified for our half-witted driver, a farm boy for central Pennsylvania.
I figured we would not only miss the show because of the driver’s ignorance of the terrain now blanketed in snow making his written directions useless, but surely we would end up stranded on the side of the road for most of the night until the state police found us nearly frozen in our seats.
Despite all obstacles about four hours after we left Camp Edwards, the driver miraculously pulled the vehicle up in front of the theater. We had no idea how he got there, nor did he. Anyway they rushed us into the theater to the seats reserved for us and Ray Bolger was on stage in front of the curtain. The show had not started and he was going through some impromptu routines to keep the audience entertained while everyone had waited for us.
He saw us enter and said something like, “A-hah, there they are. Now we can begin the show.” We learned later that Bolger had refused to get on with the show until we arrived. He said there were a bunch of young men, most of whom were away from home for the first time at Christmas and the least he could do was wait for us. He then went on stage telling jokes, sharing stories and even dancing to keep the audience from getting restless because of the delay.
I was grateful he delayed the start of “Where’s Charley” until we got there but never gave it much more thought at the time. But when I got out of the army years later I remembered Bolger’s thoughtfulness and couldn’t help admiring him for being a willful man who was considerate of people who, while away during the holidays serving their country, thirsted for an enjoyable night out.
It was not a momentous act, but from then on every time I hear the name Amy I think fondly of Ray Bolger and what a big heart he had. He was no strawman to me.