Transcript:

Speaker So, Sandra, what can you tell me first about the circumstances in which you met Jerome Robbins and what was your impression of him and how much time do you have?

Speaker OK, I was actually selected for a show when I was a kid and they lined us all up. This a show called Alliegro done by agnosia, which I made a total fool of myself, but I was selected until they lined us up and then there was great drop and that was me. I was two feet shorter than anyone else. So they said, thank you very much. And I ran into this whole bunch of kids outside of I think it was the Shubert Theatre. And they said, Oh, well, Robinson is in there. And I said, Oh, OK. And I barged into that theater and I said, Who's Robbins'? And this voice in the dark said, I am, who are you? And I said, Well, I was in Allegro, but I was too short. So I'm going home to commit suicide. And there was a thump thump. And then Jerry Robbins said to me, don't come home and commit suicide dance for me. And I did with a vengeance. I was the only one there. The audition was over. And then I got a card from Jerome Robbins saying, come to the finals. I didn't even know what finals were. And I went and at one point we had to do a mime thing and dance whatever we were told to do. And all at once there was applause. And then I saw Multiprocessor and Kipnis, Joe Kipnis and Jerry in this deep conversation, and it was it was ardent. It was. And I thought, I'm going to be a star. They're talking about me. And I inched closer and closer and I overheard them say, I want the kid. No, I don't want the kid. I want the kid. I don't want the kid. And when I got a little bit closer, I heard I don't want the kid with the fat legs. And Jerry said, I want the kid with the fat legs. And that was my first job and my first encounter with Jerome Robbins.

Speaker And and it started a friendship and a trust and admiration. You know, that last lasted me my whole life. What was the show, hot button issues?

Speaker Well, before I ask about that, tell me what your impression was of Jerry that day.

Speaker That day, I thought it was a funny looking guy. That's what I thought was I had no idea who he was. I had no idea who Robbins was. I had no idea.

Speaker OK, so he just looked like a guy, you know?

Speaker OK, high button shoes. Yes. About for somebody who's never seen it.

Speaker It was an extraordinary experience because I really didn't know what I was doing and. It just it was a show that evolved and then a very interesting thing happened years later when Mr Abbott when Mr George Abbott had died and there was a memorial, Jerry was one of the guests and he spoke about high button shoes and told the story about a ballet, which I was in called the Picnic Ballet. It was a three character ballet. Basically, Jackie Dodge, Arthur Partington and myself was about.

Speaker A young man and a young woman and this young man's sidekick kid. You know, kid, and that was my part, and it was called the picnic ball, and Jerry said at the memorial that he he wasn't sure that that the picnic ballet belonged in high button shoes.

Speaker And Mr Abbott said, well, I'd like to see it. And I sat in awe, absolutely in awe of hearing this story for the first time many years later. And the three of us just did that ballet. We had no idea what was at stake. Jerry went to one side of the theater, Mr Abbott went to the other. And then after that, Jerry said at this particular memorial, he said, Mr Abbott said, I would be honored to have the ballet in the excuse me for being emotional. Haven't talked about this in a long time, but. There it was. Aside from the other rally, which was very world famous, which was the Keystone Cop ballet, well, before we get to that, I wonder if you can tell me a little bit about how the show itself for somebody who's never seen it.

Speaker What was it?

Speaker Was it. Well, it was it was a remarkable experience, but it was really about, if I remember correctly, it was about a football team and and about Rutgers University. And it was about mama and papa, which was Nanette Fabray and Jack McCauley. And I remember, too, that one of the distinguished people in the cast, her name was Lois Lee. She was the ingenue. And I would go outside and I would stand outside and put my finger over the name Lois because my name was Sandra Lee and say it was that was my building. But it was it was a show basically about real people in New Jersey. And I did come from New Jersey. So it was just it was just an unusual experience. I'd never seen anything but one musical in my whole life. And my involvement was just watching things come together. I also remember seeing Jerry with a huge scissor cutting the problems of some of the costumes and and the designer of it wasn't Frank Thompson, but it was the name doesn't come through quite at the moment, but holding his heart, you know, as Jerry was blithely just cutting up the costumes, you know, which was a very Jerry thing to do.

Speaker It was a huge success, Papa, won't you dance with me was one of the emerging hits, the Keystone Cop Ballet, and it broke it it it broke the jinx of of the theater that it was in, which was the Century Theater, which had a jinx. They were a couple of theaters in New York. And that was that was one of The Jinx theaters and it was the huge smash of that season.

Speaker I read someplace that when rehearsals began. Tell me if this is true. It is. I want you to tell me the whole story. You got it into your head to ask the choreographer to have coffee with you. Is that true?

Speaker That you approach Jerry and asked him to have coffee with you? No, it's written somewhere. It's not true. No, no, it's not true, OK? I don't think so. No, no. Sure.

Speaker Yeah, pretty sure. Why would I ask him to have coffee? I don't know. It seemed extraordinary. No, I mean, I said some pretty dumb things out of naivety, you know, rather the manipulation. That's sort of OK.

Speaker Tell me about the rehearsal process for the show. What can you tell me about the way that Jerry worked with dancers as the years that I even knew him?

Speaker Even then, I observed, as I was capable of at that age, that he was it. If you really became a Robbins dancer, you really had.

Speaker Some kind of affinity, you understood his code. Because there are some choreographers who can just do a hand signal or something, but I'll tell you about Jerome Robbins as I remember him even then, and that is that he saw to the bone.

Speaker He saw through to the bone, he told he told his stories.

Speaker From his own observation, from his own need, many of his work works are autobiographical in one form or another, and I don't think I was as wise as I am today then. But what I saw.

Speaker I saw his head.

Speaker I saw what it was that he was trying to say in the picnic ballet.

Speaker It was it was a dance. A story of unrequited young love and how a very young person like myself then didn't understand it and he understood the aspects of that, he understood the human triangle even years later, age of anxiety, the cage, he he he knew those things and he told it like it is as an actor. Does he he operated from a sense of truth, whether it was dark or or whether it was joyous. Larousse, what his vision was clear and he told the truth. He just did. And you either responded to that in some visceral way or not.

Speaker What was he like in rehearsal? Dark.

Speaker Yeah, yeah, sometimes his eyes would get dark and kind of stormy. He was out of focus. His head was somewhere else. He was scratching at his innards. And then what came out just came out, I can't explain it any better than that, I just was you either responded to his process and it was as close to an actor's process that I can distinguish it as subtext.

Speaker That's what I'm saying. He really.

Speaker Understood his own subtext and subtext in terms of acting with says is what the character's thinking and feeling under the line. That brings you to what you say next.

Speaker I think his subtext was exploring that line that brought him to the next step. And you either got it or you didn't.

Speaker That's great, um, what was it like in rehearsal with him?

Speaker I was too naive. I was too dumb to know anything except, wow, this is really great. You know, you want me to do that?

Speaker OK, you know, and I would just do it and he would giggle or go off to the side or something. But basically, he chose his people. Well. And once you broke the steps down, he was he was quite exacting about that, then he allowed you to emerge not too far, mind you, but they did allow you to emerge. He saw something I don't know that none of us see.

Speaker Tell me, who was George Abbott and how do you relate to him?

Speaker Interesting, because when a show is rehearsed, a Broadway show, which was my first experience, is that it's rehearsed in parts, in different places. So the dancers were assembled in one place and we all sort of got to know each other. And then the singers were in another place. The book was in another place. And then came that miraculous day when all the factions came together. And that's when Jerry was most nervous. He was never really that nervous with his dancers because we were isolated. But nobody ever called George Abbott anything but Mr Abbott ever. I've never heard anybody refer to him as George ever, ever. And Jerry at that point began to call me Peanuts. And it was fashioned after the Charles Schulz Peanuts cartoon. And I never really quite understood, nor did I have the guts to say, you know, why why do you call me Peanuts? But every everyone did call me peanuts except Mr Abbott. And he said, No, no, no, you will be called cashew because it's far more refined. But peanuts lasted for years and years and years. People called me peanuts for a long, long time. But it was Jerry and. And then one day Jerry stopped calling me Peanuts and called me by my name. But and then he would say, you know, peanuts come here. And then he would laugh. I never knew why.

Speaker There are so many stories about juries impatience. Mm hmm. You know, especially in rehearsal. Mm hmm. Is that really like an example?

Speaker I'm going to say something that's not very popular, I guess, about that. And that is that I think there were two sources of impatience. One was when he was really. Inside himself, looking for that subtext, or sometimes you kick things around a little bit with his foot, but basically if your need was an ego need and you asked him a dumb question about love me, show me that that thing would come up that or down that dark thing and get out get out of the way. But I think it really came from that dark side of Jerry came from people's needs. Really for affirmation, for support, rather than just. Getting into a. I've heard stories about his cruelty.

Speaker I was never subject.

Speaker Nor subjected to it, and I hear people speak about it, but I don't accept it, I really don't. There was a guy who was writing a book who called me and said, oh, tell me about the time that Jerry made you cry. And I knew that that guy was in fact, his book is somewhere I've never read it, but I think we all know who we're referring to. I I said Jerome Robbins never made me cry. Now that he's gone, I cry every day.

Speaker And I do. I think of him all the time. I have Jerome Robbins to thank. For the life in the theater that I have. Today. Not only as a friend, but as someone who. Was a mentor. A friend and an inspiration. I owe him for the rest of my days, I do.

Speaker I do. You started to talk about the Keystone Kops. Yeah, tell me about that.

Speaker What do you remember about the making of. Tell me what it was and what you remember about the making of it and rehearsing?

Speaker Well, actually, that the thing that I auditioned for that everyone applauded was that we were supposed to be these bathing beauties. That's what we were told. We're supposed to put our foot in the water and then bring it back and go, oh, it's cold. That's that was it. So besides the dancing audition, that was it. And for some reason, I had stuck my foot in the water, know. And then you say, here comes my husband and I stuck my foot in the water. It was cold. And for some reason, I don't know, a gift from God. I did a double take and everyone started to laugh and then they started to applaud. That's how that started. But actually, the Keystone Cop ballet was based on the Mack Senate ballet. And it was it was hilarious. I mean, every day he'd come up with some other crazy idea and we all just did what we were told. There was a a crook, a mama crook and a baby crook. I was the baby crook. It seems as though, though, that that pattern repeated itself and in high blood. But the Keystone Cop out, it was total madness. It was done two counts. You never knew who was coming out of what door, and one night Jerry came out of the door.

Speaker He really did, and this is this is a terrible thing to say, but I'm going to repeat it. I said to him, Jerry, I didn't know what to do when I saw you running out of the door. He said, You just shit, sister. That's what he said. And I loved him for that. I just did.

Speaker It's really a true story I heard when it was being made. Yes. When he was working out where everybody would go and you were rehearsing it one night, something bad happened to you?

Speaker Yes, it did. Well, the complete story, I don't think can really be told because I'm a crook who is a divine dancer. She was also the the girl in the picnic. She was the older, sophisticated girl. And one night she was not feeling well. Let's say this is off the record. But she she went to cocktail parties between shows and she wasn't quite well when she arrived. And so I thought, well, we have to climb up the pier. And then there was a long drop that I was I was caught, but by the I forget was the lifeguard and a couple of other people. But anyway, we were we were being pursued by the police, the cops, the back to the cops. And I crawled up the thing, but I had tied her wrist to mine because I was afraid that she was going to fall. But I forgot that I had to fall. And so there was this great grappling moment and I filled at the wrong time and I hit I hit the ground. And I don't I don't remember anything after that except that I woke up in the basement, you know, and and my fright wig and hat had come off. And I had a stocking cap which made me look bald. And I heard the name of Dr. Gundel Finger, who was the house doctor, and he was a killer. And all it was I jumped up and ran up the stairs, ran up on stage, and I was in totally the wrong scene. And the audience looked at me and the cast looked at me and I I just laughed and even Jerry laughed. And that was the end of that. But hilarious. Hilarious.

Speaker Was there something else that happened?

Speaker So that happened during the accident by a car?

Speaker I can't recall having told us something about if I got this right, came through a door and there was a miss in the timing and.

Speaker Was I flattened? Well, I wasn't the only one. I say everyone in the Valley had their moment where they were flattened. I mean, really well, you never know who was flying. I mean, they would be gypsies or people would suddenly run out with tambourines.

Speaker I mean, it was total madness. It was total genius.

Speaker Do you remember the night that the cast had said, this is so confusing, we're all running into each other? And Jerry said, well, I'll stand backstage and watch. Do you remember that it was a button, this was this high button backstage looking at so we could see the backstage part of the doors and the front page, the front stage?

Speaker I think that was the one night he came flying out of one of the doors himself with a tambourine and I think was supposed to be Paul Goken or Donnie Sadler. But one of them wasn't there and Jerry was. It was hilarious.

Speaker Tell me, what do you remember about Helen's tango?

Speaker No, it was showstopper on it.

Speaker There were just the two of them, she was made in the house, and I don't know whether it was Paul who did it originally and then followed by Donald Sattler, who became also a choreographer. And it was just delicious. That's all I can say. It was. It was again, it was a sexy tango that had nothing to do with sex at all. It was. In an odd way, it was pressie which made it really adorable.

Speaker It was lovely, Jerry said that when he did period dances. Yes, we're talking about he'd first get the style right and then he'd distort it so that it wasn't boring. Could you comment on that at all? Explain what he means or give us an example.

Speaker Not really for me, I, I, I, I didn't understand. I think it's no, I think it's very much like a painter. I can't say that that it's Jerry. But, you know, sometimes a painter will have very specific strokes at the beginning of a painting. There's this wonderful poem by Frank O'Hara about that, where he went to visit, I think it was Michael Goldberg. And he said, oh, he said, you're painting sardines. And then he went Frank O'Hara went back a few days later and said. Where were the sardines? You said I didn't need them anymore, so the painting had already taken its own form and I think maybe that's what Jerry was doing. I mean, when it was too explicit, I never found Jerry abstract. So so it's hard. I just I thought I always saw what he was saying. So I didn't get those words like distortion's or I never got that.

Speaker Did he ever talk to you about what I read? It was his favorite number in the show. I still get jealous. Do I tell you why it was his favorite number, by any chance?

Speaker No, but it must have had to do with his family.

Speaker Did he tell you?

Speaker No, I've met his dad, I met his father and he and he said, look at his ring is this pinkie ring. And I knew Sonja, he he introduced me to his father. I think his mother was gone. I think his mother was gone.

Speaker Could you tell anything about his relationship with his father?

Speaker Not really. His father was rather not a porcelain man, but he was a sturdy guy. He was a sturdy guy. Yeah, I met all those people.

Speaker Sonja was the strongest influence, that's for sure. And Gluck Sandler, I think his name was, too. He had he had his mentors. Who did? He did. I what I loved about Jerry was that so much of his material came from music. He was a very serious musician. A wonderful photographer. Very unsure how he would invite me to come see him develop a know in the dark room. He was always nervous about the things like that and he practiced the piano. And Jerry would call me very often, it just directed me to go see a play, you know.

Speaker New playwrite, open seating get there tonight or did you see Gilbert Grape? I know he's sick. Leave the house immediately and go see it. It was it was always like that with me, you know, and books that I should read.

Speaker Things like that.

Speaker Did he talk to you at all about Sonia? What makes you say that she was the big influence?

Speaker Sonia, Sonia, Jerome Robbins sister.

Speaker I believe was. An enormous influence and probably at one point later in his life. What was? Was responsible for the political problems that he that he had.

Speaker She was sort of like a gypsy, Sonya.

Speaker It's interesting because I can only think of of it now, she was most kind to me, I'm not exactly sure why, but except that I think he was fond of me and but she was an enormous influence early in his life. I think his aspirations I mean, he wasn't exactly sliding into the mode of. A young, beautiful man dancer, in fact, I've always thought maybe that was one of the things that he found appealing about me, was there is something in me that reminded him of himself. You know, I don't whether it was big teeth, big ears or the fact that I was so small. But he was not your raving beauty. You know, he was a hard worker. With a very special observation.

Speaker What makes you say this was responsible, did you say for his political a Soniya?

Speaker I think, son, you introduced him politically to whatever those red China Lisk proportions were. I've always thought of of. Those particular political associations really had to do with coffee and Danish more than deeply committed political opinions. I think it just was probably a period when they were all in search of freedom, a freedom of expression of. Not sure what their futures were.

Speaker I don't know why I never thought of Jarius as a political being at all, except maybe years later. With Shulem, along with with Isaac Chevette, a singer, I don't know, you know, but I they came from. His being Jewish, I think. I think there was there was a judiciousness in him that I loved and I knew very well.

Speaker And a very well, you said the jury understood the outsider at every stage of life. Yes. Can you explain what you meant by that and give me some examples?

Speaker Well, just.

Speaker Again, go back to the picnic ballet, you know, if I go back to that, it was an outsider or not comprehending the sophistication of that time, of not even sophistication at sea. The awareness of the fact that, you know, that young woman and the young man and the little girl, you know, didn't quite get each other's story, the young girl was off to much more handsome young men. And the young boy didn't know that that he'd brushed his his young playmate aside, you know, and made her cry. All of those things, I think he understood that the human triangle, he was born to it.

Speaker Watermill Oh, I asked him about that.

Speaker And sometimes you call me up and say, would you come and just stand in the back of the house with me with if it was a new ballet? And I never knew why. I just I think whatever with Jerry, whatever was in my head came out of my mouth. I wasn't smart enough to censor it, you know. And so it made him very at ease because you could see I shut up or whatever, but. Yes, I think he understood what the outsider is, even even the cage has elements. Of of that in it, he did a ballet. In in a review that that didn't last very long and had, I thought the beginnings, the beginnings of change in it, and I think Norah I think Norah was in that review, as a matter of fact, roundabout, that's what it was called roundabout. And I thought that was the beginning, as I believe that when we were in Spoleto. There were some ritualistic things that were going on in other theaters, I think Michael Kookiness was there doing the Trojan women, which I actually did, and. I remember talking to Sheldon Harnick and I said, you know, they were talking about doing a Tavia fiddler and and I said, you know, you should really talk to Jerry because she he seemed to be very interested in some kind of ritualistic stuff that we did when we were in this little theater was pat down and Irma Curley and we did a five piece thing where we were experimenting.

Speaker We were smoking cigarettes and using voices.

Speaker And I just there was something I always felt partly responsible for her in doing Fiddler, because God knows I were in government, were very smart.

Speaker I noticed when I was working with Jerry that he treated different people differently. Yes.

Speaker And and like to keep us apart. And you seem to get along very well.

Speaker So what was your secret? Huma. Can you incorporate the question?

Speaker Oh, let's see, you know, the interesting thing about that jury that's emerged that I've known as years go on and my perception gets a little clearer. Jerry cared about very specific people, but didn't really care for us to know each other unless we were in the company together, but. I can only say that that I think his fondness for me and his awareness of me was probably through humor, and that is that I remember we were shooting Peter Pan and I was not feeling very well. I said, sure, I I don't feel good. And he said, lay down. And I did immediately. And he just said that was swell. I mean, I, I didn't lay that trip on him. And I think a lot of it had to do with humor. He used to send some of the funniest postcards ever and we exchanged a lot of but he called himself Mario and I called myself Sally. And it was postcards to each other over a period of time, but humor. And he also brought me wonderful little presents, though if he went to Japan, he brought me a little idol or or something from Israel that I still have. And I don't know, you know, but I think it basically was humor.

Speaker Did you find that he was a secure person or an insecure person? And how did that manifest itself in his work?

Speaker You I never. I saw Jerry.

Speaker Insecurely choreographing as much as I saw him insecurely making hamburgers because physical and gold were coming, and should he put a little water in the meat? Do you think there's enough salt?

Speaker I mean, there was more worry. There was more flop sweat over hamburgers. There was over some mammoth piece of work.

Speaker You know, his curiosity was amazing to me. Oh, yeah. But nature it was the curiosity about nature, the collection of just simple, beautiful shells that he always had in his living room. They were always on a platter. His curiosity about the paintings that the Barber and Spoleto made, which I have many. His his curiosity. Was simple, it was really drawn to nature, the things you photographed were not like Diana Arbus. They were they were another kind of fascination.

Speaker The things around his house. We're very simple. They were deeply felt.

Speaker There was a painting that he had in his living room that I always loved was a simple painting, not by a great master, or maybe it was I never knew of three sheep.

Speaker And I always said, you know, it reminds me so much of all of us. I probably meant you ne but. And he left that for me.

Speaker So I you know, I don't know, I think juries and security. He knew when it wasn't right and there were 21 versions of the Indian deaths in Peter Pan, and one night we all did what we thought was supposed to look like a pinball machine gun nuts. That was the one I didn't yell at anybody. He was very amused to be twenty one hurt because he he did it till he did it. You know, you say you do it to you do it right. That's what he did. And that's why he was constantly changing. It wasn't to talk to you or to take your moment away, it was not.

Speaker Right.

Speaker And you could see it his his lip would sag and his jaw would drop, but his eyes would would get covered. He would he looked like when he was disturbed, he looked like the sky before storm. It just was dark and clouded. And if you got in the way of that, it was like a magnet. And you had to note to stay away and the ones that stepped in front of it got it. You know, that's what I meant really, I guess, about his about people feeling intruded upon or manipulated or humiliated.

Speaker I don't believe it came from it takes two to tango. I really do. Yeah, I think Jerome Robbins.

Speaker Was an enigma, I think one had a tendency to try to make him more complicated. Then the men he presented and then you never stop digging.

Speaker You never try. You never stop trying to figure out who he was and what he was, except there he was.

Speaker To me, Jerome Robbins was a very sexy man because he was so mysterious, you know, you hear about you hear about women who wear a ring that their lover has never seen before.

Speaker He wasn't like that. He, you know, and their man, you know, became more and more intrigued by the ring.

Speaker Jerry was. He was changeable. He was funny, he was attentive, he was scary. He was dark, but I never felt responsible.

Speaker For his mood changes, I didn't feel responsible for them, so it gave me a.

Speaker A way of seeing him, I think, of observing him, you know. Jerome Robbins, he also loved.

Speaker Looking around a supermarket. He was a person he he he liked a good junkie, like a good hug, you liked punk just like the rest of us, you just happened to be a genius. And I think when you mix them up, you know, I hear stories about him being backed up and falling into the orchestra pit.

Speaker Not that I know of those stories, I think, are myths. I really do.

Speaker Tell me about Peter Pan for someone who's never seen it, and if you could include the part that you played in, I got a call from Jerry who said, I'd like you to come, I figure with the audition or something.

Speaker I want you to be in my whatever. And I was originally supposed he didn't know, again, the kibbutz that he did not know what he was going to do with me. But no, he wanted me there and. I had grown a bit as an actor and, you know, as a grown up, I guess, and I read the play, I read the story, which was actually a Peter Pan was was the dream of Wendy and Wendy Stream was called when you and I was actually supposed to be a little lost boy, or that's what he had in mind until he came up with with Tigerlily because everyone became a part of a dual part of people's dreams. And the only one, as Barry said, the only one who never changed in Wennerstrom was the mother, because mothers never change, but the father becomes Captain Hook. I am youth. I have joy. I've read up. And oddly enough for me, I was very excited because it was the first show I was ever taken to see was Peter Pan in Newark, New Jersey, at the mosque theater with some lady hanging from a rope.

Speaker And she said, I am youth, I am joy and freedom. And I jumped up and said, take me with you. So here was this opportunity.

Speaker And Tigerlily evolved. As as a character, not just an Indian with this family of Indians, and it just evolved, it had other songs that had other dances which were stricken from from the show, he was a big changer, you know, and there were a lot of political things going on that I was not aware of at that time, but.

Speaker It's one of the truly magical moments in the theater and. The men's. Awareness of fantasy of need also is about a little boy. It's there's so much of Jerry in it and one of the great songs in it is no longer in it. And it was called When I Went Home. And it's it was one of the most remarkable songs, I think.

Speaker That was ever written in that show, could you talk about how well integrated? And well crafted, the musical numbers were within the rest of the show. I mean, they they were so well integrated, it sort of anticipates the integration that he later achieved, I think, in West Side. So can you talk about that a little bit?

Speaker Yeah. You know, one I guess one learns in terms of musical theater, I guess, is that when you can't say anymore, you sing it and when you can't sing anymore, you dance it and it goes round and round. And I think what Jerry accomplished in Peter Pan. Was was to allow. The music and lyrics to emerge from from the text and the characters within that text emerged as characters, real characters who had deep feelings and commitments.

Speaker And there were I thought that and Lee and or Moose Charlap wrote one of the purest scores I had ever heard. And then there was a thing, you know, when when Peter Pan first opened, I believe it was not the success that it became. It was not a smash at all.

Speaker And.

Speaker In fact, I think it was Captain Hook who ran away with the show. As the critics said, who was closely followed by a character named Tigerlily, who was also followed by Peter Pan with change, changes have to be made in the theater. And this is what was so brilliant. I mean, that's when Julie Stein was brought in and we were all in San Francisco, I believe, at the time. And one could hear if you could use your ear, the tick, tick, tick, like water dripping. I thought it was typewriter's going. That was they were there, Bella, Betty and Adolph, they were there. And it was it was to make that show work. And I think maybe a lot of it had to do with Mary. It also had a great deal to do with Jerry, who was just really launching into the life of the director choreographer and.

Speaker He just used his noggin. He was no dumb guy, you know.

Speaker Um, you didn't fly in the show, but of course, flying was a highlight. Were you around when Jerry was called? Tell me tell me how you dealt with that.

Speaker Yeah, well, actually, the rigging when they rigged the wiring for Peter Pan. No one was allowed in the theater. The Foy's had a secret, and it was usually one of the voices on the at the end of those those wires, those ropes, but actually Joni Tewksbury, who played the ostrich in Peter Pan, was was in a harness.

Speaker And a lot of the flying sequences of of of Mary Martin were done. And Joni, who went on to writing Nashville the movie and became a wonderful movie director and writer, but it was done really secretly. The flying and and there were certain places where you had to be hooked and unhooked and actually the flying was very simple, it was not difficult unless you didn't hit your mark and then, you know, you crash into the fireplace and out the window when you weren't supposed or something.

Speaker So you weren't there when he was actually arranging all of this for part of it.

Speaker Yeah. Yeah, I would stand I would stand in the wings just a little bit and sort of look at Jonie, you know, look at the harness, and then he would just do traffic. I mean, really, that's what it was. How how can one one wire cross the other? And then if you go here, I get the wire there. But Reagan was done it and in absolute secrecy. I don't know if Jerry was privy to it or not. I'm sure he was.

Speaker I'm sure. Yeah, believe me. What did did you see him flying. No. No. OK.

Speaker It seems to me that Jerry was as creative as he ever was and Peter Pan, but I think sometimes it's a little bit overlooked because. It's a show some people think, you know, for children, I think it's maybe a little bit underestimated. And I'm wondering if you can talk about his inventions and Peter Pan was full of invention. Hmm. Can you talk about some of those specific ways?

Speaker You can just I think Gerry's invention came from the fact that he really understood the characters even though they were created in the play proper, except not really. He gave us all the personality of our own. It was I mean, even even Tigerlily before she was politically incorrect, which was just nonsense. I mean, he Jerome Robbins, really believed in the life of every one of those characters. He allowed them to breathe. He allowed them to behave. It wasn't just you go here and this is what you say and this is why you do it. He he allowed them all to emerge.

Speaker And and because you cast them well and because he always again did his homework, there was nothing there was no question that you could stump him on that he hadn't done his homework. And I think that goes for every ballet he's ever done as well. The concert, I mean, he knew Chopin's work, he didn't just sort of have fun.

Speaker Getting back to Peter Pan. Yes, can you think specifically in the show of things that he invented that were used, his humor or charm that affected you?

Speaker You know, one of the wonders for me was, was Jerry's imagination.

Speaker Using Mary Martin's daughter. As as the maid Lysa coming into Neverland. And the trees moved.

Speaker And danced and had feelings, and the ostrich, the kangaroo Luria was the kangaroo went on to being a big Italian star on television. He just I mean, there they were. They were these wondrous figures that the Enchanted Forest Neverland was alive again. I think it came from his knowledge and love of nature. And of animals, I mean, just you know, I think of Jerry's dogs and they were the funniest looking dogs I've ever seen, and once he lost his dog, I think it was Nick and he. I mean, he informed the radio, I mean, people said, you've got to find this dog and they found Nick. I mean, he had he just had a thing for funny looking animal mongrels. I guess maybe that was his affection for a lot of people. I don't know. You know, also his love for Tany. He loved tatting.

Speaker You got a tiny.

Speaker But I mean, they all seem to feed into each other Gerry's knowledge of. Phantasy.

Speaker Of. Need.

Speaker No one thinks of outsiders. The need for children to express themselves. There's a reason. There's a reason. He knew how to translate those needs, those reasons. He knew how to eventually translate them into written text, spoken text as as also in dance, I never think of him as just a choreographer. I think of him not even as a man of the theatre. I mean, all of those things I I believe he is was will always be, but. A kind of genius. That touched many things. He was not afraid to fail.

Speaker He was more concerned about the hamburgers that he made incorrectly.

Speaker How do you know that he loved.

Speaker Because, well, I've always known the people who really loved, you know, because you spoke about them lovingly and there was a part of Jerry's humor that had to do with telephone calls, and he would call one up and say, you know, like, what are you wearing? Where are you going? What are you eating? You know? And then he say, I was just speaking to Tany and she was wearing her pajamas, too, and that leather, whatever that was. And then he giggled a lot. But they had he often spoke of her with such.

Speaker Adoration.

Speaker Or.

Speaker Of all the women friends of Jerry's, my feeling always was the one he really always loved because he could translate his needs or his ideas through her body. And also they had hilarious correspondence. I was really touched. Somebody was writing a book and had researched all of Jerry's things and found a letter that I had written to him that he'd put in a plastic folder. And I was so touched. I was so honored.

Speaker Tell me how you related to children.

Speaker I I don't know. Well, there were children in my class.

Speaker Oh, yeah, but there was one kid that he. Oh, but there's a wonderful story about a David David being I think his name was I forget the character that he played, but he was one of the favorites as Andy was too little negatory. His son and Bobby Tucker was his assistant. But but there was one wonderful story about David's father. He loved those kids, by the way. They were just amazing. And then over the time that Peter Pan ran, we saw them, their elbows and their noses grow and little moustache. But David, being by the end of of of Peter Pan when we were opening in New York and how they covered themselves was to say it was a limited run. You see that? You know what that means. And David wasn't saying his lines by that time.

Speaker And in one moment, there was a flash of that anger that Jerry could have everyone's. Well, and he said, David, he said, are you going to say are you going to say your lines? And David said, I'm saving them for opening night.

Speaker And I thought that was such a wonderful remark. So, Jerry, you fell on the floor. You know, it was a truthful remark. There were so many things that came and went that were erased or changed and everything else.

Speaker It was it was a wonderful, joyous show to be in. And Sir Richard was.

Speaker Heaven, heaven.

Speaker Jerry's is known for humor on stage, talk about a little bit you talk about how he dealt with humor and timing. Did he give performers a lot of freedom or was he very precise?

Speaker I think I think Jerry's humor and the people he chose didn't exactly they weren't chosen to translate it in their turn, they were chosen. To do it because they had it already, that it had to do with his vision and that that is my feeling anyway, but he certainly knew somebody who was funny and who did something funny because he kept it, you know, but basically. You were the utensil.

Speaker For his vessel and. I don't know, just whatever he did was inspired, but it came from some source that in some way you had something to do with.

Speaker I understand that for a while Paul Taylor was in the company. Yes, he was about why, you know, when he was hired, what he was hired to do and what happened.

Speaker There was even Inc. sure, when we were in San Francisco. Which is how I remember it, there was this rather tall, lanky guy, and he was a very good dancer or Jerry would never have children. And that was another thing. You had to be a good dancer. And he chose this guy and his his name was Paul. And the only thing is he was chosen as a pirate. And on the pirate ship, there was a fight and the kangaroo hit somebody and somebody else hit somebody and just jumped on everybody. And then what happened was that they all got sucked and. This guy, Paul, was supposed to be shocked, I believe, by the kangaroo and he was supposed to do a backward flip. And he couldn't do it. He no matter how hard he tried, even the little Lost Boys were doing back flips. He couldn't do it. And one day he went off, he was ordered to go off and learn it from a little lost boy.

Speaker And the kangaroo hit him and he tried to do this backwards. Flip fell off the stage, broke his nose.

Speaker And today, that man's name is Paul Taylor. He was fired. For not doing a backward flip through, and I'm to be a great choreographer.

Speaker How did Gerri thank you, how did Gerri and Mary Martin relate to you? Did you were you privy to that, the interchange between them?

Speaker The relationship between a. Jerry Robbins and Mary Martin to meet. It's a kind of mystery.

Speaker I can't really explain that too deeply. Except that her husband was also there all the time. We called him the Black Pearl. And I think we call Jerry the black raven or one of those.

Speaker They were both dark, but I never saw between them an altercation.

Speaker Now, tell me about the broadcast, how involved was Jerry in the changes that were necessary for camera? Do you remember that? Was he interested in that process?

Speaker Being as I wasn't in the control room at the time, that that that Peter Pan was shot because there were several versions, but I think Jerry was such a visual person. Anyway, I would say that. That he was fascinated with the process. But he was. Again, I think much more involved with the whole piece, because the orchestra was in one room, we were all separate. It wasn't like being in the theater and there was, I thought, a tremendous difference in in in the one that that Vincent Donahue shot, which is the one we have now that most of us see, because all the very small directorial moments, many of them vanished. And I think because Vinnie Donahue was a very close family friend of Mary Martin's. I never understood why Jerry never did. Every version.

Speaker Would you say that he was more of a realist or a perfectionist, and how did that affect the people around him?

Speaker I'm trying to define Jerry. In time, I don't quite know how to go about saying he's a fractionalized and. I have to stop because I forgot the other word, realist and realist. I think the difference between the realist and Jerry and the perfectionist in Jerry is when they when they were at odds with each other, and that's when the canker couldn't all because I think his sense of. Of organic truth was one thing and then the perfection of of using it in terms of his work. Was something that was very difficult for him to evolve so that that truth, that that reality translated into art.

Speaker OK, what was Ballis USA? Tell me what it was when it was where it was. Everything you can think of about. What was Vallecito say?

Speaker Valet's USA was again, I think it was, again, odd numbers. We were 17. I think we were 17 of. Disparate types we were. Talk short, wider that it was not your classic or classical ballet company at all, and I think that was the beginning of his experimenting. I think we were invited to Spoleto by John Carlo Menotti.

Speaker And.

Speaker I don't know if it was the most exciting group of dancers in the most exciting environment of our trip to Spinetta was a disaster. I mean, really a disaster.

Speaker We were starving. We had an equity meeting on the plane because there was no food and it was just one disaster after another. We arrived at something like three o'clock in the morning and the press was there taking pictures of people who were absolutely exhausted. When we got on the plane, people that the airlines started screaming at us. We were busy, you know, putting on our tights and getting comfortable and blabbing away. And finally, the stewardesses just said, sit down, you know, quiet.

Speaker We just we were just so excited. But when we got there, it was one thing. But the experience of doing Families USA was an extravagant experience. It really was. People practically carried us through the streets.

Speaker They revered us. They took care of us. They hugged us. They kissed us. They cried. They I mean, it was the Festival of two worlds was who invited us. And we just knocked them dead. He he used new music, new ideas. Ben Sean came. I just it was a remarkable experience because here were these great artists painting their own sets in the streets and we were running around, you know, in funny little rooms, it was.

Speaker It was a family.

Speaker Jerry had a real family, was he different when he was there with the company a little than he was normally? I mean, you talked about him being nervous about this, but that was in blackspot. How was he different?

Speaker I think in Spinetta, what I found in Jerry. Was.

Speaker The invitation. To experiment. To.

Speaker Use what he wanted when he wanted it to try to say what it is that he wanted to say with almost a new language. He'd been out in the world for a while. He jazz was beginning to really penetrate a new kind of movement sneakers. He he wanted to do it and he did it that, you know, he really did and used his humor. That's when we did concert. It was wonderful.

Speaker Tell me about jazz, which is probably the best known I think he made for you. Mm hmm. Were you in the the original company? Yes. Yes. OK. Yeah. About the rehearsals for Jazz.

Speaker We just saw a New York import export jazz.

Speaker We just he you know what they would like for me as a viewer, because I was in it and I was out of it, I was that as most dancers are in it and out of it. No, you could never really say this is my dance. Except there were one or two. Yes. And one had to do with Pat Dunn and the other one had to do with Wilma Curlee those those two never changed. But I would say they were like, what do you call what they were, I guess, tabloids in the newspaper. Gangs, wheeler dealer, hookey, I don't know, but whatever those tabloids were, the one thing I remember so much about Jerry was that we would talk about what do you read in the newspaper in the morning? And he would always say, I read the obituary. And it was like a disease, because I got it now to this day, the first thing in the in the newspaper, but they were sort of like that. They sort of the set looks like antenna. The costumes that we wore were just. They were just tights and colored leotards with no great expense, you know, it was more it was more like Tamiment, which is where it came from in an odd way. I mean, you know, he came from that when he was a kid. That's that's where he was. And I think a lot of that stuff kept coming back. I don't know, you just stand around, catch it and do it.

Speaker Can you talk about the relationship of this jazz to West Side Story?

Speaker I'm sure there's a correlation. Between Opas Jazz.

Speaker And West Side Story, sure, kind of kind of the nervousness of it, that they are, again, one group against another. Oddly enough, I think Romeo and Juliet is again like tabulates the Capulets, the same one family destroys another, two young kids run away together. It's another it's another set of truths.

Speaker It's in another union for those guys who also understood each other's code.

Speaker If we could just go back a little bit, you told me if I'm remembering that, uh, Families USA was a minority, invited you, it was for the festival to work, but I think we skipped talking about where you went because it wasn't just Italy. Why don't you tell me a little bit about, OK.

Speaker As as I think I said before, the actual journey from New York to Spoleto was horrendous and then settling into Little Italy, which is one hour by Rapido from Rome, and it was the opening season of Spoleto. But then we already had a tour from Spoleto. We went several places. We went to Trieste, The World's Fair.

Speaker It was organized as as a tour, and I think it was half paid for by the United States government and the Italian government. So it wasn't just that we went to Spoleto and State and that at that time, I think Spoleto and the Festival of Two Worlds was eight weeks.

Speaker I think now it's maybe two. But it was an occasion. It really was. And we toured many places. We went to, oh, what a what an experience that was. You know, for 17 dancers from the USA, we went to Venice and danced in the Opera House. We gosh, there were so many places I wish I could recall them just like that.

Speaker But there was Brussels and Rome and Spoleto and Trieste and and I remember dancing in Trieste, which was an open air theater.

Speaker And the stage was extremely slippery. We've done a lot and it was not the best performance, as you say, but we were feted everywhere and adored everywhere. And I think I think eventually when Gerry went back to Paris, they have they have that great love for him.

Speaker And and but I do believe that that that it was an easier trip into. Into West Side Story.

Speaker Many years later, you were involved in Jerome Robbins Broadway, right?

Speaker Yes.

Speaker And can you tell me, um, as you were involved and I imagine the Peter Pan numbers. For you, were you involved in high button shoes, which.

Speaker For Jerome Robbins, Broadway. What Jerry did was he had he had a lunch at at home and invited the remaining few of us for lunch to to describe our functions and.

Speaker We laughed a lot, we ate what we drank a lot and and then was somebody from the balcony somewhere illegally, had taken some movies of the Keystone Cops away. And then what we did was we just talked about pieces. I was never really involved. I didn't come as an assistant or just just with Jerry, I would I would do some of the dance steps with him alone in a in a rehearsal hall. And we would talk about the genesis.

Speaker The ideas and where they came from and where I thought. Certain aspects of of characters evolved and how I thought they might be improved, but I and I certainly went to the opening, but I didn't. I didn't. I wasn't. And once you did that with I think it was New York City Ballet or Ballet Theatre, I've forgotten which company of four. I think it was some of the changes that he had made in the concert because he had added my character, which didn't exist. I was the Bolshevik, the one with the but that was not in the original concert. And that was one of the ballets said he asked me to come and stand in the back of the house because she was nervous opening night of the concert, the first concert.

Speaker How do you feel that you were changed by having worked with.

Speaker He gave me. The respect. He treated me as a friend. And as a delight. And as a serious artist. And.

Speaker Induced me, invited me. To grow. To experiment.

Speaker Right to paint. To teach. On. He was my mentor and my friend. And. I can never forget that.

Speaker You were telling me before, Sandra, that. When Jerry was gravely ill and he was taken from the hospital that you were in the house at the time of his death, do you want to tell me what happened around that time?

Speaker I can only start at the beginning of that day.

Speaker I got a call from my friend at The New York Times who told me. Did I ask me if I knew that Jerry had died? I remember the shock, I remember the pain and immediately called. The House. And and. It was like an umbilical cord, I, I asked. I said it's. Is it true, is it true? I think it was Kathy who answered the phone. I'd forgotten. And she said, yes, it's true and that she was surrounded by people who loved him, and then I heard.

Speaker I said, please don't hang up, please don't hang up, I don't hang up. I kept saying, Please, please don't hang up. I said, Is Sonya there? And she said, yes. She'll call you back. And within a few minutes after we finally hung up, Sonia called and said, come to the house. I said, I have to teach class, I have to teach class. And she said, come after. We'll still be here. And so I did. Donna Hanover was a student of mine, an acting student of mine. And I said I knew she had a car with Secret Service guys. And I said, would you mind if after class your your guys could drop me somewhere? Terrible things happened. And she said, of course. Of course. Of course. And then I remember saying something to the class I.

Speaker I remember saying to them, a great man of the theater has passed. Could we have two moments, two minutes of silence? And that was the end of that, and then I rushed out of class and they drove me to the house. And I remember someone came to the door, she was wearing an apron. And the walls were that buttery yellow and I went up those stairs. And Sonia was there and I saw Buzz, Buzz was there and I saw. Sonia's husband and their kids and and then I, Sonia came and said she said, have have some sandwiches or some egg salad and some salmon and have some delicious red wine and then go up and see him. And then I found out that it was Sonia who had negotiated to bring Gerri home. And I was so relieved and I. I nibbled on a sandwich or something like that, and then I said I was ready to just go upstairs and Brian man came to the door and. And the dog was there, just lying there, and and then I saw him and he was in his bed, that's half, you know, a painted white iron and brass small bed. He had like a three quarter bed. And I remember seeing that on one little end tables was the Lakers book. And the room hasn't changed. And there was Jerry peaceful and he was wearing the bright, the bridegroom's shirt. Oh, from the ballet and the bridegroom's little nosegay. And he had gray. Great dungarees, and then Sonya came in and she kept squeezing his feet.

Speaker They had no shoes and.

Speaker Almost giving him a kind of warmth and life, she just caressed them. And then she left and.

Speaker In his hands was a very beautiful. Was a white rose that had. A touch of pale green in its core like that, and there was a band around his jaw tied above to keep the jaw still and a little sliver.

Speaker Of cheese, almost a smile, but not.

Speaker He looked slightly barrel chested. More than I was used to seeing him, little slider, his body seems more to me than usual.

Speaker And his beard was the most beautiful, sparkling white. And I just thank you. And say goodbye. And we're so grateful. To share that last moment with him. I just. Thanked him and the dog sort of snorted and everything seemed right, and I was so happy that he was home. And.

Speaker Brian told me that the next day when when Jerry was taken to be cremated, which was his wish that The New York Times crossed. Him, it was delivered as he was departing The New York Times crossed him, which was, I believe, a picture of Jerry and the fact that he died. And that's one of the sections that I've written about that made me think to die must be a very big adventure. That's what Peter Pan said. And that's the cherry.

Speaker I've known. And I always will know.

Speaker And. I don't know.

Speaker That must be a very big adventure. I must say something about Gerry's work clothes. He he he always he he always wore very natural clothes, you know, whether they were dungarees or kind of a blue general shirt or sweats, he might have invented sweats for all I know, but he was never sort of done up, you know?

Speaker And I, I think he he invited all of us to have that kind of easy approach to wearing the clothes that we liked when we rehearsed. And I think he he never changed.

Speaker I mean, they were just ordinarily chosen.

Speaker Clean work clothes and the most beautiful hands. Jerome Robbins possess beautiful hat. They were they were beautiful fingers. I think they were slightly spatula. And I thank him for teaching me to observe.

Sondra Lee
Interview Date:
2006-04-07
Runtime:
1:27:56
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-x921c1vc2p, cpb-aacip-504-jm23b5x057, cpb-aacip-504-vh5cc0vn2q
MLA CITATIONS:
"Sondra Lee, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 07 Apr. 2006, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/997
APA CITATIONS:
(2006, April 07). Sondra Lee, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/997
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Sondra Lee, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). April 07, 2006. Accessed January 20, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/997

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