Meet the Lady: A Tribute to Pearl Bailey

On August 18th, I had the chance to understand what Meet The Lady was about.  I previously visited the website created by Tom Blunt to find a most curious mixture of women–fierce or fail be damned.  These women are not your typical collection of pin ups, but odd dreamers of their own innocent world.  So when I had the chance to clarify this obtuse feminine mystique, I couldn’t resist. The central lady of celebration was Pearl Bailey (and not Minnie Pearl, as I thought), a black performer who started in vaudeville and made her way as a solid supporting actress in such films as Carmen Jones, Porgy and Bess, St. Louis Blues (which also showcases the talents of Mahalia Jackson, Nat King Cole, and a very young Eartha Kitt) as well as the lead in the all-black performance of Hello Dolly.    Between clips, Mr. Blunt played the “straight” man to the boisterous comedienne Roslyn Hart, who plays in The Shells Show at Joe’s Pub as a stock analyst who decides to become a cabaret singer.

But why, of all people, celebrate Pearl Bailey?  A marginal actress with a long list of albums didn’t seem to justify a full evening honoring her until you scratch the surface of whatever you could glean from a wikipedia page.

She never played the Grand Ol' Opry.

Actress Cassandra Freeman read two excerpts from Bailey’s autobiography, “The Raw Pearl”, which provided memorable insights to Bailey’s daring character.  Colin Shepard also read a hilarious short piece about how Pearl Bailey smuggled Truman Capote out of LAX among her entourage.

What set this night apart from a sentimental “Remembering Pearl Bailey” showcase at the 92Y Tribeca Cultural Center was everything included in the $12 ticket:  Not only were there free cookies made from the Pearl Bailey Cookbook (which also served as a prize for guessing how many theater references were in her finale on The Muppet Show), but the hosts called their mothers on stage (which should be done more often) to ask if they remembered Pearl Bailey.  They even played a small humorous game show, showing various photos from the Meet The Lady website, where two contestants had to guess the back story for the women shown.

Edna St. Vincent Millay's not-as successful younger sister. She had some light verse published, but that's about it.

After cookies, clips, calls to moms, captioning, rewards, and readings, as my first Meet The Lady event, I have to say I left feeling full of experience.  It had an anything-can-happen vibe that one would expect from an Andy Kaufman set.  As the unscripted phone call to Ms. Hart’s mother carried the warning, “She’s had a stroke.  And she’s Southern.”  I silently cringed that this would be one of those disasters only live theater provides–but Mama Hart sang us a little song and we all gave her rousing applause.  You always feel good when someone puts poor old mom on speakerphone so she can hear a room full of people clapping for her.  It turns out Meeting the Lady is not as mysterious as originally believed.

Check out Meet the Lady at:

http://meetthelady.tumblr.com/page/1

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