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Sunday, May 6,2012


By David Bruce

• Alicia Markova's father died when she was very young, leaving the family destitute. Her friend Anton Dolin wanted her to dance with Sergei Diaghilev's dance company, but Mr. Diaghilev would not hear of it, in part because he was not interested in child prodigies and in part because he was displeased over publicity that the dancers in his company were British at a time when many great dancers were Russian. (Anton Dolin's real name was Patrick Kay, and Alicia Markova's real name was Alicia Marks.) Therefore, Mr. Dolin and Ms. Markova's dance teacher, Seraphine Astafieva, arranged an audition by trickery. They invited Mr. Diaghilev to a party at which Ms. Markova entertained by dancing. Mr. Diaghilev was astounded by what he saw, and he invited her to join his dance company.

• Dee Dee Wood auditioned for a dance role in "Guys and Dolls," but she didn't get it, so she waited two hours to ask choreographer Michael Kidd why she was rejected. He explained that to get the role she had to be able to dance in high heels. Dee Dee didn't even own a pair of shoes with high heels! Mr. Kidd advised her to practice dancing in high heels for three weeks, then to audition again. She did, and she got the part. Later, she became an assistant to Mr. Kidd, and still later, she and partner Marc Breaux choreographed such movies as "Mary Poppins" — where they had to fight to keep the 12-minute chimney sweep dance from being cut to two minutes.

• Jack Gilford's future wife, Madeline, once tried unsuccessfully to arrange an audition for the part of a European peasant in the play "Embezzled Heaven," which would star Ethel Barrymore; however, she was able to audition for an American folk musical, "Sing Out, Sweet Land," something she had no interest in. So she went to the "Sing Out, Sweet Land" audition dressed as an European peasant, and after her audition, the casting director, who was also working on "Embezzled Heaven," ran down the aisle and told her, "Listen, I'm sorry. You're not right for this show, but come and read for 'Embezzled Heaven.'" She did — and got the part.

• When the Cotton Club needed a new house band in 1927, Duke Ellington decided to audition his band for the job. Unfortunately, he didn't have the number of musicians that the Cotton Club required, so he scrambled to add more musicians to his band. This slowed him down, and he and his band arrived for the audition two hours late. No problem. The managing owner of the Cotton Club, Harry Block, also arrived two hours late. Because all of the other bands had already auditioned, the only band Mr. Block heard was Duke Ellington's, and he hired it.

• Jim J. Bullock is famous in part for playing Monroe Ficus on the TV sitcom "Too Close for Comfort." To get the part, he first had to perform at the audition, which started late and kept him waiting for an hour. Mr. Bullock stormed into the audition, threw a hissy fit, threw the screenplay at the feet of the producer, and screamed that he should never have been kept waiting that long, and stormed out. A moment later, he entered the room again — on his hands and knees, begging for the job. Everyone laughed, and he got the part.

• James Morris' voice teacher, Nicola Moscona, helped him greatly during his audition with the Metropolitan Opera. On the morning of the audition, Mr. Morris was understandably nervous, and he vomited. He telephoned Mr. Moscona, who took him — and a bag — to the Met. During the audition, Mr. Morris sang one aria, but when he was asked to sing another, his mind went blank. Fortunately, Mr. Moscona hissed at him, "Simone, stupido, Simone." He sang the "Simone Boccanegra" bass aria and was offered a contract with the Met.

• When ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev asked Russian ballerina Alexandra Danilova to audition for him, she was indignant and told him, "Do you know that I am from the Maryinsky Theater? If I am good enough for the Maryinsky Theater, I am good enough for you." She auditioned anyway, but was further insulted when Mr. Diaghilev asked her about her weight. She stormed, "Are you buying a horse? Maybe you want to see my teeth!"

• At age 9, George Balanchine hoped to enroll in the Imperial Naval Academy, but he discovered that all the cadets had already been selected for the year. While in St. Petersburg, he accompanied his sister Tamara to her audition at the ballet academy of the Imperial School, where he was asked to audition, too. Tamara didn't pass the audition, but young George did. Later, he became a world-famous choreographer.

• Lennox Robinson, an Irish actor-manager, once auditioned a middle-aged woman who wished to be an actress. She spoke a few lines from the "quality of mercy" speech by Portia in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice," then said, "I think I'd do better without me teeth," removed her teeth, and finished the speech. According to Mr. Robinson, "Auditions can sometimes be trying; one does not always discover genius."

• In the movie musicals of the 1940s, stars had to both dance and sing. This had Peggy Ryan worried, as she felt she was a better dancer than a singer. At one audition, she asked a friend, Buddy Pepper, who was a good singer, to accompany her. He ended up singing the lyrics of the song "Shadrack," while she sang only the one word, "shadrack" — but she got the role!

• Early in her career, Moravian soprano Maria Jeritza auditioned for the director of the Vienna Volksoper, Rainer Simons. Halfway through her first song, Micaeli's aria from "Carmen," he shouted, "Stop! That's enough!" Ms. Jeritza complained that he hadn't allowed her to even finish one song, but he explained, "I didn't need any more — I'm engaging you."

• Jane Withers was fabulously successful as a tiny tot who entertained in Atlanta, Georgia, but she had a hard time breaking into movies in Hollywood. At auditions, movie casters would ask her, "What credits do you have?" Because she had so many show business credits, Jane always replied, "How much time do you have?"


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