Penny Fuller thoughts

Photo by Karen Greco
Penny Fuller stars in “13 Things About Ed Carpolotti” at 59E59 Theaters.

‘13 Things’ star on Baxter, Bacall and her post-Sandy two-star hotel

BY DAVID NOH   | Actress Penny Fuller is returning in “13 Things About Ed Carpolotti” at 59E59 Theaters, and she described her new musical as the story of “a recent widow, whose parents didn’t approve of her husband, but they loved each other. She had one child and was an interesting woman — strong, ironic, with a fabulous sense of humor. But now she has to face being alone and finds out that Ed left her in insurmountable debt, and all kinds of things ensue. But it’s ultimately a great love story about how much he loved her and how well he knew her.

“I had done this as a monologue, written by Jeffrey Hatcher about ten years ago, and always loved it and thought it could make a great musical. So I brought it to [cabaret director] Barry Kleinbort, who got me into cabaret in the first place, and he helped me put it together.”

Fuller won an Emmy award and was nominated for a Tony for playing Eve Harrington in the musical version of “All About Eve,” opposite Lauren Bacall’s Margo Channing: “I’d been flown to New York to audition for Harold Prince for ‘Company’ and was leaving when I ran into this stage manager who told me they wanted me to audition for ‘Applause’ but wouldn’t fly me in. I said, ‘Well, I’m here,’ so I auditioned.

‘They’d given me an early script and on the plane home I thought, ‘Don’t let me get this. It isn’t very good and I won’t have the nerve to turn it down.’ They cast someone else and I was in a beauty parlor on Santa Monica Boulevard with my head in the sink when they brought the phone to me and I heard, ‘They’re going to eliminate the Eve out of town in Baltimore. Can you fly in and do it tonight?’

“So I went, and I’m not that smart but because I hadn’t seen it, I could see the forest for the trees, what was needed. Eve is not your basic ingénue, not young, she has to be desperate and much more of a threat to Margo or it doesn’t work. I remember saying to myself, ‘My goal is to make everybody who knows this movie remember it wrong, and think that she really is a good friend of Margo.’”

As for her legendarily formidable costar Bacall: “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, God let her know that if I’m good it will only help her, and she did. She loved me, and we went through a lot of years together. She knew for whatever reason that I was the right color to help the play and we became good old friends. She’s the best, she’s just scared so she has to act that way sometimes.

“I’d think, ‘You’re insecure? Why?’ But do you know why she does everything with that downturned chin looking up? That’s because [director] Howard Hawks said she was so nervous her head would shake, so he told her to hold her face that way.

“Anne Baxter [Eve in the film] replaced her. It was my last matinee and I was getting ready to go on and I hear this clankety-clank. Someone’s wearing a noisy bracelet! I do the speech in the dressing room about my husband Eddie and the brewery, and I hear that clankety-clank again and look over in the wings. It’s Bette Davis, watching us from off-stage with her clankety bracelets!

“Anne Baxter was wonderful, but she was scared. She was put in the show by the stage manager, and he was pushing her to go here and there. You don’t touch her! I don’t know how I got the nerve, but I went to her dressing room and said, ‘Listen to me, every movie star wanted to play this part. You’re playing it, and you’re the only one who knows what Margo is about. Don’t let these people bother you,’ and it was a great thing for her.

“As Margo, she was different, very womanly, sensual, strong, and dramatic, because Annie was dramatic. The edges were maybe softer but the inner core was as strong. On her opening night, I went to Tiffany’s and found a little silver apple that I had engraved, ‘Goodbye Eve. Hello Margo. Love to AB from PF,’ When I left the show, she gave me one that said, ‘Goodbye Eve. Hooray Penny. Love to PF from AB.”

Fuller is indeed a testament to showbiz survival, as are her two best girlfriends in the business, Linda Lavin and Elizabeth Ashley: “I was Liz’s understudy in ‘Barefoot in the Park,’ and when she was cast as my mother in ‘Dividing the Estate,’ everyone said, ‘How does she feel about that?’ We’re actresses! We’re supposed to do that!

“I could play her mother, but what I hadn’t counted on was her arrival with the dog after the hurricane in my Upper West Side apartment. She and Bill Craver, who was the ‘Barefoot’ company manager, now an agent, stayed with me, so the three of us are there for three days. Ohmigod, we have known each other all these years, and Craver got there first so he got the bedroom and she stayed on the couch!”

Book, music, lyrics & direction
by Barry Kleinbort

Through Dec. 30
Tues.-Thurs. at 7:30pm
Fri./Sat. at 8:30pm
Sun. at 3:30pm
At 59E59 Theaters
59 E. 59th St., btw. Madison & Park Aves.For tickets ($25), call 212-279-4200

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