Volume 75, Number 23 | Oct. 26 - Nov. 01, 2005

No joke: Ballard to be honored by Caring Community

By Jerry Tallmer

When Kaye Ballard comes to New York to accept the Caring Community’s 2005 Greenwich Village Alumni Award next Tuesday, Nov. 7, she’ll be staying for a few days at the Hotel Edison on 47th Street, just off Times Square, exactly where she first lived in this city when Spike Jones brought 17-year-old Kaye here to sing with his band in 1943.

“Right across the street,” said Kaye Ballard last weekend by phone from her digs in Rancho Mirage, Cal., “there was the Joey Gold ticket agency. A man there named Jesse Berelly said to me one day: ‘Kid, you ever seen a Broadway show?’ and gave me — gave me — a ticket to see Laurette Taylor in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ Then I saw Ethel Merman in ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ and that’s when I knew that’s what I have to do, rather than sit around in a cold-water flat.”

She hasn’t been doing much sitting around since. Her dossier of movies, stage work and television — most famously opposite Eve Arden in “The Mothers-in-Law” — stretches from the 1940s into the here and now, as conveyed with pizzazz in her two solo shows of the 1980s, “Hey Ma … Kaye Ballard” and “Kaye Ballard, Working 42nd Street at Last,” and in her recent autobiography “How I Lost 10 Pounds in 53 Years.”

She wrote that one and published it herself, sold 3,000 copies, and is now negotiating with a more formal publisher.

“I wrote it for the people who came to see ‘The Palm Spring Follies’ that I was in last year — the people who danced to the same prom songs I did. You know, ‘Imagination,’ ‘The Very Thought of You’ — all the old Bobby Short songs.

“Rancho Mirage is outside Palm Springs. This was the 14th year of ‘The Palm Spring Follies,’ but my first. You have to be over 55 to be in it. We did three months, 750 seats, nine shows a week. Now I’m writing a sequel: ‘How I Gained 10 Pounds in 53 Minutes — at an Italian Wedding.’ ”

So sayeth Catherine Gloria Balotta, daughter of Vincent and Lena Balotta of Cleveland, Ohio.

“An Italian background is a lot like a Jewish background. My father was a cement finisher and very proud of it. He would take me around to parts of Cleveland and say: ‘I laid this cement down in 1933.’ My mother made me think she never believed in me. It was very difficult. But I loved my mother.

“I’ve been performing since I was 15” — that was at the Stage Door Canteen in Cleveland — “and next month [Nov. 20] I’ll be 80. I’m getting o-l-l-l-d, but I don’t feel it. I’ll always work until I die because I never saved any money, and God bless the union, that’s all I say.

“I have a bad knee — hurt my knee in ‘The Full Monte’ [2001] and didn’t get a goodbye from anyone. That’s show business today.”

She affirms that, yes, she’s a cancer survivor, but she lets the interviewer say the bad word without it passing her own lips. “It’s been 10 years,” she does say. “I don’t think about it. Maybe that’s a good thing or maybe it’s a bad thing. Smoke? No, I never never never. Though I sang in nightclubs and that’s not so hot either. Secondhand smoke.”

It was Arthur Makar, executive director of Greenwich Village’s Caring Community, who phoned her some months ago — “No, I don’t have e-mail, are you mad?” she inserted — to say he’d read her book and would like to invite her to be honored at this year’s gala.

At that event at Tribeca Rooftop at 2 Desbrosses Street on Nov. 7 she’s going to do a 15-minute bit “on what show-business humor used to be like,” along with a tribute to the late Henny Youngman.

“I loved Henny. He used to feed me all my one-liners at the Bon Soir [downstairs on Eighth Street]. ‘Open with this! Open with that!’

“I’ve lived through a wonderful era. Such fun. Class, also. I don’t know why anyone thinks gross is funny. You know what’s missing today? Wit! Wit!”

It was 1947 when she first moved into the Village — “first to Fourth Street, then to 25 Fifth Avenue, then 12th Street, then Ninth Street, and then, when I was doing ‘Pirates of Penzance’ I moved Uptown. I was in ‘Pirates’ 53 weeks at the Minskoff as Ruth [the Pirates’ Maid-of-All-Work]. Was there through seven Frederics [the Pirate Apprentice], three or four Pirate Kings and Maureen McGovern — a vegetarian [so quirky that] she didn’t even have a box of Kleenex — as Mabel.

“After ‘Pirates,’ I moved back down to 1 Sheridan Square. That’s right, the building under which Café Society Downtown used to be. Only you would remember that,” she quipped to this writer.

“You know, I was in Los Angeles 10 years and never bought a Los Angeles Times. I couldn’t stand it. I bought The New York Times. I’m afraid to tell anybody out here that I’m a Democrat.

“New York,” said Kaye Ballard, over that phone from California, “anything to do with New York. New York is my heart.”

As one enters the Hotel Edison on West 47th Street, the Edison Coffee Shop — otherwise known as the Polish Tea Room — is just to the left. See you there, Kaye.

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