I saw that the actress Beth Howland died yesterday at the age of 75. I didn't remotely know her well, and only briefly, but did know her a slight bit several decades ago. Sometime around 1980 I had done an internship on the TV series, Alice, on which she played the ditzy character Vera. However, I knew of her before that from her role in Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical, Company. She had one big solo number in that, the tongue-twisting, "(Not) Getting Married Today."
She was quite nice and we got along well. In fact, I once invited her over for dinner -- nothing romantic, we just got along -- and she said sure. We set weekend plans, and I went about doing my best to get my apartment presentable and prepare a tasty meal. (A challenge for a young guy living on his own...) At this point, I don't remember all the specifics, but basically when things got past the time we had set for dinner, I called and got someone at her home saying that she had some visitors, and took a message. I waited longer -- and longer. Eventually it got late enough that I called again -- not so much for dinner at that point, but mostly curiosity. "Oh, she's gone to bed," I was told.,
My recollection is that one of the first thoughts I had was to write an episode for Alice where things turn out really badly for Vera. Given that I wasn't in the WGA at the point, I was a lowly intern, and no one was asking me to write a script for the show, it didn't get any farther than that.
I don't really recall the resolution of things, but I think all that happened is that I offhandedly brought up "So, what happened?" when we crossed paths on the show the next Monday, and she gave a cursory, "Oh, sorry," and that was it. I still liked her -- she was a very nice person -- and we continued to get along, but after that I had no particular interest in making any effort to remain friends. She was an actress, I got it, and there are aspects of the cliche that do ring true for some.
But she was personable, talented and I'm sorry to hear of her loss.
Rather than include a clip here of Beth Howland as Vera, I figure that most places remembering her will be doing that. Instead I wanted to play her singing "(Not) Getting Married Today" from Company-- lesser-known to most people, but in some ways far more notable and I think longer-lasting.
I was going to just embed the audio of her singing the number from the Broadway Cast Album. But instead, I found something much better. This is from a great 1970 TV documentary on PBS by filmmaker DA Pennebaker on the making of that cast album of Company -- and it's the sequence when Beth Howland rehearses and then records this very difficult song.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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