On Stage: the return of Pal Joey | Calendar | Chicago Reader

On Stage: the return of Pal Joey 

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Dear Pal Ted:

Well pal it may come like a bolt out of the blue as the saying goes, me writing you after all these years and not a word. After all I was pretty steamed last time I wrote. Well that was 48 years ago and like the clock says time flies. Some things stay the same but the important things change or was it the other way around. Regardless, I am in deed writing and hope this reaches you.

I am sure you are retired by now Its been a long long time since you were leading one of the Naton's No. 1 Bands. I hope you are living comftably on the royalties from all the songs you stole (just kidding) (maybe). I no longer pursue my former occupaton which was as youll recall m.c. at my own nite club here in Chicago. It was a swell joint, Chez Joey, you know me, only the best in a mouse or a house. I cld. never apprisiate anything but the best. When it became impossible to maintain standards I got out of the biz & since I had a buck here & there hid under the rug I was able to keep body & soul together. Theres nothing to spend it on any more any way. No one remembers the good old days.

Or so I thot. I guess I am an error. Just when I thot the past was finely layed to rest there bringing back that show. Pal Joey. You know, the one they made up out of our letters. (My letters that is, you were never as much of a corespondent as me.)

I never saw Pal Joey. I remember you did when it opened on Xmas day in 1940 in N.Y. You said it had me down perfect. I guess thats good. After all, Gene Kelly who played me was a charming chap, and Rodgers and Hart always wrote good tunes. I used to get requests at the club for that one song from the show, "I Cld. Write a Book."

One person who shld. not have written a book was my ex-pal John O'Hara, who wrote the script for the show. It was based on these stories he did about me in the New Yorker. That was in 1938-9-40. Then he put them all together in to a book. Well it was a set-up from the start. But what do you want from some drunk who wrote stories about Chicago for a magazine called the New Yorker? This guy O'Hara had me coming to Chi on the run because I had some troble with a cute mouse in Ohio. I never had troble with any mouse. Except that one rich mouse here, Vera, who set me up in my crib and then dumped me. If I ever see her Ill punch her teeth down her throat. Woman or no woman.

This O'Hara guy tried to make me out a bum because Chez Joey wasnt in the tops here, like Chez Paree. Well theres a warehouse where Chez Paree was now. At least I had a job. Thats better than O'Hara did. He lived in Chicago in 1927 and it was strictly from hunger. "In Chicago I never had any hope" he wrote (I got this mouse I know to go to the libary here and write it down). "It was not my town. I was too much of an Easterner for it." Yeah, cry me a river like the song says.

Anyway I got to admit this O'Hara payd me a pretty big compliment later on. A lot later. Well time wounds all heels. It was 1957 and they made Pal Joey into a movie. They wanted to switch the local from CIA to Frisco. I guess they didnt like it here either. Well they got Frank Sinatra to play me and when somebody asked O'Hara if he liked Sinatra's performance he said "I didnt have to see Sinatra. I invented him." Meaning me. And Sinatra was a big star! Even tho he cld. not dance as well as I (I guess thats what O'Hara ment when he cracked that "Gene Kelly's voice was going to be dubbed in for Frankie's").

So there going to bring back Pal Joey. This place in Chicago called the Goodman Theatre. Its at 200 S. Columbus Drive. The shows in previews now but it opens June 13 and runs at least through August 7, and the number is 443-3800 (I wish they still used letters like they use to insted of all numbers). Only they say there going to make it different from the original. More adult. There were plenty of people who thot it was adult enough the first time. That fella Larry Hart had lyrics like "Couldn't sleep / And wouldn't sleep / Until I could sleep where I shouldn't sleep" and "Vexed again / Perplexed again / Thank God I can be oversexed again." Vera was oversexed all right. I read they got this actress to play her here named Carlin Glynn who won a Tony Award in N.Y.C. for a show called The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. They sure know Vera. (Some hep young kid named Kevin Anderson is playing me. He got the part because another actor broke his leg. At least I hope he broke his leg. I mean I hope somebody else didnt break it for him.)

Richard Rodgers, who wrote the music (this was when he cld. swing, before he got into all that mushy stuff with that Hammerstein fella) said that Pal Joey "forced the entire musical-comedy theatre to wear long pants for the first time." I guess he ment it wasnt all June/moon/spoon. (He also called me an addled essent I think it was. At least when O'Hara called me a slob I knew what he ment) But I guess the "long pants" didnt fit so well on some. This N.Y. Times theater colyumist, Brooks Atkinson used words like "depravity" and "punks progress" to describe it. He said "Although Pal Joey is expertly done, can you draw sweet water from a foul well?" Whose foul well? I can slap him wound and I will if I ever see him. (I am still going to the gym 3 or 4 times a week not that I need it.)

These people at the Goodman say the show will be "real 40s." Thats how they all talk these theater people. Well that was quite a time pal. The war for one thing. Remember what I wrote you back then? Let me rehearse it for you briefley. I told you about this fella Charley I knew. He use to be accountaint for Capone or perhaps it was Bugs Moran or Deeny O'Bannon. Charley knew all the angels before any one else did, and he said wed be going in to the war. "We will be in it before the horses stop running at Hialeah," he says back in 39 or was it 40? I think it was around the time Charlie Lindbergh spoke against the U.S. of A. going in to the war at Soldier Field. I wrote you that we shld. enlist before we got drafted so we cld. start a band together. Like John Phillips Sousa. But you never got back at me.

This Bob Falls whose directing Pal Joey at Goodman has made some changes to the script and I thing is changing it from 1939 to 1941 so that it can end on Pearl Harbor Day with me telling this mouse Linda (real cute, but sort of dumb) that Im going overseas with Bob Hope. Dont I wish I had gone overseas.

But Im still here. They have been tryin to find me to do publicity on there show but they can look all they want. I have cut off all communicaton with every one. I dont wolf around with the mice any more. Im stayin put in my crib pal with just your records to keep me company. After all theres no pals like the old pals. So wont you pick up a pen and write

Yr Pal

Joey

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.

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