November 7, 2008
Start spreadin’ the news, I’m leavin’ today.
I want to be a part of it, New York, New York . . .
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere . . .
— Fred Ebb, 1933-2004
For five seasons beginning in September of 1966, Marlo Thomas played That Girl, a beginning actress and model seeking to establish her career in New York. She predated by four years Mary Tyler Moore’s role as the same kind of character, although critics, especially feminist critics, will point out that Ann Marie seemed much more dependent financially and emotionally on her father and boyfriend than Mary Richards ever was. The difference might be the rise of the modern women’s movement (Ms magazine began publishing just after Mary Tyler Moore’s show went on the air). But it might also be that where Mary Richards worked in an office (albeit the office of a television news program), Ann Marie was endeavoring to make it in the less stable and predictable world of performing, where even a small recurring role in a long-running show can be hard to come by.
Readers of this space know that my daughter and her friends who were the Class of 2004 at Susquehanna Township High School are now, most of them, the Class of 2008 of various colleges and universities. Some have gone on to law school or medical school, some are pursuing other graduate degrees, and some, like Lynn, are working as teachers or financial analysts or scientists or nurses or in some other field that they prepared for.
Lynn and I arrived in New York late this afternoon, parked by reservation in a garage on West 72nd Street, and then walked the two blocks to our hotel, the Comfort Inn on West 71st. It is the smallest hotel room we’ve ever seen — about 8 by 10 feet with one double bed and almost no room to turn around. But it’s clean, quiet, safe, and, at $115, a real deal. (I highly recommend it, and you know how I can be about accommodations.) It was a balmy autumn evening, so we walked the seven blocks to Lincoln Center to meet up with Lynn’s classmate Bethany, now a real life That Girl.
Lynn and Bethany have known each other since before kindergarten. Here you see them at about six (Bethany’s in the hat), hamming it up on the last day of school. They took ballet lessons together. They moved through classes and school music activities together. When both were denied substantial roles in their school’s production of Les Misérables and were relegated to the chorus, they stamped their feet and screamed their anger and threatened to quit, but then resolved to be the best nameless wretches they could be.
It’s that kind of determination to work with the situation you have rather than the one you want that saw Lynn complete a challenging science degree in four years while also playing field hockey and working. Bethany went to the College of William and Mary, majored in theater and English, appeared in numerous productions there, and graduated bent on making a name for herself in musical theater. She worked all summer at home and visited the city on weekends to get her bearings, saved her money, and just last week moved to New York. She lives on W. 57th Street with two men and a woman she never met before, and will start the four to midnight shift at Planet Hollywood next week, a job that will leave her free in the daytime to go on auditions.
At dinner tonight I made a reference to That Girl, and had to explain it to both Bethany and Lynn. They are more familiar with the young actors portrayed in Rent or A Chorus Line or Friends. But Bethany is more like Mary Richards than like Ann Marie. She’s serious about her career, not dependent on parents or boyfriend, and has a plan to establish herself within a year. We left wishing her well on her audition tomorrow for the touring company of Wicked.
When Lynn and Bethany took ballet lessons together, Bethany’s mother and I alternated driving duties. I had the better deal. On weeks that I drove I had the company of these delightful little girls during the trip and an invigorating exercise walk around the parking lot during the lesson, and on the off week I had quiet time alone. Bethany’s mother always had her other three children to look after — a boy a year older than Bethany and twin toddlers.
Both our lives are quieter now. The older boy is in medical school and the ones I still call “the little boys” are undergraduates. Bethany’s mother and I worked ourselves out of a job, launching these children out into the world as strong and capable young adults. But the music of their laughter lingers, and I hope it gives Bethany’s mother as much joy as it does me.
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