"How old am I?" asked Eli Wallach playfully. The occasion was a staged reading of works by Tennessee Williams, from memoirs, letters, and scenes from his work, most memorably The Glass Menagerie in honor of the playwright's centennial year.
"91," averred a reporter.
With a smile, his finger gestured up. Meeting the challenge, the reporter counted to 95. His face glowed. That's it.
Do the math. Tennessee would have been only five years older and yet he seems to have come from a different era than this veteran actor who was quick to tell me he appeared in two recent movies: Oliver Stone's Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps and Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer.
The Guild Hall evening, directed by Harris Yulin who also performed, featured Mercedes Ruehl and Vincent Piazza, on a break from filming the next season of Boardwalk Empire. Piazza as Lucky Luciano is dapper, hair slicked back. But here reading Tennessee, his curls are romantic; he's a dark Rimbaud. While he would not reveal what's coming in the HBO series, he did say to expect lots of new characters.
A newcomer stole the show: Justine Lupe in her scenes with Eli Wallach's Mister Paradise, and she was Laura to Ruehl's Amanda Winfield.
While many would agree Williams is one of America's best playwrights (if not the best), some formidable ones were present for this occasion: Edward Albee, Jules Feiffer, Joe Pintauro.
The weekend had audiences waxing wistful about the good old days of television talk shows when you could catch a witty hour-and-a-half interview with a listen-worthy celebrity. On Sunday, Dick Cavett took the stage at Guild Hall with a younger fellow Yale graduate, Eric Metaxas, after a clip sequence of his state-of-the-art shows featuring Bette Davis, Groucho Marx, Fred Astaire, Jack Benny, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, etc.
Spry and charming Cavett spoke about his youth in Lincoln, Nebraska, the first time he got the fame bug at age 10. Upon meeting his idol Groucho at George S. Kaufman's funeral, Cavett said, "I'm a big fan." "If it gets any hotter, I could use a big fan," Groucho replied.
With anecdotes galore about Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Bob Hope, Cavett also repeated an old Chico (pronounced short "i") Marx story: a renowned ladies' man, Chico had promised to be on best behavior at a cocktail party for Tallulah Bankhead. "I want to fuck you," he said when introduced, to which she replied, "And so you shall, you dear old-fashioned boy."
During the Q&A, Cavett revealed his worst interview was with the famed Italian director Antonioni when Zabriskie Point came out. He also demonstrated how he could be quick on his feet, giving his mike from the stage to a woman when the usher could not get to her, offering his water to a woman who could not, at first, get her words out. After she'd sipped, he quipped, "And did I mention I have pyorrhea?"
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.