Ruth Anne Clairison of Upper Montclair, NJ, charms us with this embarrassing tale from 1936:
We had never heard of Beatrice Lillie or Bert Lahr (this was years before Just Around the Corner or The Wizard of Oz) but when our uncle told my twin brother and me that he had free tickets to their new revue at the Winter Garden Theatre, we were on it like a dog on a porkchop.
We had never been to a legitimate theater before, so didn’t know what to expect. Outside a newsboy was shouting: “Extree! Extree! Read all about it! Passenger liner goes down with all hands on board!” So it was a big night for a lot of people, and we knew the revue had to be even more exciting.
The theater manager came out in front of the curtain to announce that Mr. Lahr had been taken ill, and in his stead would be his understudy, the young Byron McBeardsley. My brother and I didn’t know the difference, but I could tell my uncle was profoundly disappointed.
A revue is a series of short plays with songs and music. Our uncle pointed out Bea Lillie to us. She was not a nice lady. She was very mean to the young man who was replacing Bert Lahr.
In the second scene he was playing a piano, and she closed the key-lid on his fingers, just to be mean. Then she laughed.
“I think she is drunk,” said our uncle. “Come children, we are getting our money back.”
But at the box office they said we couldn’t have refunds because they were free tickets. My uncle became very angry, and the manager had to bring in five policemen to calm him down. He ended up putting us on the train to Upper Montclair, but we missed the last one that evening and had to sleep on a bench in Penn Station.
It was not a fun night.