HELLO AMERICA!—I am always surprised when many people explode with horror when hearing about some kid who is not even in his or her teens goes off to explore New York. Frankly, it’s relative to who the kid is and how he or she sees the world. For example, one of my mom’s friends, Louise Smith, had been a regular on “The Fred Waring TV Show”; she recommended I should audition for the singing master. A time was set up with Allan Craig, the show’s music director, and I began to prepare for the audition that would be in New York City. My mom tried to convince me to allow my Aunt Betty to tag along but I was 13 and determined to go it on my own.
New York City was so much more than I expected: the skyscrapers, the constant flow of the masses, the dissonant sounds of the streets interspersed with voices representing every country in the world, the taxi cabs that were constantly stopping and starting, the store windows enticing one in to buy their goods. It was a raw, deafening symphony that embraced one of the greatest cities in the world. I was eager to move with it, totally unafraid.
Singing for Allan Craig, who was amazed that I was in the city all by myself, turned out being one of the easiest challenges I had ever experienced. He was sensitive, warm and, best of all, impressed with my voice. He agreed to have me perform once on a summer show with the group but made me promise that I continue my studies and fully prepare for a solid career in whatever I finally decided to do.
While in New York, Allan insisted on showing me the city. He phoned my mom to get her consent, and the doors of the city opened wide. When he found that I had never experienced the YMCA, he booked a room there for me. Then off we went on an eye-opening journey that caused me to know where my life might lead. Even though I had patronized the “Horn & Hardart” automat in Philadelphia, I still was anxious to visit the New City version. Allan suggested we see a stage show at the famed Roxy Theater, another at Radio City Music Hall and finish the day with a visit to a cinema museum that presented old silent films.
However, the highlight of my New York experience was meeting the outrageous Tallulah Bankhead. She and Allan were good friends and he arranged a meeting. He warned that the actress was like none other, and he was right! When introduced, she extended her hand and said, “Dawling, you look good enough to this prompted a laugh from Allan and a gutsier one from Miss Bankhead. Then, while encouraging us to take a seat, she asked, “Dawling, what do you have? Scotch or gin?” I was speechless, Allan quickly interrupted with, “He’s not drinking, Tallulah. A bit young, you know.”
When Allan signed me in at the YMCA, he mentioned that even at place like that one had to be careful. There were always sexual deviates around. He suggested that I place a chair up against the knob of my door before going to bed. I found this suggestion extremely wise because, not long after midnight, there were several knocks at the door and one guest tried the door more forcibly.
When returning home, I related the New York City experience to the family; I even revealed the YMCA challenge and my grandmother nearly fainted in horror. My next trip to the big city, the family insisted that I was accompanied by a family member. Even though I protested, I quietly agreed.