Saturday, July 01, 2017


Karen Black, 1965
Karen arrived in New York city in 1962.  She worked odd jobs, performed Shakespeare in the Park, off-Broadway productions, came close to a Broadway debut in the original version of "Something Happened on the Way to the Forum,"  but didn't last past the previews.  Then in 1965 at the age of 24, she got a phone call that changed her life for the Broadway play The Playroom.  From her unpublished biography:

A woman who had witnessed one of my auditions, singing with my guitar, wanted me to go up for a play called “The Playroom”.  She knew I was very young,  not only looked young, and the part was for a fifteen year old character. Okay, I rose from my couch and readied myself.

I went by subway to a tall building, one of the top floors, actors were given scripts to study before going across the street to a Broadway theater and getting on stage to audition.  I read the scene without enthusiasm.  It was bunches of teens singing and talking.

In the course of time, I was walked across the street.  Waiting, waiting. I was told later that hundreds of girls auditioned.  So there I was in a huge mass of “being teen” girls.  I’ve never seen so many blonde ponytails in my life.  Waiting waiting. I found some stairs backstage and climbed them and there before my weary eyes:  a black leather couch!  I lay down and almost immediately went to sleep.

The stage manager, a handsome gay fellow who seemed to grasp the amusing quality of the moment awakened me and handed me the other scene.
 Okay, drowsily, I sat up to read it.  Oh my God!  This was a role.  Of course she’s saying that and doing that - she is frightened down to the depths of her being that she will lose her father, Lose him, if he goes on that trip.  Fear drives her; why it could drive her clear across the stage.  Oh my god she would do anything, anything to make him stay.
Enormously inspired, I rose and I paced.

It was my turn next.  I went behind the curtains and could hear the girl auditioning onstage. Well she was very Bryn Mawr.  I’ll never forget the comfortable drawling of her words.  “NO!” I said to myself. “All wrong!´ There’s nothing comfortable here.  This moment here is life and death for our character.

 I got out on stage and they wanted me to do sing, talk teen scene.  I sang “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” acapella in my soprano range.   Joseph Anthony’s voice then rose from the back of the pitch dark theater, “Do you know anything a bit more - Rock and roll?”  I sang the new Beatles hit, “We Can Work it Out.”

Well they seemed to like that okay because they then invited me to continue and to do the scene.  

In the scene, my dad way across the stage. I ran up to him as I spoke.  I ran in desperation, hardly knowing I was moving. It was fear driving me to him.  I begged him to stay, and every word held beneath its sound the depth of fear urging me to speak.  I finished the scene.

I won’t forget what happened next.  Because what happened next was nothing.  Silence.

Then Joseph Anthony’s voice came out of  the darkness, “Where have you been?” he asked.

“Why, I’ve been right here, “ I answered. “Right here in New York City.”
Rehearsals were intense.  I would get on the subway with the toast and hardboiled egg still in my mouth, and sometimes it was hard to swallow it.  I was concerned!  I wanted to do the best that I could. Seeing Peter Kastner there everyday mde my insides rise to an exotic delight.  It was if a light shone from his Canadian sweater right into my eyes when I would see him every morning onstage.  And Joseph Anthony was a proud handsome and wonderful director.  He would say to the kids- Peter Kastner, Bonnie Bedelia, Christopher Norris, Augusta Dabney And me,  “Nothing! is easier to play than fear.  Just about anyone can produce fear in his or her belly and feel it.”  For some reason I never forgot those words and they helped me to feel a comfortable latitude in pulling up my fears in shows such as  “Trilogy of Terror!”

Mr. Anthony invited me to stay over at his wonderful home out of town - a white house with windows galore in the living room overlooking forestry.  After breakfast one morning and after what he called our “Ablutions” we  all went for a walk through the  trees, beautiful forlorn trees of November. Mr. Anthony then said, “Didn’t this come on rather suddenly?” meaning Peter and myself.
I suddenly wasn’t alone anymore.  There were calls for interviews.  The New York Times came over to the shabby place where Peter and I were living and mentioned in the paper that it was a railroad apartment on the 55th Street and 10th Avenue (an awful section of town in the mid sixties) and that the rent was $85 dollars a month.  Well what did they expect?  I had lived on as little as believe it or not 30 dollars a week in my time there in New York!  Was I suddenly to be a rich Broadway star??  

1 comment:

coolwriter said...

Indeed, Karen, you were hitched to the destiny of your star and your intention.