Who wouldn’t feel blessed to have had the opportunity


to drink and laugh with Jack Lemmon, Robert Preston and Jason Robards?


          to share friendships with Alan North, Bob Carroll, Bob Freeman, Steve Gray, 

John Van Buren Sullivan, Frank Ogden, Bob Russell, Stan Early, William Ball,

Jack McInerney, Jr. and Jack Molyneaux?


to sing with Robert Rounseville and Charles Nelson Reilly?


to argue with George C. Scott?


to listen to Charles Collingwood and Sidney Zion?


to receive advice from Forrest Tucker and Ed Herlihy?


to drink with Malachy McCourt and Gig Young?


to have his foot washed by Cardinal O’Connor in St. Patrick’s Cathedral?


to discuss Gen. Douglas McArthur with his wife Jean?


to make Sardi’s Restaurant a second home for over half a century?


This series of remembrances is dedicated to the institution that enabled

most of them and to the past and present overseers of that institution...

Vincent Sardi, Vincent Sardi, Jr. and Max Klimavicius

            “They mean this night in Sardis to be quartered.”

            (W. Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, IV, ii.)










ACT I                         IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK







JACK LEMMON                         NOBODY’S PERFECT? SAYS WHO?






STEVE GRAY                            TWO UNION MEN MEET AT A BAR (WELL, ALMOST)



ED HERLIHY                             HE SAID “CHEESE” – FOR FORTY YEARS

BOB CARROLL                          HE SANG A RHAPSODY




SIDNEY ZION                            WRITE ALL ABOUT IT







                                                    NEED ONE




MALACHY MCCOURT                    HIMSELF, IS IT?


‘21’ CLUB                                      NUMBERS












(with apologies to Oscar Levant)






As they say, there’s a first time for everything.


In 1954, I’d just returned from Korea, gotten out of the Army and visited Sardi’s Theatrical Restaurant & Bar for the first time, a visit that turned into a life-long association. I was all of 22 years old and determined to finish my last two years of college before making my mark as an actor. Notwithstanding the fact that I never really succeeded in my chosen profession, between then and now I’ve had the great, good fortune to meet, enjoy and sometimes befriend some of the nicest and most interesting people on this planet, getting to know them as human beings regardless of their celebrity.


Rendering of West 44th St./Sardi's


Sardi's is one of the world’s most famous restaurants, a Broadway institution as central to the life of the theater as actors, agents and critics. It was, the press agent Richard Maney once wrote, “the club, mess hall, lounge, post office, saloon and marketplace of the people of the theater.”

The NY Times - January 5, 2007




Before 1954 would close, I saw two new musicals, each introducing an 18-year old who would go on to superstardom, Florence Henderson in FANNY and Julie Andrews in THE BOY FRIEND. Julie Andrews would arrive, less than two years later, as Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY. I also got my first glimpse of a hot, young actor named Jack Lemmon in a movie with the improbable title of “PHFFFT” and had the good fortune to meet him for the first time at Sardi’s Little Bar a few years later, a meeting that began a 45-year acquaintanceship. That was the environment in which I started to dream my own dreams.


Many of us of a certain age have treasured memories of growing up in the America of the 1950’s, memories of a different (some might say better) country. We conjure up precious images of a victorious and virtuous society, still flush with winning World War II and helping to heal and rebuild those societies manifestly damaged in that global conflict. The next global conflict, the ‘cold war’, had not yet fully blossomed (though it had mushroomed) and innovation and inevitability informed our innocence and drove our ambition. Thus, the beginnings of our adult lives coincided with other beginnings that would shape us – television and air travel, prosperity and peace, all amidst an abundance of optimism.


It was in this 1950’s atmosphere that, as a young man, I began my attempt to realize my show business ambitions. Broadway was vibrant. Television had taken hold and had not yet flown to California. And the streets and bars of the theatrical district were full of dream-seekers and strivers, some on their way up, some already well arrived, and most (like myself) destined never quite to get there.


The seeds for my initial visit to Sardi’s were sown several years earlier in high school (Iona Prep in New Rochelle, NY) where I appeared in two productions, and by the time I graduated in 1950 I was stage-struck. Starring in both productions and directing one was an amazingly gifted schoolmate, a wunderkind named William Ball and, whenever he was performing, I couldn’t take my eyes away from him. Bill Ball was my first theatrical idol. I grabbed every chance I could to talk with him and he was gracious enough to put up with this bothersome underclassman. He graduated two years ahead of me and went on to Fordham University and then Carnegie Tech where he received degrees in acting, scenic design and directing. He also studied repertory-theater in England on a Fulbright scholarship and eventually founded the American Conservatory Theater in 1965. Bill became a driving force in the American theater and he made ACT into one of the most important regional theaters in the country.


Another seed for my first visit to Sardi’s was another schoolmate, a classmate named Jack McInerney, Junior. Jack was straight out of Damon Runyon, a street-smart and extremely likable wise guy who seemed to know everybody. His father worked for Paramount Pictures, handled Bob Hope’s publicity and was head of advertising and publicity for the Paramount Theater Corporation. Jack McInerney, Senior had his New York office in the Paramount Theater building on 44th and Broadway and his son, often accompanied by me, had free run of the theater. Jack Jr. would take me backstage and I’d watch the live acts from the wings with him, mingle with the performers and got to know some of the people who worked backstage, principally Chick Barth, the stage doorman, and Phil Taylor, the Stage Manager. Also, just 50 yards down the street from the Paramount’s stage door was the door to another stage, Sardi’s Restaurant and Bar.


The first time I went through Sardi’s door was on a day early in October 1954, a few weeks after I got out of the Army. Although my immediate goal was to return to Iona College and finish my last two years, I’d have to wait several months for the start of the next semester. On my first two weekends back from Korea, there were a family wedding and a family funeral and I had to wear my uniform to both, my civvies no longer fit. The third week, accepting that I had to stop masquerading as a soldier, I went to a clothing store in midtown Manhattan called Browning 5th Avenue, still in my uniform. After buying a few suits and shirts, and arranging to have the necessary alterations done in a few days, I walked west, bound for the Paramount Theater at 44th and Broadway.


I had fond memories of the Paramount from having spent some time backstage with Jack McInerney, Jr. In those days, in addition to movies, the Paramount Theater had live entertainment. It was at the Paramount in the 1940’s that a young crooner named Frank Sinatra became the heartthrob of the bobby-soxers, the young girls who’d swoon whenever he sang. It was backstage at the Paramount where this star-struck teenager was able to meet some of the musicians and singers who did the live shows and once, even Bob Hope himself. Mr. Hope was in New York doing some publicity for a movie (I think it was called The World's Greatest Lover) and was visiting with Jack McInerney, Senior, when young Jack and I walked into his father's office on the 5th floor of the Paramount building. Jack had told me earlier of his father's relationship with Bob Hope, but never hinted that he, himself, knew the man. I was amazed at the warmth of the greeting between my classmate and this major entertainer, and delighted by the handshake and cordiality that accompanied my introduction to the man. For the next hour or so, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, listening to the conversation Jack and his father had with Bob Hope, some of it business, most of it personal.


Besides meeting Bob Hope, two other Paramount backstage experiences with Jack Jr. stand out in my memory. One day during the Martin & Lewis appearances, Jack and I were sitting with his father in his office when someone stuck his head in and announced, “They’re off and on their way up”. Jack Senior said something like, “Come on. You gotta see this.” We followed him to another room on the fifth floor, one that had a window looking out onto West 44th Street. Through the open window you could hear a groundswell of noise and the beginnings of the chant, “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” As young Jack and I watched through the open door of the dressing room, Jack’s father walked over to where Jerry Lewis was leaning out the window, mugging for the hundreds of young fans clogging 44th Street below. Mr.McInerney reached into a box on the floor and started handing Jerry fistfuls of Martin & Lewis glossy photographs to toss out the window to the frenzied fans below.


Another time in 1952, Sinatra was making his comeback and had either just gotten the part of Maggio in “From Here To Eternity” or had already finished some of the filming. He was making a triumphant return to the Paramount, backed up by Hugo Winterhalter’s orchestra, and West 44th Street was mobbed. Jack Junior and I were elbowing our way through the crowd, fighting our way to the stage door. Chick Barth, the stage doorman, saw us and started shouting at the crowd to let us through. Some in the crowd, figuring whoever was being let through had to be somebody, started to shout, “Who is that?” Jack Junior, a first class troublemaker, pointed to me with my red hair and shouted, “That’s Van Johnson, Junior.” I signed several autographs (as V. Johnson, Jr.) before we were able to reach where Chick Barth was holding the stage door open for us. As we got inside and the door closed behind us, Chick and Jack Junior were still laughing and asking for my autograph.


Phil Taylor, the Stage Manager, quieted us down and led us over to where we could watch Sinatra’s performance. We were offstage left, in the wings, Jack and I and Phil Taylor, standing around an empty folding chair. Sinatra finished his set, exited to where we were standing and sat down while the orchestra played over the applause and the shouts for “more”. He saw Jack Junior, said “Hey Jack, how ya doing?” and then Jack introduced me, another Jack. Sinatra shook my hand, smiled warmly, laughed and said something like, “Well, whatta you know, we got openers, a pair of Jacks.” Then the orchestra started playing his encore music and he got up to go back on, telling Jack and me to go upstairs and wait for him in his dressing room, 5B. We did so, Sinatra finished his encores and 20 or so minutes later got back to his dressing room where ‘a pair of Jacks’ were waiting. He remembered my name (it was a 2 out of 2 shot as there were only 2 of us with him in the room, both named Jack) and I spent the next half hour listening in on a casual conversation between my classmate and a slightly older and extremely skinny crooner, a gracious celebrity who was on his way to becoming the megastar of my generation.


At any rate, with those memories (and not having seen young Jack McInerney or Chick Barth for more than 2 years), I left the clothing store, walked west on 44th Street and banged on the locked stage entrance door of the Paramount Theater, not knowing what kind of reception I might get. Fortunately, it was Chick Barth who opened the door, but all he saw was some guy in an Army uniform and showed no sign of recognition. I told him that I was recently returned from Korea, and after first stopping in Hollywood to see my father Van Johnson, had come here in search of a sonnuvabitch called Jack McInerney, Junior. It took Chick a moment to connect the dots before a smile lit up his face and he welcomed me back to the Paramount. We chatted for a while, Chick wanted to know what I’d been up to and we strolled around backstage while I answered his questions. I was also trying to dredge up old and pleasant memories to replace the unpleasantness that was Korea. In answer to my questions, Chick told me that he hadn’t seen young Jack for a while but thought he was still living with his mother in New Rochelle. (Jack and I did get back together, but that’s another, sadder story.)


After saying goodbye to Chick and my visit to the past, I made a visit to my future. I walked out onto 44th Street, turned left and strolled by the NY Times newsprint loading docks down to this place I knew about but had never been to, Sardi’s Theatrical Restaurant & Bar. It was mid-afternoon when I first walked through the front door, veered a bit to the right and entered the ‘Little Bar’. I stood at the far end of a small bar, with only two or three other people at the other end, and ordered a scotch and water. The bartender, a delightful Italian gentleman and avid bocce player named Johnny Vioti, asked if I had any preference. I looked up at the shelves behind him and the first thing I saw was the bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label. I ordered Johnnie Walker Black then and have done the same in every one of the thousands of visits since. Johnny welcomed me then, maybe it was the uniform, and became an integral part of the welcoming committee there (and at Sardi's East) for years to come.


While I will accept most of the blame for this book of remembrances, some of the blame must be shared by others. William Ball provided me with my first personal glimpse at the effect a performer could have on an audience, Jack McInerney, Jr. provided me with backstage access to a new and wonderful world and Vincent Sardi, Jr. and Max Klimavicius provided me with access to some truly remarkable and genuinely nice people.


“…such stuff as dreams are made on.”


*                      *                      *                      *                      *


In those golden days, two of the strivers who would not quite make it were myself and another Jack, Jack Molyneaux, a close friend at Iona College whom I’d known since the age of six. Jack and I had performed often together as amateurs (at Iona, as guest performers at other colleges and in community theaters) and, in our mutual quests for professional fame and fortune, we saw each other on an almost daily basis. Our preferred meeting place was The Little Bar at Sardi’s, where it was comforting to get to be known and welcomed, to be amongst many who had achieved that for which we were just beginning to strive. Three other favored places were just a short walk from Sardi’s, Patsy & Carl’s Theater Bar through Shubert Alley on 45th Street (the “poor man’s Sardi’s”), the bar at the Hotel Manhattan on 8th Avenue between 44th and 45th and Downey’s at 49th Street and 8th Avenue.


By the time I graduated from college in 1957, I had done a lot of work in college and community theaters, along with a short stint in summer stock, and was pretty full of myself. I was well-regarded, often invited to take leading roles, and harbored the foolish notion that my natural gifts precluded any need for serious professional training. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize the folly of my unstructured approach and never realized that I should have been much more serious in preparing for my chosen profession. As a matter of fact, I’d completely ignored some very wise words on that subject from someone I respected, William Ball.


The last time I talked with Bill Ball was mid to late 1957, by which time Bill was back in New York working off-Broadway and I’d finished college and was making the rounds. We met quite by accident late one afternoon in Greenwich Village, somewhere near the old Renata Theater on Bleeker Street. Even after a gap of almost ten years since we last saw each other in high school, it was easy for me to recognize Bill and my bright red hair must have helped his memory. If I recall the circumstances correctly, Bill was either acting in or stage-managing something in the Renata (the following year he would win an award as the best director off-Broadway). I’d had two auditions that day. In the morning I’d read for an Equity Library Theater production of ‘Dial M For Murder’ and was offered a small part as a policeman because of the weather. (It was a rainy day and I wore my trench coat, unintentionally fitting the wardrobe requirements for the part.) That afternoon I’d auditioned for something or other that I did not get. We chatted over a cup of coffee, brought each other up to date, and he had the temerity to advise me that, were I really serious in my ambitions, I should get some good training. I outwardly made signs of agreement, but my ego and overblown sense of self took over. My inner voice was saying to me, “What does he know about innate talent? We don’t need no stinkin' training!”


I was not inclined to take Bill’s advice and we parted with promises, unfulfilled, to stay in touch.


Much of what I’ve included in the pages that follow, regarding those early years, was shared by the other Jack I mentioned earlier, Jack Molyneaux, to whom I owe several nods of gratitude. For one, he’s the reason behind the only time my wife was able to see me on a stage. In 1964, a few years after I gave up my quest for thespian glory, and one year after Maria and I got married, Jack M. called in a bit of a panic. It seems he was running a summer theater, was opening GUYS & DOLLS in two weeks and didn’t have a Nathan Detroit. Could I possibly do it for him? I was delighted at the prospect and jumped at the opportunity. That evening I called my partner and co-owner of the small computer service bureau we operated on Wall Street and arranged a month’s absence. Two week’s later GUYS & DOLLS opened, the production was a great success and I was more than adequate, thank you. Additionally, he has been invaluable in helping me flesh out the memories enshrined here. For, as I started this project on the cusp of the outer limit of my mortality, I felt like Melancholy Jacques in As You Like It, describing Shakespeare’s seventh and final age of man.

Last scene of all,

that ends this strange, eventful history,

is second childishness, and mere oblivion,

sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.


            It was the ‘mere oblivion’ and ‘sans everything’ that concerned me. I’d decided that, while I was yet “the lean and slippered pantaloon….with spectacles on nose” of Shakespeare’s sixth age, with a few faculties still intact, I should set down some things that otherwise would not be recorded should ‘mere oblivion’ set in. The facts of my family life of the past 47 years are well documented in my wife, children and grandchildren. However, the striving, youthful years, while trying and failing to ‘make it’ in the theater were quite another thing. The specifics of what could jokingly be referred to as my “theatrical career” were few and unimportant. What were and remain important to me are the acquaintances established, friendships made, and events embedded in cherished memories. Jack M. provided his invaluable random access memory to buttress my own, our two imperfect stores of data almost equaling one semi-reliable file. Without his assistance, these remembrances might have been of even lesser value. In the final analysis, any defects or imperfections in the rendering thereof, are the results of my own shortcomings.

The stories related here are meant neither to exalt nor to embarrass. Indeed, most of the subjects are in no need of the former and impervious to the latter. These stories, with few exceptions, are intended to demonstrate the essence of humanity in each of the persons involved, famous and not so, living and not so, all admired.

Attempts “….to hold as 'twere, the mirror up to nature”.


Jack McInerney, Jr./Unidentified    Jack Molyneaux/jack Deeney              Jack Deeney           

                1950       Admirer                          1957                                    1956                


                                                    IN SEARCH OF A PART                 NO PART TO PLAY  





(George C. Scott)


            Should you journey to Manhattan’s upper eastside neighborhood around 104th Street and 5th Avenue today, you couldn’t help but notice a classic old building complex called El Teatro Heckscher - El Museo Del Barrio. The sights and sounds emanating from the building these days are temporary, coming from the efforts of the construction crews working on an extensive renovation project. The sights and sounds normally coming from this building spring from the origins of the current inhabitants of the neighborhood, as El Teatro Heckscher serves as the cultural center of a thriving community of people who celebrate their Caribbean and Latin American heritages.


However, should you have been standing in the back of that same Heckscher Theater in December 1957, alongside two aspiring young actors who had argued their way into a sold out theater, the sights and sounds would have been those of Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival production of Richard III. Our two young gatecrashers’ insistence on seeing the show sprang from the fact that the title role was being played by a fairly new acquaintance of theirs, a 30-year old former Marine, a force of nature named GEORGE CAMPBELL SCOTT.


This would be his breakout performance, earning him more starring roles and a ‘best actor’ OBIE the following year. (One critic called it the ‘angriest’ Richard III of all time.) But Scott was hardly an overnight sensation. To quote from the fold-over playbill from 1957, “…(he) has played in more than 130 repertory and stock productions in various parts of the U.S. and Canada.” And his getting the part in the first place was far from a walk in the park.


Months before Richard III opened on November 25, 1957, Stuart Vaughan, the Artistic Director of The New York Shakespeare Festival, was holding auditions for the play he would be directing. Scott had read for the part more than once, had not heard anything and was getting apprehensive. On one particular night, it had to have been after 4 a.m., as the shades on the windows and on the locked front door of Patsy & Carl’s Theater Bar were drawn, his apprehension seemed to be deepening. Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, the place was still half full of kindred souls, most with sad tales of how they’d been treated on the Rialto the previous day – who went to an audition and was cut short after 30 seconds, who went to a cattle call and wasted two hours standing in line, who got a call-back, who got an outright rejection, who hadn’t heard anything. Amongst the grousers were two young wannabes who would become our two young gatecrashers. They were sitting toward the far end of the bar, in the back toward the rest room and telephone booths, alongside a very apprehensive George C. Scott.


Now Scott was not one to be around when he was apprehensive. Besides, he was known to have a drink now and then, which, more often than not, darkened his mood. All the talk about rejection and disappointment, most of it coming from our two young gatecrashers, must have finally gotten to him. He polished off his depth charge (a drink created by dropping a shot glass full of vodka into a glass of beer), bounced off his stool and stomped back toward the phone booths. Somehow he had gotten Stuart Vaughan’s home telephone number and, after waking the director at that unseemly hour, proceeded to threaten bodily harm should the part of Richard III go to anyone other than George C. Scott.


By now you may’ve guessed the identity of the two young wannabe’s, the gatecrashers. As my friend Jack Molyneaux and I watched Scott rush back to the phones and overheard his half of the conversation, we were shocked by its directness. The bodily harm being threatened was menacing enough and, while I won’t repeat the exact words, the clinical term for his threat began with a procedure known as castration. Such a threat being made would have been enough to get anyone’s attention. But, having it delivered at 4 am, at full throttle and in the gruff directness that came to be Scott’s trademark had to have had a stinging impact.


History will show that Scott did get the part and was absolutely breathtaking, did go forward to many subsequent successes, and that Stuart Vaughan endured, all appendages intact, as an icon of the American theater.

            In 1958, Scott did a few more productions with The New York Shakespeare Festival, including playing Melancholy Jacques in AS YOULIKE IT which earned him an OBIE. In 1959, he made his first two films and received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor in one of them, the classic ANATOMY OF A MURDER.  In 1960, he was back on Broadway, nominated for the Tony Award as ‘Best Actor’ for his work in THE ANDERSONVILLE TRIAL. He had arrived.

            I mentioned earlier that Scott spent some time in the Marines. It was the four or five years right after WWII, a period which he didn’t seem particularly anxious to discuss. It seemed strange to me at the time that someone his age (then about 30) could so easily dismiss an experience that had occupied a significant percentage of his adult years. However, I do remember one occasion on which he did talk about it. One afternoon in late July 1958, an old friend of mine (we’d grown up together, went into the Army together and were in Korea at the same time) joined me for a few drinks at the Theater Bar. Gerry P. and I were celebrating the 5th anniversary of the truce which ended the Korean War, standing at the bar and remembering where we were at the precise hour the shooting stopped. Scott was sitting alone against the wall, nursing a beer, in a bit of a mood. If memory serves, he had recently closed in CHILDREN OF DARKNESS (with Coleen Dewhurst, his 2nd and 3rd wife) and may have been sweating out his next project. I waved him over and he joined Gerry and me at the bar. I introduced them (the two of them may have been the two toughest bastards I’ve ever known) and Gerry continued his story about a fire-fight his outfit and the Turks had with the Chinese. It was war-story time, so I countered with a slightly exaggerated account of my fighting alongside the Ethiopians. Scott hadn’t been in a good mood to begin with and all this talk about war-stories seemed to get to him.


He said something to the effect that his biggest regret was that ‘they dropped the fucking atom bomb and stopped the fucking war’ before he had a chance to get into combat.


Gerry’s reaction was immediate and dismissive. He laughed, “Only an asshole who never saw combat would ever think or say that kind of bullshit.”

Now, I assumed Scott didn’t enjoy being laughed at and I was sure he didn’t like being called an asshole, so I stood there between them not knowing what to do. I didn’t know what the hell was coming and either of them could have destroyed me - Scott, over 6 foot tall, stockily built and a bomb waiting to go off and Gerry, a few inches shorter, who could have gone 15 rounds with the devil.


I remember nobody saying anything for a few moments, a lot of staring, a lot of heavy breathing. Then Gerry smiled, offered his hand to Scott and said, “I’m an Army man but I’m always proud to shake the hand of a U.S. Marine." Scott hesitated, then shook the offered hand and smiled as Gerry sat back down on his stool. This seemed to defuse the whole situation and the balloon, which had been about to burst, gently let out its air. Gerry and I spent the next fifteen or so minutes listening to Scott talk about his time in the Marines, mostly about his time in a ceremonial detachment of Marines at Arlington Cemetery. He talked about how he had to march in the funerals for the military they buried there, every day, sometimes several times a day. He talked about the respectful sorrow he had for poor bastards who were buried there, and for their widows and children. He talked about how depressed he became watching the families mourn, “day after day after fucking day”. Subsequently, I heard stories that Scott’s serious drinking began during his time at Arlington. And, after watching him in PATTON, for the first of many times, I also wondered how the Arlington experience had colored his portrayal.


In 1980, a good friend of mine, Alan North, was in the film THE FORMULA, with Scott and Marlon Brando, playing Scott’s boss in the LA Police Department. From Alan’s description of working with him, I gathered that Scott had become a pussycat, a far cry from the hellion I had known briefly 20 years earlier, but more in line with the Marine who was deeply touched by his Arlington experience.

Incidentally, THE FORMULA was written and produced by Steve Shagan, who also wrote and produced SAVE THE TIGER, Jack Lemmon’s Oscar winner. One of the last occasions I saw Jack before he died was in mid-1999, a few months after he and Scott had done the TV movie of INHERIT THE WIND. Jack told me that he thought that even though that ‘crazy son of a bitch’ had mellowed, Scott was still one of the best actors he had ever seen. The pot calling the kettle…..

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