By Tulis McCall
Well, you missed it. And frankly, I have to take responsibility for your error because I didn’t tell you to go, because I got to the show myself just before it closed because life happened. If I HAD gotten my tuchus over to this show on time I would have been shouting from every street corner GO SEE Renée Taylor in MY LIFE ON A DIET – GOGOGOGOGOGOGO!!!
The thing is, if Renée Taylor becomes any more charming, hilarious and in possession of laser-like timing, she will have to be arrested because there is only so much perfection that the rest of us can stand.
The show begins with the briefest acknowledgement of her age (she is in her 80’s) and her physical limitations. She has all the “itis-es” and a few extra conditions to boot. She refers in passing to her glasses, “These are for reading,” she tells us, and then continues, “distance, driving, balance, depth perception and seeing.” And from that second forward we are hers.
And she does not disappoint. She was born and raised in the Bronx (that accent has never gone away) and raised by parents who adored her. Her mother, Freida (a name that will live in infamy) named her Renée after a movie star of the day, Renée Adoree, and believed the local psychic who said that THIS Renée was destined for fame and stardom. That she came in third in the Daily News Chubby Child Contest seemed proof of the prediction.
She inherited her obsession with diets from her mother who followed all the movie magazines and cut the diets out to paste all around the house. Perhaps she got her sense of adventure from her father Charlie whose devotion to gambling provided the need for more than one fast get away in the middle of the night. As a child she was obsessed with food to the point where she was a size 18 when she was 11 years old. The Lou Costello diet of 18 meatballs a day didn’t work….
Taylor’s food obsession was replaced with the sound of applause the moment she stepped on her elementary school stage (with Frieda yelling “Bravo” in different voices from different parts of the audience). High School was going to present more theatrical opportunities but the weight would have to come off – and it did. The next few years were filled with bit parts and more diets (Grace Kelly diet, The Sicilian Nun’s Spiritual Air Diet) and the jobs sprinkled into her life.
She landed in Lee Strasberg’s class with Steve McQueen, Jane Fonda, James Dean and most notably Marilyn Monroe, who broke out in a rash when she had to do a scene, but had the skin of a goddess (she had a diet too). She worked in a club with Barbara Streisand with whom she shared nylon stocking because they were both so poor. She did all the part time jobs that every actor does. Then she got a break and became a regular on the Perry Como show and the Tonight Show (Jack Parr) at the same time. She rubbed shoulders with Jerry Lewis, Jimmy Durante and Hugh Hefner.
But life was still a teeter totter. Nothing was ever secure or enough. especially not her men. It wasn’t until she wrapped her head around that fact that someone introduced her to a writer as a possible business partner. That was Joe Bologna, and 6 months later they were married. That partnership lasted 53 years, and together they wrote dozens of shows.
Taylor never fit the mold, and that has not changed. Nor should it. The anecdotes that make up her life are nearly unbelievable – except when you consider the source. Behind the leopard print accessories and the lame gown lives a magnificent woman who is choosing to tell her story to us. She sits. She reads. She makes us scream and howl. And she breaks our collective hearts – just a little.
I am not big on seeing shows more than once, but should Ms. Taylor return to New York, I will be first in line for a ticket. She is about to tour the country the My Life On A Diet. Keep you ear to the ground and do not miss giving yourself the gift of Renée Taylor. She is one in a bazillion.
MY LIFE ON A DIET by Ms. Taylor and her late husband Joseph Bologna, and was originally directed by Mr. Bologna.
Set by Harry Feiner, costume by Pol’ Atteu, lighting by Stefanie Risk, sound by Jay Riskand projections by Michael Redman. Presented by Julian Schlossberg, Morris S. Levy, Rodger Hess, Harold Newman, Jim Fantaci, Andrew Tobias, andRonald Glazer/Sabrina Hutt.
Visit MY LIFE ON A DIET online: MyLifeOnADietPlay.com; facebook.com/MyLifeOnADiet/