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A Passion for Acting

July 15, 2001|Ann Conway

The connections to New York's Herbert Berghof Studios were everywhere.

There was Uta Hagen, 82, who has taught there since 1947 and is now co-starring in Richard Alfieri's "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" at the Geffen Playhouse.

There were her many former students--including Christine Lahti, who chaired Tuesday's event.

There were the beneficiaries of the event--the HB Playwright's Foundation (the HB for Herbert Berghof, Hagen's late husband) the Geffen, and the Actors' Fund of America.

And there was the memory of the late Jack Lemmon, also a former student of Hagen's. (Lemmon and Lahti had originally been co-chairs of the event).

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 17, 2001 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Ticket price: Because of a production error, a story in Sunday's Southern California Living contained an incorrect price for tickets to the Israel Cancer Research Fund's annual Women of Action Luncheon. Tickets to the Aug. 8 event are $125.

While the post-performance event was recast as a tribute to Lemmon, who died last month, it couldn't help but be a tribute to Hagen.

"Uta brings to life everything she teaches," said Lahti. "Watching her act is like taking a master class." Hagen took a tumble from the stage early in the run--not that it has slowed her down that much. "Except for nearly breaking my back, I haven't been happier since I don't know when," Hagen said. The day after the mishap, she found a gift on her dressing table, a compass, accompanied by a note from her co-star, David Hyde Pierce; "You're incredibly talented. But, you lack direction."

The HB Playwright's Foundation--a favorite charity of Lemmon's--was established in New York in 1965 to offer playwrights and other theater artists an environment where they could develop free of commercial pressures. The Actors' Fund, founded in 1882, is the only national organization that provides for the welfare of all needy entertainment professionals.

Among those at Tuesday's event were Nancy O'Connor, widow of Carroll O'Connor (who also died last month), Theodore Bikel, Marion Ross, Sharon Lawrence and Bruce Vilanch.

"It's extraordinary to be here with Uta," said William Carden, artistic director of the HB foundation, recalling her start on the stage at age 18.

Other Hagen alums on hand included Doris Roberts and Harvey Korman. "Harvey played 'Iago' in my class," Hagen recalled. "He kept getting mad at me because I told him he was funny."

Hagen worked with Lemmon in her very first class, and remembers him warmly: "He shared my passion for the art of acting and the work itself."

Making Contact

At the cast party following the opening of "Contact," the dance show's stunning co-star Holly Cruikshank, a.k.a. "The Girl in the Yellow Dress," made her entrance in a red one. The leggy Cruikshank stars in the longest of three sequences in "Contact," Susan Stroman and John Weidman's Tony Award-winning paean to dance playing at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Cruikshank says she had her first dance lesson at age 3 and credits Tommy Tune for redirecting her career from ballet to theater. "I was 18 when he cast me in 'Follies,"' she said. "Being 6 feet tall helped."

Her co-star Alan Campbell, who plays a suicidal klutz in the show admitted his beginnings weren't quite so glamorous. "My first television job was on a soap. I was so awful on 'Another World' that six months later the producers killed me off in a bus crash." As for his dance background, Campbell said his first teacher was his mother, who taught him to jitterbug.

The caterers took their cue from the production's Italian cafe sequence for the affair--manicotti, spicy meatballs and mountains of rolls served alfresco on the Music Center Plaza.

Grazing at the buffets were Helen Hunt, Dom DeLuise, Robert Guillaume, William H. Macy, Alan and Nancy Olson Livingston, Camryn Manheim, Donna Mills, Hector Elizondo, Ed Begley Jr., Suzanne Pleshette, Tom Poston, director Paris Barclay and Swoosie Kurtz, who confessed, "I'm an addict. I've seen 'Contact' three times and I'll see it again!"

Also in the crowd was veteran talent agent Budd Moss. He recalled the opening night two years ago of "Fosse" at the Ahmanson when he first saw Cruikshank. He was with Cyd Charisse, who whispered to him, "'That's how I looked when I was 23.' We went backstage to meet her and someone announced 'Holly, Cyd Charisse is here to see you.' The kids [in the cast] started screaming. I signed her immediately. It's a fairy tale story. Cyd Charisse discovered Holly Cruikshank!"

A Little Bit of Country

Sporting finery inspired by the prairie, members of the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana previewed its new exhibit, "Remington, Russell and the Language of Western Art" during a barbecue and country dance held in the facility's tree-lined courtyard.

Moseying through museum galleries, guests checked out the 100 works--comprised of paintings, bronzes, sketches and historical memorabilia--created by post-Civil War era artists Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. "I love this," said Donald Kennedy, museum chairman. "I know how difficult it is to draw a horse, let alone one that's in action."

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