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While There's Music, And Moonlight

by James H. Burns
(Click here for Index of Burns in the City Articles)

She's still the most beautiful woman I ever met on Broadway.

After almost thirty years, I can sill remember the fragrance of her hair, but more wonderfully, the look in her eyes...

It was at Sardi's, this week, in 1981.

I was in the second phase of my first flush as a magazine writer, doing a bunch of articles for a whole bunch of different folks, only nineteen, but looking older, and having been a "pro," unbelievably to me now, for five years...

I always looked a handful of years older than I was, and could write...

I had shot a cable TV show, earlier that day. Some comic book talk show, the first of its kind, actually, which I would have thought was dopey, on Manhattan Public cable, except the bullpens of some of the film PR studios I was friendly with, used to tune into to catch it, at 5:30, in the Gulf and Western Building, and MGM/UA...

(Loretta Milano, and Janine Quick, are you still there...?)

Later that day, I had tickets for the My Fair Lady revival with Rex Harrison.The reviews had been mixed, but how many chances again was I going to have to see Harrison on Broadway?

(And I vexed him, when nine years later, I saw him, in Full Circle...)

There was a moment that evening, when at curtain call, Rex Harrison asked the audience to sing to Cathleen Nesbitt, the actress playing his mother, Happy Birthday, on her ninety-second anniversary...

And all one thousand-plus of us, happily complied.

Afterwards, I wanted to go home. But that day I had dropped an article off with an editor, did some video, and gone to a show.

And, I figured, why not have a night cap?

Even in 1981, Sardi's was past its prime. But it was really the only place in the neighborhood that still went directly back to Broadway's heyday.

This was the last era of one of the great Broadway bartenders, Johnny Torcio, and when Ray (he of the, "Can I help you, right this way") downstairs bartender was still holding court, and I think Ben, a mainstay of Times Square, had just begun upstairs (a nice fella, in fact, who years later, would introduce me to another long-begone wonderment, Epicac...)

But the secret of Sardi's--to some extent, even today (if you can get past the occasional evil alcoholic)--is that back then, and for a very long time, if you entered the 44th Street portals, you could count on having a great conversation with someone.

Maybe it would be a theatre regular, or another actor, or someone from what was then the Times next door (and Walter Garbo, who ran the classifieds art department for The New York Times back then, was a particular friend), or a tourist...

Maybe it was the atmosphere of the place, but there was a special shine there, for a long, long time....

(When smoking was outlawed, I realized that part of the effect was simply an air conditioning that blew outwards, almost like a blast of Las Vegas, semi-bottled oxygen. Yet, I still think it was the decades old glamour of the joint that put people at their lovely, sparkly, best.)

And, maybe it was just because I was young.

When I hung a left, after checking my coat at the hatcheck, I saw Liz.

She was beautiful, like a young Raquel Welch.

Only better.

And sweet.

From West Virginia.

When I went to get my drink from Ray, he told me that she had been checking me out, the whole time. So, I wound up talking with her, and her friends. And for some misguided reason, no doubt, she decided to have a drink with me, up the block, as the place was closing.

(That downstairs cage still drops at Sardi's, around midnight.)

I think we went to Backstage, Ted Hook's old place, up on 45th, beyond the Hirschfeld, where the strip joint now is, but what was once the restaurant and piano bar where Michael Feinstein helped get his start.

An hour or two later, we wound up at the late, lamented, Jimmy Ray's on Eighth, a kind of wonderful mix of neighborhood restaurant, and honky tonk.

I put some Sinatra on the jukebox, and for the only time in my life, I danced on Broadway.

It was one of those magical evenings, which best exist...

Well, always.

I have no doubt that people still fall in love on Broadway.

Whenever I smell, or is it feel, that great cool breeze blowing down the side streets, whether it's a mild November, or one filled with the promise of winter--

I remember what it was like, to be nineteen, and embrace the summer smile, of a girl in Autumn.

James H. Burns
("A Tuesday, Before Thanksgiving")
Feel free to contact Jim at
(We leave the hotlink off in order to prevent spammers!)

Sardi's "The Little Bar" today.

(James H. (Jim) Burns was a pioneer of the second wave of fantasy and science fiction movie magazines, being one of the first writers for Starlog(and several other late 1970s publications), and a contributing editor to Fantastic Films, and Prevue. (He wrote the earliest of thesearticles, when he was thirteen...!)

Jim was also a key figure in many of the era's North Eastern American comic book and Star Trek conventions. Burns was one of the field's first writers to cross over to such mainstream fare as Gentleman's Quarterly, Esquire, and American Film, while still contributing to such genre stalwarts as Cinefantastique, Starburst, Heavy Metal and Twilight Zone magazines.

More recently, Jim has made several contributions to Off-Broadway, and Broadway productions, become active in radio, and written Op-Eds, or features, for Newsday, The Village Voice, and The New York Times.)

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