The time was the early 1980's, and I was the quintessential poor, struggling college student. Balancing several part-time jobs, along with a full schedule of classes, mix in some sorority and fraternity functions, and top off with a demanding boyfriend - my schedule was crazy, insanely busy.
Added to this was my passion for live theater, of which I couldn't - and still can't - get enough. The problem, though, was my empty bank account. I simply couldn't afford tickets to all of the productions that I wanted to attend.
The solution, when presented, was brilliant…I was offered an opportunity to volunteer as an usher at a local theater venue. For a few hours of work, I would then have the wonderful chance to watch visiting performances for free…FREE!!! Squee. After a brief bit of training, I soon settled into my role as usher, program giver, seat finder, and watchdog…and I loved it. LOVED it. The best part, though, was being able to take in the actors and actresses - most of which were nationally famous - as they weaved their magic on the stage.
I saw all sorts of shows those years…one that stood out was "A Chorus Line", which was dazzling in its choreography and music. Another one that stood out - for quite a different reason - was "The King and I" - which brought the illustrious one and only Yul Brynner to town. Before his scheduled performance, the ushers were given a HUGE list of demands that Mr. Brynner had personally prepared…he was extremely strict and regimented when he performed, and the list was almost amusing if it hadn't been so ridiculous. If I remember, he pretty much banned coughing during the performance - like that would be possible. It was pretty evident that his ego was as big as his head was bald. Geesh.
However…the show that stands out most of all was "Sugar Babies" - the Tony-award winning Broadway show that had starred Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney. Both Ms. Miller and Mr. Rooney were in Kansas City to bring this show to life for our town, and I had arrived a few hours pre-show to insure that the theater was ready for the performance.
As the five or six of us ushers prepped the seating area, a man walked out from behind the curtain on the stage…and called for us to gather closer. Imagine my shock when I realized that it wasn't the House Manager, as I had first thought - but it was Mickey Rooney, himself.
He sat down on the edge of the stage, and invited us even closer…where he then proceeded to introduce himself.
Mickey Rooney introduced himself.
He then asked each of us our names, and where we were from…and he seemed genuinely interested in our answers. That wasn't enough, though - he then asked us for advice. Oh, not acting advice, obviously - but he asked what the best restaurants in town were.
Mickey Rooney - asking ME for advice???!!
We talked for a few minutes about our town, and he then asked if we had any questions for HIM.
The first question was who had been his favorite leading lady over the years, and being the gentleman that he was, he diplomatically answered, "Oh, they've ALL been wonderful!" He then went on to say how fortunate he was, that a guy who looked like HIM was able to work with Hollywood's most beautiful women (his words, not mine).
It was amazing.
I was having a conversation with a living legend.
What a class act. No demands. No diva act. No contempt for the "little people" who worked the house.
A true gentleman. After a few more minutes of chit-chat, he personally thanked each of us for our service, and then excused himself to go get ready for the show. I had to pinch myself as I thought, "Did THAT just happen? Did I just chat with Mickey Rooney???!!"
One thing I think he got wrong, though. I think the world was fortunate to have a guy like HIM.