Sunday, November 2, 2008


One of my favorite "onstage" experiences is the one no one heard.

Backstory: One day, early in my teaching career, I walked down a hallway and heard the colleague in a nearby office singing, "When I'm calling you-ooo-oooooo. . . ." Known as "The Indian Love Call," this was the famous song that movie star Nelson Eddy sang to Jeannette MacDonald in "Rosemarie." In my brashness, I immediately responded by singing, "Will you answer true-ooo-ooo?" A surprised Professor M. popped his head out of the doorway and said, "Miss Bell! How bold!"

Professor M. soon became "Jack"; "How bold!" became his frequent judgment of me, and
"The Indian Love Call" our signature salutation to each other. (Colleagues giggled at the uninformed who thought the song implied a romance between us: Jack was as committed and unscathed a bachelor as ever sang a solo.)

One year, as the annual Faculty Follies loomed, someone suggested Jack and I do our love call for the students. (The Follies was an recurring debacle in which ill-advised faculty members made fools of themselves by singing, dancing, and performing
vaudevillean skits for the entertainment of students. Those were pre-photographic-cell phone days; indeed pre-video camera days, and blackmail was thus less of a temptation.)

Now, performance before an audience, however silly the material, was a different matter than yodeling ad lib down the corridors. Jack was, after all, a pretty decent musician, skillful at the piano and a regular in his metropolitan choral society. As for me, I had range, volume, and gusto. Period. Couldn't read a note of music. So for two weeks prior to the Follies, Jack and I practiced in a music classroom. Ordinarily, he was a man given to irony, sarcasm, and askance eyebrows. But during those practices he was endlessly kind and patient with me. In a couple of weeks, though I sounded more like Selma Diamond than Jeannette MacDonald, the melody was recognizable.

The performance venue was a large concert hall with seats rising from the front, so that everyone had a good view. Entrance was by two side doors at the top. The stage was not raised, but even with the floor, and served by heavy curtains. As our number began, introductory chords from an offstage piano warned the audience what was coming. At the top of the hall, one exit door opened and Jack appeared, in all the rented glory that the Salt Lake Costume Company could provide. He had calf-high black boots, flared Canadian Mountie breeches, a scarlet, much be-buttoned tunic, and the well-known Stetson Mountie hat.

As he marched down the stairs, singing with manful fervor, the students started to scream with delight.

Then the curtains parted a yard or so, and I entered. Salt Lake Costume had had nothing suitable for the Indian Maiden, so we had simply taken two large beach towels in vaguely autumnal colors, stitched them together at the shoulders and sides, and girdled them with a braided rope. My head boasted braids as well, thickly twined of yellow yarn. Of course I was barefoot.

Now the audience was really shrieking, and they never stopped. As the piano accompaniment continued, we danced through our subtle choreography--me lunging with out-stretched arms for Jack, he prancing nimbly by, evading every hopeful advance--and I sang exactly as Jack had taught me, never missing a note.

Not one of which was ever heard over the pandemonium.

1 comment:

Emily said...

Alas for being born to late to have been able to witness this. I thought I was sorry I never got to see the Beatles perform live but had no idea what else I'd missed.