My friend Laurie Beechman would have been 60 years old tomorrow. Being an actress, it was not so unusual that she lied about her age, but strangely she only shaved off one year, telling everyone she was born April 4, 1954. I laughed out loud when I realized this and told her, "if you're gonna lie, make it count! Take off 5 years, not one."
She passed away 15 years ago, just a month shy of turning 45, after a long battle with ovarian cancer. And it was an epic battle, with all the ups and downs, triumphs and setbacks of an Eisenhower or McCarthur campaign.
Today I am remembering her talent, her voice, her laughter, her generosity. While she wasn't exactly a household name, she was kind of a big deal in the world of Broadway musicals. She performed in Annie, Pirates of Penzance, Les Miserables (as Fantine), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Tony nomination) and spent about 5 years of her too short life in Cats, playing Grizabella the Glamour Cat, and belting out Memory well over 2,000 times.
When I first moved to New York, I got a part time job as her assistant. Mostly typical stuff like organizing her mailing list, picking up dry cleaning, or counting the house at her nightclub act so that the management wouldn't try to rip her off. One of my better assignments was running lines in her Cats dressing room at the Winter Garden as she prepared for a West Coast production of Funny Girl. I read all of the parts except for Fanny, which was Laurie's role, of course. All the while she'd be applying her makeup, and as I'd have my nose buried in the script, she'd completely transform into the bedraggled prostitute cat.
I still think about her, and occasionally see her in my dreams. While she was still here, she liked to give me advice. Two things she said have always stuck with me. When I lamented the slow progress of a new relationship, she told me, "Jim, you can't go to Ikea on the first date!" The second, and more universal advice came after she brought me with her to a meeting with her press agent. Apparently I'd come across as very shy. Afterwards we walked out onto Seventh Avenue and she stopped me and said, "when you meet someone for the first time, I want you to look them right in the eye and give them a firm handshake."
And then she made me look her in the eye and shake her hand. I felt like an idiot, but I did it. If she hadn't made me, maybe the lesson wouldn't have stuck, but now whenever I meet a new person, I think of her. Thankfully, that memory is not fading.