Life started out great for me in my 20’s. I was playing a starring role of the pregnant girl, “Jeannie” in the musical HAIR and I was a aspiring mime who was making it big in San Francisco. I had sang the song, “Welcome Sulfur Dioxide” to standing ovations a few times, (off key) because I couldn’t really sing, but I guess, the audience thought it was funny. My mother suggested I take music lessons from a wonderful elderly woman, Ms. Edith Ford Kendall who was rumored to be one of my Grandfather’s great loves. Edith was in her late 80’s early 90’s and she had been the the star singer on Lew Graumin’s vaudevillian circuit. Her opening act whom she called,“the young whipper snapper,” had been Charles Chaplin.
She was amazing and after studying with her for a month, I sang the song in key and never got a standing ovation again. At this time I decided to do one of my first theatrical shows branching out from a street mime, Toad the Mime, to doing a somewhat bawdy show called “Body Cartoons” were I did cartoons with my body and mime.
I remember vaguely doing something quite silly by making the entire audience get up and do the “Hokey Pokey”. Then I brought up a man from the audience to up and performed a story that I had to mime, ( the idea was he should try and trick me) and he told an off color story. Well, it turned out the audience was all critics, and the man who got up was the most famous critic in San Francisco’s father…and his mother was there, and I guess I embarrassed both of them by letting their father tell this off color story, or at least that is what I told myself.
After the opening the next day I had a music lesson with the great- baritone- speaking Edith, (She had played the male lead in the opera, Il Travatore, off stage and then shocked the world by entering in the second act in full Victorian female dress)
Anyhow I walked in for my lesson, and she said, ‘Look at this” and there it was not on the front page SF Chronicle newspaper, a picture of me, with the horrible headline, “Attell Should Mime Her Own Business”. I was humiliated and shocked , felt brutalized and misunderstood. I was wordless. Edith looked at me and said, “My dear, you must remember that no matter what … You are bigger then anything that happens to you!”
So, with all humility I share these words, if you are misunderstood, if all is failing around you, take a breath in and slowly breathe out, smile, even laugh, because no matter what just happened you are alive and you created a moment in life. Dr. Toni Grant would say, Life is not a dress rehearsal.
And as Edith Ford Kendall would say, “You are bigger then anything that happens to you!”