Eydie Gormé died today.
Normally, I wouldn’t be writing about the passing of a musical comedy star on the blog, but Eydie Gormé was someone I knew when I was very young. In a celebrity version of “Parents come in to their kid’s classroom and talk about what they do for a living,” she performed, right in front of me and a couple dozen other awestruck first or second graders. I don’t think I knew her name: She was “David’s mommy.”
We went back far longer ago than First Grade. When my mother was in labor with me, she hoped to get the corner room at Doctors’ Hospital, overlooking Gracie Mansion and the East River. As luck would have it, Eydie Gormé was in the room at the time, and David Lawrence and I believe we met in the nursery, our bassinets next to each other. We all lived on Central Park West, and I was attending one of those incredibly-hard-to-get-into schools, also on Central Park West. Steve Lawrence reached out to my father, hoping to get his boys in. And soon we were buddies. Indeed, most of my memories of Eydie Gormé are as the parent of a friend.
Eventually, my family moved to California, and, a few years later, so did the Lawrences. David and I had a reunion on the Little League field. In high school he aced me out of getting the role I most wanted in the world, Ponty in my favorite musical, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. And we both ended up writing musicals – David contributed to High School Musical. But enough about him.
Picture beautiful Eydie Gormé belting out Matchmaker Matchmaker to a bunch of children. She was so sunny and appealing, it’s fair to say my desire to create musicals, and to be near musical theatre performers, formed then and there. For me, the move 3000 miles away from my beloved Broadway was a devastating blow. As a consolation prize (for I was nearly inconsolable), my parents took me to see Mame. It’s safe to say that trip to the Winter Garden had a earth-shattering influence on me. How I identified with young Patrick! And was very moved when Mame sang “What a shame I never really found the boy before I lost him.”
Mame’s one hit song you could hear on the radio, If He Walked Into My Life was that one, sung by Eydie Gormé, a Mame-like figure in my life. Of course when she does it, and when the general public heard it, this was not a song about the dissolution of an aunt-nephew relationship at all; rather, it was a torch song about an adult romance. And so, at an early age, I got a sense of how show tunes can mean one thing within the shows they come from, and something else entirely when extracted.
Steve and Eydie, in the 1970s, devolved from being hip to unhip. As one of the final non-pop acts to maintain a certain level of popularity, they became the singers your parents would listen you. I couldn’t confess to friends I enjoy them. I remember them going on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and promoting the songs from a new musical I’d liked, They’re Playing Our Song. And when I saw that it was getting the Steve and Eydie imprimatur, my heart sank a little, for it meant that younger generation I was a part of was unlikely to embrace the show like it had the previous Marvin Hamlisch musical, A Chorus Line. Still, it ran a long time, assumedly selling tickets to older people.
In David’s high school yearbook, I wrote that we’d known each other since the maternity ward, through two schools on two coasts, and then: “I wonder who will die first.” Seemed like an OK joke at the time, but just a few years later, the younger Lawrence brother, Michael, suddenly died. That Steve and Eydie were ever able to sing again is a testament to their dedication to their art and their fans.
And there are a great many fans mourning this loss. I think so many of us loved Eydie because of her life-loving spirit, a quality amply on display that day so many years ago in a schoolroom on Central Park West.