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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > WESTSIDER HAROLD KENNEDY
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Author of No Pickle, No Performance


In the early days of Harold Kennedy's theatrical career, he was involved in a play written by Sinclair Lewis, who may have been a great novelist but was no playwright. Kennedy was talking with Lewis one evening before the play opened when a young student approached the famous author and politely asked for an autograph. Lewis took the piece of paper the boy offered him and wrote on it: "Why don't you find a hobby that isn't a nuisance to other people?" He handed it back unsigned.

But the boy got even. The play opened a few nights later and was a total disaster. Lewis was sitting gloomily in the dressing room after the final curtain when a note was hand-delivered to him by an usher. He opened it and read, in his own handwriting: "Why don't you find a hobby that isn't a nuisance to other people?"

The story is one of dozens told in Harold Kennedy's book, No Pickle, No Performance, published this month by Doubleday. The book is a fascinating collection of true-life anecdotes stored up by Kennedy during his four decades in the theatre as a director, actor, and playwright on Broadway and across the country. The subtitle of his book is "An Irreverent Theatrical Excursion from Tallulah to Travolta," and he has written chapters about his experiences with both of these stars, in addition to Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Thornton Wilder, Gloria Swanson, Steve Allen, and others who are less well known today but were legends in their time.

Its book is dedicated to actress Renee Taylor, who refused to come on stage during a play's opening night until she got a pickle with her sandwich, as she had during the previews. The coffee shop that had provided those sandwiches was closed, and the curtain was held while a prop man got in his car and went searching for the holy pickle. It arrived seven minutes after the advertised curtain time, and the show went on.

Unknown to Taylor, the stage crew was so enraged by her antics that they performed "a little ceremony" with the pickle before giving it to her. Gloria Swanson later said: "Poor Miss Taylor. Can't you see her shopping around to every delicatessen in New York complaining that she can never find a pickle to match the caliber of the one she had in New Jersey."

I meet the author on a recent evening at Backstage on West 45th Street. "The thing about this book," he says, "is that whether people know the actors or not, they find the stories amusing. You know, I never thought of writing these stories down. I used to tell them to other members of the company over drinks after the show, and everyone loved them. But I'm an actor, and I thought what made them funny was the way I told them. I didn't know how they'd look in print. A good friend of mine finally convinced me to write about a hundred pages, and I said, "If anyone wants it, I'll write the whole thing." The first publisher I sent it to — Doubleday — accepted it."

Those who have seen portions of the Ginger Rogers chapter in a recent issue of New York magazine might think the book is malicious, but this is not the case. Says Kennedy: "It just tells what happened, and some people come out better than others."

The chapter begins: "It seems that Ginger Rogers never smiles. It may be that someone has told her it would crack her face. It may be more likely............
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