In Other Words: The Matinee Girls

We were “The Matinee Girls” — young and ready for whatever play or musical we could get our hands on. Or, more to the point, whatever shows our parents allowed us to attend. They were the ticket buyers, and we were the quirky quartet, who, at age 14, were addicted to Saturday afternoon Broadway matinees.

As adolescence would have it, we were legends in our own minds, on our way to stardom. And what better way to indulge our fancies than to shed our jeans and dress up in our little black dresses for a day on the town? The “town” of course, being New York City, and more specifically, the Great White Way.

Our parents supported our passion as it kept us out of trouble by being entertained in what they considered to be a wholesome outlet. They liked knowing that for a few hours every weekend, when other kids were making mischief, we had our minds on more noble pursuits, and were well on our way to becoming starlets who one day would see our names in neon lights on marquees all over town.

We were Nancy and Barbara, Jane and myeslf, who voraciously pored over the New York Times theater section, choosing shows, and then begging our parents to support our habit. And, they were more than happy to oblige.

“The kid thinks she a thespian,” my dad would announce to his cronies over breakfast at the diner. I sat there looking as theatrical as I could, emulating my favorite theater icon du jour, holding my teacup just the way I imagined Helen Hayes would hold hers. I often tried acquiring “the look” to go with it, strutting my stuff the way Gwen Verdon strutted hers in “Damn Yankees,” or belting out a throaty response to a question as I imagined Ethel Merman would do it. For a while I was the fantasy understudy to Mary Martin’s Peter Pan and Judy Holliday’s Susanswerphone operator in “Bells Are Ringing.”

Before each show we were given lunch money for hot dogs at a corner Sabrett stand, which we found much too plebeian for our well-cultivated culinary tastes. Instead, we saved up our allowance money, snuck off to Sardi’s, and squeezed into a banquette where we were treated like the Grande Dame divas we fancied ourselves to be. There, we sat beneath the caricatures of Broadway celebrities while Vincent Sardi himself watched over us as though he was a surrogate parent.

Our theater days spanned many years, and by the time we turned 16, we were so immersed in theater, and had seen so many shows on those Saturday afternoons, that our parents actually started believing they had four budding actresses on their hands. Collectively, my friends and I decided we should study theater arts. One summer, after our sleepaway camp days were over, we enrolled in acting classes, and later, after school, we took elocution lessons, enunciating with great aplomb, lines from famous monologues uttered before us by notable stars.

But our Saturday matinees were still in full swing until we went off to college, and our autograph books bulged with signatures from the likes of Vivian Blaine in “Guys and Dolls,” Rosalind Russell in “Wonderful Town,” and Carol Lawrence fresh off the stage of “West Side Story.” We especially liked meeting our heartthrobs: Alfred Drake, John Raitt, and Richard Kiley, to name a few, When Yul Brynner walked out of the stage door, and shook my hand, still exuding his King of Siam persona, I squeaked out a feeble, “Thank you,” and practically swooned.

We “Matinee Girls” have now moved on to other places and other times. Nancy lives in Scarsdale, N.Y. and she is still an avid theater-goer. Barbara in Chicago, actually became an actress with starring roles in summer stock productions throughout the country. We like believing we all played a part by inspiring her to choose acting as her major at Bennington. And if and when she ever receives a Tony, we’ll be in the audience cheering her on. Jane moved out west to Washington, where she subscribes to every theatrical group available to her.

As for me, I chose writing as a career, and I embrace theater with dedicated enthusiasm.

But I miss “The Matinee Girls” when life was less frenetic and daunting, and walking around the city never posed a physical threat. We enjoyed dressing up in what we referred to as our “serious clothes” because anything less would be inappropriately gauche. Sometimes, we even wore hats, and carried our little purses, and clicked along the sidewalk in our Pappagallo flats thinking that we were the second coming of the great ladies of the stage.

Last week, I spoke with Jane, and we played the “remember when?” game.

“Weren’t we all just something?” Jane asked.

“None like us,” I agreed.

Those were the days that are no longer, and yet the magic of Broadway lingers on with enough nostalgia to carry us into the 21st century.

We linger on, too, older now, and filled with a pile of memories too vivid to ever relinquish.

“We thought we were oh-so-cool,” Jane said, “carrying our Playbills around town as though we were such hot stuff.”

“We’re still ‘hot stuff,’” I reminded her. “We are, after all, ‘The Matinee Girls.’ Whatever else we aspired to since then pales by comparison.”

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views monthly in the Westport News. She can be reached via email at joodth@snet.net or at judithmarks-white.com.