George Axelrod’s play “The Seven Year Itch” lit up Broadway in 1952 and stayed there for 1,141 performances. The star, Tom Ewell, a dedicated J.Press aficionado, won a Tony Award, although his performance was later dimmed in the movie version when he was paired opposite Marilyn Monroe.
Taking time out from my mainstream obligation running the J. Press store on 44th Street, my problem as an actor in the Tom Ewell role of the 1977 Off-Broadway revival was to make a spurious extra-marital affair hilarious. My beautiful seasoned brunette stage wife (not unlike my real-life wife) was obviously far more with-it and attractive than the busty young blonde I was attempting to seduce. The director always warned me, “Play him like a schmuck.”
The original play was an amiable piece reflecting the culture and social mores of the so-called Heyday of Ivy during the Eisenhower years. My character, a mid-level Madison Avenue advertising manager, lived in a rent-stabilized apartment on Gramercy Park. Wife and young son go off to Cape Cod for a vacation. The summer bachelor is left in the sweltering city with a pre-television era radio and only baseball games to listen to. He has promised his wife he won’t smoke or drink. Suddenly a potted plant drops onto his terrace narrowly missing him. Its owner, the single girl renting for the summer upstairs, is in his horny eyes a knockout. Richard, my eponymously named stage character, invites her down for a drink.
Leaving the blonde asleep in the bedroom, Richard ends the first act mournfully belting out the Kurt Weill lament “September Song” barefoot in unbuttoned OCBD, untied madder tie hanging as a Tallis over his blue cotton oxford boxer shorts, grey seersucker suit evidence of earlier frenzy carelessly strewn across the living room floor. “And I’m not equipped for the waiting game, but I have a little money and I have a little fame.”
It brought down the house. — RICHARD PRESS