I met Diana when we were performing in MID-LIFE! The Crisis Musical in 2010. She currently lives in Minnesota, and works as an actor there as well as regionally. One of my favorite evenings in NYC was spent with her, but more on that story later.
I am pleased to introduce you to Diana Wilde!
When did you call NYC home?
I have always called NYC home, but I actually lived there from 1984-1989.
What brought you here?
I had met a few Manhattanites while working in a production of COMPANY (“Marta”) in Denver. They convinced me that I could come to New York and they’d help me make it. I didn’t have enough money and I was scared shitless. New York being what it is, these original friends drifted away, but I hung in there for five years and came pretty close to “making it”.
What was the location and rent for your first room/apartment?
I sublet a studio at 108th & CPW for six weeks for about $450. The 1980s were a long time ago.
You come back to NYC regularly, what has changed?
I miss the grittiness. Ed Koch’s New York was little more “Combat Rock” by the Clash; today it’s more like elevator music. The Upper West is almost unrecognizable now, way the hell too gentrified and sanitized. I miss the awesome Greek diners that used to be everywhere. Subway tokens! And Times Square is ruined forever. So sad.
The saddest bit is, of course, what happened on 9/11… the view from the top of the World Trade Center… I’m glad I saw it… and there is so much more Security presence everywhere now.
What hasn’t changed?
It’s still New York. Zabar’s is still there (for now!). The Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge and the park and Don’t Tell Mama are still there. You can still get a good slice or a good bagel. And the rhythm of the city is still that high-energy hip-hop salsa-dance tap-drill ballet-class foot-race of mega-humanity on caffeine and running late. I love that.
Some people prefer the old gritty NYC to NYC of today. What are your thoughts on the matter?
See also #4 above. The income inequality that is destroying the middle class of the United States is destroying likewise the delicious diversity and cultural crazy quilt of New York City. The artists pour out to Jersey and the Boroughs to become hipster bridge-and-tunnel people. Foreign wealth ties up luxury apartments and crowds out affordable housing for office assistants, janitors, subway personnel, servers (actors), and all manner of newcomers. The whims of the very wealthy are selling out Manhattan as primo real estate so fast that they don’t even see – or care – what they’re doing to our incredible city.
And… Smith’s Bar is gone. SMITH’S BAR!!!!! Dammit!!!!!
Is the audition scene the same?
The other actors are so much YOUNGER now! LOL – time, doncha know. But except for different locales and nicer studios in some cases, the scene looks and feels the same. It got a little futuristic brush-up in terms of sets and costumes, but it stayed the audition scene nevertheless. Huge crowds at open calls, lots of nervous ego on display, sopranos warming up, people muttering monologues and going over sides with scene partners they didn’t know five minutes ago… and please, bring a current headshot and updated resume, stapled together. And music in the correct key.
What was hardest time for you in NYC?
Being homeless at Christmastime.
What was the best time for you in NYC?
Almost everything else.
Why did you leave?
Temporary insanity. I actually think I lost my mind a little bit. I went away to work on a cruise ship, got involved with the WRONG guy, failed to save money, and decided to run away with this jerk and do the Renaissance Festivals circuit. Perhaps a good route for some people, but definitely a mistake in my case.
Do you miss it?
Only as much as I would miss oxygen. My heart aches for NYC at least once a day.
What is the best/craziest thing that happened to you while you lived here?
There was the time our improv troupe opened for the Beach Boys, on the deck of the Intrepid… as a live 1940s radio show…
There was the time I made it all the way to the 3rd cuts for a non-Equity tour of A CHORUS LINE…
There was the time my friend from Denver and I were sitting in Central Park, enjoying a variety of cigarette thingy, and laughing at the two squirrels mating over yonder. Then they got closer, and we realized it was two rats fighting each other in a murderous rage. And that was the day we broke the 4-minute mile running away from all that.
BUT… then there was the night my incredibly alcoholic mother and her incredibly embarrassed boyfriend were drinking in what later became Mickey Mantle’s, on Central Park South. She was wasted as hell, seriously messed up, by the time my date and I arrived to join them. The late great Dudley Moore was playing the baby grand, delighting the crowd, and drinking Kir Royales. It was a really iconic, lovely, upscale New York evening, except for the really drunk lady. The louvres of the front glass wall were open to let the breeze in and the music out, it was a comfortable springtime Saturday evening, people were well-dressed and LIVING their lives… except for the really drunk lady.
Mr. Dudley Moore had a table of gorgeous friends he was clearly entertaining. On either side of his [vacant, because he was currently on the piano bench] seat were matching tall cool blondes in evening dresses. There were also a couple of well-groomed, well-dressed, beefy gentlemen in the group, whose apparent function was a sort of body guard. Moore really played beautifully, sang a bit of this and that, and was clearly having quite the “Arthur”-in-real-life evening out. Gorgeous, in a tux. Flawless!
The really drunk lady (aka my mom) kept literally nudging me with her fingertips, pushing, really, and telling me to just go up to him and tell him I wanted to sing. She was being nice and loud about it too. She just knew that this was the moment that would make my career. That Dudley Moore would discover me and change my life, and he would be so pleased to be the one to turn the world on to my talent. I did not agree with her. Most of your readers, I’ll guess, are familiar enough with How It Works in The Showbiz to know that:
- a) You don’t interrupt celebrities in expensive bar rooms when they are clearly entertaining their private parties, on the assumption that they came there tonight to discover new talent;
- b) Unlike in the movies, in real life, you must bring sheet music in the correct key ANY time you want to sit in with ANYBODY at ANY keyboard (you know, except for open mic night at the blues bars or if your friend is playing out at a cabaret and already has your music);
- c) A celebrity playing impromptu piano in a bar, showing off for his wealthy pals, does NOT make it a “piano bar,” and please note that said celebrity did NOT ask, “Hey, who wants to come up here and sing while a major movie star pretends to be a hired accompanist?”
The really, really drunk lady (“Mommy Dearest”) did not know any of this. With the righteousness of the truly plowed alky, she strode purposefully towards Dudley Moore as he was taking his bow for his set, and corralled him with one arm around his shoulder, steering him off his path back to his own table and towards our nervous little party in the other direction. “You gotta let my daughter sing for you, she will absolutely MAKE you!” (Meaning, discovering ME would elevate HIS career. Cuz already having stardom wasn’t enough.)
The two beefy gentlemen stood up, adjusting their jackets and cuffs as they did so, and making gestures that looked to me like they might be double-checking shoulder holsters. The bartender moved towards our end of the bar, phone in hand (it had a long cord – it was the 80s – you didn’t walk around with a phone in hand, generally – unless maybe you were getting ready to call the police).
My mother was tall, and wearing heels. Dudley Moore came up to her armpit. She had captured herself a live movie star and she was bringin’ him in to be skinned. I was terrified. He was being SO gracious and trying so hard not to alarm the crazy drunk lady who had him in a near head-lock. The beefy gentlemen were moving slowly and unobtrusively away from Mr. Moore’s table and ever-so-subtly in our direction.
She walked that poor dear man right over to us, made another speech about how I would make him forget all about Liza Minnelli (say what??), and slapped his hand into mine for a handshake like she was delivering a prisoner for interrogation. Oh please, there was no fucking WAY I was going to ask him to play a song for me to sing, are you kidding?!?!?!? THIS is not the evening for which one wants to be remembered by the powerful and connected.
I shook his hand as warmly as possible, making apologetic eye contact, and said, “Miss Streisand! I am so pleased to meet you! I’ve got all your records!”
He laughed! He laughed at my weak little joke! And he realized what was going on. He saw that we were all the victims of the really, really, really drunk lady.
Then I murmured an actual apology, for his ears only. He was so darling, told me he understood and wished me luck. He shook hands with our mortified dates, shook her hand as he was backing away, and smiled through it all like the smooth superstar he was. As he made his way back to his own table, the beefy gentlemen made a certain degree of meaningful eye contact with our party, the bartender and his phone moved back towards the center of the bar, and our check mysteriously appeared. My mother’s boyfriend paid the check, and we broke up our evening without having New York’s Finest or the beefy gentlemen having to break it up for us.
And that, kids, is the story of how I met Dudley Moore.
For more on Diana, check put the following links: