“I don’t know how you stand all that rain,” Larry Blum quips from his sunny, dry pad in Los Angeles. “I moved to LA because I like palm trees, convertibles and re-takes.”
Blum has been around this business we call show for a while; it’s not surprising that he gives good interview. His winningly self-deprecating and entirely personal ode to Hollywood stars, Blink & You Might Miss Me, is part of this year’s 2012 Chutzpah Festival for the Jewish performing arts. Blink is Blum’s insider’s look at stardom, from the point of view of a performer with a list of TV, film and Broadway touring credits as long as your tzitzit.
But don’t mistake him for a gossipy celebrity fetishist. During our 45-minute interview, Blum never once mentions reality TV or its circus of lightweight wannabes. He’s interested only in stars. And he drops a lot of impressive names.
“Tom Cruise is just a gentleman,” he offers.
“Oprah couldn’t be sweeter,” he adds.
His anecdotes include, in no particular order, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Russell Crowe, Cary Grant, Daniel Craig, Pavarotti, Viola Davis, Joan Collins and Sarah Jessica Parker. Not a single American Idol or Situation or Real Housewife of Beverly Hills. Or Atlanta.
Blum is an old-fashioned stargazer. The most refreshing thing about his take on Hollywood is that it isn’t bitchy. Dishy, yes. Bitchy, no.
“I’m just so in awe of these people,” he says.
That awe was nurtured in him from a very early age.
“I grew up in a liberal, Jewish, lower-middle-class family in the Bronx who loved entertainment — TV, movies, Broadway, all of it! My father worked for The New York Times and would bring home all the movie magazines. I devoured them! We went to the movies every week. My father would take me into the city every Friday afternoon and drop me off at the taping of the Merv Griffin Show — every week until I was 17.”
From his bedroom in the Bronx, collaged with pictures of Liz Taylor, Blum’s life took off on a classic Tinseltown trajectory.
At a Halloween party in the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center in the early 1970s (doesn’t that sound retro-Studio-54 glamorous?), he met performer and choreographer Christopher Chadman.
“He was one of Fosse’s favourites, and we had a little affair,” Blum confides. “He took me to my first dance class, and that’s how it started. But Fosse never liked me. He liked his boys androgynous.”
In the sort of twist that can happen only in showbiz, the role of Gregory Gardner in A Chorus Line (“My Jewish name is Rochmel Lev Ben Yokov Meyer Beckenstein, but my professional name is Gregory Gardner”) is based on Chadman, and by 1978, Blum was touring Canada and the US playing the role of Gregory Gardner in A Chorus Line.
Since that time, Blum’s career could be considered a gay canon of pop culture. He danced in the classic cult film Xanadu, on numerous TV specials (including those of Barry Manilow and Bea Arthur), and just about every televised award show we’ve ever watched. He also appeared in our favourite sitcoms, including The Jeffersons, Roseanne, The Golden Girls and too many more to mention. He was even one of the original Solid Gold Dancers!
Through it all he collected clips, photos and stories of the people we grew up watching. And in all that time he has never lost his sense of wonder. He describes the thrill of seeing Julie Andrews on the red carpet, completely forgetting that he was once hired to help her write a film script.
“I spent weeks sitting around her kitchen table, but still I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s Julie Andrews!’”
His respect and wonder is infectious. When he tells me about touring with Lucie Arnaz and meeting her mother, I giggle like a little girly-boy and think, “Oh my God, I am one degree of separation from Lucille Ball!”