What do you get if you cross a LuPone from East Seventh Street in Dunkirk, with a Patti from Fairmount Avenue in Jamestown?
Why, you get one of the great divas of the American Theater, of course: Patti LuPone.
Fans of theater need no introduction to Ms. LuPone. She has played internationally celebrated, leading roles on Broadway, in London, on television, in films, and just about everywhere else you can think of, including at Chautauqua Institution. But, that was in 1982.
If you don't follow theater with as much avidity, you're probably still familiar with her work. She most recently appeared on these pages in a column about a production which was broadcast on PBS, in their ''Live From Lincoln Center'' series of programs: ''Candide'' performed with the New York Philharmonic in Avery Fisher Hall.
She first appeared here in August of 1982, in a live interview done while she was performing a leading role in the Acting Company's production of ''The Cradle Will Rock'' under the direction of John Housemann.
Probably the iconic image from all of her performances resembles this: A tall woman in a white, strapless evening gown, with her blonde hair severely pulled tight against her head, strides to a microphone, high on a balcony. She raises her bare, braceleted arms in a severe ''V'' shape, which pulls everyone's attention to her face, and she begins to sing, ''Don't Cry for Me, Argentina...'' To quote another line from the same show, ''Just a little touch of star quality.''
She would later write with humor that when she left the Broadway Theater where she was performing the title role in ''Evita,'' she never had to worry about being mobbed by fans. While they were looking for the tall blonde in the gown, she was a short brunette, usually in jeans, and night after night, she would walk straight out of the theater without being recognized.
The lady is so famous, she has been asked to make appearances in a number of successful television comedies, appearing as herself.
In September of this year, Ms. LuPone published a memoir, in her usual ''shoot from the hip,'' direct style. It's called ''Patti LuPone: A Memoir,'' and it was written together with Digby Diehl.
There isn't a lot about our area in her book. She reports that her parents were first generation Americans, who arrived from Sicily and Abruzzo, in Italy and settled in Dunkirk and Jamestown. She tosses in some interesting facts. She is the great great-niece of one of the 19th Century's greatest opera singers, Adelina Patti. She says her Grandmother Patti was allegedly a bootlegger, who kept liquor under the floorboards of her sewing room.
It seems that Grandfather Patti was murdered, and there is a rumor that his wife was somehow involved, according to the book.
The singer herself was born in Northport, Long Island. Her father had long left Chautauqua County, having studied first at the Fredonia Normal, the ancestor of the State University of New York at Fredonia, and then at New York University, in New York City. He did graduate study at NYU and at Columbia University, finally obtaining a Ph.D. from St. John's University. He became the principal of an elementary school, on Long Island.
Her mother was an administrator of a university library. The actress told me in the Chautauqua interview that she has memories of frequent visits to our area, especially during summer vacations, and especially remembered floating down the Chadakoin River in an inner tube, with her twin brothers, although those stories don't make it into the book.
One of her brothers is Bobby LuPone, who originated the role of Zach in ''A Chorus Line.''
The style of the book is blunt and outspoken, and extremely casual. Describing her own performances as a child, she offers observations such as ''It would be quite a while before I grew into my lips.''
Her career has had its ups and its downs. When she finished her run as Evita, she said nobody wanted to hire her to do anything but to be a blonde fascist dictator. Probably the biggest flap in her career came when the composer of ''Evita,'' Andrew Lloyd Webber, hired her to originate the leading role in his musical ''Sunset Boulevard,'' signing her to a contract to play the role in London for a year and then to open the show on Broadway.
But then, he decided that film star Glenn Close would be a bigger name, and fired her. The result was knock-down, drag-out fights by gossip columnists, all over the world. Team Patti versus Team Glenn, as it were. Ms. LuPone doesn't like Sir Andrew, and she doesn't mind telling you why, and how much.
The book describes liaisons with a number of performers, including film star Kevin Kline, and finally marriage to her only husband, cameraman Matt Johnston, with whom she has a son named Joshua, who will be turning 20 in November of this year.
I remember how much I enjoyed talking with her in 1982, although much of the conversation centered around her dismay with her first film which she had just completed. In ''Fighting Back,'' she played the wife of actor Tom Skerritt, who played a common citizen who got so fed up with crime in the streets, he became a vigilante and started taking the law into his own hands. Her entire role, she told me at the time, involved either preparing meals or washing dishes.
''Patti LuPone: A Memoir,'' is an easy and very enjoyable read. It's probably as close as most of us will ever come to knowing how it feels to have Broadway at our feet, and it's certainly an education about the highs and the lows of show business.
The book is published by Crown Publishing Group, which is a division of Random House. It has 314 pages in hard bound edition, and its suggested selling price is $25.99. The Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System doesn't have a copy to lend - at least not yet. They do own a number of videos of the author's performances.
Find the book with ISBN number 978-0-307-46073-8.
While we're on the subject of books about women who headline Broadway shows, I recently finished another such book. This time, it's an authorized biography, rather than a memoir. The title is ''Balancing Act,'' and it reveals the career of Angela Lansbury.
Although she has starred in a number of successful films and has sold out Broadway shows in large numbers, Ms. Lansbury is probably best known by readers as the mature mystery writer who finds herself solving murders in her own life as well, in the television series ''Murder She Wrote.''
The biographer, in this case, is Martin Gottfried. Unlike a historical biography, which ought to strive for balance and objectivity, ''Balancing Act'' is pretty much a hymn of praise to the actress. Both author and subject readily admit to some flaws, but the tone is overwhelmingly one of glorification, and that works very well.
Ms. Lansbury was born in London, in 1925. She had an older half-sister named Isolde, by her mother's first marriage. Isolde was married for many years to actor Peter Ustinov. She has twin brothers, who are both successful producers. Their mother was a professional actress of Irish nationality, who performed under the name Moyna Macgill.
Angela's grandfather was George Lansbury, a successful politician of the Labour Party who was wildly popular with the working classes of England.
When the future actress was 9 years old, her dying father called her to his bedside and told her that her mother would not be able to get by on her own, and he appointed the child his ''deputy'' in the family's life. The biographer credits that fact with Ms. Lansbury's life-long devotion to taking responsibility for not only her own life, but for the lives of her relations, as well.
She would tell her biographer that she saw her first film at the age of 11 - Irene Dunne, in ''Roberta.'' The film would make such a great impression that when Angela was starring on Broadway in ''Mame,'' the Jerry Herman musical, made from the successful book ''Auntie Mame,'' by Patrick Dennis, she would convince the costume designer to style her costumes after the clothes worn by Ms. Dunne, in ''Roberta.''
In 1940, when the first German bombs struck London, Moyna would enroll in a program for people with children who wanted to take them to Canada, beyond the reach of the Nazi bombers. Ironically, they were aboard the first ship to leave for North America. Immediately after their departure, the British government decided that the danger from submarines was too great, and no more refugees would depart.
''Balancing Act'' operates on the theme of Ms. Lansbury's need to maintain a balance between advancing her career as an actress and singer, which was often the only means of support which her family had, with her need to be actively involved in her family members' lives.
Unlike the LuPone book, which specializes in laying the cards on the table, good or bad, this book is often subtle to the point of obfuscation. Ms. Lansbury eventually married her countryman Peter Shaw, who had a successful career as a an agent and film studio executive. They had two children, Anthony and Deidre.
Throughout her early career, she expresses great frustration that she was always typecast as a person much older than herself, and often in unsympathetic roles. One of her greatest early roles was as the domineering mother in the original filming of ''The Manchurian Candidate,'' in which she played the mother of actor Laurence Harvey, who was three years younger than herself, for example.
Because she needed money, she agreed to do a number of poor films, including one with actor Raymond Burr, which was filmed inside an empty grocery store. The more she played nasty older ladies, the harder it became to get roles of her own age.
Living in Malibu, she begins to express concern that the children who were classmates of her own children were becoming involved with drugs and similar problems. While she is seeking a way to get better control over their lives, her home is caught up in one of the flash wildfires which still trouble the hills of Southern California, and everything the family owned was destroyed.
Although the biography says nothing of the sort, independent research says that among the problems she was encountering was a growing involvement by her daughter with the notorious Manson Family.
Whether that is true or not, Ms. Lansbury decided to toss aside her career and to move with her children to an island off the coast of Ireland, where the stresses of living were considerably less, especially on the children, than in California.
She would continue to use Ireland as an escape valve, abandoning her career more than once to live as ''Angela Shaw,'' among people who didn't know her career.
When the children had passed the dangerous age, she returned, not to films, but to the New York Stage, where she had a number of smash successes, including Mame, as Mama Rose in a revival of ''Gypsy,'' and as Nellie Lovett the sweet little lady who bakes human murder victims into lovely meat pies in Sondheim's ''Sweeney Todd.'' Interesting to me, Rose and Mrs. Lovett were roles which also brought fame and fortune to Patti LuPone.
The power she earned from the public's identification of her with Jessica Fletcher, the central character of ''Murder She Wrote,'' made it possible for her to get several members of her family into creative roles with the television series, and earning her enough money that she could live comfortably, even if more roles didn't come her way.
The book is an interesting read. It isn't the definitive biography, but we don't need to know all about film stars.
''Balancing Act'' has 320 pages in hard bound edition. It was printed by Little, Brown and Company, with a suggested retail price of $25.
There are copies available to borrow in the libraries of Jamestown, Olean, and Dunkirk. Find it with ISBN number 0-316-32225-3.