Why Joan Rivers Gave Charles Busch $5 Thousand Under the Table…and Why the Callaway Sisters Still Wear Matching Nightgowns
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth also remembers the talents of the late Rebecca Luker.
Happy almost New Year! This week we had a bunch of holiday-themed shows on Stars in the House. On Christmas Eve, we had Liz Callaway and her sister Ann Hampton Callaway. They had mentioned in a previous show that their parents always got them matching Lanz nightgowns every year. Well, we asked them to come back Christmas Eve and recreate that childhood outfit. They didn’t still have their nightgowns from the ‘70s, so one of our viewers who heard bought new adult-sized ones for both Liz and Ann. And, another viewer promised a $1,000 donation if they wore them for the whole show! Well, Liz and Ann showed up in their new nightgowns and the viewer who promised $1,000 was so inspired that she increased her donation…to $10,000! It was such a great way to end the night!
Ann had just recently been on the show to raise money for Beth Simchat Torah, New York’s first LGBTQ+ synagogue. She did one of her signature brilliant party tricks, which is to take lyric suggestions from people and then turn them into an improvised song…that actually rhymes and has an amazing melody! Of course, people were asking for words like latkes and tz’dukah, and afterwards she admitted it was the hardest improv song she’d ever done. Yet, it was brilliant…watch starting at 48:48.
Liz has a brand-new album out that she recorded during COVID called Comfort and Joy—An Acoustic Christmas. It’s so great and you can get it at LizCallaway.com. Here’s one of the songs on the album, which she is singing while she drives in her car…she calls these “auto tunes”!
Liz was also part of our very first game night on Stars in the House last Saturday. Back in 2006, on December 26, James and I met at a game night in Chelsea. We thought we’d celebrate our 14-year anniversary with another game night and had Liz and her husband Dan, Paul Castree and his husband Stephen Spadaro, and Chris Fitzgerald and his wife Jessie Stone. We had such a great time and did non-stop laughing…and got amazing donations for the night! We’re going to have game nights with different people this entire week, so please watch! Here’s what it looks like when we played them, pre-COVID.
We also had Jack Plotnick join us on Christmas Eve because he usually spends the holidays with us. He wound up showing us the worst Xmas present he ever got as a kid…and he had amazing photographic evidence of the trauma. Watch!
And, we also had Jeffrey Biegel perform his solo piano version of Ann Hampton Callaway’s “Christmas Lullaby.”
And, Jack also joined as his character “Evie Harris” to do his hilarious sketch about her upcoming cabaret show Christmas Evie, for which she hasn’t learned any lines or lyrics! Here’s us doing it together:
On Christmas Day we had Charles Busch because we’ve often spent Christmas afternoon at his annual party. We were telling him how much we loved seeing Joan Rivers at his party, and he told us how they first met: Joan had always been a fan of his and seen his shows Off-Broadway and, out of the blue, one day she called him asking him to work with her on a “performance art piece.” Charles was too busy to help, but he gave her some advice which she took. Three years later, she called back and told him she was working on a play about her experiences on the red carpet and, at certain moments during the show, she would go into a spotlight and tell revealing and honest stories about her past. Charles read it but told her that there wasn’t anything revelatory in it…she had told those stories before. He offered to come over and interview her for five days and then shape her stories into monologues. He didn’t want any money for it because (he admitted to us) he really just wanted to be her friend and was dying to see her apartment! So, for five days he spent hours and hours with her, and she really opened up and they bonded as great friends. Joan wound up inviting him for Thanksgiving, and he was thrilled! He hoped it was dripping with celebrities…specifically Cher and Barbara Walters. Well, he showed up, and there wasn’t a celeb in sight! It was just her immediate family and some close neighbors. He was devastated, but his partner at the time, Eric Myers (who is also my book agent!), told him that, actually, it was the ultimate compliment: She considered him family!
One of those Thanksgiving dinners was the conclusion to him refusing pay for those monologues: Joan had told him he should get paid and that he should get in touch with her lawyer. He really didn’t want to, but she insisted, so his manager called her lawyer. Well, her lawyer was a notorious tough-as-nails bargainer and was basically like, “So, he writes a few monologues and thinks he deserves money for it!?!?” Charles’ manager dropped it, and that was that. Well, cut to the next Thanksgiving dinner. She was seated next to Charles and suddenly put her hand on his leg. Well, the hand beneath the table was actually handing him a bunch of bills equaling $5,000!
Charles also remembered the first Christmas party she came to, accompanied by her friend, a countess (!). Joan wound up going to the wrong apartment and knocked on the door. It was opened by an older man…just wearing his underwear. Joan asked, “Is this Charles Busch’s party?” When Charles heard later that she asked him that question, he thought, “What kind of party did she think I invited her to? A gay ‘clothing optional’ get together?!” Regardless, the man told her where Charles’ apartment was, and she insisted he put on some pants and come with her! And, she came every year until she passed away. Brava, Joan Rivers!
In live stream news: Stars in the House wound up getting a great article in The New York Times this week. My favorite part is the photo they got of me and James leaning out of our window next to Mandy, who has a giant smile! Brava to the photographer, Sara Krulwich!
I want to end the column by writing a little about the lovely Rebecca Luker, whom we lost last week. Stunning musicality, an extremely sweet personality (who loved sass), and a giving soul. She was on the very first Seth’s Big Fat Broadway Cruise, and all the passengers fell in love with her the first night when she sang “The Sound of Music” sans microphone. She was a proud and very vocal liberal (from Alabama!), and I loved reading her tweets. Amazingly, her voice always had the same stunningness it had as when she first started on Broadway in The Phantom of the Opera.
Speaking of Phantom, we had her on Stars in the House a few months ago with a group of her fellow Christine Daaés, and it was so much fun! We encouraged people to donate to Project ALS, which is working on a drug called Prosetin, which Rebecca felt could not only stop ALS from progressing but actually reverse it. You can donate at ProjectALS.org to keep up the progress Rebecca worked for. Here’s the Christine Daaé cavalcade:
I’ll close with this video of Rebecca being her sweet/charming self and sounding fantastic, as usual. She was beloved by all who knew her: