The new J. Press Spring/Summer Brochure regenerated my seersucker blood lust. It also rekindled my seersucker time on the off-Broadway stage.
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 fan, won a Tony Award, although his performance was later dimmed in the movie version when he was paired opposite Marilyn Monroe.
Once upon a time during J. Press off-seasons I pursued a part-time acting career. Engaged to perform the Tom Ewell role as the off-Broadway revival was starting rehearsal, I gave Mr. Ewell a call having met him several times in the 44th Street store sharing theatre talk. “Any suggestions how to play the role,” I asked him. “Why don’t you give Johnny Gerstad, director of the original Broadway show a call? I’ll ask him to give it a look.” On Ewell’s recommendation Gerstad followed through, a neighborly courtesy considering he lived on Sutton Place nearby only a few blocks from the theatre. A delightfully witty gentleman possessing well-earned theatre savvy, he unofficially joined the team as an onlooker offering many helpful hints. Dave McNitt, our real time director with summer theatre experience was grateful for the Broadway veteran’s tutorial. Gerstad also directed Eddie Albert in the successful London run. He ended our stint with a winking bribe, “How about gifting me a J. Press seersucker suit like the one you wear in the show?” I plead guilty.
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 37 performance run was to make the spurious extra-marital affair a laugh provoking kerfuffle. My beautiful seasoned brunette stage wife (not unlike my real-life wife) was obviously far more with-it and attractive than the busty dim-witted blonde I was attempting to seduce. Gerstad clued me in, “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 while 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, a single girl renting upstairs, is in his horny eyes a drop dead knockout. Richard, my eponymously named stage character, invites her down for a drink.
Ending Act I, leaving the blonde asleep in the marital bed, I entered stage front mournfully bleating Kurt Weill’s soulful “September Song.” In frayed bedroom slippers, untied ancient Madder necktie dangling over unbuttoned blue cotton Oxford button-down shirt with matching blue cotton Oxford drawer undershorts, grey seersucker suit fitfully tossed in a moment of passion on the living room floor, I let loose my shameful lament.
Appropriate for my off-stage of life today and 43 years later, summertime still finds me garbed in a J. Press cotton Oxford and seersucker suit.