Hollywood stars of stage and screen including, Dyan Canon, Elliot Gould, Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss, Joely Fisher, Sharon Gless, and Frances Farmer, all turned out for the Los Angeles premiere of Renée Taylor’s My Life on a Diet, an award-winning one-woman autobiographical theatrical piece written by she and her late husband Joe Bologna, who also directed. Together for 52 years, they were a dynamic team, writing and performing in 22 plays, nine television shows, and four films including, Lovers and Other Strangers, It Had to Be You, and Made for Each Other.
Performed on Harry Feiner‘s simple, but elegant drawing room set, enhanced by a colorful light design, and wearing Pol’ Atteu sparkling gold gown, when Ms. Taylor made her entrance, the loving audience broke out into thunderous applause. Taking it all in, and in her so familiar, thick Bronx accent, she smiled, and with impeccable comic timing, said, “Thank you and good night,” a preview of the merriment that would follow throughout the 90-minute evening.
Seated in a comfortable but elegant easy chair, Ms. Taylor walked us back in time, beginning with her childhood and took us through the ensuing decades. The text was illustrated by Michael Redman’s playful projection design depicting the fluctuating weight with which she has been dealing her entire life. Mirroring an AA phrase, at one point she announces, “My name is Renée and I’m a diet tramp.” She shares “I have tried every diet,” and throughout this entertaining evening, a variety of failed diets are flashed on the screen, some of which included, Dr. Robert Linn’s “Last Chance Diet,” about which she casually mentioned that one of his patients died. She tried the popular Dr. Herman Tarnower “Scarsdale Diet,” Lou Costello’s “18 Meatballs a Day” and took a shot at the “Okinawa Sea Food Diet.” Her only comment on the “No Food, No Water” plan was that you had to breathe through your nose. As for her always-slender husband, Ms. Taylor said Joe didn’t mind the fluctuations in weight. “As long as we could keep dancing,” adding,” “Just don’t get so heavy I can’t dip you!”
In addition to her litany of varying unsuccessful diets, this famous comedienne shared some of her experiences with some of the stars of yesterday, boasting about the time she sat next to Cary Grant. In her amusing journey back in time, Ms. Taylor reminisces about her studies at the famous Actor’s Studio, under the tight rule of Lee Strasberg, Father of “The Method” style of acting. He once said to her, “Your problem, young lady is inhibitions – you don’t have any!” She remembers trying to flirt with Marlon Brando who said, “Girl, you have to leave me alone.” While studying at The Studio, she formed a warm friendship with Marilyn Monroe who she worshipped. Her friend suggested that she try the “Grape Diet” but she ate so many, she actually gained weight. She and Marilyn were in the same class together and in one of the more tender moments, she recalls saying to the blond bombshell “Marilyn, I want to be you when I grow up,” to which this famous movie star replied, “When you become me, tell me what it’s like,” reflecting the deeply troubled and confusing opinion of herself.
Then there was the time she auditioned for a role in one of Tennessee Williams’ plays. After she read her lines in the best southern drawl she could muster, he turned to her and asked, “What part of New York are you from?” You know that old saw, “You can take the girl out of the Bronx, but you can’t take the Bronx out of the girl.” That delightful accent led her to star in many shows, including playing the role of Fran Dreschler’s mother in “The Nanny. ” Throughout the evening, interspersed with her funny stories, supporting visuals depicted scenes from her professional life including clips from her 23 appearances on the “Jack Paar Tonight Show,” as well as guest gigs on ‘The Perry Como Show,” and a shot of her and Jerry Lewis with whom she co-starred in The Errand Boy. Her career path led her to encounter some of the most famous personalities of the day from Jimmy Durante and Elizabeth Taylor to Orson Welles, Joan Crawford, and Elaine May, and later on to Barbra Streisand, who also gave her diet advice. Musing about her dating experiences, she said, “I dated a lot of men. I felt there was safety in numbers. In remembering Joe, she tells the story of how they met and how she was immediately attracted to him. He warned her that he basically liked to play the field and because she came on so strong on the first date, he didn’t call her again for a while. But, as history would prove, he couldn’t get her out of his mind. He finally called her saying that he would give being monogamous a shot. Six months later they were married and with the high attrition rate of so many show business marriages, they defied that “tradition,” and were together until his death August 13, 2017.
Ms. Taylor reminisces that when she and Joe decided to write this one-woman show, she had a conversation with Nora Ephron, who wrote the hit show, Love, Loss and What I Wore. Renée thought she’d do a riff on that and name her show, Love, Loss, and What I Ate, but My Life on a Diet is what emerged. Ending on a humorous note, she quips about her latest diet adventure, which is Vegan, but admits, “Once in a while, I need a steak.”
Renée Taylor shared both her public and private lives with a grateful audience who laughed and laughed as well as shedding an occasional tear when she shared a poignant memory. The sad thing is because of such a short run, by the time you read this review, she will have been on her way to the next performance stop. But be of good cheer as since the superbly written My Life on a Diet was completely sold out, there’s a chance in will come back again, so don’t be disappointed that you missed it this time. Also, the show is embarked on a national tour so it might wind up at one of your local theatres, so watch for it.
“My Life on a Diet,”
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd,
Beverly Hills, CA, 90210
Running time: 90 minutes
Closed: Sunday, April 14, 2019