Friday, March 1, 2024

The Famous Rehearsal Club in New York City - Get a Peek into the Lives and Stories of the Ladies Who Lived There in the Book "Cinderallas of West 53rd Street" - And Attend their NYC Cabaret on May 7th

By Suzanne Ordas Curry

If you are connoisseur of old Hollywood or New York City, you may have heard about the renowned Rehearsal Club in New York City. It’s a place where young ladies came to dream and persevere for a career in entertainment, writing, singing, stage, movies, TV and of course, Broadway. So many of these women were successful, some became household names in entertainment while others found success in many other ways. And that is not a surprise, because the residents of this building were fearless ladies who left all the comfort of their homes to find a job in one of the toughest industries in the country in one of the most competitive cities.

You may have heard of some of the success stories. They are common names like Blythe Danner, Carol Burnett, Shirley Booth among others. But many others ladies danced and sang through these halls and found success. One of them was Denise Pence Boockvor, who found success on a daytime drama as well as other roles. Now, she has gathered stories about many of the alums in a new book called "Cinderellas of West 53rd Street - Stories from the Legendary Rehearsal Club". 
I had the honor of interviewing Denise to find out all about the book and what the alums are doing now - as they are still entertaining!

Suzee: Denise, thrilled to have met you. We have a mutual friend, Maybin Sherman. I had heard of the Rehearsal Club through her. Then I heard Carol Burnett mention it on a talk show, but until then I was not familiar with it. For those not familiar with it, What is the Rehearsal Club?

Denise Pence Boockvor: In a nutshell, it was created in 1913 as a "safe haven" for young theater women in the heart of Manhattan, my first home in NY.  Stage Door made it famous; it was on the "star tour" for decades because James Dean hung out there.  It closed in 1979.

Suzee: So from what I understand, this was kind of like a dorm for aspiring women for movies and Broadway? Who are some of the performers that have stayed there?  

Denise Pence Boockvor: Carol Burnett, Blythe Danner, Kim Cattrall, Sandy Duncan, Diane Keaton . . . and all the "Cinderellas" have had careers on Broadway, film and TV.

Suzee: What was it like to stay there? Were meals served together? What did it cost? What were the bedroom/sleeping areas like?

Denise Pence Boockvor: 
I had a cot in a huge, pre-war building room with 4 other women.  Bathroom down the hall.  Cafeteria in the basement with two fabulous, home-cooked meals per day.  Everyone working at MOMA used to eat lunch with us cuz the price was right and the meals delicious.

I paid $45/week, but Carol Burnett said in our trailer for docu that she paid, I think, $17/week?  Our book charts how the price rose over the decades. 

Suzee: Was there camaraderie among the women or competition?

Denise Pence Boockvor: Competition, yes, but support, too, was huge. (The late Judy Jenson lived in the RC and a similar residence in LA).

Suzee: When did you come up with the idea to write this book?

Denise Pence Boockvor: Probably Kathy Conry had the initial idea -- as she did with bringing all of us together in 2006.  We had befriended Phyllis Jeanne Creore at age 95 (passed at 100) and she had history during WWII as "The Canteen Girl."  We all felt her story needed to be preserved.  

ACL had created "my" story, but I kinda wanted to tell my own story -- and I wondered how many others among us might feel the same way.  Since I was an Officer and then Chair at the time, I supported the idea and started the outreach.  

ACL, I think, was my driving force -- and what kept me committed through the last 17 years.  Teams of writers were on board and then left for whatever reason -- many to write their own books and others just never thought it would even happen.  I remember Carol Burnett saying something similar when she put the first showcase together at the Rehearsal Club and then invited casting directors and agents to attend.  The gals who stuck with it scored jobs and agents and Carol moved up pretty fast.


COMING IN MARCH TO THE LIBBY SHOW on YOUTUBE:
A Conversation with the Ladies of the Rehearsal Club: Denise Pence Boockvor, Diane J. Findlay, Christopher Callen and Dottie Belle.
Subscribe to the show or follow @suzeebts on IG for updates.

Suzee: What was the writing process like? Was it hard to locate people to interview them? 

Denise Pence Boockvor: As Rehearsal Club Chair, we were slowly building a network of women through our website and newsletters.  We published the idea and they found us.  As Chair, I created a Writing Committee - pre-Covid -- that helped work w/each writer to improve the overall book.  I still had hoops to jump thru before selling to and signing with Bear Manor Media in 2022.  

Suzee: What message did you want to impart with this book?

Denise Pence Boockvor: Collaborative creativity & communal support.  The "message" was, I think, unintentional.  It's just what came out in many of our stories.  

Suzee: Where can we find this book? 

Denise Pence Boockvor: Drama Books in NYC, online at Bear Manor Media and Amazon. The book is also available as an audiobook available through the website and Audible.com.

        Audiobook Available @audible.com; and books are available @Amazon.com,  B&N.com & Drama Books 

UPCOMING EVENT:



To Connect with the Rehearsal Club:


To Connect with Denise Pence:


To buy the book:
        Available NOW thru Bear Manor MediaAmazon.com & Drama Books