Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Kaye Ballard

Kaye Ballard was loud. Kaye Ballard was animated. That helped make her hysterically funny.

Ballard’s best known for a TV show that was often neither hysterical nor funny. The Mothers-In-Law debuted in 1967 and basically relied on Ballard’s banter with Eve Arden to put it over. But she was around long before that.

We’ll honour her passing yesterday with a couple of old clippings. Here’s a guest column from June 11, 1954 where she talks about her career to that point.
Voice of Broadway
You know how it feels when you play a 20-to-1 shot and it comes in; when that long-awaited legacy arrives; when you meet the man-of-your-dreams. In one of my night club sketches, I do a girl who has inherited $47 million and all she can say is "Yeeoow." That's the way I really feel—YEEOOW!
For 10 years, I knocked hopefully on doors that are only now opening. Many times I thought I should never have left home—home being Cleveland, Ohio. Broadway seemed so far away and unobtainable. But now I can look back on those years and realize that they were just dress rehearsals for the big moment the night "The Golden Apple" opened at the Phoenix Theater on Second Avenue. And thanks to the faith of producers T. Edward Hambleton and Norris Houghton, composer Jerome Moross and lyricist John La Touche, I became a part of that great triumph when an off-Broadway show so captivated the critics and the audiences that it not only moved uptown to the Alvin Theater but won the Drama Critics' Award as the best musical of the season. And it's a wonderful sensation to know that the critics approved of my portrayal of an American type Helen of Troy, circa 1900, for it is a part I love in a musical I adore.
MY FRIENDS thought I was a bit mad to pin my hopes on an off-Broadway production with a limited engagement of only six weeks. They couldn't understand why I would want to give up a sizable weekly income from the night clubs for the off-Broadway pay of $100 per. But I wanted that part—and worked for it harder than I have ever worked in my life.
I suppose it would make the Cinderella legend complete if I could say that as soon as I auditioned for Helen, everyone shrieked "Hallelujah." On the contrary, the producers were looking for a more glamorous Helen and I knew one thing— I'm not the glamorous type. (I actually became a comedienne when I realized in high school my looks were never going to command attention so I might as well be funny and laugh it off.) However, if I couldn't be glamorous, I could surround myself with the glamour fur— mink. And at each of my subsequent auditions, I borrowed various mink gadgets from more affluent friends and paraded forth in either a mink coat, stole, cape or jacket. With all that mink I certainly didn't look as if I needed the job which I felt was smart psychology to use on not-completely-convinced producers. I'm sure they're still wondering who took back all that mink for there's been no sign of any since I got the part. But if they're patient, "The Golden Apple" will help me to buy one— and I'll gladly lend it to any young lady who needs it for that difficult audition.
THE AUDACITY of innocence is one of my favorite themes. The nerve of young people has always been a great source of wonder and delight to me. When I review my first years in show business, I can only be grateful that I started so young for I never could do now the things I did then. While still in West Technical High School, I started ushering at the Palace Theater in Cleveland and from watching the great acts there. I put together an act of my own— mostly stolen. Unfortunately, I was fired from my usherette job when the manager caught me escorting people down the aisle imitating Bette Davis, et al. He didn't know, and neither did I, that two years later I'd be back again—on stage.
Undaunted, I knocked on the door of a very genial agent named Dick Jackson, barged in, told him I was a comedienne and went into my borrowed act with no invitation. Dick, very gently, went to work coaching me, and put me into Chin's Chinese restaurant at a fat $40 a week. He kept me there until I learned to walk on and off stage and then sent me on vaudeville tour of the South. Incidentally, Dick, who has always been my guiding angel, came in from Cleveland to see "The Golden Apple" and I waited breathlessly for his comment. He said it all right—he hated the way I took my bows and promptly showed me how to do it properly.
Then bedlam came into my life. Spike Jones heard about me and told me to look him up in California if I ever wanted a job with his band. A year later, feeling I was getting nowhere fast, I bought a one-way plane ticket to Hollywood and prayed Spike would remember me. Fortunately he did and hired me as a comic tuba player with his band. I toured the country for a year and a half with Spike, playing every major vaudeville house in the U. S. I was quite a sight dressed in an ancient bathing suit, faking the mad sounds that came out of the tuba. But Spike also gave me a featured spot and my singing and comedy routines developed under his expert tutelage. Would I dare do anything like that now? Of course not—a million doubts would be in my mind before I invested all my savings on a wild goose chase because someone told me to look him up. But when you're young in heart, and an eager beaver, thank heavens, you blithely go ahead and take life as it presents itself without too much hesitation.
When the band played the Strand Theater in New York. I knew that this was my town and didn't want to leave it. All I needed was that wonderful man, John Murray Anderson, my first friend in the legitimate theater, to urge me to go out as a single— and I handed in my notice. With Murray to recommend me. The Blue Angel took a chance and my two-week engagement ran into 16. In fact, I parlayed that original stint into a record 66 weeks at the Blue Angel during the last few years.
AND IT was beloved Murray who started me off in the theater, putting me into the national company of "Three To Make Ready." Starring Ray Bolger, we toured the country for 10 months and I continued to learn. Many things I remember about Murray— his patience, his nicknames, his know-how, and, above all, his great sense of humor. It was a sad thing on the opening night of "The Golden Apple" to know that he wouldn't be coming back to my dressing room after the performance to shout, in that inimitable way of his, "Kimmer, you never should have left those cowbells," which is what he always said when he was particularly proud of something I had done. As a matter of fact, I was dressing to go to Murray's funeral when the producers called me for a third "Golden Apple" audition. I hesitated a minute, realized Murray would say "Kimmer, don't you dare come to my funeral when you have a chance to get a job," grabbed a mink coat that had the name "Rose Tobias" in the lining and rushed to the Phoenix. And now through this wonderful musical and those beautiful notices, I've been given a two-year Decca recording contract; just signed an exclusive five-year NBC radio and television deal, and my picture has appeared on the cover of Life Magazine. I don't have a moment to myself and I love it, I'm excited— and proud— and ever so grateful all at the same time.
Here’s a feature story from North American Newspaper Alliance, dated September 9, 1961.
Kaye Is Enchanting Buffoon

New York— (NANA)— EVER HEAR of Katrina Balotta? Probably not, for she became Kaye Ballard, singer, nightclub entertainer. actress— and clown. You'll find her, if you're lucky enough to get tickets, at the Imperial Theater in the biggest hit of her career, the sensation called "Carnival."
Kaye is lively, quick-witted and altogether delightful. She has performed for England's royal family, been kissed (on the forehead) by Clark Gable, and made frequent contributions to the general lunacy of the Jack Paar show.
"I'M ITALIAN all the way down the line," she said at Downey's the other afternoon. "There's not a trace of any thing else. One of my grandmothers was named Ballardo and I just chopped off the last letter. My family comes from southern Italy, so I speak Italian with a southern accent.
"All of my first cousins and an aunt live in Rome and met them when I went over there. They're beautiful people, but they got hysterical when I spoke Italian. I had to get hotel clerk to translate for me I said, 'Tell them I love them.' Can you imagine?" Kaye's brief encounter with Gable, to get to that quickly, took place at the Trocadero in Hollywood while she was appearing with the noisy Spike Jones band. She gets a dazed look when she speaks of it.
"I did an imitation of Judy Garland singing 'Dear Mr. Gable' and he was sitting right there. He invited me over to his table, kissed me on the forehead, and introduced me all around. He should never have died. It made me furious. He should have lived forever."
I remarked that the Trocadero closed some time ago. And she said:
"I've closed several places. I was in the last picture ever made at RKO, 'The Girl Most Likely.' I was on the cover of Life with no story inside. I've had almost luck."
Kaye was born in Cleveland where most of her close relatives still live. She attended West Technical High School there and says she got her dramatic training in art class. "I'd finish my sketch in about twenty minutes, then I'd perform." She appeared in vaudeville in Cleveland and in night clubs and at the Hanna Theater.
HER FATHER, Vincent Balotta, came to New York to see her in "Carnival." It was his first visit here since 1919. "But he said the place hadn't changed much. Everybody asked him how he liked me in the show but my family's very modest about me. He said, 'I liked the whole show.' 'I'm very close to my grand mother, Gabriella Nacarato, who is 85, and who lived with us. She and my mother are coming here as soon as I can get them tickets for the show. I have a brother and two sisters and they have thousands of children."
Kaye got the role of "Carnival" because director Gower Champion wanted her for it. He knew her in Hollywood.
"I sang for David Merrick (producer) and Bob Merrill (composer-lyricist), but never had to read for the part. It was quite different from 'The Golden Apple.' I had to do seven auditions before I got the part in that show. Each time I wore a different fur piece that I borrowed from friends— a full length mink, a mink stole and so on. I wanted them to think I didn't really need the job. After the show opened they never saw me in anything but a cloth coat."
IT WAS while she was appearing in London in Touch and Go" that she did two command performances for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, now Queen Mother. "When I was introduced to Princess Margaret I didn't know what to say to her so I just said, 'I'm crazy about your mother and father.' "
Kaye said she spends all her money on cabs and on paintings for her Ninth Street apartment. "I have some really good paintings. Care to see them sometime? I certainly I would.
Ballard’s life was chronicled in a documentary recently that will be making the rounds of festivals. Despite poor health, she got a chance to see it and was mobbed by fans afterwards. Time and illness took away the “loud” and “animated” part, but Kaye Ballard was still loved and appreciated at age 93.


  1. Awww, I didn't know she died. She was in the first production at The Celebrity Dinner Theater (Pippin) where I worked in '83; although we attended the same high school, I was too shy to say hello.

    Following each performance, she did a little act featuring the songs of female lyricists.

    Always loved her.

  2. Loved her as Kaye Buell on "The Mothers-in-Law" - she had great chemistry with Eve Arden!

  3. Hard to know where to start. Kay did so much. For me, Of course, there was " The Mothers-In-Law " for Desi Arnaz Productions. Pretty much a solid " Working Actor " on television through out the 1960's. Stage, did a lot of Dinner Theater. I really liked her performance in RKO's forgotten remake of " Tom, Dick, and Harry "," The Girl Most Likely " with Jane Powell. She sang and danced, was fun in that movie. Miss Ballard was talented on many fronts. She will be missed.