She was such a shy, little girl, clutching my hand as we boarded the trolley car to take us into our ballet class in Boston, clutching my hand though I myself was only seven or eight years old and not quite prepared for the big city. We came from a small town, Revere, Massachusetts, where the big amusement was the Revere Beach Roller Coaster and the Crescent Ballroom movie house where, for twelve cents, you could see a double feature in the dark.
And that's exactly where we went after we returned home after every ballet class. We got into the movies free because my "ballet partner's"mom was the ticket lady! I liked to dance and to sing but my mom never quite became a stage mother. Not so for my little girl friend's mom. Before I knew it, she was taking her to summer stock theatres on Cape Cod and further away. And then, aside from occasional visits to my home as the years passed, she drifted away, almost like the memories of all those films we watched together alone in that dark, old movie house.
Funny, we never talked about the movies or the theatre. But I do remember being with her when I was thirteen years old and still just a kid, seeing her when she came to the house. She seemed like a woman. She had, you know, been in actual theatrical plays and she wore make-up, lipstick. She was twelve years old but she was more than a woman: She was an actress.
A few weeks ago, my sister discovered a letter written to my mother by her mom, who was her best friend. The letter thanked my mom for paying for her little girl's piano lessons. Her mom couldn't afford it. The letter promised to pay back my mom. Of course, my mother would never have accepted any repayment. Besides, the letter was at least forty years old and both my mom and the little pianist's mom were long dead.
But if my mom were alive, she would have been proud to have contributed in some small way to the beginning of the Odyssey of the girl whom Mel Brooks has just described as "one of the most talented performers on earth." She was also one of the most courageous. Goodbye, Madeline.