I Hate Men but Love Nancy Walker
My dear friend and sparring partner (as I often refer to him) Robbie Rozelle has been trying (for years) to get me to listen to Nancy Walker's I Hate Men album. I think it is a built-in aspect of our friendship that, when he recommends something, I won't listen to it just to aggravate him. Well...the joke is on me. Today, I finally sat down to listen to Ms. Walker superbly wend her way through some of the most humorous, anti-male Broadway show tunes ever written. Not only are the song choices (and their arrangements) infectious fun, but Ms. Walker peppers them with her patented tongue-in-cheek sarcasm.
Nancy Walker was one of those Broadway stars who never truly found the vehicle that she deserved. In fact, it was television where this lady found her two big gigs: as the salty "Ida Morgenstern," mother of Valerie Harper on Rhoda, and as the crusty diner owner "Rosie" the spokesperson for Bounty paper towels. Still, Walker, who stood at a mere 4' 11", had a towering presence on the Broadway stage and made it a regular part of her career, debuting there in the 1942 Best Foot Forward.
After a short stint at MGM Studios playing supporting roles, Walker landed a plum featured spot in the 1944 film Broadway Rhythm, singing the humorous "Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet." 1944 also resulted in her most successful Broadway role: Hildy Eszterhazy, the libidinous, man crazy cab driver in On the Town. Introducing the songs "Come Up to My Place," and "I Can Cook, Too!," the role capitalized on Walker's dry comedic delivery and priceless facial expressions. Other successful Broadway appearances included Phoenix '55 and Do Re Mi (both Tony nominated). She also starred in the 1958 City Center revival of Wonderful Town. Perhaps, most surprisingly, Walker tried her hand at directing film. The result: the 1980 box office dud (but worshipped in camp an cult circles) Can't Stop the Music.
Nancy Walker was not just a star, she was a distinct personality that could be counted on to do what she did best: deliver sarcasm with a sly, cherubic grin. You loved her even though she played domineering, pushy, and overly honest characters. She navigated those roles beautifully, which brings me back to her I Hate Men album.
Each of the songs on this recording is, more or less, a diatribe against men. Fortunately, in her hands, these songs are spirited fun and it's hard to take much insult. She is particularly adept at softening "Take Him" and "What Is a Man," both overtly sardonic songs from Pal Joey. What has dripped with acid in the care of others, bubbles with wit and exasperation here. Reworked with different lyrics, "Without You" from My Fair Lady takes on a contemporary sophistication. Of course, the highlight of the album is "To Keep My Love Alive" from A Connecticut Yankee. Also, featuring a barrage of lyrics that are unfamiliar to most, the song feels tailor made for Walker's piquant delivery.
The whole album is worth the listen (three times today, in fact). Even if it is simply to serve as a heartfelt reminder of one of the great character actresses of the twentieth century, it is time well-spent. Perhaps I should take Robbie Rozelle's recommendations more seriously, but somehow, I just don't see that happening. Aggravation is more fun and I think Nancy would approve.