I stood by the gates, clutching my books like some literary security blanket... I had loved my old school and was popular amongst the staff and students alike, but how would they react to me here? Was I dressed right? Did I sound too different? Would I be up to speed academically? I had no idea... Oh why couldn't I have just stayed in the familiar surroundings of my old school, with my old friends and my old schedule?
I noticed a small diner just down the road. There were cars parked out front and teenagers inside eating before class... 'I bet that's where all the cool kids go', I thought... I checked my watch, I still had time... Just... A big greasy cheese burger would calm my nerves for sure.
I swiftly made my way down, pausing before entering to spy through the window and check the lay of the land. Inside were usual peer groups; the jocks, the nerds, the band geeks... and there in the corner, all the way at the back, in their own reserved booth like some exclusive secret society, sat the popular kids in their matching jackets, with their perfectly coiffured hair, immaculate skin and pristine white teeth... Only socialising within their pack - unless they needed their homework done, or a rumble was on the cards...
Then I saw someone, a little older that the other clientele, alone in a booth, sipping a coffee and reading a magazine... He didn't seem fazed by the kids around him... It was almost as if he was used to this situation, like he fitted in it somehow, despite the age difference... Oh how I wish it could be that easy for me...
But, you know there was something bizarrely familiar about this guy... something that stuck in my mind like bubble-gum on a sneaker... something that made me reminisce, like a special perfume or the smell of my car - It hadn't been well lately and had spent lots of time in the shop - I remember how I went to the garage to get it fixed last week and there was puddles of grease everywhere... Big, black puddles of grease...... Grease?! Grease! That's it... That's who it was! It was Doody! Doody from Grease, the musical that inspired a generation! ... Or rather Barry Pearl, the actor that played Doody! But oh my goodness? Was this for real?
I checked my hair, brushed down my skirt, took a deep breath and entered the diner. Making my way over to Barry's booth I took a quick glance at myself in the mirror... I hope he wouldn't judge me, like all the other kids who stared and giggled as I passed... Gee whiz, it wasn't easy being the new girl!
I stood by his booth and smiled, 'Is this seat taken?' I asked politely, he smiled kindly and gestured for me to sit down... I flashed the popular blond - who had mouthed the work 'skank' as I passed - the dirtiest look I could muster, and with a wry little smile I took the seat adjacent to Barry.
I ordered a cheese burger and a milkshake to calm my nerves... which were going into overdrive right now! The waitress seemed somehow surprised by my order... Yes, I knew it was morning, but I was hungry and yeah, I may regret it later, and maybe I would have to reach for the Alka Seltzer, but for the moment it was the tonic I needed.... And maybe if I just started chatting that would help too? It always worked for me before, and Barry didn't seem to mind.
So I asked him 'You've had such a fascinating and successful career, but how did it all start for you?'
Two years later, August 1961, we get a phone call saying that there was a Broadway show called 'Bye Bye Birdie': the first rock and roll musical. There was a little boy in it, a character by the name of Randolph McAfee, and the kid playing him was going off to do another Broadway show and was vacating the role, so Chuck Miller - who was very friendly with the secretary of the man who produced 'Bye Bye Birdie' Edward Padula - was told about this and Chuck says “I think I have a kid for you!”. He called my mother and the next thing you know, I’m on a train into New York.
Chuck helped me go over a tune, and because I had no audition music he taught me 'There’s No Business Like Show Business' - how appropriate! The next day I auditioned and I got the role and I never went home! Basically I moved to New York overnight. And that began my 'professional career'!
Then in 1969 I graduated from high school, and went to Carnegie Mellon University and the
'Grease' experience - which was a wild experience! - happened 4 years later. I'd gone to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh with a bunch of folks who were transfer students from schools out here in California, and they told me how much I reminded them of a friend of theirs, this guy Michael Lembeck. We looked alike, and we played the same roles in the same plays. So fine I thought, there’s a guy who looks like me, I mean everybody has a doppelganger!
Well, three years later in the summer of 1972 I went off to Chicago - between my junior and senior year of college - and became part of the Chicago Free Street Theatre. We performed live theatre, free of charge, all over Illinois. Then in the fall they took us to the International Theatre Festival. We toured all over Yugoslavia, 2 weeks in France at the Espace Pierre Cardin - Pierre Cardin’s theatre space - and then a week in Brussels. When I came back for my final semester of college, a friend of mine - who I'd worked with in the Chicago Street Theatre - had been hired to be an understudy in the first national tour of 'Grease', and when they came through Pittsburgh he called me, he said “Barry, you have to come down and see the show, there are roles in it you could do!”
So I went down to see the show, and I’m sitting there and out comes Michael Lembeck playing the role of Sonny - this guy that people kept telling me I looked like. He came out backwards, but when he turned around it was like watching myself! And I thought 'Ahhh, these friends of mine were right, I do look like this guy!'
So, the following day I called my agent in New York and said you have to get me an audition for this, so by either that weekend or the next I was in New York at a general audition for
The week after that I get a telephone call from my agent saying Michael Lembeck broke his ankle in “We Go Together”, which ended the first act, and they wanted me to come back in to audition for the role of Sonny to understudy.
Then Michael Lembeck's ankle was healed and he came back into the show, and I was then laid off and they were done with me, but at the end of that summer Michael left the show so I finished up the last 10 months of the national tour.
Now, the reason that May 19th date is so important is that four years to the DAY later, I got the film of 'Grease'. Four years to the day!"
he rest in peace, was playing the role of Zuko. He was really the definitive Zuko to me. He of course wound up doing the role of Kenickie in the movie, but was Zuko both on Broadway and in the national tour.
It was meant to be!
So I came out to do that pilot, but it didn’t sell. However, I’d made some connections out here, in fact the director Jerry said 'You can live with me and my family, and you’ll work out here'...
I’d always contended you shouldn’t go there unless you had something to do, and I was doing very well in the theatre back in New York - I actually left a very well paid theatre job to go out on spec.
But I moved in with Jerry Paris and his family and a week and a half later got my first, my VERY first audition.
I auditioned for the Don Rickles show 'CPO Sharkey' and got the gig. A week and a half later I moved out.
So I did that first season, but we didn’t know if we were going to be picked up for a second or not. Then on my birthday I got a telephone call from my agent saying 'We just found out the show IS being picked up, but they’re not picking up your contract.' I was devastated! So I ran crying to Jerry Paris out at Paramount Pictures - that’s where they did 'Happy Days - and he said 'Hey, you know what, this could be just what you need to further
your career!'. I asked why, and he said 'Well, you never know, years ago I was on The Untouchables' and [he told me that] when he'd got written out he was devastated, but he wound up being cast in the 'Dick Van Dyke Show'.
He said, 'And they wrote me out, but I got this role of Jerry the Dentist in the 'Dick Van Dyke Show' and that led to my directing career'. Sheldon Leonard, the producer of 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' then subsequently hired him as the director, and he’s been directing ever since.
He was directing THE most popular show of its time, 'Happy Days'.
But well, if that hadn’t happened - had I NOT been written out of 'CPO Sharkey' - I wouldn’t have gotten 'Grease', so everything happens for a reason.
So I kind of bounced around and did a lot of theatre, I did a couple of other movies, spent some time in television and commercials.
But you know, it didn’t do a whole bunch for my career. In fact, if anything, it might have gotten in the way of the career, because they saw me as a clown, somebody who just did comedy. I was kind of pigeon holed.
But I managed to get by. I always made my living in either theatre, television or films, so in that way my dreams kind of came true, and now I’ve gotten into directing, stage primarily.
But next to 'Grease', I think the other phenomenon that I was a part of was the 'Barney' Organization, in fact we toured the UK. In 1997 I think it was..."
It was the first time that they were going to have a network produce the show - it had been on public broadcast - so NBC stepped up and J.C. Penny’s advertised - they were sponsors - and we did this one hour prime time special.
That became a video, and then two years later, in 1996 they called me to do the live stage version of a Barney show called 'Barney’s Big Surprise'. We travelled all over this country, Canada, Mexico and all through the UK in 96, 97 and 98."
Oh, so it was a BIG production!
And talking of screaming kids, a bunch of them just squealed in their booth. A little older than Barry's target audience, but just as loud!
You can feel that energy, and then of course at the curtain call there can be thunderous applause if it’s a good piece. And the process of putting it all together, there’s something quite wonderful about painting pictures, calling the shots and bringing it all together as the director, and then watching it come to fruition, sitting back and watching your work manifest, there’s something great about that too.
The process of television is a whole different thing, you know, you rehearse it to a perfection and then you record it. But sometimes that can be a drag, because you sit back and watch it and think 'Oh God, I didn’t like the way the camera was at that point' or 'I didn’t like that shot' or 'I didn’t like the way I said or did that' but it’s there in perpetuity. It’s frozen, so there’s the downside. But I like how it’s able to reach the masses, and I love making people laugh, singing and dancing.
"And there are other versions, the version that Mews Small and I did - she’s a terrific lady and it was great working with her because she was the original Frenchy - the ORIGINAL Frenchy - so the show that we did was far racier than what’s been done since, FAR racier than the original!
In fact they just did that production in Chicago a couple of years ago, and it was a huge success. Jim Jacobs, who wrote it, calls it ‘The Original Grease’. When Tommy Tune got hold of it he expanded the amount of people on stage, I think the script was still the same - there were a LOT of F-bombs in the script! - and then it became the film. The only thing that remains of that raciness is 'Greased Lightning', in terms of dialogue."
It’s very odd. we look on the news and we see all kinds of horrific stuff, and yet we can’t do the original script of 'Grease' because it’s not PC, so it’s an odd imbalance going on."
And talk about impact, my milkshake arrived and it was huge with a cherry on top! I took a big slurp and then carried on...
Oh, so that was just written for the film?
So what happened to the original script?
She did the one that was done in London as well, that was based on the television show ‘'You're the one that I want".
But that’s a whole different version, and now the new version that's going to be on FOX is going to be completely different altogether!"