Country Song Roundup Magazine
Mary Kay Place
Just Your Everyday
Day in Nashville
by Rick Bolsom
It was early morning for the people gathered in the lobby of the 4 Star building where CBS Records has its sales and PR departments. The sun was fighting to break through the clouds; the bartenders were mixing Bloody Marys for those who needed a little extra help. The Nashville press corps was a heck of a lot more used to working the night shift, but for special events they could be roused earlier, but please, not more than once a year. The coffee, juice and drinks did their job. The CBS people mixed with the press, and photographer Clark Thomas zipped around, taking pictures to hoots and catcalls. “Loretta Haggers” and “Charlie” were coming to Nashville, and nobody knew just what to expect.
Loretta, the daffy, dipsy country girl of the “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” show, was debuting in the person of Mary Kay Place, as far as anyone knew, a Hollywood actress who had an album coming out and who might or might not be playing her character for the next 15 or so hours for the benefit of Nashville. A large hired bus, plastered with a “Loretta Haggers Show” banner, idled outside, waiting to take everyone to wherever the CBS folks had in mind to show Mary Kay off. Everyone waited; conversations hummed. Eyes kept flicking toward the front doors. As with most music business events, this one was a few minutes behind schedule, no thanks to the airlines not bringing their planes in as advertised.
Then, a small rush toward the street. Flashbulbs popped, and a crew of some half-dozen folks pushed through the entrance, with Mary Kay looking sunnier than the morning and Graham Jarvis (Charlie) looking slightly bewildered.
Introductions were hurried as CBS press chief Mary Ann McCreedy bustled about like a momma hen trying to get all her chicks together and on their way.
Within minutes the bus was filled with most of the people who had been crowding the lobby, and off we went for a guided tour of some Nashville highlights.
This was Mary Kay and Graham’s first trip to Nashville, and I for one waited to see what would happen. Would it be phony Hollywood looks of “ain’t that interesting,” or boredom at the end of a cross-country promotion tour, or what?
What it was, was wonderful. After a run through the Hall of Fame and the Wax Museum, a quick stop at Ernest Tubb’s, and a rush to get back on the bus to head downtown, Mary Kay and Graham were one of us – for real, no pretense.
Both of them were briefed about Nashville, but Mary Kay, I soon found out, didn’t need it. She knew. She was raised in Oklahoma and Texas and was no stranger to country music. It was love at first sight: theirs for Nashville, and us locals for them.
Downtown meant Tootsie’s, where a “Welcome Loretta” sign simply blew Mary Kay away.
Beers for everyone, and Tootsie’s T-shirts for the visitors; a quick visit to the old Opry House and back on the bus for a drive up to Centennial Park and an outdoor lunch with the celebrities and such. Chet Atkins and Minnie Pearl were there. The mayor sent an award, and food and drink were consumed as the TV cameras rolled.
With her new album and single out, Mary Kay was the center of most of the attention. Questions were fired at her from every side. Besides being a fine actress, a singer, and writer of some distinction, she proved to be bright, a good listener, and a very good talker.
Nature smiled all the lunchtime as the sun shone on the proceedings. But after an hour or so, it was back to the grind. Interviews. Each writer and reporter on the scene wanted some of Mary Kay’s time for a private interview, and everybody who could be, was accommodated. Mary Kay talked about herself, her childhood, the “Mary Hartman” show and her Loretta character. Over and over the same questions were fired at her, and with a smile and a “Let me tell you,” she made her answers as personal the first time as the tenth. Most people don’t realize that endurance is perhaps, after talent, the single most important thing a performer must possess.
Later that afternoon, while Mary Kay and I shared a cup of coffee and a last chat, word came upstairs to the CBS offices that Kitty Wells was in the building and would like to say hello. Mary Kay shot out of her chair. All the tiredness of a grueling day of smiles and answers was forgotten in her excitement.
Kitty came in with husband Johnny, their daughter and son-in-law. Mary Kay and Kitty traded expressions of mutual admiration. Kitty loves the Loretta character because she understands it.
Mary Kay loves Kitty and has been a fan of hers since childhood. And to top the whole thing, Kitty had a copy of a record she just recorded, “Mary Hartman You’ve Got It Made.” After 10 minutes of trying, the record player in the CBS conference room was finally gotten started, and with an audience of perhaps 8 Kitty’s record was played for the first time outside of the studio. Mary Kay fell on the floor, Graham absolutely flipped, and the two of them talked Kitty into autographing the advance copy for them to carry back to L.A., where they said it would be the most played record at the show’s production company.
Kitty Wells, a giant in country music, newest member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and Mary Kay Place, Hollywood actress and very hip young lady, had nothing but the best in their hearts for each other. Some people feel that the “MH, MH” satire is a little unfair; maybe some people on the Hollywood end feel that a Kitty Wells satirish record is unfair, but the artists know better. They love and respect each other for their professional ability. There was no animosity between the queen of Nashville and the princess of Hollywood.
All in all, it had been a busy day, but it wasn’t yet half over; the best, biggest and hardest was yet to come.
One more official function, a dinner for company, media and other people at the Hyatt House, and then a run out to the Opry, limo’s standing by, for Mary Kay Place to sing her new single, “Baby Boy.” I don’t know if I got to ride out to Opryland with Mary Kay because I knew the back-road turnoff to the stage door at the Opry house or just because that’s the way it worked out, but that’s what we did.
Well, we made it there. Mary Kay crouched in the back seat, trembling. The other people in the car tried to talk to her, reassure her, but she couldn’t hear a word. She was as scared as I’ve ever seen anyone; I’ve seen stage fright aplenty, but this was something else. The enormity of what she was about to do had completely taken hold of her. The thought of going out on the Opry stage and singing had paralyzed her. It was an overwhelming experience to watch her. Everyone wanted to help, but basically there’s nothing anyone can do for anyone who has to go out on a stage and perform. Once the announcer calls your name, it’s all up to you, and the realization of that filled the car, made the big limo as confining as a locked closet.
Backstage, finally. Mary Kay is pale and shaking. Her traveling companion and Mary Ann take her to her dressing room to change. She sits there for the twenty minutes until the knock comes on the door. “Five minutes,” says the impersonal voice of a stage manager.
And finally over the P.A. comes the announcement, “From ‘Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”... her new single” – the rest is lost in the applause as Mary Kay runs center stage at the Opry, takes hold of the mike, more for support than anything, and starts into her song.
One verse in, she starts to relax, her throat starts to open and she sings more easily. Her foot starts to tap, she starts to dance with her song, the butterflies are gone, the panic is over, the performer fulfills her destiny, she sings, the audience responds with waves of support. Her voice back, she calls “Charlie” to the stage and introduces him. The applause rocks through the Opry House. The people from Everywhere, U.S.A. who have made their pilgrimage to the Opry love her; they probably love the TV show. The drama is completed and a new Mary Kay, gushing, bubbling, joyful, runs backstage, applause ringing in her ears, her eyes alive for the first time in hours.
The Opry regulars are all there to congratulate her, to welcome her into the fold. Skeeter Davis is there wanting an autograph for her dad. Roy Acuff is there.
Mary Kay and Graham sign autographs not only for fans who have managed to get backstage, but for cast and crew of the Opry; they are celebrities among the celebrities. They are both overwhelmed by it all. It’s getting late in the evening, but with the tension finally broken, a celebration is in order. About a dozen folks who have now been thrown together for 12 hours head for downtown Nashville, for Faron Young’s Jailhouse (which isn’t that anymore), where Freddy Weller, also a Columbia artist, is performing.
Tables are pushed together, drinks ordered, fans cluster around for autographs. A half hour later, everyone is dancing to the live music – Mary Kay, Graham, L.A. people, Nashville people, tourists, whoever. A guy, obviously urged on by his friends, hesitantly asks Mary Kay to dance. I’m sure he expected two bodyguards to grab him and hustle him outside. Was he ever surprised when she jumped up and danced him off the floor.
Everything must finally have its ending. The day was long, the night was long and tense. One by one the dozen dwindles to 10, then 7. Finally, the last limo pulls off with its cargo of tired people. The plane to L.A. would be warming up early to carry the “MH, MH” – cast folk back to work. The Nashville people luckily could sleep late. Most of them I asked did just that.