"I'm still here," says Kaye Ballard, veteran star of TV, stage, recordings, revues and movies. "But only until June 3! Then, that's it."

She's not exactly "hanging it up," but refers to the fact that she's never liked nightclubs "and I'll never play another! The hours are awful and it's grueling." Of course, Ballard's said that before. John Miller, owner of Arci's Place, the restaurant on Park Avenue South between 30th and 31st Streets also turned nitery and where Ballard's doing Another Final Farewell Appearance, reported, "The last time Kaye said that, she meant it. We've known each other since the days I worked with Ted Hook of Backstage [which was adjacent to the Martin Beck Theater and run by Tallulah Bankhead's right hand]. It wasn't easy getting her to leave her beloved Palm Springs, but I coaxed her out of 'retirement.'"

"I'm glad John didn't give up," says Ballard. "I'm seeing friends, meeting new ones and seeing my buddies who loved `The Mothers-In-Law' [the TV sitcom she co-starred in with Eve Arden]. And clubs have changed, especially in New York, where you're not allowed to smoke." Her renditions of songs by Berlin, Porter, Arlen, Warren, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, and Carolyn Leigh and flawless comic timing in such bits as "A Letter From Martha Stewart" are wowing audiences young and old. Does Ballard know why? "It's because I'm better than ever," she exclaims. "It's true! When you grow up - and sometimes it takes forever - you get better. I've been on and off couches for twenty-five years" She pauses for effect, then adds, "for analysis! As corny as this may sound, I'm only now doing what I'm capable of."

Ballard said when she left Ohio to join Spike Jones' band, "I thought show business was going to be great. With Spike, it was. And insane! When I got to New York and saw Ethel [Merman] in Annie Get Your Gun, my life changed. I had to do musical comedy."
And she did. The great revues (The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen through the Eyes of Cole Porter, Cole Porter Revisited and her one-woman shows), such musicals as The Golden Apple, Carnival and the acclaimed Paper Mill Playhouse revival of Follies; and the classic TV production of "Cinderella" by Rodgers and Hammerstein, starring Julie Andrews. That show led to the creators of "The Mothers-in-Law" casting her in that sitcom as the Italian wife opposite WASPy Arden "and thereby made me a household name. Unfortunately, it typecast me. I went from being an 'in' entertainer at the great clubs to being the stereotypical Italian."

Could Ballard be a bit too hard on herself? Her career led to royal command performances, films, music and comic recordings and more TV, including a recurring role on "The Doris Day Show" (and a great friendship with Day). She's known everyone and had intimate friendships with legends Marlon Brando, Lenny Bruce, Edith Piaf, Bea Lillie, Maureen Stapleton, Nat King Cole, Ben Bagley, Mel Torme, Lena Horne, Merv Griffin, Steve Allen, Dustin Hoffman and Bette Davis. She discovered Fred Ebb and introduced him to Hal Prince. "Fred wrote the material I performed on the Parr and Carson shows. When he teamed with John Kander, I put their 'My Coloring Book' in my act. They wrote 'Maybe This Time' for me."
Ballard, a major stage and recording star at the time who made frequent guest shots on TV variety shows, felt betrayed when the duo "gave" the songs to Streisand and Liza without telling her. That led to acrimony and, according to Ballard, "ended a loving, enduring, intimate friendship."

Ballard was the first to record the standard "Fly Me To the Moon," but her label "threw it away, releasing it as the flip side" to "Lazy Afternoon," her big hit from The Golden Apple.
Ballard became solemn for a moment. "If you look for justice in this business, you won't find it. It's just a word in the dictionary."

Of those she's met in this business, laughs Ballard, "I realize the most influential have been my hairdresser and my singing teacher." Yet, she's still here. Does Ballard know why? "'Cause I'm excited about what I'm doing now. I'm not sentimental about the past. I am sentimental for what was, but not concerning me. I live for today, emphasizing the new and now. And I'm never bored. I always think the next bite at the dinner table's going to be mine."


Key Subjects: 
Kaye Ballard, The Mothers-In-Law; cabaret
Ellis Nassour
Writer Bio: 
Ellis Nassour contributes entertainment features here and abroad. He is the author of "Rock Opera: the Creation of Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline," and an associate editor and a contributing writer (film, music, theater) to Oxford University Press' American National Biography (1999).