One of the geekiest (maybe it's even the nerdiest) things I have done during my off hours is wait at stage doors for to get Playbills autographed. And one of the most memorable of those moments happened years and years ago, in the late 1970s, when Frank Langella was starring in the Broadway version of "Dracula," way before he became the sexy vampire you saw onscreen.
I'm reminded of this because Mr. Langella is a presenter at the Kennedy Center Honors that will air tomorrow night, and among the honorees is the comic genius Mel Brooks.
Let me explain.
Mr. Langella starred in Mr. Brooks' retelling of the Russian tale "The Twelve Chairs" in 1970, the same year the latter hit it big onscreen as the cad in "Diary of a Mad Housewife." My college friend and cultural mentor Debbie Wolosky absolutely adored anything Mr. Brooks did and was a huge fan of Mr. Langella's, equally from "The Twelve Chairs" and a couple of plays ("The Seagull," "Eccentricities of a Nightingale") he did with Blythe Danner that aired on public television in New York. So when Mr. Langella was starring in "Dracula," with it's sharp wit, Edward Gorey sets and one of the sexiest ends to a first act ever, well, we were so there.
When Mr. Langella emerged from the stage door, Debbie, who still quotes Mel Brooks lines in her everyday conversation, used a line that Mr. Brooks' character says to Mr. Langella's character, Ostep Bender, in "The Twelve Chairs." It goes something like, "You're smart and you're gorgeous. You're OK."
Mr. Langella then said something to the effect that he had just had dinner with Mel and Annie (Mr. Brooks' wife, Anne Bancroft, who was playing Golda Meier on Broadway at the time). I thought Debbie was going to hyperventilate. We got his autograph and I don't remember her saying another word to him, although he was chatty and very sweet to everyone who waited.
Now Mr. Brooks is being honored at the Kennedy Center and Mr. Langella is a presenter there -- presumably for Mel and not for his fellow New Jerseyan (New Jerseyite?), Bruce Springsteen.
Either way, it's fun to think of the man who earned an Oscar nomination for "Frost/Nixon" laughing it up again with Mel Brooks.