Pamela Blair, an Original ‘Chorus Line’ Cast Member, Dies at 73
This post was originally published on NY Times - Theater
Written by: Richard Sandomir
As Val, one of the dancers in the hit Broadway musical, she sang a memorable song explaining how she got work by enhancing her body through cosmetic surgery. Pamela Blair, who as the sassy and profane dancer Val in the original production of “A Chorus Line” delivered a showstopping song about enhancing her breasts and butt with silicone to get work as an actress, died on Sunday at her home in Mesa, Ariz. She was 73.
Her former husband, the director Don Scardino, said the cause was complications of colon surgery, including pneumonia and sepsis. She also had Clippers disease, a chronic inflammation of the central nervous system.
Ms. Blair was one of the performers who were invited to the workshops where “A Chorus Line” was developed, and who told the creative team — led by Michael Bennett, who conceived, directed and choreographed the show — deeply personal stories, which were used as material to build its characters.
“The core of Val came from the anarchic character that was Pam,” Mr. Scardino said in a phone interview.
Ms. Blair’s brassy solo, “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” (a reference to the grades Val got at an audition before undergoing cosmetic surgery), was a paean to the benefits of silicone, among them the national tours Val was hired for. (Ms. Blair herself said she didn’t have her breasts enhanced.)
In a number written, like the rest of the show’s score, by Marvin Hamlisch (music) and Edward Kliban (lyrics), Val sings, in part: “It’s a gas, just a dash of silicone/Shake your new maracas and you’re fine.”
Where the cupboard once was bare
Now you knock and someone’s there
You have got ‘em, hey, top to bottom, hey.
In reviewing “A Chorus Line” in its pre-Broadway run at the Public Theater in the East Village, Allan Wallach of Newsday called Ms. Blair “a marvelously defiant blonde” and Douglas Watt of The Daily News of New York described her as “blonde and saucy.” After moving to Broadway in 1975, the show ran for 6,137 performances. Ms. Blair stayed with it for about a year before joining the national tour.
In 1980, Ms. Blair recalled the experience of singing “Dance Ten; Looks Three.”
“When I sang that song, I really was like that girl,” she told The Hartford Courant. “I was blond. I was dumb. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I thought, ‘Damn it, I’m an actress too.’”
She returned to Broadway in 1978, first in the musical “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” in which she played a prostitute, and later that year in another musical, “King of Hearts,” in which she played the youngest inmate in a mental hospital.
She made her final Broadway appearance in 1990 when she replaced Megan Gallagher as Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway, the only female character in Aaron Sorkin’s military drama “A Few Good Men.”
“It was great at first, being the only girl with all those guys,” she told The Daily News in 1990. “But it didn’t last. Now they treat me like one of them. I get no respect. They go around backstage in their holey underwear — and even less!”
Ms. Blair was also seen on soap operas like “Loving” and “Another World”; on prime-time series like “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”; and in films like John Huston’s version of the musical “Annie” (1982) and Woody Allen’s “Mighty Aphrodite” (1995).
Ms. Blair in 1983 on the soap opera “Loving,” one of her several television appearances.BC Photo Archives/Disney, via Getty Images
Pamela Blair was born on Dec. 5, 1949, in Bennington, Vt. Her father, Edgar, worked at a company that made plastic molds. Her mother, Geraldine (Cummings) Blair, was a homemaker who worked part time in a local Christmas shop and as a library volunteer.
When Ms. Blair was 16, she entered the National Ballet Academy New York. She met Mr. Bennett during a class there, which led to her being cast in her first Broadway role, in the 1968 musical “Promises, Promises,” which he choreographed.
In 1972 and 1973, Ms. Blair played several roles in “Sugar,” a musical adaptation of the Billy Wilder comedy “Some Like It Hot” (unrelated to the current Broadway adaptation). She was the understudy for the title role, Sugar Kane, which Marilyn Monroe had played in the 1959 film, and replaced Elaine Joyce when she went on vacation.
When asked how it felt to star in “Sugar,” she told the syndicated columnist Leonard Lyons: “I wasn’t that nervous. The butterflies hadn’t developed — they were still caterpillars.”
In 1973, she played another small role in the musical “Seesaw,” for which Mr. Bennett was the director and one of two choreographers. A year later, she was cast as the seductive character known only as “Curley’s wife” in John Steinbeck’s stage adaptation of his novel “Of Mice and Men,” which starred James Earl Jones and Kevin Conway.
“I can’t tell you how affected I was by acting with James Earl Jones,” she told Newsday. “To do a scene with him was so exciting. I would lose myself in him. I want that again.”
She continued to work on TV and in films through 2009. By then, she had moved to Arizona and become a physical and massage therapist, although she return to the stage to play Miss Mona, who runs the Chicken Ranch brothel, in a 2006 Phoenix production of “Best Little Whorehouse.”
Ms. Blair is survived by a sister, Cheryl Hard. Her marriages to Alfred Feola and Mr. Scardino ended in divorce.
In 1980, Ms. Blair recalled the tension she felt while she was in “A Chorus Line,” mainly because of Mr. Bennett.
“He made you live the show,” she told The Courant. “I mean, he’d make you think you were gonna be fired at any moment.”
Near the end of her time in the show, she watched it from a seat in the audience.
“I thought we were all so unhappy and yet we were giving people such joy,” she said. “I cried during the finale, and I remember thinking: This show was a miracle. Why couldn’t I have enjoyed it while it was happening?”