News & Politics

Tommy Tune: So Tall, People at the Port Authority Run Away


Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
April 26, 1973, Vol. XVIII, No. 17

One from the ‘Seesaw’
by Joanna Mermey

“Tap dancing is so honest. It makes people smile. A few weeks ago I was in Port Authority handing out ads for ‘Seesaw.’ Everyone kept running away from me because I was so tall, and they thought I was a freak. So I started tapping all over the Port Authority and people began to smile. These black guys called me Mr. Bojangles. I liked that,” Tommy Tune said as he blushed.

Tommy Tune is 6’6″, part Shawnee, part Texan, has rubber legs that go on forever, dances in size 13 clogs, and could be the most incredible tap dancer to come along since Fred Astaire.

Tommy, who plays David, the gay choreographer, in “Seesaw,” had the ladies in the Wednesday matinee bug-eyed. “Can you imagine his feet don’t even touch the floor and he’s wearing such heavy shoes,” the woman in the back of me gasped.

“It’s easy to dance in clogs,” Tommy demonstrated in his bathrobe. “I just love the sound they make tapping on a wooden floor. I have this great loft. It’s pure Gene Kelly where I tap in my clogs all night. I live above a massage parlor so my neighbors wouldn’t dare complain. I call my loft ‘Giraffe House’ because it has plants and no furniture. I’m so tall that I can look over my hanging plants. I once had furniture, but it looked so unhappy that I took it to Central Park so it could be with its relatives.”

Tommy Tune is his real name. “Who would choose a name like that,” he said screwing up his face and sticking out his tongue. “When I went to Hollywood, 20th Century tried to make me the next Jimmy Stewart. They want to make everyone the next someone. They tried to change my name to Clay Rollins. I’d call up my friends and say ‘Hi, this is Clay,” and they’d get hysterical. That name is right out of the Rock Hudson or Tab Hunter ilk. Then they tried to stick me with David Logan, which I thought was definitely too Waspy. Thank god someone else in SAG had taken the name before I was left with it.”

Tommy was in Hollywood to do “Hello Dolly” with Barbra Streisand. “You might not believe it,” Tommy confided, “but Barbra is painfully shy. The most exciting time I had on that film was then I had to sing in a studio office with Barbra. When she opened her mouth, pure honey came out. I suddenly realized I was sitting next to Barbra Streisand and I almost fainted.

“Barbra was nice, but I’m in love with Twiggy. Twig and I have the same body, only I’m taller. I just loved working in ‘The Boyfriend’ with her. She’s a natural talent and I taught her a lot about dancing.” They planned to do another film, “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance,” but couldn’t get the money together.

Tommy believes that Ken Russell, who directed “The Boyfriend,” was responsible for bringing back tap dancing. “At auditions, I never admitted I could tap, since only people like me from the sticks took tap lessons, and you’d never admit you were from the sticks. When Ken asked me if I could tap, I told him I wanted to tap dance all over London and he said, ‘That’s just what you are going to do!'”

Tommy grew up in Texas. His first role was Jesus in the Christmas pageant. “I wanted to play Santa because he was a happier character.” He graduated from the University of Texas. “Everyone wanted me to play basketball. But I looked so skinny in a tank top and shorts that I refused to come out of the dressing room. So I majored in theatre and my favorite role was Oberon in ‘Midsummer-Night’s Dream.'”

Tommy is not only a sensational dancer, but a choreographer. He choreographs all his numbers including the ones in “Seesaw.” “I’m always vacillating between being a dancer and a choreographer. It’s so much fun playing David because he’s a choreographer who dances.

“What I’d really love to do,” he said with a twinkle in his big brown eyes, “is go to the United Nations and get all the delegates into tap shoes. I bet if they started tapping, they could solve the problems of the world.”

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 28, 2011


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