An amiable iron lady of show biz offers an archetypal theatrical memoir, covering more than six decades onstage.
Eighty-year-old Ballard proudly presents the curriculum vitae of a genuine trouper, beginning with a song or two delivered in a hometown Chinese restaurant. (She’s still available for bookings.) This stalwart entertainment warrior has performed in vaudeville, nightclubs, summer stock, TV, Broadway and Vegas, consistently delivering songs and comedy with considerable style. She has worked with flashy headliners and steadfast supporting players, stars and dimly recalled second bananas of bygone days. Remember Alice Ghostley, Jean Sablon, Sylvia Syms or Billy DeWolf? Ballard recalls them fondly. She’s also run into celebrated folk like Mother Teresa. She rejected advances from Phil Silvers, but was more receptive to young Marlon Brando. For a stage-struck Italian girl from Cleveland, Ballard has come a long way, despite the vagaries of the biz, some flop sweat and her share of failures. Over the decades, rarely out of work, she’s paid her dues for a performing life. Seasoned with just a touch of family angst, a bit of payback for a couple of bad actors and a little vamping, it’s a traditional theatrical memoir in the with-pride-and-humility-how-lucky-I’ve-been genre. Co-author Hesselman does nothing to lift the prose above the ordinary, or to prune the platitudes. “Live life to the fullest,” Ballard advises. “How life circles around and mixes together,” she marvels. And, wouldn’t you know it, she forthrightly believes that “all people have the right to be happy.”
Ballard is an expert at her craft, but it’s not the craft of autobiography.