An Interview with Tulsa’s Own Lynette Bennett
I’m privileged to feature Lynette Bennett on my blog this week. Lynette has lived an exciting life, fulfilling her dreams of a New York stage career, and at the same time holding fast to her Christian principles in the process. I met her at a writing seminar taught by Bill Bernhardt and Barry Friedman, two prominent names in the Tulsa writing community. She was working on her memoirs and the two of us hit it off quite well. For all the talent and success Lynette has been blessed with, she is a humble, unassuming person with a bright smile and brighter outlook. Please welcome Lynette.
Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Bill. I’m looking forward to our visit.
Describe for us how you felt flying to New York fresh out of college with only a few contacts and a lot of prayers.
I was one scared kid. I arrived a couple of days ahead of my roommate and foraged around Manhattan alone shopping for an apartment. New York City is a dangerous place, and I couldn’t tell a safe neighborhood from a gang one. I talked to a business acquaintance of Daddy’s who said, “I would never go into Central Park alone at night and I would never go into Central Park with a woman day or night.” That warning stayed with me.
Friends asked Mother, “Aren’t you worried about Lynette going to New York alone?” Mother said, “Of course I am. She could have decided to stay in Oklahoma and teach school but that’s not what she wants to do.”
I’ve always had wonderful prayer support from family and friends.
After that flight, you played Broadway, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Radio City Music Hall. Of all the shows you’ve been a part of, what two stand out as being special and why?
I was cast in Funny Girl on Broadway which made a star of the new singing sensation Barbra Streisand. The show ran for a couple of years which is great security for actors. As a rule, we’re constantly auditioning for jobs, so to have a steady check each week was a boon. It was exciting working with Barbra and watching her develop her skills as an actor/comedienne. She was already an outstanding singer.
The other would be the Lincoln Center show from which I have a video tape of one of my comedy solos. I use that solo on my demo reel when auditioning. I remember such a dynamic connection with the audience through the funny lyrics. That’s what makes live theatre more exciting than TV or film. They each have their own strong points but there’s nothing like the thrill of a live audience’s response.
You consider many famous people your friends. If you were to pick one who had the greatest influence on your success, who would it be and why?
The avuncular composer/lyricist/tenor Ralph Blane from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma helped me immensely. I love Ralph’s lilting songs, especially his score for Meet Me In St. Louis which gave Judy Garland her early hits, The Trolley Song, The Boy Next Door, and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Ralph introduced me to his voice teacher and his manager. They each sent me on several auditions.
Also, Barry Manilow was a delight to work with. He selected my songs and wrote great arrangements for me. We made a demo record together.
For a Christian in a secular world, temptation must have been around every corner. How did you maintain your principles in that environment?
I think it’s easier if you’ve made up your mind ahead that these are your boundaries and you won’t cross them. I’ve made much of my living from advertising in TV commercials and in business theatre. I was never willing to advertise alcohol or cigarettes. And, in fact, I made two ads for anti-campaigns. One was for a patch to stop smoking and the other was for a series ABC TV ran about Women and Alcoholism. There was major research in the 1980s concerning the effects of alcohol on women. With the same amount of consumption, there are much more serious effects and consequences for women, than for men. I was pleased to be part of that advertising campaign.
I love your response. What you put your talent into says a lot about what you believe. Rejecting commercials because you can’t support the product shows your character. The same is true is selecting your friends.
Yes, and there was the experience I had with the mafia. They worked through one agent at the top talent agency in New York City, which offered to put its publicity department to work to make me a star. I turned them down in order to be true to God and to myself.
Prayer is part of my daily life. I constantly pray for God’s guidance in my artistic life and my family life.
When Warren, your husband, moved you to London, were you able to find work? If so, how did working in London differ from New York?
I performed in the Broadway musical Chicago, as reporter Mary Sunshine, in London’s West End. It was a delightful experience but I had to jump through many hoops to perform there. I was already a member of Actors’ Equity Association in the US but then had to be accepted as a preliminary member of British Actors’ Equity in order to work in the UK. Finally, after a few years, I became a full member of British Equity and was allowed to work in the West End. Before that, I sang in small opera companies and gave concerts. Warren and I lived in London eight years and absolutely love it.
Show business in London is more accessible than in New York. An agent is more open to an actor than in New York. However, it is difficult being a foreign actor in the UK. It’s hard to be accepted in work there.
You’re still performing today. I understand you wrote and performed Will Rogers, Spirit of America, His Wife Betty’s Story, at Claremore’s Robson Performing Arts Center. That must have been fun. Where can we see Lynette Bennett today?
I write and perform one-woman shows such as the one you mentioned which was designated an Official Project of the Oklahoma Centennial. In that show I tell Will’s story from Betty Rogers’ point of view.
Another one-woman show is Lynette Sings Jeanette, An Affectionate Tribute to Jeanette MacDonald, the Hollywood diva. I’ve recorded two CDs Lynette Sings Broadway! and Lynette Sings Christmas! Which are available from me.
Every season is different. I sing at various country clubs and for civic organizations. On March 25, I’ll be at the OKC Country Club performing a short version of my Will Rogers show for a private party. I give performance book reviews for private clubs and I appear at the OK Jazz Hall of Fame.
Looking back, any regrets? Looking forward, what’s to come?
No, I don’t think I have regrets. At a given point, you make the best decision you can. For instance, I was offered two Broadway shows at the same time and had to choose between them. I chose The Yearling, about a boy and his pet deer, which had a brief run, over Man of La Mancha which became a classic in the American musical theatre. But, as we say, “That’s show biz.”
I’m writing my memoir now covering my first years in New York City. It’s fun and amazing to remember how many crazy things happened, how many jobs and delicious experiences I had. And I learned, first hand, the truth of the old saying, “The Lord looks after the working girl!”
Thanks Lynette for sharing your story with us, and I’m personally looking forward to seeing your memoir in print.