The late fall and early winter of 1991/92 was one of the best times of my life so far because I spent a good chunk of it hanging out with Jason Robards. Several times a week, I would venture over to the Music Box Theatre either after a matinee or before an evening performance of a Broadway play he was starring in called Park Your Car In Harvard Yard, and yet our introduction almost never took place.
All About ACTORS was still in its “Well, it sounds like a good idea, but how can you make it happen?” phase, and I only conducted one interview strictly for it. My aspirations were merely to publish the five others I had done for my college project, and maybe that would help to secure a few interviews with some New York actors. But one day when I stopped by the theatre to say hello to a friend who worked there, he suggested that I ask Jason for an interview and told me to wait for him to arrive.
Immediately intimidated, I balked at the notion of even attempting to speak to someone of his legendary status and was convinced that there was no way he would ever say yes. The more I said no, the more Steve argued his point, mainly to get me to stay long enough until Jason entered through the stage door. About ten minutes later, I had an interview set up for the following week and the spark of a great friendship with one of the coolest human beings the world has ever known.
A few days after our interview, I had to pick up press photos for the publication, which Jason said he would have waiting for me. When I arrived, he was already there, so I went up to his dressing room to just say hello. I don’t know how long we were talking, but a backstage announcement came on to let everyone know that it was a half hour before curtain. Since we weren’t finished with our conversation, Jason asked me if I could come back another day, so we made plans to meet again, and that became our pattern.
We would meet at the theatre at a particular time, and he would always be there early. We would hang out for a couple of hours and talk about everything under the sun. The half hour announcement would be my cue to leave. Jason would ask, “So when can you come back?” We would agree on a day depending on our schedules, then he would kiss the palm of my hand and say, “I’ll see you on Wednesday, my darling.” It got to the point where my friends stopped inviting me to go places after work because I would always decline, “No, thanks. I’m hanging out with Jason.”
There are so many awesome “hanging out with Jason” stories that I have, and some of the best ones occurred whenever we would leave the theatre. After sitting around for an hour or so, Jason would eventually look out the window and ask, “How’s the weather out there?” which was his way of saying he wanted to get some fresh air. Being that it was usually very cold or raining or snowing, we didn’t go out too often. But when we did, it was quite the experience.
Most of the time, we would just walk all the way around the block and back. Sometimes we would walk further or even go into a store, and when he was recognized—as he always was—the reactions were like nothing I had ever seen before or since, no matter how famous the person.
Every single person would stop in their tracks and audibly gasp at the sight of him! They would stay frozen there until he passed by, and never once did anyone approach him. They wouldn’t speak to him or ask for an autograph or a photo or anything! If it was a group of unsure folks, they would cautiously whisper to each other, “Isn’t that Jason Robards?” To his credit, he would always pretend not to notice the sudden statues in front of him. But once in a while, if he heard his name, he would mumble, “Yeah, it’s me,” keep on walking, and get right back to our conversation.
After the play closed, I saw Jason only a couple of times over those next few years when he did other shows in New York, and I wrote to him whenever I had important news to share. Besides my memories of that time, I have a lovely handwritten thank you note that he sent me after his interview was published. It has since become a reminder of how beautiful a friend he was. I miss Jason tremendously, and I am certain I always will.