Who can forget Joel Grey’s incredible performance as the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret, the Broadway musical and movie with Liza Minnelli? His role has been described as one of the most iconic in musical theater history, and it won him numerous awards, including a 1973 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, as well as a Tony.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the now 83-year-old actor at the Atlanta JCC for a special book event, and I wanted to share the inspiring story of a talented and resilient man whose tenacity and courage is a lesson to us all.
Grey was 39 years old and about to give up showbiz when he was offered the role of Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret. Grey also shared that while Cabaret was a Broadway sensation, Bob Fosse, the director of the movie, was dead set against him starring in the film. It was only when the producers told Fosse that he had no choice that the role that he had created on stage became his.
Ironically, even as Grey’s career was flourishing, his personal life was disintegrating. His wife of 24 years divorced him and Grey found himself having to reinvent his life.
All this is documented in his recently published book, Master of Ceremonies: A Memoir.
As you can imagine, Grey was funny and an absolutely wonderful person to interview, but what struck me most was how authentic he was, and how honest he was about his personal and professional struggles. The conversation was interspersed with him breaking in to Yiddish songs and reciting fabulous lyrics even as he talked about how insecure he was about his performance and how surprised he was that Hal Prince, the director of the Broadway musical, was totally thrilled with it.
In essence, Grey discussed his triumphs and struggles: How his attraction to men was something that he he was deeply ashamed of for many years, and how, despite everything, the happiest time of his life was when he got married and had children.
At the end of the interview, I asked him what he wanted his readers to take away from his story, of his recent coming out as gay, and of his trials and tribulations.
He said, “Most things can be overcome and joy is the result.”
Indeed, humor is a great antidote to pain, and you are never too old to decide to be your authentic self.
To get a taste of Joel’s talent, enjoy his Cabaret performance of the song “Money, Money” with Liza Minnelli here.