Faith Dane was the original Mazeppa in Gypsy (1959) the landmark musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents.
Dane was a friend of From Here to Eternity (1951) writer James Jones. He gave her a bugle as a gag gift. He claimed it was the one Montgomery Clift used in the 1953 film version of his novel. It was a tough time for Dane and her career seemed stalled. She said that she kept getting fired: “because of my big mouth”. She decided to put together a nightclub act and hit the road. She took the bugle.
Eventually, the act had 26 songs and sketches. She’d come onstage with a shopping cart full of junk. She’d pull out items and start improvising. When she pulled out the bugle, she got big laughs. She devised a number she called A Stripper In The WAC (Women Army Corps) Drum & Bugle Corps.
Dane heard about auditions for a new Broadway show called Gypsy, based on the memoirs of the great Queen of Burlesque, Gypsy Rose Lee. The producer was David Merrick, director Jerome Robbins, and star Ethel Merman.
The creators Gypsy were not expecting much from her audition. Dane was just one more in a series of real vaudeville acts they were testing to give Gypsy authenticity. She got her chance only because her cousin was a friend of Laurents.
For the audition, Dane slipped out of her sequined gown, and wearing a flesh-color body stocking with bikini-style coverings, and she gave them The Stripper in the WAC Drum & Bugle Corps. She saluted and marched and bumped her hips and blasted her bugle. For the finale she bent her butt toward Robbins, Merrick, Sondheim, Laurents and Stein and blew that bugle at them between her legs.
They went nuts. Gypsy Rose Lee laughed so hard she cried and had to peel away her false eyelashes. Even Sondheim smiled. John Wallowitch, who played piano for the auditions and later became a distinguished songwriter, wrote:
“It was one of the most spectacular auditions ever in the history of Broadway theater. It was hysterical. It was a beautiful, wonderful theatrical audition by a theatrical animal.”
In 1985, Sondheim recalling the tedious process of those auditions, said:
“It was all worth it for one thing, Faith Dane and her trumpet. That went right into the show.”
Dane was cast as Mazeppa, the veteran stripper passing on hard-earned advice in You Gotta Get a Gimmick, one of the greatest comic numbers in musical theatre history. Her singing was like a combination of a moose call and a dump truck. She belted out:
“If you wanna bump it, bump it with a trumpet…”
Once I was a schlepper, now I’m Miss Mazeppa
With my revolution in dance
You gotta have a gimmick, if you wanna have a chance. “
Gypsy ran for 706 performances on Broadway and then Dane repeated her role in the film version in 1962. She ran for mayor of Washington DC in 2014 when she 90-year-old. It was her ninth political campaign. Dane is still with us, turning 95 earlier this month.