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Remembering Tony Winner Phyllis Newman

AMANDA GREEN: I know she'd like it to be said that she won a Tony Award beating Barbra Streisand (laughter).


We are happy to say that about Phyllis Newman. She was an avid performer on Broadway, movies and on TV.


Phyllis Newman died yesterday at age 86.

GREEN: As a young girl, I remember being taken to see her club act at the Plaza Hotel and just being dazzled by my mother. I couldn't believe that was my mother.

CORNISH: That's Newman's daughter Amanda Green, a Tony-nominated lyricist and composer herself. Green grew up in a showbiz family. Her father, Phyllis Newman's husband, was an award-winning lyricist and playwright, Adolph Green.

SHAPIRO: Newman was born in Jersey City, right across the Hudson River from the city where she would later make her mark. She got the performing gene from her parents. Her mother told fortunes on the Atlantic City boardwalk, and her father was a hypnotist. Newman played roles in Broadway musicals, including "Bells Are Ringing," "The Apple Tree" and "On The Town."

CORNISH: Phyllis Newman was also a fixture on TV, from acting on the satirical show "That Was The Week That Was" to several sitcoms and as a panelist on game shows, such as "What's My Line?" And "Password." She also appeared numerous times on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson.


JOHNNY CARSON: Wonderful Phyllis Newman is here - star of stage, screen, radio...

GREEN: They had a great rapport between them. And he really enjoyed having her on, and she loved being on the show.

SHAPIRO: So much so that Carson invited her to guest host the program for him.

Phyllis Newman told NPR in 1988 that in the era of AIDS, she had been attending far too many funerals and memorial services for fellow Broadway actors and writers.


PHYLLIS NEWMAN: The good part is that we do huddle together, all of us in the theatrical community, and are saying, yes, our lives and their lives meant something. It was worth it to come to New York and be so involved with the theater. And that's why these memorials or these celebrations are so important for all of us.

CORNISH: Phyllis Newman dedicated much of her time to raising millions of dollars for a charity she created to help sick entertainers. She received a special Tony Award in 2009 honoring that work.

SHAPIRO: And that Tony Award-winning performance that beat out Streisand that we mentioned at the top - well, that was for her role as Martha Vail in the Broadway show "Subways Are For Sleeping," in which she sang this duet with Orson Bean.


NEWMAN: (Singing) Like helping a mouse out of a trap, like helping a groom flee from the rice...

SHAPIRO: Phyllis Newman died on Sunday at the age of 86.


NEWMAN: (Singing) Makes you feel good, a regular chap - and what a lovely feeling you get when you help a friend out, when you help a friend out, when you help a friend in distress... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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