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Charles Nelson Reilly: The Usher Who Rose To The Stage

Charles Nelson Reilly delivered newspapers for The Hartford Courant. He survived the great circus fire of 1944. Then he was an usher at the Bushnell. He eventually went on to be a Broadway stage star ("Hello, Dolly!" "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"), a popular comedian on game shows ("Match Game," "Hollywood Squares") and director of stage shows, many of them starring Julie Harris.

He was a journalist's dream interview. And he always remembered Hartford, name-dropping those he knew growing up.

"I got my first stage role from my fourth-grade teacher, Miss Benadetti," he told The Courant in a 1990 profile. "I played Christopher Columbus and as I was doing it, I thought to myself, 'Gee, I'm awfully good at this.' I was like Meryl Streep looking at the rushes."

He bore a playful grudge against Harold J. Porter, the boy who got the lead in "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" at Weaver High School. "He played the Pied Piper. I was in the c-c-c-hor ... I almost choke at the word — chorus."

Before his death in 2007 at age 76, he returned to town one last time in 2001 to present his solo show, "Save It For the Stage: The Life of Reilly" at the Bushnell, where he recalled first seeing Frank Fay in "Harvey," Bobby Clark in "Sweethearts" ("the funniest man I've ever seen in my life") and Bea Lillie in "Inside U.S.A." ("the funniest woman who later became a good friend").

Despite all his success and acclaim, Reilly insisted "in a way, I've always remained an usher. Isn't that interesting? I'm always the usher looking down from the second balcony."

Copyright © 2015, CT Now
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