I met Larry in 1999, the year that I retired. I knew who he was all along since he was the guy who always got the jobs that I wanted. He was tall, he had a good singing voice, and he was a hell of a dancer. More you couldn’t ask for.
After twenty-five years or so I had retired. I had time on my hands and started looking for a group called Dancers Over 40. I found them and went to their very next meeting. It was the first meeting of the year for Dancer’s Over 40 and there we were sitting in a circle. Chris Nelson, the president of the organization had asked the question, why were we there. The answer was always almost the same and that was that we were looking for family, people that we had worked with, people that had been part of our lives.
Across from me was a very attractive gentleman, totally gray hair, tall and with a slight limp. He was introduced to me as Lawrence Merritt. He later explained that he was now working as an actor and he felt that “Lawrence” gave a little more dignity to the name, but that I could call him “Larry.”
Larry’s answer [during the DO40 meet up] had been almost the same as mine, so when the meeting was over he came to me and we started talking. Talking about our careers and we found that there were lots of similarities. We agreed to meet again and perhaps take in a movie and a bite to eat. That weekend we took in a James Bond movie and went across the street for a meal. It turned out that we both had gone into the food business after we stopped dancing. We both criticized the movie and when we were tired of that, we criticized the food. It was such fun, and in talking more, I found out we had both worked in Europe. We both knew the same contact in Paris, and both knew the same joints there. We had such a great time that we agreed to meet again and that was the start of a wonderful and long friendship.
The occasion came that Larry knew someone who was going out to The Lillian Booth Actors Home [The Actors Fund Home] in Englewood New Jersey. He asked if I was interested in making the trip. I said, “Yes”, and we went out. We liked it so much that the following year we went again, but this time we each picked up applications. I filled out and gathered all the paperwork required and called up to make an appointment with the Director of Admissions. Nine months later I got a call saying that a room was available, and was I interested.
Lawrence was a good actor and was getting a lot of little gigs. I took the available room at The Actors Home, but Larry held out. Every time he came to see me, and that was quite often, we would discuss his joining me at the Home. He always had an excuse as to why he wasn’t ready, and over time I began to notice his legs were beginning to give him problems. Eventually I greeted him at the door with a wheelchair and wheeled him around. Then came a repeated period of time when I would not hear from Larry, only to find out from someone else that he had been in the hospital for one thing or another. That started to happen more and more and my heart began to sink, not knowing sometimes where he was, and with the feeling that this was the beginning of something worse.
I felt bad that there was nothing that I could do to help him. Then the last time that we spoke his voice was weak. And so it came to pass that when I got the phone call, and heard a friend say, “I have bad news“, I said, “I know, I know.”
I will always remember Lawrence, and besides my own memories, there are several videos of him on YouTube that I can always watch. Him dancing with Anne Bancroft or Ann-Margret, among others, and see the marvel that was my friend, Larry Merritt.