“I had three Tony shows! THREE! Fiddler on the Roof, 1776 and Sweeney Todd” long ago proclaimed Duane Bodin with Mickey Rooney-style gusto. Mr. Bodin was a New York City performer who died last year on January 19, 2018 at the age of 85. I googled him recently out of curiosity and came across this sole obituary:
Bodin was my neighbor in the 1980’s. Getting to know him during my youth was very memorable. We lived a floor apart in a Manhattan tenement building on 45th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. We met when he saw me on the staircase. I had beaten him to a recently vacated apartment that he had hoped to obtain for his uncle. We did not become close friends but had a cordial relationship, he was a fascinating character. Occasionally in the early years of my stay I’d run into him and he’d invite me to his apartment to chat.
“The last show I did was Ta-Dah! Off-Broadway in 1981. I played Scott Bakula’s father. I got THE REVIEWS and HE got the ticket to Hollywood! After that, I’d had it.” He worked as a doorman on the Upper East Side for much of his life, owned a small house in upstate New York and strove to save money for his retirement. “When I get $200,000 I’m out!”
Short, bald, pot-bellied, clean-shaven and with twinkling eyes he clearly had presence. Decades of being a dancer endowed him with physical grace. His resonant voice had a tuneful vocal timbre making his stories so pleasurable to listen to. A Minnesota native, he could have authentically portrayed a character in Fargo. He was very funny but also dramatic when expressing anger.
In Fiddler on the Roof he played a villager and Grandma Tzeitel and appeared in the 1976 revival. Delaware delegate George Read was his role in 1776 as well as understudying the character of Andrew McNair for all of the show’s close to three years. He was the dance captain for Sweeney Todd and a member of the company. This was his final Broadway credit and he remained in it for all of its 557 performances. Then he played several roles including the narrator in the Off-Broadway musical El Bravo! for a disappointing six weeks. At the age of 49, Ta-Dah! was his final stage appearance and he has no film or television credits. There is scant photographic evidence documenting his professional and personal existence.
“What do you think of my career?” he asked me. “I think to have been in so many famous shows and worked with great directors, you obviously are highly talented. You have the bearing of a superb character actor but just haven’t gotten a breakout part yet.” “Thanks…” he smiled.
His Broadway debut was as a dancer in 1963’s Here’s Love that played for nine months. “I went from show to show which you could do in those days. Directors knew me and used me…”
It’s a shame that he seemingly was never interviewed for any oral history projects as he really lived through Broadway’s Golden Age. “I knew she would be a star” he fondly recalled of his Fiddler on the Roof castmate Bette Midler. He imparted ribald gossip about those he had contact with. He was gay, single and would regale me with his exploits.
“I can’t stop laughing! I keep thinking of Auntie Mame when you just see her hand with the diamond cigarette holder pointing at want ads!” was his greeting to me when I saw him after I returned home from working at Macy’s during the holidays. “You’re a kook and your only hope is if they happen to be looking for a kook” was his accurate assessment of my chances in the acting profession.
After ten years I moved away. Ten years later I returned as a resident of Hell’s Kitchen, this time on 53rd Street. “Whatever it is you’re doing keep it up! You look exactly the same!” was his shout out to me when we ran into each other on Ninth Avenue a few years later. So, did he. More time went by and when I next saw him he was considerably frail and there were just brief hellos.
Apart from that funeral home mention, Duane Bodin’s death has understandably gone unnoticed by the theatrical community. The Internet Broadway Database as of yet does not note his demise.[It has since been updated to refect it.] His fine career and effusive personality are more than worthy enough to be commemorated.