SARATOGA SPRINGS —Cris Alexander, a Broadway actor and portrait photographer, died on March 7 in the city, where he lived full-time since 1991.
His death at age 92 came just two weeks after that of Shaun O’Brien, the New York City Ballet character dancer and Alexander’s companion of 61 years.
Alexander starred in the 1944 premiere of “On the Town,” creating the role of Chip, one of the three iconic sailors on shore leave in Manhattan. He can be heard in the original cast album singing “Come Up to My Place,” a duet with Nancy Walker, who played the determinedly amorous cab driver.
When the creative team behind “On the Town” – including composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green – reunited for “Wonderful Town” in 1953, Alexander was again cast. The show starred Rosalind Russell, who became a lifelong friend. Three years later he again shared the Broadway stage with her in “Auntie Mame.” And when Russell reprised her role in the 1958 film version, Alexander was given a walk-on as an imperious department store manager. Alexander also appeared in the 1946 Broadway debut of Noel Coward‘s comedy “Present Laughter” as the young playwright Roland Maule.
Even growing up in Tulsa, Okla., Alexander seemed destined to live among the fashionable set. His best friend in high school there was Tony Randall.
Alexander arrived in New York in 1938 and though his intention was to pursue acting, he immediately set up his own photography studio. His first subject was Gordon MacRae. The stream of actors, dancers and other celebrities that he shot over the years included film star Vivien Leigh, choreographer Martha Graham and even an adolescent Anderson Cooper.
With Patrick Dennis, author of “Auntie Mame,” he collaborated on two satirical memoirs of imaginary female subjects, “Little Me” (1961) and “First Lady” (1964). He was official photographer for the New York City Ballet for a time, and worked on the staff of Andy Warhol‘s “Interview” from 1980 to 1986. Among his last subjects for the magazine, before closing his studio, was Mother Teresa.
He and O’Brien bought a large Victorian home off North Broadway in Saratoga Springs in 1973. In recent decades historians sought out the pair to discuss the illustrious circles in which they traveled.
“I must say, I have been very close to some of the most wonderful people who ever have lived in our time,” Alexander said in 1995 interview for “Show Music” magazine. He continued, “Our life is just the greatest life imaginable.”
Joseph Dalton is a freelance writer in Troy.
A Times Union contributor since 2002, Dalton has received writing awards from ASCAP and the New York State Associated Press. After starting his career at CBS Records, he ran the CRI label for 10 years and produced 300 CDs of American music. His third book “Washington’s Golden Age” was released in 2018. You can reach him at [email protected].