Melba Moore could be laughing all the way to the bank. But money, making and keeping it, is no laughing matter, she says.
Her main goal is "to be financially solvent," she says flatly. Isn't she already? "Yes, but that's something you have to keep in front of you all the time.
So after 10 years as a stage, concert and nightclub hit, Melba Moore now seems less a Broadway star than a one-woman business conglomerate. At 35, she is well into a diversified business career that includes a recording studio, a management company and a new line of designer fashions.
She began as an overnight sensation -- starring in the original Broadway version of "Hair" and winning the Tony award in 1970 for "Purlie" -- and since then has starred in another Broadway musical, "Timbuktu." But she's not about to languish on her nouveau riches. She's taking "Purlie" on the road next year with her original costar, Cleavon Little. She's made six albums featuring her high-pitched vocal siren, and has had as many hit singles. She's hosted her own summer variety series and is planning a comedy pilot for CBS. She's been squandering neither her time nor her money, pouring both into deals that years from now will assure her a more than comfy retirement.
She now heads her own recording studio and management company, Hush Productions Inc. which she founded to promote her career in entertainment as well as her finances and business ventures.
"You must have control or you don't survive," says Moore, as if teaching a lesson she had to learn the hard way. In the early '70s, her career and personal life nearly collapsed from mismanagement and her own inexperience and passivity. But now, she says, "My opinion counts. I don't want to tell them [company associates] what to do, but I want my input in there.
"It's hard to find people who are good in their business," Moore adds. Long lashes thick with mascara bat down against her deep brown skin, then open wide to reveal sparkling ebony eyes to match. She whispers the final essential: "and trustworthy."
She was in town this week on a tour of major cities promoting her new line of designer sportswear for Lane Bryant: 500 Francs for Melba Moore.On all her denim and corduroy jeans and tops is a small pink peach logo. As in Peach Melba. The outfits come in large sizes for Lane Bryant's "figured" customers.
Moore, a svelte size 6 with long thin hands and bony fingers splashed with glossy red polish, pushes up the collar and sleeves on her loose-fitting tweed blazer, part of her collection. She sits for two hours and 500 autographed pictures at Lane Bryant's downtown store, crunched in a crowd of sizes 16 to 24.
"I'v loved you ever since I went to New York and saw Purlie," bubbles a buxom, gray-haired women who had finally made it to the head of the line.
"There's not a place we go where somebody doesn't bring up "Purlie," says Moore's road manager, Beau Huggins.
"I sing, 'I Got Love' every day," Moore says. The show-stopping tune from "Purlie" is now her theme song. "I have to sing it at every concert and at every club date. But when I go back to the show, the music will have to change, I suppose. As I do it now, it's a nice R&B song. But it has to be hokey, you know."
If Moore succeeds in taking "Purlie" on the road to Boston, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, it will be her first tour in a musical. She starred in "Purlie" on Broadway for a year and never toured with any of her other successful musicals. She'll be back in Washington Nov. 1 for a concert at Crampton Auditorium at Howard University.
"When I was young, I got so involved with music that I could shut out everthing else," she says. "And when you're naturally inclined that way. . . Well, whatever I'm into, I'm into. I'm naturally introspective and quiet."
That description seems at odds with the pert woman who sparkles with a glow that is more natural than cosmetic. "Forget the makeup and razzle-dazzle on stage. I'm not for splashin' and flashin' and everthing for show. That's another lady. It's the concentration [onstage] that makes you something different, something more than what you are.
In real life I've had to consciously work on bringing myself out," Moore says. She feels guilty for not being more aware of the things happening around her at the start of her career. "I'd still be introspective and shy if I hadn't been in show business."
When the winner of the door prize is announced, Moore sees that she is wearing Calvin Klein jeans. "You know," Moore says to the winner, "you're gonna have to change that label."