April 05, 1982 12:00 PM

When I come back in the next life,” allows Joanne Woodward, “I hope it will be as Gelsey Kirkland.” To such sentiments, Shirley MacLaine, AM MacGraw or Mary Tyler Moore—ballet buffs all—would add a fervent “Brava!”

The roster of performers who are successful in one medium yet nourish a not-so-secret passion for another is long. Consider Danny Kaye, the orchestral conductor, and Woody Allen and Hal Linden, both jazz clarinetists. Burt Lancaster’s knowledge of opera is so encyclopedic that he will narrate the PBS drama on the life of Verdi next season. Many famous fans devotedly serve on boards of directors: Paul Simon for the Twyla Tharp company, Judy Collins for the National Dance Institute, Cheryl Tiegs for the American Philharmonic. And ex-pupil Gregory Peck gives a helping hand as a trustee to dance great Martha Graham’s company. “I didn’t really teach him how to dance,” Martha, now 87, admits, “but he did learn to move very well.”

With Washington threatening deeper budget cuts in the National Endowment for the Arts, such support is increasingly vocal. One example was a celebrity rally last July at Lincoln Center protesting government cutbacks. Partly because of it, federal backing of the arts, though reduced for 1982, was held at $143 million (down from $158.8 million in 1981).

For performers who find in the arts both their recreation and livelihood, there is no question that their concerns are real. As opera aficionado Tony Randall, who emceed the Lincoln Center rally, put it: “The arts are my life.”

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