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Authors: Boze Hadleigh

Broadway Babylon

BOOK: Broadway Babylon
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Senior Editor: Mark Glubke

Project Editor: Gary Sunshine

Interior Design: Julie Duquet

Production Manager: Salvatore Destro

Copyright © 2007 by Boze Hadleigh

First published in 2007 by Back Stage Books,

an imprint of Watson-Guptill Publications,

Nielsen Business Media,

a division of The Nielsen Company

www.watsonguptill.com

Library of Congress Control Number: 2006937256

eISBN: 978-0-307-83013-5

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means—graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems—without written permission of the publisher.

Every effort has been made to trace the ownership of and to obtain permission to reproduce the quotes in this book. The author, editors, and publisher sincerely apologize for any inadvertent errors or omissions and will be happy to correct them in future editions.

v3.1_r1

To Ronnie … and to all
the plays and musicals
we’ve loved before

By the same author:

Bette Davis Speaks
Celebrity Diss & Tell
Celebrity Feuds!
Celebrity Lies!
Celluloid Gaze
The Films of Jane Fonda
Hispanic Hollywood
Hollywood and Whine
Hollywood Babble On
Hollywood Gays
Hollywood Lesbians
Holy Matrimony!
In or Out
The Lavender Screen
Leading Ladies
Sing Out!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

M
y mother sometimes wished me to get a PhD, as my father had done—for a professor, it’s mandatory. This book is the closest I’d want to get: a “PhD” in Broadway history. The project was long, massive, and fascinating. Researching it was an education, but a joyful one: putting it together was lengthy and necessarily interrupted (on three continents!). My trimmed-down manuscript finally weighed in at 642 typewritten pages when sent to Back Stage Books for further trimming by other hands.

Over the years I’ve relished theatre books by others—from A to Ken Mandelbaum and Ethan Mordden to Z for Zadan, Craig—and it’s shocking to realize that Broadway is now only a fraction as musically, journalistically, and socioeconomically influential as three or four decades ago. Even so, the dimmer memories survive colorfully in my mind.

Speaking of which, there are several to thank, starting as always with my partner and associate Ronald Boze Stockwell. And my sister Linda for a multitude of clippings. My originating editor, Mark Glubke, my current editor, Bob Nirkind, and my copy editor, Michèle LaRue. Gary Sunshine, my project editor, enthusiastically helped shape and diet down this book. Producer Ben Bagley wanted to do a book together, and died much too soon. Truman Capote encouraged me, as did Sandy Dennis, Charlie Earle, Richard Condon, and Chad Oberhausen.

Thanks to Bea Arthur, Robert Clary, Frederick Combs, David Cravatts, Bette Davis, Mitch Douglas, Dody Goodman, Julie Harris, Arthur Laurents, Cameron Mackintosh, Rose Marie, Jim Pinkston, Charles Nelson Reilly, George Rose, Maureen Stapleton, Kenzo Tanaka, and Frederick Ziffel (no relation to Arnold’s father).

It’s a surprise and delightful treat that my book
Bette Davis Speaks
is being turned into a play,
A Couple of Bettes
, by screenwriter-producer Dan Gordon, to star the talented Linda Gray. Coincidence: Boze is (I am), of course, a character in the three-person play, and one of Bette’s early films included a character first-named Boze:
The Petrified Forest
, based, like so many screen classics, on a Broadway play. (Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart costarred in the stage and movie versions.)

As with nearly every star of Hollywood’s golden era, Ms. Davis came to motion pictures via the theater, with Broadway experience and acclaim in her pocket. Sadly, she remarked that fewer young actors than ever were taking that route. “Acting schools, commercials, and even television,” she declared, “are not a substitute. When you have worked on Broadway, you have been tested in fire. You have worked with the best, with professional discipline and glowing self-confidence—if not at the start of the run, then by its end. Broadway improves any actor.”

Although about half of my seventeen books have been the basis of TV programs or documentaries here and abroad, that one of them will be that living, breathing, and actable thing, A Play, is particularly gratifying.

Now, on with the show!

“When you are away from old Broadway you are only camping out.”

—G
EORGE
M. C
OHAN
,
composer of “Give My Regards to Broadway”

 

 

“Broadway is the performance side of the American character.”

—G
WEN
V
ERDON
(Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity)

 

 

“If all the world’s a stage, Broadway is center stage with a baby pink spotlight.”

—producer G
EORGE
A
BBOTT
at 105

PREFACE

T
heater is Acting. In person, in sequence, and for a live audience. It is not a pre-packaged product, like performing for the camera—little or big screen. Real actors tread the boards, and real theater stars—in the United States—play Broadway. Once the mecca of American entertainment, Broadway—and to a lesser but vital extent Off-Broadway—remains the pinnacle of play and stage musical entertainment in this country.

Although “the Great White Way” no longer yields a majority of popular culture’s hit songs, it retains an enduring mystique and glamour, and occasionally creates a new star, such as 4′11″ full-sized 2003 Tony-winner Marissa Jaret Winokur, who pre-award already had a post-
Hairspray
TV series deal. Notwithstanding a depressed economy and lingering decline in tourism since 9/11, the 2005–2006 Broadway season set an all-time record of $861.6 million. If Broadway is no longer a habit, it’s now an Event—an expensive one—and its more-famous shows are eagerly awaited from coast to coast and in between.

A Broadway hit like
The Producers
can revitalize a fading screen career, like Matthew Broderick’s; and as with
Hairspray
or
The Producers
, a musical format—America’s gift to the world—can resurrect and re-commercialize a straight play or film from long ago. The challenge and prestige of Broadway still lure movie stars with integrity, such as Hugh Jackman, who dazzlingly proved his versatility and earned a Tony for his performance in
The Boy from Oz
, playing fellow Australian Peter Allen, who flopped big-time as an American gangster in an earlier musical. Not all projects are potentially tuneful;
Carrie
, the Stephen King musical, was a legendary disaster.

It’s worth remembering that during the McCarthy witch hunts and blacklists, it was on Broadway and in theater generally where a writer, performer, director, etcetera, whose politics Congress or the White House disapproved of, could find work when none was available in TV or on screen. The stage has
always been more welcoming and inclusive, also more daring and innovative, than the mass media.

Broadway Babylon
is an affectionate, hopefully entertaining, and informative overview of Broadway past and present. It is necessarily selective and by choice nonchronological. “Oh, my God! Not another stage textbook,” shuddered Bea Arthur over the telephone. No way, I assured her. (The LA-based trouper, 80, had just returned from touring her one-woman Broadway show in England and South Africa.)

The death, specifically Broadway’s, of the American theater has been repeatedly predicted. However, despite the incursions of television, cable, video, DVD, computer games, etcetera, Broadway still pulsates with energy, creativity, and glamorous appeal, for its spectacles, artists, and immediacy are timeless and fill a need that has endured some 2,500 years, ever since Thespis stepped out of the chorus to seize audiences’ attention and touch their dreams.

1

BROADWAY IS …

“Broadway is what I do at night.”—E
THEL
M
ERMAN

“Broadway is my kinda town.”—F
RANK
S
INATRA

“Broadway is the ultimate live event for people who think.”—M
ADONNA
(
Speed the Plow
)

“Broadway is where writers are respected … the inverse of Hollywood.” —writer-director G
ARSON
K
ANIN
(
Born Yesterday
)

“Broadway is where faded movie stars go to try.”—D
EAN
M
ARTIN

“Broadway is … thrilling!”—L
IZA
M
INNELLI

“Broadway is an acquired taste that most Americans haven’t acquired. But give it time.”—choreographer M
ICHAEL
B
ENNETT
(
A Chorus Line
)

“Broadway is the opportunity to see fabulous people fly or flub.”—director-choreographer J
OE
L
AYTON
(
George M!
)

“Broadway is nowhere near being an endangered species.… In America’s biggest, most sophisticated city, top-notch entertainment is still required.… The out-of-towners love it too. It’s a big reason they come to New York.”—R
OSIE
O’D
ONNELL

“Broadway is the biggest challenge in the field of entertainment.”—K
ATHARINE
H
EPBURN
, who starred and even sang in the musical
Coco

“Broadway is to entertainment what adrenalin is to your body.”—H
UGH
J
ACKMAN
(
The Boy from Oz
)

“Broadway is innovative, so sometimes others pinch our ideas.… I did a play about a witch who falls in love with a mortal [
Bell, Book and Candle
]. Just a few years after the movie version, the small screen appropriated my premise with a comedy series called
Bewitched.”
—J
OHN
V
AN
D
RUTEN
, playwright and stage director (
The King and I
)

“Broadway is … a puzzlement.”—Y
UL
B
RYNNER
, who triumphed as the King but flopped as Odysseus

“Broadway is about audiences … about expectation. I know that Broadway audiences expect more. And they get more.”—M
ARIETTA
B
ITTER
A
BEL
, who played the harp in the orchestra pit at countless Broadway shows and was married to actor Walter Abel

“Broadway is for me the great what-might-have-been. I’d done stage work, of course, but when I was going to move to New York and really concentrate on the stage, I got offered the part of Ward Cleaver and I accepted. It was steady work from about 1957 to 1963, but it typecast me … [and] today the work I did on stage is practically all forgotten.”—H
UGH
B
EAUMONT
of
Leave It to Beaver

“Broadway is certainly friendlier and more egalitarian than out in Los Angeles. I was a character actor before I became blacklisted, and in LA stars and character actors almost never mix socially. In New York I had several starry friends. It was natural.”—V
ICTOR
K
ILIAN
, later known as Grandpa the Fernwood Flasher on TV’s
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

“Broadway is more humane. It’s more realistic. In the movies, you’re only as good as your last project. In the theater, you’re as accepted as your biggest success. So you can be Michael Bennett or Carol Channing, years later, and still be celebrated because of
A Chorus Line
or
Hello, Dolly!
”—D
ICK
V
AN
D
YKE
(
Bye Bye Birdie
)

“Broadway is the most exciting thing I have done.… In Spain, everyone knows Hollywood movies; not everyone likes them. But everyone has heard of Broadway, and most people think it is something exciting and special, even intellectually.”—A
NTONIO
B
ANDERAS
, who made his Broadway bow in a 2003 revival of the musical
Nine

“Broadway is somewhat intimidating to us [English], due to its size, the emphasis on budgets and profits, and the preferably unfriendly critics.”—S
IR
J
OHN
G
IELGUD

“Broadway is a hoot. I love it.… Thank goodness an actor’s never too old to play Broadway.”—K
ATHLEEN
F
REEMAN
, Tony nominated in her final role, in
The Full Monty

“Broadway is glamour. It’s the best! And you have to be at your best when you’re on it.”—V
IVIAN
V
ANCE
, who worked on Broadway before
I Love Lucy

“Broadway is magic. Or should I say, can be magic.”—N
ATHAN
L
ANE

“Broadway is craft. It’s rehearsal, blood, sweat, and tears. And then more rehearsal.”—playwright J
OHN
H
ERBERT
(
Fortune and Men’s Eyes
)

“Broadway is the source of the best actors. Trained ones willing to put in the time and pay dues. Broadway actors used to look down on film people.… The only actors I look down on are those who put the word ‘star’ above ‘actor.’ ”—Hollywood director B
ILLY
W
ILDER

“Broadway is a challenge at any age. Probably more at my age, which is one reason to do it. It’s still a thrill to face a live audience.… I love
[Our Town]
, because I made my stage debut in it in 1939, a small part, yet a thrill for me. Now I play the stage manager.”—P
AUL
N
EWMAN
, who played a two-month Broadway engagement in 2002–2003

“Broadway is stressful if it’s your career.… The only ones who don’t really care and worry much are stars who sail in from the movies or television and then sail out again.”—legendary gypsy C
ATHRYN
D
AMON
, best known for TV’s
Soap

“Broadway is just too goddamn critical. It’s so scary. Every time I go back there people stop me on the street and ask, ‘When are you coming back to Broadway?’ But it’s too painful, with all you have to go through, and I’ve had too much rejection. Sometimes I wake up and I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for 30 years.… How does anyone come up with a hit?”—K
AREN
M
ORROW
, talented singer-actress and almost-star

“Broadway is difficult to keep succeeding at. A hit is seldom followed by another hit. I had
The Miracle Worker
, with all the awards and the movie [version] … [then] in 1962 I played a girl in the same general vein—with an incurable heart ailment—but that (
Isle of Children
) was no hit at all. So then I stayed away from Broadway for forty-one years, is all.”—P
ATTY
D
UKE

“Broadway is the epitome—the very heart, soul, and essence of the entertainment business. There is a magic that comes over you even if you walk along the streets and look up at the marquee. In a word, Broadway was, is, and always will be ‘it.’ ”—R
OSE
M
ARIE
(
The Dick Van Dyke Show
), who appeared four times on the Great White Way

“Broadway is the Big Apple an actor wants a bite of! I moved to New York at nineteen, studied, played nightclubs. Broadway was the big goal. Even a small role on Broadway is a dream come true. The smallest roles still have hundreds of kids competing for them. Everyone wants a piece of that dream.”—N
ELL
C
ARTER
(
Ain’t Misbehavin’
)

“Broadway is where you put it all to work … the best of your talents and what you learned from your teachers. One of my coaches used to say, ‘If you make it big, remember even so to act during the dog’s feet.’ He was Russian; he meant the ‘pawses.’ ”—J
IM
B
ACKUS
(
Gilligan’s Island
)

“Broadway is The Big Street. It’s big-time and big theatres. By gum, if you dare play there, you better be big or have something big to offer.”—R
ICHARD
K
ILEY
(
Man of La Mancha
and TV’s
Ally McBeal
)

“Broadway is the most expensive entertainment medium in the history of the world. Including Lakers games.”—basketball fan J
ACK
N
ICHOLSON

“Broadway is predicated on the dollar. On profit. It’s a little more mercenary than theater anywhere else.”—columnist and TV host E
D
S
ULLIVAN

“Broadway is theater, but more so. More commodified, and therefore less honest. Theater has a better reputation than it deserves, I think because those who make theater are so vulnerable, they struggle so hard, and they desire so much. And almost no one gets rich from theater, so we tend to think of it as a place for progressive ideas, that it’s more hopeful and pure than it really is.”—playwright/novelist S
ARAH
S
CHULMAN

“Broadway is presenting fewer shows … [it’s] economics. But I don’t think diminished quantity always means diminished quality.”—M
ARY
W
ICKES
(the 1979
Oklahoma!
revival)

“Broadway is, I suppose, still ‘the Fabulous Invalid.’ Someone said that a very long time ago. It’s always been true. It’s always been about too much expense, too little audience,… a balancing act. But it’s still there.”—S
IR
L
AURENCE
O
LIVIER

“Broadway is people. And it should stay people, not special effects.… Ethel Merman’s voice was a special effect. So was Richard Rodgers’ music. And Zero Mostel’s expressions. Et cetera. On and on. People. Special people did all that—not machines or lights.”—M
AXENE
A
NDREWS
(
Over There
) of the Andrews Sisters

“Broadway is still where you can see the most exciting spectacles and actors—and in some cases stars making spectacles of themselves.”—D
AVID
C
ARROLL
(
Grand Hotel
)

“Broadway is where American actors can actually, really, flat-out act.”—D
AME
M
AGGIE
S
MITH

“Broadway is and always has been full of narcissists and egotists. And that’s just the critics.”—former playwright W
OODY
A
LLEN

“Broadway is maddening. Till opening night. Then it’s joyous or heartbreaking, depending on the damned critics.”—R
AUL
J
ULIA
(
Nine
)

“Broadway is about proving and stretching yourself.”—R
AQUEL
W
ELCH
, who took over for Lauren Bacall in
Woman of the Year

“Broadway is star power. Which one doesn’t have to be a star, going in, to display.”—B
OB
F
OSSE

“Broadway is, or it was, where they could send out the girl from the sticks to replace the ailing leading lady and she’d come back a star. Well, it happened to Shirley MacLaine from Virginia. In other words, Broadway was a place to dream.”—director R
OBERT
M
OORE
(
Woman of the Year
)

“Broadway is where every actor, singer, or dancer should perform at least once in a lifetime. It’s unforgettable.”—A
NDY
G
RIFFITH
, who twice starred on Broadway

“Broadway is what people-pleasing actors aspire to.… A Broadway audience’s reaction is immediate and energizing. Movie actors are so much further removed from humanity and reality.”—D
EBORAH
K
ERR
(
Tea and Sympathy
)

“Broadway is no longer the acme of American culture, just as New York is no longer the real capital of America, which it was when America had more culture.”—composer J
ULE
S
TYNE
(
Gypsy, Funny Girl
)

“Broadway is no longer the innovator. Broadway has become the showcase. It is the end stop rather than the beginning. Where once most plays started on Broadway and went out into the world, Broadway has become the final stop on a journey that might begin in a workshop Downtown and then go to Seattle or Chicago and then come back. Theater has been decentralized.”—critic and author H
OWARD
K
ISSEL

“Broadway is the best theater audience.… New York is the only city in the United States that has an old theater culture … like London.… It’s a theater town … [But] it’s important to remember that
Angels in America
is not a play that could have been created for Broadway. This play exists because of the regional not-for-profit theater movement. Most serious, important theater in this country is created at regional theaters, including some in
New York City, like Lincoln Center and the Public.”—playwright T
ONY
K
USHNER

“Broadway is a marketplace.… A lot of people are unhappy about the Tony [Awards ceremony] because it does not recognize a lot of Off-Broadway productions. [Some] say that the most creative productions on Broadway today, with the exception of a couple of things, come from Off-Broadway … [but] are not nominated for Tonys because they’re Off-Broadway.”—playwright C
RAIG
L
UCAS
(
Prelude to a Kiss
)

“Broadway is not all of the theater in New York. Not by a long shot. As my friend Jason Robards Jr. used to say, you can often see better plays Off-Broadway.”—A
L
L
EWIS
(Grandpa on TV’s
The Munsters
), who costarred with Robards in Circle in the Square’s
The Iceman Cometh

“Broadway is like military life. They run an act to the minute, using a stopwatch. I remember once knocking ten seconds off an act because the director insisted. At least in motion pictures you can run a few days over the schedule. Broadway is all high finance, a five-hundred-to-one shot that you’ll make it. That’s why there’s so much pressure and no freedom.”—O’Neill devotee and two-time Oscar-winner J
ASON
R
OBARDS
J
R
.

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