Monday, March 11, 2013


     Arthur Storch is dead at 87, a good run, which is more than my play had under his direction.  I had a play open on Broadway the same week my daughter was born, a great dream fulfilled it seemed to be, in the beginning, anyway.  Paul Bogart, a gentle, very bright(he seemed) director, was fired while I was in the hospital giving birth to Madeleine, and Storch was brought in to replace him, by Hilly Elkins, as producer. 
     My husband, Don Mitchell had the title of Associate Producer, which gave him absolutely no leverage over Hilly, who was colorful and crazy.  Sue Mengers was my agent, the while-ago cast-off of Hilly's, and everybody was calling her to congratulate her on the birth, so she told me she felt like "the mother of the bride."
      They were happy days, or seemed so, Madeleine's birth announced in the theatre pages of the Times ('Mother's Play's Birth Upstaged by Baby's") ran the headline, with people we loved(or thought we did, and visa-versa) coming to my hospital room-- they kept you for a few extra days then-- to give me a cocktail party before the opening, who disappeared from our lives forever when the reviews came out.
     My obstetrician, a darling man, let me out of the hospital for opening night, as he wanted to go to the opening.  A limo took me to the theatre in time for the last laugh, which wasn't there, so I knew it had been a disaster.   Storch had, according to Don, so confused everybody with his arbitrary changes-- Don told me he had almost ripped the seats out of the theatre floor the last few rehearsals, he was so enraged-- that everybody went up on their lines, including Polly Rowles, the very very funny old pro who played the mother, whose part had remained unchanged from the beginning, so the review read that she "stumbled under the weight of last-minute changes," moving from sophisticated model that she had been(my mother, really) to Edward Everett Horton, who if you are old enough to remember, you understand, and if not.. bumbling.  A real sorrow, if what you love is theater.
    But it did make a prominent player out of Kenny Mars, who played the psychiatrist who wanted to be in show business "If Dexadrine had been invented when I opened my act, I would have been a Star today," the character said. Storch had so little control of Kenny he played one of the scenes on his knees, another with a German accent.  Mel Brooks, who was our good friend, and stayed loyal throughout and to this day, found him and used him for The Producers, so it did do some good.  Though not for Don and me who hid out, from the kind of public shame you feel on such an occasion, and for many moons after, when you can't do things like get a job, so are embarrassed to go to the grocery store because you might run into someone you know, who read the reviews.  Ah, Youth, when everything depends on what you imagine is the One Dream, which, when realized, becomes a Nightmare.
     But I did have a couple of perks that no one could imagine, or better: a telegram (there still were those then) from the president of Bryn Mawr College, saying "Congratulations and love to the only friend I have who had a play and a baby the same week," Love, Kathy McBride -- (It was the Kathy that did me in, as we knew her only as Katherine, which the girl who passed her her lantern on Lantern Night, Hepburn had been.)  And then of course there was the kindness of being driven back to the hospital by Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, for whom I had originally written the play, when Mel said "Well, you had two things happen this week: if one of them had to be less than perfect, if your daughter had been born with six toes or two noses... that would have been ok, what mattered was the show."
     So he saved me with laughter, as Mel has probably saved many. They came over to visit us a day or so later, and Annie read the reviews aloud and spit at them, and Mel said "Where is the mention of the wit?"  We were lucky to have them as friends.
     We moved out to LA not long after that, when Don got a job with the Carol Burnett show, and I gave up my Showbiz Showbiz dream and settled into being a novelist.  For as long as books lasted, anyway.
     So I understand I am borderline crazy to have come back to this cold, dark city with the hope of shining, and with a musical, yet.  But as Cicero said, lest you think it was just some tired person passing through, "While there's life, there's hope."  Or as the leading man will sing of my heroine in case Sylvia, Who? ever really materializes,
     "Someone who understands Life to the letter...
      As long as you're breathing, it might just get better."
Let us hope.