Thursday, February 27, 2014


The theatrical program from my play that opened on Broadway would be yellowing with age by now, except that the program itself was yellow, chosen to be that color by whatever designer we had-- all of it so exciting and seemingly inspired at the time.  A play on Broadway!!
     I remember all of it -- I am clear on Oliver Smith, who was our scenic designer, coming in to the first production meeting saying "I think it's a bomb."  I was very young, very pregnant and a newbie to the prospect of Broadway, the land of my then dreams, so it would never have occurred to me to ask that he be fired.  With that kind of support, how could it have been a winner even if it was?
   Hilly Elkins, a Napoleonic narcissist, but who's calling anyone names, was the producer, with Don, my husband, being the associate producer, probably the reason I was so grateful to Hilly. A new overlord had come in to the TV station where Don was executive producer, so he'd been fired.  We were expecting a baby and terrified about the future, which, young as we were, we weren't sure we had.  So the play's being produced seemed Life or Death essential, his being an ingredient essential to his self-esteem: a soon-to-be-new dad without a job.
     Madlyn Rhue, a darling but limited actress had the lead--  she was soon to be fired in Philadelphia, where she was  promised she would be the godmother of my baby, which she was to become,  replaced by Marion Hailey, who wasn't funny enough.  The entire thing was a disaster, except for what went on behind the scenes, which was hilarious and high drama.  It was March1966,-- the comedy (it seemed to be) was about a young woman infatuated with a playwright,  like a straight Tennessee Williams, if one can imagine that much of a stretch-- who only writes about disturbed women; so she pretends to be a suicidal drug-addict, and takes the apartment next door, so she can win him.  Hilly wanted her to smoke a joint onstage, but as noted, it was 1966, and I was still a Naif, so thought that would look almost like she was shooting up, and refused the idea, at which point Hilly became verbally assaultive calling me names, threatening.  Don said "Hilly, you're talking to a woman with a baby in her belly. Watch what you're saying or I'll have to deck you."  Hilly said "You and what army?" and POW, he was down, Don on top of him.  Paul Bogart, the director(also soon to be fired) took Don's glasses off so he wouldn't be hurt by Hilly's flailing.  All very dramatic, nobody intervening, as everybody hated Hilly.  
    Mel Brooks, a close friend, was with us out of town, helping out,  purveyor of the occasional good physical joke-- I had originally written the play for Anne Bancroft, a buddy whom I adored.  She said she couldn't do it because she was doing "The Devils." I asked her why.  "I've never played a hunchbacked nun before," she said. 
    So there we all were, Hilly was down, people dragged Don off him, and we continued out of town, without the heroine smoking a joint.  Then Paul Bogart was fired in Boston.  Arthur Storch, a thick and humorless man, was brought in-- by now I was in the hospital giving birth-- and he killed the play.  Polly Rowles, a most professional and pretty funny actress, who had consistently gotten great laughs playing the mother(mine) was so confused by him she turned into a stutterer, and the reviews said she "stumbled under the weight of last minute rewrites," though not a word of hers had been changed.  Don said it was all he could do not to rip the seats out of the theatre, he was so enraged at what was happening.  I was in the hospital having Madeleine, so there was no one to protect the play, and that was that.  
    I got to the theatre opening night in an ambulance someone had arranged to take me,  in time for the last laugh, which wasn't there, so I knew.  Mel and Annie drove me back to the hospital after the opening night party at Sardi's which was a wake. Mel said "You had two things happen the week.  If one of them had to be less than perfect, if your daughter was born with six toes and two noses, that would have been okay: what mattered was the show." So he made me laugh and probably saved my life.
 Teddy, Edward Woodward, a darling true gentleman, who had the lead, is dead now,-- he was a dear, and Hilly, who wasn't, is dead, too.  Dead.  It's such a final word.
   I was so excited to have a play on Broadway. So long ago it cost $150,000.  My musical, if it were mounted, would probably cost 15 million.  Of course it has real songs and lyrics you can make sense of, so its day might have passed.  Mine, too.  Can you tell how bleak and gloomy it is outside?