I was an experienced, albeit young, director in
and around professional summer stock of the mid-1950's, living in
New York and scheduled to direct a slate of stars at Chicago's premiere
suburban theater, when I was summoned by inside connections to a
reading of a would-be, Broadway-bound, musical comedy in the memorable
year of 1960. Also in attendance were Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and
Dave Garroway and it had already been seen and approved, indeed,
touted, by the likes of Martin Luther King and Sammy Davis and when
I say touted, I mean via written statements. Before the reading
ended the producers had, likewise, secured written encomiums from
Mrs. R. and Garroway, and Garroway scheduled an unheard of till
then backers' audition on national TV, i.e., the entire Today Show
(which, of course, turned out to be highly illegal).
By the evening of that same day I canceled my commitment
to another summer season of directing and hired on with the producers
- Robert Barron Nemiroff, husband of Lorraine Hansberry, and Burt
D'Lugoff, a full M. D. from Johns Hopkins, bitten with the same
show biz bug which bit his impresario brother, Art, of Village Gate
On the morning of the next day I was on the plane
to D.C. involved in the process of what would become a familiar
fact of theatrical life-filing papers with the SEC in order to legally
raise production money. Before the full length NBC backers' audition
took place, I had, solely on my own and through contacts I developed
in Chicago and Cleveland, raised a very large portion of the budget
and become a sort of co-producer (Production Supervisor).
Thus began my career as a Producer and I was intimately
connected with every aspect of the production up until the point
I saw it was doomed because of the intractability and inexperience
of most of the people involved.
wonderfully well-intentioned musical dealt with student Civil Rights
demonstrators on a Southern college campus and the intervention
of the Devil, played by Burgess Meredith. Always presented by it's
author in those backers' auditions, the show was Oscar Brown, Jr's.
Kicks & Co. and it's cast
included newcomers Nichelle Nichols, Robert Guillame, Alvin Ailey,
Mercedes Ellington and AI Freeman Jr., to mention a few.
the demise of this fabled production I produced and directed the
second national company of A Raisin In
The Sun, starring Claudia McNeil and featuring a cast
of (till then) unknown actors, Raymond St. Jacques, Al Freeman,
Jr., Gloria Foster and Gail Fisher. In racially-charged times this
production of Lorraine Hansberry's ground breaking play garnered
headlines (and even an editorial in the New York Herald Tribune)
wherever it played.
My next project as a Producer followed swift on
the heels of Kicks. I acquired
the rights to Malcolm, by James
Purdy, a property coveted at one time, by Elia Kazan, among others.
I hired Academy Award winner William Archibald (Innocents)
to do the adaptation and we gave the property our best before deciding
it wouldn't work. Edward Albee picked up the option immediately.
It is the only one of his works which is adapted from another source
and it was a failure when presented on Broadway at the Martin Beck.
My next venture (1964) was the establishment of
a commercial theater in the round, capacity 1200, on San Francisco's
Peninsula. This was accomplished with the intervention of producer,
Herb Rogers and the involvement of Donald Pritzger of the nascent
Hyatt House Corporation. The theater opened with a successful production
of Show Boat, starring Kathryn
(Crosby) Grant becoming the showplace of Hillsborough and the neighboring
Subsequent to the inaugural of this theater I returned
to New York City and spent considerable time developing the plays
of Julian (Lenny) Barry, in particular, his treatment of
the Charlie Parker-Miles Davis relationship in a musical entitled
Lookin' For The Man, with score
by Warren Meyers. I signed Dizzy Gillespie to play himself and Jose
Ferrer was scheduled to direct. The show was recorded but it was
way before it's time.
I returned to acting, directing and doing lots of
commercials on and off-camera, moving back to my hometown, Chicago,
and its burgeoning theater scene.
I became a full-time Producer once more, when I
opened "Chicago's Most Beautiful Theater" in the bowels
of the First National Bank Building surrounded by Chagall murals,
in the very heart of downtown Chicago. This was the first legitimate,
first-run theater to open (a gala production of The
Decline & Fall Of The Entire World As Seen Through The Eyes
Of Cole Porter) in the Loop in over forty years. With
my second production, Eugene 0' Neill's Hughie,
starring Ben Gazzara, the theater achieved international notoriety,
the production of this long-neglected masterpiece being reviewed
as far afield as the London Times.
Chicago, Hughie ran to capacity
business and the engagement was extended while theater owners throughout
the country vied to have the production play their venues. The production,
directed by Martin Fred and featuring Peter Maloney, next played
the first-run American Theater in St. Louis and the Huntington Hartford
in Los Angeles, both times to further rave reviews and capacity
business before being presented on Broadway (Golden Theater), in
association with Jay Julien, in February of 1974 to more raves,
a Tony nomination (Gazzara for Best Actor) and fourteen inches of
back in Chicago, I presented the first national production of the
Obie Award-winning When You Comin' Back,
Red Ryder? With playwright Mark Medoff (Children Of
A Lesser God) as a last minute replacement for Marjoe Gortner.
The play stunned Chicago audiences and produced electrifying notices,
receiving multiple Joseph Jefferson nominations for excellence.
The production traveled to Detroit's Music Hall Theater and to the
American in St. Louis. Excellent notices resulted in annual awards
in both cities.
I followed Red Ryder
with the musical adaptation of William Inge's celebrated play, Come
Back, Little Sheba, called Sheba,
featuring fine performances by Kay Ballard, as Lola, and George
Wallace, as Doc, but the production fell flat with Chicago critics.
At the end of the season Ben Gazzara received the
Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Guest Artist, Mark Medoff received
the Jeff for Best Actor, Louise Hoven, Best Actress (Red
Ryder), the cast of the latter just missing as Best Ensemble,
in all, just one less award than the Goodman Theater.
Though I've, obviously, concentrated on other matters
of late, I'm, as always and ever, looking for an exciting property
for my next production.
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