©Sidney Eden, 2002.
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Producer

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 fame.

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.

This 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.

Following 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 area.

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.

In 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 snow.

Meanwhile, 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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