Oh, For The Golden Age Of Witchel, Reidel, and Morehouse, Jr….
February 4, 2012
Good gossip is just what's going on. Bad gossip is stuff that is salacious, mean, and bitchy; the kind most people really enjoy....Liz Smith
I’ve never met Bruce Norris, and don’t know Scott Rudin well, but I thank them both for providing the story that’s created the first real Broadway gossip since Julie Taymor.
For those of you who’ve spent the last week on Jupiter, Mr. Norris, a fine actor who also wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, CLYBOURNE PARK, acted with a cowardly arrogance that would have caused any producer to go ballistic, and Mr. Rudin, then the lead producer of the up-coming Broadway production of CLYBOURNE PARK…well…went ballistic
It seems Norris had fully and forcefully negotiated a four-year contract to act in a new television series produced by Rudin, then pulled out before signing the contract. He later said he’d intentionally negotiated for provisions so unpalatable they’d cause Rudin to “un-cast” him, because he’d decided he didn’t want to do the gig.
That’s the cowardly part.
Then when Rudin agreed to all the unpalatable provisions, Norris wouldn’t sign the contract.
That’s the arrogant part.
Rudin reacted by pulling out of the CLYBOURNE PARK production.
Now, Rudin is known for his temper, but he’s also the guy who had the guts to produce “Searching for Bobby Fischer”, and THE BOOK OF MORMON on Broadway. At first I thought he was wrong here, but then I put myself in his place and imagined what it would be like to be promoting the play of a man who’d double-crossed me, and I understood why he did what he did.
But the fun part – go on, admit it, it has been fun – was reading all about the uproar, and it made me recall what now seems like the Golden Age of New York theater gossip, when three of our papers had writers devoted to it: I mean Alex Witchel at the Times, Michael Reidel at the Daily News, and Ward Morehouse, Jr. at the Post.
Ms. Witchel wrote a weekly column that appeared on Fridays, Mr. Reidel and Mr. Morehouse, Jr. – I think I remember this right – didn’t have regular columns, but wrote stories about theater goings-on whenever they could find them (or in the case of Morehouse, Jr., make them up).
Those were the days, my friend, I wished they’d never end.
Reidel eventually switched over to the Post to write regular columns every Wednesday and Friday, after Morehouse, Jr. “retired”. It’s probably just my imagination, but it feels as though the public profile of the Daily News shrank after Reidel’s departure.
Alas, Ms. Witchel really did retire, turning the Friday column over to someone lacking her bite, so I stopped reading it. I guess I wasn’t the only one, since the column was rather quickly abandoned entirely.
I sure miss Alex Witchel’s column. I only met her once, last year at a birthday party held at the Museum of Natural History. (I’m going to start having my birthday parties every year at the museum, so that when my time comes, they’ll display my skeleton next to the brontosaurus.)
I used the occasion to tell Ms. Witchel how sorely I missed her, which seemed to give her pleasure, but not enough pleasure for her to resume her column.
Mike Reidel interviewed me for a Daily News story that would compare the personnel used in the A CHRISTMAS CAROL I was producing, a one-man version with Patrick Stewart, with the huge A CHRISTMAS CAROL produced annually at the Madison Square Garden theater (I recall it was called The Paramount then.)
Though Patrick Stewart was marvelous, my version was probably the least costly show to ever play Broadway. The “set” was nothing more than black drapes, the props nothing more than five pieces of simple furniture, and the costume one green suit. Since Patrick moved the furniture around as part of the show, the only stagehands we were required to hire were the four department heads.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL at MSG, on the other hand, was massive in its cast, its physical production, and the number of stagehands it needed.
Reidel asked me about only having four stage hands, and I blithely said they had absolutely nothing to do. Reidel’s story referenced my answer by saying I’d said the stagehands did nothing but sit around. (As “punishment”, the four department heads in question boycotted the opening night party.)
Ward Morehouse, Jr. made hay at the Post with his series of stories exploiting the firing of the girl who played Annie. (For more details on this, read my partner, Rodger Hess’s, memoirs, which I reviewed.) I’ll admit the story was juicy if unhappy gossip, but Morehouse, Jr. embellished it by adding whatever he thought would make the stories even more interesting, whether or not what he was adding happened to be true.
Too much time has passed for me to remember specific “facts” he invented, but on one recent evening, I was by chance seated next to him at the Triad Theater. He apologized for what he’d written, and when I pointed out that he’d lied, he agreed that he had.
I didn’t ask what Ward, Jr. was doing these days. Alex Witchel writes an occasional piece for the Times and other publications, but never on subjects theatrical. And Michael Reidel writes two columns a week in the Post, which I look forward to, hoping for some good gossip, like the CLYBOURNE PARK ado.
He’s all we have left from the Golden Age.
I wish it weren’t so.