Mitch's Muszings

Actor/writer/director Mitch McGuire shares his thoughts so the public will get to know him. He hopes to please you most of the time, and never be boring. Also some history on his old theatre company, Manhattan Punch Line Theatre, Inc.

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Location: New York, NY, United States

actor, writer, producer, director, father, grandfather, husband.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Actor's Memory
By Mitchell McGuire

"How do you remember all those lines?!!" We've all heard that so often from our family and friends that it is a cliche. The flip side is that in our profession it is expected that you will remember all those lines and further that you are better at remembering lines than "normal" people would be. Usually that is true, but not always. Sometimes we are put into situations where we have trouble or we just can't remember all those lines. Many times we can remember most of the lines, but some lines escape us, leaving us embarrassed and insecure and fearful.
Having trouble memorizing lines is like impotence is for men; we've all had the problem at times, but we don't want anyone to know about it. After all it can actually hurt our chances of being hired next time. It is important to be able to memorize lines, and in these days of the Bottom Line, "rush" is the word of the day, and we had better learn them quick!
Some of the reasons we have trouble are:

• Short rehearsals or no rehearsals
• many re-writes
• no cue-cards allowed
• aging and clogged arteries (One doctor's report says we lose 40% of our capacity to remember with age.)
• smoking (It shrinks the blood vessels lessening blood to the brain.)
• drug interactions
• nerves and fear
• sedentary lifestyle (exercise increases blood flow to the brain.)
• or just a difficult script that is hard to get into the head.

So how do we remember all those lines? Well, I have discovered a technique that works…for all of you save the few who are beyond simple help, such as someone who may have Alzheimer's of another illness that is untreatable. But first a little background on how I stumbled on this technique.

I was hired to do the role of Coles in Other People's Money in Lancaster, PA and later at the Coconut Playhouse in Miami. It wasn't a very large part, but I was in my fifties and I had noticed that learning lines was much more difficult for me. When I was younger I could go into rehearsal and come out fully confident that I would not only know my lines but everyone else in my scenes. Often I was the lead and even then I had little problem with lines.
But while rehearsing and performing in OPM, I was finding that it took me much longer than before. I was the last one to be off book and even then I was shaky. After we opened I still had to look at my script diligently to make sure I reviewed the lines before performing the scenes. Luckily each scene had a break wherein I could review it carefully and I was alright. But it bothered me that through the entire run of five weeks I never felt like I could trust myself to remember the text without reviewing it constantly. It made my performance shallow and distracted me from the reality of the scene. How can you really have any meaningful inner life if you are worried about the lines?
In fact, until I went into rehearsal again with a new cast at the Coconut Grove, I never was comfortable, except after another two weeks of rehearsals in Miami. It was embarrassing and frustrating. More importantly it prevented me from my best work.
I was certainly not alone. A good friend of mine who had a brilliant career, started having memorizing problems and got to the frenzied point where he went up onstage and panicked to the point where he had to be tranquilized before he went on! He subsequently quit being an actor; a real shame since he is so talented.
A friend of mine, who was the line producer on Television's Night Court, told me his major casting problem was when he hired older actors. They would often have trouble learning lines. Since there were extensive rewrites and they shot in front of live audiences the elder actors couldn't easily keep up. It made him reticent in hiring older actors. This is untenable and unnecessary. There is enough ageism in this business without giving them real reasons not to hire us!
Many actors go to Hollywood and after working out there for awhile, are afraid to come back to New York to do theater because they aren't sure they can learn all the lines and perform in front of an audience where you can't say "cut" if you make a mistake. Any limitations we put on our career like that are not good, right?
When we go to the How-to section of Barnes and Noble, what help do we find? Well, there an author named (?) who has written several books on memory, including (?) and (?). In truth most of his books say that if you have to deliver a speech don't memorize it, just go from notes and outlines. Which is correct if you are making a speech to a crowd, but for us this is not an option…unless you are in an "improv" show. The rest of his books only go into remembering facts and names using association techniques, mnemonics, such as remembering someone's name by associating it with how he looks. For instance a man with a large nose whose name is Ed Jones you visualize an editor with large bones…or something like that. Okay for lay people, but we have a whole other set of problems.
No, we have to do the text as written, especially if it is some classic such as Shakespeare. I personally have a bugaboo about doing any play without paraphrasing and try to learn the lines exactly as the playwright intends. This is simply respecting your fellow artists' work. And, yes, even TV and film scripts…if they give you sufficient time to learn them. (See the Sidebar below) To do this we can't rely on simple association tricks or note cards or even outlines.
My Nightmare Job
Sometimes we get into a situation, not of our own doing, that sabotages us into not doing the best job we can. The following incident, which happened 20 years ago, was not due to my inability to memorize lines, (I was not having any problem at this time.) but stupidity on the part of the producers. The result was an embarrassing…no, make that a humiliating experience.)
I auditioned for, and was booked on a regional on-camera spot for a now defunct wild animal park in New Jersey. The shoot was the next day and the budget was so low they wouldn't even ship us to the New Jersey park, they decided to shoot it in Central Park's Sheep Meadow. The Casting Person at the ad agency, (In those days they actually had casting people at the agency.) told me they were still working on the script so would not have one for me to look at until the shoot tomorrow. There were no fax machines in those days to have them fax me a copy as soon as they finished their job. I foolishly thought that they must know that I need time to memorize the lines and would take that into account. Wrong again, Kimosabe. The next day I called the same casting gal and was told that all the copies were on the location and my call was not till 11AM so why don't I just show up and get the copy. I did.
Since my two then teenage daughter were in town from Michigan and had never seen me in action, I invited them to watch from the sidelines. We arrived and I was rushed into makeup. A large crowd had already gathered behind a roped off area too close for my comfort.
While sitting in a chair getting makeup applied I asked if I could have a script. They seemed surprised that I didn't have one and ran off to get one. When I looked at it I realized it was me talking the whole 30 second spot with no cut-aways. I immediately assumed that there would be cue cards. But, no. The director, whose last name was the plural version of his first, told me that the camera was far away and so it would "see" the cue cards. I looked and it was indeed ridiculously far away; why I'm not sure. Probably the only lens they could afford to rent.
So I poured over the script intensely and sooner than you could say, " Now", I was doing my first take. After two sentences I made a mistake and the auteur yelled "cut" and came over to me, put his arm around me while walking us a few feet away from the crowd and said, "Come on! Everybody's watching!" I knew right then I was alone in this deep water.
We proceeded, and after similar "mistakes" three teen boys with their bikes and their PF Flyers, started heckling me.
"Hey Man, how did you get this job? Is your dad in the Mafia? Let me up there, I can do it better than him."
I was not amused. Then it all became slightly dreamlike. The crew and Mr. Director pretending that there was no heckling going on. No one said a word to the jerks as they continued taking turns with more insults such as,
" You're so stupid, so why did they hire you? You're a funny looking guy too." It was like getting my own personal John Simon review, out-loud, live and in-person. These guys were savvy though; they knew not to talk during a take. They simply waited for my next gaff. I never let them down.
After many more takes and incessant nasty comments, I did something I have regretted ever since. I lost it. I charged them screaming, ready to do battle with all of them; no longer caring about my daughters watching, not concerned with my safety, only wanting to shut these creeps up and restore my lost dignity.
Suddenly the crew awakened and blessedly stopped me from my headlong charge. Then the director and other heretofore passive strangers, gathered around me to calm me down and others went over and asked the three wise men to shut up…please?) It worked. They did. I thought sure they'd be waiting for me when the shoot was over, but they must have lost interest and moved on… to another shoot, perhaps.
After 49 takes (!)I got it all said and in 28 seconds. The commercial never ran, thank Heaven, and the park went out of business. I immediately started thinking seriously about voice-overs as an alternative to the on-camera scene.

Shortly after returning to the City from Miami, I joined up with The New Group, Scott Elliott's then actor's repertory company, and started "working out" with them. We eventually started planning showcase productions, but when they tried to get the rights to do Faith Healer by Brian Friel, Scott was told, no. So he decided to do a private workshop of it with an invited audience of friends. Scott, an actor, was to direct his first play ever. He asked me to do Frank the Faith Healer, and I happily agreed. It is a great part in a great play. The trouble was we were scheduled to open in less than three weeks, and I had two huge 45 minute monologues to learn!
I was distraught. I wanted to do it; knew I had to do it; and I knew after OPM that I would have to learn lines in a new way. It was then that I was to discover a unique way of learning lines that enabled me to be flawless and confident in my part; helping me make an acting breakthrough that has helped me find the road to confidant line learning and enhanced my already developed acting skills.

(Note to the Editor: I suggest that here is where the article should end and continue in the next issue.)

Part Two of The Actor's Memory

The first thing I did was stop reading anything other than the script; no newspapers, books or plays. Learning lines became my sole passion. Mind you I didn't just memorize words or phrases. I of course thought deeply about the whys of the characters words; his motivations and needs and his inner monologue. This is just logical for any good actor worth his salt. But I didn't limit myself to studying at rehearsals or even just at home. On buses and subways or even In my car, I would play tapes of the monologues.
The tape recorder is a marvelous tool, I find. I recorded the entirety of my speeches, and as rehearsals progressed, I re-recorded them to keep up with the new interpretations I and Scott came up with so as not to listen to past sounds that no longer had relevance.. I would listen to the recorder and do my lines quietly on the subway or wherever; then releasing the pause button to see if I had it exactly right on playback. If I had it wrong, even a little bit, I redid the entire passage, reciting the lines before I heard them o the recorder, then listening to them to see if I had them right. When I had that paragraph learned, I moved on. Amazingly, the next time I went over the passage, I was still making mistakes and would have to redo the passage again. It was frustrating, but I learned that the brain sometimes needs longer to memorize some passages. The important thing to remember though is that it CAN AND WILL eventually remember.
At times where I didn't have the tape recorder or times where I was bored using it, I would carry a 4x6 card with my script and test myself on lines and try not to cheat by looking at my lines ahead of reciting them. In my car, where I didn't have a pause button I would try to say my lines with the tape. If I made a mistake I would rewind and do it again.
I tried to get people to cue me and found that to be helpful as well. It seemed important to get them to watch carefully and not let me "get away" with a line that was close to what was written, but to make me do it exactly right. Of course some people are better than others in cueing so try to coach this helpful person in doing it in a way that helps you. Some people, Uta Hagen among them, feel that one should not let a person act as they cue you. I feel that anyone who wants to throw me something different is welcome as it helps me see alternatives in how I respond. Even onstage I welcome different deliveries from partners since that keeps the performance alive and fresh. If it messes up the general meaning of the play or the directors vision, then we have a problem. Generally though one can and should invite creative instinct into ones work, I think.
Slowly I learned the lines for Faith Healer quite well, but I was still struggling nearly until the last week of rehearsals. One memorable evening Scott, I and the stage manager were working and I was off-book but having trouble with lines and calling out "line" so often that Scott said, "I'm sorry, but I can't work with you when you don't know your lines. Go home and study them and we'll rehearse tomorrow. I was upset and said, No, Scott, you are the director and you have to sit through this! I need you to be here and I need this tension to get me to the next level here! I need to feel that I can struggle with these lines while you are watching and so you can't leave!" I was quite worked up about it and I don't even think I knew why, but I knew I wanted him there. I was also PO'ed that he wanted to separate himself from my problem. I think I flet that we were all in this boat together, or at least I wanted to think that, and so he had to worry this thing through with me.
Scott stayed, to his eternal credit, and something about this exchange had a profound effect on the next part of this rehearsal. I got very emotional about the material and what it all meant. Faith Healer is a metaphorical play about how the creative process happens, and how it sometimes doesn't happen and where does it all come from anyhow? God? Luck? Talent? Anyway I started to feel everything about the script in ways I had never experienced so deeply before, and it continued for the rest of the rehearsals and the run. It was extraordinary and wonderful. Scott was thrilled as were others in the New Group and most people in the invited audience. What had made the difference?
Some of difference was due to the greatness of the script for sure. Some was due to some recent coaching I had experienced with fellow actor and director, Sam Schacht. He helped me identify my talent and deepen it, giving me tools to use in enhancing my performance and interpretation. (When Sam saw my performance he came backstage in tears and said, "You got it Mitch! Oh I'm so proud of you. You were so great!") But a large part of the difference was because of my grasp of the text which enabled me to think my character's thoughts and feelings to the fullest without worry about the lines.
Certainly, in the moment of conflict with Scott, realizing that I was in danger of losing him, I stopped looking for the exact right word and focused on the truth of the lines and performed the part. I let myself risk a few mistakes to show him where I was headed with this. Later I perfected the script in subsequent private studying times.
Didn't I have moments in the performance where I messed up here and there? Sure, but I was confidant that I knew the lines through the moments and inner thoughts and that I could get through it with my character intact. I sailed through every performance and continued to give, what I considered to be, the best acting of my career. Subsequently the method of acting and memorization has stuck with me and inspired me nightly in all my work since then.
I certainly don't believe that my way of learning lines is the "only way." But I do believe that finding an alternative to learning lines was essential for me in my current state. That is, in my inability to memorize the way I used to and my panic at going on stage without a firm grip on my character's words. I believe that there are many actors out there who can and should re-examine their method of learning if they are starting to have trouble. For those of you who have given up live performance or stopped acting due to memory problems, I say try again, and this time pull out all the stops. Maybe try some of my techniques as well as others, and you will be amazed at how you can learn lines.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

by Mitchell McGuire

I recently got the opportunity to audition for a part on Blue Bloods and went out on a rainy day to Brooklyn to meet the director. The director had a camera there, and he said, "The part is for a cop who rescued people on 911 and he is a fighter! But he is in a coma, so I want you to look like you are a fighter and in a coma so close your eyes and do it!"

The camera rolled while I clenched my jaw and moved my eyes around and, twitched a time or two, and finally I opened my eyes and he said, "The was good!"

I got the job and reported a few days later as the character, McKenna, who apparently knew Selleck's character and the two of them saved a bunch of people on 911. After getting made up to look near death, I finally got to the mock hospital room, which looked very authentic, as did I in my hospital garb, with lots of things sticking out of my arms and an oxygen mask on my face.

I Meet Tom!

I met Tom Selleck and we chatted for a bit. I'd heard that he lived in Michigan, and I talked about how my kids, (some of them), live in the town where he allegedly owned a house, but Tom said he didn't own a house there. Oh well.

Mr. Selleck had a monologue to say to my character, McKenna, while I was in the hospital bed, comatose. After the crew set the whole thing up for over an hour, we did our first take. Tom held my cold hand and squeezed it during his long speech recalling our days on the force. He did it very well, I must say. We did about 4 takes....I say "We" but when I saw the scene there was very little of me "fighting" my coma and a lot of Tom. No surprise there.

Tom Gets Upset!

At one point after a couple of takes, the director gave Tom some direction and then called for quiet on the set. Bells rang all over the large building to signal the silence order to one and all, but this time it took people longer than usual to shut up. Tom raised his voice and saying, "Come on, give me a break! I'm doing some sensitive personal work here!...keep it down!" . His voice was broadcast throughout the whole building, and It got very quiet then for sure.

We did the scene a few more times and finally we did one more scene; one I didn't even know about, where McKenna's wife comes in at the end of the scene, and Tom hugs her, while she cries. I didn't even know I had a wife! (There was no scene where she cries over me! Oh well). When the scene (s) were wrapped, Tom left and I (and everyone else) went to lunch there in the studio.

Lunch Is Served!

The entire cast and crew, (About 100 people!) got a very fancy lunch because, I guess, it was around Christmas. Mark Wahlberg made a speech about how well the show was going and thanked everyone. All during lunch they had a guy in a nice dinner jacket singing songs on a piano, and he was good!

My Funeral

Later that day the cast and crew moved to Old St. Patrick's Church and had my, er, McKenna's.... funeral. Tom said some words over me, in my (empty) casket; an Irish prayer, "May the wind be at your back", etc.

The final shot was Tom kneeling in prayer at the 911 memorial....nice.

The Money: Not Bad!

Mind you I was not there and did not see it until saw it on the television like everyone else. I later was thanked by email by the producer who remarked that the episode was very well praised. All in all all it was a very nice day and I got paid the full rate as a Day Player which I appreciated.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

red Devil Battery Sign, Tennessee, Anthony Quinn, Clair Bloom, etc

Red Devil Battery Sign, Tennessee Williams; Anthony Quinn; Claire Bloom, Katy Jurado and Company By Mitchell McGuire In 1974 I was working part time at the now defunct Grossinger’s Bakery on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. I was, as they say, between jobs in theatre, but really, this was a job and I was paid good American money to deliver bakery products to wealthy people, who sometimes gave me tips! On Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays I worked in the bakery itself, behind the counter with Mrs. Grossinger, who was a sweet old Jewish lady who wore a tight sweater with crumbs along the top of her large breasts. I found the job in a “real job” book Actors Equity kept which allowed members to seek work outside of theater when they were unemployed.

I was recently unemployed after having done the Sunshine Boys with Eddie Bracken in Arizona. It was the second play I’d done with Mr. Bracken and I had become almost part of the family since I was dating his daughter, artist, Carolyn Bracken. After I landed this job Eddie said to me, “I have great respect for you having taken this job at your age.” I took that as sort of a left handed compliment. I surmised that only a star like him could see it in that way. He could afford to wait for his next gig, having some money, an agent and a career. I was not in his position, but don’t get me wrong…I loved Eddie…in fact I was in love with his whole family…they were so unlike any family I was familiar with. They were happy! They hung out together; they played games together and enjoyed their home life. They certainly were not like my original family, the Fighting McGuire’s!

Well, the Bracken Family were my main event at this time…after work I often visited them in Weehawken where they lived with a beautiful view of the Manhattan Skyline, right across from the West 50’s. On weekends, after work, I would drive to see them and bring them our (the bakery’s) delicious crumb cake. They loved it and so did I. Somehow I did not gain weight during that job. I was trying to be a good boy and watched what I ate so as not to get fat and lose my leading man image I had of myself at the time.

Somewhere along the way, I got an audition for Red Devil Battery Sign, a new Broadway bound play by the great Tennessee Williams, directed by the then hot director, Ed Sherin. I’d gone to the open call at Equity and Mr. Sherin was there, surprisingly enough…having been an actor himself, he later told me, unlike most other directors, he actually attended the open calls! What a classy guy. So I got a call and met with Doris Abrahams, a producer, and she told me I had the job as understudy to the actor playing Anthony Quinn’s son, played by Steve McAddy, but I had to agree to be a second assistant stage manager, a position I had never done. But I heartily agreed to do it, of course. The cast? Anthony Quinn, Clair Bloom, Kathy Jurado! Wow! Tennessee Williams who would be at rehearsals! Wow-Wow! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!

I was so excited I called Carolyn Bracken to tell her the good news. I heard her shout the news out to the family, and then Carolyn started laughing. Why? “Mom said, ‘Does that mean no more Crumb Cake?’” Then I laughed hard. How could you not like people like that?

The show was already in rehearsal above a store in a dance studio on Broadway in the 80’s. They had already been rehearsing when I got there. I was let in and asked to sit down and watch rehearsals which were going on rather intensely on the floor of the dance studio with Mr. Quinn and Ms. Bloom were curled up on the floor, whispering their parts quietly to each other….Folding chairs were lined up, in four rows, with various people watching. I sat down in the second row, but I couldn’t hear anything! Ed Sherin was leaning from his seat in the front row and getting as close as he could to the two stars without actually getting on the floor himself. I was dumbfounded. What was going on? Were they rehearsing it like a film where you are quietly intimate because you are miked up? It was the first of a number of puzzling things going on in this rehearsal period, and continued on when we got to Boston a month or so later. I had read the script the night before and thought it was a strange piece, but I wanted to believe it would be great after these fabulous people got their fabulous hands on it. As the day rolled on I was to meet my direct boss, the stage manager, Marnel Summer. A hell of a guy that I came to admire throughout the run without reservation. He was a miracle man in my eyes; someone who worked later than anyone else, knew everything about theatre technically and in every other way. And was a study in patience…patience for the human foibles that rained down on his head where the buck always stopped. Only now did I discover that he was an actor as well.

Me? I was depressed which surprised me. I hadn’t thought about what it would be like watching other actors working while I sat and did pretty much nothing during rehearsal. My depression carried on throughout the run…I moped. But I kept my ears open and put my memory to work remembering all the funny and not so funny things that I knew would happen during this sort of high-energy, high-expectation, high cost operation. I was not disappointed. The whispering rehearsals continued but I got familiar with the actors and the stage managers during breaks, etc. On the second day of rehearsals…well, MY second day, Tennessee turned up…with a boy of about 25. He sat in the last row of the folding seats that were placed near where Quinn and Bloom were whispering…er …rehearsing. Mr. Williams promptly got up from his seat and approached me and said in his southern twang, “Could ah have a piece of papah?” Could you?! Oh, You bet, Mr. Williams, Sir!!! I was a little overeager to please. Anyway he then retreated to the 4th row of the folding chairs but then his…friend came up to me and HE wanted a piece of paper! Well, I thought, who is writing this play, huh? I kept that thought to myself however. The rehearsal continued but then Tennessee and the boy started to laugh!? At what I was wondering? Could they actually hear anything back there or were they having fun because they could not hear so why not entertain themselves? Seemed possible to me and they indeed did continue to laugh.

The next day, rehearsals continued. During other scenes, Anthony Quinn, who was then in his 60’s, would do sit-ups on his slant board. His mouth tended to droop when not speaking so to me he looked old, but during the run he seemed to rise to the occasion. Not when he wasn’t speaking….I guess he’d done so many films that when others talked he relaxed and thought about his next line, not worrying since the “camera” was not on him! But he generated some power onstage nevertheless. One particular day, the stage manager handed me a message for Mr. Quinn, so I went up to him and, wanting to impress him with my grasp of Espanol, “A message para ti Senor Quinn!” “That’s the trouble with you Gringo’s”,.he snapped, I never addressed my mother in the familiar ‘ti’ but always; her whole life, in the respectful, ‘usted!’” “ ”Oh, para usted, Senor Quinn!” says I. Quinn was a scary guy despite his advancing age.

I was later told that there was a kick-off party that happened the first night of rehearsal (without me darn it) and at that party a group of men including Quinn were discussing the great Mexican actress, Katy Jurado, with whom Quinn had worked and had an acquaintance. The discussion was all complementary until one actor who was to play the bartender in the play said, as a joke, “Yeah, she’s pretty good…for a Mexican!” Quinn, turned on him and punched his lights out and had him fired. I was careful how I approached Senor Quinn after hearing that story.

During the ongoing rehearsals I could hear a band playing Mexican Mariachi music across the hall. Someone told me that was the practicing Mariachi band that Quinn’s character was supposed to be the leader of. This band also had to be onstage during scenes and Ed Sherin put aside one day to rehearse them. One day! The band members, most of them pit musicians, had to, at one point, walk in slow motion across the stage portraying ghostly Mariachi players. They had some…no… a lot, of trouble doing that task or pretty much anything else except how to play their instruments. Soon Ed Sherin was screaming at them, “Can’t you walk?!!!” After hours of utter frustration he turned to me, and said, “Take these guys into the other room and teach them the scenes and what they have to do!” Now I knew my future in this production was going to be a bumpy road. On another day, Ed Sherin was rehearsing with Katy Jurado. At one point she said her lines, which were “We live in Crestview by the dump heap.” Katie, having been living full time in Mexico recently and doing films there, had trouble saying words in English without her strong Mexican accent, so she pronounced the line, “We leave in Cres-biew by the dump hee-op.” Ed was trying to help her by screaming in her face over and over saying Heap! Heap!!, to which Ms Jurado would dutifully shout, Hee-op, hee-op. So they hired a dialect coach for Katie, but it really didn’t help. Later, when I studied Spanish for awhile, I realized all one had to say to Katie was, pronounce it like it is a Spanish phrase and say, “hip”, and it would sound the way Ed needed to hear it, “heap” Alas it was never said by her in a way that sounded any different from the way he had in rehearsals, but that was the least of the problems with the play.

I actually knew Katie Jurado from some years before while I was working as a desk clerk at the Beverly Carlton Hotel in Beverly Hills. She checked in one afternoon telling me that she just left her then husband, tough guy, Ernest Borgnine, and she warned me that he would be trying to get to her. That she under no circumstances would talk with him and I should know that he does dialects and could try and fool us into putting his call through. I assured her that I would be on the lookout, and I was, and Borgnnine never did get through to her. Come to think of it, I don’t think he even tried.

But Ms. Jurado loved it when I reminded her of the incident and told the rest of the cast about how I protected her. She seemed quite fond of me after that.

Soon, too soon, we found ourselves in Boston at the enormous Shubert Theatre. Claire and Quinn realized quickly that if they were to be heard in the large old theatre space they would have to stop whispering lines to each other, and oddly enough, Mr. Quinn had no trouble projecting, but Claire always sounded like she was shouting to be heard; almost screaming. It was not good.

I had seen her in a West End production of “Streetcar…” in London and had no problem hearing her, but the enormity of this theatre must have knocked her off her game. I’d gotten to know Ms. Bloom a little since she was married to Hilly Elkins, the producer, of Oh Calcutta while I was in the show. So I took and chance and reminded her that I was in the show and she pretended to know me. After chatting with her awhile, I asked her about Hilly and does it bother her that Hilly sees her holding hands with Anthony Quinn? She said, “Fuck him!” Well, okay I thought, I guess that marriage is over, and it was. Having known Hilly to be a not-nice man, who regularly tried to cheat his performers (including me) out of money they were entitled to, I was not unhappy for him.

(Years later I filed a grievance with AFTRA against his company for non payment of dough for the video version of Oh Calcutta, and we got a check after about two years for $9,000, divided between 10 actors. It was signed the day he died....)

Meanwhile I was having my challenges with the musicians, trying to get them to act with some skill. In an early scene Quinn’s character, King, the band leader, was having a fight with someone stage right. The band were standing on the bandstand, looking around at each other and chatting about wedding gigs they had coming and similar current conversations. I told them they had to look at what was happening onstage and that their boss, King, was having a fight! “So you gotta watch!” They did their best but it never really seemed to matter to them. We rehearsed the ghostly walk and realized that only a few of the band members could actually walk across the stage in slow motion while strumming dream-like cardboard instruments. So we cut down the twenty band members to four guys who could do it with some believability. But forget about the costume changes and getting them to know where their next cue was and the new costumes that had to be put on. I had to make sure they had on the correct costume, push them onstage, run downstairs while they did their ghostly walk, and rush to the other side and up the stairs to meet them when they strolled off stage, and whisper to them to put this schmatta on and go over here and enter….NOW!. It was exhausting. I know if the show had run longer they would eventually “get it” but for now, I was left showing them everything and whispering instructions backstage and shoving them out there.

All of this was hard for me to take. I was feeling like an estranged actor whom all the other actors, I thought, considered of me as just a stage manager, and not even the first, but the second assistant stage manager. I was alienated from my actor friends who were not really friends like I wanted them to be, they were over there, talking to each other, and I was over here, moping. Plus when rehearsals were over for them, the work for the stage managers and the director and the stars were just starting. We’d have meetings…every night! Late into the evening, yet! The meetings would go on and on….they were trying to save the show, and I was certainly in favor of that but still….I was unhappy. Now when I look back it all seems to shimmer with the rosy glow of memory. But then…no, not then.

One night, we were in one of those meetings and Ed Sherin wanted to work on a scene with Anthony and Claire. Quinn said, "We are supposed to have dinner with David Merrick but….” He looked at me and then said, “Call David Merrick at the Ritz Carlton, and tell him we’re going to be a little late and ask him to order our dinners from Room Service!” “Okay,” says I, “What do you want to eat?” They gave me their order and I quietly wondered why he didn’t tell me to call Room Service? Why do I have to call Merrick and have him slam the phone down and say, “Whadda ya think I am, a waiter!?” “Oh well,” I thought, “I better do as I am told…” You learn these things when you become a small functionary in a large Broadway effort. “Hello,” said Mr. Merrick, in his most bossy tone….I was tentative, but I told him what Quinn said, you know, “Could you order dinner for them from Room Service?” I held the phone a bit away from my ear to protect it from the shouting that I was sure would ensue, but he hesitated a little, as if he too wondered what to do, and then he said, “Okay, what do they want?” I said, “Two steaks, medium rare, baked potatoes, sour cream on the side, etc…” He took the whole order! I kind of celebrated on my having turned David Merrick into a waiter for one night. Just like all those unemployed actors. Ha!

On one particular night during the brief run we heard that we were all invited after the performance to go to a Greek nightclub nearby as guests of Anthony Quinn, whom they wanted to salute. So we, all 75 of us, went after the show to this Greek club that was two stories and had two story speakers that were blasting Greek music and was packed to the rafters with customers who all seemed to know that Quinn was there! They sat us at a huge long table on the ground floor right in front of their stage with the gigantic speakers on either side. While the music played on we ate like kings and queens, and had all the Oozo we wanted. We noticed that Quinn was seated next to a woman whom we found out, was his wife visiting from Rome. Way down at the other end of the enormous long table sat Clair Bloom, sitting where the “techies” sat, obviously wanting to stay out of Quinn's wife's gaze. This appartehtly did not set well with “Tony” Quinn, who suddenly shouted out for all to hear, “Hey Clair, come on down here!” So she got up tentatively and walked the length of the table sat across from Quinn and his wife from Rome. We all got a kick out of that, all except Claire of course. When Quinn finished eating he decided to go up on stage and thank everyone. He got up to the stage and picked up a mike as the music finally died. He said, "Thank you!" and then said, “As you know, I’m Greek!” The audience roared approval, but Katie Jurado suddenly jumped up from her chair, grabbed the mike out of Quinn’s hand and said, “He ease not a Greek! He ease Mexican and we are berry proud of heem, and he’s a leetle Irish too, but he ease not a Greek!” Then she sat down. Quinn did not miss a beat and said, “Well that’s true, but in my heart I am a Greek!!!” The place went wild and the dance music from the film Zorba started and Quinn did his Greek dance thing….it was really quite thrilling and the crowd was jubilant.

In the rehearsal the next day Quinn said, “I hope I didn’t make a fool of myself last night.” Before anyone else could answer I jumped in and said emphatically, “No, you were great!” And except for forcing Claire to sit opposite the woman who was married to her lover, he was. The reviews came in the next day and it was not nice. I can’t find the review so all I can tell you is that they hated it and said so.

That afternoon a meeting was called and we assemble in the lower lobby of the Shubert, near where the bathrooms are located, which came to seem appropriate. It was announced that the show was going to post the closing notice but Sherin wanted us to know that he was still trying to save it. Re-writes would come in, etc. Quinn spoke up and said he never reads reviews and advised us to do the same. “It only ruins your performance!” he said, or words to that effect. Then another person started talking and while that was occurring, Quinn got up from his seat and whispered into the ear of the attractive blond woman who was Claire Bloom’s understudy. I asked the woman later what Quinn had said, and she informed me that, “He wanted to know if I had the review so he could read it.” I laughed at the time, but it led to an unfortunate event.

Claire, who had been in good health all along and seemed so, even on the morning of that meeting, called in sick at about 11AM and said she could not go on! Now we must remember that there were NO understudy rehearsals at all! This was a panic event in the theatre. The understudy was notified and the cast was assembled and rehearsed for a couple of hours, and she went on and was, well, flawless, in terms of lines, which was incredible to me. Her star appeal was missing and there was a kind of underwater flavor to her acting, as it does when the actor is searching her memory for the next line, but the show went on. Now I can’t swear that Claire was just getting even for this woman causing Claire to be jealous, but that is certainly what everyone else in the cast thought.

A day later rehearsals were called to work on a scene that Sherin thought needed a rewrite and had asked Williams, who had fled to New York as soon as the bad reviews came in and closing notice was posted. Williams agreed to rewrite the scene and would be sending it by plane to Boston. In the scene as it was, King (Quinn) had passed out in a drug store (he had a brain tumor, you see.) and King had called Claire and while he was on the phone, passed out. She wanted to go to him, but the only person who knew where King was, was the Conga Drum player from the orchestra, who, it had been established, wanted to get into her panties. We waited patiently for the rewrites while the actors sat around on stage too, waiting for the "improved" scene. It arrived, not soon, but it arrived. Clair got her copy and the Conga Drummer got his, and they scene called for them to be in a Taxi on the way to the drug store where King lay unconscious. They started reading it aloud and we were all stunned. It read, in part: Drummer: Get in the cab, bitch! Pedro! (he is shouting to an unseen driver) Bueno, (to Claire) In! Quick! I have gotten the address for you in Crestview! (He thrusts her violently forward: Sound of a car door slamming.) (Lights flickering, represent the rapid motion of the cab.) Claire: Driver, stop, stop! I am the wife of the Red Devil Battery Man! I am being abducted! Let me out, out I said, out, I will pay you… Drummer: (Overlapping) He’s already been paid better than you can pay him! OK, Pedro, stop! Now head, I want head, give me head! You like that, you want that, give it! Claire: You disgusting….can’t you see that I have my teeth in my mouth, you disgusting- Drummer: Yeah, then open your legs! OPEN! LEGS! (She screams as he forces her legs to open. Lights dim.) Then I take you to your drugstore in Crestview… (Blackout)

Reading this now, it doesn’t strike me as shocking as it seemed at the time….at any rate, Sherin decided the new scene was not ready for prime time, and we went ahead and did the play without the new scene, and used the existing one instead. Soon our two weeks run was over and the run ended on a Sunday. As the cast was standing around backstage I ran into Anthony Quinn who was standing stage right looking sour. He saw me and said, “Are you ready to go on?” I was shocked and said, “No, I haven’t even had a rehearsal, why?” “Aw, I hate that Steve McAddy!” The final show went on without me as Quinn’s son, and that was fine by me.

The play closed and everyone went their separate ways, as they always do at the end of a love affair or a play production. I eventually broke up with Carolyn; not because of anything she'd said or done, but because I had to take care of my inner angst due to my previous failed marriage(s) and I holed up in my apartment and tried to find some sense of self in all this past turmoil. Eventually I met my current wife and had two more beautiful children, Katie and Brendan.

Years later, as I was taking my then young children to a park on the far East Side of Manhattan, I saw Anthony Quinn with a young woman whom he introduced as his wife. I found out later that she was someone who worked for him, and he married her after getting divorced from his wife in Rome. This child-bride glowered at me, but Quinn was interested in talking to me and I to him. I told him many, but not all, of the stories I now tell you, and he was delighted and we had some good laughs together. When I finally left he asked me how he could get a hold of me, and I gave him my phone number on a matchbook cover. I never heard from him, and he passed away sometime after that. Over the years I came to appreciate the effort, sweat and tears that went into the play, but nothing could top my personal experience during Red Devil Battery Sign.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

My New ON-Camera For MSK

I just posted my new commercial for Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital. Found it on You Tube and so happy 'cause I never saw it before, though many have told me they have seen it. Wondering if it really is a national spot because that would mean more moolah, so keeping my fingers crossed. It was a nice shoot...the director was English and very talented, I think. The camera was flying around and going from place to place and he was very considerate of the performers. We shot about 10 hours as I recall and the college campus was quite nice. Funny doing an on-camera again because I used to do quite a lot of them when I was young, then I got into voice overs and so this is the first on-camera commercial I've done for years! I hope it runs for years...haha. Let me know if you like it.

Sloan Kettering Commercial Shoot at Concordia

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Eviction From Manhattan Punch Line Theatre on 41st Street

Wherein a young non-profit theatre company finds itself in court facing eviction from one of New York City’s wealthiest developer’s who fashioned himself a patron of the arts.

We should have known better than to fall in love with a space we turned into a theatre, offices, (2) a lobby; with one single bathroom and two other floors in that same building serving as our scene shop and an alternative rehearsal space, all with the approval of the building management of Sheldon Solow Inc. But we forgot to get it in writing…the rehearsal space and the scene shop I mean. Not that Solow Inc. would have put it in writing; no. It was a favor, granted, I later realized, to enable them to kick us out whenever they felt like it. After the city and state of NY decided to turn 42nd Street, Times Square into a Disney-like extravaganza, Solow and company suddenly felt like it:

We might have thought it likely too if we’d thought about why they never billed us for all those building expenses that our lease mentioned on like the 24th page somewhere. I remember Steve coming into my office, (we built separate offices after we realized we had, shall we say, different ways of doing things.), with as big smile on his face, and saying conspiratorially, “They forgot!”

“What?” said I innocently?

“They forgot to send us a bill at the end of the year for all the buildings taxes and stuff”! he exclaimed.

“Oh come on, they didn’t forget!  So we need to put aside the money”

“Why?”, says Steve.

“Because”, says I patiently, “they might one day send us the bill and we won’t have the money we need to have when that bill arrives.”

Steve looked at me like I was crazy, a look I had become accustomed to seeing on his face while talking to me.

We had a board meeting where this was all discussed and we all agreed that it was a good idea to put aside some funds for that day when or if Solow sent us a bill for the unbilled but nevertheless owed amount of dough, which we figured was about $5,000.  We never seemed to have any money to put aside for this likely occurrence, but ultimately, it didn’t matter. Our math was way off anyway, plus when the Solow Corp decides to get rid of you or break your lease, you’d best start packing.

Sitting in that board meeting was the very man with whom we had consulted when we negotiated the lease, Ralph Kreitzman. Ralph was one of the many lawyers who advised us for free; pro bono, through the wonderful non-profit service group called VLA, Volunteer Lawyers For The Arts. We hooked up with the Wall Street firm Hughes Hubbard and Reed, through VLA. Each of our lawyers were specialists and so Ralph was the real estate guy. Ralph and a few other lawyers came to all our board meetings which pretty much happened monthly. He looked like our logo; the face with the big comedy nose and glasses. He enjoyed looking like our logo and enjoyed working for us and we enjoyed him and his free services.

But this forgotten bill that Solow sent us was at the end of our first year of MPL’s existence. We squandered our chance to save money for that inevitable day when the big bill would arrive. It did arrive, of course, about the fourth year of our existence in the form of a legal document pasted to our elevator door on the 7th floor at 260 W. 41st St., our home and theatre; in a building whose most famous graffiti phrase was in the dreary, dirty grey hallway you could only see if you dared walk up from the ground floor lobby, said lobby itself being a study in old rancid tile smelling of urine, which pooled every morning and night on a regular basis. We took turns going down and mopping it up each morning and before every show. Why? The drunks who were the pee-ers would take advantage of the recessed doorway to our lobby, and step into the recessed area near the hinges, and discreetly urinate the liquor they conveniently bought right next door in the liquor store.

Over the years their liquids had rusted the door so badly that the urine had free flow under the rusted ramshackle metal door. But at least the winos were able to hide their penises from the passersby, thanks to the architect’s creation of the recessed door.  Oh, I forgot to tell you the phrase that was graffiti-ed in the 3rd floor hallway: Vincent Sucks.

But let us backtrack a bit to bring you up on some necessary facts. Faith left after the first year or two, I am not clear on when exactly. We were not surprised, but we were upset. I liked Faith and wanted her to stick around to be part of this effort. She had some fame in those days, and she was a buffer between me and Steve in meetings, but she wanted out and what could be done to stop her?  She also donated some significant money and brought in her mother on the board and her cousin with whom she was close and they all contributed funds to our effort. So she left.

Steve and I met and discussed what to do to replace her…not for the creative part so much as the financial part….we decided we like the triumvirate structure, so we spread the word that we were looking for someone to join us who is a creative theatre person, but who also can “buy” into the group. We had a pretty good sense of  our theatre’s growing influence and we were not disappointed when we were approached by Jerry HeymanDoctor Jerry Heyman. He had a doctorate in drama and wrote his dissertation on comedy, so what more could we ask. Well, there was the money….he told us that we could count on him…and his friend, to come up with the 25g’s. His friend was Richard Ericksen, an actor who Jerry worked with. Richard and I got along famously, but Steve didn’t care for him, a fact that would later come to a bad ending, and I, on the other hand, did not care for Jerry so much... Part of what bugged me about Jerry was all the money we received seemed to come only from Richard, not from Jerry. Richard was generous to a fault. Jerry was not generous.
So by the time we got this 42nd Street inspired eviction notice, actually it wasn’t that, it was just a bill for thousands of dollars for rent on the 6th and 8th floors which we were using for the aforementioned uses, and for all those years of expenses that Solow had “forgotten” to send us, but was now due in 30 days along with all the other dough….somewhere in the 40 thousand dollar area. So we called HHR, Hughes Hubbard and Reed and sent them the paperwork and they confirmed that we were in some trouble here. They said they would send a guy to handle us in housing court when our date came up.

We discussed all of this with Jerry and Richard and we decided to have a meeting with the Solow group, and I set it up. Solow of course, was not there, high atop 9 West 57th Street, but some large gent who looked like he’d grown up eating his way to the top. He was rough acting and slightly disparaging to our crowd, Me, Steve, Jerry and Richard. This guy looked at Jerry’s Gucci Loafers and chided them on being able to help us out by paying this bill. Jerry and Richard offered to buy the building for 300 thou which this guy laughed off. I thought it was decent for Jerry and Richard to offer to buy the building….it would certainly have been a good investment given that the New York Times now sits on that same plot amongst other parcels. Ironic that the N. Y. Times, who discovered us and literally put MPL on the map, should, in the end, live atop our grave. Like a parent burying their child.  

So we three left the meeting with Solow without any resolution, so we knew now that we were destined to go to court. Housing Court is downtown and on our appointed time Steve and I showed up. HHR told us one of their attorneys would represent us. I was not aware of his name then or now, nor do I remember him talking to me before the trial. When we saw him we were scared. He looked young and scared. The atmosphere in Housing Court was brusque to say the least. Everyone seemed to be going about their business without acknowledging that we were clueless. 

Finally our case was called, The Solow Corporation vs Manhattan Punch Line Theatre Company, Inc. Our green attorney, whose hands were trembling, started to say, “Your Honor….”when he was cut off by Your Honor. “What are you doing?! I’m not ready for you! He shouted. Our guy looked shocked. After a while the judge said, “Go ahead.”

“Your honor our client….” The stenographer, a large woman, screamed at him, “I can’t hear you!” Nonplussed the attorney started over. He was interrupted a number of times by both the stenographer and the judge, who asked questions in the middle of  green attorney’s statements.

 Finally we were called up separately and I and Steve testified to what terrible landlords Solow was and how they let winos pee in the lobby and we had to paint the lobby and clean up the building because they wouldn’t and….it was useless. None of what we testified to was accepted on any level as a legal argument by anyone in the court. It really came down to; do you owe this money or don’t you? We did and so if we don’t pay it we get kicked out and have a judgment against our corporation and that would be the end of that.
Just then the green attorney came up with some previous case law that stumped Mr Judge, so he had to take it under advisement, which gave us time. The trial ended until a later date and our butts were saved temporarily.

In desperation I called a board meeting and one of our directors, Alice Burns, an assistant manager of Citibank told us that she had a connection with the West Side Democratic Club and she would find us a better attorney. Soon we were in the office of said attorney, Bernie Cohen of Santangello, Santangello and Cohen. He was a dese dem and dose guy for sure. He knew his way around Housing Court. In fact he told us that when Solow’s attorney saw him the attorney would say, “What da fuck are you doin’ heah?!!

Bernie was impressed that we talked HHR into being our attorney. He had trouble understanding though why we couldn’t just let the judgment sit there and then close MPL Inc and start another theater company with a different corporate name. We explained that we were now old enough to get government funding and a new corporation would not be for two more years. Then he got it. So he agreed to have a sit-down with the Solow team and work something out.

A couple of days later we all went downtown for said meeting and Bernie exited the meeting and told us he got our deal: If we leave the building we owe nothing. So we agreed and started the process of leaving.  Oy.

The last show we did on 42st Street, was the Henry Aldrich play, What A Life, by ? and I was in it as well as Anne Gartlan who later became my pal at AFTRA NY, where we are both officers. Jerry Heyman directed and it was pretty good, but one of those old comedies that gets its charm from the time it was written, having an innocence that we no longer have or even understand. A nostalgia piece for some and an antique trinket for others.

But the call was for all hands on deck and we started throwing stuff out, finding spaces to store costumes and other equipment, a place to build sets, etc. Our benefactor was good old Fred Papert of 42nd Street Development Corp and a board member of ours. He told me to call Jack Garfein of the then Actors and Directors Theatre Lab and have him rent out one of his floors he had the Fred. I did and Jack wanted us to pay him rent of 2500 a month, which was way more than I was ready to pay. I called Fred back and told him and Fred got angry and cursed and said, “Oh for Christ’s sake, I’ll rent the floor to you for the same thing he is paying, $1200 a month!”  And he did.

While that sounds great, especially these days, it wasn’t a theatre. It was an empty floor with a carve out for the buildings heating and air-conditioning unit and so it could only be used for an office and rehearsal space. At least we had a place to move into. Fred also gave us some temporary space on the Row for storing our costumes and set equipment. That turned out to be a short term favor as this was space he needed back for development a short time later and we ended up donating all our costumes to the The Costume Collection.

But we spent many days and nights carrying stuff out of 41st street and driving over to 42nd street and 9th Avenue. I remember that our guy Henry was part of that effort, and he worked alongside us with great energy and dedication.

Henry was a guy we got through a program run by the city called ? It called upon able bodied men and women who were on welfare to work for free at charitable non-profit’s. We had a series of bad apples through this program until good old Henry. He was an older man, in his 50’s I’d say, and showed up every morning and cleaned and did just about anything we asked of him and never complained. We supplied him with lunch money, which to city reimbursed us for later. He’d worked for us for a couple of years and was there when we got evicted and stood with us to move us out. Later…about two years later, Jack Garfein our neighboring theatre guy whose office now was across the hall, came to me and said, “I can’t find anybody dependable to clean my studios I use for my school. I hire these guys and they work for awhile and then disappear. Do you know anyone who yu think can do this job for me? I’m paying $250 a week”

“$250 a week”, I thought? “That’s more than our Artistic Director makes! “ What to do? I knew that I could not let this opportunity for Henry slip away. I/we owed it to him for years of hard and loyal services for practically no money from us. I told Jack about Henry and he was hired.

To say that Henry was delighted was an understatement. He was off Welfare for the first time in years and whenever he saw me he thanked me profusely. I swear he would have done anything for me if I’d asked him, but I was glad to do it for such a kind and sweet guy. Garfein was grateful too. For the first time he had a dependable employee.

For sometime after we got to Theatre Row, I was still looking around for theatre space. By being evicted we had quadrupled our budget and in order to rent a theatre we had to shell our at least $2500 a week! So we went from having a loft with 5000 square feet for $800 a month to 1200 square feet of office and a small rehearsal space! So I continued to get calls about various spaces around the city that could have a theatre built into them. But when I returned from looking at them and told Steve, he would feign interest…but would never go look at them. After this went on for some time, I finally gave up. He was in love with Theatre Row. Well so was I, I mean other than the money aspect, what’s not to love? It only offered a friendly landlord, and beautiful theatres and a ready audience.

Our offices were spacious enough with rooms even for some of our classes we taught through our theatre school we founded. I taught my voice-over class there, but eventually moved to the board room of Fred Papert’s office. For free as was Fred’s wont.  What a guy.

That first year the Theatre Row theatres were all rented out so we produced our season in a few other theatres around town. But the Row was home from that day forward to when MPL went out of business, 13 years after it started. I left about 8 or 9 years before that happened…

but that is another story.  

Looking back on this eviction I had the thought that maybe we could have reached a deal with Solow to stay longer if we came to them with more rent and to allow a 30 day kick-out clause to be part of the new lease? The building sat mostly vacant for many months if not years after we left. We would have still had a theatre and would still have saved money over what we ended up having to pay to be on the Row and renting theatres there and elsewhere.

Solow eventually leased the building to a religious group who set up hotel like facilities for the homeless. Much later they sold it to the NY Times as part of the footprint of their beautiful building on 40th and 41st Street on 8th Avenue. Just a thought.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Manhattan Punch Line Theatre Is Born.

MPL Is Born

Almost 32 years ago, on December 11th, 1978 at the Curtain Up Restaurant, then located just West of the entrance of the Ninth Avenue building of Manhattan Plaza, a meeting was held over dinner. Attending were Faith Catlin, actress, Mitchell McGuire, actor, and Steve Kaplan, director. At that meeting we discussed starting a non-profit theater company, something all three of us had always dreamt of, and here we were, trying to put reality to work on our dream.

I brought Faith and Steve together since they did not know each other. I think they would agree that they did not exactly hit it off, but they did learn to work together. We were able to move forward with some sketchy plans.

We agreed to the idea of a non-profit theater. We discussed what kind of theater and Steve had done his homework. He proposed the idea of a theater dedicated to comedy; Serious comedy. I recognized it as an excellent idea. Comedy was in the air at the time. Comedy clubs were booming and new ones opening every day, it seemed. Not very long after MPL was born that December evening, Playwrights Horizons and Manhattan Theatre Club both changed their artistic aims to ones very similar to MPL’s.

But Faith had her doubts. She stated that she wanted a theater that was open to any production by friends or by us, with no particular theme or predictable schedule for that matter. She wanted to rehearse until everyone agreed the play was ready and then open it. I thought that her idea was impractical and said so, and Steve agreed.

Since I agreed to Steve’s comedy idea, and since we had previously agreed to a triumvirate structure where two votes carried the day, Faith agreed to the comedy concept. So we then tossed around names for the company. I recall it was Faith who came up with Manhattan Punch Line Theatre Company. We all loved it and latched on to it as: The One. I later called upon my late lamented friend, artist, filmmaker and cartoonist, Mike Siporin, to do the logo and typeface for MPL.

At the Curtain Up dinner, we then talked about money. In the end, Faith and I each promised to put up $10,000.00 each. Faith was, at the time, appearing on the soap, Ryan’s Hope (as Faith) and she was from a family who had financial resources. Her mother later served on our board as did Faiths’ friend and original member of the Group Theatre, Margaret “Beany” Barker.

I was doing lots of voice-overs and wanted to keep my theater chops, so I was anxious to get this venture going. I promised my ten G’s from my residuals. Steve was living at Manhattan Plaza with his new bride, Kathrin King Segal, but had no real money to speak of, so he merely gave his life over to the new company. Faith and I ended up contributing much more money as time went on. I gave more than I remembered giving. Recently I was shredding my old tax records from the past numbers of years and found all the checks I wrote as donations to MPL and I was shocked as how much it added up to. But one doesn’t withhold money for your children, and one doesn’t regret doing so either.

But how did I meet Faith and Steve, you ask? I knew Kathrin, Steve’s wife, because we were both in Oh Calcutta. Some years later, I, and my then gal friend, Karen Kleeger, were dining at Joe Allen Restaurant, and I saw Kathrin sitting with a guy, Steve. I waved and called out to her. We joined them briefly at their table and we chatted. We were introduced to Steve who was ‘On’, and quite funny, I thought. I like funny. I too try to be funny, at times, so what’s not to like?

A week later we got the call from Kathrin saying Steve and she were getting married and would we join them again at Joe Allen for what they wanted to call their reception? We did, and over the next weeks the four of us started hanging out together.

Steve got a job directing a play at the No Smoking Playhouse and cast Karen in a part. The production, though cheaply done, was not bad and kind of funny, I thought. Not long after that, Steve cast me in an Agatha Christie play called Towards Zero. I played the murderer. It was done at a small theatre in the Sutton Hotel on East 56th Street and Second Avenue. The theatre was filthy and one had to climb over hangers, hundreds of them, to get into the dressing room. But the show was well attended (Want an audience? Do a murder mystery!) and Steve did a good job with the play, I thought.

Faith was an actress I’d met when we were both cast in plays at newly formed Syracuse Stage, under Arthur Storch’s artistic direction. We were in two plays during their first season of existence: La Ronde and Butterfingers Angel, etc. In the latter play, Faith played Mary, mother of Jesus and I played one of her cave-man brothers as well as Balthazar, one of the three Kings.

Faith and I hit it off and started hanging out together. When Faith and I returned to Manhattan, we continued to be friends and saw each other often.

So you see, Steve and Faith were my friends, but they did not know each other, but they had separately expressed to me their desire to start a theater company in New York City.

The Curtain Up meeting ended and as we were walking out I ran into a gal I knew and after I excitedly told her of our plans to start a non-profit theatre company, she said, “I have one word of advice: profit!” I laughed and ignored her advice, but always wondered if I should have listened.

The day after our fateful meeting at Curtain Up, December 12th, I made an appointment with the founder of Playwrights Horizon’s, Bob Moss, with whom I was acquainted due to his having directed me in a play there, New York, New York. I was a fan of his abilities as a man who ran a successful theater and I wanted to pick his brain.

Since my appointment was in the afternoon, I took the morning off to look for space in which to build a theater. I remember I was standing at the corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, and I looked South and saw a small manufacturing style eight story building a block away on 41st Street. I walked over there and saw that it was a wino hangout, with a liquor store neighbor and the so-called, Toughest Bar In New York (New Yorker Magazine) and I thought, “perfect!”

I went inside and met the union elevator man who told me to call the realtor listed on a sign outside. I did and the man told me almost everything I wanted to hear. I found out later that this was his M.O. Tell them what they want to hear and then, after they sign a lease, the real deal smacks you in the face!. But I saw an empty 5000 square foot loft with thin enough posts to make me want to build this new theatre, right here in Times Square.

I then hiked up the block to see Bob Moss. When I asked him what his advice would be about how to start a theatre, he said, “Don’t!” But then he retracted that statement; said he was kidding, and opened up to me about how to do it. And we pretty much followed his game plan, with some improvements along the way. He mentioned Fred Papert who was a non-profit real estate developer who, along with Bob, had founded Theatre Row. He also put together the deal to turn Manhattan Plaza into housing for performers. Here was someone I had to know, and I got his number from Bob and called and got an appointment.

Fred had been a successful advertising man who decided to get out of the biz and got involved, with Jackie O, in successfully saving Grand Central Station from being razed. When I met him in his office in the old McGraw Hill building at 330 W. 42nd Street, where he is still housed, he greeted me warmly and wanted to see the building I was telling him about on 41st Street. We walked out into the hallway so he could see it from the window looking west. He never noticed the building, but encouraged me to go on with my quest and later he agreed to serve on the MPL Board of Directors. For some years we would meet in his board room, though later we met in the Port Authority Bus Terminal board room.

The next day I called my two new partners and told them of my find. They came down and agreed with me that this was it. I called Mr. Realtor who told us we could move in immediately and negotiate the deal while occupying the space. It seemed too good to be true, and it was too good, but we moved in anyway. Later, when our pro-bono lawyer from Hughes Hubbard and Reed downtown (thanks to Faith Catlin’s connections) called us in our new office on our new phone, to tell us that the deal included a clause that meant that at the end of the first year of occupancy, suckers, that all the real estate taxes would be due and payable by us, in addition to our $800 rent. He meant ALL the taxes…for the whole building! This was a deal breaker as far as I was concerned.

Steve disagreed, and we could not get him to budge from this space.. We had found a home and he would worry later about the taxes.

I loved the space too, and reluctantly agreed to stay, although I recall I did look unsuccessfully for another space, but soon I through up my hands and joined Steve in putting on my blinders to any future troubles. The troubles, of course, did eventually arrive, but we were able to push them back a significant amount of time, staying at 260 West 41st Street, 7th floor, for over 4 years before we were kicked out. It was the announcement of the new plan for THE NEW 42ND STREET PROJECT that resulted in an eviction notice due to unpaid taxes for four years and they threw in four years of rent on the 8th floor a space they allowed us to use, but now wanted rent, even though we were told we could use it.

Someday I will write about how all this came about plus our court appearance, but not now. Suffice to say we had to get out of there so, I then I called Fred Papert who enabled us to move our offices and rehearsal room to Theatre Row. While our budget doubled and we had no theatre of our own anymore, we were saved from extinction by Fred. He is still my friend, and he is now in his 80’s.

Today the 41st Street site is occupied by the New York Times brand new building. It seems to be a nice synergy that the newspaper that was once so influential in making Manhattan Punch Line Theatre Company famous, should sometime later, rest on the grave of MPL. In today’s harsh world, the NY Times and all newspapers are in trouble, so let us hope that they too, don’t someday get evicted.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Lone Ranger and Me

June 15, 2005 Ó

The Lone Ranger and Me

When I was a kid in Chicago, I dressed up as a cowboy. I practiced my fast draw skills with my holster set, till I could beat any brat in my neighborhood. Saturdays I’d go to the Liberty Theatre where for .25c you could spend an entire day seeing cowboy movies. But you had to check your guns at the counter. I actually liked that part. I spent long hours emulating my heroes, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and especially the Lone Ranger.

So I’m grown up, its 1974, I got a call from my agent…(Did I tell you I’m an actor?) She tells me I’m going to Atlanta to shoot a commercial for Dodge with Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger! Wow! Just for fun and to get me in the mood, I practice doing a couple of the Lone Ranger lines, “Meet me at the silver mine, Tonto. I’m going in disguise as the old-timer.”
I imitate Frank Foy, the announcer the Lone Ranger. “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and hearty "Hi Yo Silver!" The Lone Ranger!” Then the Lone Ranger would say, "C’mon Silver, let’s go big fella, Hi-Yo Silver, away! With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains, led the fight for law and order in the early west. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again!” Yup, I’m ready.
I fly to Atlanta from my home base in NYC, to do a Dodge commercial. I portray a young guy who drives his new Dodge into a gas station. Madly in love with my car, I don’t notice that the man complementing it, is The Lone Ranger. We converse until he leaves, when I notice who it is. I say, “who was that masked man?”, the eternal Lone Ranger query.

I spend four days there with Mr. Moore in a trailer parked at a gas station; the location of the shoot. I find a 60-ish year old Clayton Moore in costume looking great; a warm, cheerful voluble man who loves to tell stories about his career as the Lone Ranger. A man totally involved in his character and the credo, written by the great writer Fran Striker that articulate things like,
” I believe that to have a friend, a man must be one.That all men are created equal.That God put the firewood there but that every man must gather and light it himself.In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right.That 'This government, of the people, by the people and for the people' shall live always.That sooner or later...somewhere...somehow...we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.”
Clayton tells me how he originally auditioned for Lone Ranger on a Hollywood movie lot outdoors. They wanted a television Lone Ranger. There was a long line of cowboy actors, but when Clayton got his chance to sit down with George Trendle, the owner of the Lone Ranger enterprise, Trendle asked him why he wanted to play the Lone Ranger? Moore replied , “Sir, I am the Lone Ranger! In that warm distinctive voice I loved as a child, and still do in 1974 and 2005. The Lone Ranger" debuted on television Sept. 15, 1949, the first western series ever produced specifically for television.

Mr. Moore informs me that he never lets anyone take his picture unless he was wearing his mask or a pair of sunglasses.
He carries silver bullets that he uses to identify himself by placing one on the desk of a hotel when checking in, or giving one away to adoring fans. His horse, Silver, is stuffed and in a cowboy museum in California. When I ask why he didn’t do commercials with Tonto, Jay Silverheels, who was a real Mohawk Indian, Moore quipped, “No one can afford both of us!”

Before I left Atlanta I get my own picture with Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger, arm in arm in full costume and with his mask on. He was totally in character.

Trendle sold the Lone Ranger enterprise to the Wrather Corporation, run by Texas oilman turned media mogul, Jack Wrather. He decided in 1975 to make another Lone Ranger movie, but wanted to star a younger man, the now forgotten, Klinton Spilsbury. Since Clayton Moore was still touring the country as the Lone Ranger, Wrather ordered him to stop. Wrather feared fans would be “confused” so he took Moore to court to “strip him of his mask.” The suit backfired. It enraged Clayton Moore’s fans who refused to see the film. It flopped at the box office. The only confusion the fans apparently felt was “Why make a Lone Ranger picture without the Lone Ranger?” Wrather won the lawsuit but lost the heart of America.

Wrather should have made a movie about the older Lone Ranger, struggling to continue his job in the new West, maybe chasing a car with bad guys in it; their guns shooting at him on his horse Silver II, with the Lone Ranger’s mask firmly in place, his skin-tight blue cowboy suit barely flapping in the wind, and shouting,

“C’mon Big Fella, Hi-Ho Silver Away!!”

Clayton Moore would have loved that. What Clayton Moore gave to the corporate Lone Ranger, was his life, his soul, his voice and his spirit. From what I have read he carried on his belief in his character and his credo to the end of his days.

I doubt Clayton Moore ever studied method acting yet he was the ultimate “Method” actor: Totally committed, totally in the moment, totally lost in his “given circumstances”...and totally believable. A great performance and a darn good life.

Clayton Moore’s work situation was perhaps a precursor to the corporate change that soon came over all of America; the worker who dedicates his life to a corporation thinking that they will take care of him. But those days were dawning and Clayton did not foresee that, else he might not have told his agent to stop submitting him for other roles. Clayton Moore thought he was giving his life to his character, but he really was giving his life to his corporation, and must have thought that they would be fair. But he and the Lone Ranger know, “That sooner or later...somewhere...somehow...we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
We are all Lone Rangers now; actors have always been, but now you have joined us. (Imitating Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger) Welcome strangers, to the globalized world.