Speaker I met Jerry sometime in the 40s during World War Two, I had just I hadn’t been in New York very long. I was in the Army. I had been the, you know, photographic company in Benning, Georgia, and was saved at the last minute and brought to Astoria to work in training films. And there was a soldier there named Dwight Godwyn who’d been in the ballet. So we used to go to the USO and buy tickets. And I had seen skin of our teeth three times. There was nothing much left to see. So he goes against my will drag me to the ballet and it happened to be the right night. I remember I saw a pillar of fire with Norrick, which is what I would call a literary ballet. And so we went backstage and I met Jerry Robbins, who was great fun, and for some reason he got a fix on me. I’m not implying things, but he thought I was. I don’t know what which. He also thought I was I was writing radio propaganda shows, but he got some idea that I was enormously talented to such an extent that later on when he did on the town and they’re in trouble in Boston, he wanted them to fire Betty Comden algorithm. Hire me. I was by then a sergeant, so I guess that was better, but. We went around the bed drinking, I drank, oh, God, everybody drank during the war, everybody drank and everybody had sex. It was New York at its best, and he was giggly. He was great fun. He loved to play games and he had his own little group. Nora Kay and Johnny Cretz and Mayor Muriel Bentley and people like that, and that was when I met him and we became friends and later after I got out of the army. I’m trying to remember whether it was I think was that, yes, I returned home of the brave. He wanted to do he had done fancy free, as a matter of fact, by accident. I was at the opening night of fancy free. I knew nothing about ballet. And there was a marked man and go into this. But it was a terrific woman I knew. And she’d take me to the ballet. And I think Fancy Free was late in the program and she said, well, let’s leave. And I said, Oh, I know the guy who did this thing thing. I mean, it was what I thought ballet was and. I loved it, I thought it was a little musical comedy. I didn’t think of it as a ballet. I still think it’s a little musical comedy. And that changed Jerry in a way. Nora told me that at the time she had an opening night party in her apartment and I’m Fifty Second Street and Jerry spent most of the time under the bed hiding. Success did very odd things to him, but when I got out of the Army and had my play on, then he wanted to do a musical. About a kid from Jersey who was in the ballet, wanted to make the ballet blue jeans metaphor a second, because you want that later?
Speaker Well, because you’re skipping ahead. And I know there are some good things I want to ask you. You were talking about what Jerry was like when the two of you were young, when you first met and. What you’re telling me is, uh, you know, I’ve heard before that I’m familiar, but you said something in your book that was a little bit different. You said that he was called Black Jerome.
Speaker Jerry also was very moody, he would be giggling at one moment, and the other was his personal stock market had crashed. I don’t know what brought it on. I liked him. I was much more fascinated by Nora.
Speaker I’m interrupting myself here, Judy, because it makes me think of a story of something that comes later. But anyway, I was fascinated by Nora, who was. More intellectual and more political than Jerry, even though Jerry had technically been involved through his sister, but Nora’s parents were Russian. Her mother once said, When I dropped the banner, my daughter didn’t pick it up, but she was known as the red ballerina eventually. And I was very political then. And I thought Jerry was fun, but I didn’t think he was all that interesting, to tell you the truth. They went to see I’m sorry, there was much more depth to Nora and people like Jerry and Jonny creates a mural Bentley for fun, but I didn’t think too much of the ballet.
Speaker Again, I think it’s something that came later. But which I’ll tell you now, you can cut it in later.
Speaker No, it has to do with the cage, I’m getting to the set, so we’ll get there.
Speaker I was involved with Noor and also to be. Honest, I was having an affair with Harold Lang, so Gerri was, you know, a friend. He was the other guy, one of the other guys.
Speaker OK, but then you went to see Fancy Free, which, you know, talk about the luck of the draw. Well, opening night.
Speaker Well, I went with the opening line to this with this woman named. Evelyn’s Amir, she was an American and Jewish, despite the name, she was a Strauss, and I don’t know what we saw as one of the equivalents of Swan Lake and so forth. And then came this and she was ready to leave. And I said, no, I know this guy who did this ballet and. It went on and I thought it was a musical comedy, frankly, great fun. The audience went wild. It was terribly unconventional for the ballet in those days. I mean, the days of ballet, Roo’s and all those story ponderous story ballets. And here were young kids having a good time and. Lenny Bernstein’s score, Lenny, to me wrote then, and to this day, no one has written more exciting theater music than Lenny Bernstein and that score is sensational. And it was a marvelous evening.
Speaker Great, what made it different than maybe other ballots, I know you hadn’t seen a lot of valleys, but what many different than other ballots?
Speaker Well, first of all, what made a difference?
Speaker How do you do it? If you could talk about how it reflected what was going on in the world at that time?
Speaker It was different from other ballots. They weren’t wearing tights. They weren’t wearing tutus. They were identifiable people so far as a lot has been made of the fact that it reflected the war. Well, I was in uniform, it didn’t reflect the war to me, I mean, these were not sailors. These were people dancing and sailor suits. You have to be conditioned to the ballet to accept that stylization, I wasn’t and I loved musicals and this was a musical, you know, musicals. And those days nobody was real. Well, nobody was real and fancy free. You know, they all give each other strange looks, which is, I suppose, mime, but to me, a total neophyte audience. I thought, well, I’m having a good time, but I don’t believe one one step of this put it that way.
Speaker So your reaction to the ballet was still positive, though, right?
Speaker I had a great time. I enjoyed myself and as I say, the music carried you and the dancers in it were wonderful. Jerry was very funny. I remember his eyebrows more than anything else. He did some kind of, I think, Spanish rhythm and the eyebrows. That’s what I meant. But remember and Harold Lang did these fantastic spins. And, you know, I thought, how does this is inhuman? It’s better than the circus, but that’s when you’re a beginner at ballet. But you see.
Speaker Three guys in the competition for the two girls. Well, I’ve been to musicals, I seen that. That’s why I suppose I thought it was a musical.
Speaker OK, good. How could you tell? Well, you know what, I’m going to ask you the.
Speaker Since you two were friends, you and Jerry, and it was wartime and you said that you were in the Army. What did he tell you about when he went before the draft board?
Speaker I was in the army and I knew I was homosexual. As it was called, they’re not gay, and I would never.
Speaker Have said to any draft board, I was drafted, I was in the what was called a broomstick army I was in before Pearl Harbor, I it seems to me I was in the army most of my life, five years. My guilt was I never got out of the country, but I knew.
Speaker As it turns out, Jerry Harold Lang, Oliver Smith, Monty Clift. They all. We’re not in the army.
Speaker I never asked why I assumed why, although I heard one of them, I don’t know, they had stomach disorders or. You know, strange Mexican diseases, whatever. I did not fault them. That was their business and Jerry never said anything about.
Speaker But at some point, since you were friends, he must have talked to you about his being gay, its feelings about being gay.
Speaker Jerry spoke to me about. Being gay. Much later on. We both had affairs with Norick and in my case. I’m perhaps overly moral, but I knew.
Speaker I could never be faithful to a woman, and she knew she said she wouldn’t mind if I were unfaithful with a woman, but not with a man. And I thought that was right. And I therefore could not really go on with this thing. I think Jerry had. We were both in psychoanalysis. I guess I had a better analyst in Egypt because my analysts, my I went to him and explained the problem. He was totally ignorant about homosexuality. He said, I don’t care what you are and what you do as long as you live your life with pride and dignity. And that stayed with me my entire life. And that man ended up as the head of the American Psychiatric Association. And during his tenure, they said homosexuality was not a disease or a sickness. So I lucked out. I don’t think Jerry did. He was always betwixt and between. And I think killing himself like mad when we spoke about it is largely a comes. Later when we spoke about it, it was largely to do with Buzz Miller, whom Jerry kept in a back room hiding and. There was a moment later on I was in Paris and Jerry was coming to meet me. He’d been in Copenhagen and I think some I’m not sure anyway. But was there? And I said, Jerry’s coming, he said, I’m I’m leaving. I said, why? He said, he’s coming to see you, not me. And I’ve had enough of that. And he went to London and Gerry arrived and he said, Where’s Buzz? I said, he’s in London and if you want him, you better go after him. And you went after him by that time, Bazargan. And that was that.
Speaker I don’t know if he was always tortured in his emotional relationships, I personally did not think the problem was sexual so much as emotional commitment. I don’t think he could commit to anybody. There was one really horrendous moment, the Erdogan’s gave him a either a 70 years or a seventy fifth birthday party at Maxime’s, and they invited 200 people, mainly their friends. And I remember two or three nights before Jerry call me, we were not very close at the time. And he very begrudgingly said, I know it’s late, but I’d like you to come to my birthday party. And I said, OK, well, at the end of the evening, there was they they had Misso Alapatt and Jerry came out and made a thank you speech and said he was always a loner. And so forth and so on and sitting at this little table, comparatively little where his theater friends was, was his friend Jesse. Who had to sit there and hear this man say, I’ve always been a loner, I remember Phyllis Newman said if I had a gun, I’d shoot him right now.
Speaker And it was. I was so foolish he thought people didn’t know. But they do. To this day. I don’t mean about him that all those married queens. And I think a reprehensible.
Speaker Do you think that he ever made his peace with the whole thing?
Speaker I don’t think he ever made his peace with anything. Homosexuality success. With the relative quality, with the difference between Broadway and ballet, one always impinges on the other in his work and I think that was a problem.
Speaker Did he ever talk to you about you mentioned that you were both in analysis. Did he ever talk to you about that and what he was hoping to achieve by being an analysis?
Speaker No, he never spoke to me about his goals. Yes, once when he formed that ballet company, this is indirectly he talked about doing a ballet without music, which I thought was a terrific idea. But to me, it meant freedom. But instead, he did it accounts. So it was doing it’s a silent music. So what was the point then? You might as well have music. I think he also you know, he was trying to do a musical with no lyrics and no book. He wanted. It to be old Jerry, I think when I realized that, that was when I realized what was behind doing the ballet, but no music and that’s.
Speaker The mark of somebody. Who will never have enough? And I think that was one of his personal tragedies.
Speaker Um, let’s go back a little bit to you talked about fancy free, and you began to speak before about what effect that kind of success had on him. Could you talk about that?
Speaker You want me to repeat the party story, no, no, no. Well, after you did fancy free, he had really enormous success. I don’t think you could have that kind of success today. I mean, it really had an enormous effect, not only in the Valley, but this was a a a world war and people wanted something to lift them up and to believe in. And he was a kid and it was an American dream come true, particularly an American kid doing a European art form. So it was hit very hard. And at first he hid and then he began to change from Jerry Robbins to Jerome Robbins. It was nuance, but you could sense it coming he.
Speaker Would drop people. He expected certain behavior from people. None of this had much effect on me because he was had, as I said, this odd feeling about me and he was always terrific to me. And then we started to work on this. Musical.
Speaker Before you get to that musical, I have a question about you’ll never get let me get to that fucking musical. All right.
Speaker But one thing first, before that musical, I think you saw his production of High Button Shoes, because I read someplace that you talked about that amazing number, the keys, you know.
Speaker Oh, well. Well, you know, he did he did high button issues, which had. Now, I came to Musicales really with balancing in on your toes and then Agnese.
Speaker Agnes, in my opinion, wasn’t.
Speaker In that.
Speaker She wasn’t as good as bouncing or Jerry, and then Jerry did high button shoes and what Jerry had. This is almost unique in American choreographer’s. He was funny, he could be funny and dance really funny and high button shoes has this max Senate thing, which is sheer Feydeau farce. The timing was brilliant and it was bloody funny. And it was a smash and it should have been at the same time there was a dance, I remember, for Nanette Fabray and it’s Poppy, won’t you dance with me? It was the most charming, simple, touching number that almost brought tears. And he could do that as well. And that was part of his. Genius for musicals, I don’t think anybody could stage a musical as well as Jerry Robbins ever to this day.
Speaker Even Steve said that. OK. Tell me about look, mom, Dan.
Speaker So he came to me to do a musical about a an American kid going into the ballet. Really autobiographical, I thought, but so he left it to me to think about it, and I devised an outline and a title, Look Mom Dancing, and he had gotten me an agent. Was his agent. Somebody named Dick Torso, who ended up running a men’s shop in Beverly Hills, shows you what kind of an agent. Anyway, I also was in I had a first analyst named Theodore Rike, who almost made me crazier than I was. He said, You want me to go into this? No. And he said to me. I do an imitation of it, I mean it to be German comes out Japanese, he said, you’ve got to be versatile.
Speaker No, you can’t do that musical.
Speaker So I said to Jerry, I can’t do the musical, which was. Now.
Speaker Stupid, but very bad behavior, and he got furious with me. Not so is that didn’t make me sign a paper giving away all the rights. What was interesting is that years and years later. He almost did a movie for Paramount, call it mom dancing based on that not so good musical he did, and he wanted me to do the screenplay. However, I was blacklisted, so that ended that.
Speaker So speaking of him getting you to sign away your rights, what was he like with money?
Speaker Gerri with money. Personally. I don’t know, because I’ve had no sense of money myself, but when it came to business, he was boy, he was tough about royalties and this he had this hideous contract with Peter Jennings from West Side Story. He was out for every penny and he’d make you pay through the nose. Oh, he was tough. Really tough. Again, I don’t I don’t know whether it was the actual money, but again, he couldn’t get enough. Of anything.
Speaker Tell me about what you remember about two’s company. I’m sure you said to something in.
Speaker He did a review called Two’s Company, and he called me. To come and help them, they were in Detroit. And it was directed by. Julie Jassan, who later, when he was blacklisted, moved from France to France, became a dancer and starred Bette Davis. And featured talk, so they called me to help because I had known Betty Davis in. Hollywood. And she and Jerry hate each other by the time I got there.
Speaker She said this whole show is routine, so Miss Norrick can change her costumes, nor was.
Speaker Really marvelous in her sense of what was necessary in theater when I saw the show, I said, you’re wonderful. She said, how is she? That’s what matters. If she works, the show works. She was she was really smart about that.
Speaker Gerri, and she, as I said, didn’t get along at all, he had done a number for her. It was rather good song called Good Little Girls Go to Heaven and bad little girls go to Magnuson’s and Bonewits and Sax and the opening night. She fainted during the No. And they picked her up and she said to the audience, well, you can’t say I didn’t fall for you. Big laugh. The boys in the number claimed that she went up in the lyrics and that’s why she pretended to faint. But Jerry had a problem with her. If you want to imitate Betty Davis, walk like a pair of bare ordinary people, walk opposite arm, opposite leg, she walks same arm, same leg. That’s how you got to Betty Davis walk. And Jerry, he handled that well. He had the boys walk like bears so nobody could tell the difference. And it was a bad time for him. And she was she was a pisser. She it was freezing in Detroit. You don’t want Patti Davis stories. Oh, tell me. Well, they brought in Jawn Murray Anderson to pull this show together.
Speaker And she had she asked for him, she had come from the theater originally and I think he had directed her in something, but by now he was the king of reviews or the queen, as you see, which way you look at it. And she had put her head out the window in this freezing Detroit weather and screamed, hoping she would get pneumonia at least. Oh, she got she didn’t get laryngitis. She got a raspy throat. She came to rehearsal and she said, Murray, but shall I do about my throat? And he said, you try putting a knife to it. That was the atmosphere around that show. And they were all like that. They were all at each other’s throats.
Speaker And Jerry did a ballet for Nora to a song called Round About. She was very artistic, and I remember at the end of it, she had a yell help, she didn’t have a very good voice for theater and help and TBWA needed.
Speaker So anyway, I want I want to ask you about Norrin, because I know she was very important to him. What was their relationship like? And they had a lot in common. Tell me about them.
Speaker Well, Jerry and Nora and Alisha Alonzo, too, were in a musical called Stars in Your Eyes. They were in the chorus tapping away by an Ethel Merman. I think. So they all came from the same place.
Speaker Jerry was more ambitious than Nora until she.
Speaker Or rather, the tutor came across her. Schine. Drank a lot. They all did. It’s amazing to me how much they drank and danced. And later I found out they all took amphetamines to get to a New York Ballet season, which they did. She was very funny and very smart. And she and Jerry were in one sense, like brother and sister, they were terribly close. I think. They loved each other, certainly in. And nonsexual way. Whether they ever did sexually, I don’t know, but they felt several times that they would be right for each other. She wanted a marriage and he wanted her marriage. She was always attracted to gay men, with the exception of Isaac Stern, whom she found boring and divorced. You can figure that one out for yourself, but they were very, very close. And I remember years later when Jerry and I were out on the outs and it says something about Nora that she told me this story herself. He was giving her a birthday party. I remember she told me this, he said, I don’t have to invite Arthur, do I? And she said no. They were not simple people, but they were close, close, close.
Speaker OK, well, she, like, is a dancer.
Speaker Nora was a. She was the best they used to call her the dues of the dance. She was an absolutely marvelous actress. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody in the ballet who could act the way she could. And that’s because she was that intelligent and knew what acting was, not what dramatizing was. She was in it. I mean, a lot of pillar of fire is walking around. She also. Was technically amazingly strong, she did the positive and Black Swan with the Igor, what was his name? You gave it Igoe, you SkyBridge, and she did those 32 forte’s on a dime and then stood there and looked at the audience, it was hair raising. She was not. Did not have the right body feet, rather, for a ballerina. I saw her do jazelle it’s quite an experience you can’t do Gisele’s Stanislavski because it’s too silly. You have to believe all that ballet world and that was tough for her.
Speaker But she was arresting she also believed the most important person in ballet was the choreographer. That’s what she always cared about. She always thought the dancers service the choreographer, which I don’t think is quite common among too many ballerinas.
Speaker Depends on the choreographer. Yeah, tell me about more in the cage.
Speaker I remember the cage because when I first heard about it.
Speaker I was visiting Jerry in snideness, landing for the day. There was a lunch with his friends, Fizdale and Gold, and they sat there saying the greatest art was ballet and I kept my mouth shut, believe it or not. But anyway, he started to tell me he was doing this ballet.
Speaker The cage and about these Amazons, as you started to describe the Amazons castrating the men, he began to laugh like a man got hysterical, giggling away is the funniest thing in the world.
Speaker And then it turned out he was doing it for Naura. And one day he called me and said.
Speaker Would you come to a run through of the cage? I said, sure. And he said, I’m having trouble with your friend at that time, I guess Norah and I were at it. So I went to see the ballet. And I thought it was stunning. And shocking in that it was so harsh.
Speaker And I said, well, what’s the matter to him?
Speaker He’s what you saw. I said what he said. She’s such a bitch, she’s doing everything I asked her, but in such a way that I can’t criticize what she’s doing wrong. I said, what is she doing wrong? Jerry was not comfortable with words, you know, he had trouble directing actors. Because you have to be specific with dancers, he could show them, he could command them, he could give them non-specific metaphors. Nor was too smart. And so I spoke to him, I said, he says, you’re not doing what he wants. He said she said, I think this ballet’s disgusting. It’s so anti woman and all this castrating thing. He should make it about bugs. And that’s where it came from. And he challenged it and the costumes changed. And the choreography changed only in that it changed in her head what she was playing, so the moment of remorse entered when she does this, the castrating thing, and then just this she’s sorry. And it made a human. The guys was bugs, and I think it made the ballet stronger. He was angry with what she was doing at first, but he was too smart not to see that image better.
Speaker People became political, really in the 30s because of the depression.
Speaker The Communist Party, particularly for Jews, was the only outlet. That was against anti-Semitism and for the working man and most people, he was a curious thing about the Communist Party in the United States, it never numbered more than 80000 because you have to admit you were working class and nobody in the United States wanted to admit there were anything but middle class and except the intellectuals who had money. You want to say they were working class, but. For my myself, I remember I went to a meeting of the Radio Writers Guild and I was in uniform and I was there to agitate for the soldiers to vote. And there was a man named Russell Krauss was Howard Lindsays partner. They wrote Life with Father, and he was in Washington. And he happened to mention to some officer who was big in whatever the army equivalent of radio. And I was writing an Army radio propaganda show.
Speaker He said he thought I was a pinko and they hold me down in Washington and they questioned me and. I could have gone to Leavenworth. Now, he didn’t mean much, but most people, if not members of the party, were on the left most. Because that’s where. You could fight, you know, today we don’t have any people on the left today, it’s a disgrace to be a liberal.
Speaker They were called progressives then and. It was perfectly normal, I mean, everybody I knew. By and large, Bosio liberal. And even the liberals or the people, rather, who weren’t liberals like Lindsay and Krauze. They hired a director named Mike Gordon, who directed my first play Home of the Brave After The Blacklist and the Witch Hunt in Hollywood, they hired him to direct to play in New York because they would not have a blacklist in the theater. That’s how different it is from today.
Speaker Now, at some point after that, in the early 50s, Jerry was called to testify by the House un-American Activities Committee. And you knew him during that time. Did he talk about it with you?
Speaker Jerry told me. Quite some time after. And I remember clearly. He had an apartment on 50 something in Park, and we were sitting there and he told me he testified and that he had named I remember a girl named Letty’s something who was a secretary. And, of course, destroyed her. And.
Speaker He cried.
Speaker And I remember he said to me, I’ll never know. Four years, whether I did the right thing and I said, no, I can tell you now you were shit, but. He was my friend. And he cried and I felt very sorry for him.
Speaker And again. I thought we were friends.
Speaker And then later on, we worked on West Side Story, I found out that when whatever it is in you. That enables you to inform when you don’t have to. I can understand people informing if they’ve got two kids and a family, and I still don’t condone it, but I can understand it. But there was no excuse for Jerry informing Aurelia Kazan, informing they could do anything they wanted in the theater and make buckets of money. They wanted to work in movies. And to me. You’re not evil because you inform, you inform because you’re evil, there’s an evil streak in you and I know that’s very rigid of me, but I also come down on myself because knowing that about Jerry, I worked with him. So I’m not pristine. And I did a picture with Kazan who really screwed me. He was very good at that.
Speaker And the trouble with working with people like that is you validate them, you validate what they have done. And with Gerri, I must say. I spoke to Nora about it.
Speaker And even after we had this conversation, which I’m going to tell you, she almost married him again, she said, oh, he didn’t inform on his own mother if it helped him.
Speaker It’s odd he had that quality. That people who were close to him accepted him. For. All the really quite monstrous things he did, I think, for two reasons. One, he was absolutely brilliant in his work and the other was we all remembered. But he’d been like and there was still every once in a while the giggle, every once in a while you saw that flash. But he was. And also. He was, I thought, always deeply unhappy. I never saw him really totally happy, really. He could enjoy a moment, but he wasn’t happy because he wasn’t happy with himself.
Speaker What do you think was at the core of the unhappiness?
Speaker I don’t doubt that his sexuality had part of it. I think he had a big problem with being Jewish. I think he was. Uncomfortable with his lack of a real education. I think he was. Ambivalent about his parents. About his upbringing. I mean, he wanted Leland Heyward and his wife to be the gentile parents who never had.
Speaker He wanted to belong.
Speaker I think that’s why a lot of minorities become Republicans, they want to belong. And of course, you don’t.
Speaker Well, what do you think about being Jewish that troubled him so?
Speaker In this country, it’s not good to be a minority.
Speaker All this business about being Jewish in the theater and in films, it doesn’t matter. And today, it’s much better, but today.
Speaker 2000, whatever. If you are certainly if you’re a black. And if you’re Jewish and if you’re gay, it is better, but if you have any brains, you know, underneath, you are not accepted. I’m Jerry was very aware of that as well, he should be.
Speaker Do you really think it was only because he wanted to work in pictures that he. People’s names.
Speaker I really think he at that moment, he wanted very much to be in movies. And that’s why he Gerrish. You know, both he and Lenny. I’ve been interviewed by people doing books about Jerry, and they all talk to me about his diaries, his journals, he and when he wrote journals after the fact. I know I’m not going to go into details, but Jerry put in remorse, I don’t think he felt remorse for and for me. I really don’t.
Speaker But you told me that he was crying. But you just told me before that he was crying.
Speaker Oh, he was crying, as he told me. Well, Jerry was a performer.
Speaker I fell for it. It may have been real for that moment, probably was. But, you know, we all go through this, we think, oh, God, how sad I am, cry, cry, cry. All right, what’s up?
Speaker So you don’t think or do you think that it had a lasting effect on him? The fact that he had done this.
Speaker I think that you inform have a lasting effect on anybody and wrote a book, every other page is justifying and forming. Which meant she was troubled by it. Of course, he was troubled by it because people didn’t certain people didn’t accept him. He wanted to be accepted for everything. Nobody is, is that all syndrom?
Speaker You don’t like to hear this, but you’re absolutely right.
Speaker Anyway, um.
Speaker So you started to talk before about that you weren’t so pristine either because after he testified we did West Side Story, well, there was something before that.
Speaker I just want to read you something and ask you a question about it. I read that you wrote this to him, and I’m I think I’m quoting you, this was written when he you, I think, asked him for.
Speaker You were working with him on your play called A Clearing in the Woods.
Speaker Did he have something to do with that and you wrote, I’ve never felt such joy is so sweet. I’ve never felt such joy and excitement working in anything or with anybody as I have and do on this play with you, as you say, we may and probably will have hassles in the bad periods that always seem to come up. But I think that by then we will have such a solid foundation of awesomeness that it won’t matter.
Speaker Tell me what it was in January that would inspire you to write that down.
Speaker Well, clearing in the woods was. I suppose what you could call far out and. It was very odd to me that Jerry wanted to direct it. I didn’t realize he had ambitions in that way, and it called for somebody who had a kind of balletic mind because it was non-linear, non realistic, and it needed somebody very special and.
Speaker We were friendly at that time. He was with Berzon those days and there was that period when we were. This is all Pretty West Side story, and I had accepted his informing. And then pushed it out of my mind and. It just occurred to me at this minute, maybe he was very strongly with me because I had accepted his. But it was back to and also he could be himself with Buzz with me. You know, I was. Totally accepting of that and I. Lived openly. I didn’t flaunt, I didn’t hide. I had been helped by this analyst and I thought, well, you live your life. And and so we were very close and I loved that it took us back to almost 10 years.
Speaker But this speaks about some sort of intimate collaboration, I’m talking about work, collaboration that you two must there must have been something between, you know, the work collaboration really came.
Speaker From something he said. He quoted something that D.H. Lawrence had written about a clearing in the woods, typical of Jerry. He knew a lot of. What was considered avant garde fiction, but of the classics and I was impressed that he knew D.H. Lawrence and he made the relationship, and that meant he had really thought about the play when it changed was when we met with Mary Martin about playing the lead in. Which. They’re the tawdriness and me came out because, yes, she was a big star, but I thought Mary is going to be able to play this, you must be out of your mind. Well, Jerry believes in it and will get on. You know, the terrible thing about being a playwright is to get the bloody play on. And what you do is disgusting.
Speaker And I was rather disgusting.
Speaker Of course, he didn’t do it. She was no fool. OK, Kim Stanley, to show you the difference.
Speaker East Side story, how did it start, Jerry came to Lenny Bernstein, I mean, he wanted to do a contemporary musical version of Romeo and Juliet and. I was thrilled at the idea of working with Lenny because of his music from the time I was jumped out of my seat when I heard that overture and the ballet music. That’s theater music, it’s just so exciting, I never heard anything like it then I thought about it. It was supposed to take place on the Lower East Side during Easter and Passover, is it not a good Jew? I’m not. And. I think she was Jewish and he was Catholic or vice versa. Now he was Jewish. I know that because what made me think of as a play that was even before my time there had been an enormous success call Abey’s Irish Rose and I thought, this is a bizarre Srodes to music. Lenny was overshadowed and so he dropped out and so it fell apart.
Speaker Several years passed during the them Jerry never let up. He always kept bringing it up. And then Lenny and I were both in Hollywood. He was conducting at the shrine, I think. And I was to write a movie, a remake of a Garbo movie called The Painted Veil was to be for Ava Gardner. And then they switch it to Eleanor Parker and I quit, but. I went to see Lenny one day he was staying at the Beverly Hills in grand style and I remember we were sitting at the pool with our legs dangling in the pool. I was outside, so Hollywood and splendid. And we were talking about riots that had been in Los Angeles. They were filled in the morning paper. And those days they were what they call juvenile delinquents, gangs, and they had been Chicanos fighting with, quote unquote, Americans. Well, that seem to be a Romeo and Juliet that made sense. And particularly, Leny love to write Latin American rhythms, and I love to dance them. I do have a permit for dancing that kind anyway. I didn’t think Hollywood in Los Angeles was the proper setting. Nobody can take that place seriously, at least I couldn’t. So I said, let’s put it in New York where I know better, and there are Puerto Ricans and there’s Harlem and so forth. We call Jerry. He was thrilled. I think have been thrilled to be willing to set it in China. He just wanted to do it. But then it became a West Side story.
Speaker I know, but he had the idea of doing a contemporary Romeo and Juliet. Did he ever tell you where that idea how that idea occurred to the art?
Speaker Gerry’s idea apparently came from Monty Clift. Whom he was having to do with and suggests that that would be a good contemporary musical.
Speaker And it turned out to be not bad. Did he tell you how it came up between the two of them?
Speaker No, Jerry. Was very secretive about Manti. Maybe Monty was secretive about Jerry, I don’t know.
Speaker So anyway, now that we get how that sequence happened, the credit reads based on a conception.
Speaker Well, one one I remember in the summer and my agent, who was a man named Harold Friedman, who was. One of the most wonderful people I’ve met in the theater, he brought me up in the theater, what standards he had, and he said, Jerry wants the credit conceived by. And I said, well, it was his idea to do a contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet by.
Speaker Then we get to Washington, we open, it’s a big success and two things happen. One was we were given the keys to the city. Jerry Lenni.
Speaker And me, not Steve Sondheim, who was because he was not known, and when they presented them to us on television, they said this is what the show does for juvenile delinquency, which was your idea, was it not, Mr. Robbins? And he said, yes. And Lenny and I looked at each other as Jérome go on television and say, no, it wasn’t. And that was that. In the reviews in Washington, she was not mentioned, same reason he was not known, and Lenny made one of the most magnanimous gestures I’ve ever seen in the theater. He said to Steve, the credit is an important they had done the Steve hadn’t wanted to do the show from the beginning. I had introduced him. I thought he’d be thrilled. But he wasn’t because he wanted to have his own scar on Broadway before he’s 30. Everybody wants to do things before they’re 30. I can tell you what I’m smiling at anyway. Oscar Hammerstein convinced him, and by the way, he was not only not his own score, not his own lyrics, he was doing them with Lenny, sharing the credit and the writing. But Oscar Hammerstein convinced him it might be a good idea to work with the three of us. So he did. He certainly did most of the lyrics and certainly the witty ones are all his. There are others I don’t think he’d want credit for, but Lenny said to him, the credit means nothing to me and it’s important for you. I will remove my name. If you see the original sheet music, it has both their names. But he removed his name, so. With that, I went to Jerry and I said they just met, they don’t know each other a year and we’ve known each other all these years. And it would make a difference to me if you remove this conceived by credit, because it doesn’t mean what we thought it meant, he said, let me think about it. And he came back the next day. He said, it’s too important to me. And that was that. And it was the beginning of a rupture between us. I think looking back, I made too much of it. I don’t think in the end. Billing is that important? I know everybody in the theater, Gerri, was insane about it on Gypsie out of a box around his name, and we didn’t go into rehearsal until he got it. But I think I carried on too much and it really wasn’t worth it. And he’s got it to this day and I don’t care.
Speaker No, I just inside I went back and looked at my record album from the original the original production to see what it said. The funny thing is I’m literally reading to you what it said. It says, based on a conception of.
Speaker Well, I thought, oh, I think I was a little I’d like to say one thing about that, whether you keep it or not. I think that was the beginning of conceived by and musicals have suffered to this day so much by directors putting their concept. But it doesn’t come from the material.
Speaker They have to make it their own.
Speaker And should be in in the material. They don’t do it. That’s why we’ve had all these terrible failures of revival’s.
Speaker Speaking of you, OK, Tom, was Wearside difficult to get produced and why?
Speaker West Side was to be produced originally. By Gerald Crawford, who was considered a liberal progressive producer, and Roger Stevens. Roger was a real estate man who loved the theater. Didn’t know much about it, and he believed in West Side Story and we had enormous trouble raising money.
Speaker And we had an audition one night. At the home of a woman named Bea Lawrence, I think she was married to somebody who owned or drank Seagrams and it was on the East River and there was no air conditioning and it was hot and we all did it. And I think she did it and Larry did it. And we laid an enormous egg, not a penny. And Roger was going to London the next day. He said to me, I think Cheryll has grown a little cold on this, but I’m with it.
Speaker She waited till he left. And she called a meeting. In her office and we all trooped up, this was in the summer. She said. By the way, she had said to me, you should have them say that’s how the cookie crumbles, which was said in those days. And I said, Carol, I have to be very careful about using vernacular that I don’t think the last. The one.
Speaker Word of vernacular that I did use the school, which had a very different meaning then, and I changed the meaning in West Side, I knew somehow that that word would always be with us. What it means today, it isn’t what it meant then or isn’t what it means in West Side. But she was like that. Anyway, the book was finished. The score was half finished. She said, I can’t go ahead with this because the book is no good. So leaving me there with my free friends and a wonderful woman named Sylvia Mazola. Who was Roger’s fundraiser, and I said to her, does Roger agree with you about this? She said, oh, yes, and Sylvia sitting in a corner going. So then I got on my oh, God, I can get on a very self-righteous white horse, I said, Cheryll. You are an immoral woman. Roger never said that and you know it, and I got up, my comrades followed me out and we went to reconnoiter to have a drink at the Algonquin and they wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have a time. We ended up, I think, on Sixth Avenue and Steve said, call Roger in London.
Speaker And I called him from a phone booth and he said, I’m sticking. I’ll be back. He came back. We wouldn’t know what to do, they were doing musicals at the city center then for two weeks we thought we’d try to get it on for two weeks with that desperate. No, nothing happened. Roger came back. He couldn’t do anything. And then another flug.
Speaker It had been turned down literally by every producer in New York, including Prince and Griffith, How Prince and Bobby Griffith. But brought up by George Abbott, whom they revered, and he had read it and said it was no good. And they were producing a show of his called New Girl in Town, which they thought was going to be the greatest thing that came down the pike. They opened the box and it did not do well. Steve called how to commiserate about, oh, we couldn’t get the show on house said, oh, this we’re in trouble. And he said, send us the book. So they sent it and they gave it to George Abbott again. He said it’s no good. They thought he must be wrong because he was wrong about a new girl in town. That’s the way thing goes in this here. So they came down to New York. And the score was played for them. And they said, we’ll do it and they immediately cut the budget. And by the way, they did a wonderful production job, but Rogers stuck with it. He provided the front money and that’s how the bloody thing get on. Roger had one more. Unfortunate experience when you visit a theater, nobody wanted to give it a theater, Roger’s real estate partner was a man named No Damn, I wish I could remember his name. Anyway, they owned what was then called the aunt was the Virginia. I think it’s now the August Wilson. He said, Bob, somebody it’ll come to me, you can cut it. And he said, I can get us the aunt. So he went to his partner who said, I’m not going to give you a theory for that fucking opera, and that was the end of that, we got the Winter Garden because it was a white elephant. Nobody ever wanted to do a show in a theater on Broadway in those days. That’s how we got it.
Speaker It’s amazing. And today, of course, it’s one of the most desired theaters there is.
Speaker OK, so the show is going on and everything was written and you were ready to go into rehearsal and Jerry Robbins had a surprise for you.
Speaker Yes, we’re ready to go in rehearsal. And then Jerry Robbins announced he loved the book so much. You a director and he wouldn’t choreograph. And we all threw up thought, including Hal and Bobby, I mean. I mean, Jerry Robbins was the best. This is what you wanted him for and how Bobby handled it brilliantly.
Speaker Delicately, gently, but it worked. They said they would give him a choreographer. They also gave him eight weeks of rehearsal, which was more than any show. And P.A. and he did the whole show. Thank God. And the whole experience of writing this show. Was just wonderful, everybody. Everybody was. We are the only discussions about what kind of theater will be doing. I think we called it Lyric Theater for want of something else. I remember at the beginning, suddenly Jerry came to me and he said, I can’t do the prologue. I said, why, and this is very indicative of why Jerry was wonderful as a choreographer. He said, what are they dancing about? So I wrote a scenario he did not do, just steps. Unlike most of the people did five, six, seven, eight and go. That’s why his dances were really different from everybody. And he knew how to stage a musical number, as I said, he wasn’t good with actors. He had a lot has been made about the gangs not talking to each other. The two groups, the jets and the sharks. Well, it’s perfectly true, but these were kids who knew nothing politically. And they would met backstage and he said saying to them. Your Jews and your Nazis, they didn’t know what that meant. And I had the temerity to go to Palin, Bobby, I said. I don’t think he knows how to direct. He doesn’t he may know what he wants without articulate. So they said, well, you say that to him. I said, Sure. So I did. And now here again, I learned something from Jerry Robbins. He said, OK, you sit by me and tell me what I learned was Jerry. Like anybody who is really secure in his own town will take help from somebody he thinks can give it. And after a while, I realized that you can’t do it by proxy and I had to trust him and I did and it worked out well, it was one time in Washington, which is very funny. I was going to New York and I had an infected tooth and I had been giving him notes and I gave him a note, I said, if you’re not careful, this will be a show about bad hands, because the image of hands that’s in the balcony scene and is in the meeting saying he had the hands were all over the show. By the time I came back, Don.
Speaker He knew.
Speaker Again, he wasn’t afraid to change. People were you know, they think it shows they’re not good. That never bothered him.
Speaker But he must have respected you because he didn’t respect a lot of people and you really only lost.
Speaker Oh, he did. He did respect me, but he knew.
Speaker I wanted it to work for the show. The one thing we had enormous trouble with out of town was that second act boughey, he kept changing it and changing it and changing it and then. There was one eye, the lighting was by Jeanne Rosenthal, who lit ballets and in the alley scene where they do America. I said to her, Jane, there’s so little comedy in this show and you need like. To play comedy, she the lights as bright as they can be. I said, no, they’re not. They bump up for the number, you know that. She said, no, I don’t. I said, let’s stand together. So we stood and they burnt up. She said, OK. Well. Opening night in Washington, they were out again and she sent me a wire telegrams that I had in those days, Shakespeares clowns did laughs in the dark.
Speaker He did something. With that ballet.
Speaker Because it was not good after your great success in Washington started out fine. It was such a hit and they wanted a no for three, the kids and Steve and Lenny wrote a song called Kid Stuff, I think. And they played it and everybody was mad for it but me. And I said it makes it a musical comedy, and that’s all I said, not a word was said, it was out. I mean, that’s how we were in tune. Well. The ballet one night in Philadelphia. The ballet begins with Tony and Maria singing. Some cockamamie stuff that leads into somewhere and then you have the ballet and they come out of it. And he picks her up and they go back to the bed and they finish singing, then comes the well one night in Philadelphia. They roll out of the ballet and not with a blackout, and it brought the house down and the lights came back, he’s putting her on the bed and they’re singing. You didn’t hear a word of it. And they finished the song Silence. Well, the ballet got a big hand. Jerry wanted to keep it. Stephen, they weren’t very they I don’t think they were even talking to him at that point, so they asked me to speak to him. So I did. And he said, I see the point and he took it out. It was back opening night. And when he ran up the aisle saying, I’ll kill the son of a bitch.
Speaker Just so the theater is theater can really be, which.
Speaker Yeah, um, tell me about the collaboration between Jerry and Bernstine. What was it like?
Speaker The collaboration between Lenny and Jerry was curious, they were. Totally in tune.
Speaker And I can tell you Lenny’s attitude toward Jerry when Lenny died, I. Did his memorial at the. Majestic Theater, I had to persuade Jerry to speak Jamie Lynn, his daughter, asked him, he said, I’m tired of talking about him. And I said to him, Jerry, you really must. So he came and he was wonderful. But when I introduced him, all I said was. Linda Bernstine was afraid of two things, God and Jerry Robbins, and he was I don’t know why, but he was really afraid of them. They did Dybek, which was bad.
Speaker And it distorted his music and what was the fingers snapping doing there? But Jerry wanted it and Lenny went along and with West Side. They were physically in June, I mean. Jerry would stand behind Lenny the piano in his hands, on his shoulders, and you could tell he was kind of with the music, are urging the music. It was a marvelous collaboration.
Speaker But there was always that element of fear. Jerry didn’t need Lenny’s approval when he needed Jerry’s approval. Jerry and Lenny were very different. They were both wild egos, but. Lenny, it’s funny, he was he was marvelous one on one, I just loved him.
Speaker Hit all is insecurity, he once said to me. They say, I’m not the best conductor in the world, I say I’m a.. They say I’m not the best pianist in the world. I say I write classical music. They say I don’t write the best classical music. I write Broadway theater music. A lot has been said, that West Side story. Innovative techniques. I’m in the minority, I don’t think so. What I think we did was use all the techniques that had been developed better. And I think we did it that way because the goal was to do what the story dictated in the terms we were telling it, and it happened in the moment. It wasn’t planned. Even a thing like.
Speaker Now, nobody wanted that put me. And there I was being Shakespearean, I felt that you had to relieve have some relief from all his dead bodies in this tragedy and Shakespeare, he had the poorest scenes in the cloud. That’s how I sold it to them by being very highfalutin in talking about Shakespeare. So they said, OK, we put Krupke in in the movie. They shifted Krupke. As somebody said. Steve and Jerry originally wanted not that I know, maybe they did. I don’t think it works because it makes them seem a musical comedy gang.
Speaker And if you put cool after the deaths, which they do in the movie, well, then they’re Calice. And I don’t think it worked at all. We developed it as it went. The. This style came out of. For example, America. It started out. You know, Peter Gennaro did all the choreography for Chita Rivera and the Sharks. And then Jerry came in. And made what was really good, brilliant. And he did it by being Jerry.
Speaker You couldn’t put it into words, this is a final touch, the number was supposed to be about the two of them. I mean, the boy that shocked. Well, sorry, boys and girls. And it didn’t quite work. And Jerry who didn’t quite work and then I prided myself today said, well, we’ll make it about the girls.
Speaker And I had to write the shortest introduction to a song in history. And where is the boys go off by saying, so my brain is no, just Mariuccia Zitter, et cetera. One of them says, etc., It’s a very pretty name, we have very peculiar names in Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico and so on. I mean, shameless, but it works.
Speaker How involved was Jerry in the translation from what you began with Romeo and Juliet, roughly, how involved was he in figuring out what would be what would not be capped?
Speaker Not at all. Not at all. And I did an outline. Of the show and the one thing from my own work that I’m most proud of and got enormous praise in London. Because I know Shakespeare. Was the motive for the message not getting through instead of a plague? It was prejudice, which is the theme of the show. But we took the story as I did try to keep the hands thing from the balcony scene in the scene, that’s almost the only kind of directly related Shakespeare. Oh, another thing. Gerri talked about. The whole Rosalina thing in the beginning, I thought. That if he’s been fooling around with a lot of other girls, and that’s just makes her another girl, Maria. He wanted that, and I want to have. And it was stayed out. However. It was his idea. He said, we have to introduce Tony before the gym. That was his, so I wrote a scene.
Speaker I mean, that’s how closely we worked and as I say, I wrote the prologue, he did the steps we all fed each other and nobody was thinking about this is me. This is you with all us. You wrote this thing, but then, if I’m not mistaken, those your words were then taken out of the script and put into Steve so well, what happened was they just started to sing a song and he had Tony had a speech about something’s coming. So they put that into a song, but why not look? It was Krupke ends with Hey, Officer Krupke, krup you, the scene ended that way, they put it in the song, why not? You need it more to end the musical number than to end the scene.
Speaker The book Grider.
Speaker I think it’s a reason more playwrights aren’t book writers has to really take. Back-Seat. Amusical is a musical. The music is the most important. I think the reason. West Side Story. Is. What it is today, there are two reasons. One is I think it is the best love story ever told and I think the score is absolutely sensational. Forgive me. I don’t think it’s the dancing. It’s been done with other dancers and it works. But it’s that music and that story.
Speaker Why did you lie? I’m just curious about why don’t you let Maria.
Speaker I let Maria live because. I saw that girl has too much strength to commit suicide. Which I also thought was. Phony. I didn’t believe it. I didn’t think she would. So I also thought, right now we need a big area.
Speaker So I wrote this dummy lyric, and Lenny delayed putting it to music, and we opened in regard to Philadelphia before New York and still hadn’t been written. And to this day, what she recites is a dummy lyric.
Speaker Theatre is wonderful.
Speaker How was it you talked a little bit about the prologue before, how is it finally decided that the prologue would be in music and movement rather than in laying the pipe, as you would a normal story?
Speaker I think that was decided at the very beginning. I don’t remember how I think we wanted to set them. Without a lot of exposition, because I knew there was going to have to be exposition afterwards about this and that and the police and so forth and. Also, it’s a musical and you have to get them in the first five minutes. And that’s some of the best choreography, Jeffrey Zients curious, I think he knows it’s going to be a revival and I directed it, redirected a production for London a few years ago. I wanted Jerry to do it, but he was. Very second, he asked me to do it and I changed some things in that. Prologue, for example, to hit a gang member with a sack of flour was fine for 1957. I made it a blackjack, things like that.
Speaker Could you talk a little bit more about how the two of you work together on the opening? How did you actually develop that?
Speaker When he came to me and said he couldn’t do the prologue because he didn’t know what they were dancing about, I wrote a scenario about these boys who thought the turf was theirs. The others come in and the whole thing leading to this specific actions that he could dramatize insteps like with the grabbing of the kid and piercing the air. That it’s only Jerry Robbins who could put it in the so-called stack sailing step and you saw visually whose territory was whose and why, it’s a rather simple, but it but I made it specific for him. That was all I wrote it, then he took it over and I remember the first time he showed it to me. And I got tears and he said. That this is also quite wonderful of Jerry. He says that’s because you’re seeing your work for the first time. I said, no, it’s seeing your work and I meant it. And I think he meant it and that’s how close we were then. Them days is rare.
Speaker So tell me about the rehearsal process, what was it like in that room?
Speaker Well, the rehearsal depends how you look at it. I mean, I to me, some of it struck me as so funny. I came into that. We rehearsed in the Hillinger theater. I think I went back. I came in the stage door and there was his assistant, his assistant, Jerry Friedman, turned out to be a very good director. He was on a chair outside a closed dressing room door listening through the transom. I said, what are you doing? He said, they’re rehearsing the balcony scene. I want them to have privacy. Needless to say, I thought I’m in a Looney Tunes land and I don’t know how to explain that one. The most and Jerry had plastered backstage with clippings from newspapers about all the gangs, and he had gotten them revved up and they wore the colors. What they thought was the colors, I mean, I don’t know and they didn’t talk to it, it was all the tension was wonderful. It was a little too hyper in that. It was a lot of yelling and screaming at each other, but. You know, you don’t do that at all the time. There was something else before rehearsals, Lenny and Jerry had gone to do research for the dance, the gym.
Speaker They went to see these kids dancing. And one of the things they came back with was that all the boys in these gangs wore a flower in the cuff of their trousers. So I said, you got to be kidding, we we do that, they tried it and of course, you know what it look like? Florida becomes a gangland.
Speaker So when not using. What was Jerry like himself during the rehearsals, I mean, in terms of how he related to the company?
Speaker He was very edgy. I saw an. In one instance. I thought dreadful it was. In the scene leading up to the rumble when. They antagonize Tony. And Jerry, we’re not Larry Curry and called him a faggot. Which I found wildly offensive.
Speaker For obvious reasons, for one not obvious reason I won’t go into.
Speaker Which I tell you. Jerry had stolen Larry Kurds’ boyfriend. Grover Dayle, disgusting. And don’t you put this on that tape. But it was just awful.
Speaker So was he only like that to Larry or was he ready, but another thing happened in Arthur.
Speaker Another thing happens in Washington. He had been very difficult with Carol Lawrence and she behaved very well. And then he came to me one day, I did a lot of his bidding. And he said. Tell Carol I really like her. So I said, Jerry, he said, well, try. I thought, OK. So.
Speaker I went to Carol and I said, you know, Jerry really likes you. She said, this is the first time you’ve lied to me. So that later they the dancers adored him.
Speaker The other people, not so. And.
Speaker He was not. He had his pets. Whom he was wonderful to. And then the others whom he was not. The dancers would take shit from. And a funny thing happened, though, Dave Winters and a couple of others. We’re busted outside of rehearsals for Smoking Pot. They called me. At three o’clock in the morning, it helped him get then call him. And they talked a lot about fagots. All that element was. Distasteful.
Speaker Um, you wrote I think this is from your book, um, what made Jerry Starr so brilliant for his humor and his use of dance to express emotion. Can you elaborate on say that again?
Speaker What was in the examples you wrote? What made Jerry’s touch so brilliant were his humor and his use of dance to express emotion.
Speaker That’s not about West Side Story.
Speaker I think it might well, there isn’t much humor in West Side Story, even in the prologue.
Speaker I see the humor in Krupke. I really think is in the lyric and the dialogue is very little funny action. It’s it’s a very savvy musical number, he boy, he knew how to get a hand and I won’t say he did it, we would do anything he knew better than to do anything. He knew what would work, and he did it very well. With expressing emotion, you see it in all his work. He isn’t dancing particularly.
Speaker He was not that good. But doing it in a dialogue scene. It’s funny, he didn’t quite know. Isn’t here quite right?
Speaker It’s very on one of the things I thought he did so brilliant in West Side Story, you know. The last half of the second act has no musical number. People don’t realize it, the only thing that comes close to it is the taunting and the attempted rape. It has the jukebox underneath, which was says and it’s wonderful and makes it thrilling. And he does that kind of thing. And that’s emotional. That’s a different kind of emotion. He did that wonderfully. And, you know, the way they reach out the hands is delicate emotion in the cha is all that is beautiful.
Speaker I’m going to read you something that Abbott wrote. He wrote it about another show, and I’m going to ask you if this is how it was for you on Wesser. He wrote about the collaboration on on the town we all work together on this show in the way I love to work, each putting forth his opinion, yet remaining objective and subordinating everything to the main end, working with happy excitement, with passionate enthusiasm and a wonderful feeling of warmth and togetherness. Would you say that describes the collaboration on West Side Story? Yes, no. And why?
Speaker Well, we all as I say, we all work together very happily and together on that. And and but you have to remember. The four people are a little different from the people on the George Abbott show, whom I assume were Betty and Adolph. And here you have. Lenny, Steve, who is quite dour.
Speaker And. May.
Speaker All of us could be very acerbically and funny. And.
Speaker Challenging each other. I think there was a great deal of challenging, not in an antagonistic way, but in the sense to bring out the best. I think that’s what we were really most about, bringing out the best in each other to get this show the best it could be. I don’t think maybe I’m only speaking for myself. I assume the show at best would run three months if we were lucky. I never thought it would be it would succeed. That wasn’t the goal. The goal was something that is too bloody rare in the theater to be good. That was the goal. And maybe they thought it would work better than I did, but we all want to. Please, dear God, let it be good.
Speaker I know there were some problems with the original set, Oliver said something about the second act Vallet Jerry wanted to stage all of us.
Speaker Smith was a very good friend of Jerry’s and of mine and quite a character.
Speaker When we he showed us the first designs. Steve Sondheim made some comment and he said, oh, shut up, you don’t know anything. That went over very big with Steve, you never forgot Steve’s an injustice collector. Anyway, I pointed out to him that in the. Seeing the killer killer killers seen Chino has to find a gun. There wasn’t any piece of furniture, any place where you could find the gun. And Oliver said, what gun? So explain what gun what he did was tack a little cheesy miniature chest of drawers against a wall, and that was where he found the gun. Then we get to Washington and the sets. Come on. And the drug set came on lumber, on green, bilious, green vomit, green, diarrhea, green, and by that time.
Speaker We will borage.
Speaker Later in the show when it came for the seller scene. He had a job that looked like Rube Goldberg pipes and the legend began by Nora Kay, who was there, that I went up and peed on it. I didn’t, but I threatened to. That spread but didn’t spread was before the ballet. All of us had a box set. There was no way to get the bed off. And Jerry said to the master carpenter, did you ever saw? He said, yes, give it to me. And he saw it and he took it off through the hole there that never got around. But with the drugstore said it was just hideous and everybody just sends it on. Oliver and Oliver, my dear friend, said, well. The book was so bad I wasn’t inspired. And Irene shower of all people. Who had been busy sipping what we thought was water, but it was vodka. But anyway, she got on stage and said, I think everybody should go home to bed and we’ll talk about it in the morning. The way it was solved was the next morning Oliver called me, say, Cookie, we’re the only two people with any brains around here. Let’s have breakfast and see what we can do. And we did, and it was nothing you could do about that, said, the one drop that was changed over and over was for the second act, Ballay first one look like the swamps of Jersey.
Speaker And remember what it ends up as.
Speaker Can you talk a little bit about Jerry’s directing of the show and the kind of he had, I think a little bit of a cinematic sensibility even at that point in the sense that he would move things along very well? I’m thinking particularly of the beginning of when Maria tries on the dress and it turns into the dance at the gym.
Speaker Well, one of the most wonderful visual things is an accident. We were in the theater and he had planned. A wonderful visual moment, anyway, she tries on the white dress and she starts to turn and then some Lennie’s marvelous music and the girls come on turning. And the gym set was supposed to come in and then the curtain of paper. Well, it happened to catch on a pipe and it came in then and everybody yelled, keep it in and keep it in, and it’s a wonderful theatrical effect. He was looking even then, I think, to blend one scene into the other. And he did it where he could he had a marvelous eye, and as I say, I don’t think anybody could stage a musical better than Jerry Robbins.
Speaker OK, what do you remember about opening night?
Speaker Opening night in New York is not one of my happiest memories. They came into the Winter Gardens, so were coming into a cathedral. It was the temple of art. Which, of course, is a killer. They didn’t react at all. Until America that finally started the show and even so. I don’t think this show went very well, the audience. You know, when you tell them they’re coming to see art, who wants to see art, you know, the patrons, the Demet. But not at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway. And I don’t think it went too well and personally. Lenny and Steve and I weren’t talking to Jerry.
Speaker He had behaved.
Speaker It was almost Jekyll and Hyde, the way he turned after the show became a success in Washington.
Speaker He became this. It was his show. Before that, it had been our show and it was. He became unapproachable, finally, even with me. Because I remember when the show was frozen in Philadelphia.
Speaker I said to him, Jerry, I’m going back to New York. He said, OK, baby, when Jerry was fine with me, he’d call me baby. And I said, no. I’m going to tell you now, using one of my terrible favorite words, I think you are immoral and inhumane.
Speaker And with so much bad behavior.
Speaker I don’t think it very much.
Speaker That made me me I don’t know, he didn’t say anything, I didn’t get a chance, I walked out and.
Speaker It was he was Jerry could be very put the blinders on. It was his show and that’s what counted and why he wanted to be his success, and it was.
Speaker What is your assessment of West Side Story as a theatre piece now?
Speaker West Side Story has become a classic. As I said, I really think the basic reason is the music. And this story.
Speaker It’s. It’s strange.
Speaker That they talk about all the influence of this one on that one, I wish they had been more influence, the influence of Lenny Bernstein of musical theater. I think that musical influence is so lacking in our theater.
Speaker It’s a it’s passion.
Speaker And that show has it doesn’t have enough humor, but it sure has passion, it’s about something. It cares and you care. And I find that missing in this area today, and I wish there were more of a.
Speaker What would you say was new about West Side Story?
Speaker What was more new? I think what was new about West Side Story? Was where before a musical you find. The first act ending with two bad dead bodies on the floor, the second act ends with only one let down. I suppose it’s about prejudice. There’s an attempted rape. There’s a bigotry. What it says is that anything can be used in musical theater that I think was an enormous contribution.
Speaker I’m just talking about Jerry himself. Would you say in working with him that he was more of a realist or a perfectionist, and what effect do you think that had on the people around him?
Speaker I think, Jerry. Had in his mind. What he wanted something to look like me like on the stage, and he worked very hard for it. His problem was he wasn’t as articulate. As he might have been, so it was hard for him to explain, he was a perfectionist, he didn’t want to deal with what was there unless he was forced to. But he was certainly a perfectionist, and I think there’s always been a problem in his work. The conflict between art and Broadway, I’m using those terms largely, but I think you know what I mean. It influenced his work in the ballet. Where suddenly you said, oh, I wish you hadn’t done that, and suddenly. I think the second act, Ballay. Gets to pretentiously artistic unnecessarily, we lose the people, we’re going off into ballet. That’s not right for what is really a gritty show. And they’re dancing about dancing suddenly.
Speaker Did you feel as a fellow artist, that he was secure in his talent or not?
Speaker And I thought Jerry was very secure in his talent. I. Unfortunately, the only place was he thought he could do more than he could, he could not really direct plays, he could not direct actors. I mean, he did. A mother courage with Anne Bancroft, Barbara Harris was the only one who was very good and Zora Lampard and it was. Unfortunately.
Speaker Appreciate it, words. They didn’t come easily to him. And you cannot direct a play unless you can direct actors, and I really don’t think he could.
Speaker He, uh.
Speaker I’m curious about this, you said when you left him that you told him he was immoral and inhumane, inhumane.
Speaker But you worked with him again by then.
Speaker Listen, I.
Speaker I said he was an informer. I said he was immoral and inhumane.
Speaker And then came. They asked me to do Gypsy.
Speaker And our collaboration on Gypsie, from my point of view, was much better. Because it was totally professional, I did not think of him as Jerry. This was Jerome Robbins. He had said he would not do Gypsy unless I wrote the book and.
Speaker He had nothing to do with it. He was. Casting and rehearsing. And then finally trying out the London Company of West Side Story. Julie Stein, Stephen Sondheim and I.
Speaker We’re alone by ourselves. We had a sensational time, it rode very fast, nobody was there. And I think that’s why I think the closer anything is to one vision, the better it is. And that’s very difficult in a musical, which has to be a collaboration. I think that was a marvelous collaboration. And again, with shared with words, Steve and I went to Manchester not for Gypsy, but for West Side. And Gypsy was almost written by then. And Steve played. We thought, oh, Jerry’s going to love this. He played Everything’s Coming Up Roses. And when he finished, Jerry said, But her name’s Rose. How do you you just a tongue tied as I am now, what do you say? Don’t you get it? You can’t say that it’s demeaning, but he didn’t get it.
Speaker He just. I don’t know words. Sometimes baffled him. Jerry was involved in Gypsie before I got there. David Merrick was going to produce Gypsie and. I don’t know when Leland Heyward came into it.
Speaker I guess because David wanted Jerry to direct and choreograph because Jerry was a class act and David wanted some class. And. Betty comes in and Adolph Green had written a book or I don’t know how much of a book they’ve written and David didn’t like it and he got rid of them.
Speaker And then because Jerry wanted me.
Speaker He asked me to do it and. Actually, Leland did, Leland took me to lunch at the colony, which is the class is drawing down to impress me. Leland was very into that. And he and Jerry adored each other. They really do. And I had read her book, which I thought was fun. And I said, I’m not interested in this writing about the striptease queen of America, and Lehman said, Oh, you’ll think of something. Tomorrow, you want me to tell this whole bloody story now?
Speaker Well, I’ll tell you what I am curious about you and Jerry had opposing ideas about, so.
Speaker I found and came up with an idea and agreed to do it, and Jerry was off doing his West Side Story thing, I didn’t know that he had, again, a concept. To me it was about. The mother, actually, but I think gypsys about is the need for recognition, then Jerry came back and he to him it was to be a panorama of vaudeville and burlesque.
Speaker Well, it wasn’t didn’t faze him. They hired.
Speaker Jugglers, acrobats, burlesque people. And I said, what are they doing? But, you know, he was Jerome Robbins and was Leland Haywood and David didn’t enter into it much. And then they got into the show.
Speaker Well, what are those people going to do? And Jerry and I, we were. It was a professional relationship.
Speaker There was no antagonism, no acrimony, we I’m fine polite oh, I left at the beginning, we’re ready to go into rehearsal in my contract. I had said I guess it still rankled about this concept thing, that everybody had to have the same billing. I didn’t care what size, what color, where, OK?
Speaker Bob Fosi had had a box around his name in some show. Jerry Meric called me and said, ha ha ha, Youlus Jerry wants a box around his name. I said, Youlus, I have my contract. He said, Well, he won’t put the show in rehearsal. I said, that’s your problem. Next day. Still not in rehearsal. Third day miracles means what you do lose. I said, boy, he said, I know you. You’re practical. You’ll agree.
Speaker I said, right, but you have to pay, and I asked for an enormous percentage. Of the producer’s share, he gave it to me.
Speaker Well, later, I found out that Leland Hayward’s contract called for him to deliver Ethel Merman and Jerry Robbins and he hadn’t delivered Jerry Robbins. So it came out of Leland, who ended up with backing like one tiny little piece. Jerry and I never mentioned it. And typical of Jerry, there’s a line.
Speaker In the beginning.
Speaker Of West Side Story at the very beginning about stool pigeons, he never said, boo, let it go. There’s a line in Gypsy about billing till we get to know we had last, but I made them put a box around it. He didn’t say anything. And that shows the practical side of him. He didn’t care, he got his box seat and say what you want. So we go out of town.
Speaker In the hotel room seen. It ended originally as written with Lewis singing Little Lamb, which was establishing her as a character.
Speaker Jerry wanted a no, he had no production numbers in the show, so he cut it, I had all those acrobats.
Speaker The hotel turned out to be a vaudeville hotel, and they all came to us and world and to God knows what I must say, laid an egg number, didn’t work because the audience didn’t care. But the next day at rehearsal, Julie Stein walked on the stage very narrowly, he was and he said, Mr. Robbins, I have informed my lawyers that unless a little lamb is back in the show tonight, my entire score goes day.
Speaker And he left and the score went back. And I mean, Little Lamb went back. And the other thing was Jerry said to me, I want a burlesque show. I said, Jerry. If either Rose or Louise is not on stage, Louise becomes Gypsy.
Speaker The audience won’t care. He said, I want a burlesque show. I wrote an absolutely filthy one. And they put it in I don’t know how long it was, it died. Jerry doesn’t say anything to one day he said to me, Steve says, you have 20 minutes cuts in the show.
Speaker I said, That’s right. He said, When are you going to take him? I said, when you cut the burlesque in those kiddie numbers, they’re too long.
Speaker OK, baby. And that was done.
Speaker Whose idea was it to have the girls grow up on stage and can you explain how that happened?
Speaker One of the things that shows how one collaborator can use another collaborator’s idea and make it better comes with that use of. Let me entertain you throughout the show and then where the girls grow up, what I had written was when before the hotel room scene, their singing Let me entertain you and you get these. But today is a strobe and they grow up in the No. Jerry took that and changed it to Suza, the Stars and Stripes, because musically he knew that was much more exciting music and it was and it works like gangbusters.
Speaker So the idea for them growing up on stage was your idea?
Speaker Yeah, yes, it was my idea. But as I say, he made it better. And I think that’s the way a good collaboration works like that. The strip has a strip. We had this fabulous.
Speaker So-called gypsy run through its winter garden one Sunday, and the show was they went crazy, except that the strip, he hadn’t finished it and we opened out of town. And the strip didn’t work and it didn’t work, partly because Jerry had.
Speaker Lost interest in Santa Church and many lost interests and church, she lost interest in the number, didn’t want to do anything. And Julie Stein came up with the number of undressing so she could pop one dress off and have another.
Speaker That helped. And then I wanted her to talk because that’s what Gypsy did. He wouldn’t have it, he said Sandra can’t talk. He wouldn’t try it. So.
Speaker She said very little with nothing, and then she was replaced by Julian Mouret, who started talking, and then in the subsequent revival’s, which I directed, she talks up a storm.
Speaker Tell me about all I need now is the girl which you call you wrote was it was a gym and.
Speaker Well, I’m going to do. Yes, I think one of the best numbers ever done for a musical and it’s odd, Jerry, really lost interest. He’s his main interest in Gypsy, which Ethel. And despite what I said is not being a good director for actors, he was a wonderful director for Ethel. But then she wasn’t an actor, but nobody could have gotten that performance out of her by Jerry. He did. When she was doing Rose’s turn, it was five, six, seven, eight. Do this. And she did it. He did it. She did it. And it worked. He was great for her. He didn’t consider it his show, there was no dance, and I think all I know is the girl was one of the best numbers anybody has ever done for a musical. And it’s pure Jerry because it’s character and it tells the story. And the way it happened, we rehearsed in. A New Amsterdam roof and one evening he didn’t want to do the numbers, bored with it, he said, well, let’s tackle that number. And he said, you be the girl because you can’t dance and I’ll be the guy. And he had an assistant who did tap steps. I think he put the whole thing together. And a half hour at one point, he didn’t step. I knew when I got up and dance and that’s what we got the end, but. And while he was dancing, I would throw lines and somebody took them down on paper. But his idea for that number is just wonderful. There’s only one thing I couldn’t understand. I had the guy say, and all the lights come up and I saw the lights would come up. He didn’t have them come up. And I said, why don’t they come up? He said, well, it’s not real. And I thought, but the number isn’t real, and when I did the revival’s, the lights came up, but it’s interesting how one person sees reality or what is reality.
Speaker It’s sort of an all star tribute. Right. Did he ever talk to you about.
Speaker Oh, he was mad for a stare. He thought he was one of the most brilliant dance. He thought it was a ballet tap dance. I guess he was. He was an idol of Jaris. We did a ballet about him, really.
Speaker Yeah, he did a valiant tribute. Yeah. Did you see it? Yeah, did you like it? Yes. We want to talk about it now. I don’t know enough about it. OK, um.
Speaker I had a hideous experience as one of his valets, if you want to hear it. What a strange experience. Tell me what the ballet dancers are gathering. What I had a friend who was a professor was called an egghead. He was a mad Balanchine.
Speaker Alex. And.
Speaker He wanted me to see a ballet called Buku I’d seen I didn’t think much of it Hagana so really I didn’t get it. So I persuaded me to go one night and on the bill was also dance’s as a gathering. Well, boo hoo was done with the leg room and below, and I had never seen it with them. And it was wonderful. And I thought a gun was witty and then came dances at a gathering and as it went on suddenly. Because I was sitting with this guy, Sweat began to trickle down my back because I could see where Broadway and the ballet. I don’t remember specifically now, but I remember being very conscious of it and wishing it hadn’t been there because I didn’t want Jerry exposed before this guy.
Speaker She’s going to go back to Gypsie for a second. Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of people said, oh, Gypsie, it’s the perfect musical. Do you agree with that? Do you disagree with that?
Speaker I don’t know. I don’t know where nothing is perfect anything. I love Gypsy. I care very much about it.
Speaker I also think it has. A wonderful character, which you don’t find in musicals, I mean, somebody said Rose is the leader of musicals and she may be. And it doesn’t follow rules. You know, if you look at Gypsie, it has a block farseeing, which, by the way, when I started directing, I curse the playwright for writing that, saying it’s a bitch to stage. It has vaudeville. It has comedy, it has deep drama in it all, and it all works, and the reason it works is that it’s held together by character. She’s larger than life. So is the music and musical. And I think it’s also. Very American and that it’s one of the few musicals that’s about family in a real way. It is about the need for recognition, which I think is universal and human. And everybody gets it, every Buckeridge in that show wants recognition. And the end. The real recognition that’s warranted is the daughter from the mother.
Speaker It’s very interesting.
Speaker The Roses realization that she did it all for herself was supposed to come in roses cherry. Well, it didn’t we didn’t realize that till it got in front of an audience and they were dissatisfied. So I wrote this scene where she says it, Jerry took it to her. She’s an Ethelred said to me, I will do anything you want. And she tried. She balked. She said, I’m not going to say that. So she said to her, you say it in the lyric, she said, no, I do not. I say from now on. And she was right. And that’s where a director has to be a director. And Jerry, it took Jerry to convince her and he did and she said it, she did the scene. I don’t know how he did it, but he did it.
Speaker He he directed so many more than a few people in signature roles. He directed my style in Fiddler and Mary Martin and Peter Pan and then Gypsy and Streisand and Funny Girl, it goes on.
Speaker He came into direct Streisand.
Speaker Well, first he was there, then he left and he came back. That was his specialties. Yeah, but. Coincidence or was he graded casting or did he do something that brought out the best in these people?
Speaker I think he was. He was very good at casting musicals, not plays again. He knew musical people and he was so demanding of himself. That I think it worked for them.
Speaker Ethel trusted him completely, and yo