Transcript:

Speaker Well, it was really about the financing of the show. Jimmy Nederlander always had and still does have many balls in the air because he owns a whole chain of theaters and he was always wiggling his financing from one thing to the other. Well, you know, certainly on the up and up. But there were three partners in the venture, Jimmy myself and Fred Walker. And each of us was to raise a third of the capitalization. And I really, quite honestly, didn't have much difficulty raising mine. I did it in a relatively short period of time. And I had some other people that I had solicited who wanted to get in on it, I guess, because I saw it pretty effectively. And so I said to Fred, I said, Do you think Jimmy would like to get rid of any of his share on this? I mean, do you think he's done it all? And he said, why don't you want to ask him? So I went down and had a conversation with him and he said, oh, no, if you if you have somebody else, by all means, go ahead. So I, I don't remember the exact amount, but it was a fairly healthy chunk of of the capitalization. And he said, just talk to David, who was his attorney and our attorney for the show, and we made a deal and he has signed some of his rights to me because I had raised the extra money. And as Ellen said after the fact, she didn't really realize what he had because after about two weeks after the show opened, he called me and he said he said, did did you buy some extra shares of the show for me? And I said, yeah.

Speaker He said, you cheated me out of that. That's no chih out of it.

Speaker I said I made a deal with your lawyer and our lawyer, but it was just to point up the fact that I don't think he realized going into what it was and how unique the theatrical piece itself was. It was it was really special and I was teased him about it and still do when I say.

Speaker Well, let's let's go back to the beginning here, to the meeting, I think that was like the first meeting you had with me, Sherman, and you said she wasn't really sure what you want to do, if you would tell me about that.

Speaker Well, the first time that we met was actually in Toronto. We went up to Fred Walker, who is my partner, was my partner in the venture, had just finished doing a show with Jimmy Nylander and was working out in the Atlanta office. And I had just done a play with Elizabeth Ashley at the Shubert Theatre. And neither of the ventures had worked out very well for either of us. And Fred and I were commiserating one day and he said, you know, Lena Horne came in to see Jimi yesterday. She's interested in doing something on Broadway. Would you be interested in getting involved? And I said, well, I've always been a great Lena fan, but what is it that she wants to do? And he said, I don't really know. So we went to there was some talk about her doing a book show. I think at that point, John John Mayer was doing Cancan. And there was a I think Sherman had a conversation with him, with Jimmy about maybe her doing something that she had done, pal. Joey, maybe two years before that in Los Angeles. And that, again, was discussed. But the first time I actually met her was in Toronto, Fred and I went up to see her nightclub act at the Royal York. And we met afterwards and we had a brief discussion about what it was that she wanted to do. Was it a book show or was it something autobiographical or whatever? And she said, well, I have a couple of ideas that I'd like to talk to you about. And then we eventually sat down and she said she really wanted to make the definitive statement about her career in this piece. And did we know how she might go about doing it and.

Speaker Yeah.

Speaker Oh.

Speaker You would say, I'm sorry you had seen her, right? Your impressions were my impressions were just not what I had seen a real pal, Joey and I.

Speaker Well, I had seen her in pal Joey. And I didn't think that it was a very effective piece. You know, I subsequently found out that there was a lot that went on behind the scenes. But I was and I think most of the audience was more interested in hearing Lena sing than they were in and her acting abilities. Not that I would even make a comment as to whether or not I thought she was a good actress or a terrific actress, but. In the early discussions that we had, I suggested that we go to see a play that I had recently seen called Home that was written by a man named Samrat Williams. And we went to the play and she liked it enormously and she likes him. And we decided that he would, in fact, write a treatment for whatever this evening was that we were creating. And Sam spent some time with her in California. And then we had a reading and Jimmy's office of he showed us the outline and read the first scene. And I could tell from that first reading that she was uncomfortable with it and it really wasn't going to do the job. And she said at that point, she said, I really feel more effective doing it with my music rather than speaking dialogue that somebody somebody else creates. And that kind of confirmed what I had thought about pal Joey and. Her performance in it, she obviously is such a unique lady that she really required a unique form to to tell a story and it was certainly a hybrid in every sense of the term. I remember a really close friend of mine who shall remain nameless, who was a well-known figure in the theater, came up to me at the intermission of the like the second or third preview and said, gee, it's great, but what is it? And my response was I was kind of and I said what it is, is an incredible evening about this lady. And nobody could really shoehorn it into an appropriate category because it was uniquely hers and it was uniquely constructed to be her story. I don't think anybody else would fit the same format.

Speaker Um, they're just two points that you made, and I'd like to try to get into one statement here. Sure. When we spoke on the phone, you said you've seen her in jail and you didn't think she was suited to a bookshelf. Right. Um, if you could say that and then joined to see how different this show was, and that's why you felt that something different was was was in order.

Speaker Yeah. Yeah. OK, I had seen Lena in Pal Joey in Los Angeles maybe two years prior to our meeting. And my own feeling at the time was that she wasn't really ideally suited to a book show, particularly when that storyline had to be twisted to fit her particular situation.

Speaker And I think that.

Speaker Was one of the primary reasons we went at this in a totally different way, allowing it to be constructed to really fit her talent. She knew she knows best about what she does best, of course. And she sure proved us right. At the most important thing I think we did as producers on the venture was feed her whatever she needed. It proved to be the most successful way of constructing a particularly this kind of show anyway.

Speaker And speaking of what she needed, just a moment, she. One of the things you were telling me. You just mentioned that a moment ago, I just want to get it a little clearer in terms of what Leanna actually said, we were talking on the phone and after her response to having seen what Sam finally came up with was, I don't think I need all this dialogue. I can tell my story better through the songs that I say. Right. If you could just tell me that in that short way, you after. You know, we saw what Samaa did to Traditional and she said. OK.

Speaker OK, from there. All right, well, when Leon, when we had the reading, Samite presented an outline and the first scene and it was obvious that it wasn't suited to what we were looking for. And Lenar at that point said, I I really feel more comfortable doing it my way with my music rather than a series of dialogue. She said, I just feel more comfortable. Should I express myself best with my with my music? And certainly was the case.

Speaker Now, in terms of getting a show from that germ of an idea, what was it that really needed? What did you what was the what was the material that this is what this show was?

Speaker Well, it was built from new music, as well as existing music that she had already made famous. She looked through everything imaginable to find something that expressed a point of view that would illuminate something about her life and her career. And I think the best example of of that is that yesterday when I was young, the Charles Aznavour was I don't think anybody had ever heard that song sung in that way, where it had such a significant message to convey about where this woman was at this point in her life. She she talked to every songwriter, lyricist, musician that was around from what we had a combination of two musical directors on the show, Luthe Henderson, who was a more traditional Broadway man that she had worked with before. And at one point she said, I don't want to just be old stuff. She said, I want new material. And she said, I want something that's reflective of today's audience. And we then went to Harold Wheeler, who was at that point putting Dreamgirls together with Michael Bennett. And Harold was kind of the access to to the new newer music. And Charlie Smalls, who had written the score for The Wiz, was was another avenue to that group of younger songwriters that had material that she felt would express herself. There was a lot of stuff that came and went, probably a lot more than I ever knew about. But just in the in the process of putting the show together, I saw an awful lot of material that that she developed and was orchestrated. But it ultimately didn't say as effectively as another piece of music might say.

Speaker You as producer, what was it you felt it was your job to do to keep this moving? What did you what did you need to provide?

Speaker Well, I think a producers function with any creative person is to is to give them the opportunity to to develop the materials that they have and by making things as easy and as comfortable for them, by supplying the right kind of environment. And I think that's what we did for her. I think that there were people that we knew that she hadn't been associated with and the music world or in and in the theater world that we brought in that helped shape this evening. I mean, I found a hairdresser that that gave her a whole new look. A gal who was with us for the whole run of the show might not seem like an important part to have a new hairdresser, but it did give her a very distinctive look that she hadn't had before.

Speaker And there was there was a hairdressers and the arrangers and the and and the rehearsal pianist and the director was somebody that she had never worked with before. And he he had had a great success with Ain't Misbehavin, but he had never worked with a major star, not that Nell Carter, the rest of the major stars now, but they weren't at the time. And he brought a very distinctive physical style to the show that that helped. And we sought out those people to give her to allow her to choose from this various menu that that we presented so that she could make the best show possible. And she did.

Speaker OK, because we have some sound problems just now. Yeah, and we need you to go back. OK, starting with.

Speaker Let's get the latest. So you want to hold on?

Speaker So we're going to give you. OK. All right. It was it was good that Harold Wheeler, Luthe Henderson, because this is going to come. So it's good. But I think at some point I just, you know, the declarative sentence in previews when the lady in the music was previewing, nobody expected the huge success that followed him to the opening. Yeah. And then we're going to talk about the dialogue.

Speaker And the patter was completely personal word that should.

Speaker OK, now don't up so he can go back and tell me you brought this new hairdresser in to give her a new look.

Speaker In addition to the to the musical talent that was brought in when we were doing Lena Horne, the lady in the music, we also were very concerned about how it looked. And we introduced her to a new hairdresser who gave her a very unique and different style than she had ever had before.

Speaker That was just the part of of all of the various things that we brought in to make this show a unique situation.

Speaker OK. Oh, well, you know what? You're being a little bit too modest. Too modest, OK, because, I mean, that's something that really changed me, how she was really important to me that went to making it feel such a contemporary right show, you know, that this just wasn't alone has been out here.

Speaker You know this really. So if you could just. Again, the hairdresser.

Speaker Just a little more ownership. I mean, you can take some credit for having brought in this new home.

Speaker We wanted to be sure that the show had a distinctive look to it, as well as a distinctive sound. And nobody is better equipped to make a judgment on how Lina dresses than Lina herself. And she brought her favorite designer, Jojo Sant'Angelo, to the to the to the table. But I found a new hairdresser for who really gave her a distinctive new look. That was very much of the day of of the time it. It worked very effectively for for the overall look of the show, I'm sorry, I'm getting something.

Speaker It's hard when people put words in your mouth and, uh, uh.

Speaker You were telling me how deceptively simple this show seemed to be, but the songs were carefully chosen and I can tell you that.

Speaker Well, harking back to that comment that somebody made to me in the lobby after the second preview about it's wonderful, but what is it and what it was was a very carefully constructed evening that showed all facets of Lena and dealt with all aspects of her life.

Speaker And it was because it looked like just another review on the surface. It was deceptively simple looking, but it wasn't at all. The construction of it was was very painstaking and very carefully considered and thought out.

Speaker Each song was was chosen to, as I said earlier, to illuminate some aspect of her life that we felt was important for the audience to know and understand about.

Speaker Oh, just a note when you're doing interviews like that.

Speaker Sir, people may never have heard the garage doors are there. They're checking out. Do you want me to do that again? Now, let me just check it out here. Yeah, that's close. Come here. Doors open.

Speaker We budgeted the show and and constructed it as if it were going to be a three week run.

Speaker It was never intended from the beginning to be anything longer than that, but we proved them wrong. One of the marketing tools that we used all the way through the run of the show was to only announce a few weeks at a time so that we were always sold out.

Speaker Well, you had said that the. Well, let's go back just to get that thing you wanted to do about the deceptively simple thing here.

Speaker OK, sounds carefully chosen, right? The music of the show had a deceptively simple appearance.

Speaker And most effective pieces of art usually do appear to be simple when in fact, they're rather complex. This was a very carefully considered piece. Every piece of music was very carefully chosen to illuminate some aspect of Leanna's life that we wanted to impart to the audience.

Speaker So how long did it actually take you to start to finish it?

Speaker I it took was about a year from the time we had the first meeting until the show actually saw the light of day. You have to remember that we went through all of this process with the writing of a script with Samrat Williams that took some time. And then when we finally get to the point of listening to that idea or outline for a script, maybe two or three months had gone by. And then when we decided that that wasn't the approach to it, then we went back to the drawing board and followed her lead with letting the music speak for.

Speaker One of the things you said to me, and I need to hear you tell me that again, just in terms of once you decided the way to go, we were told that you called everybody that you have something for me to.

Speaker I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You have to.

Speaker Was on a Saturday afternoon with the press agent and the rehearsal studio, and we both walked out totally dazzled by what we had seen. And Josh said to me, this is a very special piece. You said it's going to be far beyond what any of us anticipated it being. So I think by the time we opened, we knew that we were certainly going to be longer than a three week run. It was just depended on how the public and how to cross that beloved press responded to it. But I don't think ever there has been a response from the press like we had for that show. There was nary a dissenting word. It was just extraordinary. Opening night was just magical. It was. Any producer's dream of what might happen on opening night happened that night, it was there was every important figure from her past was there or at least a good number of them. And anybody that mattered in show business was there that night. Cheering her on was extraordinary.

Speaker Did you could I just want to go back to putting it together and. Right after you saw what she presented to you that first time that blew you away.

Speaker That wasn't the one and the rehearsal studio, the next step was getting it up physically and then pruning it, making sure that that it wasn't too long or that it was long enough. I remember after the first four previews, Fred and I were together and there were a list of songs that we didn't think were working as effectively as some of the others. Not that they were bad. In fact, some of them were some of our own favorites. But they didn't have the impact in the show that we hoped. And we very carefully between the matinee and the evening performance, in fact, it was the only time we ever did a matinee and evening performance. We went to the theater prepared for some maybe a battle. And before we even got into the dressing room to talk to her about it, Sharon turned to us and said, oh, by the way, this, this and this and this are out this afternoon. Fred and I just looked at each other and laughed because they were the exact same songs that we that we felt were extraneous and out they went. So there never was a difference of opinion on it. She always beat us to the punch. And what role that should play in all this, Sherman was there right from the beginning. We all we met Sherman before we met Lenar actually is a I'm sorry.

Speaker I was going to say, as I said, well, that's OK.

Speaker Sherman had had discussions with Jimmy Knoedelseder about Lena doing a book show before we got involved in the creation of this piece. So he was very much involved right from the beginning and every aspect of the show.

Speaker Now, when I asked about what steps you need to take right after you did the you saw the first time she let you see it, you told me that you then had to find someone to give you a shape, and that's where the fairy occurred. So if you could if you go back to that to that point, so that right after you saw this great conglomeration of solar energy, then what happened?

Speaker Well, Arthur was already involved at that point, but, uh.

Speaker The the physical shape that the show took after was largely responsible for in terms of how it how it moved, but he was involved at the time that I described this first presentation, Arthur was involved, but the physical physicality of it wasn't completed at that point. And we had to be sure that we had enough and not too much production value. My favorite, the production values story of the whole adventure was the night either the night before we open our two nights before we opened Debbie Reynolds, she said, you can't let the show go on like this.

Speaker She said, there's not enough glitz, there's not enough physical stuff going on. She said, I've got staircases in a warehouse in Las Vegas. She said, I'll get you anything. And Lena kind of shunted me off to talk to us because you guys talk to Debbie. And Debbie is, you know, kind of the riot act that we really didn't know what we were doing.

Speaker And this was too simple and too understated and it needed some pizzazz and glitz. We went out. I've never seen Debbie to talk about it since. But it was it was rather amusing that somebody felt that what we had done was not enough. What we did is what the essence of the lady is, is a very stylish, simple, understated, classy venue for four four classy lady.

Speaker Tell me about Mike Nichols, didn't you try? Yeah, actually.

Speaker Going to the theater every night during the run of the show was an absolute must because there were so many interesting people that came to see the show that you'd you'd never want to. Somebody said to me one night, why are you at the theater every night? Because most producers don't go to the theater every night. And I said, I'm afraid I'm going to miss something. I mean, you never knew who was going to be there from from Jackie Onassis and Coretta King. One night we called it The Night of the Widows to a whole Little League team with George Burns one night. And I remember especially one night with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and Henry Kissinger being there at the same time.

Speaker And of course, Kissinger was the ultimate Nixonian. And the the Newmans politics ran in a totally different vein. And they were trying to angle to get a picture of Kissinger and the Newmans together. But it was wonderful to watch how the Newmans avoided that happening. And it actually never did happen anyway.

Speaker Lena, when we had when we were putting the show together, we approached a number of different directorial types, I'm sure, to start again from.

Speaker OK, when we were putting the lady and her music together, we approached a number of rather distinguished theatrical directors to help us assemble a show to get it on its feet. And I can't remember all who we did approach. But I do remember that when the night that Mike Nichols came to see the show, he came with Jacqueline Onassis. And as was the custom, I went out front after the show to bring whoever the appropriate guest was backstage. And so I met them at this seat and we started walking backstage and I said to Mike Nichols along the way, I'm just sorry you didn't do it with us now. And he said, What do you mean? I said, Well, we asked you to be involved in this at one point. And Mrs. Onassis just said, Oh, Mike, don't tell me that you turned it down. And we all had a giggle about it. But Mike said subsequently, you know, it was you made the right choice, as you put it, in the right hands. And he said, I certainly couldn't have done what you've done with this evening. It was very complimentary. And I'm sure he could have done just as wonderful a job. But it was, again, maybe an indication of of. The fact that people didn't really expect that much of this or have the imagination to turn it into what it was, everybody forgot the most important factor involved in this whole thing. Lina was really resolved to do something really distinctive and special, and she did. Well, when you were on the phone with one of your most frequent visitors, well, there were a number of them, but I remember Michael, I didn't remember it, to be honest with you. But the stage manager pointed out to me when she said, you know, that is over there in the corner. And I said, no, she is Michael Jackson. And he was there night after night after night. It was when he watched so carefully everything that she she did, I didn't it was that kind of in-between period for Michael Jackson before he had really hit it big with the the first Quincy Jones albums. And he was not yet he was not any more the the kid of the Jackson five. He was somewhere in that in-between state. So he didn't mean as much to me because I was a generation removed from the Jackson five. I certainly remember that after the fact.

Speaker You were you presented with a number of different choices. But you told me that, you know, I mean, it's pretty clear, salination. Thanks to you or she doesn't. Could you could you tell me about the.

Speaker I say the best way to do that. Um, oh, I'm sorry.

Speaker Voices.

Speaker Can you tell me when you're ready? Yeah, um, I think that the way.

Speaker Sometimes I don't know. I just know that it was during the run of the show, after Quincy did the cast album, he put together a deal to have Lena and Frank do an album together.

Speaker And there was much dancing and maneuvering, but it never came to pass. I never knew who was responsible for it not happening, whether they were uncomfortable with each other or the timing was wrong or it was never determined who was going to call who first. But it never it never got done. I thought it was such a great idea.

Speaker And you're right that there was a great history with Lenny there that I really couldn't speak to.

Speaker And about the network.

Speaker Oh, yeah, toured another two years that toured a year here in the United States and then it went out again and then went to London.

Speaker No, not not that I recall. The only thing that ever stopped the show was. Up some lights fell one night, and during the Broadway run, the the first type of of lights had not been tied off properly and in the middle of the performance. It became obvious that something was about to fall and we stopped the show and. Did the changes that had to be done, but we did cancel the balance of the performance because of that, and another night, a most fell on stage to that from. From one of the light pipes, and she just took it and made it a wonderful part of the show, she just went over and bent over this mouse, laying on its back kick in its feet in the edges of a little mousy. And the audience went bananas and. We did proceed.

Speaker Was it seven performances?

Speaker Yes, she did.

Speaker Is it the first week that the preview and first performance, which she did do eight shows, she did a Saturday matinee and an evening performance, but that was the only time we cut it back to to seven. It was obviously a major load for any performer. And we cut it down to seven to make sure that we preserved this treasure that we had.

Speaker But what was her rapport with the company? Depended on the musician.

Speaker There was there was always a kind of an interesting tug between her and Grady Tate, who was the drummer, and it was about who was leading her. But generally speaking, there was a really wonderfully warm family atmosphere.

Speaker She she loved her musicians and realized how important they were to her and vice versa. She was especially fond of Linda Twain. Linda was kind of the number two pianist. And she succeeded another guy who left the company and of course, when she came in, Lina was particularly pleased because she was a woman, but she was a black woman and a major role that black women had never had in the theater before. And Linda went on to become the musical director of Big River and other shows. But she started with us as the number two pianist that Lena said, let's give Linda a try. And we did. And she proved to be pretty terrific.

Speaker We're really not sure when did they lay down any rules in terms of, you know, that they wanted blacks, they.

Speaker No, um. No, in fact.

Speaker The dances were where were black, but they were chosen before this, before the show and by everybody involved. Now, there were never any rules set down in that regard. We had we had a majority of of of black musicians and we did have. I'm just trying to think backstage at the stage manager on the show and the assistant stage manager. We're not black.

Speaker Um, it was never there was never any rules of that sort imposed.

Speaker Now, what about the whole issue, especially at the beginning of creative control?

Speaker No, I think everybody understood from day one that the ultimate decision was in Lena's hands.

Speaker And if it served the show and her purposes, that that was that was the that was the most important thing.

Speaker And as the and putting the show together, I think everybody was of the same mind that we were there to serve her and to provide her with the best choices imaginable.

Speaker We will not beat the Bushes. And then she made the ultimate choices. I don't think anybody. Anybody ever had any sense that it would be anything but clean and making the final decision? I remember Jimmy at one point saying just don't make it too heavy, too serious. But that was never even an issue. Leon has such an extraordinary sense of humor that there was never any question that it was going to be a really balanced evening of of serious statements and great sense of humor.

Speaker She's had an uncanny ability to to take whatever happened during a show and incorporating it into to the show as a permanent part of the show. There was she told the story one night after herself about a woman who had been in the audience the night before when she was doing her so-called exercises. She there was one song. She took up a vocal rest and did a lot of movement, and she just kind of did a wiggle like only Lena can do. And she did a deep knee bend and some lady up in the box yelled out, she says she's you can get down, but can you get up? And she she picked that up. And that that became a part of the show that stayed around right to the end when it was a good material. It stayed when it wasn't, it went.

Speaker How did the whole thing of her pattern come in, come into place? I mean, she always planned to talk to the former.

Speaker Yeah, I think she did. The PADA had a very.

Speaker The specific purpose of joining things together, you know, there was a for example, there was a segment of of the of the Cotton Club where she described what happened to her. And the words were never the same from late tonight. But the the framework of the Padda remained the same. There was a song and then linkage to the next song with some words of explanation, and they varied from performance to performance. But the structure of them stayed the same. And they didn't write that. That was all around. Yeah. I don't I don't recall anything coming from that Sam Williams segment into the.

Speaker Into the show itself and certainly no dialogue, but I'm sure that there were conversations that they had in the construction of that that she might have used as part of the linkages subsequently.

Speaker But, no, there was there wasn't anything consciously done in that regard. Not that I recall.

Speaker Now, you mentioned that you talked to Debbie Allen at one point. Could you just tell me?

Speaker Well, as I said, no, I'm sorry, we did talk to a number of of people about working on the show and we did talk to Debbie Allen and I very much remember the day she came to the office upstairs in the old Palace Theater building.

Speaker Um.

Speaker I don't think that Lena and Debbie actually ever met that there were sometimes situations where performers had a conflict of schedules and things didn't work out for one reason or another because of the other person's schedule. But we did talk to Debbie about doing the show at one point. I, I don't remember it ever getting to the point where we made an offer and she turned it down. So we decided against or anything of that sort. I just I just think it was a discussion that we had and that there were probably some scheduling difficulties at the time as a as a as a director choreographer.

Speaker Um, yeah. Because she was also a young lady, too, right.

Speaker 1881. No, it was if I'm not mistaken, it was my idea to bring her in.

Speaker We were going to do just that, if I'm not mistaken. Was my idea to bring Debbie Allen in as a director.

Speaker Right. OK, if I'm not mistaken, it was my idea to bring Debbie Allen into as a director choreographer for the show. Um, it was early in Debbie's career in that regard, and I honestly don't remember what I had seen that she had done that.

Speaker That made me think that it might be a good idea. I did think that. A woman, particularly a black woman working with Lena and this would would be a good idea, it didn't come to pass, but it was something we did pursue at one point.

Speaker I want to hear you talk about how so it is pretty visceral and.

Speaker May have had a number of ideas for people to work with, but it's pretty visceral and. You either make it with her or you don't, but I started that when you said it, because it really seems to.

Speaker Was I talking about anybody in particular at that point? I don't remember.

Speaker No, you were just basically talking about there was a whole range of people that were considering and then you mentioned that to me, I don't think.

Speaker I have it here after I was talking with you and you talked to Debbie Allen and Mike Nichols and all that. That's where I have it.

Speaker And maybe you were even thinking about or confirming at the time, but.

Speaker I'm sorry that I don't remember the content would have helped somewhat to put in a better context. Sure I do. Yeah.

Speaker Blaenau is a very visceral person, and there were many occasions where we presented somebody or something to her, and we always knew that her instinct was going to be the one that was was right. And sometimes there wasn't even anything spoken. After a while, I just knew that it was going to work. I wasn't going to work. It was something that was good for something that wasn't good for. It was an auditioning process in a way. But instead of auditioning just performers, we were auditioning potential directors, choreographers, musical directors, whatever. And what she responded to is what we took because it was what she needed or what would best serve the purposes of the show. Now, a.

Speaker Is that enough? Well, no, no, no, I mean about the visceral thing.

Speaker No, what I'm trying to get because when you said it was it was really very I mean, it was just you and me on the phone with the thousand people around. Right. And all that stuff. But the way you said, I mean, it was so I mean, it was like you said, you know, let's put it this way. I mean, you either to make it with her or you don't. And you really felt that from your gut about her. And that's all I know is that feeling that you have, you know, in conversations you like the term visceral that you can use, whatever.

Speaker Yeah, well, I guess if I used it, that was what really struck me was that I don't make it with her.

Speaker You don't.

Speaker That's what.

Speaker Without sounding like a script.

Speaker It was never very difficult to determine whether somebody was right or wrong for the situation Lina was in is a very visceral person, and you could tell pretty quickly whether you made it. He didn't make it with her. It was always interesting to me just to see how quickly it took place. There was never much question as to whether or not somebody was right or wrong. Her instincts told her. And I guess those of us who were around her, our instincts told us when it was right or wrong for her to.

Speaker A very complex lady. Um, Linas, a very complex.

Speaker OK, but let us know what's up, Kimber's.

Speaker Lenar is a very complex person. It was an extraordinary evening, not for any reason other than that, because there are so many facets to that personality and that character and there are so many parts of that life story that that that if it wasn't a complex individual, you wouldn't have had that evening. She's an extraordinary talent, a musical talent to begin with, but she's a very complicated and fascinating human being.

Speaker About the whole of the show so long and then it's already here and, well, the show, Lena Horne, The Lady and the music opened in April of 1981 and ran on Broadway until the following June. We close the show on her sixty fifth birthday. She always made us promise that we would never let it fade. But that was never a problem because we never had an unsold seat and we were never without a performance where the audience didn't show their appreciation on their feet. It never, never was less than a standing ovation performance. And the the show ran to full houses from beginning to end. We subsequently toured the tour opened in Tanglewood at the Tanglewood Music Festival, where it had and still, I believe, holds the record for the largest attendance ever. And then we did a rather conventional theater tour from there, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and ended up in Toledo, Ohio. And then the following spring went out again and subsequently was done in London to great success.

Speaker The London audiences are traditionally pretty subdued. How were they?

Speaker They weren't the bonuses. The London audiences were a little more conservative in their response, but it was not any measure of their enthusiasm because they just didn't show it as openly and as demonstratively as as American audiences that it was it did very I mean, when you have an outstanding show where you're getting a standing ovation every night, it's pretty tough to, uh, her smile, her toughness, just so that we have those coming, whatever you think of her, just that kind of thing, so that when we're putting this together.

Speaker So, I mean, a lot of people, when they think of him, think of that smile, you know, a lot of people think of that something else.

Speaker But so it's really your impression or your first impression or where did you first see her in your whole life? Where did I first see her my whole life? Wow. Uh.

Speaker I saw in Jamaica was the first time, I think if I saw on a live basis. You know, I'd seen her on television in the film, certainly, um, but the first time I saw it was and was in Jamaica, she.

Speaker Certainly, I certainly don't remember anything about what I subsequently know about the ladies being an impression that I had when I first saw it was such a, um, a puffy typical early 60s Broadway musical. And the performance was the same. I never got any of the the edge that we subsequently saw in this in the show. Lady in the Music. She always described, oh, she on occasion described some of those movie appearances as the butterfly pinned to the wall type thing where she would lean up against the pillar. There was a little bit of that quality in my memory of her from from those first live performances. I'm at the grit, the anger, the all of the passion that I knew to be a very important part of this lady.

Speaker I never said to the show and I don't think I don't think the public in general ever did. A lot of people didn't like that. They didn't they didn't like seeing that side of it.

Speaker They just preferred to members this soft, lovely flower. And she has a soft, lovely flower. But she's also a very tough, resolved lady in her own right.

Speaker I don't want all this old stuff. Mm hmm.

Speaker She didn't say, I don't want all this old stuff. She said I don't want just all the old stuff. I think that she recognized that the audiences certainly were going to want to see some of her signature pieces. But she also wanted to show that she was very much an artist of today and she was very particular and making that known. She said, I just don't want to do all stuff. She I want I want some new stuff here, too.

Speaker What do you think the lady of the music did for.

Speaker I think it showed for the first time the total person that she is, the total entertainer and and and total human being that she is, I think it showed all aspects of her that had never had an opportunity to be shown before. There are some really tough, angry parts of Lena that I don't think anybody saw until until the show. And you can't really see the whole person until you see all aspects of it. And I think she she let it all show she was as coy and as cute and as soft and as charming and as lovable as she could be. But it also let people see what the other side of it was. What what made her what she is. I mean, where the passion that you hear in some of these songs came from, what she believes and what she hoped for in terms of things for all of us in the future. Very important. Is what kind of a taskmaster is? She's the most extraordinary taskmaster I've ever encountered, but it all comes on herself first, I mean, she expects and demands the absolute best of herself at every step of the game. And as a result, she wants the same from those that are around her. She's probably a little more tolerant about others than she is about herself. But that taskmaster is certainly there, particularly with the music. And there's there's not a detail that that's that's missing. And if there were ever any conflicts in the assembling of the show was about that, about making sure that everything was the best and it was perfect and that she had the best she could expect from the musician so early in the show to be such a strong statement about herself, which I think gave me in particular, that this wasn't just going to be an evening of songs.

Speaker I really don't remember who who introduced that. It was, you know, a lot of the stuff she had heard herself. And if it if it caught her attention, she brought it in. So I don't really remember, to be honest with you, but it was obviously a very important statement to be made at that stage of the show because it let the audience know that they were going to be in for the whole picture of what this lady was all about and what her attitudes were about.

Speaker Things repeat that with the title of the song. I got a name, you know.

Speaker Just say that some of the same thing I just said.

Speaker Yeah, the Jim Croce song I've Got a Name was a particularly important statement for her to be making it that initial stage of the show and let people know that they were going to see the entire picture that they weren't in for just another ordinary Lena Horne performance. It said it all very, very sharply and very distinctly and very early in the game.

Speaker OK, yes, OK, let me just go back to the point where you, uh oh, God, I forget what it was, but in the process, it not just stupid.

Speaker If you could I'm sorry, repeat the statement, because what happened was you got up and sat down again, so.

Speaker Oh, OK, sorry.

Speaker If can I lean into it myself, a Bellina, the one of the first.

Speaker All right, one of the first people that were in that was involved with the show musically was Luther Henderson. And Luther was the more traditional theater person that brought to light and illuminated some of these wonderful songs that she had done before very effectively. And at one point she said, this stuff is all terrific and I know people want to hear it, but I don't want to do just old stuff. She said, I want to do some new stuff and I want something that that speaks to the audiences today.

Speaker OK, and what are the songs that came from that?

Speaker Well, the Jim Croce, I mean, I've got a name, I think, which the spider and the Fly which and all of the Charlie small things that came from both The Wiz and Charlie had written another musical that never was produced that he I'm sorry. I can't remember all of the stuff that came from that particular.

Speaker Sorry, it's OK. That's all right. She talked about it on the you know what you've given me, right? Yeah, it's quite all right. This is wonderful. Thank you. You're welcome.

Michael Frazier
Interview Date:
1996-01-25
Runtime:
1:01:23
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-hm52f7kf8d, cpb-aacip-504-2f7jq0t899, cpb-aacip-504-3x83j39j8n
MLA CITATIONS:
"Michael Frazier, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 25 Jan. 1996, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/887
APA CITATIONS:
(1996, January 25). Michael Frazier, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/887
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Michael Frazier, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). January 25, 1996. Accessed December 07, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/887

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