Speaker Well, I was a freshman at Northwestern University in 1940, who knows what five or six of them, and I had been a visual artist mostly up to that point, and four of us freshmen went down to Chicago and saw on the town. And long before, I think, Gene Kelly, that we left the theater dancing in the streets. And it literally changed my life that then it had to be the theater. And I didn't know Jerome Robbins. I didn't know Common Green. I didn't know Leonard Bernstein and serendipitously. But beyond that, in some wonderful, miraculous way, 10 years later, I was working with them. And it just blew my mind less than 10 years, actually, about that. Well, it's a little convoluted. I got I didn't an equity line ratio of, as you like, Shakespeare and someone from Columbia Pictures saw it, a talent scout. And they signed me to a contract at Columbia as a director. And my first job was a dialogue director on George Cukor, Judy Holliday film. And Judy came to. What respect me look to me for judgment in terms of was a take good or not, was it truthful? Was it funny? And Comden and Green at that time or shortly thereafter were writing Bells are ringing for Judy Holliday and Jerome Robbins was going to direct it. And it was his first one of his first solo directing jobs. And I think he was a little nervous about working with Judy Holliday, who in the Bernstine comedy and In Green. Pantheon, Judy, was the most respected for her intelligence, for truthfulness in acting, and I think Cherie was a little nervous about working with her and she wanted me to be on the show in some capacity. She suggested stage managed. I thought, that's ridiculous. I'm not a stage manager. I'm a director. And she introduced me to Jerry and. I think Judy wanted me for security and Jerry wanted me for his security, and I came on as his assistant. Now I've been a director at Columbia and I this was like going sideways, but it was on Broadway. It was with Robbins and Comden and Green and Judy Holliday. I mean, it was irresistible and. I remember walking into the Shubert Theater where the show was going to be, and I felt. At home, literally at home, I thought, this is where I want to be. Even now it gives me an emotional tug. And then it turned out I I knew a little bit about tap dancing. I knew I could sing rather well. And I had been a visual artist and a set designer. So I was a perfect liaison for Jerry Robbins, who at that time his communication skills sometimes faltered with these different areas. And I was the repairman guy from. With, you know, with with those various departments, and we got along famously. And he in effect, I helped direct the book, I directed the book. Bells ringing always with Jerry's vision in mind. And then I had to go back to Columbia Pictures, where I was under contract after that and about. Some months later, maybe eight months later, he asked me if I would. He called me up in Hollywood and said, would you help me on West Side Story, which I hadn't even heard of. I didn't know what it was about. When he told me about it, I said, yeah, let me see if I can get out of this. My studio commitment, which I did. I mean, they let me go and. I got a telegram was. When can you get there and how much do you want? I'll never forget it and I came back to New York and to work on my side. Sorry. Which from the word go, was a stunning. Thrilling experience, everything was about telling the story in an artful way.
Speaker OK, we just skipped over an entire production, so I'm going to tell you that we will get to us.
Speaker I thought I'd just go back to where you met Jerry. What were your impressions of him?
Speaker Well, I had formed some impressions of Jerry Robbins from seeing a road show on the town, and then I caught up with Fancy Free afterwards and. The the work was electric, it was energetic, it was full of joy, it was full of life. It was everything I thought I was or wanted to be. It was artful and fun at the same time. Which is a kind of a rare combination, you and Bernstine was the same way you thought they were very serious artists, but irrepressible energy and joy and all that was in the work always.
Speaker I had great respect, of course, for his reputation in the. Ballet world, and there was a. A kind of turning point in our relationship, we were out of town at the Terrain Hotel in Boston and I had been rehearsing and something ticked him off about the scene work that I was doing. And he took me aside and he. Kind of criticized me or berated me rather heatedly, and I remember the adrenaline going, I was shaking. I said, don't ever talk to me like that again. If you have something to say to me, say it simply and clearly. And at that moment and it came out of just. Adrenaline shock because he was Jerome Robbins, I was Gerald Friedman, but it changed our relationship and he never treated me that way again, always with great respect. Loyalty. He asked me to work on project after project, after that we had a great creative relationship. It was really good collaboration, I would say.
Speaker It's great, I have a similar story, I'll tell you later.
Speaker Excuse me. Similar story, I'll tell you. Oh, OK.
Speaker Talk about the dynamic among those collaborators, because that was a pretty heavy duty group. What was that like?
Speaker It was very good, very positive, Julie Stein was the composer I remember being immediately came to mind is a night in New Haven. We opened New Haven for half a week, I think, and there was a late three o'clock meeting that, you know, the hotel afterwards. And it got very tense. And Julie disappeared for a while and literally came out of the bathroom with a lampshade and a shower curtain and broke everybody up. Now, that sounds like an apocryphal showbiz story, but it really happened. And so it gets tense. But there also was always humor and and work, work, focus. But the focus was always good humor. Now, Jerry was a great laughter, but he also had an intense. Focus, I would say. I can't remember where it was, but he was called the ferret because he had a zero way of going at things and kind of my position became to follow up on the ferret and smooth things out. Tell or help people understand what he really wanted, because what I admired most about Jerry was his sense of truth. Of course, he was a master, Stasia. He knew the dynamics of theater, I think, better than anyone. You experience that all the time, but what isn't always recognized is his sense of truth. He would worry and worry and worry or Murray a moment until. It gave back what he knew to be the essence of it, and that was both funny things and in serious things. And one thing I two things I feel, especially I learned from Gerri was simplicity. He could stage this great musical theater stage or would be satisfied with the simplest gestures if that was what was necessary, and the other thing was his ruthless editing of his own work, you would see something, Jerry would create something either in dance or in staging. And he thought, oh, it's great, it's wonderful. And then he would leave it alone. It's perfect. What are you fussing with? And would get better.
Speaker Can you give me an example?
Speaker Well, yes, I took him immediately to mind one, an example of Jerry's editing of his own work when we were out of town with bells are ringing, there was a number in Sydney Chaplin's apartment, the hero's apartment, and it was a group of young sophisticates. And it started with a dance number. And it was very clever and fun and original and filled with, you know, good music and good dancing. I think we worked on it for. Weeks out of town. And. Jeri's saw it in the show at last, I think one performance and it became a 30 second or one minute episode, the opening of the scene, and that was it. But it was just wonderful, marvelously entertaining. Well, another thing came to mind. Everyone thought Judy ought to be dancing early in the show. And we were again out of town and they put in a number about her dancing with her imaginary clients and the four young dancers in pastel colored suits. And Judy was dancing with them. And it was a charming number, went in in Boston, as I remember. And later in the first act, she had no if. Some no, I can't. The title escapes me. It used to stop the show once that number became the new number, the dance number came in. It didn't nothing happen. And Jerry just cut out the number and the applause came back for Judy's solo. If I Parran ba ba ba ba ba ba. The Dreamer Somebody song, I mean, I can remember the tune, I can't remember the title number right now. And then most palpably in a piece, the last thing I did with Jerry was something an autobiographical piece called the Papà piece, and it was filled with stunning personal movement and autobiography. And it never saw the light of day because he was never really totally happy with it.
Speaker I'm going to read you some this is a quote that you said from knew what he wanted to know how to get there in relation to your own function?
Speaker I think so. Could you explain what you meant? Well, give me an example.
Speaker You're asking me about you know, I didn't know how to get there. We're talking about acting.
Speaker You know, admired and attended classes of Stella Adler and Actors Studio and did exercise, so he understood what the process was, but he didn't know how to really work with actors. That's my impression anyway. So he knew what he wanted, but he didn't know how to talk to them. He often used metaphors. That's great. When you're talking to a dancer, you can a dancer thinks in visual images of an end and you can use a visual image to extract movement imagery from but an actor. Most actors anyway, work from a different basis. Personal experience. Oh, yes. So that's where I think I was a help. I, I knew how to talk to actors and how to get them to open up. 100 things just came to mind one. Chita Rivera. Came to Greensboro, North Carolina, where near where I am, and I went to see her show and in it she in the show, she recalled a time when I opened up acting for her. Now, I opened up acting for her by getting her to understand what substitution was. And 50 years later, she's still remembering it. That's the point then as I was coming here to do this, I was in the cabin thinking about Jerry's sense of truth and how there's a a part in West Side Story, maybe John in the no cool. And how the movement. It gives expression to his inner feelings, and I was in the studio when Jerry was working on it, and it all came out of how it is Baby John feeling, what is he thinking? And the movement is memorable. It's when he shoots off a gun, pow, pow. It came, but it all came out of Jerry's inner. Identification with baby johns self, his psyche, and was stunning to see him move that around until it became what we finally did in West Side Story. I mean, I don't know if I have I answered that question.
Speaker OK, um, you you also said that you.
Speaker And I think I know how to take this, you repaired Jerry's damage with actors. Can you explain what you meant by that?
Speaker Yeah, I'm a little embarrassed to put it in those terms, I repaired his damage, but. Jerry. Often used. Actually, I mean, I don't know how to talk about emotional violence, to get things from actors and dancers, you'll hear this a lot from dancers who would give their left leg to dance for him. But it was tough on their psyche sometimes. And I always felt, you know, people say he was sadistic. I don't believe that at all. It was his uncompromising sense of truth, again, of getting. To the essence of what you could do, what you were capable of, what the movement demanded, and it often left actors, I can tell you, in shreds of personality. I mean, this is not another story that I witness. And when we were done, Gypsy, there was an actress who played Baby Joon hoo hoo. He so destroyed her sense of self. She literally couldn't walk across the stage right, left, right, left, she no longer knew how to move. Now, those are extreme examples. And and it didn't happen with. Everyone at all it and I think it came out of it, is impatience in understanding the language or the vocabulary that an actor needed as opposed to what a dancer needed. And yet he could see where he wanted to go.
Speaker And. I.
Speaker I prided myself in being able to help him achieve his vision.
Speaker We all know that he was great at staging huge dance numbers, but he also had a very special talent for working with people who were not actually dancers, making them look good. And I think one of those occasions may have happened and bells are ringing. I want to talk about that.
Speaker Well, one very, very hot. August 28th, we were in the offices of the Theater Guild without air conditioning, the Theater Guild who produced the Bells are ringing and it was where now the Museum of Modern Art occupies a space, had a wonderful. Urban mansion there and Gerri was working with me and staging.
Speaker Just in time and I had enough tapdance experience and vocal experience to do do the work, meaning I was good, I was good at dancing and what and I certainly was good at singing. And he worked out the number on me, the staging on me. And he thought, if you can do it, we certainly can get Cyndi to do it. And it was a wonderful, wonderful afternoon that I still remember very, very well at the heat in the pressure. But I remember. But it was very, very simple. Very, very simple, and yet it looked exactly, exactly right, there wasn't a superfluous movement became was clever, it was charming and it was loving.
Speaker I remember you said he never let the movement get in the way of the lyrics. What did you mean by that? Can you give me an example?
Speaker Well, I love what first comes to mind that he never. This master movement never clouded the words with movement for its own sake. And remember, often on Gipsy working with Ethel Merman, who had worked with him several times before, and she trusted him implicitly and he would give her the absolute simplest things to do in Gypsy, knowing that her voice, her persona and her openness would would sell quotes, the number now somewhere else in. All you need is a girl, I remember he tortured the young man doing that, no ATAP no, of course that until he got it. And over and over and over again, he worked to get into a nub of his former self where it was necessary. And yet working with this, you know, master performer Murman, he did almost nothing. He gave her absolutely nothing. And the same with Jack Klugman in that when they did a number together, what was it?
Speaker You'll never put it down, I'll never doubt that you'll never get away from me. It turned out to be almost nothing. The two of them danced in a restaurant. I mean, did social dancing a few steps. It was. So engaging, so simple, and Jack was totally capable of it, and Evl love Jack and love the no, but that's another example. It was always in terms of the moment, the relationship and not for movement's sake.
Speaker How would you assess life story as a theatre piece?
Speaker Well, I have an interesting to me. There's nothing like it and and there has been nothing like it, meaning he thought it was like. The fulfillment of Agnes Hamill's introduction of dance and storytelling in terms of Oklahoma. So you thought, oh, this would open up whole new vistas, but it didn't because I think Jerry's talent was so. Extraordinary in terms of telling a story through dance through all evening that it was not easy to follow. Now, you know what came to mind was Twyla Tharp moving out, but it's that's a different animal. Totally wouldn't think about it. There was dance and storytelling, but nothing like West Side Story came after West Side Story, nor has there been.
Speaker Why was it important?
Speaker Well, at the same time, it opened up the possibilities of storytelling through the dynamics of all the arts of the theater. That's why I think it's important and it. Has become quintessentially American around the world. It's an icon, jeans, young people fighting to get ahead. You know what I realize now, because we're doing, you know, the revival and I'm reexamining the script. It's not it is about gangs, but the key to it is somewhere. And which was cut out of the movie, what they want is a place they want sky. So when my designer presented me with the New York landscape, a cityscape and there was no sky, I began to realize, no, no, no, this is what they yearn for, a piece of sky. A place where they can be themselves, so it's it's not about the violence of America, it's about the the hope and and there it comes.
Speaker Now, when there's all this talk about immigration problems and of trying to clamp down on immigration and west stories about the immigrants fighting for their place, isn't it? I mean, that's what it's about. And that's why I think it's quintessentially American or what we thought was quintessentially American, what we hope is quintessentially American.
Speaker Q How would you describe for somebody who didn't know at all, how would you describe Jeri's contribution to West Side Story?
Speaker Well, I can't conceive of doing it without now. Other people have choreographed to it and what's interesting, of course, the choreography. Almost can't be replicated. You can do the book, you can do the songs, that's all printed. The choreographed choreography has to be done by someone credited by the Robbins Ballet because it's it's passed down. And yet I can't. The characters are so embedded in the choreography, I couldn't do it without without that. It all comes out of character, not dance, and that's the mistake that other choreographers make out of they do dances. Jerry did character. He expressed character through dance. And and that's special.
Speaker But it was really if you could just talk about that a little bit more, what he brought to it, because it was really, I think more than anything, any of his other things and really his show, you say what was really his show. In a way, he was really the captain of the ship.
Speaker And there's no question that he was the captain of the ship. And isn't it ironic that that can't be quite replicated? His work can't be replicated, whereas a book is published. The music is published.
Speaker The lyrics are, but.
Speaker The and I guess maybe I'm I'm too I'm not objective about it, because the the show lives. But it doesn't live with the same energy and life that. Robin's vision, I was fighting for the right word, it isn't his choreography, just it's his vision. Gave to the whole thing, now it's inextricable from Arthur's book and Leonard's music and, you know, Jerry pushed his way through all of that, too. So it's pretty much of a piece. Or that's the way I see it, having worked on it.
Speaker OK, um, there was a lot of discussion about the credit that he required the conceived by credit. In your view, was that a fair credit? Why or why not?
Speaker Well, the conceived by credit is up for interpretation and.
Speaker Arthur Laurents particularly has some problems with that, because it began, as you know, as another project, an East Side story, and it had. They all contributed to it, but I have the feeling that Jerry pushed it on and that Jerry's. Thinking of it as a dynamic dance piece is what finally gave the vision, the the the dynamic that it needed to to be. Taking this story, we've seen versions of Romeo and Juliet in so many different ways, and of course, the story lives and it's it's classic, but the. Fantastic dynamic West Side Story comes from the dance when I say that it's Leonard. Working out of that dynamic, I mean, his music came out of that vision. There's a wonderful moment for me. There's.
Speaker OK. Right at the top. No, no, the song for Tony.
Speaker Oh, so something's coming.
Speaker Thank you. When I first came into the rehearsal process, Something's Coming was a speech of Tony's and they soon realized Tony needed a song and Leonard and Steve converted. That speech was a paragraph into a song, and Arthur willingly gave up the book speech into the song. And the lyrics are very similar to what I remember as the book scene. And that's to me a perfect example of how one feeds the other, that without the dynamic that. Was needed for musical theater that would just have been a scene and it became a very, very exciting, as you know, exciting song and his his character song, really I understand before you knew Jerry, you saw him dance.
Speaker Tell me that.
Speaker Well, you know, I went from. University to find my way in New York and.
Speaker The New York City Ballet was still at the city center and 57th Street, and I went to see ballet a lot and I saw a fancy free with Jerry. I saw Oil Island Spiegel, which Balanchine created for Jerry. I saw him dance quite often.
Speaker Never dreaming that I would come to know him and work with him and of course, his dance had the same dynamic that the pieces do energy, vitality, up, focus, humor. He was electric on stage. So exciting as as a dancer. Coincidentally, I mean, Melissa Hayden was at North Carolina schoolyards as a teaching dance, she died a short time ago, as you know, and Melissa, too, is somebody who was an inspiration for me as a young person who had achieved this wonderful artistry. And then. Forty years later, to come to the School of the Arts and find that Melissa was teaching, there was very special for me. I mean, that another artist gave herself to the teaching role to pass on. You know what? We know that that's a very wonderful occupation or mission that we've talked about a little about Jerry's limitations as a director.
Speaker But oddly, he he directed several more than several actors in signature roles. Right. Merman and Gypsie zero in fiddler Mary Martin as Peter Pan. It goes on and on. There must have been some going on there. It couldn't have just been coincidence, of course.
Speaker Well, what was.
Speaker First, he you just described you said Zero Mostel, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, they were people of extraordinary talent there are very gifted.
Speaker I think it was Jerry's sense of truth, if you will. I use it pruning, editing. He was so good at that. And so it enabled them to to shine really or to show themselves to best advantage other others. I feel used the same people often just for their personas, for the surface talent. Jerry again stripped away the artifice without losing the charisma.
Speaker One of his biographers said to me, I'm going to read to you, please comment, whatever his shortcomings as a dialogue director, he knew where the emotional heart of a scene like. Do you agree? And if so, could you explain giving me an example?
Speaker Well, I don't know that I can give you an example. Because it runs through all the work and I think. That is really what. I helped him with are supplied for him.
Speaker He knew the truth of the moment there is. I don't know if this illustrates the point or not, but I worked with Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert on the balcony scene and it was. Pretty good. I mean, we worked and worked on it, I mean, appropriately, then we showed it to him and. My remembrance said, I think Carol's do is. He he took it apart, he took it absolutely apart and and not very pleasantly, I mean, I can't remember exactly, but this is no good. No, no, no. And then put it back to exactly where it was. And my sense of what happened was Jerry had to discover the scene. It wasn't about the work that was bad, but he hadn't had his hand in it. Now, it wasn't that I have to have my hand in something, but he he had to experience it. Threw his body, in a sense. And as I say, it came right back to where I think it was, but it now quotes was his.
Speaker Did you find he was a decisive worker or an indecisive worker, and again, can you give me an example? Say it again. I'm sorry. Do you find he was a decisive worker or an indecisive worker? Can you give me an example?
Speaker Well, I would say a lot of it out indecisive because he was looking for this truthful essence and didn't know how to get there, so he'd try something one way and then he would try it another way. And then because I felt he didn't have the I'm talking about acting terms, but, you know, it was true. And dance, too. When I saw him working on a number, he would go at it and then scrub it all and then go at it another way.
Speaker So maybe that was his work. But when it came, the performer was his raw material and that's how it often became. Incredibly. Arduous and difficult. What do you want, Jerry? While he was looking, I have another story for you. This has a variety of feelings. Shortly before he died, maybe four months before he died. Called him up and said, you know, I need I need to see I know you're not well. So he invited me to his house and we had brunch together on a Saturday afternoon. And I was going to a matinee. And it was a lovely. Mourning and very intimate and warm, and then I went to the theater, it was three days of rain in a wonderful production at the intermission, somebody tapped me on the back and it was Doris Roberts. And Doris Roberts, hello, Halabja, we hadn't seen each other for a while. We had been in the Actors Studio together. I didn't even know she was a star from Raymont and. Until people collected around her and then said, you know, you this same afternoon, a couple of hours later, she said, you know, you saved my life. What are you talking about? Well, remember when I was auditioning for Jerry Robbins for the office, which was a play that Elaine May and he brought me back again and again and again. And I didn't know what I what he wanted. And I called you up and you said and I said to you, what does he want? I said, Doris, he wants what you gave him the first day. And she did that and she got the role, so he he messed around until he, you know, he saw something initially but then didn't.
Speaker No, quite what was until he had kind of discovered it. So you read a scene and read a scene, a redesign while he was discovering that, I think.
Speaker You're going to give you another quote. This is the last one, that's the last one.
Speaker He had an unerring instinct this year for going after someone who was vulnerable. I don't think out of maliciousness, but perfection.
Speaker Can you think of an example that illustrates that?
Speaker Well, I'm not going to mention names.
Speaker But, yeah, if you.
Speaker Let me you know, prior to this, I mentioned experience by one of my first experiences with him out of town with bells are ringing when I in a sense, stood up to him, which changed everything. That's the opposite of if you gave him room, he would somehow he had a. Honoring is the only word I remember was repeating myself in an instinct for someone who was vulnerable or their vulnerability. Now, I don't think again, I don't think it was sadistic. But it was a weak link, it was somebody who held back a little, it was somebody who didn't jump or contribute or add to the creative atmosphere. And I think that's. What bothered him, because you you know, when you're when you're creating, as I say, we were in rehearsal, everybody's got to be part of the stew. And you've got at West Side, the the Jets and the sharks were improvising all over the place. He'd start something and then they would take off from there, some of which we use and some of which was discarded. But it was that atmosphere of total creativity from everybody that they could.
Speaker Well, it's about an airing. Interesting for.
Speaker The vulnerable. What did I say originally? A very interesting for what?
Speaker You. You said.
Speaker You said. He had an instinct for going after someone who was vulnerable and it also got maliciousness, but perfection.
Speaker Well, honestly, I.
Speaker In rehearsals, I often would see Jerry quotes pick on someone in in in a group scene or something of that sort and. I said he had an unerring instinct for it. But it wasn't. I don't see it as a modus vivendi. He didn't have to have a patsy, but he had. I think he admired and respected talent. And expected focus and commitment, and when that wasn't in in the landscape of the rehearsal, it bothered him and that's what I think led him to this person or that person. On the other hand, I saw him work with great artists who are great because they have total commitment. And it was a wonderful, thrilling collaboration. Always. He I think he loved talent.
Speaker You tell Debbie Jowett. The gypsy was like I'm quoting you, the Queen Mary coming in for just this immense profit machine. So please explain that.
Speaker Well, you know, I. I saw I experienced that in the Tyne Daly production, I was taking a young student to see it would never seen Gypsy. And it just seemed to me like this absolutely wonderful. Machine, it was not impersonal, but it moved with such inexorable logic, and I suppose Arthur's just as much a part of that, but everything was in place. It was about character. It was entertainment, it was ritchin. And psychology had wonderful roles. You know, everyone still talks about it as the the King Lear of four female performers now. Over these many years, that doesn't become just a catch, saying it is, it's a testament and all the great female musical artists have had a go at it. They want to. That's your test. That's. I think also due to Jerry's editing his wonderful. Sense of of the whole now, you know, originally it was also kind of a.
Speaker I can't find the word about burlesque, I mean, excuse me. Well, not vaudeville and burlesque, but I mean, it was like a history of it alongside and. Arthur may have had a lot to do, it was all cut out of our almost all of it, very little of it remained except Gypsy coming out of a box at the end. It was a very elaborate and originally we cast a lot of burlesque comedians to play the character roles, and they were wonderful, but they never got a chance to show their entertainment chops or their vaudeville chops.
Speaker But just that sense of of of a perfect book musical as opposed to West Side, which is almost an opera with dance, you know.
Speaker What made it so perfect?
Speaker A three dimensional. Character. In a real relationship. Mother daughter relationship. And.
Speaker Magnificent musical theater score, it's Julie Stein at his very best and. Although I know Steve didn't like just doing lyrics. Could they be more perfect? I mean, in terms of expressing character in character, not just lyrics, character. Each each person has their own way of speaking, as it were, in the music and. Jerry has his part in shaping all.
Speaker Tell me how Jerry worked with Murman.
Speaker Well, again, I came in late in the relationship, not in Gypsy, but he had worked with her. And a couple of Broadway shows and the famous.
Speaker You know, TV broadcast with Mary Martin, and she seemed to trust him implicitly so and he. Again, they knew he was taking care of them. My memory. Otherwise, was that. Murman came in around 11 o'clock with a mink coat thrown over her shoulders, would work full out till about 4:00 in the afternoon, and then put on the mink coat and walk away, but full out. She she never marked things. And there was a wonderful woman who is her understudy or standby, Jane Romano and Jane Romano. And I would work out a scene together and then we'd show it to Jerry. And then Jerry would edit in some respect and then we would show it to Merman.
Speaker And that's how we worked back then. Merman and Jack Klugman would take it over from their. Jack was a personal friend we had, and so that was an easy and relaxed relationship and.
Speaker Merman's trust of Jerry seems so. A given and so it was a wonderful I think the problem came. In the relationship between Arthur and Jerry, if there was a problem and. And Julie, I mean, the creative forces around it, not with EFO and Jerome Robbins, it was how do we tell the story in the best way?
Speaker Now, there wasn't a lot of. There were no dance numbers in a way to show everything was integrated, but quite wonderful. You want to talk about the use of dance and the show.
Speaker Well, you know, there was one very wonderful number, the.
Speaker Tulsa does. Was it the girl I had mentioned before?
Speaker All I need now is a girl. And then there was the wonderful kind of again a dissolve when the newsboys did a dissolve with a lighting alabaster scope and grew up. So there was a transition there, which is a dissolve, which is like that wonderful dissolve in West Side Story.
Speaker And it reminded me that I think in on the time was the first time I saw a lobster scop used.
Speaker So this was from Jerry's earliest theatrical adventures. He he used everything in the theater, all the elements of the theater, lighting story, song, you know, and in imaginative ways.
Speaker Was the idea of them growing up via lobster scope cherries?
Speaker Oh, I think I think so. I don't know. Oh, you don't know? I don't really know.
Speaker It's just it's hard for me to believe that it wasn't I mean, such a I would think, um, what do you recall about the development if you do gimmick?
Speaker Well, let me say, oh, first, the part of a lecturer in their auditioning, they had auditioned lots of strippers and a woman came in with the equipment of Electra Faith. And I think that was her act. The woman with the trumpet.
Speaker And Marussia.
Speaker It was kind of I thought I'd take off from the what is the piece in New York City Ballet with Chopin? No, no, no, no. The funny funny would consider the concert that it seemed to me to be part of the concert. I think there is that person in the concert with the Butterfly Wings or. Yeah. And. I did a lot of work with Marussia in terms of helping her act, I mean, she had a wonderful charisma and personality, but she really didn't know how to relate as an actress. So we spent a lot of time together. But the development, I think, came out of all these elements auditions and they began to see a number there. I'm sure I would imagine Steve Sondheim and Arthur have much more to say than I would because it was already a conception when I came in. And I these are elements that I heard about.
Speaker Maybe I could talk a little bit more about. All I need now is the girl. That's the telephone number. Yeah, because it's kind of a genius, because it gives you the feeling of a duet.
Speaker But he had a problem. Because one of the two people was not a dancer. All right.
Speaker Well, I don't think with any authority, but, you know, Sandra Church couldn't dance and the young man could. And so she.
Speaker Was the center of the number and he kind of related to her, danced around her and.
Speaker Yeah, and everywhere you felt it was a duet because it couldn't have happened without her and it was again, it was just edited beautifully. I mean, what stayed in and what stayed out in terms of. Movement, because it finally wasn't see again, a dance number, this young man, the way he expressed himself in the play was to dance. He was fairly inarticulate. So dance was used as a means of communication. And I think that's why one thinks of it as a duet. There really was a to sing. It couldn't have been done without the object there, which was Sandra.
Speaker It's sort of an Astaire tribute to Jerry. Ever talk to you about it? No.
Speaker But, you know, I know later he did this wonderful number for the city ballet, you know.
Speaker Oh, yeah. What happened when he got to staging the strip?
Speaker What do you mean, what happened?
Speaker Well, remember versions, I mean, some people say he had terrible trouble staging strip them. There was there's another story about how he did stage the strip, but then. The person who was doing this trip was having an affair with the composer, and he didn't want her to take her clothes off, and there were all kinds of problems around the story.
Speaker What can you tell me? Well, you were there, but you sure?
Speaker I have to say, I don't want to talk about it so you can cough up. I don't. He never that I could see had any trouble with the strip at all. But there was problems with other people in.
Speaker And the creative team in terms of Sandra, so she was having an affair with Julian, didn't want to take her clothes off, is that basically it?
Speaker Well, that's what I heard. Let me tell you that at the gypsy run through, which was that upstairs at the Amsterdam theater. She took off her clothes and except for pastries on her breasts. And it was pretty stunning, it was. It's a shame that an audience didn't see it other than that that day.
Speaker Well, congratulations to you. That's right. It's a nice memory and obviously you've worn it with all these years.
Speaker There was also, I understand, a little bit of a dustup between Julie and Jerry over the Little Lamb. No. Do you remember that?
Speaker No, I don't. I've heard, you know, talk about it since, but I don't don't remember, um.
Speaker Is there anything else before we move on that you would like to say about and Gypsie?
Speaker No, you know, I mentioned I don't even know what this means, but I felt that I.
Speaker I really.
Speaker Was. I felt that our collaboration was the smoothest and that and I don't even know what I mean by that, but I remember feeling that that I was truly an extension of. Him and not someone else. It was a very smooth. Work, collaboration and.
Speaker But by that time, I mean, there were no.
Speaker I don't even know where to go with that. It was just do you think it worked with him?
Speaker Sure. Yeah.
Speaker I've had assistance to now, and I believe in that I think it's the best way of training a director and I'm in the business of training directors now. By that time I had gotten into his head, I knew how he thought. I knew how I felt. And so I there was a seamless, I think, transition between sometimes his being inarticulate, my understanding exactly what he wanted.
Speaker Now, you were not involved with Jerry at ATLE, his American theater lab?
Speaker No, he asked me to and I couldn't. I was off. Being a director on my own show, you know, can I just just for us, there came a time he asked me to work on funny not funny thing.
Speaker Tavia Fiddler, Fiddler and I thought about it.
Speaker It was the first time I said no because I didn't want to be known only as Jerry Robbins assistant.
Speaker He then he asked me to work on. Oh, dad, poor dad, which I did. He asked me to work on.
Speaker Mother Courage, which I started, but then left out, I mean, then I left, so he always see he came back to me but I, I had my own, you know, career to go. And it wasn't until the pop piece that we really worked together again. And he was wonderful in coming to my work at the park. And by that time, I also was working in Central Park and one of the things that meant a great deal to me was Jerry's saying, your work is so clear, it has such clarity and. I felt that is a great compliment coming from somebody who I thought had great clarity as a creator to.
Speaker So something as you know, nothing from ATL was ever produced. Yeah, there was a little exception, which was a little bit of a detour. But if you could you know what I'm talking about. No. There was an actor in ATL who, when Jerry wasn't using him, sat on the side of the room and was writing, taking notes and started to write a show.
Speaker You don't know? No, I don't know who Brackney.
Speaker I had no idea. I don't remember that.
Speaker Well, that's so funny. That's true. And finally, Jerry asked him, the story goes, what are you writing there? And he said, I've written a musical. This is while he was not being used and I've written a musical. And he showed it to Jerry and asked Jerry if he would help him or be involved in Jerry said, this is not for me. You should talk to Jerry Friedman.
Speaker He never told me this.
Speaker No, no, no.
Speaker There you go. Yeah, that's the only thing that got produced out of it. Oh, that's astonishing.
Speaker It's just absolutely the first time I've ever heard that.
Speaker I'm so glad it's true. I mean, I'm only saying that. Oh, well, you can't talk to me, all right. Yes. Anyway, there you go. Uh, um.
Speaker So let's let's. Well, you know what, four hours before we start this, talk to me a little bit about Oded. Why do you suppose Jerry became involved in this very wonderful but extremely bizarre, Peter?
Speaker I, I, I don't know first, I can't remember whether it was Jerry or a Roger Stevens that sent me up to Harvard to see it was done at Harvard first.
Speaker And. I came back with a good report. And then it went into production. Now, Jo Van Fleet, I had directed Joe Van Fleet in a play of Molly Cezanne's and again. Gerry used me much in the same way that I worked with.
Speaker Judy Holliday, Joe is a very formidable actress, and I think he was a little intimidated by her, if you can imagine Jerry being intimidated by anybody and.
Speaker Joe and I had a wonderful relationship, I was able to talk to her on acting terms, my college roommate, Bill Daniels was in it and Bill had been in the zoo story and.
Speaker What? No, no, you know what, I'm getting off on it because I had to leave Oded.
Speaker In the middle and I then recommended Bill Daniels for Jerry to use to replace me, and then later I did the National Company with Sam Waterston. And so I know where where are we?
Speaker If you could tell me why you think Jerry chose that property.
Speaker I can't I can't tell you why. I just think it was it wasn't just a play.
Speaker It was. Out of the ordinary, I think he. I want to say bizarre, I guess it is bizarre and an appeal to.
Speaker To Gerry's theatricality.
Speaker You asked me about Bob Fosi and and Jerry Robbins on Bells are ringing and you remember that Bob Fosi had just worked with him on Pajama Game. And, you know, I think this was so wise, Candy, whatever you want to call it, of Jerry Robbins, he worked with Peter Junior on West Side Story. He worked with Bob Fosi on Bells are Ringing. And people said, well, he used them, not really. He saw that they could add something that he couldn't to the show. And and so in my way of thinking, there was no ego. He was the man you. Absolutely. And he used me to enhance the acting.
Speaker So he, I think, never had any doubt about who did what, but he would use it. Listen to think of those artists, Peter General, Bob Fosse, I like to think I'm I'm part of that my area, but I don't remember any friction in. Bells are ringing between Bob and Jerry, he gave Bob some of the most funny numbers to do a nightclub sequence, the subway number, which was filled with outrageous humor that Jerry loved. And, you know, no one could be funnier than Jerry. When you think of high button shoes and you think of some of the ballets, you know, the dream. So it wasn't that he couldn't do it, but it left him. He respected Bob. He knew that he would do good work and it would be fresh. Original was I think that's part of Jerry's genius, not his limitation.
Speaker And yet he wasn't so wild, I understand, about how Balzary turned out. You remember that? Why?
Speaker No, I don't I don't remember it. And I know that's not part of my sense of that show at all. You know, it was a wonderful vehicle for Judy Holliday, Betty and Adolph and Jerry had worked together before. And subsequently, this, you know, again, it's probably been said before, but. After West Side Story, I met Leonard Bernstein at the Claridge Hotel for I was doing the London company. Bells are ringing, as a matter of fact, and I had lunch with Leonard and he said, I I never want to work with Jerome Robbins again.
Speaker And he didn't mean it as a joke, it really he said it and then he realized how intemperate it was and it soon became and that was the relationship Jerry was. The guy on the block, I mean, that's what he insisted on, but it was a wonderful stimulus there.
Speaker Clashes were maybe Titanic, but resulted in wonderful artistic work.
Speaker Sure, I noticed that he gave himself or he took staged by credit instead of directed by credit and Balzary, do you anything he gave Fosi the choreography credit didn't take any credit for. What do you remember what I was?
Speaker Well, he didn't give me credit for directing something, so maybe, I don't know, maybe he felt self-conscious because.
Speaker Jean Stapleton always said, well, you know, Jerry, you you did the directing of the acting of the things and maybe I don't know, I didn't. I certainly didn't direct Judy Holliday, but. She looked to me for approval of what she was doing. Meaning was this good, was it funny, was it so I don't know, I you know, I never thought of that, that he only took staging credit. Which is peculiar, isn't it?
Speaker It is, it is, but, you know, in a funny way, his ego didn't operate like that, he would do whatever was best for for the overall good of the world. Yeah. And he obviously thought that you were, but he couldn't quite.
Speaker For himself, no. That's right.
Speaker Let's talk about West Side and Liz, is there anything else about bells are ringing that you remember that you would like to add that relates to Jerry?
Speaker Well, let me say that in terms of my relationship with Jerome Robbins on the first three shows that I did with Bells are ringing, then West Side Story, then Gypsy.
Speaker I think I.
Speaker Assisted him best in Gypsy by truly getting into his head and say, hey, this is what Jerry? What if so, it was a gradual coming to understand and know him better and how to work with him.
Speaker I don't you know, I certainly serviced him well in those three productions particularly. But I it was a the smoothest collaboration, I would say was in.
Speaker Let's talk about West Side. What was the central idea of the show, the central idea of West Side Story? Well.
Speaker You know, it was Romeo and Juliet story, but. Brought up to date, I mean, that's obvious and ridiculous, I think that central idea was. That Arthur Laurents. And Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins were, quote, serious artists who also worked in the popular theater. And they thought, can we bring this kind of art fullness and insight into a work in the theater? That was really, I think, the central idea. Of course, we know what the plot wasn't and everything else when I got involved with it, this was also my son's. I never felt that anybody thought they were making a commercial success. They were bringing their talents to something they believed in and that they were excited by and. I think it's it's commercial success almost came as a surprise. Now, that's probably my naive. A view of what went on, but that's what I think went on, all of them were fiercely competitive about their their work and ambitious. So that hardly seems possible. But it changed everything in musical theater, I think, and in a way. And you know what particularly changed after West Side Story, someone in a musical could not just dance or sing or act.
Speaker Now, that seems a commonplace now, but I remember so well, you know, you had singers, you had dancers, you had the stars who could do one a little bit of everything, maybe. But after that, a performer had to have all three skills to even be considered. And now that I'm at the School of the Arts, North Carolina School of the Arts and training people, I can tell you how different it is. So change it changed the complexion totally of musical theater. In America after that.
Speaker But, um, I'm not sure exactly when you came into the production, but they had some difficulty getting it produced. Were you involved at that time or did you come later?
Speaker I came to join the West Side Group just as it moved from Cheryl Crawford, who is an initial producer, to Roger Stevens and Hal Prince and Bobby Griffith. That's exactly when I came into it. I talked to Hal recently, and there was I'd heard that Elia Kazan cautioned Cheryll about it that way, a musical about gang warfare, you know, not a hot prospect, but how sad that really wasn't it, that. Because of certain circumstances, Cheryl wasn't able to raise money for the production that and she kind of handed it over. And when you think of the things that she. Had produced I mean, difficult and challenging were not not part of her vocabulary. I mean, she did exciting and thrilling and and unconventional as well as conventional things. So that made some sense to me. But I never heard that until a couple of months ago, actually. So that was when I came in for about six weeks. It seemed to me that there was. A chance that it wouldn't get out, that it was floating now again, Hal Prince told me that. As soon as they heard it, he and Bobby heard it, they were out of town with a new girl in town. As soon as they heard it, they wanted to do it, but they hadn't come in yet. They thought it would be wrong to announce that they were going to produce it. And I presume that's true, but I hadn't heard that until a couple of weeks, a couple of months ago.
Speaker Tell me about the rehearsal. Understand that certain methods that he used. Yeah. Yeah.
Speaker Jerry encouraged. Fostered almost demanded that the jets and the sharks. Not. Well, not communicate, but not socialize in any way that they were to stay by themselves and and encourage that kind of aggressive. Tribal aspect of the show and the different groups took to that, certainly and acted it out, my impression of it afterwards was that really wasn't what was going on. They were competitive. Yes. As jets and sharks, as performers and admiring. And one of the obvious facts of that is Chita Rivera, a shark married, Tony Mordente, a jet and cheetah laughingly talks about it. But it's true. So although they maintain what I thought was kind of an improvised theatrical charade, something else was going on that encouraged the the, well, competitive edge it was. And it was competitive competitiveness because they admired each other. I mean, they were dancing their their souls out, their hearts out, their bodies out. And so they couldn't help but admire and that fostered competition. And that led to what I thought was a lot of wonderful dynamic and, mind you, that you were talking to about. Dancers who had never acted before, who didn't maybe understand that kind of dynamic, so Jeri's fostering their gang hostility may have.
Speaker In their minds, anyway, encourage something that I interpreted really as competitiveness, not not aggression or hostility.
Speaker You talked before about him dispensing with the chorus, and I'm sorry about him dispensing with the chorus and the idea that everybody had to sing and dance and so forth. How did he work with the dancers to get them basically to become actors?
Speaker Well, I just met some of them, you know, there was a Leonard Bernstein affair in Harvard, so some of them came back, this being the fiftieth anniversary of West Side Story. I worked in a studio individually in as best I could. Getting them to talk to as opposed to act or perform, that was the hardest thing to get out of them. They were so used to performing and that was true of Larry Kert and Cheeta and and Carole. It was hard for them to separate performance from being an. I use various acting techniques to get them to surrender that sense of performing and really communicate with each other. Now. The sense of performing finally never left them, and it survived in their being, but they they shared the love me part of a performer's audience react, you know, dynamic, you know, love me. That wasn't a part of it.
Speaker What was Jerry's relationship with the cast like? You'll have to repeat again, what was Jerry's relationship with the cast like?
Speaker Well, various, I mean. With someone like it was. Pretty stunning because he. And she got along great, he he pushed her. And she welcomed it, as you know, getting the essence out of her and Peter Gennaro, who did a lot of her choreography, did the same. So there was an ameliorating effect there between Peter and Sheila and Sheila and Gerry, but.
Speaker He worked Mickey Cowan, who played Riff. Into. I don't know. Against the wall backed him up against a wall. Day after day, but Mickey had the spine to stand up to it and become an actor and become an today. When we talk about it, he thinks of it as a wonderful experience. But it was tough. And he used humiliation, embarrassment, anger to get some of those results.
Speaker Can you give me an example?
Speaker I'm only repeating something that Mickey Kallin told me recently. Mickey was basically a cover. He had never done ballet and he had done some Broadway work. But in the chorus and in the boyfriend, I think he was a featured performer at any rate. And he was very good looking, but in a slick way. He drove a Thunderbird, which was his pride. And Jerry absolutely used all those elements to humiliate him in front of the company in order to get him to divest his cockiness, his. Surface kind of glitter and get to a street level, which Mickey was capable of. He was a street kid, but it had that had been years before he'd worked hard to get rid of that. And that that's one of the. Examples I remember most. How would he do? Oh, and Carol, goodness, I mean. Carol was as had as strong a constitution as you can imagine, but she she had been performer for a dozen years at least, and always came in a or at first came in a very pretty costume. I mean, she had an outfit, a pink ribbon and a pink dancing, you know, and and cherries stripped her of those say, I mean, day after day. No, no, no, no. And she came back for more because he wanted Maria obviously not to be a performer, to be as a simple, naive, innocent immigrant girl. And it took. A lot, and that's a place where I I was able to help him a lot because she then could come to me and I could help her understand what he was after. And she was tough, talented and determined. And but it took time to divest herself of those accoutrements of being a performer in the theater. That's what everybody wanted. And suddenly here was a show when they didn't want any of that.
Speaker What exactly do to these people? That would be so.
Speaker Well, you can imagine in front of the company saying, you know, you're acting like a chorus girl. What are you wearing? What what does this matching outfit about, what are those eyelashes? Get them off, scrub your face, take the makeup off. Mickey, you know, you're not driving a Thunderbird in here. You don't have a car, things of that sort. I mean, he would. He was able to really get to. Their vulnerability. And say, fortunately, they also were. I must say, tough cookies, that isn't what it was about, but they all believed in the show so much, they wanted to be part of the show and they wanted to work with Jerome Robbins. And I think there's anyone of them who wouldn't look back on that experience as a thrilling moment in their life, tough and in some ways humiliating, embarrassing, but. The best, the best that they were capable of.
Speaker Jerry must have had conversations about each one of these characters in the show before you you talked before about how you directed them separately. Yeah. Can you characterize those conversations in some way? Tell me about them. In other words, what did he contribute to the conversation?
Speaker Well, I'm going to say everything I mean, I I set out with my knowledge or awareness of actors technique and being able to communicate actors to fulfill his vision. These weren't my ideas.
Speaker So he I was with him when he was creating, say, before we went into rehearsal, some of the ballads and we would talk about the characters, Arab and Baby John. And just in a couple of words, she would characterize them. I can't tell you explicitly. I don't remember them, but.
Speaker Hope and I like to think I fulfilled his vision, I didn't make up anything or contribute something original, what I did was I had the language and the technique to fulfill his. His his ideas and partly I was. I was a healer, I mean, I am a healer, and I think Jerry understood that and knew that he always used me that way.
Speaker I I never contradicted him, I never would, but I would.
Speaker Be it supportive and reinforce their their ego, really, but without ever taking their side, I was there to.
Speaker Assistant Jerome Robbins in his vision.
Speaker What did you observe in the relationships between Jerry and the collaborators on the West Side? Why don't you start with Lennie?
Speaker Well, coming in on a relationship between Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins after they had done ballet together, after they had been.
Speaker Aspiring youngsters, really, I mean. So it was kind of late in the relationship, but Jerry was. This was his vision and it was true in terms of the musical language and. When I say I mean, for instance, the balcony scene that we know was much longer, it had a lot of recitative in it and quite wonderful. And I remember I think I remember rehearsing all that. And then one afternoon rehearsal, Jerry just said it has to go and he cut out a lot of the recitative. Now, you would think and maybe Leonard did. Fight for I don't know, but I wasn't aware that he did he cut it.
Speaker There is a.
Speaker A story about Jerry cutting, I remember this, but I didn't know the dynamics till later. Cutting something out of an orchestration in when the orchestra was in the theater before we had open and. Leonard. Was furious about it, but didn't say anything. But he left it in. Because Cherry's instinct was apparently right. What Jerry later said, he did not letter was in the theater. He would have consulted him and you don't know. But again, my sense of it is I'm I'm Jerry Robbins. I'm that's wrong. Or it could be better. And so you impulsively follow that instinct and and do it the action and then maybe think of the repercussions later. He wasn't the most diplomatic person as we know. On the other hand, working with someone like Ethel Merman, he was the most diplomatic person. But what earned your respect, whether you were a star or a congressperson, was his integrity, the integrity of the art, you couldn't you knew he was going to make you better or this was a better idea. And frankly, I found Jerry also, he would listen, you know, and it was a good idea, he would take it.
Speaker What did you observe about his relationship with Arthur?
Speaker Well, mostly, you know, it I'm not a good one to ask because.
Speaker I've heard so many stories now that I don't know that they've become what I know rather than what I witnessed, and it is interesting, Arthur and I have become good friends in the last couple of years. But because yeah.
Speaker We're hearing extraneous sounds. Oh, you. OK, so when you're ready, you need more water. OK? You and to become good friends, start there.
Speaker Well, Arthur Laurents and I have become good friends in the last number of years, and what I realize now is Arthur always saw me as Jerry's guy. And. So and I was I was fulfilling it, I didn't fulfilling Jerry's vision, as I said so. I don't I wasn't aware of what I now know was a lot of tension between them and anyway artistic arguments, you know, they still.
Speaker Talk to each other afterwards, they consulted each other, I think they had great artistic respect for each other. You know, Arthur is an incredibly perceptive and honest person, and he. Tells you like it is anyway, the way he thinks about it, that's very valuable in the theater. You don't people are so used to hedging their bets and being tactful. And Arthur gets to the point rather quickly.
Speaker And I'm sure that's something Jerry admired very much, even though sometimes Bridel and I know that in Gypsie, Arthur was really kind of the top dog it was about. His story and the way he wanted to tell it and. So there was a kind of reversal, I think, that happened as a result maybe of the West Side Story relationship, the dynamic change I read remember reading the jury sent me the book of. Gypsy, I mean, the playbook, and when I read it, I thought it was absolutely a wonderful play and where is there room for music? But. Arthas, you know, script was just wonderful and. As we know how difficult it is, how rare it is to find a a good book writer, which is an. An art that isn't very.
Speaker Well, appreciated in the theater of West Side. You can talk a little bit about the cinematic aspect of Jerry's directing. Um, there was I mean. In terms of pacing and also there, that moment in the show, which is often cited where Maria is putting on her party dress, strangers fall down. And do you know what I'm talking about that transition?
Speaker Oh, of course. OK. And I understand there was a little accident involved that right?
Speaker No, I don't remember that at all. No, I thought that was one of the most and still remains the most stunning. Well.
Speaker Is putting on a dress to go to the dance, and it's a very simple dress and and Anita has convinced her that she will outshine everyone else and she starts to twirl and then she twirls into what is going to be the dance hall. At that point, a ribbon curtain comes down, which is breathtaking. It's still remains one of the most breathtaking good attitude that I have ever witnessed. And, you know, we're doing a revival at a fiftieth revival at North Carolina School of the Arts. And that is going to be in it because you can never make that transition any more beautiful and very simple. It's just ribbons coming down the stage for ribbon. She twirls, draws the ribbons, come down, and when they lift, you're in a totally different environment. It is so absolutely thrilling. And the connecting link is Maria twirling into that space. The ribbons come down and it comes up and you're somewhere else. Now, that is a great dissolve to go a movie term.
Speaker Exactly. But, you know, I read out of my source here that it was an accident, that in rehearsal, that drop came down to early by mistake and and keep it in. You don't remember that?
Speaker I don't remember that at all. And. I want to say, who cares, because that, again, is typical, if it was a mistake and it was good, it becomes the decision.
Speaker Now, Peter choreographed America, I think as I understand it, it didn't quite work, and Jerry came in and did something which nobody can tell me, but hopefully you can.
Speaker I can't. I can't.
Speaker The only one who perhaps good is Chita Rivera.
Speaker I tried my best writing because.
Speaker One of the.
Speaker Well, but that's you're you're you're talking about a moment that made America, quote, work, but that is the essence of theater. Who knows who contributes what? Some an actor contributes a line that's better than the line that was in. Somebody makes a mistake and you say, that's it. Keep it.
Speaker That is the essence of theater. And that's why I love it so much. And what was so smart about Jerome Robbins? I mean, no, I didn't plan it that way. No, it was great. Leave it in.
Speaker What do you remember about West Side opening night?
Speaker Well, I hope this won't shock you, but I wasn't there opening night in Philadelphia a week before the show opened. The Theater Guild asked me to go to London and do the London Company of Bells are ringing now, there's no way I could refuse that a week before we went into New York. So I wasn't there.
Speaker OK, hang on one second. So if you could tell me what was the path of peace and what was Jerry's goal in making it?
Speaker Well, the pop piece was. An effort on his part to theatrical lies, an autobiography. And when I came into it. He asked me to work with him in East Hampton, where he had a house and he had a suitcase, quite a large suitcase filled with clippings, photographs, stories, he'd been working on this for decades. When I say that, I don't know if he was working on the poppies, but he was working on things that began. There were maybe autobiographical or things that appealed to him or that he saw a possibility of was very wide ranging in his. Material wasn't just about me, Jerry, but so he had been thinking about this for some time. That's what I got an impression of and. And he would take out this material and we'd go through it and he would already had kind of an outline in his mind of where he wanted to go and he would talk about it to me. He would show me some of the things he'd talk about, some of his ideas, how he would do it and dance or dialogue and.
Speaker I was.
Speaker Thrilled to be part of it now, Jerry called me and asked if I would help him on this, and he described it as an autobiographical piece. And I had for a while some very strong misgivings because I thought, here I am. I'm I'm a director in my own right and I have my own reputation. Do I want to go back and be Jerry's assistant again or. So sad or something, and what will people in the profession think then I thought, wait a minute, this is totally stupid to think this way. How often do you get to work with someone like Jerry? And I then said, I'm on board. And that's when we went out to East Hampton and worked for about a week, it seemed to me. And it was a workshop. At Lincoln Center, and they funded it, I guess, to the end that passed, there be a possible theatrical work that came out of it.
Speaker We went up and he said he would read a scene that he wrote to me and we talk about it and maybe I do some editing. What do you really need this line? What should we do?
Speaker Blah, blah, blah. And then. He had. Auditions, which I wasn't a part of for. For the boy, the young boy who was the young Jerome Robbins, who was a very talented youngster from Philadelphia. Who could sing and act and dance, and he called in. People that he had worked with, a wonderful cadre of male and female dancers that he had worked with the new I don't I don't think he auditioned any of them the dancers, and started to work on this piece. Michael Ritchie was the stage manager who now is head of the, you know, the artistic director or managing director of the Mark Taper. And. It began to take shape in the most wonderful way. Some in short scenes and dance numbers, there was a bicycle ballet that was one of the most beautiful and extraordinary and original things I. I remember that I think I've ever seen it was about guys who had tormented him as a kid and that threatening him with the bicycle's surrounding him and it was both threatening and beautiful, absolutely beautiful and sounds so ordinary. I mean, kids. I mean, dancers on bicycles. But I guess it never saw the light of day and then it dealt with his.
Speaker Jewish background, his.
Speaker Largely his problem with his father. And his family. It was very personal, it wasn't didn't seem to me to be sugarcoated, but what do I know? I mean, I only know what he told me and what we saw, but it couldn't have been sugarcoated because it was some was very hard to take in terms of relationships. And you also tell me stories that didn't end up in the paper piece, but that helped me understand the piece, then there were different people that he cast as. The father one was. King, the comedian who Alan King and. That's a wonderful actor was in fire, the Robin Bates, Robbie Bates plays Ron Rifkin and yet someone else who all contributed very. Interestingly to the project, and we're all very good, I don't know exactly what Jerry was looking for and I don't think he knew what he was looking for in terms of the father. Alan King wasn't just a comedian. I mean, he was a very wonderful actor as well as having that sense of humor. And of course, Ron Rifkin was a very riveting, dramatic presence. It was truly a workshop and after a while, Jerry. Asked me if I knew John Wiedman or John, wait a minute, call me, do you know I know you've worked with Jerry because he thought he needed some help with the book and I'd worked with John and then he. Got. I can't remember who the composer was, but the the klezmer young guy who used klezmer and jazz and we experimented with that. And I think Jonathan Tunick also came in on that aspect of it was a pretty elaborate workshop. And eventually it was. Put on for an invited audience in one of the rehearsal rooms, not in a finished stage because it was never finished. My. Feeling about it was. My feeling about it was it broke down and the House un-American Activities Committee, he never really felt satisfied with it when we talked about it in East Hampton. He had various explanations for all of which I thought were credible, I thought they were not. Cover ups, I thought he was trying to get out why and they all made sense to me, then he would. Write it in several different ways, he'd write it as a television. What do I say a clown show then is a television interview show, then in some other way he kept trying it in different guises, how to present this part of his life. They all seem valid to me. They all seemed interesting, but. They never seem to get at the heart. Of the matter for him. And. I was a young. Kid, I was in my early 20s when I came to New York and I lived through that, I was at NBC and an assistant director position, I knew actors who were blacklisted. I knew all about red channels. So I was aware of that period. But I and I was aware of Jerome Robbins, but not in the way that I came to know.
Speaker And it was a very complex. Time for.
Speaker All of us, I was on the outside of it and found it difficult to understand. Later, I worked with actors whose careers had been destroyed by it. And then, you know, slowly coming into the business. So I don't wonder that he found it difficult to put his finger on. What motivated him, if that indeed was what he was looking for? It was. Very complex and very damaging, it, you know, it damaged some of his relationships forever, as it did Kazan and Miller, as it did other people that I came to know later in and in my more mature years. It was a horrible. Desperate time and. I was surprised I'm getting emotional about it.
Speaker I felt I could understand where Jerry was coming from. And I said, well, what I do, I have no idea, I don't think anyone knows until you're faced with it.
Speaker Arthur Laurents. I think never forgave him. And in a sense. Jerry seem never to forgive himself.
Speaker Never come to terms with anything, I think that's what prevented the peace from coming into fruition. It was filled with wonderful, wonderful, imaginative, theatrical, personal.
Speaker Stunning theatrical effects and honesty, but it could never finish it.
Speaker And Tom, can you just confirm that when Jerry when it was over, when he closed the workshop? He left the most personal message on my answering machine that I would have, you know, carved in stone and an associate of mine erased it. I'll never forget it because it was all the years that I had worked with Jerry, put into a number of sentences that was very, very, very gratifying. And he was very grateful for my work with him on it. It meant a great deal to him. I mean, that piece, I think, and.
Speaker I think my empathy was was reassuring to him or a positive thing.
Speaker I'm sure it was.
Speaker Do you know how long you worked in the biz?
Speaker I really, I think, collecting the information, maybe decades.
Speaker OK, um.
Speaker How would you describe Jerry? As a collaborator.
Speaker You know, I can't really say, because I I wasn't a collaborator in that sense, that Julie or Leonard or Arthur was or Comden and Green. I think those people all came together and they came together more than once, so they must have had some respect for each other. They admired his. Talent greatly and his skill. You know, Gerry Prince, remember working on the office? And going into previews and then not opening it because he. He didn't want a failure if he didn't think it was going to work, it closed and he did the same. That's, I think, part of his wonderful editing. So if you are a collaborator. Wait a minute, you know, I believe in it, but you don't. There had to be, you know, problems. But his. His love or focus on the art of it, on the timing, on the discipline, how can you argue with that? I mean, it's very difficult. He was much in demand and and took advantage of it, I guess.
Speaker Ah, made the most of it in his in positioning himself in a collaboration. So I think he probably was very difficult.
Speaker I know you had occasion to see him with his dog. I think it must. I'm not sure which one, but it probably was a.. Because I think Nick was probably gone by that time.
Speaker Yeah, but was a white dog? No, it was a black dog. A black or golden retriever, I think. OK, that was an go. How did you know this? Um, you know, research work. So I don't know if they're ever set or something. Well anyway. But it's true, right. Yeah.
Speaker Can you tell me what was he like with a dog.
Speaker I'm laughing because he was so endearing. He would interrupt a sentence and to be affectionate with the dog or be concerned with the dog and then pick up exactly where we left off. He. You know, this animal was is his concern. I can't say it was his friend, but it certainly was. His baby in that looking after after him, being concerned about him and at the same time it was when Jerry was very vulnerable, too, I mean, physically.
Speaker Our last.
Speaker Meeting, he was very aware he had had a valve replacement, you know, in the heart and. And he talked about and he talked about his.
Speaker About his legacy, what what kind of a legacy was going to leave in the foundation? So he was aware of his mortality, very aware of his mortality. At the same time.
Speaker He wanted to keep working.
Speaker But his. His body was frail. His mind wasn't.
Speaker For me. As it turned out, it was a. A nice.
Speaker Moment of closure, as it were. I mean, we I felt we had. Had a nice coming together at the very end in a really good way. It meant a great deal to me that Jerry asked me repeatedly to come back, and particularly at the end. And so many respected my work and. And he knew that I was valuable to him, that I could help him and.
Speaker It was great to be in the presence of that mind that. Working, working, working, I mean, I feel like, you know, machinery going around cogs and cogs, it always seemed to be moving, moving.
Speaker How would you describe his contribution to musical theater?
Speaker You know, a lot of thoughts came to me when you asked me how to what I describe as contribution to musical theater and curious enough, George Abbott came to my mind to and Jerry, of course, had worked with George. As I came to it later, late in my life, but. It's hard to describe what they mean to musical theater because a director's work is very ephemeral. That's the dynamic, it's part of the atmosphere, it's part of the world that people and the atmosphere that they're breathing, but you can't see it, you can't touch it, you can't feel it. And that is. Where Abbott and Robbins in a different way were so. Gifted, and that's the legacy they they gave us, I can't think of. People who are more responsible for the shape that.
Speaker Musical theater took certainly in the 20th century. I ask you, you know, let me say, you know, for once I think. Stephen Sondheim has shaped it in a different way through his writing, but it has had tremendous, impressive effect on musical theater and that is something we can. Is palpable because it's written down, but I can't think of a director that is. Men as much as Abbott and Robbins to the musical theatre.
Speaker I'm going to ask you to read something that you wrote to Gerry, as I understand it, and to maybe. Explain what you meant by this after you read it for those maybe not familiar with this word.
Speaker These these pots. Ah, what I feel I learned from Gerri, I try very hard to emulate him in that way, which is.
Speaker Relentless in my search for truth and. As rigorous as I can be about editing my work.
Speaker And I know I I passed this on because I get feedback to this extent, I don't think I don't know if I learned this from Jerry, but it certainly it reinforced who I was. And then in that case, I think he recognized it in me that I was. Interested in those same things, or I was attracted to those same things about truth and rigour in the work and not being satisfied unless you can see something really happening on stage as. Opposed to something just entertaining, you can do both. It's not either or, but if it's just entertaining. You've missed the mark. Something is not there.
Speaker And he couldn't have known that about me when we first came together, but I think he came to understand that and and respected in me as I did in him, it was so reinforced by what I saw and I think he was tortured by it. This wasn't like something I believe in. He couldn't be anything else, but. Going for the truth, that's oh, you said picking on someone who, in a sense affected the atmosphere by not focusing on what was the truth, not because of their limitation, not because of their lack of desire and. If you saw him edit his work and relentlessly go after a moment, you had to know that it was torture because I can't let it go until it's right. Until it's right, until it's right. And that is an easy.
Speaker Could I, Tom, change your name, please? Could I ask you to read that aloud? Sure.
Speaker You've been such a wonderful mentor and demonstrating your commitment to the work, your resistance to compromise. Your ruthless examination of our own work and your continuous and restless search for the truth, the right gesture, the absolute essence.
Speaker Anything that you would like to say about Jerry that I happened to?
Speaker Well, it'll I hope it'll come out in your. Documentary or or in this work, but.
Speaker When I hear the people who feel. That he was so tough and that they suffered agonize over I know because I saw some of it, but it was I feel it was always in terms of the work.
Speaker I'm. You know, there are now three books about sherries life, and they're all pretty thorough and the research that that thrills me that that somebody thinks it's worth documenting on that level.
Speaker Because he was a formidable force and to my mind.