Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
S36 Ep4

Joe Papp in Five Acts

Premiere: 6/3/2022 | 00:01:42 |

Joe Papp, founder of The Public Theater, Free Shakespeare in the Park and producer of groundbreaking plays like "Hair," "A Chorus Line" and "for colored girls," created a 'theater of inclusion' based on the belief that great art is for everyone.

WATCH PREVIEW

WATCH FULL EPISODE

About the Episode

Joe Papp in Five Acts Pulls Back the Curtain on the Career, Social Vision and Impact of The Public Theater’s Joe Papp.

Ahead of the 60th Anniversary Season of Free Shakespeare in The Park at New York City’s Delacorte Theater in Central Park, American Masters: Joe Papp in Five Acts tells the story of this indomitable, street-wise champion of the arts. As founder of The Public Theater, Free Shakespeare in the Park and producer of groundbreaking plays like Hair, A Chorus Line and for colored girls…, Papp believed great art was for everyone, not just a privileged few. A cultural change agent for more than fifty years, Papp’s stages held up a mirror to society with work that reflected the reality of people’s lives. Directed, produced and written by Tracie Holder and Karen Thorsen, American Masters: Joe Papp in Five Acts premieres nationwide Friday, June 3 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), http://pbs.org/americanmasters and the PBS Video app as part of #PBSForTheArts.

More than perhaps any other cultural figure in recent history, Papp worked to expand public access to the arts. “We have public libraries,” he would argue, “Why not public theaters?” Papp recognized the role artists could play in building a more democratic, inclusive society. At a time when theatre was largely the domain of white men, he was convinced that women, LGBTQIA+, BIPOC and other marginalized communities, denied power elsewhere in society, could develop it on the stage. His goal was a “theater of inclusion” on-stage, backstage, and in the audience.

Featuring rare footage from the 50s to Papp’s death in 1991 and up-close scenes from the performances themselves, American Masters: Joe Papp in Five Acts tells his story without narration. His great accomplishments and his own, often tumultuous, personal history are told by the artists he helped create—and, in some cases, tried to destroy—including James Earl Jones (the Star Wars trilogy, The Lion King), Kevin Kline (Dave, A Fish Called Wanda), Larry Kramer (playwright, The Normal Heart, The Destiny of Me), Mandy Patinkin (Sunday in the Park with George, Homeland), Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now, West Wing), Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice, Mamma Mia), Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter, Pulp Fiction) and George C. Wolfe (director Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, former Artistic Director of The Public Theater), among others.

Using his life and work as its prism, American Masters: Joe Papp in Five Acts, aims to keep the legacy of this larger-than-life visionary alive and spark a national conversation about what it means to be American and the role of art in a democracy for a new generation.

SHARE
QUOTE
"Most courage comes out of fear. I’ll tell you that. You're fighting to stay alive."
PRODUCTION CREDITS

American Masters: Joe Papp in Five Acts is a production of The Papp Project, LLC in association with American Masters Pictures. Directed by Tracie Holder and Karen Thorsen. Produced and written by Tracie Holder and Karen Thorsen. Susan Lacy and Michael Kantor are executive producers for American Masters.

About American Masters
Launched in 1986 on PBS, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 14 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, American Masters offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the podcast American Masters: Creative Spark, educational resources, digital original series and more. The series is a production of The WNET Group.

American Masters is available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. PBS station members can view many series, documentaries and specials via PBS Passport. For more information about PBS Passport, visit the PBS Passport FAQ website.

About The WNET Group
The WNET Group creates inspiring media content and meaningful experiences for diverse audiences nationwide. It is the community-supported home of New York’s THIRTEEN – America’s flagship PBS station – WLIW21, THIRTEEN PBSKids, WLIW World and Create; NJ PBS, New Jersey’s statewide public television network; Long Island’s only NPR station WLIW-FM; ALL ARTS, the arts and culture media provider; and newsroom NJ Spotlight News. Through these channels and streaming platforms, The WNET Group brings arts, culture, education, news, documentary, entertainment and DIY programming to more than five million viewers each month. The WNET Group’s award-winning productions include signature PBS series Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend and Amanpour and Company and trusted local news programs MetroFocus and NJ Spotlight News with Briana Vannozzi. Inspiring curiosity and nurturing dreams, The WNET Group’s award-winning Kids’ Media and Education team produces the PBS KIDS series Cyberchase, interactive Mission US history games, and resources for families, teachers and caregivers. A leading nonprofit public media producer for nearly 60 years, The WNET Group presents and distributes content that fosters lifelong learning, including multiplatform initiatives addressing poverty, jobs, economic opportunity, social justice, understanding and the environment. Through Passport, station members can stream new and archival programming anytime, anywhere. The WNET Group represents the best in public media. Join us.

UNDERWRITING

Major funding for American Masters: Joe Papp in Five Acts is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ford Foundation and LusEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust. Additional funding provided by National Foundation for Jewish Culture, New York State Council for the Arts, The Better Angels Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Estate of Roland Karlen, The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation, Humanities New York, Ettinger Foundation, Inc., Vital Projects Fund.

Original series production funding for American Masters is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Cheryl & Philip Milstein family, Judith & Burton Resnick, Seton Melvin Charitable Trust, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Vital Projects Fund, Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen & James S. Marcus, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Koo and Patricia Yuenand public television viewers.

TRANSCRIPT

♪♪ ♪♪ -The New York Shakespeare Festival Mobile Theater will present 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' tonight in your neighborhood at 8:00 p.m.

Admission is free.

Admission is free. Tonight in your neighborhood.

-I can't be any more than eight or nine years old.

I look outside the window, and something is going on in our park.

A couple of trailers show up, they start building something.

I'm eight years old.

I don't know what the hell it is.

♪♪ -He wanted Shakespeare to be like a public library.

Free, accessible. You help people get it.

-Why don't we charge admission?

'Cause it's considered important to the life of the city, the educational life.

-Joe Papp was saying, this is the way art should be.

I mean, this was public theater that was public -- it was free.

-I felt even a quarter would be too much.

[ Renaissance music playing ] -I'm sitting there in these bleachers, and all of a sudden there's these people in the weirdest garments I'd ever seen in my life.

My father's sitting next to me, and we're just watching, you know, Shakespeare.

-[ Indistinct ] -We were taught by our teachers in high school that Shakespeare was hard stuff.

Cultural spinach.

-Away, you ugly cow!

-But there's Joe Papp doing it in the back of a truck in my neighborhood.

-Demetrius, I will keep my word with thee!

-And that adds something.

That's a different perspective on Shakespeare.

That's beautiful.

-He wanted the theater to be as public as the library was.

He said if the library had not been public, he would never have discovered Shakespeare.

-The theater was his pen.

It was the means by which he wrote his commentary on what was going on in the society.

And we were the ink.

♪♪ -He felt that his theater could lead an army... ♪♪ ...that he could fight the good fight, that he could put his theater on a tank and lead a division.

-I must do something that has some value.

I can't just -- can't be in show business.

I just don't do shows.

They must have meaning.

-The way he swam between the world of the avant garde and the commercial world was completely admirable.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -Oh, for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.

A kingdom for a stage... princes to act... and monarchs to behold the swelling scene.

♪♪ -I was born in Brooklyn. Williamsburg part of Brooklyn.

♪♪ Always danger of some kind, of being beaten up.

I mean, there was stabbing.

You'd always see someone running down the block with a knife in his chest.

And I learned one thing at the time.

If you hit first, you have a tremendous psychological advantage.

♪♪ I was only 12, and I picked that up.

The time I was young, which was in the '30s, there was a tremendous amount of ferment.

There were extraordinary streams of thought that were coming -- coming around, particularly in the poor neighborhood in which I was born, because of the Depression.

I mean, every second person was a radical.

In fact, the Young Communist League used to have a storefront that said 'Young Communist League' right in the front.

What they were saying sounded very good.

The elimination of poverty and class distinctions.

There was a group of thugs like myself which would take furniture that had been placed out on the sidewalk.

People couldn't pay their rent.

They'd empty out the whole apartment and throw it onto the street, and you'd see a whole family on the street.

We'd wait until nightfall.

We put it right back in again.

The police would come and try to stop us.

We'd disappear.

♪♪ When I was young, I had no idea what culture meant or -- it was never even mentioned.

But the tastes of young people were very, very high.

We knew what was good.

You knew a good song. You knew a good baseball player.

I mean, boy, they know a good dancer.

♪♪ I was in junior high school, and some teacher read a little scene from 'Julius Caesar.'

It was a speech about rousing people to action and loyalty.

I loved that speech.

'You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things.

O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome.'

I identified with the character.

He was protesting some injustice done to someone he cared for.

I didn't understand a lot of the things, but it sounded so good, and I memorized it.

♪♪ I didn't admit to anybody that I loved Shakespeare.

On my block, if you told that to any of those guys, they'd beat you up.

♪♪ -He has new cultural experiences and he becomes dedicated to continuing the process for other people who haven't been as lucky.

He takes Shakespeare, and he disseminates.

♪♪ -I started walking around, and I stumbled on this place, the East River Park Amphitheater.

It's one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city, and yet I felt very much at home in that community.

It's a neighborhood where people are on the street.

-I got a call one day, and this voice came on and said, 'Colleen Dewhurst?' I said, 'Yes.'

He said, 'My name's Joe Papp.

I'm going to start a company -- Shakespeare for the people, something that is free.'

And I mean, did I care?

I just want to know, does this man have a job for me?

[ Chuckles ] -Saturday was the last day for actors to audition for the New York Shakespeare Festival for its inaugural season.

I told my friends, 'Tomorrow I'm going to become an actor.'

And they said, 'What? You're Black.

You don't know how tough it's going to be.

They'll have you bearing torches.'

By 6:00 p.m. the next day, Joseph Papp was saying to me, 'You're new to me.

How long have you been an actor?'

And I said, '12 hours, but I have no intention of bearing any torches.'

And he broke up laughing.

He says, 'No, you'll have words.'

-Joe wanted to fill the stage with the same kind of people he was going to fill the audience with -- all the people of the city.

-He thought, 'If I'm -- if I can be in this, if I'm King Lear, then everybody else can be.'

♪♪ -The first show that opened here, with no advertising, nothing, just opened the doors, and the place was packed.

-You couldn't stop the people from coming in.

-Every color... every possible group was there.

-Old people, young people, Jewish people, Hispanic people, Black people, hundreds of people.

-These people were dealing with Shakespeare for the first time, probably theater for the first time.

-They laughed. They roared. The people would yell.

They'd go, 'Look out! Here she comes! Look out!'

-'Don't do it, Romeo! She ain't dead.

Romeo, don't do it! Oh, Christ!'

-It was all very much alive, almost like an Elizabethan audience.

-'The Taming of the Shrew' was on at the amphitheater opening night... ...and there was a thunderstorm.

[ Thunder booming ] The rain ends the first act, and Gelb writes this glowing review of one act.

♪♪ -'It started to rain at 9:45 last night.

Petruchio had just finished giving Kate a sound trouncing.

The audience was leaning raptly forward.

It started raining, and the audience did not leave.

If ever an audience was with the play, this one was.

Exclamations of dismay, disappointed shouts resounded in a blending of dialects that could be heard only on the Lower East Side.'

-He wrote this wonderful piece, and it became kind of a turning point for me.

-We were all very young with no notion that we were forming an institution.

And we watched it growing.

We watched it growing.

♪♪ ♪♪ -I didn't know that Joe was an active communist when I fell in love with him and I promised to marry him.

-Joe's first professional job in the theater was in a touring company of 'Death of a Salesman.'

One of the members of the company was Peggy Bennion.

-I had a dressing room that was on the fifth floor, and he would run up five flights of stairs in between his cues to talk to me.

One night, he missed a cue, so he didn't do that anymore.

Once he was talking about going 'shee-ing.'

I said, 'Shee-ing?'

And he said, 'Yes, that's the English pronunciation for skiing.'

He said, 'My mother is English.'

-Joe affected a rather elegant speech.

One didn't know that he was from Brooklyn. I didn't know.

But maybe I just didn't recognize a Brooklyn accent.

-It was very painful when I realized I was falling in love with him because he was married and had a three-year-old son.

-In fact, Michael was Joe's second child.

There had been a first marriage, and there was one child from that marriage.

Joe and I were best friends, yet I didn't know about that marriage until many, many years later.

-Imagine my bringing home to my family... somebody who had been married twice before, who had two children, and who was an active communist at the height of McCarthyism.

My poor parents.

-The New York Shakespeare Festival Mobile Theater is here tonight at 8:00 p.m. at Madison and [indistinct] Street.

At Madison and [indistinct] Street.

Admission is free.

-It was so characteristic of Joe to think that what was good in the borough of Manhattan would be even better were it to be extended to the outlying boroughs.

And so Joe developed the Mobile Theater.

-It was a portable 35-foot trailer truck in which we built a stage which would unfold.

I arranged to get a sanitation truck to pull this thing around the city.

I found myself directing all the plays on the mobile unit because I felt this was the thing I wanted to be closely identified with to bring Shakespeare to these communities.

-What dreadful dole is here!

Eyes, do you see? How can it be?

-I remember a couple of women who were very distrustful, like, you know, 'What are these white people doing?'

-Be certain, nothing truer, 'tis no jest.

-But then the play gets going.

-...and love Helena. -O me!

[ Laughter ] -There was some sense of you're going to see something of your own life here, some reflection of you, if you just give it a chance.

[ Laughter, man speaking indistinctly ] ♪♪ ♪♪ -The culminating venue of this Mobile Theater was Central Park.

We brought this truck in, came in about 2:00 in the morning.

I had no permit.

There's a cop on a horse, and he saw me go by, kind of looked at me kind of strangely.

But he must have assumed nobody would come in with a huge 45-foot platform trailer without a permit, and the truck began to fall apart.

I mean, it kept going over to the side.

You'd see it coming around a corner, everybody'd go, 'Oh!' -[ Laughs ] -By the time the company got to Central Park, the trucks would no longer roll.

And so, by sheer inadvertence, the Shakespeare Festival wound up on the shore of this little pond in Central Park.

♪♪ -Here in this park, Central Park, New York, Papp's Shakespeare performances are absolutely free.

The only way to get a seat is to kill for it.

The whole thing is paid for by private and public donations -- the sort of thing I dare say that could only happen in America.

♪♪ -The idea that you're going to put on plays of Shakespeare for ordinary people who are supposed not to understand Shakespeare and not charge admission, it was a kind of a radical act.

I didn't think it was radical.

-[ Knocking ] -Joe didn't realize that his political ideals would come back to haunt him.

The FBI used to come and knock on our door trying to get Joe to inform.

-We just thought we'd drop in and have a little talk with you.

We're from Red Squad.

-He was asked to name names, to ruin people's careers.

It was a fact that when you did that, people's lives were destroyed.

-You're a red, ain't ya?

-They said, 'You'd better cooperate if you know what's good for you.'

I said, 'Are you threatening me?'

He said, 'I'm just telling you what you should pay attention to.'

-'Cause the minute you get out of line and start pulling any of that radical stuff, you know what's going to happen to you, don't you?

-I was really scared because we had just had Miranda and I didn't know how we were going to make a living, you know, if we were both blacklisted.

♪♪ -'I am asking you as a result of your statement, if communism is not subversive and is not a threat to our form of government and the American way of life, then what harm does it do to reveal the names of people who are active members of the Communist Party if that is true?'

Joseph Papp's answer -- 'Representative Moulder, you know there is a blacklisting device in the industry and the naming of people this way does deny these people the right to work, which I think is terribly unfair and un-American.'

-Joe was working at CBS as a stage manager.

-That same evening, I walked into the CBS studio and they fired me because I took the Fifth Amendment.

-He came home and said, 'I'm going to fight it.'

And I said, 'Joe, I mean, how can you fight it?

I mean, you can't fight CBS.

You can't fight, you know, the whole political situation.'

He says, 'Yeah, I am.'

He says, 'I'm going to get the union to arbitrate it.

I'm going to get my job back.'

And I thought, well, you know, that's really impossible.

I mean, that's like David fighting Goliath.

But Joe did fight giants, and he generally won.

He certainly won that, because CBS a year later gave him his job back.

He didn't take it, but they offered him his job back.

-Once more unto the breach.

Dear friends, once more!

Peace, there's nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility; but when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favor'd rage.

-At the end of 1958, the Commissioner of Parks of the city of New York attempted to impose upon the Shakespeare Festival the requirement that admission be charged to free Shakespeare.

-He insisted that unless we charge admission, we would have to leave.

He's quite powerful, this man.

-Robert Moses -- love him or hate him, the single most important individual force in the history of the state and city of New York.

-Robert Moses built roads and parks and bridges.

He was a giant of a person, both physically and in terms of the reach that he had.

-For nearly half a century, this man has pushed people around New York.

Almost anybody who is anybody has cursed him, fought him, knuckled under to him, and admired him.

-Joe refused to knuckle under to Moses' demand.

♪♪ -I felt it was absolutely essential that in order to attract an audience that represented all groups, regardless of their ability to pay, and even those that could pay, to get them into the theater, to give them an experience with a living play and Shakespeare, I felt even a quarter would be too much.

I feel there are public libraries that are free.

I feel a city the size of New York should have a public theater.

-I had the opinion that if they were going to give theater in the parks, that they ought to pay the actors the same as all other actors are paid, not get some fellow driving a taxicab and give him $18 a week to play Hamlet.

I thought then and still think that's the only basis, and that's the way it's going to end up.

And when it ends up that way, they'll have to charge because that's the only way you can get money.

-Most courage comes out of fear, I'll tell you that.

You're fighting to stay alive.

-I never saw him back down to anybody -- anybody -- for size or shape or power on any level.

Physical, political. He never, ever backed down.

-He was kind of an art Rocky.

You wanted to cheer when he got up and went and screamed for money or when he fought Robert Moses.

-There was something, I think, too, that he loved about the struggle, loved about the scrabbling.

It didn't mean much if it all came easy.

It didn't mean much if there wasn't a fight involved.

-It was a true David and Goliath fight, and Joe played the part of David to the nines.

♪♪ ♪♪ -Moses was saying that the people were trampling the grass.

You know what he got?

People kept sending him grass seed.

-Hundreds of New Yorkers sent in grass seed, saying, 'Here, you can plant the grass.'

-I was nobody, and he was a big shot.

He probably found it intolerable that there's this young punk coming along and arousing so much feeling against him.

-What about the Shakespeare Festival?

Will it go on free?

-I don't have anything to say about it at all.

-Did you change your mind on it, sir?

-No.

-It's still not free, then? -I have nothing to say at all.

-And then Moses pulled all the stops to leak word to the press that Joe had been a communist.

Not only would he not charge admission to see Shakespeare in Central Park, but he was a communist to boot.

♪♪ -Finally, we took it to court.

We lost in lower courts, but we won it in the Court of Appeals.

We won it five to nothing.

The chief justice said that the parks commissioner was 'arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.'

♪♪ When I went out there that opening night, the place was packed.

Every seat was full.

I said, 'Ladies and gentlemen.'

I couldn't get any further than that.

A roar. A roar!

I mean, you never heard such a sound in your life.

I just stood there, let it wash over me.

[ Cheers and applause ] They felt it was their triumph.

The people won.

♪♪ -Well, Mr. Papp, next year, you'll be in your new home at 81st Street.

-Right. It'll be an amphitheater seating 2,500 people and very comfortable seats.

♪♪ -The Delacorte Theater opened barely in time for that first performance of 'The Merchant of Venice.'

-Joe said, 'You know, I cast this unknown actor in this part.'

-He's one of the actors that came in off the street, so to speak.

His voice was very gravelly.

I wanted a better voice.

I finally decided, 'Well, let's cast him.'

-If you prick us, do we not bleed?

If you tickle us, do we not laugh?

If you poison us... do we not die?

And... if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

-Joe must have thought, 'We haven't done 'Merchant of Venice' ever, and we should do a play we haven't done before, and we've got George Scott.

'Merchant of Venice,' and I'll direct it.

What could be better?'

-But then the [bleep] hit the fan.

♪♪ -But the New York Board of Rabbis believed that 'The Merchant of Venice' was an anti-Semitic play, that presenting a Jew such as Shylock debases Jews.

-I never thought of the play as being anti-Semitic.

It never entered my mind.

I just considered this an important play of Shakespeare's and had a marvelous actor to play this role, which I thought was one of the great acting roles.

And I was totally unaware that there'd even be an objection to this play.

-This was just Joe's instinctual drive towards trouble.

Joe searched out trouble the way divining rods search out water.

-Joe was getting so much criticism that he finally said something that absolutely changed everything.

♪♪ -I am a Jew.

Hath not a Jew eyes?

Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections?

-To our amazement, Joe said, 'I myself am a Jew.'

-Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons.

-And he said, 'I would do nothing that, in my opinion, would harm my people.'

You must understand, nobody knew that Joe was Jewish.

We were best friends and very, very thick and very close, and didn't know.

Joe had escaped his past for nearly 30 years.

'The Merchant of Venice' did go on, and the humanity of George as Shylock was profound.

But the most important consequence of all this was that Joe finally admitted that he was Jewish.

♪♪ ♪♪ -Years after we got married, he was going out to Brooklyn and he left me a telephone number.

I had to get in touch with him, and a woman answered with very broken English.

I suddenly realized that this was his mother.

He always said that his mother was English and that his father was Polish.

And then he told me the whole story.

He started life as Joseph Papirofsky.

-My father and mother both had come from Eastern Europe -- my father from Poland, my mother from Lithuania.

And she was working at a sweatshop here in New York.

She was a... a garment worker.

It's hard for me now to recapture my feelings.

It would be so...painful.

What I've experienced more than anything else, more than poverty, is anti-Semitism.

It is skin-deep scratches, and a lot of it will come out.

My father would pray every morning and every night.

His Jewishness was as natural to him as eating and drinking.

There was a small storefront shul on the block, very poor, and I would go to that.

My father would take me with him early in the morning.

My father lost his job just around the beginning of the Depression.

He started looking for work every day.

Couldn't find anything.

They looked to me to do something.

I'd do all sorts of odd jobs.

Sold peanuts in front of Botanic Garden.

I shined shoes for a while.

In fact, my father took over my shoe-shining job after I left.

-Joe saw his father humiliated because he couldn't get a job and people would treat him very badly.

You look to your parents to protect you.

But Joe, his parents couldn't protect him.

When he was 14 and trying to get a job, he wasn't able to get a job if he said he was Jewish.

So that's when he first began denying he was Jewish.

And if you tell one lie, it leads to another, and pretty soon you have to cover up, you know, your identity to everyone.

-I think he was a Gatsby-like American.

You know, an American who simply bursts onto the scene, has no past, man in a hurry, going somewhere.

-The whole idea of being part of a minority and not being able to speak a language and your parents don't speak English, I was embarrassed and ashamed to invite anybody to my house.

I remember being invited to somebody's house, and the mother spoke English.

She said, 'Come in. How are you?'

That sort of thing.

I knew my mother couldn't say that.

-Because his childhood started with Yiddish, I think Shakespeare was a way into the American language, into the English language.

-Initially, the effort is to feel that you're part of America and you think that you have to do that by separating yourself from your ethnic group.

And then when some measure of accomplishment and acceptance comes, you begin to understand where your authenticity comes from.

What voices do you hear?

What music?

What rhythms do you hear?

That I know was true for Joe.

♪♪ -What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.

And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

Man delights not me.

-He was more interested in possibility than in achievement.

He was always interested in where things were going, not where they had been.

When Joe's juices really flowed were when something was half finished, open.

The minute it was clear where it was going and what it was going to be, he became bored.

♪♪ -The desire to have a year-round theater was a growing impulse.

And so by about 1965, we started looking for a place where we might make a permanent theater.

-When I came into that building, it was in ruins.

It was falling apart.

And I saw these little rooms where they housed these people and these little cradles for children.

-Cots and mattresses, baby shoes.

-And these two kitchens they had there, kosher kitchens.

-It was just -- It was like it'd been arrested in time.

-And then endless files of names.

-For thousands and thousands of Jewish immigrants, this was their first home, including my Grandpa Max.

You can still see the letters on the side of the building.

HIAS -- The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

-The first free public library in New York, but it had been converted into a place for homeless Jews after World War II.

-I felt in the walls there was a story and our theater would reflect it some way.

-He talked about what this building had been and what that meant to him.

And he was going to do the things that he felt were important in our lives in this building.

-This was a huge undertaking.

He wanted to bring in new American playwrights and give them a home.

♪♪ [ Cymbal clangs ] ♪♪ The first play was just pure serendipity.

-♪ Doors locked ♪ -He met one of the authors on a train.

The next day, he walks in the office saying this strange title.

-♪ Blinds pulled ♪ -He had five or six scruffy pages of a scene that dealt with young people having to face the problem of war and loneliness.

-During the Vietnam War, the hippies were all around the theater at that time.

I had a tremendous feeling of responsibility for young people, to protect them.

-The war was raging, and there were huge protests in the streets, and we wanted to bring that to the stage so people would really understand, really feel what we were feeling.

♪♪ -I came down to audition for it, and I came home and put it on the table, and my wife said, 'What is that thing?' I said, 'That is going to be the biggest hit in the history of the American theater.'

-♪ When the moon is in the 7th house ♪ ♪ And Jupiter aligns with Mars ♪ ♪ Then peace will guide the planets ♪ ♪ And love will steer the stars ♪ -♪ This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius ♪ ♪ The Age of Aquarius ♪ -There was a lot of chaos.

-♪ Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees ♪ ♪ Give a home to the fleas in my hair ♪ -We were trying to go for a new form, an experimental form.

-♪ We starve, look at one another short of breath ♪ -It had a freedom to it that no musical had ever dared.

-This was really so against the traditional view of things.

It pulled a grenade and lobbed it in.

-♪ Let the sun shine ♪ ♪ Let the sun shine in ♪ -It enraged so many people, both critics and public, who said, 'We didn't come to the New York Shakespeare Festival to see and hear travesties such as 'Hair.'' And everybody gave up on 'Hair' except one person, and he resuscitated 'Hair' on Broadway.

-Joe hated Broadway because it was about money and not about work.

-Joe said, 'Broadway is [bleep]' -You have to understand, Joe was growing as he did things.

He didn't know everything at the outset.

-♪ Let the sun shine ♪ ♪ Let the sun shine in ♪ ♪♪ -♪ Ripped open by metal explosion ♪ -This was a time when the country was coming asunder and the spirit of our country was at risk of being destroyed.

-People were dying.

We were in a struggle to save our lives and the lives of the communities that we came from.

And our work had to reflect that urgency.

♪♪ -The theater is alive when it's attached to what's going on outside of it.

So it's always the interaction of these two that are of interest to me.

-♪ Mail-order rifles ♪ ♪ Shoot the muscles ♪ -There was an overt interest in political issues, but not in polemic.

-♪ 256 Viet Cong captured ♪ -I ain't been out of the house... in more than three months.

Not because I've been that busy.

I've just been scared.

[ Scoffs ] But don't let me give you the impression that I'm still hung up on all that -- what do you call it?

[ Scoffs ] Negro self-pity or even that old 'You owe me, whitey' party line.

'Cause I ain't.

-Joe had this tremendous sympathy for the underdog.

And this is why, you know, dogs like me and all other underdogs kind of, you know, went to him because he was on my side.

He was on our side.

-The first plays I did was Joe were written out of my own experience in Vietnam.

-♪ Ripped open by metal explosion ♪ ♪ Caught in barbed wire ♪ ♪ Fireball, bullet shock ♪ -Often my plays were about people who are marginalized.

And I think Joe actually felt that way himself and probably did all his life as a kind of outsider.

He was always looking to challenge the status quo, and he didn't really want to be taken in.

He wanted to kind of just challenge it.

-[ Knocking ] -I understood the feelings that went into these plays.

They aroused my own feelings about injustice, the terror of life, the terror of war.

David brought in a turn and a shadow of something very deep in him, almost primitive, I would say.

And I became so connected with his plays that I felt that I would protect them from anything.

-Earlier, I couldn't get anyone to do the plays, and to go suddenly now to this step where there was a guy saying, you know, 'Anything you write, I'll do,' it was miraculous.

-I had developed what has now become a famous cult opera called 'The Knife.'

Joe said, 'You've got to come upstairs, and I've got to read you the review in And it was about the most contemptuous, the most dismissive, and the most foolish review I've just about ever read by Frank Rich.

And at the end of it, Joe put it to one side, and he said, 'That is not what I call a good review,' and everybody in the room laughed.

And then he turned to me and said, 'What do you want to do in my theater next?'

I just loved the man for the rest of my life after that.

He'd just lost a million dollars, and it wasn't a vague gesture.

The next day we were discussing what we would do next.

[ Woman speaking indistinctly ] -He would wander amongst his actors the night before a show like Hal at Agincourt.

Everybody from the lowest peon to the star felt his charisma, his power, his generosity -- his sincere, genuine hope that all would go well, his love for you.

And it strengthened you.

It made you feel good, and it made you want to do good for him.

It pulled you out of yourself and said, 'Oh, my God, please don't let me fail this wonderful man.'

♪♪ -This theater was the Mecca for playwrights.

Joe really gave them a voice and offered them a freedom that did not exist anywhere else.

♪♪ -I was in the army, in Okinawa, when I found out that my agent had sold a script to a man named Joe Papp, -I wrote to the commanding general.

I said, 'This is a marvelous playwright.'

And I said, 'I need him here to do that play.'

-He got me out of the army about 77 days early, and it doesn't sound like much unless you're in the army on Okinawa, and then it's an eternity.

Suddenly I'm in this mogul's office, and there's this man with this giant cigar that he's offering me and saying, 'I really love your play, a great play, a great piece of work.

We've got a great cast. Here, have a cigar.'

♪♪ -When I was here, there was a whole bunch of guys that were his playwrights.

They all seemed to smoke cigars with him, you know?

And I called them The Davids, because I -- I don't know.

They all seemed to have the -- David Rabe, David Mamet.

And I always felt kind of in the minority.

And these Davids, you know, they would fight with him.

They'd walk away. They'd never speak to him again.

And they'd come back in two weeks.

They'd make up, they'd be doing a new play together.

They'd be opening Lincoln Center together, then they'd be burning it down.

It was so dramatic, it was so male, it was so chemical, you know, that you could -- you could feel it in the air when there was a David around.

-When it's that personal, intense thing that he had about his theater and I had about my work, and when they fit together, of course, it was glorious and I imagined I'd be doing plays with him forever.

-I felt very much as if I were a member of a group of ronin whose mission was to, as grandiose and pretentious as it seems now, was to somehow elevate the level of American drama from a tedious mediocrity to something passionate and meaningful and engaged.

-Rather than buying an orchard sort of straight out, I like to plant seeds and see them grow.

♪♪ It was women reciting poetry.

But what poetry. It was exquisite writing.

Very rich and full of color.

Pardon the pun.

♪♪ -Joe was most alive when he was talking about his vision of what a play was or what a scene was.

It was almost as if my spirit or the artist's spirit was transferred to him.

And all of a sudden, the entire -- all the characters and all the moments of that play were just emanating from his eyes.

And that's what made him such a fabulous producer, because he felt what the artist felt.

-There were scenes that I will never forget.

Just the brilliance of a young, African-American woman expressing her -- her life experience.

-This has been an experiment to see how selfish I could be, if I could really carry on to snare a possible lover, if I was capable of debasing myself for the love of another, if I could stand not being wanted when I wanted to be wanted, and I cannot.

So, with no further assistance or guidance from you, I am ending this affair.

-So many different emotions that it conjured up in people that you could -- you could hear literal sounds, expressions, sighs, moans.

-We wanted the audience to have a visceral, tangible relationship with us so they'd feel and know that being alive and being colored was, in fact, a metaphysical dilemma.

-This note is attached to a plant I have been watering since the day I met you.

Water it your damn self!

♪♪ -Joe understood American culture is like a gumbo where you throw all these ingredients which you should never put together.

And when the pot gets boiling and they collide against one another, the juice of one ingredient informs the juice of another.

And it's that dynamic which is American culture at its most brilliant.

-I hate to see minorities completely absorbed into the mainstream of American life.

-Right. -I think we lose a great deal.

I like what's different. -Wait.

Hey, what did you say? $8?

But we wanted $14. Why didn't we get $14?

Hello. You listening?

♪♪ -The plays that he did and the authors that he reached for and the actors that he wanted to nurture and support, the people he hired, the faces you saw when you walked into the building -- It wasn't a theory. It was a way of living.

-Joe understood that culture empowers you.

It is -- It is the way to affirm who you are.

If you see your images, if you see your stories being told, it gives you another sense that you have a right to be in the room.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -It's amazing.

It's probably very close to what the Elizabethan theater used to be.

People eating a sandwich while you're doing it, and they have their kids, and the kids sometimes are crying, and dogs would walk on the stage -- I mean that -- or a squirrel would walk across.

So you'd be waiting to do your entrance from the vomitorium and you'd look up, and a family of raccoons are staring at you.

That's what the Delacorte was like.

♪♪ ♪♪ -In his own idiosyncratic and very opinionated way, Joe understood Shakespeare from the neck down, and those productions exploded with their energy.

[ Laughter ] -[ Speaking indistinctly ] -O, you are novices!

Tis a world to see, how tame, when men and women are alone, a meacock wretch can make the curstest shrew.

Give me thy hand, Kate: I will unto Venice, Sunday comes apace 'gainst the wedding-day.

provide the feast, father, and bid the guests; I will be sure my Katherine shall be fine.

-I know not what to say.

-The tradition of doing Shakespeare belonged to the English, not to us.

And Joe wanted to erase that distance between us.

-Come, come, you wasp, i'faith you are too angry.

-If I be waspish, best beware my sting.

-My remedy is then to pluck it out.

-Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.

-Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.

-In his tongue. -Whose tongue?

-Yours.

[ Laughter ] So, if you talk of tales... ...farewell!

-What, with my tongue in your tail?

[ Laughter ] -I could bring myself to it.

I could bring my own culture, my own Puerto Rican background, my own Spanish culture, my own rhythms, my own... feelings to Shakespeare.

-So Papp ultimately is telling Raul Julia, 'It's okay to speak Shakespeare with a Puerto Rican accent.'

That's a revolutionary change.

-When you go to see some Shakespeare and you got people of color, Blacks and Latinos, like really in it and really doing it, it just seemed like Shakespeare can be mine.

And then after a while, everything was mine.

Sondheim was mine and Mahler was mine and Bartók was mine.

-This my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.

-We tried everything to open up the whole issue that you're capturing human beings.

He would -- He would cast Hamlet as a woman.

-To be or not to be... that is the question.

Whether tis nobler in the mind... -He wanted people to listen to these great words for the first time, and he also wanted people to listen to them that had heard them often, but were never really listening.

-To die, to sleep, and by that sleep, to end the heart ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.

-If you really want people to listen to them for the first time, you have to own them in a different way.

-To die, to sleep... ...to sleep perchance to dream -- ah, there's the rub.

-Joe asked me to try the 'to be or not to be' out of my heritage.

My father was Spanish. My real name is Ramón Estévez.

He hid Hamlet in the play as kind of a Puerto Rican janitor.

The Puerto Rican community, we're at the bottom rung at this time, and he wanted people to feel their plight.

[ Puerto Rican accent ] To be or not to be, that is the question.

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, to end them.

[ Regular voice ] The audience was in hysterics when it started until about halfway through, and they began to listen, some of them for the first time.

And by the end, many of them were in tears, you know?

So, we were using this language that was nearly 400 years old at the time in a community where people were suffering, and this language was given a new voice.

♪♪ -♪ In Verona ♪ -Joe would involve a person from one production into the next.

So he got Galt MacDermot, the 'Hair' composer.

He felt, 'Why don't you write a song or two for the 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' that we're doing in the park this summer?'

-And by the time the play began previews in Central Park, it had been converted from Shakespeare's play to a musical, retaining the name, retaining the story, but told in contemporary terms.

-♪ Night letter, so divine ♪ ♪ Night letter, come be mine ♪ ♪ Nothing better than a hot night letter ♪ ♪ Night letter, oh, so cool ♪ ♪ Night letter ♪ -The show was sexy and hot.

And it was hot and steamy in Central Park.

And then he and I are on stage, and we're doing the whole thing and bum, bum, bum, bum, bum.

And the number is over, and the audience went nuts!

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪ -It was Shakespearean 'Hair.' It was a 'Hair-y' Shakespeare.

-It was a production that exploded on the stage of the Delacorte.

And the decision was made that this play could readily go to Broadway.

It opened to extraordinary notices and became the first instance of the New York Shakespeare Festival earning significant revenue from a self-produced play on Broadway, playing to a broad, popular audience.

♪♪ -Then Joe moves 'Sticks and Bones' by David Rabe.

-Joe's thinking was that 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' made $10,000 a week.

'Sticks and Bones' lost $10,000 a week.

It was even Steven.

-There had never been a Vietnam play on Broadway.

In fact, there'd never been a Vietnam play before David's that was in a professional theater.

-I honestly believe part of Joe's aim in that was just to see how far he could push -- You know, he was a real -- he liked to provoke.

And he had a play here that he felt could provoke.

♪♪ -When they told me we were moving to Broadway, I was actually embarrassed.

I thought, 'If my show can go to Broadway, where they have all that trash, then surely I've done something bad.'

I fought it tooth and nail.

-I never envisioned myself as a Broadway playwright and had absolutely no aspirations to become one.

-But I realized the more they advertised, the more Black people would know about it and the more they would go.

And in fact, more Black people come.

-It was Joe who taught me to be radical at the center.

He didn't want to run a little theater downtown.

He wanted to get the shows working and move them uptown to Broadway.

He wanted to storm the citadel because he believed that radical ideas are more important at the center.

-Now the nominees for the Best Broadway Musical.

They are 'Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death' 'Follies,' 'Two Gentlemen of Verona,' 'Grease.'

Now... isn't that exciting?

[ Laughter ] Upside-down.

'Two Gentlemen of Verona.' [ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪ -The winner for Best Broadway play is 'Sticks and Bones.'

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪ -I really didn't think it was possible.

I mean, I really didn't.

[ Laughter ] So thank you very much.

And thank you, everybody.

And I... [ Cheers and applause ] -You know, writers are not very articulate, as a matter of fact.

But I'm so proud of David Rabe. I think he's a beautiful writer.

-So Joe became a major player on Broadway, which was the last thing on earth that he'd ever dreamed of.

[ Cheers and applause ] -Five, six, seven, eight!

♪♪ -Why did we do 'A Chorus Line'? How did we do 'A Chorus Line'? Chance!

Sheer chance.

-Hold it. Hilda, do me a favor. You dance upstage.

You, downstage.

Again! Five, six, seven, eight!

-First thing that happened was Michael Bennett coming to my office and bringing me hours and hours of tapes and dancers talking about their lives.

I listened to the tapes, and they made me cry.

They told the most horrible stories about their lives with smiles.

You could hear their laughing.

And I was so moved by it.

-♪ Who am I anyway? ♪ ♪ Am I my résumé ♪ ♪ That is a picture of a person I don't know? ♪ -He deals with people trying to get jobs.

-♪ I need this job ♪ -When he asks the Puerto Rican girl the personal question and she says, 'Do I have to answer that?'

He says, 'You want this job, don't you?'

-Look, I really don't mind talking, but just can't be the first.

Please? -You want the job, don't you?

-And she steps back. It breaks my heart, that line.

She wanted that job, and even the song, ♪ I really need this job ♪ I know -- understand that totally.

-One, change. Walk, walk.

And he said, 'I'll give you a workshop.'

And I went, 'No, look, I've heard about you.

I mean, I know how you take care of your writers and your father trips and all that stuff.

No, I don't need any of that. I just want a place to work.'

He went, 'Write. That's all.'

Point, point, point, flex, step, kick, step, change, continuing.

So I worked for about two weeks, and I went to Joe and I said, 'Uh, huh, I don't know, it's not happening.'

And he said, 'That's alright. Take two more weeks.'

Well, now, I came from the commercial theater, so I wasn't used to this.

Now, about nine months later, I wasn't used to this.

And I also -- If I ever needed a daddy, I found one.

-Okay, I'm eliminating down.

When I call out your number, please form a line.

Girls first. Number two.

Number nine.

Number 10.

Number 23.

Judy Turner. Right.

37.

149.

152.

179.

Cassie.

♪♪ -♪ One, singular sensation ♪ ♪ Every little step she takes ♪ ♪ One, thrilling combination ♪ ♪ Every move that she makes ♪ -On opening night, I was backstage, and during that last number, 'One,' when the music peaks, the audience stood up in unison and screamed and cheered so loudly, it was like a wall of sound coming at the stage.

-♪ Moment in her presence ♪ -Strangers were laughing and kissing, and people were crying and cheering.

'A Chorus Line' blew the roof off the public theater.

-♪ Oooh! Sigh! Give her your attention ♪ ♪ Do I really have to mention she's the, she's the... ♪ -'A Chorus Line' supported this entire organization for eight years.

It was like having a small state, a small country supporting this institution.

-He beat out all the more old-fashioned Broadway producers in figuring out how to develop a play without spending any money.

He could just workshop them downtown.

He could workshop them right here.

If he had something hot, he could move it uptown.

It was an incredible idea, but he invented the idea.

And then the idea of taking those profits and not going off to Bermuda with them but plugging them right back into the non-profit, you know, thing here was enormously innovative.

-♪ She's the one ♪ -At that point, Joe was the most powerful man in American theater.

♪♪ -Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

O, the blood more stirs to rouse a lion than to start a hare.

O, it is excellent to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.

-Our mission was make a surprise birthday party for Joe for 2,000 people at the Delacorte Theater.

So we had a secret organization existing here within the theater that plotted, planned, and executed a birthday party that was a celebration of Joe.

[ Fireworks booming ] [ Cheers and applause ] -[ Laughs ] It's like a dream!

-It was quite an extraordinary evening, which included a spoof of a day in the life of Joe Papp.

-I'm tired of feeling guilty, feeling guilty because people are Black or white or convicts or basketball players or soldiers!

I can't take any more guilt!

I'm going to end it. I'm going to end you!

Which one of you is Joe Papp?

[ Laughter ] -Bernie, would you step in here for a minute, please?

-Yes, Joe? -There's Joe Papp!

[ Bang! ] -Ooh!

[ Laughter ] -Were you really surprised? -Oh, come on!

[ Laughter ] I was stunned! -Joe does this not for money, not for self-aggrandizement, but for sheer love of naked power.

[ Laughter ] ♪♪ -I was flabbergasted. Absolutely stunned.

The whole evening, I thought, was just gorgeous, and there was a cake and Helen Hayes and three or four mayors and all these people.

I felt, 'What a beautiful, beautiful event.'

But as the evening wore on, I began to think, 'Wait a second.

I wonder how much this cost,' and, 'How come I didn't know about it at all?'

-Joe was aghast at the fact that that much could go on that he didn't know about.

'How could I possibly be in the middle of the public theater and have 50 million people and the President of the United States involved in something that I never knew about until I walked onstage?'

I think we're talking about a man and his fear of losing it.

That idea of 'Am I on top of it? Am I in control?

Do I know everything about this? Am I the boss still?'

You start to worry, 'Am I getting old? Am I --' You know, 'Am I losing my -- my grip over everything?'

-And he would do some really bad things sometimes to people, things that were not polite or... [ Chuckles ] That's a nice word for it.

...brutal.

-There would be people who I knew, particularly people who worked in the building, who'd be relaxed, easygoing, funny, charming.

You'd talk to them anywhere in the building.

The minute Joe came in, they became a completely different person.

All their spontaneity and humor would disappear.

They'd suddenly... simply be attendant lords.

People would say, 'I'm going to go in and tell Joe this, and I feel that and I feel this.'

I'd say, 'Yeah, you go in, you tell him.'

The words would dry in their mouths.

They wouldn't tell him.

I don't think he enjoyed the power that he had to dominate a room sometimes.

It just was his only means of being in a room.

-Joe and I had a falling out about a second play that Michael Bennett intended to direct.

Joe said, 'I don't want you to do that.

I won't allow you to do it.'

And I said, 'Joe, I'm going to do it.'

And he said, 'In that case, you have to quit.'

And I said, 'Joe, I am not going to quit.

You're going to have to fire me.'

He said, 'You're fired.'

-'Oh, Joseph, although you're on the side of the angels, you're in grave danger of becoming a minor fascist.'

And he said, 'What was your first clue?'

I said, 'Well, cutting off your right arm.

There can be no explanation for that.'

He said, 'You mean Bernie?'

I said, 'I mean Bernard.'

-A lot of people talked about, there's a conflict in your personality.

Some of the words they used -- that you were elusive, dehumanized, you were in search of yourself and that caused a lot of problems in your relationships with other people.

-Well, maybe true.

-Do you think it is? -No.

I mean, part -- You can say that about almost anybody.

And what's wrong with searching for yourself?

-Joe was a very complicated guy, and it was a huge embrace to be in, and it was this wonderful thing.

And then it was an embrace that felt... suffocating at a certain point, and I felt the need to try my hand elsewhere.

On both sides, there was a lot of hurt feelings, and we parted.

One of those things you don't get to go back over in life.

But...the impact and the connection was huge.

♪♪ -The thing that I think made Joe great was the fact that he was so flawed and that he reached so high.

And in that way, he was like the Shakespeare characters that he loved so much.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -He always had a terribly personal relationship with actors.

He always knew about their husbands or their wives or their children.

-When my son was born, he was the first person, before my husband, who got into my room in recovery.

I'm coming out of the fog, and there's Joe.

I said, 'How did you get in here?'

He said, 'What are you going to name the child?'

I think he thought, you know, Joe would be good.

-He danced at our wedding and was there for our children.

Joe was essentially our father.

He was our surrogate father.

-And it actually complicated numbers of relationships.

He used to say, 'My kids have every reason to want to kill me' because he wasn't available as a parent.

-He was married to this institution, and it was his wife and his mistress and his family and his children.

♪♪ -We just grew further and further apart until finally I asked for the divorce.

♪♪ -I have very little family life because I work all the time.

I mean, I work like seven days a week.

I have relationships with my children of varying kinds.

I like family life, but I can't lead one.

-I always felt that the best side of Joe came out when he was with my family... in Utah.

He was the most relaxed, loving, fun.

He kind of dropped all his defensiveness when he was around my family.

Joe loved being on the ranch, and he loved following my father around and learning how to herd cattle and lift sheep over the fence and ride horses.

Of course, my father was an anti-communist, but Joe and my father, they just had this connection.

Joe told me once, 'Your father is the only man I've ever met that I really trust.'

♪♪ ♪♪ -Splendid isolation.

It just defines me.

♪♪ You lead a rather lonely existence.

You're at the top, and you have to be able to evaluate how people relate to you.

-And once in the car, he said, 'You know, Emmett, when we get bad reviews, part of my job is to go around and console people and tell them that they are good and don't pay any attention to those bad reviews.

But you know what?

No one comes around and comforts me.

I'm on my own.'

-Joe's life is so much his work that the only way to have an organic relationship with Joe is to work with him.

-I worked 10 years as the head of the play department, and then our -- you know, people grow and they change and that happened to us both.

And that's what made it possible for us to fall in love and get married.

♪♪ ♪♪ -I have touched the highest point of all my greatness; and from that full meridian of my glory I haste now to my setting: I shall fall like a bright exhalation in the evening, and no man see me more.

-First, let me say, we didn't come here today to preside over the demolition of this theater and the Helen Hayes Theater.

We're here to [ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪ -Joe came from a generation that was politically activated, but in the '80s, it was a different era.

It had to do all about making money and Wall Street and business interests.

♪♪ -What he truly believed was that the government should support the arts and there should be a deep commitment to a burgeoning and developing American culture.

-I think that he spent more time than we ever knew or could have imagined just trying to get bills paid.

-We're a non-profit organization.

No individual accrues any profit from the benefits of any show, which means you just don't make money.

It's an institution that has to be continually supported.

♪♪ -In the late 1980s, the National Endowment for the Arts suddenly became a political football in Congress.

-No artist has a preemptive claim on the tax dollars of the American people to put forth such trash.

-Joe was given the grant with a rider attached to it saying, 'If you accept this money, you have to sign this oath.'

♪♪ -I felt it was restricting freedom of expression.

The arts need to have room to breathe.

-He turned down over $300,000 because he wouldn't sign the Jesse Helms loyalty oath.

And while all the rest of us were yelling and screaming and making a big display, Joe actually turned the money down.

-What does Kent say in 'Lear'? 'Anger hath a privilege.'

And sometimes I feel, you know, you just speak out on these things.

♪♪ -It was a hideous time.

People were dying like flies, and I was determined that I had to somehow get this message out as quickly as I could.

And so I wrote my play as fast as I could and just sent it around to everybody.

-Nobody was mentioning the word 'AIDS' anywhere.

The newspaper had not printed the word.

It was not on television.

And yet we knew there were people dying and there was a crisis.

So I had this tremendous sense of urgency about Larry's play.

I sensed that there was something there that could be achieved.

-It was a very gutsy play for him to produce.

It criticized and it criticized his landlord, the city of New York, Mayor Ed Koch.

-We're living in an age of extraordinary passion and struggle.

And to have something less on the stage than what happens in life is a cop-out.

[ Telephone rings ] -Yeah.

Alright. Hold on.

'It is no secret --' That's right.

'It is no secret that I consider the mayor to be, along with the gay men and women must contend with in New York.

Until the day I die, I will never forgive this newspaper and this mayor for ignoring this epidemic which is killing so many of my friends.'

Alright. Here's the end.

And every gay man who refuses to come forward now and fight to save his own life is truly helping to kill the rest of us.

How many of us have to die before you get scared off your ass and into action?'

Thank -Do you think Michael, he shouldn't read it -- or do it that way?

I think he's doing it a little stronger now.

-Joe just became so passionate about this play.

It was like it was his child.

-How many do you know now?

-40. Dead.

That's too many for one person to know.

♪♪ -The play was so devastating.

Every night at the end of the play, people would sit there and be unable to move, absolutely stunned.

♪♪ -On opening night, he wrote me this note saying that it was 'The Normal Heart' that made him... get in touch again with the kind of theater that he wanted to run.

-Joe became much more conscious of the role he could play in increasing the consciousness about AIDS, and this play was the main vehicle.

But I think his consciousness was also raised by his own son telling him that he was gay in his teens and then dealing with his own fatherly feelings about that.

And Tony helped him a great deal.

They grew much closer.

And then Joe found out that he had prostate cancer in 1987, the same year that Tony found out that he had AIDS.

♪♪ It was incomprehensible, he and Tony should be dying, he and his son, at the same time, both of them in the same room.

It was just unbelievable.

♪♪ -It was just horrendous for father and son to be dying side by side, this man who had been so much the master of himself and his world and his life.

♪♪ -He said, 'I don't know how to go about dying.'

♪♪ It was the only challenge that I think stumped him.

Joe made numbers of calls where he felt relationships had been complicated or neglected in some way.

-We made up and became friends and forgave each other what we each felt we had done to each other.

-He asked for forgiveness for all kinds of things, and he brought this family back together again.

For whatever his journey might have been, he brought the family back together.

It came full circle.

♪♪ -Tony died first, and I -- I didn't know how I was gonna tell Joe this.

It was just the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life.

-I've never heard... a sound come out of a man, like a kind of wail, a kind of yelp, a kind of... It was the most profound, naked pain I've ever heard uttered as he broke down crying.

♪♪ ♪♪ -And he woke up and called for Gail.

And I said, 'It's Emmett.'

And he said, 'Oh, dear Emmett.'

And then as I was drifting back off to sleep, he started singing this Russian lullaby.

It was almost like a dream.

♪♪ And then he said, 'I started from nothing and built a theater from nothing, and it was very fine.

And then I married sweet Gail.

And then my beautiful son Tony got AIDS, and then he died, and then I got sick and I died.'

And I said, 'Well, Joe, you're not dead.

You're still here.'

And he said, 'I am?

What the hell are you guys doing around here?

Can't you see I'm trying to die? What's the problem?'

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Birds chirping ] ♪♪ -Joe was extremely weak and debilitated then, and there were times when he couldn't walk, but he would have remissions.

And so he made a sudden decision to go there one evening.

I could hardly believe it.

I can't tell you the kind of effort that was because he was in a great deal of pain.

-It was incredible to drive into the park, into the Delacorte Theater.

They were rehearsing 'Othello,' with Chris Walken and Raul Julia.

And when he came into the theater, it was -- it was magical.

They sat backstage on these picnic tables and talked to each other.

It was like a king and his subjects.

♪♪ -The beginning of the show often happened in the daylight.

And I came on and I did my scene, and I'm talking right to Joe, and he was smiling at me.

And I went off.

And when I came back, it was dark.

Hm.

The last time I saw him.

-♪ They used to tell me I was building a dream ♪ ♪♪ ♪ With peace and glory ahead ♪ ♪ Why should I be standing in line ♪ ♪ Just waiting for bread? ♪ ♪♪ ♪ Once I built a railroad ♪ ♪ I made it run ♪ ♪ Made it race against time ♪ ♪♪ ♪ Once I built a railroad ♪ ♪ Now it's done ♪ ♪ Brother, can you spare a dime? ♪ ♪♪ ♪ Once I built a tower ♪ ♪ To the sun ♪ ♪ Brick and rivet and lime ♪ ♪♪ ♪ Once I built a tower ♪ ♪ Now it's done ♪ ♪ Brother, can you spare a dime? ♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

© 2022 WNET. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.