Category Archives: History

THE WOMEN WHO STAGED THE IRISH EASTER RISING (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3—LINK BELOW) ·

(Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b074z972 )

Broadcaster and journalist, Marie-Louise Muir, examines the role theatre played in radicalising the Irish women who fought in the 1916 Easter Rising.

As she pieces together their largely forgotten stories through archives at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre and visits key locations associated with the insurrection, Marie-Louise asks what happened to these women and their radical ideals.

Producer: Conor Garrett.

Illustrations: Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh (Irish Times)

SHERMAN YELLEN’S OWN LIFETIME:  THE AWARD-WINNING PLAYWRIGHT, LIBRETTIST, SCREENWRITER, AND LYRICIST ON OLD NEW YORK AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD,  CENTRAL PARK NOW, AND BECOMING  JOHN ADAMS, MAYER ROTHSCHILD, AND THE OBSERVANT CHILD IN HIS NEW MEMOIR ‘SPOTLESS’ ·

 

Sherman Yellen was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the 1970 musical The Rothschilds, with a score by Fiddler on the Roof songwriters Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, which he and Harnick have recently reimagined as Rothschild & Sons. Sherman wrote the libretto for the Will Holt and Gary William Friedman musical Treasure Island, winner of the Broadway World Best Regional Musical Award (2012). Among his many theater works is his satirical sketch “Delicious Indignities,” which appeared in the New York and London revue Oh! Calcutta! His straight plays on and off Broadway include New Gods for LoversStrangers, and December Fools.  

Sherman was librettist and lyricist for Josephine Tonight, an original musical he wrote with the late composer Wally Harper, about the early life of Josephine Baker, which The Chicago Sun-Times called “a shining new musical” and which the D.C. press praised for being “so hot that it sizzles.”

In his youth he worked as a librettist with legendary composer Richard Rodgers. Together with Sheldon Harnick they recently revised the Rodgers-Harnick musical Rex about Henry VIII. This new version had a successful premiere in Toronto.  Yellen’s teleplays have won him two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, first for his John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America broadcast on NBC, as well as an Emmy Nomination for his Hallmark Hall of Fame version of Beauty and the Beast starring George C. Scott. Sherman’s screenplay adaptations of classic novels range from Great Expectations to Phantom of the Opera. He has received awards in Arts and Letters from Bard College, and he is a frequent contributor of essays on the arts, literature, and politics to online publications such as The Huffington Post.

Sherman recently published his autobiographical novella Cousin Bella–The Whore of Minsk, available in a volume, which also includes his holiday short story A Christmas Lilly,” and a collection of three plays, December Fools and Other Plays (December Fools * Budapest * Gin Lane).  Sherman is married, the father of two sons, Nicholas and Christopher, and has three much loved granddaughters. He has lived in London and Los Angeles, worked in Berlin and Budapest, but home was, is, and always will be New York City.

Sherman Yellen talks, with SV’s Bob Shuman, about his new memoir Spotless: Memories of a New York City Childhood.  The second part, of this three-part interview, will appear, 6/28.

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7hp725x 

How are the Yellens, the Rothschilds, and the Adamses the same; how are they different?

When I write about people I can only do so by connecting them to myself, my character, my beliefs, and my experiences.   All three: the Yellens, the Rothschilds, and the Adamses come from very different cultures, but what they share is a deep belief that the world must be better, and we must work to make it so.   It may sound foolish but, while writing these very different works, I became John Adams, Mayer Rothschild, and the little boy who inhabits Spotless, the saga of my family.  If we don’t bring ourselves to everything we write, there can be little truth or passion in the writing–it becomes a dry history rather than drama.   The trick is to find some part of yourself in every character you write, even the nasty ones.  For a while I had the joy of being John Adams, Mayer Rothschild, and, late in life, the observant child that I was.   

Did you ever believe that you would excel in writing about families–or how would you describe your new book?

I’ve always had a deep interest in families–what holds them together, what pulls them apart–probably flowing from the closeness of my own family– both my first family, the one in Spotless,  and the second, with my wife, Joan, which has lasted nearly 64 years.  I am deeply interested in how we remember those who are gone:  For me, Spotless was an attempt to recall and recreate what I had experienced as a child of the ‘30s and ‘40s–to go deeper yet into that world of my grandparents and parents: their journey, from European and Lower East Side poverty to affluence, and the cost of it, for everyone who traveled that very American path.   It is summed up by critic/novelist Christopher Davis who said, “Spotless is a story of family love trapped in the old world’s hurricane of desire to share in American dreaming.”

How did you decide on the title?  Tell us about it.

The title Spotless has several meanings–it certainly has little to do with that questioning, and somewhat judgmental, child on the cover of the book, a born observer:  indeed, the title has more to do with my mother’s use of the word to describe the character of a friend, a housekeeper, or the kitchen floor in our apartment.  In a sense it was her ideal.  She came from a world where half her family died of TB–spots on the lung were the sign of that disease.  To be Spotless was, for her, to be safe, healthy, and to be alive.  

You write that hardship “doesn’t often make people better, it just makes them harder.” You are referring to the Depression and the ‘40s.  Have you noticed other periods when people became harder–and have there been times when they seemed otherwise? 

My observation is a generalization, and, like most, it is only partially true.   There are people who rise up from their own despair to help others in the worst of times, but I have observed that many who have suffered are locked into their own cages of suffering, and they have not found a key to escape.  I do believe that we learn and grow more from kindness than from suffering.  Corny?  Maybe.  But I have found the truth in this over a long lifetime.

What do you miss most about the New York you grew up in (the book brings up cultural references, such as Baby Peggy, Olive Thomas, and Sonja Henie)? 

I miss so many of the old pleasures of the old NYC: the trolley cars in the Bronx, the double-decker buses on Fifth Avenue, the old Schrafft’s restaurants, where my parents took me for a Sunday lunch, and I miss the mom-and-pop stores that helped to create the New York of neighborhoods–I miss the old Reuben’s Restaurant, of the 1950s, which allowed my wife and I to dine with our schnauzer Gus seated beside us–before the health police took charge of the city.   I love the spirit of that city, before real estate became the King of New York, driving the small shopkeepers out and bringing in those ubiquitous banks and chain stores.  And I miss the affordable price of a theater ticket, and the smaller, more human scale of the city.  An example of that is the old MOMA.  I would go there with my friends and girlfriends, as a teenager at the High School of Music & Art–a kid who loved fine art–and it was a welcoming place.  Today, it is a glass palace, an expensive tourist spot, not the warm, second home for many art-loving city kids.  Needless to say, I loved the New York that didn’t have a Trump Tower and kept its Trumps sequestered in Queens.

I am not one who subscribes to the idea that the high cost of living in NYC is proportionate with the cost of living in the past.  Baloney!  The world was affordable for those who were not in the one percent.  It was there for most of the residents–even during the Depression.  I miss the courtesies that made for a gentler city, and oh Lord, do I miss those marvelous movie theaters–growing up, as I did, in the golden age of Hollywood.  Nothing short of heaven itself can replicate the grandeur of the old Loew’s Paradise, on the Grand Concourse, and its sister theaters throughout the boroughs.    I do not miss the bigotry of that time, but we may have traded it in for the repellant hard-nosed ambition that I often see today.   But oh, the beauty of Central Park now–almost nothing compares with it in the past–and the everyday mix of races and classes in NYC makes me proud to be a New Yorker.

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7hp725x

 

(c) 2017 by Sherman Yellen (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

Yellen family photos: Courtesy of the Sherman Yellen. All rights reserved.

Central Park: Fodor’s Travel Guides.

UNKNOWN EDITH WHARTON PLAY SURFACES ·

(Jennifer Schuessler’s article appeared in The New York Times, 6/2; via Pam Green.)  

In 2009, a cache of letters from the young Edith Wharton to her governess caused a stir when they turned up at auction. Now, an archive in Texas has yielded another startling Wharton discovery: an entirely unknown play.

“The Shadow of a Doubt,” Wharton’s only known finished play and the first full work by her to surface in 25 years, was set to be staged in New York in early 1901, before the production was abandoned for unknown reasons and forgotten. It survived in two typescripts held at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, where it was discovered by Laura Rattray of the University of Glasgow and Mary Chinery of Georgian Court University in New Jersey. Ms. Rattray and Ms. Chinery unveiled their discovery in the recent issue of The Edith Wharton Review.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/02/theater/edith-wharton-play-surfaces-the-shadow-of-a-doubt.html?_r=0

ROGER MOORE – SAINT, PERSUADER AND THE SUAVEST JAMES BOND – DIES AGED 89 ·

(from the Guardian, 5/23; via Pam Green.)

He was the epitome of the suave English gent, quipping sweatlessly in a bespoke three-piece suit, who enjoyed an acting career spanning eight decades. On Tuesday, Roger Moore’s children announced his death at the age of 89 in Switzerland, saying: “he passed away today … after a short but brave battle with cancer”.

Moore was best known for playing the third incarnation of James Bond as well as his roles in hit shows The Saint and The Persuaders. He also devoted a lot of his time to humanitarian work, becoming a Unicef goodwill ambassador in 1991.

The actor was born in London in 1927 and, after working as a model in the early 50s, he signed a seven-year contract with MGM. His early movies weren’t particularly memorable, from Interrupted Melody to The King’s Thief, and it was a move to the small screen that brought Moore his first taste of success.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/may/23/roger-moore-saint-persuader-and-the-suavest-james-bond-dies-aged-89?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Film+Today+-+automated+vB+curation&utm_term=227372&subid=18109527&CMP=ema_861a

Photo: ABC

NICHOLAS HYTNER: ‘BALANCING ACTS: BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 4—LINK BELOW) ·

Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08nkrc6

The inside story of twelve years at the helm of Britain’s greatest theatre. It is a story of lunatic failures and spectacular successes such as The History Boys, War Horse and One Man, Two Guvnors; of opening the doors of the National Theatre to a broader audience than ever before, and changing the public’s perception of what theatre is for.

It is about probing Shakespeare from every angle and reinventing the classics. About fostering new talent and directing some of the most celebrated actors of our times. Its cast includes the likes of Alan Bennett, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon and Helen Mirren.

Intimate, candid and insightful, Balancing Acts is a passionate exploration of the art and alchemy of making theatre.

Today Hynter describes his typical day as the theatre’s Director.

Written and read by Nicholas Hytner
Produced by Simon Richardson.

‘OLIVIER’ BY PHILIP ZIEGLER (LISTEN NOW ON BBC 4—LINK BELOW) ·

Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03bq9ct

Published when the National Theatre turned 50 in 2013, Philip Ziegler’s biography, based on previously unseen letters and diaries, tells the story of Laurence Olivier as he developed his craft, focusing on his career path from early school days through rep theatre to Hollywood, before returning to triumph in his greatest role ever, as the first director of the National Theatre.

Episode 1:
Born at a time when theatre was at a low ebb in Britain, and after a rather unpromising start in life, the young Laurence Olivier enters the acting profession and begins to shine.

Reader: Toby Jones

Producer: Clive Brill
A Pacificus production for BBC Radio 4.

 

SPY REPORT THAT CRITICISED MARLOWE FOR ‘GAY CHRIST’ CLAIM IS REVEALED ONLINE ·

(Andrew Dickson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/30.)

A controversial document in which the playwright Christopher Marlowereportedly declared that Christ was gay, that the only purpose of religion was to intimidate people, and that “all they that love not tobacco and boys were fools” is to go on show online for the first time.

The so-called “Baines note”, a star item in the British Library’s Renaissance manuscript collection, offers tantalising evidence about the private life of Marlowe, one of the most scandalous and magnetic figures of the Elizabeth period.

Compiled in May 1593 by the police informant and part-time spy Richard Baines, it claims to record a conversation between the two men in which the playwright airs a long list of what Baines describes as “monstrous opinions”.

Among them, Marlowe casts doubt on the existence of God, claims that the New Testament was so “filthily written” that he himself could do a better job, and makes the eyebrow-raising assertion that the Christian communion would be more satisfying if it were smoked “in a tobacco pipe”.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/mar/31/christopher-marlowe-spy-baines-note-gay-christ-british-library-online

DAVID STOREY, REST IN PEACE (1933-2017) ·

(Michael Coveney’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/27.)

David Storey, who has died aged 83, was an unusual literary figure in being as well known for writing novels as he was for writing plays, never claiming that one discipline was harder or easier than the other, but achieving distinction in both, often overlapping, fields. He sprang to prominence with his first novel, This Sporting Life, in 1960; his 1963 movie adaptation, directed by Lindsay Anderson, and starring Richard Harris and Rachel Roberts, was an outstanding example of the new wave of British film, in its raw black-and-white northern realism and its brutal story of a miner turned professional rugby player and his widowed landlady.

Storey, the big and burly son of a Yorkshire miner, played rugby league for Leeds in the early 1950s while also studying fine art at the Slade school in London. His recurring themes, on stage and page, were defined by this dual experience; and by the conflict between his roots in the north and a sense of powerful dislocation in the south, as well as feelings of guilt and atonement in family life.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/mar/27/david-storey-obituary

ALAN LIGHT: ‘WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 4) ·

Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08gwsjb

Inspired by the Oscar-nominated TV documentary, Alan Light’s biography draws on Nina Simone’s early diaries, rare interviews, childhood journals and input from her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly to paint a picture of the classically-trained pianist who became a soul legend, a leading civil rights activist and one of the most influential artists of our time.

Episode One
“I was born a child prodigy darling. I was born a genius.” Nina Simone

Music journalist Alan Light is the author of The Holy of the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of Hallelujah, and Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain, among others. He was editor-in-chief of the music magazines Vibe and Spin, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times.

Writer: Alan Light
Abridger: Pete Nichols
Reader: Alibe Parsons
Producer: Karen Rose

A Sweet Talk production for BBC Radio 4.

Photo: Respect Magazine.

‘BEING ORSON WELLES’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3—LINK BELOW) ·

Orson Welles (1915 – 1985), American actor, producer, writer and director. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Listen at:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05s3k88

Five essays by five enthusiasts that follow the rise and fall of Orson Welles, the controversial Renaissance man who was an actor, film director, radio producer and theatre impresario. Essayists include film critics Peter Bradshaw and David Thomson and Sarah Churchwell.

Simon Callow, Welles’s biographer, tracks the transformation from schoolboy to prodigy and unpicks what really happened during the six months Welles spent at Dublin’s Gate Theatre.

Produced by Gemma Jenkins.