Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Showbiz Stuff

Recently, two compelling obits appeared in the Times.  The two men chronicled both died at 93, lived in Studio City, California, but otherwise had nothing to do with each other except for their involvement in Broadway theater.  Donald Bevan was the caricaturist for Sardi's, the Broadway restaurant for theatrical people, for many years. His fame followed his being noticed drawing pictures on war planes by a United Press correspondent named Walter Cronkite. Apparently, his drawings. while satirical, were kindly, except where critics were concerned.

This was because Mr. Bevan was also a playwright, one who co-wrote only one successful play.  It's not clear whether he ever wrote another--the obit says he tried to write a musical but it doesn't say whether it was ever completed. But the play he did write was a masterpiece, Stalag 17.  Most of you may know of it as a famous, dramatic movie about American prisoners of war in a German World War II POW camp--William Holden won the Best Actor Oscar.  But it previously ran for a year on Broadway in a production directed by Jose Ferrer, who won a Tony for it.

There were wonderful supporting players in it: the camp commandant, played by Otto Preminger; two comic-relief dogfaces, Harvey Lembeck and Robert Strauss; and the principal guard was played by the Marx Brothers' foil in A Night at the Opera, Sig Ruman. One part of the story not mentioned in the Times which my dad told me was that Stalag 17 premiered not at a Broadway theater but at the wonderful theatre on the third floor of The Lambs, now a restaurant but then a theatrical club.

The other 93-year-old who died at an assisted-living home in Studio City was Elliot Reid, who played opposite Jane Russell in the film, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Mr. Reid had a distinguished if unheralded career in films and television--he had started out (as Ted Reid) playing Cinna (according to the Broadway database IdBd) in Orson Welles's renowned 1937 production of Julius Caesar.  The Times said that he played Cinna, the Poet--a role that is more famous if smaller than merely Cinna.

Mr. Reid turned up on many, many TV shows--from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to All in the Family.  You might find him anywhere, from Fred MacMurray's rival in The Absent-Minded Professor to the small-town prosecutor in Inherit the Wind, or as an Edward R. Murrow look-alike on I Love Lucy. Once again, however, I remember him best from co-starring on Broadway in 1960 in a revue that only played for a month, From A to Z.

To my teenaged sensibility, it was the epitome of sophisticated stage comedy. And while it did not play for long, the lead writer was a then-unknown named Woody Allen. Reid's co-star was Hermione Gingold. Imagine her playing the famed Mary Martin/Julie Andrews role of Maria in The Sound of Music, only re-dubbed The Sound of Schmaltz: "oodles of noodles, and pockets of posies, and cute little boys with runny noses/these are a few of my favorite things" and right there on stage with her was the ubiquitous Elliot Reid--as Baron von Klaptrap, of course.

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