The Journey So Far

A chronological stroll thru the history of Broadway Musicals as they came to be recorded by Hollywood--the summation of a lifelong vocation, and a journey of self discovery. Equal parts cultural history, critique and personal memoir. Coming next: Hairspray

Monday, December 15, 2014

Funny Lady

March 15, 1975,  Columbia   135 minutes
Musicals on both stage and screen seemed to be on the rebound in 1975. The year brought forth four Bway musicals that got filmed (eventually), suggesting a new bounty; as did the astonishing release of three new movie musicals all in March--two of which were even hits! The third, At Long Last Love was another thud from 20th Century Fox (who should have known better) and forever put to rest Peter Bogdanovich's Golden Boy status in Hlwd. Columbia produced the two hits--as it had back in '68 with Funny Girl & Oliver!  This time it was Funny Lady and Tommy. The Who's rock opera had been done at the Met and elsewhere, but would not reach Bway until '93--in a production that cribbed much from Ken Russell's movie--by then the tide had turned: musicals were coming from Hlwd to Bway. And they continue to do so.

Funny Lady is slightly off-topic but begs to be included for several reasons; being a true sequel to a real Bway musical, with the same celebrated star; and because of a partial score by Bway stalwarts Kander & Ebb (well, a few songs anyway)--the rest are period tunes co-authored by Billy Rose, Lady's love interest. There were interpolations in Funny Girl, too--songs identified with Fanny Brice. And that was one of the very few post-Sound of Music musicals that was a major Hlwd hit. It was a goldmine for Ray Stark--springboard to a film empire, and a personal triumph: a tribute to his mother-in-law, as well as the soon-to-be legendary declaration of a new Star. But to get the movie, Streisand had to sign a multi-film contract with Rastar Productions, and by '74 had one remaining obligation. Tho she was eager for her independence, Babs balked at the idea of a sequel, but was eventually persuaded. It was her first musical since the trio of Bway hits that started her film career. and a welcome relief after the desperate flailing of her last movie, in which she played a Brooklyn housewife turned hooker: For Pete's Sake--indeed. She was still only 32, playing the 40 to 50 year old Brice--not yet calcified into her middle-aged Malibu housewife mode--but adrift in finding her character's maturity or wisdom, leaning a bit hard on mimicking earlier movie stars. But the public was ready for another musical from Barbra and despite lukewarm reviews the film was a commercial success. The ads touted Streisand & Caan: "How lucky can you get?" What does that even mean? Who's lucky?--we the audience or Babs & Jimmy? I suppose it could've been worse: At least they didn't go with a tag like: "That Funny Girl is now a Lady!"

The hero of Funny Lady was Fanny's third husband (Nick Arnstein was actually the second), showman Billy Rose. Nearly forgotten by the '70s, he lived long enuf to insist his infamous 1935 Hippodrome extravaganza (a financial failure no less) be titled Billy Rose's Jumbo in MGM's 1962 movie. A real life Runyonesque character, he was short, crude, sweaty and persistent. Robert Blake fit the bill and was thought a lock, but Streisand nixed his sex appeal. Two runts don't set off sparks. Pacino & DeNiro were considered, too, but in the end James Caan was chosen--a better visual contrast to Omar Sharif, who was also back, a bit grayer now--his role and presence severely diminished. Tho not his shadow.
The screenplay by Arnold Schulman (from his story) & Jay Presson Allen (from Cabaret) isn't so much about Fanny's romance with Billy Rose as it is Getting Over Nick. There's some real crackle to the scenes between Brice & Rose at first, but once Nick reappears it's dullsville--despite the swelling strains of "People," the film's only musical reference to Girl (and sad reminder of its superior score.) Brice herself famously said she didn't like the man she loved, and didn't love the man she liked. The main thrust of Funny Lady seems to be to illustrate these points. The story begins (after some of the cheesiest opening titles (silent clips from Funny Girl masked in stage lights and double exposure) and a fabricated Brice skit written by Kander & Ebb, to what seems a repeat of Girl's beginning: Fanny waiting backstage for Nick after a long separation. Didn't they split up already? Why does she expect him to return for her closing night? Instead, she gets a bouquet and . . . divorce papers, We get it: she's available. Enter Billy Rose, tho we don't know why he barges into Bernard Baruch's office (he's Fanny's business manager) like a bull in a china shop. "Just going over Mrs. Brice's daughters holdings," Baruch offers. "Do you mind?" asks Rose, joining, in having already made up her mind before she has a chance to. He takes speedy notes, transcribing verbatim like Peggy Cass in Auntie Mame, yet despite his impressive skills, doesn't even merit Brice's notice when she departs. Once again the story plays fast & loose with facts. Brice & Rose were actually married before the Crash, 1929-1938. Here they say it was four years--but why define a fake timeline when so much else is historically vague? It's a strange romance; physically skittish, sarcastic, unconvincing. A business arrangment more than a love affair. Fissures come from the cliche of fame imbalance, but Rose, whose career was well in ascendence wasn't likely dismissed as "Mr. Brice," and the trope was already played out with Nick. Even with this new pairing, the thrust of the movie is Fanny letting go of Nick in stages, until she finally breaks free, rushing (in song) back to Billy's   side,   only  to  find   him  with  Olympic  swimmer 
Eleanor Holmes (because he's her Nick) and another divorce on the horizon. Funny Lady has not one but two reunions with ex-husbands; ending the film on a ten year jump as Billy comes to court Fanny for another show--each crowing a bit too insistently of their happy lives--only to end with Fanny promising to think about it. Fact is, they never worked together again, so why this ambiguous conclusion? Are we supposed to think they will? And isn't it a shame we don't see more of what Brice did the final decade of her life. We got more of Baby Snooks in Funny Girl than here, and this is what made her a household name on radio thru the '40s. Or even more of Billy Rose. We know he put together an Aquacade, but why fail to mention it was for the '39 NY World's Fair? His Jumbo is barely alluded to by a poster on a wall--but not even that for his biggest smash, Carmen Jones. There are many such unique details that are simply ignored or made vague or generic.

Aside from the first few (mostly fabricated) scenes between Brice & Rose, which have some snap and crackle; the movie's better moments are the early putting-on-a-show scenes, tho even at this late date they're still as phony as the composer bios made in the '40s. Billy Rose's Crazy Quilt wasn't even the first show Brice did for Rose--nor the seminal event the movie pretends it was. They were already married when she starred in his first sole produced revue, Sweet & Low in November '30. The show ran a decent six months and then was succeded by Crazy Quilt as a fresh summer replacement. It lasted just ten weeks--which makes even the movie's "5th Smash Month" banner on the show's posters exaggerated. There's a hilarious, utterly fake sequence, impeccably shot by veteran cinematographer James Wong Howe (as his final film), that's a long tracking shot thru the theater, as any and every possible activity is happening all at once in every corner; the orchestra tuning up, dancers rehearsing, costumers pining gowns, scenery being painted, lights being hung, actors arguing--utter staged chaos that would never happen like this. 
It's an ancient trope, but we never seem to tire of watching stage mishaps. But Crazy Quilt's opening in Atlantic City overdoes them. Runaway turn tables, haywire eyeballs, flooded rain effects, stampeding buffalo--everything goes wrong! But it feels false having Billy be so clueless putting his show together; leaving Fanny to tartly play show doctor. And puzzling after just seeing his impressive smarts in the recording studio. Tho she's ready to bail, Fanny is browbeaten by Billy to stay--supplying the wisdom to pull the show into shape. Now we get bits of number after number put in order. Which is how we get a thoroughly extraneous, if entertaining, dance by Ben Vereen, "Clap Hands," that's clearly going for the Fosse moment. Unlike anything else in the movie, its neon-painted urban jungle set, and Vereen's swiveled, scisccor hips are a celluloid shot of adrenalin. (I'd put this as possibly the best number Vereen ever got on film). Following this Babs has her way with "Great Day"--in every way more CBS 1971 than Bway 1930. Brice's audience wouldn't know what to make of it.
Why are these Star bios so reductive, so insular they seem to suffocate their subject? (Like Star! A Gertrude Lawrence story without a mention of Beatrice Lillie) When Billy says late in the movie, "I married a parade," it rings so false because we've seen Fanny virtually alone thruout. Or with her "pansy" pal, Bobby--a thoroughly colorless part played stylishly by Roddy McDowall, who served this role well in real life to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor among others--and was likely every bit as interesting on his own. Surely more interesting than here. Was Bette Davis's Margo Channing any less dominant in having the characters around her so vivid and well-written? On the contrary, she was well served. Streisand is given all focus, but for Caan and Sharif her necessary vis a vis. No one else matters. She never interacts with anyone in the show, not even Bobby, really, she just barks at him like a dog at her heels. Certainly not her theater co-star, Ben Vereen, nor her own daughter (Stark's future wife). who shows up so briefly it's possible to miss her entirely. When Fanny berates Nick for never seeing his child, we think the same could be said of her. And couldn't they find any place for Kay Medford--Mama Rose Brice? She's mentioned but once when Nick asks after her. "She sold the saloon, she lives in Lakewood, New Jersey. She likes Billy." Well, why didn't we get that scene? Instead of forced arguments between the two (over cold cream and pajamas, for heaven's sake!), it might be more revealing, to say nothing of entertaining, to see them interact with others as well. There's a producer's girlfriend who must be squeezed into the show--a storyline so peripheral you can't help but wonder if it (and the actress Carole Wells) aren't in the movie for that very same reason.
The script seems to make a point of Rose's casual homophobia Or is it the writer's bias? "Who's the pansy?" Billy asks about Bobby, later referring to him as Fanny's "poodle." When Bobby calls him out on a lie, "Ruth Etting, my ass!" Rose retorts, "That's swell, dear, when I want your ass I'll know what to call it." This is the man who penned an actual song called "When a Pansy was a Flower." How much he actually wrote of such songs as "Me and My Shadow," "More Than You Know," "It's Only a Paper Moon" is frankly debatable. Even as a lyricst he shares credit for his whole catalog--a third wheel in the process. But if his contribution was the least, his promotion of songs with his name on them virtually justified his credit. Barbra does all right by them, tho aside from brief moments when she plays Brice as she was on stage ("I've Got a Code in my Doze") she performs like La Streisand, front & center. She had no desire or incentive to hew any closer to Fanny Brice than her own natural style would bring her. She was the Star now, not Brice, and saw thru every opportunity to reinforce that. Her velvety croon thru "More Than You Know" and "If I Love Again" is soundtrack bait, but of little visual interest. Her best cinematic moment is on "I Found a Million Dollar Baby (In a 5 & 10 Cent Store)" strutting on a giant cigarette holder opposite a cardboard woman's face 
with hilariously roving pupils. (OK, I admit the gag makes me laugh.) It's ironic that much of Fanny's fixes are scaling down Billy's overproduction, for "Great Day," contradicts this at every turn. Meant as a highlight, it's so incongruous to its source (as re-invented as "The Saga of Jenny" in Star!) it feels spliced in from one of Streisand's early high-

concept TV specials. A bone to her fans. In the 5 years since her last musical film, her status as Hlwd's reigning musical queen was challenged by Liza--who likewise took home an Oscar for a filmed Bway hit. It was a deliberate and calculated move to hire Jay Allen and Kander & Ebb (all part of Cabaret) for Funny Lady. Barbra, had director approval and would have hired Bob Fosse too, if he was available, but settled for Herbert Ross, who had staged Funny Girl's numbers for Wyler. Ross had directed her in The Owl & The Pussycat (where she played a unlikely loudmouthed hooker) without undue interference. He could stage musical numbers as well, having come up the ranks as a Bway choreographer turned director. Babs also had links to Kander & Ebb, recording their early song "My Coloring Book" in '62--before Liza was part of their lexicon. But now she was so much in their DNA, their key songs sound like they were written for Minnelli, especially "How Lucky Can You Get," a cheery anthem that turns ironic when pushed bitterly. It's first heard as a pop recording by Brice,   but  then  turned  into  a  mini  "Rose's Turn" with 
Fanny firing up an empty stage wtih lights and anger blazing: "Gee/ Whee/Wow/How lucky/ ....How lucky can you get!" But, "And if there's a man who'd leave me/I am happy to say/I haven't run into him yet" Huh? And this just after Nick Arnstein leaves her, again. They don't dare attempt another "People," but "Let's Hear it for Me," is meant to evoke "Don't Rain on My Parade" in its epiphany-driven transit from Rolls Royce (but why is she cruising along Mulholland?) to prop plane taking off; attempts at topping Funny Girl''s ferryboat shot, in what should be the film's Eleven O'Clock Moment. It isn't quite. For one thing she isn't moving toward her goal (love) but away from her longstanding albatross (untenable love); the lyrics so self-glorifying as to be ridiculous:
    
     For this overwhelming sensation
     I could stand a standing ovation
     Give my entrance cue to the band
     And--Give the little lady a great big hand!
     . . .    
     And the critics and public agree
     I'm the number one attraction to see
     So applaud it and cheer it
     C'mon now, let's hear it
     For me!

And on top of that, she rushes back to find her other husband in flagrante. In fact the film goes flat as soon as the two get married; their arguments dull and meaningless, losing all the fizz that's in their first several scenes. James Caan is surprisingly good--in the sort of part you don't expect to see him; exuding a crude charisma but a charming honesty. Omar Sharif underplays to the point of ennui, on both his and our parts. Roddy McDowell provides just enuf bark to make us wish he was our friend too. And as for Babs. . . she leans a bit hard on the Grand Dame pose (striding thru the Depression, swaddled in endless furs); imperious, unassailable. The costumes by Ray Aghayan and Bob Mackie are strictly Diva--anticipating the '80s. Pauline Kael thought Streisand had overtaken her female impersonators; giving a pure drag performance. Harsh words, but Babs cried all the way to the bank. It was the 7th highest grossing film of '75, with $19,000,000 in film rentals. With her musical prowess reaffirmed, it was on to A Star is Born. (A property which, ironically, never makes a Star, but deifies one.)

The stars had all lined up for me as well.
       1975 was going to be my breakthru year.
               When I walked into Harold Prince's office at One Rockefeller Plaza on my morning break from Brentano's that day in January, I felt like I was granted private audience with the Pope. Truth is: I can scarcely recall anything about the appointment, nor could I have back then in 1975. For after some initial small talk Hal Prince said to me, "I loved your letter, and I'd like you to be the second assistant stage manager on Pacific Overtures."  I was so high after that I had to go up to the roof of 30 Rock so I could come down to earth. It was the RCA Bldg in those days, and I preferred it to the Empire State for its nicely tiered roof, the center of which was elevated still more, so that you could stand with nothing above you but sky. I was literally on Top of the World. Just like that, I was about to start working on Bway! There was one caveat: I had to first meet and make arrangments with Hal's right hand man, Ms. Ruth Mitchell (my first peek into the curiously lesbian world of stage managers.) Ruth was by then much more than that--more a co-producer, and staffer. My meeting with her several weeks later was as brief and cool as it was relaxed and warm with Hal. Nothing in her face showed any interest or hope. Without even the courtesy of a few pleasantries (after all, I was recommended by her boss) she stated the show was already fully staffed (which I suppose was possible) and I was ushered out of the office as tho it were a hospital and another bed was quickly needed. This time I slunk straight down to the basement of Brentano's where I had to work the entire afternoon in a haze of bummer.

To blunt the disappointment I needed a change of scene. My roommate Bill and I had both earned a first year's worth of vacation and had had enuf of winter. A clerk's salary didn't go far, so my choices were limited. The best deal then was for 5 Days in Venezuela, so the first week in March, in time for Bill's 23rd birthday, we flew to Caracas. Most of what happened there stayed there--at least as far as memory serves. All I know is on the flight home the stews spoke to Bill in English and then turned to me in Spanish. I took that as a compliment. Back home my plate was full keeping up with the latest theater & movies. The winter and spring musicals on Bway (Shenandoah, The Wiz, Goodtime Charley, Doctor Jazz) were to my taste, dismal. Three Sundays in March were devoted to catching the movie musicals, first At Long Last Love at Radio City, then Funny Lady at Loewe's State and finally, Tommy at the Ziegfeld. My expectations ran from high to low in that screening order, only to find my approval in the reverse. At Long Last... was an attempt at a champagne comedy in Art Deco with a Cole Porter soundtrack. But despite such Bway talent as Madeline Kahn and Eileen Brennan, putting non-musical actors, Burt Reynolds & Cybill Shepherd in the forefront was no help. Tommy, on the other hand, chock full  of  Ken  Russell's  bombast  was  a  thrilling  surprise--
a stoner movie I got thru a contact high. And I even liked the score. It was a curio cabinet of rock star cameos--anticipating the emergence of music videos and MTV--visually stunning and splendidly cast. Oliver Reed was vividly comedic and Ann-Margret was nothing short of mesmerizing. Russell's feel for music was visceral and honestly emotional. Tommy set a high bar to beat for my choice of Best Pic of 1975. But the fresh energy in American cinema was regularly showing its creative muscles. In mid June a very different kind of movie musical opened on 3rd Ave. Months earlier Pauline Kael had anointed a rough cut of Robert Altman's new film an outlier masterpiece in a gushing New Yorker shout out. 
She wasn't far wrong. Nashville was a ballsy epic of contemporary Americana. Filled with music, it never quite felt like it stopped to be a musical; tho it was wholly democratic in offering schlock as well as genuinely good country music. Ronee Blakely was enuf of a discovery that I followed up with her debut album--which got much play from us. But if there was anything that could put the movie over the top for me it was giving Barbara Harris the most out-of-nowhere, gasp-inducing Star-is-Born moment at the film's climax. Nashville was so unique it had little direct influence on filmmaking in general, or musicals in particular. But it was ultimately, easily, the film of the year.
With warmer weather Bway was heating up as well. Bette Midler, who last played two weeks at the Palace, played two months at the Minskoff in her all-new Clams on the Half-Shell Revue. But nothing could be more exciting than a new Bob Fosse show starring my two longstanding favorite Bway Stars (whom I'd never seen on stage): Gwen Verdon & Chita Rivera in Chicago. Opening night was sold out, but I made it my mission to get in--and did. It was a night to remember. Two months later, Gwen was felled by injury and needed an extended leave of absence. On short notice and Fosse's drilling, Liza Minnelli stepped in for six weeks. She was sensational. 
The news from downtown reached me in time to see A Chorus Line at the Public, before it marched uptown to its even more glorious run at the Shubert. Opening almost on top of each other the two shows were the most exciting new musicals to hit Bway since I came to town. (We get to them in due time). It was a fertile summer. 
I played the albums of all above incessantly.

Revived by this upturn in Bway I considered my next step. As I had persuaded Harold Prince to take an interest in me, why not try the same with other producers about town? There was David Merrick, of course, my original idol, but something scared me off him. I was ready to be challenged, I didn't need to be abused. But there were at least another half dozen names I'd known from all my years reading Bway yearbooks, who were familiar enuf for me to personally flatter each: Stuart Ostrow, Alexander Cohen, Kermit Bloomgarden, Saint Subber, Joseph Kipness, Morton Gottlieb. Within a week my heart was racing every time I opened my mailbox. I received a letter on July 25th --a Friday. 

Once again my juvenile enthusiasm and bountiful flattery had piqued the curiosity of a Bway player. (Arnold) Saint Subber began his producing career at the age of 30, conceiving and putting together Kiss Me Kate. His only subsequent musicals were Porter's Out of this World, and Harold Arlen & Truman Capote's House of Flowers, before he shifted to plays by William Inge, Carson McCullers and Paddy Chayevsky with some success. But it was his taking charge of Neil Simon's career from Barefoot in the Park (and hiring Mike Nichols for his first directing gig) to Prisoner of 2nd Avenue--seven plays (all made into films) that would be cash cows for the rest of his life. His office and home were two halves of the penthouse on a mid-rise apartment house at 44 East 67th St. It was like stepping into a movie. The doorman sent me up and as I arrived on the 13th floor the door to the office was slightly ajar. From inside a hoarse voice barked at me to come in. There sat a gaunt, scruffy-faced diminutive man, who looked more disturbing whenever he smiled--which fortunately was not often: Saint Subber. Where Hal Prince was warm and chatty, Saint was gruff and intimidating. He had an occasional stutter and spoke in barks and bleats. My interview skills for this were embarassingly lacking, but he saw something in me that tickled his fancy. I was so eager in my introductory letter; I had offered to work for nothing. He was tempted to take me up on it, but in the end I got $175 a week--more than I was making at Brentano's--which got my one week notice that afternoon.

It was a freshly rain-swept August day the first morning I walked across Central Park to work on East 67th. It was quickly apparent the job was more charitable than necessary. Saint had recently washed his hands of the massive Alan Jay Lerner/Leonard Bernstein fiasco, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, and wasn't exactly busy. But I was to answer the phone and take messages, receive packages and wait until a project developed. It was a dream job. Saint would drop in from time to time to regale me with stories of his fabulous life: saved from suicide in Paris by Jean Cocteau; his teenage boyfriend, Monty Clift, mentoring Neil Simon, Dietrich coming over to wash his floors.; it was all so glamorous. From time to time he would try to draw some nuggets out of me, but I was too young & stupid to realize my background was uniquely strange--and thus possibly interesting. I gave him nothing. I think had I been older I might have justified his interest in me and made myself more indispensible. He already had a boy toy--a young hustler not much older than I. That wasn't his interest in me. He was 55 then and looked ancient--a chronic smoker & drinker, he hadn't stepped into a gym in his life. But if in the waning days of his professional life he yearned to pass his experience on to a surrogate son. I was ready to step into that role. Much of the time I was alone in the office, which had the expected theatrical paraphernalia everywhere, and french doors the opened to a penthouse deck that circled the building. On occasion I'd be served lunch al fresco--Saint taught me how to eat an artichoke. In the longeurs between phone calls I took to reading whole volumes of anthologies of plays from the '20s thru the '50s. I absorbed works by George S. Kaufman, Philip Barry, John Van Druten, Terence Rattigan, Tennesse Williams, George Kelly, Thornton Wilder, among others. On some days I'd read 4 or 5 three-act plays. Nice work if you can get it. And I got it. Sometime in September while prancing around my bedroom, most likely to the new OCR of A Chorus Line, the rug slipped out from under me and I dislocated my kneecap. In shock I slapped it back in place, but the subsequent weakness drove me to the ER. In short order I was in a hip-to-ankle cast (rather needlessly, I later found out) for a solid month. After a few taxi trips across the park with my crutches, Saint took this as the opportunity to shut his office. Bored and out of projects there was liittle reason to keep me around. I was devastated, and vowed to re-enter his circle in the future. When I realized I could scrape by on unemployment, I decided to use my 9 months of welfare to subsidize writing a play--after all, I already had an inside track on a producer; one looking for a project. But I was so heavily under the influence of all the plays I'd read in Saint's office, that I foolishly wrote my own version of a romantic comedy,  a barely updated wannabe Philadelphia Story set in San Francisco.
                                I called it Strange Enthusiasm.
                                                                                        It was.
Rather than pursue the free-form absurdist or collage style I had success with in college, or take inspiration from more contemporary voices I admired (such as Lanford Wilson and Tom Stoppard) I needed to process my own old-fashioned boulevard comedy. For the first time in my life, I sat in a room and wrote as a day's work--unpaid. It was written on a portable electric typewriter in my room overlooking the yards of 84th St. The steam heat came on in the morning but shut off until dinnertime. As fall slid into winter, I spent my days shivering beneath layers of clothing--a small electric heater at my feet. Now that I was Poverty's Plaything, my theatergoing was less frequent. Fortunately I'd already seen both Chicago and A Chorus Line thrice that summer., but the handful of shows I saw that fall were mostly forgettable--except for Tom Stoppard's hilarious Travesties, which tickled me to no end. But there was plenty to keep me occupied on my old childhood standby: TV. Bill had HBO so I often watched movies during the afternoon to procrastinate. And that fall network season was bountiful in smart adult comedies from Norman Lear & MTM. But a newly instigated "family hour" regulation was the beginning of the end of progressive sitcoms and a return of the vapid and juvenile. But for now we had All in the Family, Maude, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Rhoda, Phyllis (my new fave, with Cloris Leachman and a scene-stealing 93 year old Judith Lowry as Mother Dexter), Barney Miller, MASH, Good Times, Sanford & Son. Not to mention weekly variety shows from Cher and Carol Burnett. I wasn't lacking for entertainment at home. On New Year's Eve I decided to torture myself by seeing the first preview of Pacific Overtures  at the  Winter Garden.  It was a  beautiful show, 
an aesthetic masterwork, but of a rhythm wholly off the beat of Bway. The climactic number, "Next" in which a century of Japan's technological progress is extolled, was for me the one electric moment of the show. My Sondheim love was again being tested. Still, I was saddened to not have been a part of it, no doubt. It was more than thirty years later when I chanced upon learning who took the spot Hal Prince had so generously offered me. In an online interview, who should mention in passing he was the 2nd assistant stage manager on Pacific Overtures: Lonny Price. (And at age 15--how lucky can you get?) So, that was it! I was already too old at 22. Knowing my victor became a protege of Prince, and a Bway director is a bit painful, but who's to say had I stepped into that job what my path would've been. At any rate it was not meant to be. Neither was my plan to become a croupier. But that's another story.

As they had in '68, Columbia promoted its two musicals heavily at awards season, along with another March release, Warren Beatty's trenchant comedy, Shampoo. Nominations were given to all; writing and acting nods for Shampoo, but only technical noms (5) for Funny Lady--Stresiand's name conspicuously absent. Tommy got just two; expectedly for scoring, but a happy surprise for Ann-Margret. Her previous Oscar recognition was for some serious acting in Mike Nichols' Carnal Knowledge. Here she's part gyrating-ingenue A-M, part singing A-M, and all mature comedienne A-M. Granted it was a thin year (thin decade) for great women's roles, and each year seemed to require a stretch to indie and foreign films to fill out the ballot. That said, Ann-Margret was terrific; but surely she must be the only actress to get an Oscar nomination for rolling around in baked beans and chocolate syrup. Free of Ray Stark, Babs with new partner (and boyfriend) Jon Peters, was working toward her own, second, Oscar--tho not the one she was aiming for.

Next Up: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Report Card:   Funny Lady
Overall Film:   C+
New Songs:  6  (by Kander & Ebb)
Old Songs:  9 (mostly w/Rose credit)
Standout Numbers:  "Clap Hands"
               "I Found a Million Dollar Baby"
Casting:  Unobjectionable
Standout Cast: James Caan
Direction:  Competent, unnoticeable
Choreography:  Solid, erratic, dutiful
Scenic Design:  Varied, beyond reproach
Costumes:  A theater trunk full
Standout Set: "Clap Hands" stage set
Titles: Montage clips from first film
               over Kander & Ebb overture
Oscar Noms: 5, Cinematography,
     Costume Design, Sound, Scoring,
     Song: "How Lucky Can You Get"

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