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He Wanted to Be a Producer

By, Bennett Liebman
Government Lawyer in Residence, Albany Law School

President-elect Donald Trump on November 19th tweeted a series of complaints about how the cast of the hit musical "Hamilton" had treated Vice President-elect Mike Pence. This was hardly the President-elect's first foray onto the Great White Way. In fact, he has been involved with Broadway for over 45 years, including a brief but unsuccessful stint as an investor and associate producer in 1970.

Soon after graduating from college, the 23-year-old Trump invested in the Broadway show "Paris is Out", which opened on Broadway in the winter of 1970. "Paris Is Out" was a comedy about an elderly Jewish couple who was planning a long-anticipated trip to Europe, while simultaneously dealing with problems about their children. It starred the venerable actors Molly Picon and Sam Levene. Trump, with a $70,000 investment, financed half the production cost. The Playbill program for the show lists David Black as the producer "in association with Donald J. Trump." Trump's bio in Playbill read, "Donald J. Trump who joins Mr. Black in this production as Associate Producer is making his theatrical debut. He is in the investment and real estate business, and will be associated with Mr. Black in his new musical, W.C." ("W.C." was never made.)

While Trump allegedly was not involved in the day-to-day production of the show, the production team was extraordinarily enterprising in its approach to the show. "Paris Is Out" was not a good show. It was unlikely to be a critical success. It was likely, however, given its stars and subject matter, to appeal to a distinct crowd of Jewish senior citizens who frequented the theater. The first innovation of the production team was to reduce the role of the critics by not officially opening the show. The show went into previews on January 19, 1970, and there was not to be any opening night. Instead, the critics were invited to attend the show several weeks after it started. At that point, critics would be welcome, and tickets would be made available to them. Management would not be soliciting any reviews. The producers ran ads from alleged theatergoers, and even from critic Rex Reed, in support of their non-opening night policy.

The policy was modified after critics threatened to review the play after its first preview. The critics were urged to come to the show but only after the show had been frozen. After the Associated Press and the Newark News had reviewed the play during its first week in previews, the policy was further changed to invite the critics to attend the show from January 28th to January 31st, with reviews embargoed for publication until February 3rd. Even then, the Daily News refused to review the show.

Not unexpectedly, the reviews were dismal. George Oppenheimer in Newsday found it "embarrassingly bad" and suggested that "Paris Is Out" "is the sort of play whose situations and dialogue you whistle as you enter the theater." Clive Barnes in the New York Times found the show "pitiable" with the writing "deplorable." Walter Kerr for the New York Times added, "I simply sat there and looked at it." He found the production "professional while the play is not."

Martin Gottfried for Women's Wear Daily was probably the most venomous. He wrote, "Frankly, it is terrible - gross, thick-witted, senseless, humorless, narrow-minded, hypocritical, boring, archaic, exclusively commercial, embarrassing, short-sighted, long-winded, uneducated, uninformed, uninteresting and unsuited for anyone un-Jewish and under age 50."

In fairness, most every reviewer mentioned that the audience seemed to love the show. There were also a minimal number of critics that liked it. The Wall Street Journal found it "warmly entertaining." Undoubtedly the most favorable review appeared in the horse racing daily, The Morning Telegraph. Its reviewer Leo Mishkin found the play to be "rich and delicious and as filling as a large helping of apple strudel." A play was surely in trouble when this was its main booster.

Faced with these harsh reviews, but with a receptive audience, the production team remained steadfastly creative. In an era when almost all shows held only two matiness (Wednesday and Saturday), "Paris Is Out" became the first show to move to four matiness. It had afternoon performances on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Business appeared to pick up for a time, but sank in April of 1970. The final performance of the show was April 19, 1970. Variety claimed that it ran 96 performances with 16 previews.

The show had a brief afterlife when the actor Pat O'Brien and his wife Eloise converted the show from a Jewish family comedy into an Irish family. They toured with the show across the country on the straw hat circuit and dinner theater circuits for half a decade. However, the play has hardly been seen in the past 35 years.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 19, 2016 11:51 AM.

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