Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

DIARY OF A MAD PLAYWRIGHT: Perilous Adventures On the Road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing

DIARY OF A MAD PLAYWRIGHT: Perilous Adventures On the Road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing. James Kirkwood. Applause Books; 1989.

When playwright James Kirkwood went on the road with Legends, a comedy about two aging and feuding divas, he kept a journal of the goings-on which is reproduced in this compulsory readable book. With what seems complete and often scathing honesty, Kirkwood dissects his stars, supporting players, director, and producers, but in so doing offers much insight into the process that goes on in mounting a production beset with insecure if massive egos, strangely inept and timid directors, producers who want power but don't have any experience, and a million problems that seem petty but interfere in both the creative process and in bringing the public the best possible entertainment. The talented Mary Martin has such terrible trouble remembering her lines that it's a wonder everyone didn't throw up their hands and fire her with regret, and the clown-like, almost grotesque Channing, while cruel and impatient at times, also had difficulty acting with someone who [during the first few months of performances] received all of her lines from a special plug in her ear. Of course the book, as wickedly entertaining as it is, does leave a few questions, such as how did Kirkwood [unless he taped everything or had an encyclopedic memory] manage to reproduce such lengthy conversations, even if he jotted things down a few hours later? He also doesn't seem to get why a black actress might have some problems with the sassy, lovable Hattie McDaniel-type maid she's required to play, seeing that McDaniel's hey-day was forty years earlier, but then Kirkwood refers to his and other's gay lovers as "dear friends" throughout the book, a practice which is both quaint and passe. Whatever its flaws, Diary of a Mad Playwright only confirms what most of us already knew or suspected about the overbearing egos of stars and others in the Theater. And it's a page-turner. One suspects that this book is better than the play that inspired it.

Verdict: No, it's not world peace, but try to put the darn thing down. ***1/2.

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