Ben Brantley was asked in December to list his favorite books on the theater and came up with four:
Moss Hart, Act One
Peter Hall's Diaries (gossip from the NT in the '70s)
Kenneth Tynan, Curtains
Wiliam Goldman's The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway, in which he analyzes under thematic headings just about every show of the 1967-68 Broadway season.
Bobo can hear you going, "Ho-hum. Forty years ago. Ancient history." But Goldman (who wrote the script for a couple of Paul Newman movies you may have heard of (Harper and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) is a very intelligent and engaging writer.
Imagine Bobo's joy, then, on traipsing down into the basement of 2nd Look Books a few weekends back and scoring a copy of The Season for just $8. (Act One he's read; he's going after the other two, though Brantley advises that Curtains is rare enough that you're really only likely to find it online.)
Right off the bat, Goldman plunges into the adulation, the hysteria, that Judy Garland's cabaret show generated among crowds that season. She can't hit all her notes; she disappoints the Judy fanatics by singing some less familiar or even new songs. But then, magic happens. A snip:
"... pretty soon it's 'The Trolley Song,' and at the very end of it there are the words 'with his hand holding mine,' and 'mine' is a tough note, high and climactic. As she gets to it, she spreads her feet just a little wider, and suddenly she's eating the mike -- it's down her throat, jammed -- and from somewhere she found it, because at precisely 10:30, on the word 'mine,' she hit the high note with all she had and on-the-button perfect, and you could actually hear them gasp because she did it, she got a note right, a hard note yet, and she got it. It wasn't just that she was on pitch -- she's almost always on pitch, or at least you know she knows where the pitch is if she's off it -- it was pitch plus volume plus timbre plus whatever else it is that distinguishes once voice from another, and this was Garland's voice, the old Garland's voice, back again, just like in the movies, and even though it was only for one note it was enough to tear the place apart."
That's great reporting and writing, folks. And Bobo's only five chapters in, but the book's timeless and full of insights about what theater is and could be.
Bobo, in his vast ignorance, has just learned that Goldman also wrote the following screenplays: The Stepford Wives, Marathon Man, All the President's Men, The Princess Bride, Misery and Chaplin. He's 77 now, and it's sad to think (given the happy family portrait of Goldman and wife and two small daughters on the jacket of my '69 hardback) that he divorced his wife back in 1991.
Moss Hart, who had already written You Can't Take It With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner, also wrote the 1954 script for the remake of A Star Is Born -- which of course starred Liza Minellli's mother -- and then Act One in 1959.
And this June 22 will be the 40th anniversary of Judy Garland's death.