Category Archives: Biographies

The Nazi Officer’s Wife

Dear Friends,

Today rather than recommend a play, we are going to tell you about a marvelous book called The Nazi Officer’s Wife.

It is a terrific read that tells the story of a young Jewish woman.  It is the story of her life in Vienna just before Hilter came to power through the end of the Second World War.

This book takes you on her journey—as a young woman at university to the slow demoralization and loss of everything familiar to her—including her family—as Hilter escalated his anti-Semitic laws in Germany, Austria, and conquered countries.

Even if you are not interested in WWII, this is an amazing tale about one woman’s journey and struggle to survive against all odds.

You can order it from Amazon by clicking on this link.

Best regards—and reading!
Philip & Marilyn

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Bette & Joan.

Dear Friends,

Last week on television we watched a fantastic movie, What Happened to Baby Jane?.  As I think we all tend to do as time passes by, we forget just how good something is until we happen upon it once again.

It stars two of the most renowned actresses: Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.  Their on-and-off stage acrimony, has them permanently linked even after all these years.

In fact, their fighting was so famous that their story is now the feature of FX’s series “Feud: Bette and Joan,” starring Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as the iconic stars Davis and Crawford respectively.

According to Ryan Murphy (creator/writer/director), “what was really interesting to explore was what a tragedy the last 15 years was in the lives of these women, and how they deserved so much more.”

feud

 

The show focuses on more than just the glamour of these two glamourous stars of the big screen, but the trials and tribulations of what it means to get older as a woman in Hollywood—something their modern counterparts say is all too familiar.

“Feud” airs Sunday nights at 10pm on FX.  You can read more about it at the New York Times and you can watch it online here.

Best regards,

Philip & Marilyn

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Patrice.

Dear Friends,

It is with heavy hearts that we share with you the passing of Patrice Munsel.  Patrice was one of the musical theatre greats, a dear friend, and a wonderful person.

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Patrice is—still to this day—the youngest star ever at the Metropolitan Opera, debuting when she was just 18 years old.  She later ventured into musical theatre, movies, and television.

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Patrice came on many of our theatre cruises.  We always loved it when she came along, as she was such a delightful and entertaining person!  We will miss her greatly.

To read her obituary in the New York Times, please click here.

Best regards,

Philip & Marilyn

 

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Book Update

Dear Friends,

Back in July, we told you about a book coming out this October written by dear family friend, John C. Wilson called Noah, Tallulah, Cole and Me: A Memoir Of Broadway’s Golden Age.

It’s getting rave reviews and has nearly sold out on Amazon!  It really is quite spectacular—and something that everyone who loves Broadway should read!

john c wilson

One reviewer commented:

Readers of Broadway history might well remember the name John C. Wilson: longtime manager, gatekeeper and comrade of Noël Coward; producer of plays with Gertie, Kit, Tallulah and the Lunts, as well as Olivier and Gielgud; and director, within a year, of the original “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Little has been known of Jack Wilson until now, with the discovery of his unpublished and forgotten 1958 autobiography, “Noël, Tallulah, Cole, and Me.” Thomas Hischak has put the pages in order and filled in the gaps, resulting in an absorbing and fascinating description of thirty years of Broadway and West End history, guided by an unassuming fellow from Trenton who was thrilled and surprised to be in the center of it all.

—Steven Suskin, author of Show Tunes and The Sound of Broadway Music

You can go online and order from Amazon—but hurry before they run out! With the holidays around the corner, it would also make a fantastic gift for the Broadway lover in your life!

 —The Theatre Guild

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John C. Wilson

Today an incredible thing has happened to us.

We have been sent a preliminary copy of a wonderful book—a biography of John C. Wilson, who was our partner in the Westport Country Playhouse for 15 years. In that time, we came to know him very well. His house was in Fairfield, near The Playhouse.

This book tells all about the Golden Age of the Theatre. Jack Wilson was the great friend of ALL the most famous legends of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s—Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Noel Coward, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Cole Porter, Philip Barry, Lorette Taylor, Binkie Beaumont, Lilian Gish, Bea Lillie, Tallulah Bankhead, Gertrude Lawrence, Gypsy Rose Lee, and more! He directed many famous plays on Broadway—including some for The Theatre Guild.

We have been asked to review the book and make suggestions about it, which we are doing now.
A description of the book is below. We think it is one of the best books on the American Theatre. It is scheduled for an October release –we will let you know when it is available!

john c wilson

Noel, Tallulah, Cole, and Me
A Memoir of Broadway’s Golden Age
JOHN C. WILSON – WITH THOMAS S. HISCHAK AND JACK MACAULEY

An important figure during the golden age of Broadway, John C. Wilson staged such famous productions as Kiss Me Kate and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. He also worked with many of the greatest actors, playwrights, producers, and other artists from the 1920s through the 1950s, including Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Carol Channing, and Tennessee Williams. In his twenties, Wilson met Noel Coward and became both his lover and manager. Despite Wilson’s marriage to Russian princess Natalie Paley in 1937, he remained close friends with Coward until John’s death in 1961.

In Noel, Tallulah, Cole, and Me: A Memoir of Broadway’s Golden Age, producer-director Wilson provides an eye witness account of a never-to-be-seen-again period in American theatre and culture. The narrative covers Wilson’s youth, his education at Yale, his experience working in silent films, and details of his professional and personal relationship with Coward. Wilson also recounts his theatrical career on Broadway and in London, his marriage to Paley, and life within international high society. The people Wilson befriended—Tallulah Bankhead, Cecil Beaton, Claudette Colbert, Cole Porter, and Richard Rodgers, among others—are described with affection, candor, and colorful panache. Wilson also shares behind-the-scenes stories about such landmark theatre productions asPrivate Lives, Blithe Spirit, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Kiss Me, Kate.

Completed in 1958, just three years before his death, Wilson’s autobiography sat idle for decades. Wilson’s great nephew Jack Macauley and theatre historian Thomas Hischak have edited the original manuscript and added commentary to help guide the reader through the myriad names and productions that are mentioned. From his long-term relationship with Coward to his enduring marriage to Paley, Wilson’s life was as charmed as it was celebrated. Featuring nearly forty photos,Noel, Tallulah, Cole, and Me is an engaging account of one of the most important periods in Broadway’s history, as well as a fascinating look into the lives of the glamorous men and women of the era.

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 288 • Size: 6 x 9
978-1-4422-5572-2 • Hardback • October 2015 • $65.00 • (£44.95)
978-1-4422-5573-9 • eBook • October 2015 • $64.99 • (£44.95) (coming soon)
Subjects: Performing Arts / Theater / Direction & Production, Biography & Autobiography / Entertainment & Performing Arts, Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs, Performing Arts / Theater/ Biography

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Ray Kennedy (1957-2015)

We are writing you today about our beloved son-in-law and great jazz musician, Ray Kennedy, who died on Thursday May 28, 2015.

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Ray was a not just a world renowned jazz pianist—he was a husband, father, and friend to many. The New York Times described Ray as “…an extraordinary pianist… [whose style] suggests a toned down fusion of Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner, with a dash of George Shearing,” while the London Jazz review Boz described Ray as “a pianist with a rare and electrifying talent.” His work as pianist/arranger with The John Pizzarelli Trio for over a decade led to Ray being internationally recognized as a leading exponent of the “swing jazz” piano style established by such jazz legends as Teddy Wilson and Nat Cole. Ray was introduced to music at an early age by his father, who took him to hear acclaimed jazz musicians on a regular basis. One such outing led to the then 14-year-old pianist meeting and ‘sitting in’ with the great Dizzy Gillespie.

Ray performed and/or recorded with many of the top names in jazz, including Nat Adderley, Ruby Braff, Buddy DeFranco, Freddie Hubbard, James Moody, David Sanborn, Woody Shaw, and Sonny Stitt. He recorded more than one hundred albums, not only in the field of jazz but in various other musical genres. Ray lived in New York City where he was active as a pianist, composer, and arranger, working with performers as diverse as Christina Aguilera and Maureen McGovern, for whom he also served as musical director.

His compositions have been featured on numerous recordings including the soundtracks of two motion pictures. He composed and performed the music for the off Broadway show Bill W. and Dr. Bob, which opened at the New World Stages in March of 2007. Ray was a featured guest artist on Marian McPartland’s NPR program Piano Jazz and contributed commentary on the music of Harry Warren on NPR’s Fresh Air program. He appeared with many major orchestras throughout the country, including The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops, and made numerous television appearances on The Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien, and Late Nite with David Letterman.

Ray has recorded 12 CDs with his trio, with several dedicated to the composers of the great popular standards including The Ray Kennedy Trio Plays The Music Of Cole Porter and The Ray Kennedy Trio Plays The Music Of Arthur Schwartz. Another CD entitled Mozart in Jazz was recorded for and released in Japan and went to #1 on the jazz chart. It also received a Gold Disc award for artistic excellence from the country’s leading jazz magazine, Swing Journal. Ray has performed in concerts and jazz festivals in twenty-one different countries throughout the world. His career tragically cut short by a rare and extremely debilitating form of Multiple Sclerosis.

Ray was a wonderful man and an amazing musician—he brought joy to so many lives and the world feels a lot emptier without him here.

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Striking Gold in Oregon!

As you may know, we have been working to reestablish the Stratford, Connecticut Shakespeare Festival. All this Shakespeare festival talk has reminded us of perhaps the most wonderful theatre happening we have encountered: The Oregon Shakespearean Festival.

The story of Oregon is so incredible! A young man living in Oregon said to himself one day, “I know what! We need a Shakespeare festival here!” This was in 1932—in the middle of the Depression—and therefore, incredibly unlikely.

However, Angus Bowmer just went ahead and did it!

angus
According to the Oregon Shakespearean Festival:

Angus L. Bowmer, an enthusiastic young teacher from Southern Oregon Normal School (now Southern Oregon University), was struck by the resemblance between the Chautauqua walls and some sketches he had seen of Elizabethan theatres. He proposed producing a “festival” of two plays within the walls, in conjunction with the City of Ashland’s Fourth of July celebration. The City cautiously advanced Bowmer a sum “not to exceed $400” for the project. SERA (State Emergency Relief Administration) funds provided a construction crew to build the stage and improve the grounds.The Oregon Shakespearean Festival was officially born on July 2, 1935 with a production of Twelfth Night. The Festival presented The Merchant of Venice on the 3rd and Twelfth Night again on the 4th. Reserved seats cost $1, with general admission of $.50 for adults and $.25 for children.

Can you imagine? When everyone else was saying no! no! no!, Angus (thankfully) was saying yes! yes! yes!
Today this is the largest Shakespeare festival in the world—equaled only by Stratford, England. They have three theatres (2 indoor and 1 outdoor) and present many Shakespearean plays from February to November each year.

They pride themselves on being “inspired by Shakespeare’s work and the cultural richness of the United States, we reveal our collective humanity through illuminating interpretations of new and classic plays, deepened by the kaleidoscope of rotating repertory.”

A glorious theatre happening!

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