The last time I saw Arthur Laurents, he sat in the row in front of me during an opening at The George Street Playhouse — a theater where he felt very much at home. He was with several people who were at least six decades his juniors. Arthur had them in stitches; he told them one story after another and they hung on every word and then exploded in laughter.

Arthur died yesterday at the age of 93, and I’m glad my last memory of him is the animated man with the sharp-edged wit holding the attention of yet another generation.

I got to know Arthur through numerous encounters at George Street, whose impresario, David Saint, was his colleague and close friend. Arthur, a writer and director, introduced a couple of his more recent plays at George Street, and he was sometimes there just as a member of the audience.

Arthur was blunt, and some folks didn’t like him on that account, but in a world in which obfuscation is the norm, some of us found that refreshing – especially when his bluntness was directed at hypocrisy or intolerance of any sort.

As a friend and I were reminding each other this morning, Arthur had a knack for making every conversation seem personal — a quality not always found in people of his stature.

Arthur was blackballed during the McCarthy era, and he remained angry at his peers who had cooperated with the House Un-American Activities Committee — not the least of them being Elia Kazan, who had “named names.” But Arthur picked his spots. I bumped into him at George Street one day in 2003, and I mentioned that Kazan had died not long before. “Yes,” Arthur said. “He was a great director.”

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Talking baseball

March 10, 2011

 

PETER SCOLARI

The coincidence is a conversation piece. For example, I read somewhere that actor Peter Scolari’s ambition to play pro baseball had been derailed by an elbow injury. Baseball is a favorite subject of mine, so when I met Scolari recently I began by saying, “Tell me about you and baseball.” He did. The reference I had read was true: he played high school ball well enough to think that he might turn pro, but he got hurt, had surgery, and after that — well, let him tell it: “I couldn’t get anything on the ball,” although he has played in several theatrical leagues.

But to put that story in context, Scolari told me that his father — attorney Art Scolari — had played baseball at East Side High School in Paterson (this would have been long before Joe Clark got there) and then was an All-American shortstop at Drew University. Paterson? I was born in Paterson. My dad, who was about 13 years older than Art Scolari, went to Central High School where he ran track — particularly relays — and later managed a semi-pro baseball team that played all around the Paterson area.

PETER SCOLARI / New York Daily News

I haven’t told Peter Scolari this yet, but after our conversation, my web browser stumbled on a story in a 1939 issue of the old Daily Record of Red Bank, N.J., reporting that a teenager named Lawrence Mahoney, who was from Lincroft, had successfully defended his state horseshoe pitching championship for the fifth time in a row. It was no snap, according to the story: breathing down Mahoney’s neck was 15-year-old Art Scolari of Paterson. Mahoney was 9-0 in the tournament; Scolari was 8-1.

Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari in their "Bosom Buddies" regalia

I could have talked about baseball all night — it’s one of my many excuses to talk too much — but I was at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick to talk to Peter Scolari about his current project, a production of Ken Ludwig’s new play, “Fox on the Fairway.” This play, with a golf theme, had its world premiere last year in Washington, D.C. It’s a farce, and that’s a word that sends up the skyrockets, because farce done badly — or even done “all right” — is a painful experience for an audience. I’ve been there. Scolari, who knows a lot more about it than I do, made that point: “I don’t like to see a farce in which folks do an okay job. I’ll watch ‘The Sunshine Boys’ or ‘The Odd Couple’ and have a great time if everybody does a ‘good’ job. If I go to a farce and everybody does a ‘good’ job, I think, ‘Why did you do this?’ ”

I’ve read Ludwig’s play, but reading farce is like reading a recipe. It lays out the parts and the moves, but it can’t even hint at the reality. I have also read at least one negative review of the Washington production, but the fact that a farce doesn’t work with one company doesn’t mean it won’t work with another. Ludwig, after all, is the author of “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Crazy for You,” both of which won him Tony awards. And Scolari knows a thing or three about playing comedy in general and farce in particular.

Peter Scolari and Tom Hanks in 2004 at the premiere of "Polar Express" in which they both appeared

Scolari first drew national attention in 1980 when he co-starred with Tom Hanks in “Bosom Buddies,” a TV sit-com about two young men who dress in drag so they can live in a women-only hotel where the rent is dirt cheap and about what they can afford. The show, which lasted a couple of seasons, was indirectly inspired by the Billy Wilder movie “Some Like it Hot.” Since then, Scolari has put together a long resume of television and stage appearances, mostly in comedies, including 142 episodes of Bob Newhart’s second hit series, “Newhart.”

Talking to Scolari, who is witty, thoughtful, and articulate, was an entertainment in itself. If I weren’t aware that I was keeping him from his train after he had spent a full day of rehearsal, I would have prompted him to talk for another hour, just so I could listen. If I had had unlimited time and he had had unlimited patience, I would have steered him back around to baseball, because no sport lends itself to talk as well as baseball does, and my guess is that Scolari appreciates that as much as I do. I asked him which New York team he roots for now that he is living on the East Coast again after his sojourn in California. He could have simply said that he roots for the Yankees, but this wasn’t a guy answering questions. This was a guy talking baseball:

Thurman Munson, Yankees catcher, captain, All-Star, and MVP, was killed in a plane crash in 1979. He was 32.

“I follow the Yankees. I make no apologies about it, but they’re not the Yankees. For me the Yankees who owned my heart ended with the captain, with Thurman Munson. I never got over that, to be honest with you, as a fan. So you come back, and they’re your team, and they’re in the Bronx, and that’s really important — but it’s not quite the same.”

STEPHANIE ZIMBALIST

Since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by instances in which multiple members of a family have worked in the same or similar fields. For example, the other day I heard an interview on WNYC radio with Louis Rozzo, a fish dealer who was making an argument for taking the trouble to buy fresh anchovies and sardines and other fish that are typically packed in oil and canned. The conversation was interesting enough, but a detail that resonated with me was that Rozzo is the fourth generation owner of F. Rozzo and Sons. I would have liked to hear more about that.

In a similar way, I like reading about people like the Delahanty brothers – five of them played major league baseball – or the Harrisons, who included a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a Virginia legislator and attorney general, two presidents of the United States, and two members of Congress.  The five Marx Brothers have always interested me less for their comedy than for their family history, which started with their maternal uncle, Al (Schoenberg) Shean, who was a famous vaudevillian.

STEPHANIE ZIMBALIST

This topic has been on my mind because I had an opportunity recently to talk with actress Stephanie Zimbalist, who is soon to appear in a production of Frank Gilroy’s play “The Subject Was Roses” at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. On her own, Stephanie Zimbalist has built a substantial resume of performances on television and on the stage. However, her family’s background in the performing arts goes back at least as far as her great-grandfather Aron Zimbalist, who was an orchestral conductor in Russia in the 19th century. Her grandparents were both outstanding classical performers whom I have admired since I was very young. Her grandfather was Efrem Zimbalist, a concert violinist whose name can be mentioned in the same sentence with Jascha Heifitz and Fritz Kreisler. Efrem Zimbalist was married to Alma Gluck (nee Reba Feinsohn), who was one of the most popular female vocalists of the early 20th century.  My family had 78 rpm recordings by both of these artists — along with others — and, long before I understood their significance, I listened to them over and over again on our wind-up Victrola.

ALMA GLUCK

Alma Gluck, who was born in Romania, was a soprano who was on the roster at the Metropolitan Opera Company. She also had a substantial concert career and was one of the first serious artists to make phonograph records, and that greatly contributed to her fame. She made more than 170 recordings for Victor between 1911 and 1924, choosing songs from a wide variety of genres. She and her husband made at least 32 recordings together, and he had a long list of recordings of his own. Zimbalist was also a composer and the director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Efrem Zimbalist and Alma Gluck were the parents of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. – Stephanie’s father – who is a popular film and television actor whose starring roles included the TV series 77 Sunset Strip and The FBI.

 

Stephanie Zimbalist justifably has a great deal of pride in this heritage. I found that she enjoys talking about Alma Gluck – who died before Stephanie was born – and is well schooled in her grandmother’s career. Stephanie told me — only half joking, I suppose — that she didn’t pursue a singing career because she didn’t want to weather comparisons with her grandmother. Still, Stephanie Zimbalist has a trained voice and has given some performances. Speaking about her grandmother, she told me, “Daddy said she would have loved me, but I don’t know. She was tough task master on him. She wanted him to be a doctor or an engineer, and he wanted to be a dancer or a gymnast.” But the musical gene apparently didn’t skip a generation with the actor, Stephanie said. “He says he knows very little about music, but he knows an awful lot. He studied orchestration at Curtis, and he’s written a lot of things; he’s written many many pieces of music.”

ALMA GLUCK and EFREM ZIMBALIST

Stephanie Zimbalist’s mother, the former Stephanie Spaulding, died in 2007. Stephanie cares for her mom’s pet, an elegant long-hair dachshund named Scampi, who participated in our interview. I asked Stephanie what would be next in her career after her run at George Street, and she said, “Nothing. I don’t have a career. I just have bumps in the road. That’s probably why I’m doing good work these days, if I am doing good work. Nothing’s an agenda. I don’t do anything to see where it will take me. I just do it for the work. On my plate in my life right now is this sweet little thing” — a reference to Scampi, who was on Stephanie’s lap. “And then, my Dad is 92, God bless him, and doing very well, but I spend quite a bit of time with him, just to be there.”

A publicity shot for “77 Sunset Strip”: Roger Smith, left, as private detective Jeff Spencer; Efrem Zimbalist Jr., right, as Spencer’s colleague, “Stu” Miller; and Edd Burns as their protege, Gerald “Kookie” Kookson — the inspiration for the 1959 pop song “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb.”


I’m obsessed

November 6, 2010

KATE SMITH

The popular song “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” was written in 1931, and its lyricists, Ted Koehler and Billy Moll, provided a hopeful message that sounded all the more melancholy because of the reality of the times – economic depression. My favorite recording of that song was made by Kate Smith. I like the way she sings two lines — both of them in this verse:

Your castles may tumble / that’s fate, after all / Life’s really funny that way / No use to grumble / Smile as they fall / Weren’t you king for a day?

Kate Smith had a wonderful, musical laugh, which I loved to hear on her radio and television shows. And she laughs that laugh on the word “funny” in that verse without breaking the tempo of the line. I can’t hear her sing that line too often, and I’ve had the recording for about 40 years. Then, at the end of the verse, she does a little glide on the word “day,” starting on the note and then smoothly sliding down the scale. Again, I’m obsessed with that line. I play the song just to hear her treatment of that one word – “day.”

BING CROSBY

In a similar vein, for many years, whenever I learned that a TV station was going to broadcast the movie “High Society,” I would watch it so that I could hear Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra perform the duet “Well, Did You Evah,” sometimes referred to as “What a Swell Party This Is.” I even figured out about how far into the movie that song occurs, because I didn’t want to watch the whole film, which is a flawed remake of “The Philadelphia Story.”

COLE PORTER

The movie has a book by John Patrick and songs by Cole Porter. In “Well, Did You Evah” Crosby and Sinatra simultaneously sing Porter’s lyrics and exchange spoken barbs. At one point, Crosby sings, “Have you heard / about dear Blanche? / Got run down by an avalanche.” Sinatra says, “Nooooo,” and Crosby answers “Don’t you worry. She’s a game girl, you know. Got up and finished fourth.” Sinatra: “This kid’s got guts.” Crosby: “Havin’ a nice time? Grab a line.” At which point, Sinatra resumes singing.  Crosby was Mister Smooth, and the way he delivers the line, “Don’t you worry. She’s a game girl, you know . . . ” has captivated me since the first time I heard it about 50 years ago. Fortunately, I now have bookmarked that song from YouTube and I can listen to Crosby say that line as often as I like, which is often, because I’m obsessed.

AL PACINO

I don’t experience this kind of fixation only with music. It also occurs with the spoken word — for example, with Al Pacino’s speech in the climax of the movie “Scent of a Woman.” I read a review of that movie in which the critic remarked that Pacino’s dramatic choices were confined to whether to speak loud or louder. It’s fair to say that Pacino often gobbles the scenery, but the most effective line in that speech is one for which he lowers his voice and uses the words like sharp instruments. It is the last sentence of this passage: “As I came in here, I heard those words, ‘cradle of leadership.’ Well, when the bow breaks, the cradle will fall. And it has fallen here; it has fallen. Makers of men; creators of leaders; be careful what kind of leaders you’re producin’ here.” When Pacino says those last words – “Be careful what kind of leaders you’re producin’ here” – he makes them prophetic, ominous. I bookmarked the video of that scene, too – it’s at THIS LINK — and I never tire of hearing him say it. I’m obsessed.

SETH RUDETSKY

I recently learned that this behavior doesn’t constitute a private disorder of mine – and that there is a name for it: deconstruction. The dawn broke when I was at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick talking to Seth Rudetsky, who is so versatile that he defies definition. It’s something like comedian-actor-radio host-raconteur-musician-composer. I was talking to him because he is going to appear in the George Street production of the musical play “[title of show].”

Rudetsky hosts a web site which includes a series of videos he calls “Deconstruction.” In these, he plays clips from Broadway musicals — a subject he knows inside-out — and analyzes, in his supercharged manner, the techniques with which a singer such as Florence Henderson, Laurie Beechman, or Kristin Chenoweth handles a song – or a line, or a word, or a syllable. “I’m obsessed!” he often says when he has played a phrase over and over again, mouthing the words along with the singer.

I’m glad to finally know that I’m in good company. Rudetsky’s site is at THIS LINK.

THOMAS AQUINAS

“The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.”

Thus spake the Dominican priest Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Aquinas was a master of the syllogism, and his idea of scientific scrutiny was that conclusions had to be based on premises which themselves were either self evident or had been objectively demonstrated. I thought of Aquinas when I wrote a post yesterday about Albert Einstein, who was in the business of putting together premises and conclusions. In a sense, Aquinas and Einstein came at the question of the origins of the universe from opposite directions. Aquinas was a man of faith, but he believed — and sought to demonstrate in his “Summa Theologica” — that a person could arrive at the existence of a First Cause — God — through reason alone.

ALBERT EINSTEIN

Einstein didn’t believe in God in the sense that Jews and Christians and Muslims do. In that sense, he didn’t believe in a god at all, no matter how hard religious folks try to hear him saying otherwise. However, Einstein’s  lifetime of inquiry into the physical laws that govern the universe did lead him to speculate — forgive me if I don’t express this precisely — that somewhere beyond the seemingly endless questions about the universe must lie some force that governs it.

I recently discussed all this — Aquinas, Einstein, God, the origin of the universe — with, of all people, the actress Sandy Duncan.

SANDY DUNCAN

By “of all people,” I don’t mean to imply that there is anything surprising about Sandy Duncan discussing such things. In fact, I gathered she gives such things quite a bit of thought and has had provocative conversations about them with her two adult sons. I only meant that I would be unlikely to talk to Sandy Duncan at all, except that she was scheduled to appear in a new play that examines the outfall that can occur when science and religion collide head-on. The actress was to play the title role in “Creating Claire” by Joe DiPietro, but she took ill, withdrew from the cast, and was replaced by another talented performer, Barbara Walsh.

JOE DiPIETRO

DiPietro’s play begins previews tomorrow night at the cradle of new theatrical works, the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. The title character, Claire Buchanan, is a teacher but now works as a docent at the Museum of Earth and Sky in upstate New York. She leads visitors on the Origins of Life Tour, reciting a script that focuses on the evolution of species. The script is the brainchild of Victoria Halstead, museum director and friend of Claire – in that order, as things work out. Victoria encourages a docent to “personalize” the presentation as long as the glosses are innocuous, but Claire is no automaton, especially when a reference in the script to “random mutation” complicates her attempt to understand a fact of her own life. Claire and her husband, Reggie, have an autistic 16-year-old daughter, Abigail, and Claire has been considering how the process described by Charles Darwin could result in an individual such as Abigail. Eventually, Claire’s contemplation creeps into her talks at the museum as she suggests to visitors that the processes of nature may have been – gasp! – designed. Once that genie is on the loose, there is hell to pay, as it were.

LYNN COHEN

Victoria — to be played by Lynn Cohen — puts her own belief in science and her vision for the museum ahead of friendship when she learns about Claire’s transgression. Reggie – a high school teacher who has considered his bond to Claire a “mixed marriage” only to the extent that he is an atheist and she is an agnostic — is stunned by this change of Claire’s train of thought. Disagreements over Abigail’s status have already revealed strains in the couple’s relationship; Claire’s public speculation about a “designer” pushes those strains to the breaking point.

This play, however, is not a death struggle between science and religion so much as an examination of intellectual openness and honesty. Claire is willing to at least entertain an idea that had been anathema to her but does not insist that others accept that idea. Victoria and Reggie opt to defend their “rightness,” as Duncan called it, regardless of the professional or personal consequences. The implications for contemporary political discourse may be painfully obvious.

Believe in God or not, but in the end it is Claire, and not the more “scientific” Victoria and Reggie, who seems to have heeded Einstein: “Only daring speculation can lead us further, and not accumulation of facts.”

JANE ALEXANDER Photo by Jason Towlen/Gannett NJ

Every so often I see a play that takes such a piercing look at the interior lives of individuals and at the relationships with a family that I begin to feel as if I shouldn’t be watching it. I had that reaction the first time I saw Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers,” and particularly the scene in which Bella explains her needs as a woman to her stern Prussian mother. I literally squirmed in my seat.

I got that feeling last night while we were watching Thom Thomas’s new play, “A Moon to Dance By,” which is about Frieda Lawrence, who was married to novelist D.H. Lawrence and was the inspiration for the principal women in several of his works.

The action in this play, which we saw at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J., takes place after the writer has died. Frieda has moved to New Mexico with her lover, Angelo Ravagli. Jane Alexander plays Frieda, and Robert Cuccioli plays Ravagli.

JANE ALEXANDER as Frieda Lawrence / George Street Playhouse

Frieda left her husband and three children to elope with Lawrence, who had been her husband’s student in England. Her contact with her children was sporadic after that, and while she was able to establish a more or less normal relationship her daughters, her son, Monty, remained distant. In this play, Monty — now a grown man with a family of his own — pays his first visit to Frieda in New Mexico.

The relationship between a mother and her son is a unique thing in nature and one that probably is not explored more than superficially in most families. It certainly wasn’t in my experience.

“I have a son and two step-sons,” Jane Alexander told me before this play opened, “and we’ve never had that conversation. I have it with my daughter-in-law. Mothers and daughters, I think, are far more intimate about life’s intimacies than mothers and sons.”

JANE ALEXANDER

Nonetheless, mother and son have “that conversation” in this play, and it is mesmerizing on the one hand and difficult to watch on the other. I know I wasn’t alone in that reaction; I talked to others in the audience afterwards, and they agreed — but they needn’t have, because the tension was palpable in the house.

It didn’t hurt that this wonderful script was being performed by Alexander and Cuccioli and that Monty was being played by a brilliant actor, Gareth Saxe, in one of the most finely nuanced performances I can remember. The young man arrives at his mother’s home hell-bent on expressing his disapproval and disappointment but not acknowledging even to himself what he really needs to get from her and what he needs to give her from the store of emotions he has bottled up for decades.

It was uncomfortable, and it was great theater.

SHIRLEY KNIGHT

This story is based on an interview I had with Shirley Knight for the Home News Tribune and the Asbury Park Press.

NEW BRUNSWICK: Shirley Knight is in the cast of Arthur Laurents’ new play, but she will not give a single performance.

The actress — a Tony and Emmy winner and an Oscar nominee — will appear at George Street Playhouse in Laurents’ drama “Come Back, Come Back, Wherever You Are.”

She will create the role of Marion, a psychological therapist who — along with the other four characters in the play — is trying to cope with the implications of the death of her charismatic son, Paolo.

The others are Sara, a professional singer — played by Alison Fraser — who was married to Paolo for 27 years; Richard — played by John Carter — who was Paolo’s father; Michelle — played by Leslie Lyles — Paolo’s disaffected sister; and Dougal — played by Jim Bracchitta — who competes with Paolo’s lingering influence as he courts Sara.

Laurents, 92, who will direct this production, has woven into the play both the kind of introspective and unblinking discourse that has characterized most of his works and an underlying conviction that love is the most important factor in a human life.


ARTHUR LAURENTS

ARTHUR LAURENTS

The playwright, who has recently directed the Broadway revival of “West Side Story,” for which he wrote the book, has introduced several plays and dozens of new characters on the George Street stage.

As Shirley Knight gives life to one of his newest characters, she said, she will approach the opportunity with a mindset that is necessary if Marion is to be spontaneous and, therefore, credible.

“I never give a performance,” the 73-year-old actress said. “Each night, I have another rehearsal. And that is essential because if you just do a rerun of what you did the night before or the week before or on opening night, it would be unbelievably boring.”

When she appears onstage at any time during the run of this play, Knight said, she won’t be acting Marion so much as she will be Marion. And that will mean that she won’t anticipate what will occur, no matter how many times she has heard it.

SHIRLEY KNIGHT IN 1966 ROLE

SHIRLEY KNIGHT IN 1966 ROLE

“There really is only one pure state of acting,” she said, “and that’s that you don’t know what you’re going to say, you don’t know what you’re going to do. You don’t know what the other person is going to say or do. You don’t know where the play is going. You have to do a play as if you haven’t read the play.

“Now, of course, you have read the play — but you cannot be in that state of knowing. You have to be in the state of going absolutely from moment to moment.”

The actress has honed this approach in 35 stage plays over the past five decades. She has also appeared in 49 films, 162 television productions, and a dozen radio dramas.

While she was engaged in this busy career, Knight — who holds a doctorate in fine arts — also managed to have a family life. Her husband, John R. Hopkins, was a prominent film and television writer. She has two daughters — actress-singer Kaitlin and TV-stage writer Sophie.

KAITLIN HOPKINS

KAITLIN HOPKINS

“Kaitlin at the moment is doing something different,” Knight said. “She just finished a year’s tour of “Dirty Dancing,’ and she has taken over the theater department at Texas State University. My youngest daughter (Sophie) is writing plays and teaching school in Los Angeles. She has her master’s from Columbia in English and fiction writing, and now she wants to teach.”

From her own prolific and varied career, Knight can mention several high points, though she seems to have a special place in her heart and memory for “Dutchman,” a 1967 film she produced, an adaption of a play by Amiri Baraka about the explosive relationship between a coarse, racially biased young white woman and a mild black man.

The play won Knight the Volpi Cup as best actress at that year’s Venice Film Festival, and “Dutchman” was named best film of the year at Cannes.

“We shot it in five days,” she recalled. “It was on a shoestring. In the year 2000 when the Whitney Museum did “Great Art of the 20th Century,’ the only film they showed about civil rights was “Dutchman.’ That made me very happy.”

PORTRAIT OF SHIRLEY KNIGHT BY JASON TOWLEN OF GANNETT NEW JERSEY

PORTRAIT OF SHIRLEY KNIGHT BY JASON TOWLEN OF GANNETT NEW JERSEY

PAUL NEWMAN

PAUL NEWMAN

Prompted by Shirley Knight’s impending appearance at the George Street Playhouse, we watched “Sweet Bird of Youth,” the 1962 film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ 1959 Broadway play. I have never seen the play on stage, and I have read that the tale lost some of its edge with the modifications that had to be made to satisfy the sensibilities of the early ’60s. By today’s standards it’s tame, but it dealt with some tough subject matter for the Eisenhower era.

This film has one of those casts that dazzles the mind: Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Rip Torn, and the wonderful Canadian actress and even more wonderful human being, Madeleine Sherwood, recreated their Broadway roles, and they were joined by the redoubtable Ed Begley Sr. Geraldine Page and Rip Torn both were nominated for Tony awards for their work in the play. Begley won an Oscar and Page and Knight were nominated for the film.

GERALDINE PAGE

GERALDINE PAGE

Newman plays Chance Wayne, who returns from Hollywood to his hometown in Florida, almost literally dragging along with him a legendary movie star, Alexandra Del Lago (Page), who has sunk into a drug-and-alcohol-induced stupor after what she perceives as the failure of her latest film. On the surface, Chance Wayne is her driver and spear carrier. In reality, he is exploiting her — in every possible way — in the hope that she will give him what has been an elusive “big break” in the movies.

Alexandra travels to Florida with Chance because she has gone underground to avoid the fallout from what she has adjudged a box-office flop. Chance has another goal — to reunite with Heavenly Finley, the love of his life whose father, Tom “Boss” Finley (Begley), is a moralizing, corrupt, and ruthless political kingpin who doesn’t want Chance near his daughter.

ED BEGLEY Sr.

ED BEGLEY Sr.

Finley’s son, Tom Jr., who doesn’t have his father’s cunning but outdoes him in brutality, is played by Rip Torn.

This film, which in 1961 was off limits to audiences under 18, may have been sanded down from Williams’ original version, but it far outstrips the embarrassing 1989 television remake with Elizabeth Taylor and Mark Harmon as Alexandra and Chance and Rip Torn as “Boss” Finley. Even though its techniques are dated, the movie can play with your emotions as you try to sort out your feelings about the actress and her gigolo — both of whom are infuriating yet sympathetic — and frazzle your nerves as Chance keeps antagonizing the volatile and dangerous “Boss.” The players in this film aren’t stars first and foremost; they’re actors, doing their work as well as it can be done.

PAUL NEWMAN in a scene from "Sweet Bird of Youth."

PAUL NEWMAN in a scene from "Sweet Bird of Youth."

ARTHUR LAURENTS

ARTHUR LAURENTS

I know what I want to be when I grow up — Arthur Laurents. I bumped into Arthur today at the George Street Playhouse where his latest play, “Come Back, Come Back, Wherever You Are,” will have its premiere next month. I was at the playhouse to interview Shirley Knight, who is rehearsing for this  production.

I told Arthur I just finished reading his recent book “Mainly on Directing,” and he said, “I’m just starting to write a new book. It’s called ‘The Rest of the Story,’ and the first line is: ‘You have to know who is telling the story.’ ” The title is a reference to the book he published in 2001, “Original Story.” The first line, I’m sure, is a reference to the fact that Arthur Laurents regards himself as a work in progress, a person always evolving, always acquiring new insights, new ways to look at the theater, at life, and especially at love.

GEORGE STREET PLAYHOUSE

GEORGE STREET PLAYHOUSE

The thing is, Arthur is 92 years old. He just directed the Broadway Revival of “West Side Story” — for which he wrote the book — he has had a new play at George Street for at least the last three years in a row, he is writing a new book when the ink isn’t dry on the old one. And he’s 92 years old.

That’s what I want to be when I grow up.

When I’m 92. Still working, still learning, still thinking — as Pablo Casals said in his 90s — that “I’m making progress.”

ARTHUR LAURENTS and the CAST OF 'WEST SIDE STORY'

ARTHUR LAURENTS and the cast of 'WEST SIDE STORY'

Archie Comics

Archie Comics

I turn my back on a woman for 50 years, and this is what happens. Veronica Lodge has agreed to marry Archie Andrews. I will admit that Archie has aged a lot better than I have, although he’s 10 months older, but I still consider this the height of perfidy.

The news has been out for a long time, but the comic book containing the engagement story arrived on news stands today — or so I’m told. I didn’t have the heart to look.

Meanwhile, the news today that Disney is going to buy Marvel Entertainment — Spider Man, Captain America and all — got me to thinking about the other comics I read, when I wasn’t fawning over Veronica.

plastic manMy pantheon was Plastic Man, Blackhawk, the Green Lantern, Superman and Batman. Plastic Man had one of the most complicated personal histories of any comicbook hero. I don’t want to go into it here (I do have to teach the first class of the semester tomorrow morning) but one aspect of it is reminiscent of the Toxic Avenger, now an off-Broadway attraction, thanks to the George Street Playhouse. Toxie, to his intimates, was a nerd who was thrown into a vat of toxic chemical waste that turned him into a superhuman mutant. Plastic Man was an underworld figure who was accidentally sprayed with a chemical that made his body so flexible that he could bend himself into any shape, though he retained the red color and black-and-yellow stripes of his body suit. I remember him, for instance, disguising himself as an icicle, but even as a kid I didn’t understand why his pursuers couldn’t spot an icicle with that color scheme.

I don’t know whether this Disney transaction is good or bad, but I did read an analysis of the financial aspects of the engagement of Archie and Veronica. Roma Luciw, writing in The Globe and Mail, examined whether a couple with such disparate underpinnings — a wealthy she and a middle-class he — should enter into a prenuptial agreement. You can read what the experts think at this link:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/do-archie-and-veronica-need-a-pre-nup/article1267701/