Thursday, September 3, 2015

All the World's A Stage With JK - Pt I

Pt. I:  The Night Life Ain't No Good Life

In mid-1962, newspaper theater columns were sprinkled with items about a new work by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sidney Kingsley. Kingsley, author of hits such as Men In White, Dead End and Detective Story, hadn't had a play produced since 1955. So, Night Life, his latest drama, was big news. The play would have a try-out run in Philadelphia before landing on Broadway in October 1962.

Kingsley described Night Life as "a realistic dream" about contemporary society. It was reported that Kingsley spent two years writing the play, which is set in a private after-hours "key" club in New York City.   

In a September 30, 1962, Pittsburgh Press interview, Kingsley explained, "This background is ideal for my subject and characters. Actually, these people and their problems would have no meaning in the daytime or in a place of normal atmosphere."

Kingsley was heavily involved in all aspects of Night Life, not only as the author, but as the producer and director as well. Before rehearsals began, Kingsley painstakingly constructed a detailed miniature version of the play's two-story set, complete with one-inch scale models of the actors and props, plus recorded snippets of dialogue. This no doubt proved invaluable when Night Life was actually staged, because there were to be 30 actors onstage at the same time, with no entrances or exits.

When the show opened at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theater on October 23, 1962, one of those actors was Jack Kelly, playing "Neil". However, the role almost wasn't his. According to a 10/10/1962 story in the Long Island Star-Journal, JK took over the part when Philip Bosco, who played Neil during the show's Philadelphia try-out, left Night Life in early October. A spokesman for the show explained in the Star-Journal story, "Sidney changed the concept of the role after the play opened in Philadelphia. Jack Kelly read for this part originally, flying to New York from California, but he didn't seem right for the part as it was then written. After Sidney changed the idea of the character, he called Jack and had him come to Philadelphia."

Actually, Kingsley made a lot of changes to Night Life. I know this because I own a typescript which was used during the production of the play. It provides intriguing insights into how the show evolved. Character names were changed (for example, Neil's last name went from "O'Bannion" to "Bennett"); dialogue was penciled in; entire scenes were added and deleted. The typescript says that Night Life is a "play in three acts". By the time the show reached Broadway, the Playbill stated it was a two-act play. The changes didn't stop on Broadway. I have two different copies of the Playbill and several characters were dropped or had different names by the time the show ended its brief run on December 15, 1962.

JK reportedly earned $2000 a week for Night Life, playing a character as different as night and day from Bart Maverick. Neil is an idealistic lawyer tormented by memories of his combat experiences in the Korean War. He wants to quit his law practice to work for nuclear disarmament at the United Nations.  His former girlfriend, played by Carol Lawrence, is an entertainer at the club.

Sidney Kingsley admitted in an interview that most of the characters in Night Life were "archetypes" and, indeed, the play is populated with some very recognizable types. There's a ruthless Jimmy Hoffa-type labor leader (played by Neville Brand; incidentally, Brand was slightly injured during the try-out run and Night Life ended up opening on Broadway at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis); an emotionally unstable Marilyn Monroe-type actress (played by Salome Jens); and an obnoxious Lenny Bruce-type "shock" comedian (played by real-life comic Murray Roman, who developed somewhat of a cult following of his own before his untimely passing in 1973). Other assorted roles were filled by Jessica Walter, Barry Newman and Raymond St. Jacques, whose faces later became familiar in movies and on TV.

Not much really happens in Night Life, except for a lot of drinking and yakking which eventually leads to a murder. Unfortunately, most of the dialogue is surprisingly stilted and trite although Kingsley does attempt to push the envelope with "motherlover" and other phrases that were quite daring in 1962. All in all, things probably would have been better if everyone had just stayed home and gone to bed early instead of pretentiously ruminating about the human condition into the wee hours.

Reviewers at the time described Night Life as "a long night" and "exhausting". JK didn't seem to attract much critical notice in the large cast, although he was mentioned as being "professional" and "appropriately tight-lipped" as Neil in a couple of reviews.

To no one's surprise, Night Life closed on Broadway after only 63 performances. It was Sidney Kingsley's last play, and Jack Kelly would give Broadway one more shot (in the even worse play The Family Way) before sticking to TV, films and local stages for the rest of his acting career.

As Willie Nelson sang, "The night life ain't no good life", but there is one good thing about this Night Life: they took lots of pictures during the production!

Please note:  The following series of photos from Night Life are part of the Friedman-Abeles collection and are copyright and courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collection. If shared, please respect the Library's ownership and properly credit the Library as requested in their Terms of Use. Thank you.

JK as troubled lawyer "Neil Bennett"
Neil and his former girlfriend Gia (Carol Lawrence),
a singer at the club
Anna (Salome Jens), an emotionally unstable actress
and client of Neil's
Neville Brand as Will Kazar, a ruthless labor
boss...and Gia's fiancĂ© 
The main cast: Neville Brand, Carol Lawrence, JK, Carmen Mathews, Salome Jens (seated), Walter Abel (seated)

 A try-out rehearsal shot with Sidney Kingsley (far right) holding a playscript like the one now in the Kellection.

Stay tuned for Part II! :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Back to School With Maverick! :)


With the nation's kids either back in or getting ready to return to school, I thought it would be fun to share this article from 1958. It was written by a perceptive pupil for a New York newspaper (I like how she gives JK first billing):

"Maverick Found Interesting Show Among Students

by Arlene W.

At 7:00 pm Wednesday, Channel 8, and 6:30 pm Sunday, Channel 5, Maverick can be seen.

Jack Kelly and James Garner play Bart and Bret Maverick. Although Maverick is considered a 'western', it really isn't. The main characters, Bart and Bret, aren't robbers, sheriffs, or famous western persons. They earn their living by gambling. The stories take place anywhere, in California, Mexico and even New Orleans.

The girls are inclined to like Maverick. Jack Kelly and James Garner are two tall, dark, handsome and terrific actors. The [school's] girls chorus could have heard 'I'm Goin' Away', a song which they have learned, on a recent program.

The opinion of many people is that Maverick is an interesting and entertaining program. Do you watch Maverick?"

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My New "Nephew"! :)

Hello Everyone,

You may remember that almost exactly three years ago I noted the passing of Tiger, my sister's cat. 

Well, I'm pleased to report that my sister decided it was finally time to welcome a new pet into her home. This past weekend I helped her pick out a kitten from a local cat rescue, and here he is.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Spike:

Spike's coloring reminds me somewhat of Tiger's. But, from his alert amber eyes to his long dark tail, this adorable ball of feline energy is definitely an original and not a copy cat.  

Here's to a long and purrfect life, Spike! :)