My career was mainly as a theater and television actor in New York… and so… well… Hollywood has always remained another planet for me. Not even the apparently conservative blog Big Hollywood could make me feel at home in that outer space.
Then when no one in Manhattan supported my stand against Janet Reno’s unconstitutional behavior as Attorney General of the United States?!
I no longer felt at home in New York.
Or anywhere else in America for that matter.
So I left for Canada.
It has become comforting for me to now feel at home in British Columbia writing for enterstageright.com and ottawalife.com. I’m particularly grateful for the presence of an extraordinary, conservative Prime Minister in Ottawa, Stephen Harper.
I’m fully retired now; and have been free of filmmaking’s 4 am set-calls for about seven years. These recent times have been the luckiest and happiest of my life!
Doing what pleases me best: writing and composing and composing and writing.
I had always been performing and singing my own songs in New York. Here
are the beginnings of my 1985 CD Reaching Out. The remaining originals on that album will be posted weekly.
The times I spent at M & I Recording were the happiest and most fulfilling days and nights of my life in New York City!
Why hasn’t Reaching Out been released in all this while?
I lost all copies of it for over 10 years. My own alcoholism was the main reason for the loss and the delays. I don’t blame anyone but myself for that.
Better late than never, however.
Now, hearing sounds out of me that are almost 30 years old?!
After you’ve listened to this first cut of Reaching Out, try
another called Miles!
I much preferred making that album entirely on my own terms in New York at M & I Recording Studios than appearing in plays, television films or even the few Hollywood features I have performed in.
Perhaps I’m more of a creative artist than an interpretive one. That might explain why I never felt at home as an actor. That art form, however, and New York City certainly provided me and my family with stable homes and the opportunities to explore this blissfully disturbing nightmare called The World.
However, now I am glad to be retired in Canada, writing and composing, composing and writing.
As for my American Nostalgia?
I miss a few very special Americans in my life, such as the crew at M & I Recording. Most of those New York connections, however, I’ve either lost touch with or they have, as is politely said, “passed away”.
One in particular is Stella Adler, the great acting teacher.
No, I never studied with her.
However, she abundantly and with passionate sincerity – nothing about Stella Adler ever lacked passion, not even “Hello!” or “Goodbye!”– supported my acting talents when others were looking down on them.
Approval from her could, as Hamlet says, “o’erweigh a whole theater of others!”
No one, not teacher or friend or lover, has ever printed on my soul such an indelibly eternal wake-up call as Stella Adler!!!!!
Yes, not even Katherine Hepburn. Indeed, you had to be flamingly awake around Ms. Hepburn! However, I never sensed the same joyful gratitude for life itself that Stella showered on all who were lucky enough to be in her presence. Ecstasy burned within Stella Adler!
I recall attending a production of Cyrano de Bergerac with Stella. She held my hand throughout the entire performance and, at moments, accompanied by her own reliving of this play she knew intimately, she would squeeze her grip on my hand in such a way that told me her own version of Cyrano would far surpass the one we saw laboring on stage.
When my wife Anne and I were entertaining Stella in our Westside apartment, Stella looked around at our living room and said, “I’ve been wondering what to buy you two for the holidays… what you might need? Now I see you need EV-ER-Y-THING!”
Her own apartment?
I can only describe her apartment as Manhattan’s Little Venice.
There is no more voluptuous or sexier corner of the Universe than Venice, Italy.
The messages she left on our phone recorder were quintessentially the most childlike of Stella’s utterances: “Michael… uh… hmmm…. this is Stella… please call me when you can… uh… hmmm… that is really…. all I have to say…. at this moment…”
She moved to Hollywood after that and, of course, we lost touch.
I’m conceiving of an explosively generous central character for my first opera. No, not a musical. An opera! A project that will take years to assemble, shape and complete… a “barn-burner” that would, in essence, combine the classical size of Stella Adler and belting power of Ethel Merman.
Why Ethel Merman? I never met that Empress of the Broadway musical.
I did, however, sit in awe before Ms. Merman’s appearance on Broadway as The Stage Mother of All Stage Mothers in Gypsy!
the climactic aria from that homerun of a musical, Gypsy, had, in the hands, face and volcanic eruptions out of Ethel Merman, all the size, power, pitiful terror and terrifying pity of Medea at her most nakedly agonizing… or agonizingly naked.
One brief moment of self-pity and then On!! On!!!!
Searingly raw, jealous, envious, heart-piercing rage!!!!
“A generous narcissism” was how a nameless critic once described stardom.
No stars served up narcissism to her audiences more generously or effectively than Ethel Merman.
As for my last choice in this select trio of American theater geniuses – Tennessee Williams?
Writing about Tennessee Williams at an earlier point in my life, I thought of this line from King Lear:
“…And take upon us the mystery of things
As if we were God’s spies…”
A great poet such as Tennessee Williams was, indeed, one of God’s spies.
“Ten,” as many of us were privileged to know him, one of the greatest of American dramatic poets… was for me… at any rate… a tragic figure. A tragic victim of the very alcoholism that I myself have suffered from. I’m almost embarrassed to recall the Boy Scout lectures I used to give him about his drinking and about the alcoholism that plagued both of my parents and my sister and inevitably myself!
I, after “Ten’s” death and in my drunken 10 years bouncing in and out of bars across Canada?! I told all my “lecturers” on the subject of my suicidal drinking to “Shove it!”
“Ten,” however, was ever the gentleman and would simply smile patiently as he must have closed his ears to the advice I had so smugly been giving him.
You see, I hadn’t really started drinking until everyone in New York, as the head of the ACLU Ira Glasser had predicted, cut me from the pack to let me drift in Manhattan all alone. You can’t go up against the City Hall of Washington, D.C. and the likes of Attorney General Janet Reno and expect New York to help you maintain the same life or lifestyle after that.
“Ten” and I first met because of my appearance in the masterpiece of his younger days, The Glass Menagerie. He’d enjoyed my performance as The Gentleman Caller and wanted to tell me so personally. We had lunch and it was there I realized he was incurably alcoholic. Subsequently I couldn’t help, if the opportunity arose, but try to dissuade him from drinking.
Shortly after the making of The Glass Menagerie, I found myself rehearsing a Broadway play, building a character out of the most shamelessly homosexual creation that American theater had ever seen reach Broadway: Julian Weston in John Hopkins’ play Find Your Way Home.
I sent a copy of the play to Tennessee for him to read before he would attend the play. I thought he’d find it particularly amusing.
Instead, his note to me sounded rather shocked!
He ended his polite remarks with: “I just wish you had chosen a role that was, how shall I say, less… je cherche le juste mot!”
When “Ten” finally did see the performance, I could hear his unmistakable laughter throughout both acts. I knew he was enjoying himself immensely.
When he came back to see me after the show, he was effusive with praise for my performance and for the play itself.
I said, in rather shocked and slightly miffed tones, “Ten, you hated this play when you first read it!”
He replied with a laugh, “Michael, I have never been able to read plays!!”
Following Tennessee’s death in 1983, a friend of his told me of Tennessee’s encounter with a cluster of “rough trade” in Key West, Florida. They’d beaten him senseless, which put him in the hospital.
While in the hospital, he was interviewed by the press.
When asked who these animals who beat him up were, Tennessee replied, “Oh, I think they were about four or five New York theater critics!”
When my father and stepmother came to New York, they enjoyed staying at the Hotel Elysee. I told them that Tennessee Williams, who stayed there for long periods of time, used to call it The Easy Lay!
It was the Hotel Elysee where Tennessee died.
He was alone.
He’d somehow swallowed the top of an eye drop bottle and choked to death on it. Possibly, while drunk, trying to open it with his teeth.
I’ve lost more friends than Tennessee Williams to alcohol. I had almost joined them. If it weren’t for Canada and Alcoholics Anonymous, I never would have lifted myself out of the swamp of self-delusion that drinking can swiftly put an alcoholic into.
Canada had given me the freedom to mourn the loss of my own country with alcohol; but then again Canada had also kept faith in me, hadn’t despaired on me and, with the miraculous help of AA, brought me back to life again!
Was Tennessee Williams the “tragic” figure I had earlier described him as?
No, I don’t really think so.
He lived to my present age, 71.
He lived in the same way my other dear friend Stella Adler had lived: joyously, defiantly, profoundly, brilliantly and compassionately.
When one of the plays I was in, G.R. Point, wasn’t what the New York theater critics considered a “hit,” what did Tennessee do after seeing it? He sold an original copy, a holograph of one of his scripts, and gave the money to keep our production alive.
Indeed, Tennessee Williams, as “one of God’s spies,” brought poetry up, not only for his plays, but for his friends.
I trust that the souls of Stella, Ethel and “Ten” are ecstatically, vibrantly alive in Heaven and that Stella’s passion, Ms. Merman’s power and Tennessee’s laughter ring out for all the other angels to hear!!
As for my songs in life?
This 7th to 8th decade of my life is proving to be the most blissful of all. I feel like I am at M & I Recording Studios 24 hours a day!!