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Excerpt from It Happened on Broadway:
An Oral History of the Great White Way
We were the Essence of New York

Chapter VI


ALVIN COLT: Cy Feuer and Ernie Martin. They were into everything. They were Damon Runyon characters themselves.

FRED GOLDEN: Ernie was the hard-nosed guy, always with the cigar. He was very fussy, loved to stretch out on the sofa, smoke a cigar, and make you feel like a little fella.That was his method. Cy was the one to throw oil on troubled water and keep things nice And light and friendly. They were great, great theater people.

CY FEUER: Ernie Martin was a California kid. Graduated from UCLA, started as a page boy at CBS. Worked his way up to be head of comedy programming, came to New York. That's when he saw a Broadway show for the first time. I was a Brooklyn kid. Stationed at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio during the war. Transferred to New York before I was shipped out. That's when I saw a Broadway show for the first time. Now it's after the war. We're both in Hollywood. It's the golden age of the musical, and we're young, running and jumping. We come to New York, go to Broadway, and see this cockamamie little stage. A great Broadway musical comedy looks like a pip-squeak. "Jesus," we say, "that's nothing. That's where we ought to go." All the talent was going out to Hollywood in those days, and the competition was pretty tough. We said, "Guys like us can't get a movie on. Let's go in the other direction where there's so much less competition and take on this junky little Broadway." Our first show was Where's Charley? It started out to be "An American in Paris" before An American in Paris was ever made. Ernie was a friend of Ira Gershwin's. They had met at the track, Santa Anita. Ernie was a good handicapper, and he also had that great drive. He could walk into any situation and sell it. "Listen, what about 'An American in Paris' as a Broadway musical?" Ernie asked Ira. And Ira said, "Great, why not?" Ernie told me, "Listen, I got an idea. I told it to Ira . He likes it." We got all excited about it.Ernie came to New York and saw Ray Bolger in Three to Make Ready. Bolger was what we called a rube dancer, but he wore white tie and tails and made it look high class. Ernie told Ray Bolger "I want to make a show for you. I got 'An American in Paris.'" Ray was fun, an up guy, and he was fascinated by Ernie.

AL HIRSCHFELD: After I drew him, Ray Bolger claimed he copied my drawings. I'm not constricted to gravity. I can make 'em fly. All I did was push a little bit further what Ray already did.

CY FEUER: We got Bolger, Now we started trying to get ourselves in position. We went to Harold Reinhart?, the number one show business attorney at the time. Ernie said, "How about giving us some advice? And later on, if anything develops, you got yourself some good clients." Harold said, "Great." The interesting thing is getting a lawyer turned out to be the big thing. Because trying to arrange this "An American in Paris" and clear the rights turned out to be complicated. I got a call one day from Harold. He said, "Listen, you know what show would be great for Bolger? Charley's Aunt by Brandon Thomas. My clients have been trying to get that property for a musical for years." They were unsuccessful because Thomas' heirs were living on the 50,000 pounds a year they got from stock and amateur productions. They worried about injuring the property by making it into a musical. Harold said, "I got an idea that with Bolger they might be interested." One of us had to go to England to see these people, and we were both working. I said to Ernie, "OK. I'm quitting my job, but you got to give me some radio shows to do so I can keep eating." And what we did was this. We got a copy of Charley's Aunt, which was a farce in four acts. The story is about Jack and Charley, two students at Oxford, living in these digs with a butler. Their two Victorian ladies, whose uncle is about to whisk them off to Scotland, are coming to visit them. It's Jack's and Charley's last chance to get to them. The chaperone is supposed to be Charley's aunt who is coming that afternoon from Brazil. But the train is late, and Charley's aunt doesn't show up. Meanwhile, Lord Fancourt Babberley, a zany guy who lives across the hall, comes in dressed in a drag costume. He says, "This is the costume I'm wearing for the Varsity Show." They say, "You're going to be Charley's aunt." Babberley stays in the costume for the entire show, camps all over the place, and at the very end reveals himself. That's the whole thing. Now we said, "Because we've got Bolger, we want dancing. He's a dancing star. We got to get him out of that dress." So we cut out the part of Babberley who was the leading man. Charley becomes the guy with the costume for the Varsity Show. He shows it to Jack, and Jack says, "You're going to play your own aunt." What I did was take the Samuel French copy of the play and write a play with all the dialogue but without Lord Babberley. I made certain adjustments, and got on the plane, and went to England.Harold arranged for a barrister out there, and we met with the estate. They said "With Bolger playing this, we'll go for it. But it's got to be done with this outline and no other way." Now we had to get somebody who knew something about show business. We had to raise the money which we thought we'd manage possibly to do. We knew how to ask a guy to give you $5000. But how do you put on a show? Where do you rehearse? What do you do? So we went to George Abbott. We walked in and said, "Look, here's what we got." And we laid it all out. He looked the outline over. "It's a piece of cake," he said, and he signed on. The minute he signed on, we had a show. And off we went into the wild blue yonder. Frank Loesser was supposed to be the lyricist, and the music was supposed to be by Harold Arlen. While we were preparing, Harold's house in California burned down. He called and said, "I can't go to New York. My wife's terribly upset. I'm going to have to pull out." Frank said, "Let me do it all by myself." He had done things in the army like "Praise the Lord, and Pass the Ammunition" and "Private Roger Young." I had to call Ray Bolger and tell him, "Look I'm switching on you from Harold to Frank." I didn't know what was going to be. What did I know? We were all a bunch of neophytes. We were digging a ditch, working side by side. Frank was good, I thought. His stuff sounded good to me, but I didn't know about anybody else. With words and music by Frank Loesser, Where's Charley opened in Philadelphia. Ray Bolger knocked himself out. He collapsed with physical exhaustion, and we closed after one performance. Here we had moved our families to New York and everything, and we thought it died. We opened in New York and got terrible notices. There were seven newspapers in the city at that time, and only the World Telegram gave us a good review. The Times' headline was "Bolger's here, but where's Charley?" Luckily we had some advances on the basis of Bolger. None of the critics even mentioned the score. But Frank came in one day with a telegram from Dick Rodgers. It said, "Bravo! What a score!" There was a recording strike then, and we never had a cast recording. That's why the score, except for the one song that stepped out, "Once In Love with Amy," has hardly been heard. Not too many people know the other songs like "The New Ashmoleon Marching Society and Student Conservatory Band"

-From It Happened on Broadway : An Oral History of the Great White Way, by Myrna Katz Frommer, Harvey Frommer. November 1998 , Myrna Katz Frommer, Harvey Frommer used with permission.


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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.


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