Friday, September 11, 2009
Today is of course the 8th anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies of all time. I remember the morning of Sept 11, 2001 very well. I was working for Hooper Camera way back then in Corbin Village. My friend Tim Doran woke me up that morning and said "Turn On Your television, you're not going to believe it" Yes, it was very hard to believe that the United States of America had been attacked on her own soil by terrorists. Of course, I wrote several songs for that tragic incident in the months that followed including "We Are Different Now" and "City In The Sky"-- and that incredible ballad co-authored with my dear friends Tony Westbrook, Tim Doran and Terry Snyder entitled "Sad Day For The USA" But tonight we lost an absolute Broadway and comedy legend. His name is Larry Gelbart, one of the funniest writers on the planet. He worked with Neil and Danny Simon on early television and wrote some of the greatest Broadway librettos and motion picture screenplays of all time. Quips and one-liners came easy to Mr. Gelbart. He began his career in radio and came of age in the smoky writers' rooms of TV comedy shows of the 1950s: variety shows featuring Bob Hope, Red Buttons and Sid Caesar. The writing staff of "Caesar's Hour" included Neil and Danny Simon, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, who, like Mr. Gelbart, would become American comedy legends. Larry shared three Emmy nominations for comedy writing for "Caesar's Hour." His first brush with Broadway was with the bomb The Conquering Hero, based on the film "Hail, the Conquering Hero." His "Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum", however, was packed with broad vaudeville jokes and situations (drawing on ancient Roman comedy), and the show was a smash. It helped that the cast was filled with clowns like Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford. His 1976 Ben Jonson-inspired low comedy, Sly Fox, starring George C. Scott was revived on Broadway in 2004 (with Richard Dreyfuss). Larry moved the plot (about a greedy miser who seeks the fortunes of all around him) from Renaissance Venice to Gold Rush San Francisco. A multiple Academy Award nominee, Mr. Gelbart wrote or co-wrote screenplays for the films "Neighbors," "The Notorious Landlady," "The Wrong Box," "Not With My Wife, You Don't!," "Movie Movie," "Blame It on Rio, "Oh, God" (which won a writing Oscar nomination), "Tootsie" (sharing a screenwriting Oscar nomination with Murray Schisgal and Don McGuire), and the HBO movies "Barbarians at the Gate," "Weapons of Mass Destruction" and "And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself." He wrote the pilot for the TV series "M*A*S*H," one of the most prolific television shows of all time. And today, on this date, five years ago, we lost one of the finest lyricists of all time. His name was Fred Ebb and his collaboration with John Kander was pure magic. If you listen to "Curtains" one of his best Broadway comedies, you will hear a tribute song to him called "I Miss My Friend." John Kander wrote this with Fred's lyric, but listening to it will entice a tear or two. The Disney Expo goes on this weekend at the Anaheim Convention center. Betty White, one of the original "Golden Girls" and Robin Williams (the voice of the genie in Disney's classic "Alladin") were there picking up their Disney legend awards. Now there is word that the Disney folks will being back Captain Eo, the three dimensional spectacle film that featured Michael Jackson. It's a smart financial move because Jackson is pretty amazingly popular after death. And the current resident film there "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience" is getting very tired and barely attracting audiences. I have finished the libretto to "Knocking On Heaven's Door" and I am now working on the libretto to "Valentine" (yes, the saint we honor on February 14th) It's interesting because there is little written about the noble monk. He became friends with an Roman Emperor who would visit him in his cell in ancient Rome in 278-279 AD. I will need to invent some dramatic developments for this show. But so far the lyrics have really turned out well. I am especially proud of the song "Just As God Made Us"-- and today ASCAP awarded me my seventh ASCAP plus cash award that I will receive in January. It's a nice honor as a songwriter.