In Sunday's Arts Section of The Hartford Courant, I write about Jerry Adler, who is featured as an actor in the premiere of the Mike Reiss comedy "I'm Connecticut" at the Harriet Jorgensen Theatre on the UConn campus, a production of Connecticut Repertory Theatre.
But I was just as interested in his career as a stage manager, producer and director. I could have talked to him for hours and I hope he writes his memoirs some day about his life in the theater, which began in 1950 as assistant stage manager to "Gentleman Prefer Blondes."
Here are a few stores and observations that didn't make the printed story.
Adler's favorite play was Harold Pinter’s ‘The Homecoming,’ which brought to mind the play "Home" with Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson. “Sir Ralph used to come to the theatre on a motorcycle.”
On Marlene Dietrich's 1968 Broadway show, where Adler was production supervisor:
“We use to call her 'the singing Hun.' She was a tough lady. Very tough. But we were great together. I have a marvelous picture of her taken by Eisenstaedt and on it she wrote, ‘To Jerry, with love to the man who gets me on the road.' "
On Jack Benny and the comedian's 1963 Broadway show, where Adler was stage manager:
“He opened the second act of his show by telling the audience that he really was a great violinist contrary to what everyone says. He tells them he even has a Stradivarius. ‘Would you like to hear me play it?’ he asks and of course the audience says yes and applauds. So he looks offstage to me and says, ‘May I have my Stradivarius?’ So from the wings I throw a fake violin out out, landing on the floor at his feet. He would stand there for five minutes, not saying a word, and get this huge laugh.
"At the last performance the violin didn’t break all the way and I saved it and he signed it. I still have it.”
On Zero Mostel:
“I was working a play he was in in the ‘50s, ‘Lunatics and Lovers,’ I think, and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee was after him at the time as part of its Communist hunt. We used to hide Zero every night after the show because the FBI was waiting for him with a subpoena. We’d disguise him and take him out of the theater. One night he was a woman. Another night, an usher. It was a riot. Zero was a fabulous guy.”
On an on-stage goof during the run of "My Fair Lady" in the 1950's, where he was stage manager.
"In those days if a prop phone on stage had to ring, it was the stage manager who operated it. Well, in a scene between Rex Harrison as Higgins and Robert Coote as Pickering, I accidentally pressed the prop's button and the phone rang on stage. Rex walked over to the phone, picked it up and said, 'Yes?' and then turned to Coote, and said, 'It's for you, Pickering.' Coote said, 'Tell him I'll call back."
On George S. Kaufman, whom Adler worked with as a stage manager in the 1952 revival of "Of Thee I Sing:"
"Kaufman has a great line about the theater and about knowing if you have a show that's going to succeed or not. He said, "I'll tell you something. No matter what you do, when the curtain goes up, the truth comes out.' And that's true. You just never know until there's an audience. Until then, you just hope and live in wishful thinking. But when there's an audience there, they tell you what you have.
On Richard Rodgers' last musical, 979's "I Remember Mama," starring Liv Ullmann, where Adler was production stage manager:
"It could have been a good show but she wasn't very good in it. She had no stage presence and she was very selfish. She kept getting people fired -- and giving them parties and she would say, 'Oh, I cant understand how the producers could do such a thing to you' -- and she was the one who fired them!"
On Richard Burton when the actor performed in the revival of "Camelot" and Adler was stage manager:
"I had to pull the curtain down on him during a performance. That made the front page of the New York Times. He was so drunk at the matinee he did'nt know where he was. It was the beginning of the show and he had to perform this whole long opening scene and he was just drunk.
"I knew when he stepped off the elevator he was as drunk as he could be and I was going to put the understudy on and his wife begged me not to, saying, 'He'll be fine, just give him black coffee.' She insisted. He insisted, but I thin k when the hot lights hit him it just made his situation worse and I brought down the curtain."
"Ah, we could talk forever..."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun