Every Little Step:  Distorted Version of Chorus Line

DATELINE: One Singular Omission!

 Jimmy Kirkwood.

 

The little documentary made about a revival of A Chorus Lineis so warped by time and death that it is about as inaccurate as you can find when all the principals are long gone. Every Little Step  is really Every Big Omission.

Three of the creative forces behind the great musical play were Michael Bennett, Nick Dante, and James Kirkwood. They all died way too soon: and the survivors are allies of Michael Bennett (Marvin Hamlisch, Donna McKechnie, and Bob Avian). So, you have a slightly skewed presentation of the past.

I knew Jim Kirkwood—and he has been cut out of this film and you’d never know he had any role whatsoever for A Chorus Line (which happened to win him a Tony for writing and a Pulitzer Prize for good measure).

Cutting out Kirkwood from credit began while he was still alive. I can recall his complaint about how “hurtful” all this was—and he admitted to me he did have a physical altercation with Michael Bennett. I cannot imagine what that looked like—as Jim often advised me to “Kick’em in the nuts” to start and end any fight instantly.

Jim was proud of his contribution to A Chorus Line and even put the logo on his letterhead until someone complained to him about his “colossal ego.” He removed the line of dancers and went with plain stationery. I told him to ignore such idiots, but he was overly sensitive.

This documentary would send him up to the roof and we might never get him down.

A great deal is made of the 12 hours of tapes of dancers’ interviews that served as backbone of the libretto. Bennett recorded this one snowy December night in the 1970s, but Kirkwood insisted to me he never listened to a single tape. He read a transcript and had to give structure and order to it. He pointedly said to me, “There were no tapes. I never heard any tapes.”

What intrigued him was his show biz background and literary themes of his life fit right into the storyline. If you read his works, you find every concept in A Chorus Line in books he wrote a decade earlier, from the Big Joker in the Sky concept of the “Director” to small details.

Even the biggest decision to change the ending to improve the book of the show is not given to Jim Kirkwood. It is entirely the idea of Michael Bennett. At the 1976 Tony Awards, Bennett gave a speech in which Kirkwood is mentioned as he gives “thanks to Jimmy.”

The closing credits mention permission of the James Kirkwood Trust, but never is he mentioned within the documentary. Every Big Omission indeed. As a friend of Jim Kirkwood, I am furious about this distorted movie.

 

Dr. William Russo is author of Riding James Kirkwood’s Pony.

Merlin Among the Stars!

DATELINE: Jan Merlin’s Final Book!

Hand-made card drawn by Jan at Kilimanjaro during film Woman & the Hunter.

My dear friend and coauthor Jan Merlin died a few months ago. He lived a long and creative life. That does not lessen the effect of a hard loss, and I have managed to complete something that was brewing for decades.

Jan knew that I kept all his letters, copies of his emails, and took notes on many of our conversations over the course of thirty years. He steadfastly said he did not want a biography in any traditional sense. But, as the years passed, he often gave me a flood of memories about his years on Broadway, in early TV, and later in movies. I have completed a memoir in his own words.

He worked with so many famous—and he was one of them, knew their foibles and secrets. If I learned anything, it was a secret society—and they all kept their privilege sacred. Yet, he provided me with anecdotes with people from stage like Josh Logan, from movies such as Marlon Brando, from literature like Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, from TV like every Western TV star over 15 years (from Chuck Connors to Michael Landon).

So, I have compiled his memories to provide some amazing insights into the profession of acting and the business of movies. It did not take long to do—as I had been adding bits and pieces after each chat or text.

Now, I have for you a record of an era: the star of two TV series, Tom Corbett and Rough Riders,who played mostly the bad guy on TV westerns, committing every dastardly act and finding come-uppance weekly in a variety of ways.

His voice is clear and direct on every page; he never pulled punches, never played the social game, and he felt he damaged his career with projects like The List of Adrian Messengerwith Kirk Douglas, and he felt John Huston misused him. Even today, he is the man under the masks—but Douglas takes credit for the performance (even in an Oscar compilation clip!).

He gave me a title:  We Were All Six Feet Tall,which I have kept with the main focus, Merlin Among the Stars.It is now available on Kindle as an ebook and the paperback will soon be out for his fans and friends.

When I re-read his letters, there was so much I had forgotten—and never followed up. One example was his friendship with noted crypto-scientist Willy Ley who was tech advisor on his show Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

There are gems from the era—and can only be appreciated by those with a grand sense of the past.

 

 

Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0831S1RVZ