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Salvador Dali’s strange and surreal illustrations for the autobiography of a Broadway legend

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Unless you’re a fan of Barbra Streisand movies, then the name Billy Rose probably won’t mean much. Billy Rose was a legendary Broadway impresario and songwriter—now best known for such show tunes as “Paper Moon” and “Me and My Shadow.” If you like la Streisand then you’ll know James Caan played Billy Rose to Barbra’s star comedian Fanny Brice in the hit movie Funny Lady. Billy Rose and Fanny Brice were for a time married. They were a celebrity couple like Brangelina or Beyonce and Jay Z.

That Billy Rose isn’t so well known today just goes to show how being a celebrity don’t mean shit in the long run. We might remember his songs, maybe even read about his stage shows, but we don’t care about the man. What is remembered are those people of exceptional talents who change everything.

Salvador Dali was such a talent.

Dali was talented and prolific. So prolific that he produced posters for the Communist Party the same decade he designed the window displays for Bonwit Teller in New York. Everything was open to the Dali treatment.

However, some possibly more green-eyed individuals thought Dali was only after one thing. His fellow Surrealist André Breton gave Dali the nickname “Avida Dollars.” The name was an anagram of Salvador Dali and was intended as a damning insult. The Surrealists thought Dali was only interested in money. Avida Dollars was a phonetic rendering of the French phrase “avide à dollars” which means “eager for dollars.”

It was Billy Rose who helped the Dali stage his “Dream of Venus” exhibit at the World’s Fair in 1939. This started an unlikely friendship between Dali and the showman known as the “Basement Belasco” and the “Bantam Barnum.”

Dali was so enamored with his new Broadway buddy he gave Billy a series of paintings titled “The Seven Lively Arts.” When these were later lost in a fire at Billy’s home, Dali replaced the work with a new painting called “Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 1956. That’s how tight these two were at one point.

Of course, Dali was shrewd enough to know giving paintings to a big impresario like Billy Rose would establish his name among the celebrity and monied social circuit and bring himeven more fame and success.

In 1948, Dali supplied a series of beautiful ink illustrations for Rose’s autobiography Wine, Women & Words. Rose was like a character out of a Damon Runyon story written by Raymond Chandler. Here’s how Rose opens his autobiography:

I was born the night President McKinley was shot, and a lot of fellows around Broadway will tell you they shot the wrong man.

The coming-out party took place on a kitchen table in a tenement on the lower East Side. When my mother first saw me, she prophesied, “Some day he’ll be President.” My father looked at me and said, “He’s all right, I guess, but what we really needed was an icebox.”

Yet this mix of showbiz wiseguy and Surrealist genius actually worked.

Each chapter in the book had its own illustration—with one (“Poor Eleanor Knows Them by Heart”) having two. Each focussing on some key moment or anecdote from Rose’s career. There was also quite a lot on his relationship with his then wife Eleanor Holm—the woman he left Fanny Brice for—who had been a star of his swimming extravaganza Aquacade at the World’s Fair of 1939.
 
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Billy Rose.
 
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“Look, Ma, I’m Writing.”
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
John Lennon’s nearly-forgotten 1974 Broadway flop
09.30.2014
08:13 pm

Topics:
History
Music
Pop Culture

Tags:
John Lennon
Broadway


 
Although it is usually referred to as an “Off-Broadway” production—when it is referred to at all—the 1974 musical Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, in fact, ran for 66 performances at the Beacon Theatre, which as any Westsider can tell you, is smack-dab on Broadway itself, even if it’s a cab ride away from “the Great White Way” theater district.

Likewise, I suppose it’s a bit disingenuous to say that this show was “John Lennon’s flop,” but Lennon was involved and aside from co-writing the music (duh) he attended several rehearsals and performances and helped promote the play. Paul McCartney on the other hand, may have never even seen it.
 

 
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road was conceived by Tom O’Horgan, the “Busby Berkeley of the acid set” as the New York Times described him in his 2009 obituary. O’Horgan was a proponent of experimental “total theater” and had directed Jean Genet’s The Maids at La MaMa in the East Village before moving uptown to the Broadway successes of Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and Lenny.
 

 
From the surviving evidence of the show, it looked like it was totally insane. TIME magazine hated it, their review was titled “Contagious Vulgarity” and it went out of its way to excoriate O’Horgan’s style of musical theater. Other reviewers were much kinder and even enthusiastic, but the show which opened on November 17, 1974 was still closed by late January.

Ted Neeley, the actor long synonymous with the title role in Jesus Christ Superstar here played the Candide-like “Billy Shears.” The sexy siren “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was played by Alaina Reed (“Olivia” from Sesame Street), while the role of “Sgt. Pepper” went to David Patrick Kelly an actor best known for uttering the immortal line “Warriors…come out to play-ee-ay!!”
 

 
And then there were the dancers whose hair don’ts and dresses are a direct rip-off of Divine’s look in Female Trouble!

Apparently there’s very little documentation of the production. Opening night attendees included Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, Lennon who went with May Pang, “Papa” John Phillips (whose own flop Broadway musical, Man on the Moon, produced by Andy Warhol would open two months later) and Yoko Ono who gamely supported her estranged husband.

While researching this post, I discovered that John Lennon at one point was offered the, er… Ted Neeley role in Jesus Christ Superstar but when he insisted that Yoko play Mary Magdalene, the offer was withdrawn. The jokes about her breaking up the twelve disciples would have written themselves…

One of the associate producers, Howard Dando, put together a slideshow plus some footage of opening night taken from John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” promo film. Although the producer was Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood, who also produced the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film, there was apparently not much of the O’Horgan’s musical play that made its way into the derided movie.
 

 
Thank you kindly Chris Campion of Palm Springs, CA! Mr. Campion is presently engaged writing the authorized biography of “Papa” John Phillips.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment