Monday, May 30, 2016
TWO NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST
If you love theater or are just interested in biographies of great Americans, you will be delighted by this heart warming story of two self made men from very different backgrounds who became life long Broadway musical comedy writers in the early Twentieth Century when Broadway was still the Great White Way.
Howard Lindsay could be seen age five hawking newspapers on the Atlantic City boardwalk to help his struggling family and sneaking in to see all the shows that the vacationing public was mad for, singing groups, acrobatic acts, popular plays and musicals hoping to get to Broadway. Hard work and study earned him a scholarship to Harvard, where he attended one year and decided to become an actor instead. Touring the country as actor and stage manager for the next several years, he learned his craft acting in vaudeville TOBY shows, and working with several of the foremost actresses of his day, including Lynn Fontanne, touring in MEDEA, AS YOU LIKE IT and other first rate shows.
Russell Crouse was the son of an Ohio newspaperman who eventually took his family to Oklahoma. From the wilds of the frontier, Crouse worked his way east covering stories and theater for some of the best newspapers in the US before getting himself hired in New York City by THE GLOBE. He was a deeply religious man, who taught Sunday school and loved theater.
Both men served in The Great War, WWI, before they made it to the big time. Howard married a spunky, charming actress from North Dakota, Dorothy Stickney, who co-starred with him onstage in LIFE WITH FATHER, which he and Crouse had written. Many well known actors turned down both leading roles; however, the play was a huge success and went on to become the longest running play in Broadway history.
The team of Lindsay and Crouse wrote, directed and produced many more immensely popular plays, including ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, and several musical comedies, culminating in writing the play for THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
It's a charming, fascinating story of two very interesting characters who were loved by everyone they worked with and were also great successes in their chosen profession. They both seem to have lived charmed lives, giving themselves totally to their work and families.
The author writes so well adding so many interesting details and insights that you simply won't be able to put the book down. That this author writes so well about the theater is no surprise for Cornelia Otis Skinner was the daughter of a famous character actor and not only was she the author of several best sellers like OUR HEARTS WERE YOUNG AND GAY, the hilarious account of a summer in Europe just after WWI with her best friend Emily Kimbrough, where they even met H. G. Wells, but she wrote an enthralling biography of the great Sarah Bernhardt, MADAME SARAH.
Ms. Skinner was also a celebrated actress onstage and in film. She plays a dastardly villain, way ahead of her time, in the romance/horror classic film THE UNIVITED with Ray Milland. A terrific movie which I highly recommend.
So if you're looking for an engaging and entertaining read that will gently educate you about the history of American theater and make you an insider on all sorts of theater lore and strange traditions, don't miss this book.