NEW YORK, March 6, 2013 - Still after all these years my early mornings begin with coffee and Don Imus on Radio or TV. He’s still tops, especially in getting his guests to open up as if there’s no microphone picking up deep dark secrets – as he did again this morning with Frank Rich, who used to be known as the Butcher of Broadway, and for good reason.
Rich so affably offered his confessions and condolences a second time, and that made it no tidier or prettier than the first time. Rich now sings a different Broadway melody as a writer for New York Magazine, but back then, between 1980 and 1993, he served as senior drama critic for The New York Times, and here the word “critic” is not used in vain.
For more than a decade Broadway shuddered at what that man Rich might say next.
A play that opened on Friday could be shut down on Saturday after Frank Rich had his final say, and in those days The New York Times was most firmly the final say. Not so anymore, as New York Post theater reviewer Michael Riedel told Imus just the other day, noting that The New York Times does not enjoy the same singular power anymore, at least on drama.
Riedel, who has a knack for telling it good, straight and honest for the Post, is no fan of Frank Rich. He still thinks the man was too brutal.
Here’s the kicker: Frank Rich thinks so himself.
This morning he told Imus and that on second thought, all those plays he savaged – well, maybe they weren’t all that bad, after all.
Now we hear this? A bit late, no?
Actually we heard this before, and it’s still not funny, even though Rich laughs when he says something like, “Yes, I could have been wrong.”
That is not an exact quote, but it is the gist.
Years ago I heard Frank Rich make the same confession, accompanied by giggles and laughter. As a member of the fraternity of writers who knows how ruinous a bad review can be, I was not amused by the carefree and whimsical condolences Rich offered to the many Broadway artists who’d been destroyed by the might of his heartless pen.
The topic came up again this morning, on Imus, because Rich has written a book, and in it, apparently, he discusses his “second thoughts.”
Yes, on second thought, maybe those plays did not deserve to be killed, along with the people whose years of artistic work were cursed into the netherworld.
I covered that in a book I wrote in 2007, here, where editor in chief Jay Garfield confronts his drama critic for getting to be too much like Frank Rich. I never thought those words would come back to life, or maybe I did for life has a habit of repeating itself for the good, the bad, and the vicious, like this, from page 211:
“Yes, Frank Rich. This man had been the theater critic for The New York Times but was better known as The Butcher of Broadway. In his day he had scorched nearly every play under his withering eyes, sending thousands of writers, actors, directors, producers, stagehands and angels into the pit of eternal damnation. Most were never heard from again, so all-powerful was this executioner for The New York Times.
“Finally (and for whatever reason) he got switched to another beat and now he could speak his mind, and so on a morning radio show – Imus, I believe it was – relaxed and entirely happy with himself, he confessed that most of these plays, on second thought, weren’t all that bad. Some were even good and maybe excellent. But he destroyed them and why? Well, because he felt like it and because he could.
“Then, after saying all that, he laughed, never mind all the people he had ruined, and all the dreams he had dashed.”
So once again Frank Rich gives his regards to Broadway – and still not funny.
Jack Engelhard is a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, his memoir Escape From Mount Moriah, and Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist is Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer, bring his words to the Communities page covering all topics, with special focus on the absurdity of human behavior, and reaches around the globe.
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