By Michael Milton

March 20, 2018, 4:37 pm

 

“Fade out,” the gradual loss of clarity of the object, which finally disappears from the screen – all celebrities eventually go through that very real and often painful process of “disappearing.”

 

Fame lasts a generation, maybe two. Ask the pharoahs!

 

“…and on the pedestal, these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings,

Look at my works, ye mighty, and despair.’”

– Ozymandias, Percy Shelley

 

I was barely a teenager in 1968 when the film Funny Girl was released. I already had a taste for the song stylings of Barbra Streisand and was passionately determined to see the movie. But who, I wondered, was this Fanny Brice person she was portraying?  As far as I was concerned, Ms. Brice was as fictional as Eve Harrington in All About Eve. To me, the script to Funny Girl was a cobbled-together, altogether fictional device allowing La Streisand to sing songs like People and I’m the Greatest Star.

Imagine that: Ms. Brice – who died in 1951 – had only been gone for about fifteen years at the time of the film’s release;  fifteen years and in the relative blink of an eye one of the greatest stars of Vaudeville, The Ziegfeld Follies and Radio was lost to a new generation of entertainment seekers.

Fanny Brice as Baby Snooks

“Fade in” is a cinematic term indicating a gradual gathering of light and focus on an object, scene or character. Conversely, “fade out” is the gradual loss of clarity of the object, which finally disappears from the screen. All celebrities, whether known for film, television or theatre, eventually go through that very real and often painful process of “disappearing.”

Which brings me to Marty Richards. I had the pleasure/heartache/headache/ of working intimately with Marty for a quarter of a century.

Pause. 

Does anyone reading that name remember who he was?

Oh, sure. Most theatre aficionados, a few other Broadway producers and a handful of actors will remember Marty. But most of today’s theatre-goers in the thrall of Hamilton, Wicked, and Dear Evan Hansen have most likely forgotten about Marty’s contributions to the theatre, or anywhere else, for that matter.

For me, to be willing to acknowledge Marty’s contributions at all is an enormous step (and a tribute to my therapist). Our working relationship was often tumultuous – I was fired and rehired at least five times, and oftentimes, our arguments were grounded in differences so basic in nature as to be existential.

To Marty, fame was to be fought for, lied for and to even plot a murder for. His loosey-goosey version of the afterlife included a vision of continuing the enjoyment of his hard-earned fame in Heaven and even having a plaque (finally!) on Paradise’s version of Hollywood Blvd.

To me, dead was dead. End of story. I tried to live as honestly and compassionately as possible in the now, and when Marty’s schemes were going awry, I advocated that he attempt to do the same. But his focus on being famous, being remembered as a huge success, of being taken seriously and considered the true helmsman of all his shows, along with erasing unpleasant details from his past, were passions which dominated his daily thoughts.

“People don’t understand what a genius I am, Michael,” he’d say to me often.

Marty Richards and his wife Mary Lea. Photo credit: www.pinterest.com

Marty’s claims to fame came in many packages: Many knew him best for his marriage to the Band-Aid heiress Mary Lea Johnson, many years his senior. Though Marty declaimed loudly to all who would listen that Mary Lea was the love of his life, she was also a defenseless, disturbed, alienated and lonely woman who brought to their marriage bed a full one hundred million dollars. Such a marriage was not bad for a lounge singer who owed the Mafia $40,000 when he met “his true love.”

Marty’s involvements with a number of high-profile charities was one means by which he hoped to further cement his name into future generations’ minds. With his overstuffed River House duplex and enormous oceanfront manse in Southampton as backdrops, Marty’s social life lasted decades and seemed from all the news clippings his parties generated, that it would ensure him some sort of place in, if not the world’s, then at least in New York’s firmament.

One of our most important jobs at our Producer Circle Co. offices was to spread the word about “MR’s” every activity, which often came down to re-creating the truth. Basically, our office was paving the way for Fox News and the concept of “fake news” way before Trump ascended to his current questionable height. For Marty, everything was bigger, better, more expensive and better attended because he was involved. Reality was to be viewed as only a starting place for his elaborations. He was Mr. Razzle Dazzle.

“PR is everything, Michael,” Marty said. “You tell them what you want them to think. Don’t wait for them to make up their minds.”

Marty’s humor was unmistakable, and though perhaps not the key to fame for him, it was nonetheless waggish. Shortly after I began working for him, I came to the office underdressed for a frigid day. When I complained about the cold, Marty, the owner of a dozen fur coats, looked disdainfully at my cotton sweater and said, “Michael, there is no bad weather. There are only bad fashion choices.” He then went out and bought me a new overcoat at his favorite store, Bergdorf Goodman.

He could be your best friend. Marty had an army of loyalists and avid hangers-on. He also had an army of sworn enemies.

Who will remember these three in a generation or so?

Chicago was to be Marty’s Great Pyramid. His Golden House. His Hearst Castle. And he pushed for almost thirty years to see it come to the big screen. Not even Ramses’ slaves took that long to build his tomb. “Broadway shows come and go, Michael,” he’d say to me in his Shelley Winters meets Harvey Fierstein voice. “Movies are forever.”

Read More: 1 | 2


Want to write for us? We're looking for interns and experienced writers! Go here for more information.

About The Author

Michael Milton worked as an Associate Producer with Marty Richards, Sam Crothers and Robert Fryer at The Producer Circle Co. in New York City for over twenty years. Broadway: THE LIFE (2 Tony Awards), SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1 Tony Award), LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (Revival; 1 Tony Award and personal Drama Desk Award), Chita--A DANCER'S LIFE. Film: CHICAGO (Academy Award, Best Picture, Marty Richards). Michael has also co-produced many philanthropic events, including the legendary Red Ball benefitting NYU Medical Center and the New York Center for Children. As a writer, Michael has been featured in The New York Times, 'About Men' column, House Beautiful, Genre Magazine, The James White Literary Review amongst others; wrote the book for two musicals, THE NIGHTINGALE and FARAWAY BAYOU. Co-wrote (with Leslie Gore) the book for children's musical THE MERCHILD.

Michael Milton worked as an Associate Producer with Marty Richards, Sam Crothers and Robert Fryer at The Producer Circle Co. in New York City for over twenty years. Broadway: THE LIFE (2 Tony Awards), SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1 Tony Award), LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (Revival; 1 Tony Award and personal Drama Desk Award), Chita--A DANCER'S LIFE. Film: CHICAGO (Academy Award, Best Picture, Marty Richards). Michael has also co-produced many philanthropic events, including the legendary Red Ball benefitting NYU Medical Center and the New York Center for Children. As a writer, Michael has been featured in The New York Times, 'About Men' column, House Beautiful, Genre Magazine, The James White Literary Review amongst others; wrote the book for two musicals, THE NIGHTINGALE and FARAWAY BAYOU. Co-wrote (with Leslie Gore) the book for children's musical THE MERCHILD.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.