OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORGAN!

Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman
When your last two works have won Tonys (Parade, The Last Night of Ballyhoo), and your work before that won the Pulitzer Prize, the Obie, and the Oscar (Driving Miss Daisy), people are intensely interested in what you'll do next. So allow me to be the first to tell you that Alfred Uhry's next is titled Without Walls. It's about a high school drama teacher, and Morgan Freeman is seriously considering the role; he was, of course, the original chauffeur to Dana Ivey on stage and was Oscar nominated when he played the same part opposite Jessica Tandy's Miss Daisy in the film version.

Freeman admits that the movie grind is easier than stage work. "I used to say that one day I'd do Lear before I give it all up," he remarks. "Whether that holds true particularly, I don't know."

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GONE WITH THE WIND

Then there's John Cullum, who opted to stick with Urinetown for its Broadway transfer rather than do King Lear this September. He played the judge who presided over Jack Lemmon vs. George C. Scott in the TV-movie remake of Inherit the Wind--and, on the day that Lemmon died, Cullum had a day in court with Michael Hayden (one of his All My Sons sons) and Sam Waterston on Law and Order.

"We were discussing the difficulty of doing courtroom scenes," said Cullum, who operates outside the law in Urinetown as the corrupt capitalist Caldwell B. Cladwell. Recalling his Inherit the Wind experience, the actor said: "Jack was about as nice a guy off stage as you could meet, and George was one of the most unpredictable people off stage, but there wasn't any difference in terms of their work. They were giving, wonderful, terrific actors. I was so pleased to work with both of them--and to be able to work with them at the same time. It was obvious to me that neither one of them was physically up to their roles, but they made' em work, and I'm sure glad I was in on it."

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Keith Baxter (standing) and Jared Reedin The Woman in Black(Photo: Craig Schwartz)
Keith Baxter (standing) and Jared Reed
in The Woman in Black
(Photo: Craig Schwartz)
CAESARS HE HAS KNOWN

Keith Baxter is very much a creature of the theater. You can see that for yourself--if you hurry--from the black magic he conjures up at the Minetta Lane in The Woman in Black, which closes Sunday. His Playbill bio is steeped in stage credits, while only six of his seven films are mentioned, the most notable being Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight. Ironically, his most famous film performance may be the one he was not allowed to finish, pieces of which have just surfaced on the marketplace via the DVD of the Elizabeth Taylor colossus Cleopatra. Baxter was Octavian to Peter Finch's Julius Caesar and Stephen Boyd's Mark Antony in the version that expired when La Taylor herself nearly expired from pneumonia.

Dribs and drabs of some of the footage that Rouben Mamoulian had directed are included in this three-DVD, special edition set. And, says Baxter, "there is another whole scene that is lying around somewhere. The Los Angeles Times did an interview with me, and I couldn't say this in the interview because it was to promote the film, but it was really so sad that the first attempt didn't continue. Rouben Mamoulian was a very, very great director. I don't know how we would have handled the film, of course, but Joe Mankiewicz...! Wonderful as Mankiewicz was for small, domestic, theatrical films like All About Eve and A Letter to Three Wives, he had no aptitude at all for a great big film like Cleopatra. The battle scenes are risible, really. And the casting was pathetic. Rex Harrison would have been, perhaps, a very good Shavian Julius Caesar, but there's nothing heroic about Rex Harrison as a man. There's a scene where he's standing and greeting Cleopatra's great arrival in Rome, wearing a purple robe, and he looks like Rosalind Russell in The Women. Peter Finch, whom they sacked, would have been a great Caesar. You would have believed that he had arranged to have Pompey's head cut off. You would have believed everything about his Caesar.

"Richard [Burton] was, of course, wonderful--and as Welsh as I am. But the problem was that when you had Richard Burton, with that voice and that ability to handle text, doing Mark Antony, it made the loss of Shakespeare in the script so painfully apparent. You longed for him to be saying the Shakespeare lines." Nor does Baxter feel that Roddy McDowall properly filled the sandals of Octavian. "Roddy was a good, wonderful actor, but you couldn't ever feel that he was going to turn into the greatest emperor of all. He was playing it, and directed by Mankiewicz to play it, as sort of a terrible little snip with a smell under his nose.

As for Taylor: "I did a film with her years later, a bad film called Ash Wednesday. She is wonderful to work with, but I didn't think she was well directed by Mankiewicz in Cleopatra. I just thought he made a terrible mess of that film, as indeed he did with Julius Caesar. Film changes so much. If you look again at Julius Caesar, which was hugely praised at the time, it's awful. They're all wearing wigs; it's so theatrical. And the only wonderful performance in it--well, there are two: Edmond O'Brien as Cassius, and the great James Mason, who acts them all off the screen. Gielgud is doing his Stratford performance, Brando is chewing up the scenery. The still-pure voice at the center of the film is James Mason."

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EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE

Heeding Horace Greeley, Arci's Place proprietor John Miller goes West for his next nightclub. Expect an announcement sometime this month about a new bistro-cabaret venue on the West Side....And speaking of new West Side nightspots, check out the second floor of Jack Rose (Eighth @ 47th) on Sunday nights. One of the Radio Gals, Klea Blackhurst, is holding forth there for a July of Sundays with Everything the Traffic Will Allow, a solid show full of anecdotes about, and ditties made famous by, Ethel Merman. It's half a tribute to The Great Merm, half a showcase for the Blackhurst pizzazz and pipes, and absolutely the best club date in a long time.

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OFF TRACK

These are the things that try men's souls and drive show queens crazy: On June 26, Newsday ran a picture on its Flash! page of Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, and Mel Brooks at Tower Records in Lincoln Center. The caption said that they were there autographing copies of the "soundtrack" to The Producers. Not to put too fine a point on it, but movies have "soundtracks," and Broadway shows have "original cast recordings." Terrence McNally, are you reading this?