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Interview with a Biggie

Whatever this power player wants, he gets -- whether in baseball or on Broadway.

By New York City
I was on my way to interview a young actress when all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him. He looked exactly as Douglass Wallop described him in The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant: "a dark-clad figure in a black topcoat, the lapels turned up and crossed to hide his chin and mouth. A black hat was pulled over his brow." Then, when he opened his coat to take out a cigarette, I could see he was just as Wallop and George Abbott described him in their stage directions of Damn Yankees: "a slight man and a dapper dresser." And then, when he lit that cigarette without even using a match or a lighter, I knew it just had to be he. Surreptitiously, I turned on the cassette recorder that I'd brought for my interview with the actress and sauntered over to him. This is the transcript of our conversation.

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PF: Mr. Applegate?

Mr. A: Yes?

PF: What are you doing around Broadway?

Mr. A: Making deals for the upcoming Broadway season. We'll see who has hits and who has flops.

PF: To what show are you most looking forward?

Mr. A: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I can really relate to that one.

PF: Which successful Broadway producers, directors, and performers have made deals with you?

Mr. A: It'd be much easier if I told you which ones haven't. Let me tell you, Galinda was pretty unpopular before she met me. Who do you think allowed Miles Gloriosus to degrade the Greeks and destroy the Turks? And how do you think Bialystock and Bloom really got out of jail? Don't believe everything you see on stage.

PF: Who was the easiest to convince to go along with you?

Mr. A. Jud Fry. Poor Jud! All he wanted was a few soft-core porn pictures. Benjamin Stone was more difficult; he wanted shelves of the world's best books, a house, a flat, Braques and Chagalls, and all that.

PF: Were there ever times when you double-crossed someone with whom you'd made a deal?

Mr. A: Oh, sure. Bud Frump, for one, with J. Pierrepont Finch. Margo Channing, for another, with what's-her-name. And Caldwell B. Cladwell, just for the fun of it. Those were the good old days!

PF: Were those your greatest successes?

Mr. A: Pro-rated, no. I once got eight people in one fell swoop. I was hanging around the Shubert on a day when Zach was holding auditions; he wanted to talk to Paul alone and had his assistant Larry take everyone else downstairs to teach them the combination. I found that Val, Diana, Judy, Mike, Richie, Mark, Bobby and -- of course -- Cassie were the most receptive to my approach. And I don't have to tell you that those were the dancers who got parts in the show.

PF: I would have thought that Sheila would have sold her soul for a role.

Mr. A: That cocky lady thought she could do it without me. She apologized afterwards. Now she's working for me and, really, she's currently my best employee.

Mr. Applegate (right) and Lola
Mr. Applegate (right) and Lola
PF: Even more than Lola?

Mr. A: Ah, Lola! When she was good, she was very, very good. But I changed her back into the ugliest woman in Providence, Rhode Island.

PF: Well, yes -- but then we all saw you change her back.

Mr. A: That's all Damn Yankees let you see. But when Joe still wouldn't return to me, I changed Lola back again. A pity, really. Once upon a time, there wasn't a better homewrecker on my staff.

PF: Who came close?

Mr. A: Lorelei Lee was good. Mata Hari was, too. I'm speaking of the real historical personage, you understand -- not the character in the musical. There was no helping her.

PF: How about Rose Hovick?

Mr. A: You mean the mother of Dainty June and Louise? No, I didn't dare mess with her.

PF: Were you involved in the recent Avenue Q upset at the Tonys?

Mr. A: No, they did it all on their own. The best show won, that's all. And I had nothing to do with that Las Vegas deal, though I do wish I'd thought of it first.

PF: Could this lapse on your part mean that it's time for a younger man to take over?

Mr. A: I've been at this for a while and I have thought of retiring. My successor will either be my pal Joey or Jerome Robbins.

PF: Did the Joe Hardy incident turn you against sports?

Mr. A: It rather did, though I'm still a big fan of the New Jersey Devils. I don't care who wins in baseball or even football anymore -- just as long as it's not the Anaheim Angels or the New Orleans Saints. And did you notice that I got even with Joe by getting the Senators to move out of Washington soon after he betrayed me?

PF: It wasn't soon after. The Joe Hardy incident was in 1955 and the Senators didn't move to Minnesota until 1961.

Mr. A: When you've been around as long as I have, that's soon!

PF: But when those Senators moved to Minnesota, a new team named the Washington Senators took their place.

Mr. A: And I made sure that they stunk worse than the original Senators. That was even more fun! Meanwhile, the old Senators -- as the Minnesota Twins -- wound up as American League champions in 1965, right after Joe's pathetic defection. That's what I like to think of as the REAL year that the Yankees lost the pennant. And I loved it because I really hate the Yankees.

PF: Then why has the team had so much success in recent years?

George Steinbrenner
George Steinbrenner
Mr. A: Well, I'm really no match for George Steinbrenner.

PF: Have you been responsible for the annual collapse of the Red Sox, too?

Mr. A: Of course -- and that pains me, for I always wear red sox. But nobody there will take my calls, so I have no choice.

PF: Then the so-called "Curse of the Bambino" is really the "Curse of Applegate"?

Mr. A: People should remember that, long before Watergate, Billygate, Iran-contragate, Lewinskygate, and Heaven's Gate, there was Applegate.

PF: Do you ever run into your diametric opposite?

Mr. A: The Starkeeper? Yeah, though we live worlds apart, we're sometimes invited to the same parties. We're cordial -- but I don't like it that, lately, he's been talking to Lola. He'd just better not try to pull off some miracle, that's all I can say.

PF: So much for "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets."

Mr. A: Don't cry for her! Let me hear you repeat 1,000 times: "Never feel sorry for anyone. Never feel sorry for anyone. Never feel...

PF: Hey, I don't work for you.

Mr. A: But you could. I could always use a young lad like you.

PF: "Young lad?"

Mr. A: When you're my age, everyone's young. So -- you want to start Monday as the new critic for The New York Times?

PF: What would you want in return?

Mr. A: That, when your time on earth is through, you'll come with me and we'll watch, non-stop, each and every performance of each and every tractor-pull in this county.

PF: I'll stay at TheaterMania, thanks.

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@theatermania.com]


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